BSNYC Field Trip: From Gotham to Gothenburg

Yesterday, I returned from my trip to Gothenburg/Göteborg, Sweden, where I visited the Göteborgs cykelfestival. I'm pleased to say in all sincerity that the visit was easily among the highlights of my bicycle blogging life. In fact, at one point I had something of an epiphany, when I was so overcome with goodwill towards the Gothenburg cycling community that my eyes alighted on this bicycle and I decided on the spot to change my name to "Wildcat Rock Machine:"

When it comes to messages from the Almighty Lobster on High, I know how to take a hint. Plus, the moniker should also serve me well should I decide to transition to country western music or reinvent myself as a "Flintstones" character.

My only problem with the visit was that it was far too short, and it felt remarkably like driving through three states to ride a single cyclocross race--which is to say a lot of fun, but very exhausting for mostly the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, sometimes a short visit is better than no visit at all, and this was one of those times. Furthermore, as soon as I arrived I knew immediately that I had made the right decision, for clearly Sweden was a land of limitless possibility and promise for the future:

Unfortunatly, it was a long flight and I couldn't wait until autumn, so I apologize to the janitorial staff of the Stockholm-Arlanda airport for what's lying behind that wall right now.

Speaking of Sweden's national character, it's quite different from that of America (or Canada's bidet), and here are just a few surprising things I learned about Sweden during my stay:

--It is remarkably clean;
--There are infant changing stations in the men's rooms;
--Both men and women get parental leave from work until their child is 42;
--Pets get free dental care (this also goes for applicable houseplants such as Venus Flytraps);
--Swedes get 50 weeks of paid vacation per year.

However, as desirable as these things may sound to us Americans, they also come at a considerable cost, since Swedes are taxed at 120% of their income. While this may be low by European standards, Americans would be unlikely to accept it, since it would mean many households having to give up that second gun. Plus, Americans are about as likely to embrace men's room changing tables as they are men's room tampon dispensers--though if you think about it the two would go well together since many American men think that changing a baby in public can cause you to grow a vagina.

The other thing I learned about Sweden was that, at this time of year, the sun actually rises before it's finished setting. This means that not only is it light all the time, but the day is also 29 hours long. It also meant that, if I craved darkness, I had no alternative but to look into the recesses of my soul.

Anyway, my flight was delayed considerably, which meant that by the time I finally arrived on Friday I was in no condition to participate in the "Big Lebowski"-themed alleycat being held in conjunction with the festival. (Actually I'm not sure there are any conditions under which I would participate in such an event, short of those caused by consumption of PCP.) However, the next morning I did ride over to the Götaplatsen to join the group ride over to the festival, and on the way there I passed the procession of some sort of beer appreciation society. Due to my trademark poor photography skills I missed the leaders and their banner, though I did catch a couple of stragglers complete with tophats, mullets, and a keg in a stroller:

Remember, this is Sweden, so not only is that beer delicious, but it's also entitled to free healthcare and education up to and through the university level.

Also (at least from an American perspective) Gothenburg is a very easy place to ride a bicycle as a practical means of conveyance, and I witnessed a good number of people doing so, including this couple on a tandem:

If you're wondering how I know their ride was of a practical nature, I'm reasonably certain they were off to buy a pair of "Fundies:"

As for the "bike culture," I found it assembled at the Götaplatsen by the time I arrived:

In any city, the "bike culture" is fairly John Hughesian in that it contains certain cliques, and Gothenburg is no exception. Most of the cliques I've come to expect were ably represented, including tall bikes:

As well as their tall riders:

There were "tweedies:"

As well as nonplussed-looking people loitering ominously on the periphery while wearing sunglasses:

There were "smuggies" with cargo bikes:

Both dry and lemonade-dispensing:

And, of course, there were lots of "fixies:"

(Fixed-gear cyclist plays a delightful tune on his handlebar flute.)

As for me, I was singlehandedly representing the American bike blogger clique. Thomas Edison once said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." Similarly, being an American bike blogger is one percent perspiration and ninety-nine percent being an asshole, and inasmuch as this definition is true I like to think that I was doing a pretty good job of it.

Speaking of the nether regions, can you guess what this is?

If you guessed that it's the taint of a giant yet modestly-endowed statue between whose legs you can survey the majesty of Gothenburg, then you're correct:

In any case, we soon received our marching orders via a megaphone, which is of course the fixed-gear bicycle of personal amplification:

So we strapped our helmets to our faces:

And set off to the Land Beyond the Giant's Taint:

All of us except for this guy, that is, who headed off by himself into the late 19th century:

At the venue, there was a spectacular display of trials riding:

Although this kid was singularly unimpressed:

Then again, he might have been overwhelmed by smugness--or by the sounds of accordion music:

They say music soothes the savage beast, and accordion music summons the wayward pennyfarthing rider back from the 19th century:

("Hey, does anybody else hear an accordion?")

And of course where there's accordions and "bike culture," there's also media:

I don't speak Swedish, but I'm pretty sure I got the gist of the interview:

"What's it like to ride a tall bike?"
"How's the weather up there?"
"Who does your hair?"

And so forth.

Inside the venue there were exciting bicycles from the future:

And exotic recumbents:

And lovely handbuilt bicycles of the road, track, and mountain variety:

And luminous pennyfarthings that cast spells on men with beards:

Unfortunately I was unable to follow most of the day's presentations and films since, apart from my own presentation, they were were in Swedish. As for my talk, if you'd like to see how ridiculous I looked while delivering it you can do so here, but if you don't let's just say I've got a bit of an armpit waterfall happening for much of it:

I realize I said earlier that being an American bike blogger involves one percent perspiration and ninety-nine percent being an asshole, but during the talk it looks like I was splitting the two 50/50.

To their credit, the festivalgoers humored me:

Though the kid in the box was apparently bored out of his mind:

In any case, my presentation on hyperhidrosis (complete with demonstration) was the last one of the day. With the festival over, people clearly needed to let off steam, because an impromptu Brompton folding competition broke out:

In America, people shoot each other. In Sweden, they challenge each other to Bromptons at dawn--which, at this time of year, means like 2:30am.

I knew if anybody challenged me to a Brompton folding contest I'd probably manage to trap myself in it and suffocate, and so I headed back to my lodgings to get ready for the afterparty. On the way there, I was shoaled-and-trackstanded in the Swedish manner:

And then it was off to the (roller) races:

I was sad to leave Gothenburg, but before I did I'm pleased to report I was able to sample some very pleasant off-the-road bicycle cycling (which, amazingly, was located right in the city):

The bicycle, sadly, is not mine, and was indeed built by one of our riding party under the brand "Godspeed:"

Despite myself, I even attempted some amateur bike porn by taking this gratuitous lug-and-twine shot, complete with disembodied feet:

I feel so dirty.

As I flew back to New York, I reflected on how humbled I was that a group of people so far away had asked me to visit. I also reflected on how much I had enjoyed their company, and how grateful I was to have had the opportunity to meet them. Certainly, for me, this was one of the best experiences to have come out of my blog. Though I was very tired, I was also oddly elated, and I continued to feel this way all through the cab ride home from the airport.

Then the driver and I had a minor disagreement. Dropping me off in Brooklyn, he pointed to a beautiful June sky, fixed me with his eyes, and uttered the following words like he was Inigo Montoya:

"You will die very soon. Mark my words. You will die very soon."

Then he drove away.

So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

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