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Lots of other people are doing it, so I have been tempted by the Christmas holidays to to try and find at least one photo per year from the last decade that made me smile, or brought back a memory. … Continue reading
I had been seeing tweets and news stories all day about the snow hitting Britain and Northern Europe.
In Yorkshire there were typical shots of closed roads up on the hills while the Dutch were being oh so smug about the clearing of snow from their bike lanes.
And here it rained, and it rained and it rained.
Until about 2pm when the rain turned to slush, then sleet and finally slow.
Of course I had to go out – its like a rule isn’t it. It may have been mainly slush on top of mud but it was beautiful. (Even if I did have to clean the signs)
Sunday in February 2014
The same weekend at the same place last year.
At this stage of last year’s winter we still had two months to go before the snow stopped. As newcomers to Belgium it was quite a shock to the system. And as a cyclist it meant lots of frustration.
But this weekend we were out in the sunshine, almost without hats and gloves. I had the great pleasure of showing a friend round the area and we ended up soaking up some sum and a small beer at one of my favourite cafes at Chateau Solvay.
Along, so it seems, with many others who got the message that the outdoor season has started. The wildlife certainly thinks so, the birdsong seems to have lifted several decibels in the mornings.
Oh gosh I hope this lasts, my system craves warm riding, not worrying about hitting ice, light mornings, no gloves………………….
I am so over winter already. We have had two wintry days here in Belgium. Last week, day 1, I fell off on the ice. Today, day 2, I arrived at the station like a soggy snowman.
Which seems a very good starting point for my final round of Stockholm photographs. Despite being mainly there on a non-cycling holiday I was of course very curious to discover how the hardy Swedes coped with the first snows of winter and sub-zero temperatures.
Benchmark for this sort of thing is considered to be the Danes who apparently set the record for cycling further and on more days of the year than any other cyclists in Europe. But in terms of cycle use Sweden is right up there in the first division and the city authorities in Stockholm have some ambitions to catch up with not only their Danish neighbours but also the other leaders in Sweden like Malmo and Vaesteras.
However I have to say that my impressions were really mixed which kind of matches what I found when I was there at other times of year, some things were quite well done and the cyclists who were riding seemed very confident on the snow. But I didn’t need to see the many parked bikes with snow on the saddles to tell me that numbers were well down. I could see it on the cycle paths and the cyclist counter by the town hall had counted a very sorry 300 riders by 9am. That might be good in a UK or US city with 1% mode share, but that is terribly low for an ambitious cycling capital.
So what’s the problem?
Well of course the competition is good, Stockholm’s metro is extremely good and well used. On a snowy day it is an easy option.
But the most noticeable thing were the cycle paths themselves and the behaviour of the riders. I think the paths had been swept, as had the pavements. But poorly, the snow seemed to be compressed to form a smooth surface as if the sweepers were compacting not clearing. Then there was a layer of gravel which is the ubiquitous snow topping for grip in much of Scandinavia because there is too much snow. But cycle tyres and even our walking shoes just went through to the slippery surface.
Finally the clearance must have been happening in the early morning before rush hour, but by the time we went out there was a layer of snow on top of the swept paths so the cyclists largely created their own channels in the fresh snow.
In those conditions I was perhaps surprised just how many cyclists were picking their way gingerly around the city. I could see clearly how lacking in confidence many were. On the first day I would say they were predominantly fit looking younger men but over the whole week we did see more and more older people and women coming out, however the balance was not what it was in the summer.
Would I have ridden on it? Frankly after a couple of recent falls and not bouncing as well as I did in younger years I seriously wonder whether I would have done. The sheer inconsistency of the surface beneath the snow looked seriously dangerous to me. Most likely I would have been riding because I would have sorted a bike with MTB tyres or studs. But without that I think I might have joined the rest of the sensible Swedes and taken the metro. Sorry Stockholm, half marks from me for the snow work.
But all credit to those who were out there, they did make some good sights in the snow. And it was certainly better than Wallonia or Britain!
Regular readers may remember me writing about a number of work trips to Stockholm, it has provided me with some nice posts and is turning into a favourite city. (Click the Stockholm tab at the bottom of the post to see more.)
However last week I enjoyed a different Stockholm.
Three main differences.
Over the next few days I will add a few extra stories of the trip, and some cycling notes might just sneak in, but here’s an opening highlight or two.
First let’s get the weather thing out of the way. There are two choices when you want to take a few days holiday in January. Either you have to spend a lot of money heading off to look for somewhere warm, or you have to embrace the fact that it is winter and enjoy what the season offers.
Our choice of Stockholm was exactly that, we wanted somewhere that could offer a proper winter break. The plan almost came unstuck because Europe’s relatively mild winter so far has left much of Scandinavia cloudy but snow free so far.
However we watched the forecast for the last two weeks and suddenly the temperatures dropped swiftly and over the weekend light snow was due to fall. And as if to order it did, leaving a light coating in the first day and then regular flurries through the next five days.
Between the cold spells were some beautiful spells of sunshine that lit up the buildings and waterside. And after dark there were still many Christmas lights so the city was shining bright against the snow and the cafes and restaurants offered a cosy warm glow which invited us in for coffee, cake and hot chocolate during the day and hearty Swedish food at night.
Some spots I had been to before looked quite different under the snow, especially the open squares but on a more touristy trip I found some interesting new places to enjoy. I suspect I got a different view because we walked everywhere, on previous occasions I had cycled a lot and that takes you away from the pedestrian hot spots. For example Stockholm City Hall sounds just like the boring seat of bureaucracy, but its position and interior architecture make it one of the top visits of the city.
It is also one of the three buildings in the city most associated with the Nobel awards along with the Concert Hall and the Swedish Academy, neither of which I had seen before.
And above it was maze of tiny roads and alleys that led up to the Mariaberget (Maria Magdalene parish) and Monteliusvägen, a panoramic footpath that runs around the top of the steep cliffs that overlook the lake, the old town and the city centre of Stockholm.
We went up there at night and got a brilliant view over the city which was a special addition to my experiences of Stockholm.
A great idea from Minneapolis, now in its fourth year.
Pledge to ride every day in April and join thousands of others who have signed up to the same idea. Not too late to pledge for the rest of the month if you have missed it. http://30daysofbiking.com
I have a strong suspicion that many of my readers may not regard riding every day as the slightest bit challenging, but I have to say even an addict like me does have down days, not least in this year’s interminable European winter. But what the heck, why not. It might just become spring at some point.
The only slight problem bothering me is that the wonderful Mrs Do Not Despair reads at least some of my blog posts. Now she has probably worked out why I was prepared to take the dog out Wednesday evening even if it was awful. And when she reads this post the words “Don’t you do enough cycling already?” may just pass her lips.
I move quickly on.
2nd April – station ride – pretty standard stuff but so nice to do it without much ice around. 25 minutes for out and back.
3rd April – The I really wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t made that stupid pledge ride.
Cold, bleak, horrible. 30 minutes of bashing round the tracks and the cobbles under the leaden skies of Lasne.
4th April – Station ride again – but where are they all?
Easter holidays seem to have emptied the roads and streets of the area.
5th April – The long commute ride. To Brussels through Foret de Soignes. First time since the clocks changed so the woods have reverted to dawn. Saw the family of deer again and listened to the bird life pretending it is spring. 80 minutes – I’m getting quicker.
6th April – Test a couple of bike adjustments ride to Limlette. Cold, but maybe there is a glimmer of sunshine. And the key question. “is it bad form to bring your own mud to Paris Roubaix?” 25 minutes riding, 15 minutes spannering.
The blizzard was the worst of the year. Holed up inside watching the wind scoop the snow into weird shapes in the garden with all the roads around us impassable. Belgian travel chaos even made the international news, the boss is stuck in Paris etc. etc.
I may have mentioned that I am over snow.
But the effect of the snow drifts was to alter the shape of the countryside around us a remove certainty underfoot. Most of the roads and tracks are sunk some distance below the surrounding fields which means they were like magnets to the snow drifts and impassable to traffic, not something common in Western Europe in March, or rather not historically normal. Who knows with the changes in our weather systems.
This photo is our road, about 500 metres from the house. No, not the line running left to right, that is a track. The dark line heading up to the hill is a one metre high verge. It hasn’t been passed by a single vehicle all day.
So we staggered about late afternoon, falling down holes and watching the dog almost swimming in powder snow. Great fun. But it can stop now. Personally I’d like to see a daffodil flower. That would be nice.
Oh my. Can I say again – I am so over snow.
Woke up this morning to almost the worst possible scenario for a road ride – snow and sleet beginning to lie on the fields. The road outside looks clear of ice, but it is soaking wet.
I am not free again on Sunday again for several weeks and after all the psyching up of yesterday there is no way I was going to back down from my first Belgian club ride unless it was truly unrideable so I put on my thickest winter layers including the neoprene overshoes and set off.
Unfortunately the prospect of a soggy cold day had a much bigger deterrent effect of the rest of the club because there were a grand total of two other riders out. I was assured that I was “unlucky” because there are usually up to twenty riders per group.
However no-nonsense Philippe was waiting for nobody and set off bang on 9.30. I was told this was planned to be a ride of around 55kmph at a speed of around 25kmph. Amazingly despite the conditions and the newcomer he delivered me back to the start point at exactly that time, just by riding at a well paced and constant effort throughout the whole ride, regardless of which of the other two of us was riding beside him.
What should I say? By all normal standards it should have been horrible. The sleet never stopped, stinging our faces on the downhills. The roads were awash and the minor roads were covered in mud and grit. From following Philippe’s wheel a few times I am afraid I will be getting the grit out of my teeth and eyes for the rest of the week. The bike looked like a mountain bike when I got back.
But inevitably I loved it. The roads were almost car free, a combination of the foul weather and the fact that there is almost no Sunday shopping in Belgium (yippee!). It made a great cycling route with the knowledge of a local guide and every road was new. We stayed away from the steep sided valleys nearer where I live so it was all rolling farmland which made the pace about right for me, no need to worry about saving something for climbing. In fact with the open fields, strong cold easterly wind and lack of hedgerows it could almost have been my native East Anglia except that the architecture of the farms and small towns and villages was unmistakably Wallon Brabant. The villages themselves just about managed to look attractive and well kept under the grey skies although I cannot say that for the road surfaces which were potholed and badly broken.
For the record: From Ottignies to Saint-Géry, Chastre, Walhain, Tourinnes St. Lambert, Nil St Martin and Corry Le Grand, my first Belgian club run.
I haven’t done that for nearly nine months. Boy I missed it.
Thank you Club Cyclotouriste D’Ottignies. I’ll be back.
Couldn’t work out why this is so frustrating for me but doesn’t seem to bother anyone else here.
Then as I wobbled back home through the slush and the blowing flakes tonight I realised. List of wants. Dry bum, dry feet, warm face, stable road surfaces……..and more covered bike sheds in Belgium.
30 years of work. 3 years as a student. 7 years cycling to school. Not once have I travelled anywhere where I had to leave my bike outside daily. The dear old UK might be Europe’s cycling dunce but I must have struck lucky with our legacy of bike sheds, some of them probably dating back to the 1960s or even earlier in the case of at least one factory bike shed I can recall.
I mean those saddle covers I see at the bike parks are awfully naff, but now I know why they are so popular everywhere else in Europe and its not just for advertising SRAM.