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Cycling – a growing trend

Over the past decade, interest in cycling in Scandinavia has increased spectacularly. No longer the preserve of serious practitioners and exercise junkies, the sport is now being taken up by all kinds of people and for all kinds of reasons.

The statistics speak for themselves. In Sweden, over the last four years, sales of all types of bicycles have increased by about 20%. Last year, around 598,000 bicycles were sold, according to bicycle industry statistics.

Denmark, with its flat terrain, is a country where cycling is an important part of everyday life. And in recent years, the Danish government has invested DKr50 million to expand and improve cycling facilities in the country. In 2014, Copenhagen was named “European green capital” by the European Commission, partly because of its cycling infrastructure.

In Norway, interest in cycling has grown rapidly in the last 10 years and it is now stronger than ever. It is estimated that around 400,000 bicycles are sold in Norway annually. The beautiful Norwegian mountains attract, in particular, cyclists for mountain biking and off-road biking.Photo: GettyImages

There are many different reasons for the increasing popularity of cycling. Bicycles have become increasingly faster, and the quality of the materials and components is higher than ever before.

The climate is also usually mentioned as one reason for the growth, as it has become warmer in Scandinavia and the cycling season is therefore longer than it was previously.

Another reason is the increased interest in both the environment and in personal health and well-being. Urbanization also seems to be playing a role. It has become more crowded, especially in larger cities, and people are increasingly discovering the benefits of spending the morning out in the fresh air on a bicycle instead of sitting still in traffic jams.

Photo: GettyImages

And last but not least, various industry bodies in Scandinavia have launched initiatives to encourage more people to discover cycling, both as a sport and as a form of exercise. It is no longer acceptable to treat cycling as a third-class mode of transport.

The rising popularity of cycling as a sport can be seen in the increasing number of races that are taking place, especially for mountain bikes and road bikes. Spots on the Vätternrundan race, the world’s largest recreational cycling race, are now fully booked within a few minutes, whereas previously they had been available for months.

Susanne Ljungskog, Swedish former professional cyclist Photo: Luca Mara

Susanne Ljungskog is a Swedish former professional cyclist. She is a two-time world champion, a European champion, has won the World Cup four times and participated in the Olympics several times.

Today, she dedicates a large part of her life to encouraging female cyclists of all levels through the Team Sky Blue network, which she founded, to get out on the roads. Ljungskog lists several factors that have contributed to making cycling so incredibly popular.

“One attraction is that you get out quite far when you’re cycling,” she says. “In just a few hours, you can cycle 60km. It has now become increasingly popular to cycle in groups. It’s very social when you can talk to each other all the time, and you can also conserve energy by slipstreaming so you don’t have to do all the hard work on your own.”

Ljungskog also emphasizes that cycling is a gentle form of exercise, particularly in comparison to running, for example, and that the risk of injury is small. Runners who have previously been injured can now often be found in the saddle instead.

Once a very male-dominated form of exercise, more and more women are now cycling too. This is partly because there are more forums and venues than in the past.

“Team Sky Blue is for female recreational cyclists at all levels, experienced or not,” says Ljungskog. “There are so many girls out there who need tips and advice for cycling. My experience is that if there are a lot of guys in the group, they very soon begin to dominate. The tempo is increased, the cycling becomes more competitive and many girls fail to ask the questions that they would otherwise like to have answered.”Thor Hushovd, one of Norway’s most successful cyclists Photo: Luca Mara

Former professional Thor Hushovd is one of Norway’s most successful cyclists, with a world title, a U23 World Championship and U23 World Cup to his name. “The sport of cycling has become extremely popular,” he says. “Previously, people were waiting for the snow to arrive so that they could practice winter sports, but now people cycle as early in spring as possible, and they keep going until the first snow falls. There has clearly been a shift in people’s attitudes.”

Hushovd also believes that the social aspect is attractive, as well as the exercise. “It’s fun to ride in groups,” he says. “It provides social contact while training in a way that many other sports cannot provide. In this way, you can see and experience a great deal in a relatively short time.”

Text Katarina Sjöström

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