From Iceland — Riding in Reykjavik

Riding in Reykjavik
Photo by
Kormákur Máni

First off, was your decision influenced by environmental reasons or health reasons?

I wanted to lose weight and get into shape, but I was very busy and was looking for an exercise I could integrate into my daily routine. My first choice would probably have been to walk to school but I told myself I didn’t have four hours a day to spare. That’s unfortunate. So I started cycling every day and I changed my diet. I think the environmental reasons where there at the back of my mind also but they were not the triggering cause like the fitness issue.

Was there an adjustment period?

I have always loved cycling but not always made time for it in my life. So I do not remember any special period of adjustment. But I do remember how incredibly tired I was after cycling from my home to school the first time. And I also remember the time when I had grown so used to cycling that it felt a little odd to go to work by car. It is strange but now I associate the car in the city with confinement, lack of freedom. If I go by car to work, which is very rare, I fear that I might hit a traffic jam, not make it on time etc. I can smell the anxiety on the city roads, the traffic, traffic lights, everyone is in a hurry. Speed makes you anxious.  

There are persistent claims that the conditions in Iceland are very unfavourable to cyclists. What does your experience tell you?

Almost all of what they say is a myth. Take the weather for example. It’s supposed to be too bad to cycle in Iceland: too windy, too much rain, too cold. People forget that for every “bad” day in Iceland there are at least eight beautiful days when it is a pure delight to cycle to work. There have been many a calm winter day when I have arrived completely recharged and refreshed to work after riding in a wonderful weather through wonderful scenery. And the “bad” days are not bad, really. In the past two years I have only gotten into minor problems due to the weather three times, and that was because of snow. The city workers had not had the time to clear the bike paths properly. I had to carry my bike part of the way. But in my experience they usually do a good job of keeping those paths clear. People talk about the storms. Last winter we had a lot of low pressure systems arriving at our shores with frightful consistency, like commercial jets coming in for landing. But only once did they cause problems for me, and again only minor problems with a certain entertainment value to them. These problems are nothing compared to the problems motorists in Reykjavík have to deal with almost every day.      

What can be done to improve the situation for cyclists and make the bicycle a more attractive mode of transportation in Reykjavík?

Things are tolerably good as they are now. What needs to be done is to make people realise this: one can cycle to work on bike paths from most neighbourhoods in the greater Reykjavík area. Things have improved since I started cycling from Garðabær. But I am keenly aware that there is room for improvement, if, for example, you compare Reykjavik to Copenhagen. I would like to see more bike paths and less car pollution. It is going to be difficult to reduce pollution in Reykjavík but maybe the gasoline prices will help here. I would like to see companies in Reykjavik do more for employees who cycle to work. Simple things like easily accessible showers, closets for clothes and indoor facilities to keep the bikes would make cycling more attractive to people, no doubt. A simple cost-benefit analysis should convince corporate executives to invest in these things for their employees.      

Has this affected your family life at all? Does this make you exempt from all the mundane stuff around the home that is difficult to perform on a bike, like dropping off the kids or picking up the groceries?

I still have a lot of work undone here. But I have been trying to turn this into a way of life for the whole family, with some success. I am for the most part an obedient husband and do what my wife tells me to do around the house. But she does more of the grocery shopping and dropping off the kids, although only one of the kids still needs dropping off. She could definitely have made this hard for me. But she hasn’t.  

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