Time: May 21 - 27 1995 Participants: Vidar Dahlseng and Svein HøvikBackground:
The "tradition" of going to Copenhagen in May started in 1992 when we took the ferry from Oslo to Frederikshavn and cycled via the Danish mainland Jutland. However, with only 350 km this tour became too little of a challenge after 2 times. Therefore, in 1994, we did our first trip to Copenhagen via the Swedish West Coast.
On previous trips to Copenhagen we had usually started the tour in Oslo. This time we wanted the trip to be more unsupported, so we decided to cycle all the way. The only real climb on the whole tour is the Sollihøgda on the E16 between Hønefoss and Oslo, (500m) and we decided that omitting this was a result of cowardice.
Day 1: Hønefoss-Ørje (159 km)
So, at 8.30 in the morning on May 21 we started from Hønefoss in rain and head wind. Fortunately both quickly decreased, so we were still comfortably alive at the top of the climb. Our goal was to get to Ørje near the Swedish border on the first day, where we have good friends who had invited us to stay the night. After 3 hours we had our first long break. We had a couple of hamburgers at MacDonald's on the Aker Brygge, (harbour) in Oslo enjoying the meal out in the sun for two reasons: One of the reasons was that we actually like the sun and the view. The other reason was considering the other MacDonald's guest, who without doubt would prefer enjoying the smell and taste of their Big Mac without the sweaty odours of two steaming cyclists.
Getting out of Oslo southwards is pretty difficult, you have to choose between breaking the rules of the Oslo Port authorities or risk killing yourself on the E6. We chose the former and cycled on the docks without any problems at all - not surprisingly since it was Sunday. At the southern end of the dock area the gate was closed, so we had to lift the bikes over a 2 meter fence. (This aroused surprising looks from a couple of passers-by; what were these two fools doing, breaking OUT of the closed area?)
4 km south of Oslo Central station we turned left and entered the route 155 towards Ytre Enebakk. We went off and on the bicycle lane, whose quality was very varying. From Ytre Enebakk to Spydeberg we had a couple of hours with smooth and peaceful riding on country roads down to the E18. There are adequate cycle lanes from Spydeberg to Askim, but beyond that you are fighting for space with the buses and trucks on the main road between Oslo and Stockholm. At Mysen, we had dinner in a cafe, in order not to empty our hosts' refrigerator when we came to Ørje. (Of course, when we got there, we emptied it anyway - amazing how hungry you get on a ride!)
Day 2: Ørje - Orust (188 km)
We had a nice - but a little bit too late - evening, and only slept from 1:00 till 4:00 in the morning. At 5:00 we were on the road again. We had agreed before the trip to start early every morning, in order to have a long break around noon and still make it to Copenhagen in 5 days. We took the quiet road on the eastern side of the Halden river and met the first car after nearly one hour. This early in the morning we saw several deer.
At the end of the first lake we entered the Rt 21, but turned left after a while and crossed the forest on a gravel road (10km) thus saving a few km before we entered the Rt 106 and crossed the Swedish border. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, entering the European Union without even being able to see it. The only visible difference was that the paint in the middle of the road turned from yellow to white. A discussion on the EU is always a good way to kill a couple of hours when cycling is monotonous. Vidar is as strongly against the Union as I am in favour of it. Sometimes when the discussions get hot we keep a distance of a couple of hundred meters between us for an hour to cool down.
After passing the border we rode about 30 km in a very nice peaceful pinewood landscape with a lot of small lakes and streams - down to the town of Ed. We spent a couple of hours there buying and eating some food. After Ed the traffic got a little bit heavier down to Munkedal. Each time we stopped to buy bananas Vidar had one of his EU-triumphs, bananas being much more expensive in Sweden than in Norway due to import duty rules in the EU. Well, the fact that just about everything else is cheaper was certainly a thing that helped ME in the discussions that always took place after buying food.
After a short break including a HOT meal (Rice and sausages with Chinese chili, prepared on the lawn of the Hydro petrol station) in Munkedal we rode a km or two on the E6, with rather heavy traffic. Then turned right on the coast route towards the islands of Orust and Tjörn, Rt 160. We began looking for a place for the tent around 21.30, but found nothing. (We saw a couple of elks crossing the road 10 meters ahead of us, though). At the end we settled for the far end of something that looked like a nice grass field, but turned out to be a golf driving range. The ground was extremely soft and wet, but it made a good mattress and the bottom of the tent was sufficiently watertight. We went to sleep around 23:30 and woke up freezing at 4:50. To save weight we had only taken thin summer sleeping bags. The 1 kilo additional weight of a good Ajungilak would certainly be justified as the temperature dropped towards 0íC.
Day 3: Orust - Varberg (178 km)
We were too cold to eat, and decided to start moving in order to generate some body heat. There was a distance of 6 km to Svanesund where we had to cross by ferry, and we thought it would be a good idea to have breakfast while waiting for the boat. This was in fact a perfect idea; by the time we reached the ferry we were comfortably warm, the sun came up and we had 20 minutes to eat before the crossing. A little detail about ferries in Sweden: contrary to Norway and Denmark all domestic main road ferries in Sweden are free and run by the state. As far as I have been able to establish, this goes for cars as well as bicycles.
Bicycling is good (partly separate cycle paths, partly quiet country road) from Svanesund via Stenungsund and Kode to Kungälv, a very nice old town on the Göta Älv (river). The fort Bohus once defended the Norwegian border, which in modern times has moved some 200 km further to the north. There is a very nice youth hostel close to the fort, where we had our lunch by the riverside.
As most big cities Gothenburg is difficult to cross by bicycle. (For tourists with time for an extended stay, however, there are lots of things worth seeing in Gothenburg and its immediate neighbourhood.) Cycle lanes seeming to head towards the city centre often end up in schoolyards or residential areas. Bicycle traffic signs are more than often confusing, even self-contradictory. Anyway, Oslo is even worse and we managed to find our way through and enter the old abandoned Särö railway which has been made into the most idyllic cycle path on the West Coast.
South of Kungsbacka the Swedish Railway company (SJ) was extending the West coast line to double track, and by some coincidence had "forgotten" that they had destroyed the bicycle path in the process. As there was no regular road either we had to drag/carry our bikes through the construction area. No warning signs were visible on either side - the cycle path was just suddenly cut off.
It was time to start looking for a place to sleep. We passed the Åsa youth hostel around 20:30, but decided that it was too early to stop for the night. (We also had a comfortable tail wind) After a few more km there was supposed to be another youth hostel, but this one was closed this time of the year. A bit disappointed we went on to Varberg, partly in the dark, and pitched the tent near a bird sanctuary . (Whether this was completely legal or not, I don't know. Anyhow, we took every possible step not to disturb the birds.)
Day 4: Varberg - Erikstorp, 150 km
So far the tour had been extremely cheap, partly because we had prepared our own meals but mainly because many of the Youth hostels had not yet opened for the season. Although night number two in the tent was far more pleasant than the previous one regarding humidity and temperature, we decided before breakfast that the next night would have to be spent in a comfortable bed, even if it had to be in a hotel. We really felt the need for a hot shower by now. We started riding at 6:00 and had breakfast on the lawn outside a Shell station where they had fresh bread.
Cycling was pretty smooth through Falkenberg and further on to Halmstad, with good country roads and more railways that had been rebuilt to cycle roads. In Halmstad I had a minor accident when I couldn't get my shoes off the SPD pedals in time at a traffic light. I fell sideways into the street - just avoiding a passing car with a couple of decimetres. A good lesson was learned from this: Ride with your shoes detached from the pedals in city traffic!!
Between Halmstad and the Hallandsåsen hill the bicycle road is a bit hard to find, at least there seemed to be a mismatch between our map and the actual terrain. After having crossed the E6 a couple of times we found the beach road and prepared ourselves for the 3 km climb - probably less than 300 m vertically. But in a flat landscape like this the Hallandsåsen really stands out! A cup of coffee, an ice cream and a chocolate bar gave us the adrenaline and energy that was needed.
The plan now was to try and find the youth hostel or a modest hotel in Ängelholm. However, this turned out to be difficult. Nobody knew where it was, eventually we found out that we have missed a YH at Margretetorp, some 12 km back north in the direction of Hallandsåsen. it was now past 21:00 and we had lost at least 2 hours looking for the YH. Quite determined NOT to waste 24 km on turning back, and equally determined not to sleep in the tent, we kept on moving towards Helsingborg and the ferry over to Denmark. In the worst case, we considered riding on through the night all the way to Copenhagen. Luckily, half way between Ängelholm and Helsingborg, we found an excellent hotel where we could get a double room with breakfast for 395 SEK. After 55 hours in the open air, the luxury of a 45 minute hot shower was an event to remember for life.
Day 5: Erikstorp - Copenhagen (75 km)
In spite of a rather heavy breakfast, we were, to a certain extent, able to make the pedals move round as we left Erikstorp at 8:30. Knowing that the ride today would be a short and comfortable one, we took it easy from the start. The weather was sunny and hot, we had a tail wind and everything looked good. Then, very suddenly, the pollen level in the air thickened and nearly blocked my lungs. Usually I am prepared for this and bring with me some allergy medication, but the trouble usually doesn't start until July back home. Obviously, this far south in Sweden the summer had advanced a bit further. I used water to rinse the nose and throat till we got to a chemist's in Helsingborg, where I could get some medicine without a prescription. Luckily this helped a little. I didn't want to waste time looking for a doctor who could tell me exactly the same thing that I already knew - I should have started taking some medication in good time before we started from Norway. With a pollen allergy, long-distance cycling is probably one of the stupidest things you can do - but what if you are addicted to cycling?? I've heard that a thin mask to wear over the nose and mouth can reduce the problems, but I've never actually seen anybody wearing it.
We got on the ferry and crossed the Øresund over to Helsingør, home of Hamlet. Although Shakespeare might be right in his statement about a certain amount of rottenness in Denmark, he certainly did not refer to the Danish cycle paths. Cycling is smooth on the Strandveien road from Helsingør r ight into the heart of Copenhagen. The cycle path partly runs along the railway and through parks. Cycle signs are everywhere, and contrary to Norway the destination is clearly indicated on every signpost. In rush hours bike traffic is pretty heavy in the Copenhagen area, though, so behave like you are in traffic, and not on some picnic! Stopping in the bicycle lane is literally lethal - you have cyclists behind you doing 40 or 50 km/h. The secret is raising your left arm before you stop, and keep well to the right if you go slowly.
The Danes have a completely different attitude to cycling than Norwegians.
While cyclists in Norway to a certain extent are being looked upon as
eccentrics, or downright nuts, (at least those of us who choose long-distance
or winter cycling) cycling in Denmark is considered to be a perfectly sane
activity. People go shopping, touring and commuting by bike all year round.
I once saw figures on daily commuting in Copenhagen - I don't remember any
details but a substantial part of Danish economy is in fact based upon
This also means that the bicycle traffic regulations are expected not to be broken. In Norway the police will hardly ever give a fine to anyone riding without a light in the dark, while in Denmark you're likely to be stopped immediately. Personally I've been stopped by the police for pavement cycling - used as I am to Norway where there is often no other choice. There was no fine, however, when I defended myself in Norwegian!
Our tour ended with a couple of relaxing days visiting my brother and his family in Copenhagen, before returning to Oslo with the DFDS ferry. (Very nice transportation, but getting more expensive every year.) We discovered a couple of nice bike equipment shops with a combination of high quality / low prices in the Valby area - but that is a completely different story.
Plans for 1996
The Copenhagen Tour in 1996 is planned to start on May 25 and last for 9 days. In that time we hope to be able to return via Fyn and Jutland, thus extending the distance from appr. 750 km to appr. 1250 km.
This tour will be based on hotels / youth hostels; no tent, no cooking gear, no sleeping bags. We will use racers rather than touring bikes in order have the tour as a "warming up" before the Great Trial of Strength (Trondheim - Oslo) a month la ter.
In Sweden, youth hostels generally seem to be closed in May. Therefore, when touring this early, you should have a tent as a backup, or be prepared to pay for a hotel room when you find a closed YH. The disadvantage of bringing along a tent, in addition to its own weight, is that you need a sleeping bag and some so rt of mattress, too. In May the temperature in Scandinavia often drop rather low, so you need a sleeping bag designed for cold weather.
Anybody with an allergy should be prepared for high levels of pollen in May. Cycling in farmland areas for much of the day means high exposure.
Preparing your own food stretches your budget, and on a long trip with plenty of time it is a good idea to be as self-contained as possible. There is a price to pay, however; hot meals take forever to prepare, and cooking equipment is heavy. (Yes, I know there are ultra-light models, they too take some space in your panniers.) In order to make 150 - 200 km a day, it is probably a much better idea to buy hot meals in cafeterias to avoid wasting too much time. Bread and bananas are easily bought and consumed along the road.