Go different – Alternative travel guide (Part 2/3)

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Biking trips are what you make them. So make yours awesome by trying something new this summer  

 forest adventure. Discovering the hidden beauty and solitude of southern Sweden via
off-road bike


Ikea, Abba and epic off-roading, welcome to Sweden

Words: John Westlake

lance at a map and southern Sweden looks normal enough, with little indication it’s adventure bike heaven. There’s Gothenburg on the left, Stockholm on the right and below that is a splodge of green with a few lakes and a crisscross of main roads. But zoom in and something odd happens. Firstly, the lakes multiply, with thousands of smaller ones peppering the countryside. And secondly, there don’t seem to be many more roads. In fact, huge swathes of the country don’t have any roads at all.

What you discover when you get there is that the green splodge covering the entire south of Sweden – an area three times the size of Wales – is one massive forest bisected by thousands upon thousands of gravel tracks. These swoop and squirm between tiny villages and farms, skirting lakes and only occasionally pop out onto a road, which you briefly follow before diving back onto the gravel.

It’s a never-ending adventure playground – with no-one else in it. Sweden has a population just 15% the size of Britain’s and twice the land mass so it’s normal to ride all day and only see a handful of other vehicles. Not only that, but because most of the tracks are smooth – there are far fewer potholes than on British B-roads – you can keep up a pace which lets you cover huge distances off-road, which means that instead of just blatting about having a laugh you’re also touring the country, getting a glimpse of the varying culture.

I’m being guided by Mats Jonsson who runs Magic Motor Experience (MME), a company that runs numerous off-road tours around Smaland in southern Sweden. If you potter along at 30mph, it’s a doddle – an off-road novice would have no difficulty. I’m riding one of Mats’ Yamaha XT660s which has dual-purpose tyres on and at that speed it’s rock solid as the track sweeps through the forest. Think of it as an undulating gravel B-road with no hairpins.

Turning into corners I feel the front tyre scrabbling sideways on the fine layer of gravel on the clear line, setting up a slow weave through the whole bike. I’m doing about 45mph – enough to make any tree interactions deeply unpleasant. Instinctively I grip the bars like I’m trying to wring safety from them, my arms rigid and my eyes fixated on the gravel heaps of doom, but by the time I’ve wondered if Swedish hospital food tastes like that slop in Ikea restaurants, I’m round the corner. Slowly, my confidence builds and by the end of the afternoon I’m midway through a long left when I notice something’s missing, different. My mind blunders through possible causes but comes up with nothing – the XT660 sounds fine, the corner isn’t tightening and as usual the front tyre is doing its wafting-scrabbling thing.

I frown in confusion, concerned I’m missing something that will inevitably prove painful. Then it dawns: I’m relaxed. At last my shoulders have descended from my ears and my arms are loose. After nearly a day of riding off road, I’m finally getting used to the vague, floating cornering feeling – my body finally accepting that despite neither tyre feeling welded to planet earth, a disaster may not be imminent.

This is a turning point. Without the tension I’m free to take in the beauty of the forest as southern Sweden rushes by in a blur of vibrant green and blue. Instead of holding my breath round every corner I’m gulping down the pine-fresh air. It feels like a switch has been flicked and thousands upon thousands of miles of tracks open up in front of me. Not only can I experience a forest wilderness I didn’t even know existed, but now it’s a playground too.

We’re riding on mud and grass that hasn’t seen another vehicle for years and it’s a relief to just chug along, letting the XT find its way between ruts and through pools of dappled sunlight. At this speed you notice more than just vanishing points and picturesque blurs, you see tiny pink flowers on what looks like heather, 50 types of mushroom and the occasional hoof print the size of your head. And when we stop for a rest, the silence slides over us like fog. No distant cars, no wind in the trees, just the ticking of the cooling bikes. Tranquil doesn’t even begin to cover it.

By the end of the tour I’m not just in love with several blonde and beautiful hotel staff but also with Sweden. The people quote Only Fools and Horses at you, the forests and lakes are designed by a tourist board, and the endless, humanless space makes Britain feel like a rush-hour Tube carriage. If you want to experience what an adventure bike can really do, put this trip on your bucket list.

Have a go

MCN went on a four-day Magic Motor Experience tour to Smaland, using one of the company’s Yamaha XT660 after flying to Gothenburg. Prices include bike, fuel, support vehicle, guide, airport transfer, three or four-star accommodation and all meals. All you have to pay for is beer and flights — we got ours for £120 return. You don’t need off-road experience but experienced riders won’t get bored. As an introduction to off-road riding, it’s well-nigh perfect. As a biking holiday, it’s a joy.

• 4 days £1140
• 7 days £1975 • 10 days £2850
• Visit www.magicmotorexperience.com