Jussi Ansala: Municipal elections and cycling – the holy trinity for commuters and students: bicycle, route and a wholly reliable lock

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In June, the Board OLL, the Finnish Student Sports Federation, decided on the federation's goals for the 2021 municipal elections. The decisions are based on statements by member organisations. The first goal, or rather the solution, is this: the conditions for cycling must be improved and city bike networks expanded – cycling is a great form of everyday exercise for all residents of a municipality, including students. In this blog post, I will address the municipal election theme mainly on the basis of my personal experiences in the saddle.

Cycling has been a hotly debated subject in recent years. In the 2017 municipal elections, it was one of the goals of the Finnish Olympic Committee's network for enhancing physical activity, and, we are happy to say, it is already included in the sports, or corresponding policy of a couple of major political parties. But why do we still want to talk about cycling?

The answer is simple: in many cases, cycling is a skill we learn at a young age, even before going to school. It keeps us on the move for years before we get to ride a moped or drive a car. And even if we already have a driving license, cycling still keeps us physically active.

Cycling is an easy way to move around, and in some cases it is even faster than a car. Cycling does not cause wear and tear on roads or pollute the air. Indeed, cycling can be characterised as a positive, easy way to travel and promoting it takes nothing away from other modes of transport.

Many working-age people have switched to cycling and prefer to use it for commuting, both for reasons of ecology and promotion of health, but for students, the reasons are financial as well.

Cycling is not only easy but inexpensive too, and cyclists are not restricted by public transport schedules.

The first link of the three essentials

As the headline says, cycling is not possible without a bicycle. Philosophers would say that the bicycle is a necessary precondition for cycling. In my opinion, this key precondition is all too often overlooked when we talk about improving cycling conditions.

It is not self-evident that all students have a bicycle or even the means to acquire one. I remember very well myself, how even buying a cheap bicycle was a big investment in my student years.

Bicycle maintenance by a professional is often out of reach for students. Even while I was a student, having my bicycle serviced by a professional seemed impossible. It is still beyond me how the cost of basic bicycle maintenance can amount to almost half the purchase price of an affordable bike? (What if the annual maintenance of a EUR 10,000 car were to cost EUR 5,000!)

In recent years, networks of high-quality city bikes have been successfully set up in both larger cities and smaller municipalities. I have witnessed the massive growth of the city bike network in Helsinki metropolitan area, but city bikes are also available in smaller cities, like Rauma.

City bikes are an excellent, affordable solution to meeting the essential precondition of cycling. As city bikes are also regularly serviced, the all-important safety factor is taken care of.

However, a bicycle alone is not enough

Another key condition for cycling that needs to be in order is the route for the bike ride. If you just go for a ride, it doesn’t matter much which route it is that is in a good condition, as long as even one of them is.

But if you use your bicycle to go to school or work, it is vital that the route between home and school or workplace is suitable for cycling. A bicycle path or a pedestrian and bicycle way that runs all the way, and separates pedestrians and cyclists clearly, is a luxury.

Moreover, when the bicycle path is maintained all year round, winter cycling can become not only a form of fitness exercise but a pleasure without fear – as long as at least the front tyre is studded. One student city in Finland that is known as a haven for winter cycling is Oulu.

The third link

I had several candidates for the last link of the three essentials for cycling, for example adequate physical fitness, clothing suitable for cycling, or a high-quality helmet. However, as one of my three essentials, I chose a lock, or rather a decent locking option.

These days, it is impossible for me to fathom a bicycle without a proper lock. However, even the toughest lock on the market does not guarantee that you will eventually find your bicycle where you left it. It is vital that university campuses and courtyards are equipped with modern, adequate racks to which the bike can be securely locked by the frame.

Jussi Ansala

This blog was written by a specialist in university sports at OLL, the Finnish Student Sports Federation, and an avid commuter cyclist.

Jussi Ansala

Senior Special Advisor for University Sport

Author profile: Jussi Ansala

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