Objects of cycling desire – Limited edition Bianchi cufflinks in silver and celeste blue

Kevin Mayne photo

Anyone who knows me will probably accept that I don’t aim terribly high on the fashion stakes, whether it be my clothes or my bikes.

However I am now the delighted owner of a set of Bianchi’s limited edition cufflinks, celebrating the bicycle and the classic blue that is supposed to represent the Italian sky. I fell for these on my first trip to the Bianchi café in Stockholm, they are quite unique and just the gift for a cycling nut.

There have been iconic bikes and stunning equipment throughout the years but I cannot real think of a bike brand that is so closely associated with a single colour. As soon as I looked at Fausto Coppi’s 1954 world championship winning bike at the Padua bike show it could be no other brand.Coppi's 1954 Bianchi

Bianchi capThose of us who were followers of the Tour de France on Eurosport when David Duffield was the commentator could hear the ecstasy in his voice each time he got the chance to talk Bianchi.

Ok, so I can hardly remember the last time I wore cufflinks, but I think these beauties just might force me to smarten up my act a bit.

Some Stockholm cyclists are hardier than me, despite conditions on the roads

Kevin Mayne photo

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.

Bicycle counter StockholmHowever 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.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

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.

Icy cycle path Stockholm

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.

Slussen cycle paths in Stockholm

Cyclist Sodermalm snow Stockholm

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.

Stockholm cycle path Cyclists on Sondermailm Stockholm Sweden Descending Slussen cycle paths in snow Stockholm Cyclists on snow Slussen Stockholm

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!

Photo Kevin Mayne

What is it about Stockholm and hotels? Struck lucky again at the Hotel Rival

Hotel Rival sign

Mariatorget and Hotel Rival Stockholm

Gamla Stan Stockholm Old TownA year ago I was booked into one of the quirkiest hotels I have had the pleasure of visiting on my travels when my Stockholm host booked me into the Lord Nelson, a rather bonkers maritime themed hotel in the old town.

This trip we found another fun hotel, the converted cinema that is the Hotel Rival. We wouldn’t perhaps have got up to Söndermalm to stay but the hotel was getting rave reviews on Tripadvisor so it seemed too good to miss. Not only was it a good hotel but it introduced us to a new area of the city which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Hotel Rival Stockholm Interior

It is a 1930s Art Deco cinema bought and converted by former Abba member Benny Andersson. In the dark snowy night it is a glowing tribute to chrome, steel and plush red fittings. In each of the rooms there is a tribute to cinema glamour with Sweden’s own Ingrid Bergmann prominent.

Ingrid Bergmann print

The quality is very high, to the extent that we discovered that the images just tucked away in a corridor by the lift were original Andy Warhol prints!

Hotel Rival Stockholm

In keeping with the cinema theme you can check in and have one of over 200 classic or modern films delivered to your room for your DVD player.

The cinema auditorium has been kept and is now available for hire, we never got in there but we could imagine it in its 1930’s glory as we supped a glass of champagne in the cocktail bar.

Cocktail bar Hotel Rival Stockholm

Hotal Rival Wall Frieze Stockholm

Hotel Rival Stockholm Frontage

A great find in a great spot, it deserves its fantastic reviews.

Hotel web site here.

A different Stockholm

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin Mayne

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.

  • Reason: We were on holiday! Proper tourists, taking in the sights beyond my fixation with cycle paths.
  • Location: A new location for me, staying in bohemian Söndermalm, the southern island of central Stockholm
  • Season: Shock to the system, first proper snow of the winter for Stockholm, and for us. Minus 7 degrees C in the evenings.

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.temperature Stockholm Gondola

Gamla Stan

Stockholm cosy cafe

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.

Photo Kevin Mayne

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.

Stockholm Concert Hall The Swedish Academy Stockholm

In contrast to the grander buildings of the city centre Söndermalm is a bustling residential neighbourhood full of art and craft shops, galleries and some fabulous cafes and bakeries. Sondermalm streets Stockholm

Our hotel was the Rival on Mariatorget (the Maria Square) which was a lovely spot in the snow day and night.Mariatorget Stockholm

Mariatorget Square Stockholm

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.

Mariaberget street scene

Some of the apartments up there are the most desirable in Stockholm. Photo by Kevin Mayne

We went up there at night and got a brilliant view over the city which was a special addition to my experiences of Stockholm.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Coming next:

  • The Rival Hotel
  • The Winter Cruise
  • Stockholm’s cyclists coping with the snow

Snowy Stockholm mornings and bicycles

Stockholm Gamla Stan

We are in a snowy Stockholm, enjoying our first proper sub-zero temperatures of the year, snow and comforting Swedish food.

Lots more storytelling to come, not least wondering how the hardy Stockholm cyclists are coping with the first snows of the year.

Very cautiously seems to be the answer!

Photo by Kevin Mayne


A ray of Italian cycling sunshine on a soggy Stockholm morning

Bianchi cap

Bianchi coffee Bianchi cafe Stockholm

Everywhere I go at the moment it seems to start raining.

Stockholm was no different. A sunny evening turned into a very soggy morning.

However I had an absolutely delightful breakfast coffee to look forward to at a rather special café on the Stockholm scene,

The Bianchi café.

Italian café, Italian staff, fantastic cappuccino and celeste blue bicycles displayed almost as art. Pictures of some of the great Bianchi riders rotating on an electronic screen in the window.

Bianchi cafe Stockholm

Moreno Argentin Bianchi cafeFausto Coppi Bianchi CafeGimondi Bianchi CafeIn the back of the café a very good bike shop selling everything you could wish for to go with your passion – from caps to cufflinks.

Bianchi Cafe Stockholm

Bianchi Cafe  Stockholm

Bianchi cafe Stockholm

Bianchi cufflinks

The breakfast coffee was all the better because I had it in the company of Tony Gimaldi whose family owns the Bianchi brand. He told me the great story of how his family’s Swedish industrial conglomerate got into the bike business in Sweden but some years later after a number of acquisitions got the chance to buy the struggling Bianchi business.

Bianchi cafe Stockholm

When he went to Italy to start integrating the business into their other bike businesses Tony not only found his Italian family roots it was very, very clear from his passion that he fell hook, line and sinker for the Bianchi legend. He was great company and I suspect we could have talked for hours had time allowed, especially in that setting.

Any bike nuts going to Stockholm – this is your place.


Quirky hotel in Stockholm deserves a mention

Gamla Stan Stockholm Old TownI have been very rude about some hotels encountered on my travels this year (click hotels tag below for more!) but to be fair I have had a good run lately.

All credit to the Hotel Sienna in Verona and the Dream House Hostel in Kiev which were excellent and really cyclist friendly.

However I just had to write about the Lord Nelson in Stockholm.

It is a tall narrow building in the old city fitted out with maritime themed antiques, especially those linked to the 19th century British navy. Yes that is a ship’s wheel on the first floor and the corridor to the rooms feels like a ship’s deck with its blue and brass theme and portholes.Gamla Stan Stockholm Old Town

Gamla Stan Stockholm Old TownBreakfast should have been served on deck, but actually was in a blue and wood panelled based on a cruise liner’s bar.Gamla Stan, Old Town Stockholm Sweden

Each room is designed as a cabin, which is a neat trick for disguising that the rooms are tiny, but I thought it was great.

Just to capture the mood here it is in black and white, feels really period apart from the TV. Apparently their chain in Stockholm called the Collector’s Hotels and Apartments; if you go there I recommend them. Actually I doubt they have room to store a bike, but in this case they are forgiven.Gamla Stan, Stockholm Old Town

Not despairing in Stockholm

SwedenI have only cycled once before in Sweden, and that was three years ago after Velo-city Copenhagen when my son and I took our bikes across the strait to Malmo. It was clear to see that there has been an extension of Copenhagen riding culture across the bridge because cycling levels were really high and well catered for.

So I was very interested to see what the capital city was like away from that influence, especially as I was doing an evening talk with the Dutch Cycling Embassy to a group of municipalities from the Stockholm region. It certainly helps to have ridden just a little bit before speaking to a cycling audience, if only to see where we have things in common, I am always reminded of the famous situation when the Beatles landed in the US and as they got off the plane a reporter said “So what do you think of America?”

Sweden cyclingFirst discovery was yet another design of bike in use for the public bike sharing, a rather odd looking beast with a small front wheel, and what turned out to be horribly uncomfortable saddles.

Throughout the two days I saw consistent streams of riders, obviously higher numbers than many places I know in the UK or Belgium, up there with parts of Germany but not quite reaching the critical mass of the Netherlands or Denmark. I was quite pleased with myself when I guessed a mode share of 10% as that turns out to be about right, I think I am starting to tune in now as I increase my exposure to different cycling environments. Swedish cycling

I was told that this is actually well behind many other Swedish cities and Stockholm may be holding the country back. It certainly was a mixed culture full of contradictions.

Encouragingly high numbers of women cycling which is always an indicator that cycling has been normalised and taken back from us macho types, but then more helmets than I have seen anywhere that doesn’t have a compulsion policy.

As we rode around we encountered every kind of cycling facility, without any rhyme or reason as to which would come next.  On road, on paint, segregated and shared use all in a small area and without any apparent strategy, or if there was I missed it. And almost no car free areas except a few streets in the touristy part of the old city, that really is a bit of a rarity now in forward-looking cities now.

Swedish cycling

Quality of the cycling facilities was pretty good when they existed, often wide and smooth, but there were some totally chaotic and confusing junctions to a newcomer.

SwedenI am glad I was following Christian on my first day. The routes around the waterfront were lovely, the sort of ride that makes me want to get up in the morning.

And that’s a point – did I mention mornings? I had my usual hotel problem of waking up really early so I went out for a walk around 6.30. Big shock to the system, pitch dark without a hint of dawn and a wicked wind cutting through the buildings, suddenly you know you have come a long way north.

But as I wandered out of the old city towards the main roads I became aware of lots of traffic noise and discovered that rush hour seemed to be well underway, not just for cars and trains but for cyclists. I was later told that Sweden has quite a long-hours culture; or one where people like to start early so they can get home early. Whatever it was I don’t think I have seen quite so many early riders anywhere. I guess if you get used to cycling through a Scandinavian winter you are used to doing a lot of riding in the dark, but this was quite striking.Morning rush hour

Given that I see no cyclists on the roads in Brussels before 8am it was encouraging to see them out there.

Another nice feeling came around the Dutch Embassy, which conveniently happens to be on the busiest cycle route in Stockholm. As the street outside is car free and mingles bikes and pedestrians it could almost be home for the staff. Although the hill is a bit bigger than many of them would ever encounter! Great thing the embassy has in common with any Dutch organisation: When the ambassador talks about cycling in his welcome speech at least he hasn’t been handed the notes on a piece of paper, he has actually ridden a bike around most of his life, as they all have. Gives them enormous credibility as hosts and ambassadors for cycling culture.Netherlands Embassy Sweden

I’m looking forward to further invitations, this Dutch – Swedish relationship could go well and I hope to be back to see the results.

A cyclists view of Stockholm in autumn


This gallery contains 16 photos.

I went to Stockholm a few times in my business career. I can honestly say I don’t remember anything except an amazing boozy harbour cruise at mid-summer. But charging into meetings and dashing around in cabs left me with no sense … Continue reading