Taking a recommendation from a friend who knows what you like when you travel is always an exciting venture. I was lured by the promise of mountains, waterfalls, fresh clear air and bicycles. The Rallavergen is a unique experience. Built as an access road for building the Mountain Railway from Flam it is now a track used by cyclists and walkers. It bends and twists through the steep granite rocks offering breath taking scenery at every turn. It is not for the feint hearted cyclist as the steep track, some without fencing alongside the track, and hairpin bends are challenging. However, the fact that the majority of the track runs downhill does mean that you need to be fit enough to sit on a bike all day but not the fitness of a cyclist in the Tour de France! The track runs for approximately 80 kilometres with only fellow cyclists, walkers and the occasional goat for company for the vast majority of the route.
You can start from a number of places on the Rallavergen, all accessible by train. We chose to start at Finse, a small collection of houses, a hotel, a hostel and a train station. Accessible only by train it is a paradise for those who love the outdoors and an excellent place to start for first timers who can take a day to reach the fjiord at Flam. The long, cold winter meant that even at the beginning of August there was snow on the track necessitating a short train ride before finally putting the bikes to the test. The track, running alongside the mountain railway, is easy to navigate despite the many twists and turns. The dirt road with its coarse and uneven surface requires some concentration when cycling but there is plenty of time to stop and take in the amazing views. Be prepared to negotiate possible snow, small landslips and wandering goats.
There are a few places to stop along the way to buy a drink or snack but if you travel with your packed lunch then the most difficult decision is which view to look at whilst eating your sandwiches.
Rough, tough mountain bikes can be hired from Finse or other places along the Bergen railway or alternatively you can take your own mountain bike. The hire bikes are modern and well maintained with disc brakes essential for the hairpin bends and steep descents. A unique feature of some bikes is the brakes may be operated by back pedalling. Very helpful but they take some practice to get used to – preferably before the first steep descent. Cycle helmets are essential so either bring your own or hire them.
The steep rugged mountains with the lakes and dramatic waterfalls are breath taking. The scenery is stark and rocky at the beginning but gradually softens with more vegetation and trees during the descent. It is this stunning views and isolation that turns this cycle route into something really special. We took our time cycling as this day was all about the journey.
The day before we cycled was cold, wet and grey so it was with great trepidation that we looked at out the weather on the day of our trip. The sun was shining and the sky was blue – perfect. With hindsight we should have worn more layers which would have enabled us to peel off some clothes as we warmed up on the descent to sea level. We underestimated the warmth of the day as we cycled through glorious sunshine.
Gradually the track drops into the Flamsdalen valley and joins the tarmac road. Tourists from the town of Flam, visitors to the mountain railway and those visiting from cruise ships moored at the end of the fjord gave Flam a relaxed holiday feel. The stunning views continued with waterfalls and pretty houses culminating in a view of the beautiful Sognefjorden, Norway’s deepest fjord.
Our bags were waiting for collection at the station having been transported on the railway. Great organisation with the hire bikes meant that at the end of the day we handed the bikes back on reaching the station kiosk in Flam. It felt quite sad to see them swiftly despatched onto the train for their journey back up the mountain for their next trip. However, that is not the last time they will see us – we are already planning to return.