I met my Norwegian friend many years ago through cycling, so it only made sense to try and organise a bike ride here in Norway with him. Thankfully, he did all the organising, and worked out a plan involving a train to Finse, a 55km bike-ride to Flåm on the Rallarvegen, and finally a wonderful ferry through the fjords back to Bergen. It was going to be a most epic day, filled with adventure in the stunning Norwegian countryside. We’d floated the idea of doing a larger portion of the Rallarvegen, but it was probably a bit extreme for Risa.
It was a little tough waking up early this morning, as we’d been invited along to a concert to see local boy, Kygo, put on a big concert, and this was after climbing up Ulriken. Risa and I were mesmerised by the scenery outside, as we passed by gentle fjords, and sleepy villages, and later up by waterfalls that cascaded down rocky hills – our friend caught up on missing sleep instead!
This line, between Bergen and Oslo, is considered one of the most beautiful sections of rail in Norway, passing over some rugged mountainous regions. We were going to be cycling along Rallarvegen, a road that was built for access during the construction of the original train line.
It might have been late August, so still technically summer, however, getting off the train in Finse did not feel like summer. However, the Norwegians are prepared for weather, and our friend did his homework, making sure we’d packed enough warm clothes – and then a little more, to be safe. There was very little in Finse, other than a few hotels/cafes, and two bike rental shops. I’d read that some 20,000 cyclists visit every year, which is impressive considering the few short summer months that this is possible each year.
They had a reasonable stock of bikes, all of which look like they’d been well used. The bike were all configured with back-pedal brakes, which is truly weird to me, being used to a free wheeling rear hub, and caused a few moments of panic in the first hour or two when the rear wheel suddenly locked up – they do this to aid in fatigue of the hands towards the end, which mightn’t be such an issue if the brakes weren’t so stiff, and the forks weren’t essentially rigid. The people working up here looked hardy, weathered people. They were as friendly as needed, but were not in the mood to suffer trivial complaints – yes the suspension on the bikes wasn’t great, no we weren’t technically purchasing the bikes, but we’d still appreciate working front suspension.
Right, complaints of the equipment done, we slowly made our way to the trail. This little village was in a stunning location, next to a small lake, hills still deep with snow, and tiny colourful houses dotting the barren land. The trail was mostly hard-packed gravel, and generally quite smooth making progress quite easy for us.
My biggest problem was not stopping every few minutes to take more photos each time we turned another corner and came across fresh scenery.
Our journey was also made easier by it generally being downhill from Finse to Flåm, with just a small uphill to a maximum altitude of ~1350m. That said, it wasn’t just coasting downhill for 55km, there were still plenty of short climbs along the way to get the heart rate up. Google thought it should take 4:24 to complete, but, it only took 3:40 of actual cycling (or 5:20 if we include the stops along the way). For those that get a kick out of Strava, here is the ride.
There were a few locations along the way that were truly stunning, including some roaring waterfalls – including one that passed out of a hole in the side of the hill.
This is also where the trail got a little more dangerous, with sheer drops off to one side. There were signs suggesting riders get off and walk, but that’s not very extreme, so we ignored their warnings.
It was about now, with 30km to go that we realised that we’d seriously failed with our time management, and were going to have to rush to make the ferry back to Bergen. Fortunately, the landscape also mellowed out for this final stretch, as the temptation to stop and take photos would was always strong. We powered ahead, doing our best to cheer Risa up the hills. It must be said, that considering that she doesn’t cycle, she did a fantastic job keeping up with the two of us.
A little after Myrdal, there was a set of very steep switchbacks on loose gravel, which combined with fatigued hands and an approaching deadline caused a few moments of panic.
We’d now realised that it we’d have to go at full speed to make it to the ferry on time, which my friend and I would be able to do, but not Risa. So, he took off at race pace, hoping to catch the ferry before it left, and stall it long enough for us to arrive and jump aboard. Risa and I were stuck in a race with a scenic train to the same end location, and unfortunately, more than once we just missed the chance to cross the tracks before it chugged past us, forcing us to wait anxiously, counting every passing second that was being wasted.
At least that was the plan. Even though my friend raced like the wind, he was unable to arrive before the boat left – though, he did manage to take a photo of the boat leaving early, which he used for leverage for a refund! We arrived some time later, both rather hot and sweaty from trying to catch that boat. It was a little anti-climactic to end the day this way, and be forced to catch the next bus back to Bergen instead of a scenic cruise through the Fjords. Still, it didn’t tarnish the fantastic memories we have from the day.
My jealousy levels are over 9000.
Also, how did you find this post – I didn’t think I’d made it public yet…
I got an e-mail saying you’d updated your blog – not sure if it was for this specific post or an earlier one, but I saw this one was here as well.
Hi there. Love this post. I’m thinking about cycling Finse to Flam on the first weekend in September. Neither of us are regular mountain bikers; we’re both based in London so occasionally cycle around the city. I was hoping you could advise whether we’d be OK doing the whole route, or better off getting the train to Myrdal and going from there.
Hey, Rory. Thanks – sorry for the delay, this comment came through as spam.
My wife never cycles, and she coped just fine. It’s mostly downhill, and the trail is very easy to ride – mostly gravel, and lastly bitumen. Our biggest problem was attempting to make it in time for the return ferry to Bergen – which didn’t allow us time to stop and enjoy the scenery.
So, if you’ve got no time limits, and moderate levels of fitness, I think it you would be absolutely fine. It’s a long distance, but gravity is your friend for most of it.