Fun and fungi in Swe­den’s forests

En­joy an easy­go­ing fly-ride ad­ven­ture through the for­est trails of south­ern Swe­den

RiDE (UK) - - Contents - Words Martin Fitz-gib­bons Pic­tures Chippy Wood

MOOSE TOWER. TWO words that don’t seem right to­gether, like ‘road­kill milk­shake’, ‘flat­u­lence fes­ti­val’ or ‘Pres­i­dent Trump’. But tour guide Mats Jon­s­son in­sists that’s what the wooden struc­ture at the side of the road is. An el­e­vated plat­form to help you spot a moose from a dis­tance? A higher safe­ground to help you es­cape a charg­ing male? “It’s so when you shoot the moose, the bul­let goes down in to the ground and doesn’t carry on out the other side,” he ex­plains. Wel­come to Swe­den.

It’s the kind of cul­ture clash that might make me feel a long way from my non-moose-snip­ing home — only I’m not. This morn­ing I woke up in my own bed, drove to an air­port and boarded a plane. Two hours later I landed in Gothen­burg and met Mats. Af­ter lunch I climbed onto one of his Yamaha XT660R hire bikes, rode into a for­est and learned ev­ery­thing about moose tow­ers. Small world.

Swe­den, how­ever, is huge. It’s more than twice the size of Bri­tain, with only a sixth of our pop­u­la­tion. In­stead of houses and hu­mans, it’s pop­u­lated by trees and lakes. And filling the space in between them is an in­tri­cate net­work of gravel trails that are

just ripe for rid­ing. Th­ese are not treach­er­ous, fiendish, en­duro-ex­pert Dakar stages, but easy, un­sealed, pur­pose­ful path­ways. You could have never rid­den an off-road bike be­fore and you wouldn’t strug­gle.

That’s Mats’ think­ing be­hind his tour com­pany, Magic Mo­tor Ex­pe­ri­ence. His fly-ride guided ex­cur­sions are aimed at rid­ers with any amount of ad­ven­ture ex­pe­ri­ence, right down to com­plete novices. He or­gan­ises ev­ery­thing – the bike, petrol, in­sur­ance, routes, sched­ule, ho­tels and meals – and then per­son­ally leads each small group of around four rid­ers. A sup­port car fol­lows car­ry­ing your overnight lug­gage. If you’ve never turned a knob­bly wheel be­fore, he can even of­fer tu­ition. All you need to do is turn up with

your rid­ing kit. It’s the per­fect en­try to the world of ad­ven­ture rid­ing.

Dur­ing our four-day taster of what Mats can of­fer, most of the miles are on easy trails that snake gen­tly through a mix of open farm­land and vast forests. Th­ese dense walls of pine and spruce blur past on both sides, tower over­head and smell amaz­ing. The sur­face varies — there’s sandy soil, hard-packed dirt, chunky gravel, a few grassy sec­tions — and the fre­quent ro­ta­tion between them keeps you on your toes (some­times lit­er­ally). You quickly learn how the bike re­acts dif­fer­ently to each one. At times you can sim­ply sit in the XT’S seat and ride it like you’re on tar­mac; at oth­ers you need to be stood up on the pegs, steer­ing by shift­ing body­weight.

When the go­ing is easy, the bars feel solid and sta­ble in your hands but when the gravel gets deeper, you can feel it shim­my­ing and slew­ing. Speeds vary with the con­di­tions. Some­times it’s rolling along gen­tly in sec­ond gear, duck­ing un­der tree branches and pick­ing lines around com­i­cally vi­brant giant red mush­rooms. Some­times it’s fast and wide open in top gear, eyes scan­ning the dis­tance with well over 100kph (60mph) on the dig­i­tal dis­play. Most of the time it’s an easy, steady 70kph (45mph) or so in third or fourth. Hav­ing Mats set the pace up front is a huge help.

There are reg­u­lar stretches of road too. Some sim­ply of­fer a breather to break up the off-road runs, some help cover the dis­tance more ef­fec­tively, and some are put in for their own sheer en­ter­tain­ment. There are sev­eral stun­ning, soar­ing sweeps through forests, the bikes’ slim, tall, knob­bly tyres do­ing noth­ing to hold back the han­dling or en­joy­ment.

Whether on-road or off, most of the time you’re the only ve­hi­cles around for as far as the eye can see or the ear can hear. At first it’s dis­con­cert­ing, but then it’s sur­pris­ing how quickly you get used to the soli­tude and the free­dom — and then how you come to ex­pect it. It took two and a half days be­fore I had to stop at a junc­tion to wait for a car; some­how it still ir­ri­tated me. Par­tic­u­larly when you’re rid­ing off-road, the trou­ble with there be­ing no other traf­fic for 99% of the time is the 1% when you’re wrong — when you’re ac­tu­ally star­tled to see that you’re shar­ing the trail with a walker, a cy­clist, a Peu­geot 308 bounc­ing along through the mid­dle of nowhere, or a gar­gan­tuan Sca­nia tree-felling truck parked across the path. Or even — and I swear this is true — the MV Agusta F4 1000 we en­coun­tered on one gravel trail.

The pace is never pres­sured. There are breaks ev­ery hour or two to ren­dezvous with the sup­port car for the all-im­por­tant

fika — the sacro­sanct Swedish tra­di­tion of stop­ping for cof­fee with pas­tries, cook­ies, cakes and con­ver­sa­tion. Mats was born on the farm he runs his busi­ness from, so he knows a huge amount about the ar­eas the tours run through — the his­tory, econ­omy and ge­ol­ogy. Al­most all of the houses here in Små­land (a sin­gle prov­ince in south­ern Swe­den that’s larger than the whole of Wales) are painted the ex­act same shade of red. The colour comes from lo­cal cop­per mines, but Mats jokes that it’s also be­cause it’s cheap — Små­lan­di­ans are famed for their

“It’s the per­fect en­try to the world of ad­ven­ture rid­ing”

“Dis­used mil­i­tary stor­age de­pots are hid­den in the for­est” “Mats knows the area’s tourist at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the Ikea mu­seum”

fru­gal­ity. “We are known as the Scots of Swe­den,” he smiles.

But Mats’ even more valu­able knowl­edge lies in his painstak­ing re­search — es­ti­mated con­ser­va­tively at hun­dreds of hours — spent scouting and plan­ning his routes. You could fly to Swe­den and try to hire a bike, or you could ride your own ma­chine the 1000 miles through France, Ger­many and Den­mark, but with­out Mats you still wouldn’t have the first idea which trails you could or couldn’t ride when you got here. With a guide nav­i­gat­ing, know­ing ex­actly which paths to take and which bar­ri­ers can be rid­den around, th­ese leafy labyrinths hold no fear.

He knows the area’s se­crets too. Dis­used mil­i­tary stor­age de­pots and a two-mile con­crete run­way are hid­den deep in the forests. A haunt­ing scrap­yard of 150 cars left to rot in the woods for decades has be­come a cu­ri­ous kind of twisted art gallery. There’s even an en­duro track set back from a main road where we’re free to bounce our bikes around for a lap or two. Mats also knows the area’s tourist at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the Ikea mu­seum in Älmhult — in the same build­ing where the firm’s first store opened — which lets you put your face on the cover of a cat­a­logue.

The XT660R is ab­so­lutely per­fect for ev­ery­thing the trip has in store. You can’t buy one of th­ese new any more — its sin­gle-cylin­der mo­tor doesn’t meet the lat­est Euro4 emis­sions stan­dards – so Mats is lucky to have a well-main­tained fleet of them. It’s smaller, lower and lighter than giant GSS and Tigers, mak­ing it so much less in­tim­i­dat­ing on tight trails. Yet it still has a road bike’s fa­mil­iar friend­li­ness, with none of the tiny, hol­low, an­gry feel of a skinny, sharp en­duro. The XT’S mo­tor, like the sus­pen­sion, is soft, smooth and for­giv­ing — rugged, rudi­men­tary and re­li­able. It’s punchy enough that you can slide the back end out of line at will on the looser gravel, but there’s no over­whelm­ing ex­cess of power wait­ing to catch you out. Stand up and it feels gen­uinely ca­pa­ble off-road; sit down and the seat is a wel­com­ing place to park your pos­te­rior. Af­ter 500 miles in four days, I can’t think of an­other bike I would rather have rid­den.

The XT also sets the tone for the trip. It’s a road bike be­cause Mats is aim­ing his tours at reg­u­lar rid­ers — not hardcore rally dare­dev­ils and tri­als per­fec­tion­ists, but nor­mal folk like you and me. Peo­ple who might own a peaky lid and boots with buck­les, but whose heart still starts to beat slightly faster ev­ery time they turn off the tar­mac. Peo­ple who like to spend their evenings in nice ho­tels eat­ing gor­geous two-course meals, not self-suf­fi­cient over­land­ing lu­natics who’d glee­fully camp in­side the hol­lowed-out car­cass of what­ever was caught for din­ner. If you’ve ever done an off-road school, you’re al­ready more than qual­i­fied. And if you haven’t, Mats can sort you out.

If the idea of switch­ing off from the nor­mal world and dis­ap­pear­ing into a for­est for a few days sounds ap­peal­ing, or you just want to try some­thing dif­fer­ent from the usual des­ti­na­tions, then you’re the per­fect can­di­date. Off-road­ing through Scan­danavia might sound like some­thing other peo­ple do, but thanks to Mats, it’s never been this easy. It’s an ac­ces­si­ble ad­ven­ture — two words that sound much bet­ter to­gether than ‘moose tower’.

Track con­di­tions vary from com­pact dirt to loose gravel

Easy-go­ing rid­ing as a group makes for a very en­joy­able day

The Yamaha XT660R hire bikes are light, agile and with enough grunt to have some fun

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