Epic routes in the old mining town
We set about planning our journey. We’d heard a lot from other cyclists about the town and the surrounding area, and we’d been to the Hardangervidda national park before hiking. But this weekend we wanted to take our bikes and cycle two routes, one to the north and one to the south of the town. They would be mixed terrain rides with some tough climbs, so we started setting up our bikes and packing tools, inner tubes and plenty of snacks. We called our photographers Emil and Evan, proposed the idea, and they were on board, too.
Early Saturday morning, fuelled by the spirit of adventure and good coffee, we loaded our bikes onto the car ready for the 2.5 hour trip west from Oslo to Rjukan. We were eager to see what the day ahead had in store.
It was still early, around 9.30 am, and the overnight mist still hung low in the valley. The morning sun made the surrounding forests glisten and glow, like a sea of deep pine green. The smell was amazing, so fresh and clean. Our photographers got a quick shot of us looking over at the majestic Gaustatoppen mountain (we’d get up close and personal with it tomorrow).
It didn’t take long to reach the top. From there, we headed northbound, making our way along the well-maintained, winding gravel paths, passing by ridges and tarns along our way. It was an easy route to follow, and after about 30 km we reached the Kalhovd tourist cabin overlooking the nearby lake known as the Kalhovdfjorden.
We were ready for a short break, so we stopped for a waffle and more coffee. There were a few other visitors around, walkers, hikers and backpackers. We chatted with them about the area and they told us how they come to the area to ski in the winter, staying at the cabin for a few days. We made a mental note to research the ski slopes once we were back in the office on Monday.
Refuelled, we continued east along the gravel trail on a gentle downhill slope towards lake Tinnsjå, one of the largest in Norway, enjoying yet more spectacular views. It was starting to cloud over, but we’d come prepared in our thermals and gloves. We know the Norwegian weather to be ever unpredictable. After all, it was October. Passing the lake we swung down onto more flat ground and rode the final 25 km back to Rjukan, aka base camp.
We got back to the car, loaded our bikes in the back, changed our shoes and headed on foot into Rjukan to find some much-needed lunch. The industrial town still paints a picture of its beginnings about 100 years ago. In 1909, the valley was transformed from rural farmland into an industrial factory town, thanks to the innovative vision of businessman and inventor Sam Eyde, who saw potential in the area’s natural resources, especially the epic waterfalls.
He built a hydroelectric power plant which drew some 12,000 workers to the area. The town of Rjukan was built within a few years and became a hub of innovation, industry and money in Norway. Today, the Vemork hydropower plant (where the waterfall’s energy is converted into electricity) is part of the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum and is also where the Saboteur's Trail ends—an inspiring hike in the footsteps of the resistance heroes, who in 1943 bombed the Nazi-controlled water plant at Vemork. Riding over the classic suspension bridge and the switchbacks up to the plant is a short but thrilling climb that takes you back in time.
The next morning we woke up fresh and well-rested, having spent the night in a local B&B. We grabbed some breakfast (more waffles) and headed back towards the car to grab our bikes.
We started riding east from Rjukan towards Bjørkhaug. After passing through this tiny village, we turned right onto Svineroivegen, a notorious climb and one of Norway’s legendary serpentine roads, along with Trollstigen and Stalheimskleivi. It is a series of hairpin bends, twisting and turning for one kilometre with an average gradient of 10%. It was tough, but worth the views. Svineroivegen took us up from Rjukan to Gaustablikk and to the foot of the Gaustatoppen mountain. As there aren’t any bike lanes up to its 1,800 m peak, we grabbed another waffle and headed south along the forest-clad roads towards Tuddal, a small village overlooking Bjarvatnet lake. Here the road opens up completely, and the views were really special in the low morning light.
As we cycled through Hjartdal, the roads became a bit busy, never ideal for cyclists, especially freedom-seeking ones like us! But as we descended towards the main road at Sauland, and turned right, it got gradually quieter as we climbed a tough six miles to an altitude of 1,000 metres along the magical winding roads of Åmotsdal.
The road then plateaued as we reached the edges of the Møsvatn fjords, where we stopped to take some pictures.
We only had about 20 kilometres left to go, which thankfully they were all downhill. We rode the final roller coaster stage of the route down past Rjukanfossen and Vemork and back into Rjukan, quite tired but very happy with ourselves!
The Rjukan area is tempting because of all of the above. It’s a perfect haven for a weekend retreat of all road cycling, majestic climbs and breathtaking views.
Photos by: Emil Nyeng & Sebastian Mamaj.