Exploring Nesbyen’s Forgotten Timber Trails with Manon Carpenter.

Manon Carpenter heads to Nesbyen, Norway to check out the timber trails, once lost to Mother Nature, that the locals are reclaiming.

Manon Carpenter heads to Norway to find out how locals in Nesbeyn have reclaimed the old trails used to harvest timber into viable mountain bike trails

Hunting for gold

Imagine you are just walking through the forest exploring and suddenly you come across an old bike trail that has been forgotten and left to deteriorate. Nobody has ridden it for years and you could bring it back to life for everyone to ride again. That is how it feels exploring the forests around Nesbyen, except that it is almost certain that nobody has ever ridden the trail.

You spot a rough line in the terrain up ahead, run up to it and see a 1 metre wide trail with an almost rollercoaster like profile and see it disappearing off up to hillside, a few hundred metres later is turns into a long sweeping corner, because of the erosion some 80 years ago it already has a berm like quality to it. You’ve found gold. The question now is only about how far up the mountain it goes. Can we access the top from one of the more modern logging roads we use to pedal up?

There you have the base for what could potentially be an amazing descent and you have the opportunity to reopen an old trail and shape it into whatever your mind can imagine.

Forgotten History

Nesbyen has a strong history of forestry and working with wood, the area on either side of town has a more accessible gradient compared to much of the rest of the valley. When timber production first started to become industrialised the natural resources at hand were used to transport the wood. The river at the valley floor for floating the logs downstream, the hillsides for sliding wood down to the river and strong horses for controlling the transportation downhill.

Long sweeping horse width trails were dug into the hillsides, with features built specially to control the movement of logs but which seem to be just as well crafted for mountain biking as for this previous industry. Steeps and flats to help horse and timber brake, long smooth turns to allow a horse dragging 60m of timber trains in a wide circle, double tracks to allow horses and people to pass by one another and banked edges to keep the timber on the trail. Almost every hectare of forest in the area is accessed by one of these trails that feel as if they were almost built with modern mountain bikes in mind.

These days mega machines have replaced horses and wide forest roads have replaced horse driven trails. The ‘tømmersleper’ (the local word for these old trails) are left unused, slowly being retaken by nature, but so sturdy were their construction that they are easily identifiable when roaming the forests.

Naturally, this gives a great platform for starting a mountain bike destination. Having a network of historic trails laying dormant in the forest just waiting to be rediscovered makes you wonder how many local people realise there is basically a world class mountain bike destination lying hidden in the forests. We just need to uncover it.

Developing the town

5-6 years ago you might have said that Nesbyen was in a sort of declining state. With many shops closed and young people moving away. Since I have moved to the town it has felt like there have been many positive developments, many young people moving here to work with bikes, a new 17km flow trail, a new sports shop and bigger bike shop, a new bakery and more. Of course mountain biking is not the only driver to this but it is certainly an important factor. It has become an asset to the town and that only exists because of an infrastructure that was created 100 years ago receiving a second life.

I know that it took a lot of hard work, physical and social, some years back to start this off, convincing locals that mountain biking was not some strange extreme sport and that it was more than a few strange people out in the woods. Now several years down the line people understand it better and see that it can be an asset for the town, bringing people here for more than just to ride a bike. Staying over in accommodation, eating out, using the shops and socialising.

Walking around the town centre in the summer you can directly see how mountain biking impacts the town. It is great to see so many cars arriving with bikes on the roof, the streets with some life in them and you get a good buzz of a place with an active town centre.

Developing the community

In 2022 we managed to start a simple and small mountain bike club, ‘we meet every Wednesday and do something’ – as simple as that. There were a lot of people riding in Nesbyen, young and old but it felt as if there was many small pockets of riders and not so much coherence. Simply giving the opportunity for everyone to meet up at a time and a place each week started to bring those different people together.

Having a small club and group rides suddenly makes you feel like you are part of something and the feeling of a bike community starts to develop. We have trails to ride, a place to borrow bikes, a bakery to meet up at and now people to ride with.

In 2024 we will continue it and try to use the group to get more locals into riding as well as get people involved in some trail maintenance and trail building.

What lies ahead?

For the trails, I hope we get to continue building more, working with positive landowners and build a good mix of accessible, easier trails but also develop some sketchy, steep, technical adventures to keep the people that keep coming back here interested. Having so many old trails in close proximity to the town centre gives a lot of opportunity.

We recently opened Bear House, a bakery/cafe/pizzeria, in town which would never have happened if we were not attracted to live here due to the work that Trailhead Nesbyen had done previously. So hopefully projects like this will continue to happen to develop and improve the place we live off the back of the trails.

It still feels like things are at a very early stage of development for mountain biking in Nesbyen and the exciting thing is that this gives a lot of opportunity for other people to join in and be part of taking this mountain bike town forward.

There might be a plethora of trails waiting to be uncovered, built and ridden in these forests but the most important part of creating a mountain biking destination and community is the people that drive it forward and make things happen. I really hope that the more we show that we’re developing a great place to ride, the more we can use that as an asset to attract people to visit and live here. We can wish for a new jump line or a new campsite or coffee bar but if we attract good people to live here who are invested in mountain biking then those things will happen naturally.

Want to be part of it?

The intention of this video project was never to create any type of advertisement but now that it is finished and published we realise how well it shows off our town and I want to write a little ‘newcomers welcome’ at the end of this article.

A network of fantastic trails, cool and welcoming people, huge mountains, opportunities, heck it even makes me want to move here and I already live here.

Just as Trailhead welcomed us into the mountain bike community here, we’re all happy to welcome more people that want to be part of the riding scene in Nesbyen. There are plenty of opportunities to live, work and play here. If you’re interested to visit, even move here or just know a bit more then feel free to write in the comments or send a message.

Here are thanks to a number of people for making this happen:

  • Photos – All by Pete Scullion
  • Manon Carpenter and Pete Scullion – For making the trip over to document what we do
  • Lars Storheim – For editing this film
  • Nesbyen local riders – For contributing to trail building
  • Nesfjellet, Soil Searching, Hallingdal Rides, Visit Nesbyen, Trailhead Nesbyen, Nesbyen Ski og Sykkel, Any Excuse to Ride – For sponsoring the video

More info about riding in Nesbyen can be found here.