“Are you serious? We’ve only gone 20 miles today?” I said to Jon while standing on an empty gravel road covered by pine trees. I was checking my map while Jon changed the third flat bike tire of the day.
Frustrated, we’d been relying on Google Maps to direct us from Stockholm to Fäviken, a world-renowned restaurant located in a remote corner of Sweden’s Jaemtland region. However, it kept sending us on gravel roads that slowed us down and popped our tires. With 300+ miles (out of 455) left, it felt like we’d never make it there (spoiler alert: we did).
Although we both tried our best to prepare for cycling Sweden and how different it would be from biking at home in California, there were still several lessons we learned by getting out there and doing it. After reflecting on the three weeks we spent cycling Sweden and Norway, below are eight things I think every cyclist should know before biking in Sweden:
Your Bike is Welcome on Some Trains
In general, you can’t take a bike on trains in Sweden unless it’s in a bike box or it’s foldable. Before traveling there, pretty much every blog article I read gave off the impression that I’d never be able to bring a bike on any Swedish train. While mostly true, we discovered a few exceptions:
Arlanda Airport – Stockholm
Bringing our bikes on the Arlanda Express from Arlanda airport to downtown Stockholm and back was no problem at all. Having read that it would be necessary to take off our bike pedals, we were prepared for the disassembly — this also seemed to be either a made-up rule or not enforced.
Last tip: If you’re traveling with a friend, take advantage of the discounted train ticket for pairs of travelers who are riding the train together. Do this instead of buying two individual tickets.
One one particularly rainy day, we checked into whether we’d be able to take our bikes on the train from Uppsala to Gavle. “Sure, no problem,” the woman at the counter said. What we later figured out is that the SJ train lines (which are most routes in Sweden) do not allow bikes. However, SL and other commuter lines will usually allow them on a first come first serve basis. This is fine for skipping over 40 or so miles, but not efficient, or cost-effective, for long distances.
Bikes are also allowed on the Öresundståg routes in southern Sweden.
Trains into Norway, or Denmark
If you’re taking a train into Norway or Denmark, you can take a Norwegian or Danish train line — both of which will allow bikes on the train for an extra fee.
Oslo – Stockholm
There were rumors of one train company which will take bikes from Oslo – Stockholm. However, it only runs once per week (on Friday mornings). My best suggestion is to inquire at the train station for one of these trains.
If you can’t find a train that will take your bike, most long distance bus routes will allow you to put your bike in the underneath compartment. Again, you’ll have to pay a fee (something like ~$5 on a 2-hour ride). I’d suggest getting a ticket for you and your bike at the counter well before the bus arrives.
Google Maps Aren’t 100% Reliable
After a few days of sluggishly pedaling through gravely (though beautiful) secondary “highways,” we discovered that the best method for finding a bike route was to check Google Maps car directions with the “avoid highway” filter on and then cross-compare with the bike directions.
Often, that allowed us to bike on a paved shoulder (off the freeway) but still directed us on the most bike-friendly path within cities.
For more bike-friendly maps, Sweden by Bike (in Swedish) has a list of bike paths to help you plan your trip. Once in Sweden, most bike stores will sell bike maps by the Swedish Cycling Society to get you on the right path.
Be Prepared to Ride Some Dirt
Regardless, it’s best to prepare to ride on some dirt — even when we were actively trying to avoid these back roads, we’d still end up on them from time to time. Unless you want to get flats every 20 miles (like we did), invest in some treaded, or cyclo-cross, tires. It’s also good to have a spare tire — in addition to tubes — in your bag.
Southern Sweden Has the Best Bike Routes
Norway tends to get more cyclists than Sweden — it’s dramatic and beautiful (but also difficult). However, Sweden has its own appeal: pleasant, green countryside, small towns with historic castles, and the ability to camp wherever you want. Yep, seriously!
That said, most cyclists tend to stay between Stockholm and Gothenburg, in the southern part of Sweden. As you head further north, the roads become increasingly sparse and you might find yourself cycling on the side of highways with 80-mph speed limits (eek!).
We traveled north but most people I talked to about biking in Sweden agreed that there’s more to see and do in the south.
Off-the Beaten Path Must-Sees
One of the best parts about bike touring is that you get to see parts of the country that most other travelers won’t visit. Instead of surrounding yourself with a dozen other tourists in a hip Stockholm cafe, drop in on a quaint mom-and-pop stop for fika in the countryside. A few out-of-the way sites you could visit while cycling Sweden include:
- Åre: in the northern part of Sweden, not far from the Norwegian border sits Åre. While in the winter it’s a major ski destination for Swedes, in the summertime it turns into a mountain bike center.
- Utter Inn, Västerås: If you’re cycling from Stockholm to Oslo, you’ll likely pass through Västerås. Pop by Utter Inn, an incredibly unusual hotel that’s half underwater.
- Utö: I never made it there myself, but Utö, one of the many islands in the Stockholm Archipelago is known for its natural setting and said to be one of the best spots for cycling.
Enjoy the Long Days but Be Mindful of Closing Time
Cycling Sweden in the summer means you can take advantage of almost endless hours of daylight. Rather than rushing to get out the door by 7 a.m., I definitely enjoyed having a leisurely breakfast and never worrying about whether or not it would get dark before arriving at our destination.
However, a lot of hotels and restaurants — particularly in less populated areas of Sweden — will close around 9-10 p.m. So, while you won’t have to worry about arriving in the dark at 10 p.m., it’s still a good idea to aim to be at your destination by around 8 p.m. at the latest. After all, you wouldn’t want to get locked out of your hotel with nothing to eat (which is particularly painful after 40 miles-or so of biking).
Where to Stash Your Bike Box in Stockholm
If you’ve decided to bring your own bike and use a bike box, there are a couple of options for stashing your bike box:
- Stockholm airport’s left luggage center: you can check your box as oversized luggage. Discounts for 10+ days.
- Stockholm train station: this is only an option if you have a soft case that can fold down compactly. Unfortunately, their lockers aren’t large enough to fit most bike boxes.
- Your hotel. Just make sure to email them and ask about luggage storage before booking and not all will necessarily have the basement space available.
How to Pack for Cycling Sweden
While your packing list may certainly look different than ours, listed below is what Jon and I brought for 3 weeks of cycling Sweden. Even though we were biking in the summer months, our gear was similar to what we’d wear in the spring in San Francisco (be prepared for cold, 60-ish degrees, and rain).
Bikes + Gear
Distributed between 2 people
- 2 bicycles (Firefly, Specialized)
- 1 rack (Trucker Racks)
- 2 panniers (Brooks, Ortlieb)
- 1 frame bag (Porcelain Rocket)
- 1 seat pack (Porcelain Rocket)
- 2 handlebar bags (Porcelain Rocket)
- 1 2-person tent (MRS)
- 2 sleeping bags
- 2 sleeping pads
- 1 camera bag (Road Runner)
- 2 helmets
- 2 bibs
- 2 jerseys
- 4 pairs of socks
- 8 pairs of underwear
- 2 pairs of pants
- 2 shorts (or in my case, 1 shorts, 1 skirt)
- 1 sweater
- 1 long sleeve
- 1 jacket
- 1 set of arm warmers
- 2 sets of knee warmers
- 1 pair of bike shoes
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 pair of sandals
- LOTS of bug spray and sunscreen (bugs are bad in the summer!)
- Dr. Bronner’s soap
- Shampoo & conditioner
- 1 quick dry towel
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- 1 camera
- 2 iPhones + chargers
- 2 battery packs
- 1 flashlight
- 1 bike tool roll bag with various bike tools
- 8 tubes
- 2 patch kits
- 1 spare tire
- 1 chain grease
Cycling Sweden is an awesome way to explore this friendly Scandinavian nation and get to see parts of it that most others miss. If you do choose to do a bike tour in Sweden, just know that:
- Bikes aren’t allowed on most trains; there are exceptions
- To find bike routes, use a combination of Google Maps and official bike maps
- Be prepared to bike off-road a little bit
- For the best biking routes, head south
- If you go north, prepare for the roads to become more sparse
- Get off the beaten path by visiting Åre, Utö, or Utter Inn
- Even with longer daylight hours, try to arrive at your destination before 8 p.m.
- The best place to stash your bike box in Stockholm is the airport or at your hotel
- Pack light, but be prepared for flats and other bike emergencies
Photo Credit: steven_n_maher, Flickr, all others, author, all rights reserved