Norway means ‘narrow way through the straits’, rather apt, given the mighty glacial fjords that lacerate its western coast. Admittedly there’s not much that’s spellbinding as I roll north out of Bergen. The majesty comes later; for now I’m passing the engineering workshops and other small factories serving the oil and gas industry that has made the city rich – again.
The charming buildings that surround the harbour are a reminder that Bergen was a successful business centre for many centuries, going back to its days as a Hanseatic port.
I’m riding out in the wonderful, slightly watery, sunshine typical of Norway. As I follow the fjord first east and then north before turning inland again to Voss, the rugged, often vertical countryside begins to work on me, raising thoughts of Vikings and moody gods.
Norway’s roads, bridges and tunnels are sparkling examples of their builders’ skill and tenacity, but they shrink to scratches on the mile-high cliffs if you look up a little. Whoops! Not enough attention on the road and a long frost break is trying to turn my front wheel into oncoming traffic. Norway’s main roads are excellent, but not all back roads survive the brutal winters unscathed.
I turn north at Voss and then take Stalheimskleiva, the loop of road which runs between two waterfalls and offers 13 hairpins on its mile-long 20-degree climb to the eponymous hotel. It took seven years to build the whole 6 miles (10km) of road, finishing in 1849. The view towards Gudvangen from the hotel is spectacular, with near-vertical cliffs boxing in the narrow green valley bottom.
Not far past Flåm, I face a decision. Carry on straight ahead through the world’s longest road tunnel, a 16 mile (28km) marvel, or take the old road across the top? I’ve ridden through the tunnel before, so the choice is easy. I don’t regret it. There are deep snow banks alongside the 30 mile (48km) stretch of narrow, steep and twisting road but its surface is clear and tempts my inner boy racer.
Back at sea level I am speeding along one of the tentacles of Sognefjord. I cross it on a ferry and turn west along its shore before another ferry takes me across to Dragsvik and on to the E39 main road. It’s an intoxicating run north and east from here, always either alongside a fjord or crossing a rocky range by hairpins, smooth, long curves and regular blinks of tunnels.
At Grotli I turn west again, and after following the waterside for a while, climb back up to the high, icy country that interrupts the fjords. The drop back down to sea level at Geiranger is a superb stretch of road, which deservedly won a prize at the 1924 World Expo in Paris. Climbing back up from Geiranger is just as impressive. This is Ørnesvingen, the Eagle’s Road, and it has a wonderful lookout like a long tongue of concrete at the top.
The high valley before Trollstigen is renowned for its strawberries, and the fields stretch as far as I can see. A quick visit to Jordbaestova, a cafe advertising the best strawberry cakes in Norway, and then I reach the top of the Troll’s Ladder. I pull in at the car park and walk to the viewing platform. Piles of stones, balanced on one another, dot the rocks. ‘The tourists think the trolls like them,’ says a local. ‘They don’t. Anyway, there are no such things as trolls.’ I’m not sure about that. There’s one outside the futuristic information centre, with its odd looks combining humour and veiled threat.
The brochure about Trollstigen claims only 11 hairpins for the descent. That may be true in the strictest sense, but it feels like a lot more, as my bike takes me over bridges spanning the white water tumbling the 762 metres to the valley floor, and along short straits with steep drops on one side and more sheer rock on the other. Then it’s a short run along Romsdalsfjord and up the peninsula that has Ålesund at its tip. This is a lovely town, best seen from the hill behind its sprawl around the waterways that define it.
There is one more marvel to tackle – the Atlantic Rd to the north, on the way to Kristiansund. It’s only 5 miles (8km) long, but it squeezes eight bridges into that distance, including the twisting Storseisundet Bridge, which you’ve probably seen in a car commercial on TV. It’s an exhilarating ride, especially when the sea is up, and when I finally reach the long tunnel that will take me to Kristiansund, I’m ready for a beer.
Know your limits
Alcoholic drinks are expensive in Norway, so it pays to stock up on duty-free en route. You won’t be the only traveller on the ferry with a shopping cart of beer, spirits, wine or magnums of champagne. There is a limit to what you can bring in, so don’t be as confident as many locals who believe that no one checks. Check alcohol and tobacco limits at Norwegian Toll Customs.
Start – Bergen; end – Kristiansund; distance –650km (404 miles), depending on which side roads you take
- Getting there: Take a ferry to Oslo or Kristiansand and ride or drive. Alternatively, take a Hurtigruten ship. These run up the coast frequently and carry both bikes and cars.
- When to drive: Between June and August, when Trollstigen is open.
- Where to stay: Pre-book hotels or cabins at the many camping grounds.
- Visas: Norway is part of the Schengen area. Many Europeans won’t need a visa, other nations should check.
You can find this drive – and over 200 more two- and four-wheeled adventures – in our Epic Drives of the World book. We have categorised this route as 'easy' taking into account not just how long, remote and challenging it is but the logistics and local conditions too. For more advanced routes check out our 'harder' and 'epic' drives.