One day my touring will take me there and the rock music scene is probably amongst the best in the world, but to go specifically to ride bikes?
No I’d not really looked into it. Then I heard about the natural Single-track in the hills around Gothenburg and the peaceful islands of the nearby Archipelago and my curiosity was aroused. So I set off one October morn to find out all about it.
As we flew into Gothenburg’s Landvetter airport I looked down at the scenery. Stretched out below were the myriad isles of the Archipelago, whilst inland the wooded hills around the city itself, interspersed with numerous lakes, offered a tantalising hints of the single-track awaiting us. The hills whilst not really offering any significant altitude were undulating enough to have me fidgeting in my seat waiting for the plane to land so I could start to explore.
Gothenburg itself is the second biggest city in Sweden positioned on the west coast. More importantly to me it has embraced the concept of cycling. Whilst the number of people on bikes doesn’t come near Amsterdam or Ljubljana bikes take priority and the infrastructure is well maintained. Whilst there are Mamils and Hipsters, they don’t dominate and you’re just as likely to see an old lady shopping, an office worker booted and suited or students riding to get a coffee in the artisan Haga district of town. There are art galleries, wonderful restaurants, boutiques, great bars and plenty of hair metal fans walking around which kept me occupied all day but as much as I enjoy exploring European cities I was here to ride bikes and was looking forward to getting out the next morning.
We were met at our hotel by Leo Ranta and Natasja Jovic of local company Hillside cycling our guides and hosts for the day and jumped in the car to get to the trails. Along the way Leo pointed out some crags which contain some of the best climbing in Sweden, but that’s something for another day. Hillside had asked previously for out heights, weight and cycling experience so that they could tailor the day for us and provide the correct set up for us on the bikes. Too often this gets ignored yet is so important. The wrong size or set up of bike can provide a miserable, exhausting or even dangerous experience. Hillside cycling also provided helmets, hydration packs, inner tubes and best of all Natasja’s awesome homemade energy bars. My steed for the day was to be a pimped out retro Marin full suspension with 26” wheels. It’s been a while since I’d ridden a bouncer so I’ll admit to being a little excited until I remembered that Europeans have the brake levers on opposite sides to the British. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel I ever got comfortable with this all day and my braking didn’t ever become natural. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
Before we set off Leo told us little about what to expect. This was no trail centre. No rollers, tabletops or bench cut single-track. We were riding natural footpaths (totally legally) with the rocks, roots and natural features that includes. It would all be ridable though Leo cheerfully informed us. The morning would be an exploration of the woods whilst in the afternoon we’d been playing on some Slickrock. Yes you did read that right.
Now I ride quite a bit of Mountain Bike but the vast majority of it is trail centre. Getting out into the natural single-track was a shock to the system. Rooty and technical and only two of the adjectives I’d use, wonderful and challenging would be my favourites. With all the trail centre focus in the UK I do actually wonder if we’ve lost something. As technology moves on and disc rotors become bigger and suspension provides more and more travel the need for extreme TTFs and steep downhill overcomes everything else. Of course this has its place but the need for developing technical skills and the ability to choose a path whilst keeping the next obstacle in mind seem to be forgotten as well as the pure simplistic nature of exploring off the beaten track. The single-track of Gothenburg brings all this back to the rider and I soon became enchanted with it.
Watching Leo ascending vertical steps or descending routes that to me looked impossible was incredible. Like he said it was all ridable. Just not by me…YET. This is the sort of riding that makes you want to go back again and again to overcome the features. If anybody remembers the original Graveyard section on The Wall at Afan then you may have an inkling. Before they sanitised/ruined it riders pushed back up that section again and again till they cleaned it. I managed it once. Just the once.
It wasn’t all super technical though, there was plenty of my favourite type of riding. Fast and flowing. Okay there are no fast downhill sections due to the lack of altitude but swooping at speed was magical. I always say I’d love a speeder bike from Return of the Jedi and my perfect single-track is just like that. This matched up and only sheer hunger made me happy we’d stopped for dinner. The spread that Natasja provided made us even happier. Homemade beet salad, veggie meatballs and a Swedish bread.
After eating far too much we set off for the slickrock. Having never ridden this type of terrain I asked Leo’s advice on how to ride it. “Go fast” Funnily enough every time I ask a mountain biker for advice they say this! He’s right though. Go too slow and your front wheel can get trapped on a rut or your back wheel loses purchase on a steep technical climb. Get it right and it’s an exhilarating experience. The dry rock provided enough grip to blast technical climbs and ride the natural rollers. Hitting the rises the Marin came alive and I even forgot about the brakes being in the wrong place for a while. This was just unbelievable fun that was made even more special when an owl flew past me less that a metre away.
Riding on to meet Natasja and more food, this time Chocolate and Saffron cake and coffee, the sun was sinking and it was time to think about calling a day. But not before we discovered just how close to the city we were. Just a few kilometres later we were back at our hotel. I thought to myself how silly it is that we drive 30miles to a trail centre to ride for a couple of hours before driving home again. Natural riding this good so close to a big city is a dream. Gothenburg is a truly blessed place that every mountain biker should visit. I need to go back though. I have a burning feeling of unfinished business in those woods. I’ll just put the brakes on the right side.
Words: Stu Thomas, Photos: © Henry Iddon