Biking for the future by Margreet van Persie
We are two Dutch people who love to come to Norway for hiking, cross country skiing or cycling. Several times we have cycled along the Norwegian coast and in the mountains. Always with our own touring bikes. In July 2015 we have approached it differently by renting bikes in Tromsø, our starting point.
Our route is the arctic coastal route (www.arcticcycling.no) from Tromsø to Stamsund in the Lofoten Islands (about 555 km). With daily altitudes of about 600 meters to a peak of 2800 meters! Since one year my partner has a new knee, so we have some doubts whether this trip was such a good idea. Magne, the owner of bike rental Tromsø Outdoor, advises us e-bikes. Initially, we are not very enthusiastic. In the Netherlands, e-biking is synonymous with elderly people who cannot well bike anymore. We are not yet related to that. Finally we go and it is a top experience! The e-bikes are tough and sporty bikes of the brand Merida, complete with repair kit, bike helmets and reflective jackets.
‘Northern bike mafia’
We arrive by plane from Amsterdam via Oslo to Tromsø. We are immediately impressed by the bright light, the clean, blue sky, all the water and the beautiful summer weather. We are pleasantly surprised by the clever underground traffic solution. This has preserved the quiet and green character of the hilly island. For us it is hard to imagine that one half of the year the sun never sets, and in the other half of the year there is only daylight between 11 and 15 hours.*
With so many hills, the e-bike is a popular mean of transport. At the bike rental they even warn us of ‘a bicycle mafia'. Well prepared and warned we are heading to the bridge to Tromsdalen, one of the many high and steep bridges still to come.
Smooth and fast
Some practice by setting the eco mode and adjusting the proper gear. The steep climb and stiff crosswind guarantee normally a strong effort. Now we arrive smoothly and quickly at the Ishavet Cathedral where the sexton (or is it the minister?) who is just hoisting the Norwegian flag, qualifies our bikes as the best. Oops, now we don’t dare leave our carts down the mountain at Heisenfjell that offers a fantastic view of Tromsø and the surrounding snowy mountains.
The electrical support has four modes: Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo. If you continuously turn into Eco, the range is about 80 km per day. We cycle mostly without electrical support. Occasionally we use Eco and sometimes Tour, especially in a rise. Sport and Turbo we do not use them except to try them a few times. In this way, the trip can come so far above the 80 km without the battery runs out. Our daily distances vary from 50 to 80 km. The capacity of the battery, we don’t use it for more than 3/5. The battery is located on the frame. The charger weighs of course, but you can easily plug it in a saddle bag. At overnight we are usually in a cabin and occasionally in a hotel, so charging is no problem. Eco is also comfortable inconsiderable headwind and in tunnels, never a favorite part of the trip.
Tunnels seem shorter
On Senja, the second largest island in Norway, where we cycle through the mountainous Northwest, we are dealing with tunnels. The first lies at Senjahopen: 2.2 km long, spacious and well lighted inside. At the entrance stands a pole with a button that you press when you enter the tunnel. It illuminates a flashing light to warn drivers that cyclists are in the tunnel. In our reflective vests and with good lighting we feel safe. There are more tunnels at the Steinfjord and Bergbotn a very dark tunnel of more than 2 km. Turning into Eco or Tour, we are at a speed of about 25 km / ph. Doing it this way, the tunnels seem to be shorter.
More eye for environment
Because it is not necessary to fully focus on the physical effort while climbing, we are more open to experience the surrounding nature and viewing points. Senja offers all the characteristics of Norway: high mountain walls with dozens of impressive waterfalls, arctic tundra, lakes, wild rivers, roadsides full of flowers, white sand and coral beaches in fjords with blue to emerald green water. Thanks to the nice summer weather we go regularly from such a beach into the clear water of the Norsk Havet. Brrr, surely fresh.
In villages we see these typical Norwegian wooden houses in the colors white, light yellow, light blue or redbrown. In this time of the year (mid-July), many gardens transform into a colorful sea of flowers. We are surprised by bright blue poppies, besides the familiar red and orange. When we come to the South, an increasing number of blooming lilacs and laburnum. Fields are full of cow parsley, buttercups, wild geraniums, orchids, lupins, grass snake, forget-me-nots.
No fresh fish
After Senja there are the Vesterålen islands bordering the world-renowned Lofoten. Andenes, a major fishing port on the northern tip of Andøya, is the starting point of our trip on these less known and quiet islands. The crossing of 40 minutes from Gryllefjord cost us 610 kroners (about 66 Euro). A bakeri / konditori near the harbor is packed. This seems to be the place to be in the otherwise rather dull-looking town. For our evening meal we are hungry for fresh fish. I ask where I can buy fresh caught fish. One looks at me startled. At the harbor you can easily buy a pizza, but no fresh fish. Apparently the fish is processed immediately, frozen and shipped to supermarkets.
Agricultural and peaceful Vesterålen
When we are heading to Bleik, the difference from Senja is very clear. There is plenty of space between the mountains and the sea. This means cycling on flat terrain. In Bleik we sleep in a wooden beach cabin on the 2.5 km long white sand beach and just steps from the pretty village with beautiful houses and nice village shop. At several houses is a sign ROM (rooms for rent). We wonder when it's crowded here. Definitely, it should be high season now...
Cycling along the Vesterålen the landscape changes gradually. At first there are mountain lakes and birch forests, vast bogs later. On a large plain along the sea, the hard wind from the Southwest blows freely and right in our faces. Then the Eco mode is comfortable. We see more and more agricultural activities. The mountains become lower and rounder.
What’s common on all these islands is that the next point to go seems pretty close, but you always have to cycle to the end of a fjord and then further along the other side. So we make long tours around innumerable fjords and inlets.
The epitome of peace we experience on Langøya in Gronningbrygga situated at the Eidsfjorden. Volunteers from the village run a bikers cabin in a building with a former shop. We are the only guests and have the complete appartment on the first floor at our disposal with a large terrace at the fjord. Once a volunteer from the village has opened the door, she wishes us a good stay and "If it gets too quiet, then you can have a chat with the sheep," she says with a big smile. Our fresh fish from Sortland (finally!) we prepare it in a clean and well-equipped kitchen. The kitchen cabinets are stocked with spices, coffee and tea. Thanks to these volunteers from Gronningbrygga who really welcome us as their guests!
After the ferry from Melbu there are the Lofoten. In 2008 we went from Svolvær to Å on our own bikes. Now we cycle along the Northwest of Austvågøya. After the ferry we leave the busy E10 literally at our left. We cycle through tiny villages like Sanden and Delp situated along gleaming white beaches. We pass through a nature reserve full of sand dunes and on roadsides grow hundreds of colorful flowers, including many orchids. The road across the island to Vestpollen gives a magnificent view of the Norwegian fjell. Halfway through this desolated area we are surprised by the beautiful campsite Sandsletta where coffee, hot chocolate and cakes taste deliciously. And finally comes the inevitable E10. Not a good way to cycle, although most drivers pass us with ample space.
Back or further on
Once on the Lofoten slands, the Senja mountain atmosphere is back again. Senja is more quiet and less touristic than the Lofoten. In between there are the Vesterålen, quiet islands with an agricultural character. After Svolvær we cycle to Stamsund, where we go on board of the Hurtigruten boat named Richard With. This boat takes us back to Tromsø in 19 hours.
On our own bikes this arctic coastal road would have been very tough. Now we enjoyed the beautiful coastal road in an active and sportive way without tough physical efforts. After each cycling day we still had the energy and the time to enjoy a walk in nature or through a village.
Very satisfied we deliver the bikes at Magne’s Tromsø Outdoor. He tells us that it is also possible to put the bikes on a Hurtigruten boat and from there to continue the trip wherever you want to go. A great service, good idea for a next time.
Words and photos by Margreet van Persie
*Edit from Tromsø Outdoor: In Tromsø the midnight sun period is 2 months long (from end of May to end of July) and so is the polar night period (from end of November to end of January).