Gothenburg, Sweden

I first learned of the mountain biking around Gothenburg, Sweden via Hillside Cycling’s amazing photos, which we’ve featured as Photos of the Day many times here on Singletracks. I saw that there was great technical riding and entertaining trails to be found there, but when I started doing more research on it and realized that Gothenburg was a port town… on the coast… with no mountains nearby, I was a little skeptical. Leo Ranta of Hillside Cycling assured me that the trails there were black-diamond singletrack, but still my skepticism remained. “Technical singletrack? Really?”

But as soon as my airplane began descending into Landvetter Airport, I knew that I was in for a treat. While the land was relatively flat, it was visibly rugged: lakes and forests covered the landscape, and rocky outcrops regularly protruded from the dense vegetation. Technical, indeed.

A classic slimy, technical Gothenburg descent. Photo: Greg Heil.
A classic slimy, technical Gothenburg descent. Photo: Greg Heil.

As Sweden week on Singletracks goes on you’ll read in detail about the trails that I experienced while riding in the Gothenburg region, but I quickly learned that technical is the name of the game. And unlike some places in the US where technical means gnarly descents, Gothenburg’s trails are techy and difficult in both directions. The best of riders in Gothenburg—aka Leo Ranta, my guide for the week—are skilled technical climbers with quads of steel and fast, fluid descenders. If you want to ride these trails without getting off to walk every 10 feet (which I did at times), you have to be good at absolutely everything: the hills are short but steep, with transitions from descending to climbing assaulting your senses fast and furious

As for the trails themselves, all of the rock protruding from the landscape makes for very rocky trails—both rock gardens, and riding on rippled slickrock balds of exposed bedrock. Twisted around the rocks are the roots: sinuous webs of tree tendrils claw at the ground, looking for purchase in the rocky soil in a desperate attempt to ingest the few nutrients available.

Who says you need to go to Moab for slickrock? There's a "Slickrocks" trail right here in Gothenburg. Photo: Greg Heil.
Who says you need to go to Moab for slickrock? There’s a “Slickrocks” trail right here in Gothenburg. Photo: Greg Heil.

And then there’s the mud.

Living in Colorado, I’ve grown used to riding trails that are bone-dry and dusty, or so rocky that water just rolls right off. And even when I lived in Georgia, we’d try to stay off the trails if they’d been wet. But in Sweden, mud is just a way of life.

Boggy areas catch the rainwater that rolls off of the slickrock, trapping it in slimy, dark pits that are just waiting to leap out and lock onto your front wheel. Some of these pits have sketchy, skinny wooden bridges across them, and others… others, you just have to do your best.

Riding a skinny over one of many boggy areas. Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil
Riding a skinny over one of many boggy areas. Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil

Trail System

But technical terrain alone isn’t enough… there needs to be a trail network to truly make a location a destination. And man, does Gothenburg have trails! Very few of these trails are signed (more on that in a minute), but by local expert Leo Ranta’s best guess there’s about 300-400 kilometers (180-250 miles) of mountain bike trails in the immediate Gothenburg area… and that means rideable from downtown Gothenburg.

Check out the map below for a visual overview of all the different riding areas located around Gothenburg. These aren’t just single trails… rather, each shaded area is its own web of singletrack:

Credit: Leo Ranta

When you get out into this vast maze of singletrack, you’ll find trails branching off at angles every few feet, with more intersections and ride variants than I can even begin to wrap my head around even after riding there for a week straight. But all of them—save for maybe one very short section of trail—are open to mountain bikes.

Everyman’s Right

This amazingly open access, which is a totally foreign concept here in the United States, is a result of a law that was recently passed in Sweden that can be translated as “Everyman’s Right.” In essence, this law states that any human powered activity is allowed anywhere on non-developed land. This includes biking, hiking, walking, and running, but does not extend to horseback riding, or motorized travel (including ebikes).

When I heard of this law, a bunch of questions instantly sprang into my head: “does this mean you can ride across private land?” Answer: yes, as long as you don’t damage the land, don’t disturb the land owner, and the land isn’t fenced off and there are no signs saying you can’t be there.

But the big question: “Does this mean you can build trails anywhere you want?”

Well… it depends how you define “build.” Technically, you still need permission to put tools or machines to ground to dig in a trail. So in general, instead of building trails, mountain bikers in Gothenburg “find” trails.

"Dropping!" Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Leo Ranta.
“Dropping!” Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Leo Ranta.

The Finding of the Blueberry Trail

Here’s the story of how the Blueberry trail was “found”… but almost all of the trails around here came about in this way.

One day a mountain biker was out for a ride, and he saw a game trail branching off of a well-worn path, heading off into the woods. The trail looked pretty well traveled by local deer and moose, so he decided to give it a try. As he explored the trail, he realized that it traversed through some pretty cool areas and had some decent flow. So, he started clearing away downed branches and brush that was lying over the trail.

About halfway through the trail, it seemed to disappear. So, another mountain biker followed a game trail from the other side of the ridge until it met up with the previous game trail. And thus, the continuous Blueberry Trail was born.

Life is good on the Blueberry Trail. Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Leo Ranta.
Life is good on the Blueberry Trail. Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Leo Ranta.

However, even after clearing away downed branches, the trail wasn’t riding all that great on their mountain bikes, so the mountain bikers didn’t ride it for about a year.

Then, a year or two later, the mountain bikers decided to give the Blueberry Trail another chance, and lo and behold! The route was developing a good singletrack trail tread! Local trail runners, hikers, and dog walkers had started using the trail, and it had begun to widen out.

The mountain bikers quickly realized that this was one of the best trails in the area, so they began riding it on almost every ride. More and more runners and hikers also began using the trail.

Technical challenge on the Blueberry Trail. Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil
Technical challenge on the Blueberry Trail. Rider: Leo Ranta. Photo: Greg Heil

Pretty soon, the mountain bikers noticed that there were spray painted blazes added to the trail, and wonder of wonders—it now appeared on the official trail map for the natural preserve.

Over the course of a few years and with minimal effort involved aside from riding and hiking, an old deer trail became one of the best singletrack trails in the area, and an official, designated trail!

Embracing the Natural

While the Blueberry Trail was well-used enough to become a part of the official trail system, the beauty of Everyman’s Right is that for all of the other trails that haven’t been blazed, signed, or recognized, it’s still totally legal to ride them, even if it’s just a deer trail.

Gothenburg is home to a passionate community of outdoors enthusiasts, from mountain bikers to trail runners to hikers and bird watchers. All of these people heading out of the city and into the forests have created a vast network of interconnected trails, and their constant and repeated use keeps these trails open, even with little additional maintenance.

Here in the US there’s a growing vocal contingent in the mountain bike community that decries flow trails and anything built by IMBA, and just wants trails to be gnarly, technical, and to have a “natural” feel. If you’re one of those people, you will love what most of Sweden has to offer, as this is exactly what the trails here are like: natural, gnarly, challenging, and oh-so-sweet.

Bring on the gnar! Photo: Leo Ranta.
Bring on the gnar! Photo: Leo Ranta.

Stay Tuned

I spent over a week riding and exploring the greater Gothenburg area, and I have so many cool experiences to share with you! This article is really just the tip of the iceberg.

As the series progresses, I’ll update this list with links to all of the articles:

Gothenburg, Sweden Series Articles

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