Bike Touring Scandinavia – Sweden
Route 1: Cycling Through the top of Sweden
Often while screaming down wet mountain roads, I think about what would happen if something up front broke: a broken handle bar, a broken fork, a broken front axle. I imagine in my mind the scenario that would play out, and wonder about the gruesome possibilities. Would we go straight to the ground and slide? Could we slide on the bike, letting the panniers take the brunt of the road rash? Could we keep the bike upright, grinding a broken fork down to a nub? I had been worrying recently what would happen if the front axle broke: Would the wheel canter sideways and suddenly brake, or would the fork drop onto the tire, locking it up and throwing us over the bars?
I sat in the parking lot removing the wheel so I could replace the spoke. I pulled out the quick release and *Plop* *Plop* – two black assemblies fell down on either side of the wheel: The bearing races, and lock nuts, fused together – each with their own piece of axle.
I always carry a rear axle on tours; I’ve broken those before. I’d never seen a front axle break, and ours had broken on both sides! The axle was in 3 pieces, and the only thing holding it all together was the quick release!
The last 100 miles had been through isolated arctic tundra and forest, so it was a relief that we were actually in a town – the biggest one we have seen in weeks! We asked the next cyclist who rolled up into the parking lot, and she directed us to a “sports” store that did in fact have a $10 version of the axle we needed! We walked to the store, and I fixed it in a jiffy. This was a stroke of good luck that the spoke had broken because otherwise we may not have discovered the broken axle. If the quick release was bearing all 420 pounds of riders and bike, I imagine the consequences would have been much worse when it did eventually break!
Although I’ve only toured two relatively small sections of Sweden (once at the top, and once near the bottom), Sweden is one of the easiest places to do a comfortable camping bicycle tour. The reason is that Sweden has a number of public “emergency” shelters. Moreover, Sweden has a law called “Allemansrätten“. This translates to “Every Man’s Right.” This is a right of passage saying that you can travel on land (without a motor vehicle), and even camp in a tent for up to 24 hours legally. There is a similar version of this law throughout all of Scandinavia, but Sweden seems to tout it the most. Moreover, you will frequently find shelters throughout the land. Some of these shelters do not allow camping unless there is inclement weather – but really, that’s probably the only time you’d need to use them that way. At other times, when the weather is good, they are still a great place to take a break and escape the bugs if they are present. Many of the Swedes we met cited their love of nature and the outdoors. It is comfortable to be amongst people who generally have similar passions and values – touring cyclists are easily accepted here.
This portion of Sweden that we cycled did not really have any tourist attractions except, perhaps, the city of Kiruna. Kiruna is a good sized city, and in 2004, it was decided that the city needed to be “moved” 3Km to the East. As you can imagine, moving an entire city is not a trivial task! The reason it needed to be moved is because of the exact same mining operation that allowed the city to develop in the first place. The mining operation had started undermining the city, and the risk was that the city would collapse into the hole created by the mining!
Other attractions (and signs of civilization) are fairly sparse this far North. The benefit of this, though, is quiet roads for cycling!