Our co-director, Steph Nappa, is writing this series to share her experiences and lessons learned from her study abroad in Europe. You can also follow along on Instagram with #stephlovesbikes.
We have done several long distance bike rides as part of our program, both in Denmark and Sweden and I have a number of observations from the experience in the two countries.
First, it is incredible that we were able to bike at least 50 miles along the coast of these countries, through everything from cities to suburbs to rural farm fields, all while feeling comfortable on the road (minus one day of heavy rain). The suburbs all had bike lanes and intersections were either roundabouts or stop lights with clearly marked pedestrian and bike crossings. The more rural areas wither had park-like recreational cycling paths or we were biking on farm roads where cars slowed down to pass us rather than wizzing past the way they do in the US. I sometimes had to stop and remind myself that this wasn't normal at home, because it all feels so natural here.
Second, it was interesting to experience the differences in infrastructure in the two countries. Denmark definitely has a more well maintained and consistent system. This is mostly due to the "super-cycle highways" that function exactly as they sound. They are well maintained bike lanes with consistent signage and numbered routes that are meant for long distance travel. Sweden's system feels more geared towards recreational use, and some spots are bumpy or the paths are made of gravel. I won't lie that this was disappointing after getting used to the fantastic bike lanes in Denmark, which is why I had to keep reminding myself that it was remarkable these bike lanes existed at all.
One additional difference I've noticed in the two countries is the level of biking. We see fewer bikers in the cities and on the roads. The most noticeable difference is the train-bike integration. As mentioned in a previous post, Copenhagen had well done and highly used bike parking on their regional train. In Sweden that has not been the case, with very limited bike parking on trains coupled with a lot of confused or grumpy looks from the other passengers. It's a small reminder of the fact that bikes just aren't a common mode of transportation everywhere.