Will and Klara at Any Excuse to Ride Norway go for an exploratory mission around their adopted home turf of Hardangerfjord.
Part of creating guided rides is exploring potential options. For Will and Klara at Any Excuse to Ride Norway, the Norwegian fjords are littered with potentials, and they discovered the Bull of Bergen this way.
In the summer of 2017 Myself and my girlfriend, Klara, gave up our 9-to-5 lives in London and Gothenburg to go chase a dream. Not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we moved to a little farm in the fjords of Norway, only knowing that we wanted to start something of our own.
Since then we’ve spend a whole lot of time setting up a business offering mountain bike holidays around Hardangerfjord. A lot of hours have been spent fixing up the farm, getting to know the community, scouring the forests and mountains for potential trails and of course digging and building new ones.
It wasn’t long after we moved here that some friends of ours were eager to come over for a taste of riding the fjords and try out some of the trails we had found in the area. Last autumn Jonny, Graham and Alex hopped on a flight over from Manchester for a long weekend of hike a bike, sun, and epic singletrack.
We decided to show them the ‘Bulls of Bergen’.
Enter bull No. 1. Toro translated from Spanish means bull, there also just so happens to be a mountain lying just outside of Bergen called Toro which has a fan-tas-tic piece of singletrack running down its south face.
The guys arrived around midnight into the airport so we decided to stay just outside the city the first night to ride Toro before heading to our place on Hardangerfjord the next day. We stayed in a little cabin that meant we only had 10 minutes to drive the next morning.
Given the typical unpredictable Norwegian weather we had no idea what to expect the next day but woke up to blue skies and sun which set the scene for some bike building, coffees on the terrace overlooking the lake and an unfortunate incident with overdone porridge and we were on our way.
We set off with little knowledge of whether the trail up would be rideable or not, only that there was a sweet descent down the other side. Possibly due to the dry weather, it turned out most of it was rideable with some intermittent hike-a-biking thrown in for good measure. Not long after we set off we were stopped in our tracks by some farmers.
It was common here for farmers to have their main farm down in the lower valleys but also a smaller ‘støl’ up on the mountains, in the summer they allow the sheep to graze up on the mountain tops and at this time of year it was time to bring them down for winter. Historically the farmers would live up in the støl while the sheep were out but these days few do and most are used as weekend or holiday cabins or even left to fall to bits. Anyway, after some sheep watching we were on our way.
We found plenty of other hikers at Redningshytta, a hiking cabin, where they were serving coffee and waffles but we decided to hit the top of the ride for a better view before we stopped for our lunch.
Me and Klara had made pasta and pre-packed lunch for all the boys the day before so we didn’t have to worry about it in the morning.
Then we headed on down. The top section was super rocky and pretty technical however we were able to pick up a decent bit of speed as it isn’t too steep, it made for a great section of trail, especially with the view. As we descended a little the trail brought us out onto a sort of ridge, not especially steep or sharp but it is always a cool feeling to be riding down a trail where the mountain drops away far below on both sides.
As we dropped down into the woods we rode along some fast and flowy singletrack before things got steep. The last 3-400m of this trail was a real challenge, it became steep and had us all struggling to pick lines and stay on the bike down some technical, rocky and rooty slopes.
I have to confess that I made a bit of an error of judgement with the 2nd half of this ride. I originally planned that we would just ride back up and over to the house the same way we had come however people were not so keen so we decided to ride back ‘around’ the hill by the road. This was a long way, a very long way and something we* somewhat regretted the next day.
(*I regretted and felt rather guilty about making everyone do. You live and learn.)
After a longer than expected first day we drove out to our house in Hardanger that evening, the farm sits right down on the edge of the water with epic views out over the fjord. Luckily we had put together dinner the day before as well so we were fed and by the fire before we knew it, but not before helping some of our AirBnB guests get their car unstuck on our steep gravel driveway…
After a decent sleep we awoke to sunshine once again ready to hit the big one. Oksen – bull No. 2, Oksen in Norwegian means ‘the bull’, named so as from several angles it is said to look like a sleeping bull. It is a 1241m mountain that sits right opposite our house on the other side of the fjord. Visible from the kitchen window we watched the sun rise above it as we ate our breakfast.
We moved here with a lot of unknowns about the riding, there were only a few dots marked on the map here and there around Bergen and Voss of decent places to ride. However around Hardanger the map was empty, now imagine our luck and excitement when we found our house looks out onto a mountain with a trail descending 1000m with epic views over the fjords.
We had hiked this earlier in the summer and discovered it could be a great ride. Part of the way up is ridable but most of it is either pushing or hike-a-bike, there’s no access roads up this one, this is remote Norway remember. We had to carry our bikes on our backs for a good few hours and hunger got the better of us before we reached the top. We at least made it above the tree line to an old støl with panoramic views down the main body of Hardangerfjord before we sat down for lunch.
Most people probably know the Hardanger region but don’t realise it, this is where you’ll find the (insta) world famous Trolltunga. However we think you get a much more spectacular view from the top of Oksen, OK there’s no fancy sticky out rock, but you can see down no less than 5 different fjords from up here, across to Voss and across some of the peaks of Hardangervidda as well as two glaciers. Who needs a point rock when you get all that?
After a while contemplating the majestic fjords and shapes Graham was making on the horizon we set off back down to the van.
Like a lot of mountains around here, the top is like a massive MTB playground, huge granite rock slabs allowed us to roam about and make up fun lines over smooth rollers and sharp drops. That is before we dropped in to the steep mega tech section.
To be able to ride 100% of this descent you’ll need some MacAskill-style skills, some steep rocky sections had us tip toeing down next to our bikes for a little while.
The point at which you’re able to swing your leg back over the saddle depends on your skill/adrenaline level, the higher it is, the higher up the hill you can get riding again. I guess 4 lads riding together meant we were all going to get back on pretty early, cue some but clenching manoeuvres around some steep rocky hairpins and loose rock gardens. One hairy moment saw Graham go head over heels in a narrow gulley but luckily he was good to carry on down.
From this point down to the trees the trail snaked away down a sort of ridgeline zig-zagging back and forward like a sandy ribbon of dirt between the autumn colours of the heather and grass. Dream like scenes when you’re aboard your bike.
It looked as if was heading straight for the house, with a steep drop down to the fjord on our left and crazy views away down Sørfjorden.
It was a huge ride to the bottom and felt like it took in all different types of trails. Riding from so high all the way down to the fjord meant the terrain and landscape changed several times, from rock slab up top, to open mountain side into loamy pine forest down below and finally a rough old tractor road at the bottom, this trail threw quite a lot at us. Especially Graham… who couldn’t resist a couple more mouthfuls of Norwegian dirt before getting back on the plane home.