Jeremy Head tries Trondheim’s unique bike escalator and samples the city’s sights and bites
Hills. They’re great on a bike going down; not so good going up. In 1992, inventor and cycling fanatic Jarle Wanvik developed a solution. He created the world’s first bike escalator in Trondheim, Norway. It pushes riders from the city’s old town 150 yards uphill to the residential district.
I’ve just watched a demonstration. Now it’s my turn to have a go.
“Hold your right foot against the footplate; push back against it” says Knut who runs a local cycle guiding business. There are two speeds: Normal and Beginner. I know which I’m selecting. Four warning beeps, the footplate shoots out and pushes against the sole of my foot propelling me forwards. Its momentum starts to push my leg up and forward at the expense of the rest of me and my bike. After five yards I slip off. By now there’s a crowd of Taiwanese tourists watching. It takes three more goes to do it, but I’m going to be famous in Taiwan. I must be all over social media there judging by the cheers and myriad photos.
Like all Scandic countries, Norway loves bikes. Trondheim, the country’s third city, calls itself Norway’s Cycle City. They’re busy building around 150 miles of cycle lanes and already one-in-five people cycle to work here. I sip coffee outside a café next to the escalator and watch with glee as other tourists attempt and fail. Odd Nygard (yes, that really is his name) manages the escalator. He’s also on the city’s environment committee tasked with getting more people on bikes. “We know 40,000 people get on the escalator each year,” he says. “We don’t know how many get to the top!” Despite the escalator being there since 1992, they haven’t caught on. It remains unique.
Before my moment of Taiwanese bike escalator stardom, I’d cycled around Trondheim with Ellen, one of Knut’s guides. We pedalled smoothly past sleepy marinas, the glossy fjord sparkling in the early sun, a zing of chill in the air. We explored an old fishermen’s village with its rainbow of wooden cottages, crossed a burbling stream before cycling along the river and across the old town bridge known as Lykkens Portal - the Gate of Happiness.
And it did all feel rather happy in the sunshine. Rainbow warehouses cast bright reflections in the dark river giving way to fairy tale cottages and shops. The cobbled streets here in the old town have smooth flagstone pathways just for cyclists to avoid the boneshaking bumps. The stones have exhortations painted on them to Cycle Nicely. We lunched across the street on spiced redfish soup and cloudberry cheesecake at Baklandet Skydsstation. This cosy café is like a film set, a warren of low-ceilinged rooms with handcrafted cushions and wall coverings.
“Along with biking,
Trondheim is big on bites and booze”
Along with biking, Trondheim is big on bites and booze. After lunch I peddled to a craft brewery. When Vinko opened the door, I was battered by Iron Maiden. This is guy heaven: brewing beer and rocking to heavy metal. He and two mates borrowed cash using their mothers’ houses as collateral to set up Austmann brewery. And bless, they’re still mums’ boys despite the tattoos and high volume metal: “Dude, our best selling beer is called Three Old Ladies in honour of our mums,” Vinko smiled as I quaffed a hoppy IPA called Humledugg.
You don’t have to hire a guide to pedal around town either. Next morning I hopped on a City Bike. There’s a network of 20 bike points across the city. Visitors can buy a 24-hour pass from the tourist office. I pedalled up to the fortress on top of the hill wishing the bike escalator concept had been adopted more widely, at least in Trondheim. I cruised back across the old town bridge (more happiness) and decided that whilst there was no lock, the locals were too nice to nick my bike. So I propped it near a tombstone and went to explore the cavernous cathedral.
But Trondheim cycle paths weren’t all smooth. Eirik Mjøen drove me 15 minutes out of town to Bymarka, a local nature reserve of sparkling lakes and forests. Kitted out with helmet and mountain bike I followed him at a cracking pace straight up to a viewpoint.
At the top was a short more ‘technical’ path. It was steep and muddy. As I teetered there nervously, four gorgeous Trondheim girls came striding up behind in tight shorts and fluorescent crop tops. Nothing for it. I had to go for it. My yelp of fear as I almost came off perhaps spoilt the effect, particularly when they came stomping past me as I pushed the last bit through a patch of sticky bog.
On yer bike!
Three more pedally good trips to try:
France is perfect for pedalling -
try exploring the spectacular
chateaux of the Loire Valley.
does week-long self-guided
trips from £698 pp excluding flights.
Holland is super flat and the Dutch
love cycling. Combine time in the
saddle with a cruise on a canal.
Skedaddale’s 8-day trip
from £795 pp excluding flights.
Downhill in Wales:
Wales has some of the best
mountain biking in Europe so
why go further? There are
spectacular rides for all abilities.
Coed Llandegla is just one example.
“As I teetered there nervously, four gorgeous Trondheim girls came striding up behind in tight shorts and fluorescent crop tops”
Once I’d made it to the top, I was greeted by vast views over Trondheim and the fjord with snow-capped mountains glistening behind. We set off to cycle all the way back to town. Our mission: to get me there by 4pm for the airport bus. It was already 2.30.
We bounced between fir trees then burst out onto the shores of a lake, bumping over tree roots, crunching across pebbles. I was getting the hang of the bike and loving it. After the long days of winter, everyone seemed crazy for spring sunshine. We startled an old lady stripped down to her bra and an old couple hiked past, the bloke bare-chested. We had to slow for a group of mums kitted out in Lycra and trainers pushing babies in buggies four-abreast along the track in front.
When we hit tarmac again it felt odd to be pedalling serenely along smooth cycle paths when moments earlier we’d been crashing round trees. There was no question in my mind, the next location for a bike escalator needed to be right back up to the top of that mountain.
Jeremy Head was a guest of Best Served Scandinavia (www.best-served.co.uk, 020 7664 2241) which offers 3-night Trondheim breaks staying at the Scandic Nidelven Hotel from £490 per person flying from Bristol and £515 from Cardiff. Price is based on two people sharing and includes accommodation, breakfasts and flights with KLM.
Two-hour Trondheim cycle tours with Sykkelguide (+47 45 25 35 60; Sykkelguide.com) cost NOK280 (£23).
Mountain biking with Mid-Norway Adventures
(+47 98 28 60 70) costs from NOK790 (£67) per person.
The tourist office can help with cycle bookings and information
(+47 73 80 76 60; www.visitnorway.com/trondheim).