The Art Of Sisu And Cycling

“The concept of sisu has no direct translation, encompassing extreme perseverance and dignity in the face of adversity.”

I’m continuing to walk to work on as many days as I can. Before Christmas I embarked on the 45-minute journey – in both directions – almost every day of the school term and absorbed myself into the world of Baltic podcasts. Over the course of six or seven weeks I practically exhausted all the relevant available audio delights on Apple Podcasts and BBC Sounds, circumnavigating the Baltic Sea not once but twice. You can peruse the list of those podcasts by navigating over to the Baltic Sea Cycle page of

Since the start of the new term, my focus has turned to listening to audio books that are in some way connected to the Baltic Sea and I’m currently working my way through a book called Finding Sisu: In search of courage, strength and happiness the Finnish way by a Finnish-Canadian writer called Katja Pantzer. Here’s the blurb:

“Finnish-born writer Katja Pantzar was raised and educated in Canada, where the consumerist and materially obsessed culture left her feeling empty and unhappy. When she received treatment for depression in her mid-20s, the doctor treating her simply prescribed medication and sleeping pills, no thought given to her lifestyle.

After moving to Finland, Katja discoveredย sisu: the Finnish approach to well being defined by a special kind of resilience, grit and courage. She embraced this way of living and experienced a dramatic turnaround in her health and happiness.”

Now I’m not suffering from depression and have never read a self-help guide in my life. This is not, however, a self-help book although it does feature suggestions as to how to improve the quality of your life, mainly by embracing a sisu approach to living. If you want to discover more about what sisu is and how it is in hard-wired into the Finnish way of life, I’ll leave you to read (or listen to) the book. That said, I will make mention of the chapter that is all about sisu and cycling: “pedalling to happiness and health“. Here’s the summary that Katja includes at the end of the chapter:

Pedalling addresses a range of issues from countering the effects of a sedentary lifestyle to elevating mood and providing stress relief and boosting creativity and brain power.

“Can you use cycling as a form of transport? It may actually save time and money.

Build up a standard kit of what you need; a helmet, rain gear, lights and reflectors. Once you have all the basic equipment, it’s easier to make it into a daily or weekly habit.

Keep it enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be a triathlon. Even a few kilometres a day or a week is great.

Find a cycling friend. when you agree to meet up with someone it can make it easier and more enjoyable to pedal.

In places where cycling as a form of transport is not an option, consider other alternatives such as nearby woods or local parks that have bicycle paths or lanes.

Finding Sisu: In search of courage, strength and happiness the Finnish way by Katja Pantzar

I would imagine that for most people reading this, those suggestions will come as nothing new but as someone who hasn’t been out on the bike in recent weeks citing the excuse ‘it’s the middle of winter!’, it’s worth noting that Finland has a winter that is far longer, far darker and far more severe than that experienced here in northern England. Perhaps I need to embrace my inner sisu and start commuting to work on a bike again. It’s something I did for years when I lived in Reading and worked in Henley. Most mornings – irrespective as to how cold or wet it happened to be – I would set off to pedal the 7km to work. The views were stunning…

…and, crucially, the ride provided excellent preparation for the long rides across Europe in 2010, 2013 and 2015. It wasn’t so much the distance but the fact that it prepared me to get on the bike come rain or shine and start cycling. That’s the biggest challenge of cycling; sitting on the saddle and cycling the first few metres. The rest is easy. But it does require a bit of sisu. Before I set off to the Baltic in July, I need to up my game, up my sisu and start commuting by bike again. The clocks change on March 27th. That might be a good point at which to start. You read it here first.

Visit the dedicated Baltic Sea Cycle Route / EuroVelo 10 page of to discover more about the planned cycle around Europeโ€™s other big sea.

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2 replies »

  1. Like yourself I have been off my bike for a long time, a year in fact. I twisted my knee very badly last February and have since had a knee replacement in June. Before that knee twist, I used to enjoy commuting to and from my work regularly three and four times a week. The twenty mile trip each way changed my life (I think I discovered sisu), but I found the roads becoming far too dangerous as drivers of all descriptions lost patience with the increasing numbers of cyclists on the roads. Obviously, we need to separate cyclists from the drivers with new cycle friendly infrastructure. To get away from the busy roads I started to stick to a tarmaced tow path a much shorter route, but shared with pedestrians, again far from ideal. Quite simply, not enough space for the dog walkers and other users. I am far from a fast cyclist, but when commuting I need to get to work on time, but being able to just keep plodding along is difficult with all the extra traffic? Because if the new knee and problems bending it I have adapted my bike with an eccentric pedal, which hopefully I will be able to lengthen as the bend returns to the joint. But now I am scared of falling off the bike, frost and ice keep me off the bike, too many painful falls on ice in the past. When to start back? That is the question. March 27th is a good suggestion, but it is a long way off for this 71 year old.

What do you think?