Winter is Coming: Bike Commuting in Stockholm

Hello, dear reader! What follows, in at least 3 parts, is one person’s exploration of what it takes to ride more or less comfortably through the wet and cold and dark and snow that is Stockholm’s weather through the fall and winter.

My goal is to bike commute at least 4 days a week through the winter and continue doing all of my family’s grocery shopping and other errands on two wheels as well.

This may sound distinctly un-cozy, and may also imply a high chance of broken bones. I'm inspired by the people around me who don't let the winter weather shut them in or slow them down. I think, exercise, explore, and engage my world while pedaling, and I'm up for the challenge of biking all year under what are likely to be the most difficult circumstances that I'll experience in my lifetime.

I’ve always been utilitarian and cheap about the business of biking, quietly sneering at all the logo-saturated bike weenies preening in their tights on lighter-than-air rides made of unicorn eyelashes while I righteously pedaled through downpours wearing cheap-ass 20 year old rain pants that I probably scored in the clearance bin at Burlington Coat Factory or someplace similarly downscale.

Shaking my fist at the sky while keeping my head down and riding the beater was a fine strategy for California and mostly for New York too. It certainly helped me meet my self-righteousness quota, but that s**t ain’t going down in Stockholm.

A quick primer on Swedish weather: A minute or two after the autumnal equinox Odin, Loki and pals get together at Valhalla and turn off the utilities until May. The sun is no longer strong enough to burn the clouds off and the grey is relentless.

In October we lose 5-6 minutes of light per day. By Halloween, our dreary day is 8:50 long, versus 10:27 in NYC. A peek at the yellow orb of light sets off irrational waves of joy. The temperatures hover just above freezing.

And the rain. It rains and rains and rains. I had thought that my biggest challenge in biking would be overcoming the depths of winter snow but it may be that the incessant fall rains are tougher.

November 1st: A brief armistice. The day is sunny and pleasant. On the 2nd, the clouds return and wet snow season commences, as the temperatures drop below 0c, deeper and deeper as each day passes. With daily repetition, I finally master the concept of sleet.

And so, dear reader, if my attempt at describing the local mise-en-scène has succeeded, you will understand that, for the past few months, and with the Game of Thrones theme song looping in my head, I’ve spent a heretofore unimagined reservoir of mental energy, time, and money preparing for and actually riding safely and comfortably through the mess. Kläder efter väder, as the Swedes say (and say and say). I’m here to share some of what I’ve learned about clothes and bike gear with you.

Next up — Part II: Clothes