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Biking in the Dark in Sweden Posted by on Dec 17, 2009 in Culture

December 21st  is the shortest day of the year. The winter solstice (vintersolståndet). In Stockholm, the sun is supposed to rise at 8:44 am and set at 2:49 pm. In Umeå, way up north, the sun is supposed to rise at 9:21 am and set at 1:46 pm. I say supposed to because the 21st is still a few days away. Plus, my knowledge of astronomy is limited to one and a half weeks during my sophomore year of college, after which I decided I’d rather learn about geography with the cute girl from the dorms and so, dropped astronomy.

Living in Sweden though, astronomy becomes interesting. Or at least the time the sun rises and sets, because the amount of daylight (dagsljus) in Sweden is a demonstration of extremes. From the few hours of daylight on the 21st of December, to the nearly unbroken daylight during Midsummer, the amount of daylight varies greatly.

December 22nd is the day that most Swedes turn from glass half dark kind of people, to glass half light kind of people. It’s still dark, but suddenly, it is getting lighter. Every single day is just a little bit longer.

The lack of daylight means people truly cherish the sun. Faces turn skyward the second the sun pops out during the winter, craving UV rays and the hopes of some vitamin-D. But before moving here, it was what went on in the dark that intrigued me. You know, safety-wise.

I mean being outside of course. Every winter, you’ll notice reflectors going on sale in stores throughout Sweden. Because so many people are walking to work, to school, to the bus stop, reflectors are quite common. Reflectors aren’t just used by kids either, they are pinned on nearly every jacket and coat in the country and come in a variety of shapes and sizes from the cute playful children’s model, to the skull and crossbones model for those so inclined.

But the outdoor safety does not stop at reflectors. Bikes are equipped with lights, often times both front and back. For anyone planning on doing an exchange program as a student in Uppsala, be sure to get a light before the winter sets in. The police will not hesitate to pull you over for biking in the dark. Seriously (Allvarligt).

Of course, having once, maybe, possibly, taken my bike out for a spin without a light on a snowy dark afternoon/night while a student in Uppsala, being pulled over should be the least of your concern. Instead, it is the icy ruts that form, invisible to the naked eye without proper lighting, that cause problems. And by problems I mean bruises (blåmärken).

So before making the move to the Swedish winter, invest in a reflector. And if you insist on biking (cykla) through ice and snow, get a light.

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. Kenia:

    Hi Marcus! Interesting post!
    Now I wonder, do swedes actually walk with reflectors pinned on their clothes in winter? Aren’t the street and car lights enough for you to be seen by everyone?

  2. Alexander:

    Reflectors increases the distance you’ll be seen on by about 100% and there’s not street lights everywhere. You don’t generally need reflectors if you live in a city, but if you live in a smaller community it’s essential.

  3. Minty:

    From what I’ve seen in Västerås so far about half the people wear reflectors. Most toddlers have them plastered everywhere, and parents of young children are conscious of them too. When it comes to business people and teenagers the number of reflector wearers reduces greatly. So like your typical safety considerations in other countries I reckon.

  4. Marcus Cederström:

    @Kenia – they most certainly do. quite a few of them actually. its amazing what a difference they make.

    @alexander – a good point, but even getting outside of the middle of stockholm, those reflectors really come in handy.

    @minty – that is true, kids, even their strollers,tend to be covered in them. adults less so. but I am still amazed by how many people wear them.