Cycling in Helsinki is for the most part just as easy and fun as anywhere else, plus you get to see and experience a lot more from the saddle than you do riding a bus, for example. The whole city comes together when you cycle from A to B, and you can spontaneously stop at fun places along the way. Here are my top tips for cycling in Helsinki, as well as some basic rules that you should keep in mind.
Traffic rules should always be kept in mind, also when riding a bicycle. I won’t go into them in detail here, but I highly recommend you check out the cycling section on the Finnish Road Safety Council website.
The bike paths in Helsinki are generally good, but they can be tricky here and there – for example, starting and ending in unexpected places. The best uninterrupted bike paths run along the shoreline and beside main traffic corridors. Beginners and those who cycle infrequently should stick to these well-marked bike paths. You can plan your journey on the aptly named Journey Planner or pick up a map from either the Tourist Information Centre, or the Helsinki Bike Centre.
The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone on your bicycle, so be considerate towards others who may be sharing the same space.
Do not make sudden movements without signalling your intention to do so first, for example when turning or stopping. You should practice your hand signals, for example to indicate in which direction you are turning or that you are stopping (hand raised), so that others know exactly what you are doing. Anticipating what is about to happen next is the key.
Stick to a speed at which you know you can control both yourself and your bicycle. If you don’t have a lot of experience cycling in the city or when surrounded by other traffic, maintain a reasonable speed and always be alert. Again, anticipation is the key.
Don’t cycle along sidewalks
In Finland, cycling on sidewalks is permitted only for children under the age of 12. If you are older, stick to the roads or bike paths. If you are not sure if the path you are on is for pedestrians or cyclists, you should walk your bike until you get to a traffic sign clarifying the issue.
Cycling on roads is permitted if there is no cycle path in the immediate vicinity going in your direction. If you are uncertain about riding on the road, you should stick to the sidewalk and walk your bike until you get to a cycling path or other suitable area. Remember that cyclists too have to ride on the right side, and you should stay as far to the right as possible without risking your safety.
If you stop to admire the scenery or a local attraction, make sure that you don’t block the way for others. This is especially true if you are cycling in a group – make sure that other cyclists can get past.
Always use lights when it gets dark
When riding at dusk or in the dark, Finnish law requires that bicycles have a headlight. This is not just a legal requirement, but also common sense. The purpose is to indicate your presence to others in order to avoid collisions and other hazardous situations.
Remember to check the batteries regularly, as a headlight that does not work is not much use. The front headlight must be white or light yellow, and if the bicycle is equipped with a rear light, it must be red. In other words, never use a red light in the front and white light in the back, as others won’t know which direction your moving in.
Helsinki’s specialty: tram tracks
Tram tracks pose a bit of a challenge in Helsinki. When cycling across them, you should always try to do so at a 90-degree angle if possible. Especially when wet, tram tracks can be slippery and cause you to lose your balance and even fall over, especially if a wheel slips into the track or bounces off it unexpectedly. If you are uncertain about sharing the road with tram tracks, you should walk your bicycle until you get to the nearest bike path.
Ring your bell, but remember to be courteous
In Helsinki you don’t have to worry that pedestrians will get offended or angry if you ring your bell. In fact, you should always use the bell when needed to warn others.
Especially when going around a “blind corner”, i.e. when you can’t tell if someone is coming the other way, it’s worth ringing your bell loudly just in case.
If you are riding along recreational paths, especially outside the city centre, you should also let dog owners know well in advance that you are coming. And since you can never say thank you enough, make sure to show your appreciation when you ride past.
Taking your bike on public transport
You can take your bike on trains and the metro. In fact, it’s a good idea to make a note of the nearest train station or metro station in case you get tired and can’t continue by bike. You can also think about taking the train or metro first and then riding back to your starting point, seeing all the sights along the way and enjoying the ride. This minimises the risk of being stranded far away if you get tired.
The HSL public transport website has good tips and more precise rules for carrying bicycles on public transport. I recommend using the HSL mobile app for purchasing tickets.
Grab a city bike or rental bike
Helsinki’s city bikes can be used by anyone who has first registered as a city bike user. The price list and instructions can be found on the HSL city bike website. If you are more serious about cycling, you can also rent a bicycle at several locations in Helsinki. You can find them on Google, but at least Bicyclean and Breakaway rent a wide range of bikes for different needs.
Getting around by bike is a fun and liberating experience, and all you need is a normal common sense to enjoy it. In other words, don’t get too stressed about the rules and regulations. Cycling lets you discover the city and all its places in a whole new way while also enjoying the fresh seaside air. Have fun cycling in Helsinki!