Touring By Bike in Sweden & Norway.
TOURING BY BIKE IN SWEDEN AND NORWAY – Myth and Reality!
O.K. hands up, how many of you have wondered about taking your bike to Scandinavia but decided against it because it’s ’expensive’, ‘cold’ and ‘awkward to get to?’ I thought so …. quite a few. Well, having toured by bike in Sweden and Norway I thought it might be interesting and useful to give you a snapshot of what it’s really like for a biker travelling to Scandinavia.
First let’s dispel some myths – it’s not overly expensive and in some respects cheaper than the U.K. – particularly petrol which is usually a few pence cheaper per litre; it can be cold – especially in winter! – but it can also be extremely warm in the summer with the added benefit of longer hours of daylight. It is also becoming increasingly easy to get there by one of the North Sea ferry routes – or by budget flights should you decide to hire a bike when you arrive.
The real pay-off if you do make the journey is in the fantastic roads, stunning scenery and friendly people once you get there! Together, Sweden and Norway form a huge landmass, stretching some 1200 miles north to south and 600 miles west to east, but with populations of nine millions and four millions respectively, the roads are a lot quieter than the UK – indeed, in the central and more northerly parts of the country it is quite literally possible to travel for miles before seeing another vehicle! The roads are generally in a much better state of repair too – and, of course, you’ve got all those winding mountain and fjord passes with loads of hairpins to ride! The people are very welcoming, especially towards bikers who they seem to regard as having a shared Viking spirit of adventure, are generally happy and easy going and nearly always speak very good English!
Sweden has a diverse landscape, with ribbon-roads winding through miles and miles of forest, past a myriad of jewel-like lakes and across huge stretches of hill and mountain landscapes dotted with tiny red wooden buildings. It has 5,000 miles of coastline with crystal-clear seas and nature-rich archipelagos, in addition to sophisticated cities in Stockholm and Gothenburg and quaint, traditional villages, little changed in hundreds of years.
For the touring biker, the mountains and fjords of Norway offer a virtual paradise of riding and sightseeing. The scenery is truly stunning and the roads, whilst sometimes challenging, offer some of the very best riding, mile for mile, to be found anywhere in the world. It has an average elevation of 500 metres and two-thirds of the country is mountainous, with an indented coastline of deep fjords and thousands of small islands – this alone tells you what it’s like for a touring biker, so make sure you take a decent camera!
Sweden is in the European Union, Norway is not, but they both retain there own currencies – Krona (SEK) and Kroner (NOK) respectively. At time of writing the exchange rate is running at 13.312 SEK and 11.76 NOK to the pound. To visit you require only your passport (no visa) and customs formalities are generally low-key. You should obtain and take with you the reciprocal medical arrangement card (which has replaced the E111) which can be picked-up from your local Post Office. I would also recommend that you don’t travel without full personal accident, health and emergency insurance cover, in addition to that for your bike and accessories. Medical facilities are generally of a very high standard with most staff speaking English.
We have provided basic travel information below however, including ferry and flight schedules, with company websites and contact details, in an attempt to make things a little easier. We are of course happy to discuss your individual requirements directly with you and will do our best to provide help when needed.
Ferry and Airline Information:
I’ve included the following information to help you with choosing a suitable ferry or airline company and route. PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS INFORMATION IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE BY THE COMPANIES – YOU SHOULD ALWAYS CHECK THE COMPANIES FOR ACCURACY.
The most commonly used and direct routes to Sweden and Norway are:
Newcastle – Kristiansand – Gothenburg / Gothenburg – Kristiansand – Newcastle
DFDS Seaways – tel: 0870 533 3000 website: www.dfdsseaways.com e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Newcastle – Stavanger – Haugesund – Bergen / Bergen – Haugesund – Stavanger – Newcastle
Fjord Line – tel: 0870 143 9669 website:www.fjordline.com e-mail: email@example.com
There is a wide choice of routes and companies between the UK and Scandinavia. I’ve listed the ones I think you are most likely to use, in order of what tends to be the less expensive, to the more expensive.
Ryanair – tel: 0871 246 0000 website: www.ryanair.com – Fares from as little as 99p + taxes!
Budget flights from London to Stockholm Vasteras and Arlanda, at least twice each day.
Budget flights to Gothenburg twice daily
Budget flights to Oslo Torp every day
SAS Scandinavian Airlines – tel: 0870 60 727 727 website: www.scandinavian.net and for budget flights their subsidiary Snowflake at www.snowflake.com
Many flights every day from London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester to many destinations in Scandinavia.
British Airways – tel: 0870 850 9850 website: www.britishairways.com – Many flights every day from London and Manchester to Stockholm Arlanda
You drive on the right. The road networks are extensive and generally well maintained. Sweden’s roads are toll-free, whereas there are toll roads in Norway – particularly on bridges and tunnels in the fjord areas.
You will need to take with you a valid driving licence, vehicle registration documents and insurance documentation. Your vehicle should, of course, be fully legal and road worthy, with plenty of tyre life and recent service if necessary. You are required to use headlights on dipped beam at all times – though blanking off lenses is not strictly necessary.
Speed limits are always posted on road signs and are, unless otherwise stated:
• Motorway 65mph / 110kms
• Dual carriageways and many other roads 55mph / 90kms
• Other roads outside of built up areas 43mph / 70kms
• Built up areas 31mph / 50kms
• Motorway and some other roads 56mph / 90kms
• Other roads outside built up areas 50mph / 80kms
• Built up areas 31mph / 50kms
Policing of roads is less conspicuous than the UK, although there are speed cameras and radar traps – particularly around the main settlement areas – but speed offence enforcement when it occurs is not to be taken lightly, with heavy fines and on the spot payments demanded. At the present time, speeding offences will not result in points on your licence.
Driving with alcohol or drug levels above the (very low) limit is taken very seriously with extreme punishments for offences.
One very important consideration is the conditions on some of the more exposed, higher level roads – in Norway in particular. If you are travelling independently, it’s wise to consult the local tourist office (or even the accommodation provider) before setting out if you’re route follows the higher passes. Some of the higher passes can still have deep snow well into early summer and autumn.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
How will I cope with riding in countries other than my own?
You will be surprised how quickly you adapt to riding in different countries. Being on a bike, it is less difficult than travelling by larger, less manoeuvrable vehicles. As long as you use common sense, ride within your own ability and think about things before you arrive you’ll be fine! If you’re concerned about riding on the ‘wrong side of the road’, one practical reminder can be to stick a piece of blue tack or a small arrow cut out of sticky tape to the right side of your screen, yoke or handlebars – it’s surprising how visible it is and can help remind you of what side to ride on.
If you’re still a little anxious and lack confidence you can always arrange your trip with a tour operator who will ensure that everything is arranged for you, including guiding you on the best routes and pre-booking your accommodation, leaving you free to relax into your riding and to enjoy the ride. Northern Bike Tours (www.northernbiketours.co.uk ) for example, offer bike and other tours to Sweden and Norway and will meet you at the ferry terminal making sure that from the moment you ride off the ferry, your riding experience will be as stress-free and enjoyable as possible!
What clothing and equipment will I need?
As with all motorcycle tours, you need to take into account the weather conditions you’re likely to experience in the countries you are visiting. This is particularly true of Sweden and Norway as many of the best biking routes travel through mountainous and coastal areas. You should therefore ensure that you have suitable, protective, warm and comfortable, waterproof clothing. Equally, the weather can be hot, so you need to factor-in this too, especially for your time ‘off-bike’ – which, given the beauty of the areas you’ll be in, are likely to be as important as your riding. My general advice is pack as lightly as you can whilst ensuring that you have everything you truly need. If you require more detailed help with these decisions tour operators will usually be happy to provide advice on a personal basis before you start your tour – they’ve done it for years after all!
Sweden and Norway offer fantastic opportunities to do things when you’re ‘out of the saddle’. If you intend pursuing other interests in addition to riding your bike – perhaps walking, canoeing, rafting, skiing (yes, it’s possible even in summer!) or other activities – most equipment can be hired locally on demand. There’s nothing like your own boots for walking in however and you should consider taking your own if walking is going to be a regular feature of your tour. You should, of course, take a camera, to capture your experiences and the myriad of fantastic views.
What about accommodation?
Both Sweden and Norway are well served with a diverse range of accommodation – from high quality and expensive hotels to cheap (and not necessarily cheerful!) clearings in which to pitch your tent, and everything in between. It would take a guide on its own to cover everything available, but in general the same kind of accommodation can be found in both countries, with prices in Norway being roughly 30% more expensive than Sweden for the same type of facility. These include hotels – large chains to small family-run establishments – self catering chalets, cottages and caravans, bed and breakfast, hostels and camping sites. In both Sweden and Norway you have ‘everyman’s right’ (Allemansratten) which permits you to camp anywhere for a night, or to walk, ski or canoe anywhere, as long as the area is not fenced or too close to farmed land or a private dwelling. There are few camp sites in the more remote wilderness areas of Sweden and Norway but thanks to the plentiful supply of fresh water, this is rarely a problem. The insects however, can be, so you should always take repellent with you – especially in densely forested areas. Prices are generally no higher than equivalent accommodation in the UK and are very often better situated with good parking and other facilities.
Where can I find out more?
www.northernbiketours.co.uk – Tour Operator specialising in Bike tours in Sweden, Norway and the UK
www.visitsweden.com – Swedish travel & tourism council
www.visitnorway.com – Norwegian travel & tourism council
Discovery Channel ‘Insight Guide’ books on Sweden and Norway – Apa Publications available at most good book shops
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This excellent article has been provided by Mike Turnbull and his excellent Northern Bike Tours. Please do visit his website www.northernbiketours.co.uk