Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The kicksled!

The other day, me and my girlfriend visited some friends of ours who had just come back from a little holiday in Norway (they even brought us some nice goat's cheese and bamsemums.) They are planning on moving to Norway not too far into the future, and while visiting, I had a brief look in a book they had lying around - Living in Norway: A Practical Guide. This seemed like an excellent reference for anyone planning on going to Norway, almost like the Huey, Dewey and Louie's Junior Woodchucks' Manual - it seemed to have an entry for anything you'd want to know, from car registration to dress codes to marriage rules.

One of the entry's I noticed was about the kicksled (spark or sparkstøtting in Norwegian). The kicksled is basically a sled made of a light wooden frame with metal runners (see picture). You ride it standing on the metal runners, holding the handle bars on top of the wooden frame or chair, pushing/kicking with one leg to move forward. On the right surface, you can easily get to speeds of 15-20 km without too much effort. And you can even place your kid, friend or groceries on top of the "chair".

Although it's not very common in larger cities (mostly due to the fact that the surface rarely is suitable), it is very common in more rural areas. Where I come from, almost every family has got one of these sleds. Everybody uses them, from old grandmas to little kids. It's very handy for grandma to go around with in the winter (she can place her shopping bag on the front and support herself on it so she won't fall on slippery winter surfaces), and loads of fun for kids to race downhill in the streets with. And it gets you around a lot faster than walking with not much more effort.

The history of the kicksled is a bit blurry, but it's got a recorded history of some 140 years - it was first mentioned in a Swedish newspaper around 1870. At that time the runners were wooden. The first metal runners, which made the sled a lot more flexible, came in the 1900s. From the 1890s on, the sled has been used for races, which it is very suitable for. In the 1990s kicksled racing was revived in Finland, with races up to 100 km and racers averaging 30 km/h.

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