Cycling in Norway
Infrastructure boosts the sport of cycling year-round
M. Michael Brady
Until the wartime and postwar restrictions on import of private cars were lifted in 1960, cycling was commonplace in Norway. Thereafter, cycling declined in face of increasingly prevalent car ownership and use. According to a social research report published in 2012 by the Ministry of Transport and Communications (Further reading), only 4.3% of the Norwegian population could be classified as cyclists, compared to 12% in Sweden and 17% in Denmark.
The generally accepted explanation of Norway’s lower cycling percentage has been harsh winters and daunting terrain. The snows of winter can hinder, as can long uphill stretches almost anywhere you cycle. But international comparisons indicate greater use of bicycles in other countries known for their hills and their snows.
Aksel Tjora, professor of sociology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, reckons that the lag in Norway is due not to overcoming the physical environment but rather to shortcomings in the interactions between people and public spaces. He believes that “health-oriented moralism”—suggesting people take up cycling because it’s healthy—is doomed from the start. Public spaces for cycling should be fixed first to tempt people teetering on the threshold of starting cycling to take the first step.
Professor Tjora’s ideas, in concert with the incentives of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, Bane NOR (railway infrastructure agency), and the cities of Oslo and Trondheim (Further reading) have recently resulted in the betterment of public spaces for cycling. Most of the improvements, such as the upgrading of cycle paths and bike lanes on roads, are like those being implemented in the cycle traffic planning of many countries, and studded tires are installed on bicycles for winter riding.
But two are uniquely Norwegian. Twelve railway stations now have a Sykkelhotell (“Bicycle hotel”), a building with theft-proof indoor bike parking racks. In Trondheim, the Trampe bicycle lift, an uphill cable tow for cyclists, has been in operation since 1993. In action it’s similar to the Poma Lift for uphill skier transport, and the most recent update of it was implemented by the French Poma group. The results of these improvements will become known when cycling statistics are compiled at the end of this year, in part aided by extensive data compiled on cycle use, as by automatic cycle use day counts on the principal cycling streets of Oslo.
Cycle racing has always fared well in Norway. Norges Cykleforbund (“Norwegian Cycling Federation,” link: www.sykling.no, in Norwegian only) was founded in 1910, just ten years after the International Cycling Union (UCI, link: www.uci.ch, selectable in English or French) was founded in Paris. The first Norwegian championships in road cycling were held in 1912. From Knut Knudsen’s win of the 4000-meter track cycling event of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich to Edvard Boasson Hagen’s win of stage 19 of the 2017 Tour de France, Norwegian cyclists have performed well in international racing. This month, they have competitive chances on their home hills, as the 2017 UCI Road World Championships are being held in Bergen this September 16 to 24 (link: bergen2017.no/en, selectable in English or Norwegian).
“Motivating those who are almost cyclists” by Ida Korneliussen, Science Nordic, March 18, 2013, PDF: sciencenordic.com/motivating-those-who-are-almost-cyclists (English or Norwegian)
“Klimaeffekt av økt sykling og gåing” (Impact of increased cycling and walking on climate), report compiled by Civitas for the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications, October 2012, PDF: www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/upload/sd/vedlegg/sykling_rapport_130222_civitas.pdf (Norwegian)
Oslo sykkelstrategi (Oslo Biking Strategy) 2015-2025, PDF: www.spacescape.se/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/OsloSykkelstrategi_interaktiv.pdf (Norwegian)
Sykkelpolitisk dokument (Biking policy document) 2016-2020, Norges Cykleforbund, PDF: www.sykling.no/file/1040/download?token=j5BFdqbM (Norwegian)
Sykkelhåndboka (Cycling handbook), Norwegian Public Roads Administration, PDF: www.vegvesen.no/Fag/Publikasjoner/Handboker (Norwegian)
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 22, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.