The country of great rally drivers is home to resilient cyclists too. What about when the temperature drops to minus 15 degrees Celsius? No matter for the inhabitants of Joensuu, a small city in eastern Finland, where about 20% of daily trips are cycled during the summer season and even in winter, 10% of people use a bike for daily commuting.
Despite the heavy freeze, a bike rack in front of the local school is completely full. A surprising finding for anyone visiting from other parts of the world is that the overwhelming majority of people use bicycles with common tyres on snow.
In Joensuu, the same tractors are used for ploughing both public roads and cycle paths. Their blades push away fresh snow and groove the surface to make it less slippery. Local bikers explain that cycling on snow is comfortable and safe until the temperature raises over zero when melting snow turns into slush, and overnight, when it refreezes, it becomes pure ice. According to Finnish cyclists, ice could be cycled only by bikes with tyres fitted with metal studs.
Even Oulu, one of the most populous cities in northern Finland, is covered by snow for five months a year. Despite long, cold and dark winters, people keep pedalling their way to work or school. Local authorities estimate that 12% of all winter trips are cycled, which is more by 3% than in Helsinki, a capital city located further south.
Why do so many people in Finland cycle even in the coldest part of the year? One of the reasons is that people can trust all main cycle paths will be neatly ploughed before morning rush hours. Oulu inhabitants take advantage of a digital map showing the condition of the routes in real time. Moreover, commuters called ‘cycling agents’ report back on how well the roads are maintained. Even local commuters agree that low temperatures with dry winter are more suitable for cycling than the sleet common in more southern parts of Europe. Winter brings some more benefits, though. Snow, for instance, fills the potholes and makes the ride more comfortable than plain asphalt. The ploughs often clear the broader area than the bike path, adding more space to ride on.
Keep on riding, Finland!