The hottest cycling in Norway: Head over the mountains on Rallarvegen
Rallarvegen in Norway is the country’s most popular bike path, covering mile after mile over Hardangervidda, offering exceptional views. Hardangervidda covers an area of 3,422 square kilometers (1,321 square miles) and is Europe’s largest mountain plateau. The 115-year-old road was opened for cycling half a generation ago. To the north lies Hallingskarvet with its tabletop at 1,900 m (6,234 feet) elevation, and to the south lies Hardangerjøkulen glacier.
Following a television program about Rallarveien in the 80s, it has become Norway’s most popular bike path. In the 70s it was completely renovated and in the following decades it became known as Rallarvegen (Navvies road).
As the name suggests, the Rallarvegen road dates back to the time when the road was used by navvies during the construction of the railway. “Rallar” comes from the Swedish dialect word ralla (which means “wheelbarrow” in Norwegian), the name used for railway workers, many of whom were Swedes, who lived a hard life. Tramping from job to job, navvies (the construction workers who built railroads) and their families lived and worked in appalling conditions, often for years on end, in rough timber huts.
Rallarvegen’s history begins in 1894 when the Norwegian Parliament decided that a rail link between Christiania (Oslo) and Bergen should be build. An impossible task, some people thought. The work took about 15 years and 700,000 kilograms (772 tons) of dynamite were used. Against the odds, Bergen Railway was completed in 1909.
Cycling begins at Norway’s highest railway station in July, with the winter’s snow still not melted. It starts at Haugastøl and climbs for a distance of 27 km (17 miles) to Finse and finishes at Myrdal. There, at an altitude of 1,222 meters (4,009 feet)—having gained over 400 m (1,312 feet) elevation—you can pay a visit to Rallarmuseet, the navvies’ museum. There, you’ll learn about how navvies lived and the tools and aids they used in the construction of the Bergen Railway.
Bicycles can be rented at Haugastøl, Finse, or Myrdal. Many also start at Geilo or Ustaoset—adding up to 23 km (14 miles) to the trek. Whether renting or using your own bike, be aware that the road has small stones and you might need tools to repair the tires.
Rallarvegen ranges some 103 km (64 miles) from Haugastøl in the east to Flåm in the west, by way of one of the country’s largest glaciers, Hardangerjøkulen. Along the way one can partake in glacier walks, galleries, and most of all an unspoiled landscape of waterfalls and fjords.
Vøringsfossen, with a waterfall of 182 m (597 feet) marks the beginning of the dramatic downhill cycling all the way to the fjords, where fishing or a dip in the fjord is tempting, at least after a bike ride of five to seven hours. From Vatnahalsen down to Flåmsdalen there are 21 sharp turns. Many people choose to walk alongside their bicycles.
Another option is to divide the tour into parts, cycling from Haugastøl to Finse and from Hallingskeid to Flåm, but traveling by train between Finse and Hallingskeid—and thus avoiding the highest point along the route, an elevation of 1,300 m (4,265 feet).
For an even more divided tour, self-service cabins are popular for overnight stays and convenient if you wish to divide the tour in several parts. There are also many hotels along the route.
Each year, more than 20,000 cyclists visit Rallarvegen, but the season is short, lasting only until late July!
This article originally appeared in the July 17, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.