Isa Svärd is a gravel-loving fixed gear and road rider from Stockholm. I met her at the European Cycle Messenger Championships, between beer-hauling, Copenhagen exploring, checkpoint marking and after-partying. She talked about her female-friendly fixed gear crew CATS Sthlm and about what riding in Sweden is like.
Basically I’m one-part cynical graphic designer, one-part happy-go-lucky Swede and 1 part nature-loving lone wolf. I live in Stockholm, Sweden and I spend my days mostly thinking about food or riding my bikes. The bike is a social tool for me as much as means of transportation. On my bike I go to work, I hook up with friends and exercise – which is a huge plus ‘cus I really enjoy food/drinks. Off the bike I go to festivals, art exhibitions, binge-watch food series and travel as much as I can.
What kind of cyclist are you? What do you ride, where do you go?
I’d say I’m a mix between a serious commuter, your typical fixie hipster working in advertising and a chill “solskenscyklist”. Is there an expression for this in English? It means that you only ride when it’s not raining.
‘Fairweather cyclist’, probably. But it’s not very complimentary.
Mostly I ride fixed or road. It’s a mood thing and depending on how much my shitty knees hurt. I often end up changing daily which keeps both styles fun and interesting. When I’m on my road bike after work I often go for a lone spin around Djurgården (awesome island in the middle of town!). Brilliant way to clear your head after a long day and work up an appetite. Riding fixed often leads to bar-hopping on Södermalm or just cruising around town looking at architecture.
How long have you been cycling for and how did you get into it?
A friend inspired me to buy a vintage Italian road bike four years ago, I LOVED it. I was new in town and it enabled me to go anywhere and beyond. I felt like I was twelve again, free to roam further and further away from home. Then I knocked out both of my front teeth crashing it.
The same friend suggested I should ride fixed instead… I got completely hooked from the moment I started planning my build. Still remember sitting in a car on my way to a Christmas dinner with a computer in my lap trying to order my first frame on a shitty internet connection. It just couldn’t wait! And I haven’t broken anything since – knock on wood.
What’s cycling in Stockholm like?
Heaven and Hell. Stockholm is a small town, so cycling is an ideal way to get around, but the infrastructure is lagging behind the growing cyclist community. So as an effect there are a lot of pissed-off cyclists, pedestrians and motorists around. I try to be nice. But besides that, Stockholm is a beautiful town to explore on a bike.
CATS Sthlm, by Anders Ahlgren
Isa, by Anders Ahlgren
Who do you ride with? Tell me about your crew.
I don’t really belong to a crew but I am a part of the network CATS Sthlm, an all-female bike network. We consist of over 80 really different personalities who share the passion for bikes. Joining the network has given me so many new awesome friends and female cyclists to look up to and learn from.
Other than that the bike/fixie/messenger scene in Stockholm is pretty big and there’s a bunch of great people to ride and hang out with. Whether you’re aching for a longer sweaty road spin or a shorter scenic ride – someone is always up. (Here’s a local news article, if Swedish is your thing)
When did they start – what’s their story?
CATS Sthlm just turned one year! The network was primarily for women riding fixed or single speed in the beginning. But since our goal is to inspire women to ride more, regardless bike, everyone’s welcome. The network serves as a meeting place and a social platform where we invite everyone to join rides, organize workshops and so on. If you’re interested in building your first bike it’s also a great group to bounce ideas with and get help with questions like “Help! Which size should I buy?”. We’ve all been through the WTF-am-I-doing process and happy to share our failures and wisdoms.
What kind of rides do you all do?
CATS try to have at least one organized ride each month. Usually we end up going for a chill scenic spin, but sometimes we do longer ones (6-10K) and other times we just head straight for the food and drinks.
I try to help out at alleycats, since I’m the worst at handling competitive stress and go in to freak mode when riding them. Though I think this has a lot to do with who you’re teaming up with. Last time I rode with fellow CAT Siri (badass!) and she took the time to teach me how to strategise. This is what I love with the CATS.
CATS sthlm, by Anders Ahlgren
What are you riding? Tell me about your bike.
In my kitchen you’ll find a Cinelli MASH 2009ish (fixed), a Tokyo Fixed S2 (fixed), a Scott Speedster (road) and I gave myself an NJS frame for Christmas. Felt like it was the only type of pony missing in my stable (a.k.a my kitchen). It’s a neon green Gan Well Pro, don’t know from what year. After some Japanese google translating, I believe it’s a price frame, previously owned by a professional Keirin Racer.
I’m super stoked on planning this build and slowly (for once) getting it together piece by piece. It should be on the streets by spring. Also going back to 100% brakeless on this one, we’ll see what my knees say about that. Really longing for warm night rides on my neon dream machine. 😎
Cinelli Mash 2009
Tokyo Fixed S2
What adventures have you been up to this summer?
It kicked off with my yearly trip to Sónar in Barcelona, stayed for a week and thought I would have the time for some bike rides there. But didn’t and was pretty disappointed.
Luckily this random chic from LA turned up in Stockholm and contacted CATS. And it turned out to be a great summer with never ending rides and giggles all over town – thanks Meg.
The laughs crescendoed during European Cycle Messenger Championships (ECMC) in Copenhagen with riding into sunsets, working as a volunteer at the race and exploring a whole new city by bike. I love the fact that the bike community makes it so easy to connect with people all over the world. You’re immediately taken in and cared for, even if the only thing you have in common is something on two wheels. This summer really proved it.
What’s been one of your most memorable bike rides?
There’s been a few by now, but the one that’s sticking with me when I feel like I can’t do anything is Ronde van Retaard 2014. A 100K (in 8 stages) race where no gears were allowed, 95% on gravel roads.
This is what an old webpage for the race says about it: “The race is contested over approximately 100 kilometers of gravel roads and no gears are not allowed. The Ronde is a homage to the hard early days of bicycle racing. And food & wine, fireworks and midgets.”
I did it on my Tokyo fixed steel frame, but there where some guys on roadbikes and fatbikes with taped gears making them single speed.
The route went through the country side of Sweden’s west coast, north of Gothenburg – Sweden’s second biggest city (video here).
Mostly on small gravel roads seldom used now a days, passing fields with horses and cows. Some parts went through forests with the road being more suitable for MTB… Here’s someone’s Strava. Sadly 2014 was the last race of its kind, I really hope it will resurrect some day again!
Ronde Van Retaard – ChristerHedberg
Ronde Van Retaard – ChristerHedberg
Before that I had never done a 100K ride in one day before, I did it fixed and long distances I found myself tired and alone on the most amazing forest roads. That race made me conquer my psyche. Other racers passed me. I was angry and tired, but I didn’t give up. And it’s also when I realized I love gravel.
What’s the next adventure you want to do?
We’re putting together a CATS team for the Rad Race “Tour de Friends” 2017. SO STOKED! Doesn’t this race sound awesome! And getting into that gravel and mud business on my soon hopefully-working cyclocross.
Awesome. Thanks Isa.