Notes on Cycling Norway
I had never been to Norway nor anywhere in Scandinavia before June 2013. This post is a summary of what I learn along the way in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Hopefully, my notes will give potential cycling visitors a heads up on cycling in Norway.
Cost. This country might be one of the most beautiful but it is also a very expensive country to visit. A coke costs about $5 and a beer costs $11-$12 bucks. A basic low budget meal starts at around $30 and that’s for pasta. So how do you visit Norway without going bankrupt?
In the summertime, most tourists are exploring the country by either cruise ship or RV. The cruisers are on a package price and are eating their meals on their ship. The other popular mode of travel is RVing. Loads of RVs ferry up from Germany and the Netherlands. They RV/car camp and buy their food in local groceries, using hotels or restaurants only occasionally. They still need to buy fuel which I calculated being approximately $10 per gallon for unleaded gasoline (diesel is slightly less). But if you are a cyclist you can forget that expense but you do need to pay for ferries. My route required 24 ferry crossings and the average cost was $6 a ride times 24 crossings; that’s $144, which isn’t too bad for Norway.
Camping. So if you’re not sleeping on a cruise ship, you’re with the car campers or cyclists in private campgrounds; which cost around $15 to $30 per night plus $2 bucks for your hot water shower token. This camping cost is very similar to other european countries. Every Norwegian town has at least one campground, plus you will find additional ones at tourist destinations. Some campgrounds are only farmer’s fields with a WC and a showering building, others have their own community kitchens or campground cafes. One even had a ski area. If the weather is bad, you can upgrade from a tent site to a cabin; and enjoy drying-out with some cabin heating and the luxury of a full kitchen.
Camping-savage. One of the best camping options in Norway is camping-savage (also known as primitive camping). Because of Scandinavia’s liberal private property laws, there is almost always a free camping option on a remote beach, lake, fjord, or mountain top. You can’t do this in most parts of Europe because of the lack of wilderness, but Scandinavia has space. 0f course, this option doesn’t come with a hot shower, but there probably is a waterfall or the Norwegian Sea if you’re desperate.
Riding. Norway has some of the best cycling-friendly roads anywhere with little traffic, and windy roads; which keep the motorized tribes traveling slower. There are a lot of those Dutch RVers on the road, but their pace is usually slow and courteous. The biggest danger in my opinion are the huge Scania transport trucks. They want to maintain their RPMs, so watching-out for them is a constant concern. I am estimating that 80% of my South to North route was on a one lane road; I mean sharing one lane for traffic going both directions. This is why those wider trucks are a concern for all moving vehicles on Norwegian highways where; the roads are carved (actually dynamited) from sheer granite fjord walls, hence, very narrow and windy. If you want no traffic, consider riding nocturnal, as there is plenty of light in the summer.
Tunnels. Other riders make a big deal about riding Norway’s many tunnels. I found most tunnels could be avoided by using the old highway path which is chiseled around and outside the tunnels. Most tunnels have lights but you still need your own bike lights to be seen. There was only one 8 km tunnel that restricted bikes on my route and bus service through that tunnel was provided. I would attempt to travel any road in Norway but newer roads in Norway usually have more tunnels; which are not enjoyable to ride and therefore should be avoided.
Transportation infrastructure. Norway is a country with 22,000 kilometers of coastline and very little flat ground. Their highway infrastructure (tunnels, ferries, bridges) is like no place in the world. Norway’s rail and bus system are very bike friendly. Buses travel everywhere and are well coordinated with the ferries. There are only a few rail routes but I highly recommend using them when you need a pedaling break. Buy rail tickets at least 12 hours in advance on the Internet, last minute purchases are priced like the airlines; doubling your cost.
Weather. In the month of June, I had 4 rain days out of 35 days. Most of time, the rain came at the beginning of the weather front, followed by a much longer period of drizzle on the backend of the storm; which is still a rideable condition. Because of the warm Gulf Stream on the coast; temperatures hovered in the fifties most of the time; a nice temperature range for riding as well.
Money. Don’t mess with getting Euros. Norwegians want their Kroners (NOK). ATMs are everywhere.
Food. When cycling outside of Norwegian cities, many smaller towns only have one food store. These groceries are fine for cycling campers, but the selection is much more limited than other European markets. There are some gluten-free Optuions available. Wine is expensive and must be purchased at a state-like liquor store with inconvenient hours (think: Utah).
People. Norwegians are very helpful and almost all of them speak English. Norway provides tourist centers in all but the smallest towns. The staff at these centers can answer your questions and make recommendation on their region’s best cycling routes.
Coast, fjords, or mountains? The coast is flatter and easier to ride if there is no coastal wind. When traversing up and over to the next fjord requires steep mountain climbing but not as hard as cycling in the Alpes. There are fewer mountain road options, as most Norwegians live on the coast or in the fjord areas. I recommend a route that travels through all of them.
Cycling gear. Do you need to be fully self supported in Norway? No. I was camping self supported but no food (nor cooking gear) on board. I was able to find food every day. I think having a sleeping setup (bag/pad/tent) is nice because of the quality camping-souvage possibilities in Norway. Some of the remotest cycling areas of Norway are found around the skinny part of Norway between Trondheim and Bodo along Highway 17. Don’t expect much infrastructure there.
Conclusion. Norway is a bucket list cycling destination. Save your pennies up, and then, burn through them in Norway. If you desire other Europeans tour destinations, check out my book Euro Tours.
- Ferries: 24
- Cyclists passed traveling south: 86
- Longest tunnel ridden: 1.8km
- Photo credits: Sara Ransford
Click pics to enlarge.