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Hate cycling uphill? Try our lazy rider's guide to Helsinki's city bikes

Helsinki's city bike system has expanded this year, and the number of users has more than doubled. The system offers freedom to cycle around the city and leave your bike at your destination—facilitating a kind of 'lazy cycling' that means riders never have to pedal uphill.

Kaupunkipyörän latauspiste.
Helsinki's city bikes have been popular since they were introduced in 2016. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

Cycling is one of Helsinki's great summer joys, but sometimes the gradient can be an unpleasant complicating factor. It's not an especially hilly city, but there is still topography that can put off the less energetic potential bike borrower.

Many of the city's main sights lie along the shoreline, at sea level—and who wants to ride up a steep hill after a hard day's lazing on the beach?

Luckily for the more lethargic Helsinki bikers we've put together a map of the capital's city bike stations plotted by altitude. Stations in green are at the lowest elevation, those in yellow are a little higher, followed by purple stations and then red ones at the top of the Helsinki hills.

The highest bike station in the city is handily located a lofty 34 metres above sea level at Käpylä train station, allowing for a leisurely cycle down to the hipster cafes and vegan eateries of Kallio (bike station: Lintulahdenkatu) through the delightful Vallilanlaakso park.

Google maps describes this route as 'mostly flat', declining to offer even a gradient map as it normally does with suggested cycle routes. That's a little white lie: reverse the route and Google says it involves 47 metres of climbing and just 8 metres of downhill pedalling.

Bike redistribution system

Luckily enough, HSL's public transport system provides a wide selection of bus, train, metro and tram options to make the return journey without the need for self-propulsion.

Stations in green are at the lowest elevation, those in yellow are a little higher, followed by purple stations and then red ones at the highest points.

But what of other city bike users? Will they be inconvenienced by a bike shortage at the more elevated bike stations? According to HSL engineer Samuli Mäkinen, that's not an issue the system has been forced to confront.

"The biggest factors in lending of bikes are traffic hours, when most people are going in the same direction. So for example in the morning, between 8 and 9am, the bike stations in Töölö, although it's really flat, end up quite empty. And all of the bikes end up around the railway stations."

Helsinki has a system to redistribute the bikes, using a flatbed truck that travels the city collecting bikes and taking them to where they're needed. It's a system designed to cater to commuters.

"We need to collect the bikes before the morning rush hour so that there are lots of bikes at the stations which will empty soon, and make sure there are lots of spaces at the destination stations."

The city bike season runs until the end of October, and you can find more information and sign up here. It's possible to check the current supply of city bikes via the Kaupunkifillarit website.

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