I went out for a ride today and as it turned out it got me thinking and reflecting on the differences between countries when it comes to riding and gearing up, traffic and traffic behaviour.
To begin with, I passed by the petrol station to fill up. Then I thought I might as well check the air pressure. I was amazed to have to pay for this service, something I just assumed was included in the services the petrol station provides. But coming to think of it, even though I have travelled in about 15 countries I have only filled up with air in Sweden and New Zealand, none of these countries charged for it. Things might have changed though.
While getting on to the motorway, I was thinking of my riding gear and the safety of my jacket. I was wearing my summer jacket which has a built-in back protection. But it is rather short compared to my loose back protection that I use under my winter jacket. Pondering this, I got passed by two boys in t-shirts and the wind turbulence blew their t-shirts upwards exposing their whole naked back. The sight of this made me hope that they at least had the brains to put on sunblock, not to damage the skin in case of no accident.
I’ve been raised as a biker in an environment with very high safety awareness. In the local club, Lo Cats MC in Karlstad, where I spent my first riding years the general opinion was that when you get out to ride you gear up, and if you don’t use back protection you’re an idiot. Still, today I have a hard time not telling people that they are idiots when they don’t gear up properly for the ride 🙂
In Germany, Britain and other colder countries riders do gear up quite well, I guess this has to do with the double function of the gear, both safety and warmth. But I have noticed that a lot of touring riders wear laced hiking like boots for riding, which indeed are both comfy and waterproof but don’t provide much protection for the ankles. Personally, I prefer to ride in race boots, since I love hiking and running and therefore want to wear the best possible protection in case of an accident.
While riding in Spain I have seen people wear next to nothing riding their bike. The general idea is that it is a convenient way to commute and then you wear whatever you want to wear when you get to your destination. Which could be suit and tie, jeans and jacket or shorts and t-shirt, depending on where you’re going. Since I’m Swedish and know what I know and have seen what I have seen, I gear up even for riding to work, witch makes me have to answer a lot of questions, all the time. I guess it is just a different way of thinking about life. I can’t stand up and say how Spanish people think and why they do as they do, but to me it seems like it is more about living every day in as comfortable and nice way while Swedish people tend to plan for the future. Having said this, I’m aware that there are lots of serious bikers out there in Spain, geared up in leather, taking security seriously just as there are Swedish people not using back protection. This is my opinion and I love to hear your comments on it.
When it comes to traffic and the behaviour in traffic, Swedish and Spanish riders and drivers behaves very differently. I love the way I’m allowed to surf the queue, drivers actually make room for riders to pass. In Sweden, there is some kind of envy that prevents drivers from letting riders pass this easily. Like it would be bad to use a benefit when you can. Swedish people generally drive very much according to the rules and we plan our riding/driving. In Spain, the traffic acts a bit more creatively and I have, to an extent, got used to things happening suddenly. For example, a car can exit the roundabout from the inner lane by just using the horn and turning right. Traffic in Spain is generally very loud. It seems that there are many different reasons for using the horn, not only to make someone move or signal that you are coming, but also to show annoyance with the traffic jam. In Sweden, generally, we use the horn only to salute someone we know. And second if someone is in your immediate way. In England, Anelli and I often got passed silently by cars getting impatient because we hesitated a few seconds before getting into the roundabout. This annoyed me because I thought it was dangerous just to slip past like that not making themselves noticed. But from what I have heard British drivers don’t generally use the horn. But I have to say I prefer the Spanish way – even though if I get beeped at a lot I might get stressed.
Now, when I’ve got started thinking on gear and traffic, next is to reflect on roads and scenery and biking in general during the Grand Tour. But that is not for today, now I have to get ready for bed, vacation is long gone and daily life has taken over my life again.