Swedish 'test cyclists' get free bikes in return for driving less

Project aims to find out if people don't ride because they simply haven't tried it

by John Stevenson   May 22, 2014  

Test cyclists from Lidkoping (©www.testcylisterna.se)

Why don’t people cycle for basic local trips? Conventional wisdom is that people are deterred by the idea of sharing the road with fast motor traffic. But in Sweden they’re testing a different theory, giving people free bikes in return for them promising to drive less, to see if the problem is that people simply haven’t tried getting around by bike.

According to Fast Company, commuters in the city of Gothenburg have been given free bikes for six months in return for a pledge to ride instead of driving at least three times per week.

Rickard Waern, a project manager for the Energy Agency of West Sweden, told Fast Company’s Adele Peters: “We think biking has the potential to fulfill most transport needs for most groups. This is especially true in light of all of the new types of bikes that have appeared on the market in recent years.”

The agency has chosen 36 ‘test cyclists’, including commuters, students and parents of young children. The idea is that the 36 will be good examples who will help encourage other non-cyclists to have a go.

“Showing good examples is a powerful way to reach out,” Waern said. “Through the project, we’re trying to create those good examples — people from many different groups in the population, with a large variety of transportation needs, who all can solve their daily transports with bikes.”

Waern acknowledges that in car-centric Sweden switching to the bike isn’t necessarily trivial.

“In some cases, it can be challenging to use a bike to, for example, do your shopping, or take your children to preschool and then get to your workplace in the morning,” he said. “And while this is absolutely true in some cases, the fact of the matter is that this can be more a mental barrier than an actual one. Most people can, with the right bike and a bit of planning, manage to do all these things and more."

The trial will last six months, the minimum that the agency believes will yield useful information and examples, and then the test cyclists will have the chance to buy their bikes at a discount.

So how are they getting on? You can read their accounts at testcyklisterna.se (in Swedish, but Google Translate gets the gist) and aside from the odd complaint about occassonally having to share the road with large trucks, they’re all pretty positive. Participants have been using cargo bikes and Brompton folders, among others, and enjoying taking the kids to school by bike, riding into the woods on geocaching expeditions and sailing past queues of cars waiting for the ferry.

5 user comments

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Surprise Damn, had I known about this I would have applied! Although a car is very unnecessary in Gothenburg. If you live outside of Gothenburg then most people will still want a car as the distances to most places are too great.

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posted by jasonbrim [24 posts]
22nd May 2014 - 15:19

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I admit skimming over the article with great speed, but what kind of bikes??!?!? Big Grin

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posted by koko56 [317 posts]
22nd May 2014 - 20:32

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Convincing unfit car drivers to swap for a mode of transport that will make them puff and sweat a little will be difficult, even for Sweden. Virtually impossible in the UK, unless incentives are substantial, or make it punitive to drive a car for short journeys.

Once you overcome the initial effort to get into cycling and your cardio improves, then cycling is best transport for short trips say 2-10 miles

posted by CXR94Di2 [102 posts]
23rd May 2014 - 8:37

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"...or take your children to preschool and then get to your workplace in the morning..."

I often take the younger one to nursery and the older one to school, and then continue on to work by bike, using a combination of forward-mounted child-seat and a bike towbar for the older one.

This is quite do-able. In bad weather we just wrap up. But the deal breaker is the busy roads, so I use some sections of pavement. Of course I don't like doing this, I know it's not legit and am always as courteous as possible - stopping to wait for pedestrians, etc.

But otherwise I'd be driving a meagre couple of miles on congested roads, and then have to drop the car back at the house since there's no parking at work. Or I could push a heavily laden bike around, getting on and off all the time, which kind of defeats the point and would take too long.

So all the encouragement to cycle and do "a bit of planning" is pointless if you don't provide safe space for cycling on these kind of journeys. Politicians always want to do what's easy, instead of what's been proven to work.

posted by pmanc [115 posts]
23rd May 2014 - 10:07

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Applause hey if they buy me a new pinnarello im moving there... Laughing

posted by tommytwoparrots [14 posts]
23rd May 2014 - 21:25

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