Wandrering the winter cycling capital of the world

4 March 2023 by Pearl

Craig and I have very much enjoyed learning more about winter cycling from Wandrer Pekka Tahkola, an urban planner and well-being engineer who lives in Oulu, Finland. We recommend following him on social media (Instagram / Twitter / YouTube). Oulu is the the winter cycling capital of the world and this BBC News short video and Pekka’s head-to-head Winter Safe Cycling Showdown make it clear why.

What stands out to me most from Pekka’s stories is that once you’ve built the infrastructure and invest in maintenance, everyone can and will keep riding their bikes year-round. Just look at this schoolyard in Oulu in the middle of winter:

And these kids out by themselves with a sled, captured in a screenshot from the Winter Safe Cycling Showdown:

Pekka emphasizes that there’s no need for special bikes or other gear thanks to the infrastructure & maintenance. Kids bike unaccompanied by adults even in -30C (-22F) weather and 90-year old grannies will do their shopping with a regular single-speed upright city bike. As a result, I think Oulu looks vibrant and alive, even at -10C (14F) in the dark (another screenshot from the Winter Safe Cycling Showdown):

It’s perhaps not a big surprise that Pekka has explored quite a lot of Oulu (69.3% / 5,320 km / 3,306 mi / #1) and Finland (6.3% / 31,129 km / 19,343 mi / #1). Here are a few images of Pekka’s map at different zoom levels:

Now, for those of us who are willing to invest some time and planning into exploration by bike, Pekka says that the northern winter can make it possible to extend adventures. The rivers, lakes, and sea freeze near Oulu, allowing for rides in places that wouldn’t normally be possible. Sometimes going off the Wandrer map can be rewarding:

This video on Pekka’s Instagram shows how snow crust conditions can sometimes make it possible to ride on an otherwise impassable swamp. (Sound on for the snow crust crunch!)

You can also see the northern lights:

While Pekka is perhaps accurately described as at least a bit “cycle-mad”, enjoying some pretty spectacular & occasionally extreme adventures, he emphasizes that his job is to make sure that no one has to be cycle-mad to enjoy cycling year round. Pekka & Oulu show it’s possible – I hope we can all learn from them!

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