Q & A with Andre Karlsson of BienVelo in Malmo, Sweden
Andre Karlsson co-owns BienVelo alongside Gustaf Söderqvist. Bienvelo sell a range of urban bikes, fixies and single speed as well as some cool urban cycle clothing and accessories.
JH I heard you were the only shop in Sweden that sold the limited editions cycle Levi’s jeans. How important is the urban bike clothing market to you guys and your customers?
AK We are one of I think three carefully selected shops in Sweden that sell the Levi's commuter line. The clothes are a pretty big part of our concept so they are very important to us, they are a big part of what sets us apart from a bike mechanic shop. Our biggest customer base are people who don't use their bikes for exercise but ride a lot, lycra is great but it might not be the prettiest thing to wear at the bar, therefore good looking clothes that are made for cycling suit them way better.
JH Do you also sell lycra?
AK We sell lycra on request but it's nothing we keep in stock.
JH What do you wear when you’re out and about?
AK If you use your bike as much as we do your style of clothes start to revolve around it. Every time I buy a new piece of clothing the thought of how its going to work on my bike is always present. Clothes that are tight in the back are a no go for example, you need to be able to reach for the handle bars without cracking the back open. Otherwise I wear clothes that I think look good. The Levi's commuter line works well, the jeans have some stretch in the fabric and are a bit water repellent and their tops are made to breath.
JH The image we have of a Swedish cyclist is a bit cooler and more relaxed than the MAMILs swarming around British roads – Would you agree?
AK The cycling culture is quite different here from most of the world. We all cycle but there are very few cyclists. Cycling here is about transport instead of recreation which means that people often doesn't even like to ride and don't care about what bike they have. This attitude is changing though. The exercise and environment friendly trend is making more people commute further and use bikes for exercise and this in turn leads to more people getting better bikes and adjusting their life to being bike riders.
JH What lead you to opening the bike store? Have you always been big into bikes?
AK I've actually only been biking properly for around 3 years. I started when I moved to Toronto and realised that biking took a third of the time compared to taking public transit to work. Since then there has been no other mode of transport than biking that is acceptable and it's also my biggest interest and a good way to exercise.
When I moved back to Malmö I saw a big hole in what the bike shops had to offer here. There was nowhere to go for passionate bike riders, all shops were just pushing prices and they weren't even bikers themselves. So when I found another guy that also wanted to open a bike shop we decided to give it a go.
JH I read on your website that Malmo is the worlds 6th biggest city for cycling! That’s pretty cool. Can you tell me what makes Malmo so special for you and why it’s a great city for cycling?
AK Yeah last year we went up to number 6. I think it has a lot to do with infrastructure. The bike lanes here are almost exclusively separated from car traffic and they are everywhere. As an example I have 9 km (5.6 miles) to my other job and I'm on a road where cars are allowed max 200 meters of that stretch the rest is dedicated bike lanes. We also have public bike pumps and a bike rental system just started. It's clear that the municipality is trying.
JH It’s pretty cold in the winter in Sweden… how do you prepare for a ride in the winter months or even when you’re going for a Meander on your bike? What do you wear?
AK Since I live in the south of Sweden we don't really get any snow, it's only a couple of weeks per winter. The humidity and the wind are the biggest problems together with the cold. I can’t stand public transport so I have a bike for winter with fenders and I keep an extra front wheel with a studded tire at home to swap to if it's icy. Clothing wise I have clothes that are water and wind resistant. The best buy I've made is a thin goretex "beanie" that I have under my helmet and a pair of waterproof gloves. You get warm from riding as long as you keep the wet and wind out.
JH What’s your top tips on places to see in Malmo by bike? Any routes you would recommend for a tourist visiting Malmo for the day?
AK Malmö is a small city so you can literally see all of it in one day on a bike. Biking along the seafront is great, it's prohibited to build less than 200 meters from the water so we have a park that runs for a few miles along the coast with great bike lanes. Riding to the base of Öresundsbron is also super nice and there there are some trails if you want to get a little rougher terrain. Otherwise I'd recommend riding out of the city. There are great bike lanes all along the coast and between a lot of the villages. It's super flat so it's really accessible even if you aren't super fit.
JH And any favourite spots to stop for eat and drink when you’re out and about on your bike?
AK In summer there are tons of places but I definitely most often stop somewhere near Möllan (Möllevångstorget). There you can sit outside and grab a beer or some food after your ride and you can have your bike right next to you, I don't like having it out of my sight. :)
JH What’s your best cycling memory?
AK My favourite cycling memory is from summer 2016 when I rode with my partner around Skåne (the southern part of Sweden). We had a tent and in Sweden it's legal to put it up almost anywhere so we just biked until we felt done for the day and then we set up camp. We cooked food on a camping kitchen and just rode our bikes all day. The freedom of just being able to start and stop whenever you want, to plan your route completely the way you want it and the feeling of accomplishment when you get to where you are going by your own propulsion is magical.
JH What's your dream bike / accessory?
AK Here I could go on forever. There isn't really ONE dream bike, every situation has it's own dream bike. One road bike, one gravel road bike, one touring bike, one fixed gear, one mountain bike and so on and so on, all with their own dream accessories. Right now though I just got a new fixed gear, a Polo and Bike Wiliamsburg team edition, that I'm going to use as my everyday bike and I'm currently upgrading it with parts I like. After that one I think my next project will be a carbon fibre road bike and then a touring bike. Then I need a new winter bike for next winter so there are plenty of plans.