In June, Joakim Bjerhem and his wife visited Porsgrunn and Skien in Norway – two beautiful towns on the shores of a fjord just south of Oslo. Joakim, who works as a traffic planner at ÅF, regularly uses the bicycle-sharing systems in the places he visits.
“You get an entirely different sense of the town you’re visiting when you cycle. When on holiday, you tend to live fairly centrally, making it easy to use a bicycle to explore the town. This gives you a sense of how large the town is, the people that live there, the architecture and how the town fits together. Bicycle-sharing systems are so simple; just download an app, hop onto an available bicycle and off you go,” says Joakim.
Bicycle-sharing systems are often owned by multinational companies who sell the service to the municipality, meaning that the same system can be found in several towns and cities in different countries, all using the same app. While in Porsgrunn and Skien, the municipal bicycle-sharing system tested by Joakim offered electric bikes, something that was ideally suited to the hilly landscape.
“It was astonishingly beautiful but very hilly. It was therefore perfect that they offered electric bikes. The streets of the town run parallel to one another along the banks of the fjord, all with fantastic views, meaning that you can choose the height above the fjord you want to cycle at. The streets were quiet with a variety of architecture and not much traffic,” says Joakim.
When you explore somewhere by bicycle, chances are you will discover those homely little places that you might otherwise have overlooked.
“We found ourselves on an idyllic side street in Porsgrunn where the museum was located among old farm buildings and a beautiful park,” explains Joakim.
The town’s bicycle-sharing system was simple to use and worked well but, of course, you can always run into problems.
“I cycled the first seven kilometres without electricity. I couldn’t quite fathom how the electric motor worked and didn’t understand that I had no power, so it was hard work to begin with. Still, once I found the switch I was away,” says Joakim Bjerhem, traffic planner at ÅF.
Joakim has tried the bicycle-sharing systems in a number of countries and cities: Milan, Dresden, Berlin, Warsaw, Stockholm and Nice.
“I heartily recommend Warsaw. It certainly exceeded expectations. The system was well-developed and the cycle paths were lovely, including along the city’s old boulevards,” says Joakim.
He has also tried out the cycle paths of Copenhagen and Beirut, although their here acquired a bicycle by other means.
“You couldn’t really call Beirut a bicycle-friendly city, nobody cycles there; however, it is densely urbanised and cars will give way – there seems to be an acceptance of vulnerable road users so it seemed to go pretty well. After Beirut, on the other hand, we travelled to Amman in Jordan, where even the Swedish foreign office advises against cycling. The traffic there was not exactly cycle friendly,” confirms Joakim.
So, what is Joakim’s advice to anyone interested in exploring cities by bike?
“There are many cities, towns and districts with bicycle-sharing systems. It is simple to check and, where it is possible to borrow a cycle, it’s simply a matter of peddling away. Use the Bicycling function on Google Maps and most cycle paths will appear as green lines on the map on your phone.”
Joakim Bjerhem is a traffic planer at ÅF
“I work with the pedestrian and cycle elements in the traffic planning stage, prior to project design. During the spring, I have mainly been working with the expansion of footpaths and cycle parking inventory in Gothenburg, from Klippan to Gamlestan. We use computers to examine needs and availability of cycle parking around the city; for example, at workplaces and shopping centres.”