To Hell and back

First-time tourers head to Norway


WHEN my Aussie mate ‘Stevo’ moved to Trondheim in Norway last year I thought that would signal the end of our riding days together. But when he announced he was importing his Kawasaki ZX6 into the Land of the Midnight Sun, it seemed the perfect excuse to join him for the journey.
 
With a second friend Stuart joining us on his Honda CB1300, and a Ducati Multistrada M1200 S Touring confirmed for myself, we settled on a 5-day trip to what was the capital of the country during the Viking Age.

Our plan was to catch an overnight ferry to Denmark, before a second boat would take us from Hirtshals in the north of Denmark to the port of Kristiansand, located in the South of Norway.

From there we would have 3 days to take in plenty of twisty roads, waterfalls, fjords, the famous Trollstigen and Atlantic roads plus a few national parks for good measure.

Prepping the bikes

Steve’s ZX6 had been in a lockup for several months so he came over just before the trip to drink beer in the garage. And bring the Ninja back to life.

Stuart’s Honda needed a last minute swap for some new rubber following a puncture (and lots of swearing) whilst all I had to do was simply to pick up the Multistrada from Ducati UK’s Silverstone HQ. Nothing to worry about there except the date, Friday the 13th, and I’d be picking keys up from a mechanic called ‘Jinx’. Eek.
 
Still, no black cats were harmed and after years of lusting after a Ducati I was finally riding one home, about to start an epic adventure.

The first thing that struck me during that ride was the Multistrada’s power and the speed at which it would surge forward. I’ll admit I winced every time I passed stationary traffic as I got accustomed to the width of the panniers but we made it back home without a scratch ready to load up and start the journey to the land of Vikings and trolls the following morning.

Days 1 & 2 - UK to Kristiansand

The journey from our starting point in Barnet to the DFDS ferry port in Harwich was only 80 miles but it was a good test to make sure that the guy’s tank bags and soft luggage wouldn’t fly off their bikes once on the move. I was sitting smugly on the shiny red Ducati, with its matching hard luggage safely locked onto the bike.

With the bikes securely strapped down below deck, we hit the bar and then our bunks.

We arrived on Danish soil around midday, refreshed and ready to go. Just as well. We had just a few hours to ride the 200 miles to the port of Hirtshals in the north to catch the Fjord Line ferry to Norway. The journey would all be on smooth dual carriageways sandwiched between green fields that looked like they had been plucked from a Microsoft XP desktop background. Some spirited riding and a quick fuel stop (the sort where no-one ends up buying their weekly shop in front of you) saw us make our second ferry of the trip with a good 5 minutes to spare.

A few more hours at sea and we had arrived at Norway. It felt like we’d cheated by riding less than 300 miles from our starting point in Barnet to get to the port in Kristiansand but we didn’t care. Years of drunken conversations about going on a motorcycle trip had finally become a reality. The following morning we would be starting the tour for real, riding 800 miles of curvy Norwegian roads to take the ZX6 to its new home.

Day 3 – Kristiansand to Honefoss

10 minutes into the days ride and we were already surrounded by lush views of forests, fjords and open roads. The speed limit may have been limited to just been 50kmh for the first few stretches of road but that certainly gave you enough time to soak in those stunning views.

We hit our first switchbacks of the journey at Dalen, famous for its hotel that’s one of Norway’s largest wooden buildings. Shortly afterwards we stopped outside a mountain lodge for lunch, on a road that is closed to snow and landslides for most of the year but at that current moment was basked in sunshine.

We detoured slightly south to pass the town of Bo, apparently called ‘the most beautiful place on earth’, as we hugged yet another curvy fjord and upped the pace a little as we neared our halfway point of the day.

But the most important sight of the day was spotting Norwegian speed cameras. Instead of big shiny yellow things, they’re small grey boxes. In a country where the equivalent of a pint costs £8 I shudder to think how much a speeding fine would be.

After 8 hours on the road we parked up at an old Norwegian army base in Honefoss, a city named after a waterfall in the Begna River. The army base there is now home to the General Hotel, perfect for us to decamp and make the most of their pizza restaurant.

The days riding, our bikes handling and sights seen dominated the conversation but the one thing I think surprised the three of us was how physically tired we were after our first full days riding. Still, only 2 more days to go on this leg of the journey.

Day 4 –Honefoss to Dombås

After adjusting chains and loading the bikes up, we set off along the ‘Fairy Tale’ road on our way past Norway's highest mountain to Dombås, a ski town where we would be staying the night.

The morning started of with long sweeping roads and a road that cut through an impressive pine forest that felt it could’ve been lifted straight out of a video game.

We ate sandwiches at one of Norway's last remaining 28 medieval wooden churches. Whilst chewing down a roll filled with bacon (from a tube) I looked over at the awe inspiring Beitostølen mountains in the distance.

Whilst planning routes on Google maps you can see how twisty a road might be but it’s hard to get a feeling for elevation changes. Little did I realize that within an hour we would actually be riding over the top of those same mountains.

Swapping London’s heat wave for snow in just a few days seemed surreal. The Multistrada was happily eating miles up as we headed the furthest north I’d ever been and before we knew it we were surrounded by snow.

Beitostølen was almost like an alien planet. 10 minutes could pass without seeing another vehicle on the road and we had to keep stopping to take in the views of the towering mountaintops, make snowballs or write our name in the snow.

There was a random boat on the ground at one point and just as soon as we had passed that we came across a large herd of wild reindeer. They weren’t sure about the other bikes passing them but they definitely didn’t like the growl from the Multistrada’s twin exhausts.

I’ve never had such a picturesque view in my mirrors as I rode north off the mountain and across the Jotunheimen ‘Home of the Giants’ national park. The sun lit up the mountains as if they were going to feature in an opening credit for a Paramount Pictures movie.

The twisty roads at the end of this section were a fitting way to say goodbye, the Multistrada launching out of corners in 2nd or 3rd gear, quickly hunting down the next corner before the days last leg on a ‘main’ road awaited us.

We had not expected much from the final hours ride, as we would be following the E6 road from Otta to Dombås. But as we climbed once more the ground to our left dropped dramatically to the Gudbrandsdalen valley with a whitewater river flowing in the opposite direction. Stunning stuff, but a warm meal and cold beer was calling ever louder.

Day 5 – Dombås to Trondheim

Starting the last outward journey to our final destination was bittersweet. But at least Norway had saved the most stunning scenery for our last day.

The E136 twisted and turned alongside the glacier blue Rauma River as the valley walls steepened and waterfalls became to numerous to count. A thick heavy cloud looked like it was about to swallow the world as we headed along smooth tarmac to the famous Trollstigen or ‘Trolls Ladder’ - A mountainside road with 11 hairpin bends.

It might have been wet and cold riding up into the clouds but Trollstigen was a road all 3 of us could now tick of the bucket list. Judging by the number of GS motorcycles in the car park, we weren’t the only ones.

Another tourist road on our final leg to Trondheim was the Atlantic Road. Some Norwegians had advised us to pick this up from Bud so we could get to ride a bit more of the western coast. It’s quite a view riding next to the ocean but it sadly signaled the last attraction on our journey north. The weather started to close in and the only breaks we got from there on were the small ferry trips across the fjords.

We may have been cold, wet and tired for most of the day but we were welcomed in Trondheim with open arms, a warm fire and even warmer rum (thanks Anita and Hans). What should have been an early night turned into a late one, not helped by being so far north that it was still light outside at 3am.

Day 6 - Hell

I’ve never ridden so far in as few days before. If I felt tired then I really felt for Stevo and Stuart. At least the Ducati was designed for trips like this. The Multistrada is a fabulous bit of kit that made my journey far easier then it had any right to be.

It’s probably for that reason that they both opted to take 4 wheels for the days outing. Although at our final destination, we were only 30 minutes east from Hell. A small town that’s really only noted for its name, which actually means luck in Norwegian.

So whilst Stevo and Stuart opted for a warm car to make the journey, I chose the Multistrada and its heated grips. I got back on the bike (minus the panniers), set the suspension accordingly with the press of a switch and headed to where I’ve been told to go many a time before.

There’s not much to see there and it was colder than expected, but I’d made it to Hell. And the Multistrada hadn’t missed a beat the whole journey.

The return journey

Setting off on the 1000 mile return trip with a man down was not something Stuart and myself were looking forward to. After a 2-day rest in Trondheim we planned to take the direct route back to the DFDS Seaways ferry port in Esjberg, this time travelling through Sweden.

It’s pretty much only two roads for the entire journey, the E6 and the E20, and we’d be stopping off overnight on route at Oslo and Helsingborg.

That made for a simple route back, but after the mega trip heading north it was a little disappointing keeping to dual carriageways coming home.

Using intercoms for the first time certainly helped keep spirits up, especially when running on empty tanks on the freezing Dovrefjell mountain range in central Norway with the only other company being ‘ice warning’ messages on the Multistrada’s dash.

The trip back wasn’t without a few highlights though. Stuart and I both enjoyed swapping snow for sunshine, spotting our first moose and looking for gangsters in Lilyhammer. We also met up with friends in Oslo, experienced a very windy Øresund Link crossing between Sweden and Denmark (the bridge from the eponymously titled drama series) before popping into Copenhagen for a coffee. Like you do.

What I’ve learned

  • Remember to keep well hydrated
  • Riding for 8 hours plus a day gets tiring (even on a super-comfy bike)
  • Even well worn-in kit can get uncomfortable when you wear it all day long
  • Earplugs cut out other people’s snoring as well as road noise
  • Motorways save time (but are boring)
  • When a pint costs a minimum of £8, you may want to drink a little slower

Looking back

I may have ridden to Hell on a red beast (and that Testastretta engine really is a beast), but a few days away with mates and an overload of twisting roads and stunning scenery was pure biking heaven for me.

The only question I have is why I haven’t done it before.

Many thanks to:
Ducati UK
DFDS Seaways
Fjord Line
General Hotell (Honefoss)
Dombås Hostel

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