June 16, 2016. Much to our dismay, we came back with a surprisingly hefty and undesirable souvenir from our trip to Italy. An extra five pounds each. And this, despite having walked 7 – 12 miles per day, according to our iPhone health trackers. So upon our return to Oslo, we realized we had to go on the austerity plan. No more carbo-loading pasta at every single meal like an Italian. And our exercise routine needed to be stepped up a notch. Time to break out the bicycles.
Some of you will remember that Matthew and I have ridden a tandem for many years, with him manning the helm primarily because of my singular lack of ability to master rather vital cycling skills, such as steering, shifting, and using hand-brakes. There’s nothing quite so harrowing for me as plowing alone and uncontrolled through the throngs of charity-fundraising runners, triathalon trainees, clueless sightseers, texting teenagers, churro vendors, baby-strollers, and lapdogs on invisible leashes that are to be found all along Chicago’s Lakefront Path.
For safety’s sake — meaning to protect the lives of innocent bystanders as much as my own — I’ve restricted my independent bike riding to the countryside, where nice soft fields and fewer obstacles await. We’ve kept to this strategy while living overseas as much as possible. If we can’t rent a tandem, we go with singles but pick a road less traveled to ensure I don’t cause an international incident by running locals off the road. Americans have enough bad press right now.
If you’re a tourist, it’s easy to go for a ride around Oslo. Viking Biking offers maps, trail guides, and one-to-three-day rentals starting at around $18. Or, you can get a season subscription (around $40) from Oslo Bysykkel that lets you pick up and drop off bikes at stations throughout the city, kind of like Divvy Bikes in Chicago. The difficulty for us is that we’ve not yet found a tandem for rent or for purchase (shipping ours here was too pricey.) Maybe it’s that most folks find the city’s many hills too tough to tackle with the added weight of a two-seater. Or maybe it’s that Norwegians see cycling as another one of those “best when done alone” activities, like hiking, running, kayaking, and socializing. To recount an old Norwegian joke, a guy asks his friend, “How was your hike this weekend?” His buddy responds, “Terrible, I saw another person on the trail.”
Acknowledging that solitary cycling seems more socially acceptable, we began our quest to locate two single-seaters. Finding one small enough to fit me proved much easier than expected. We bought a child’s bike for the equivalent of $50 at the flea market. With its seat lowered all the way down, I could just barely touch the ground to catch myself when stopping. (Norwegians are a statuesque people and even the youngsters tower over me.) But the best part is — the bike had coaster brakes like those from my childhood and only one shifter with just three gears!
Matthew’s search proved a little more lengthy, as he really wanted one of the Dutch models we’d seen in Amsterdam. Those don’t come cheap. After quite a bit of culling through the used bikes advertised on Finn.no (Norway’s answer to Craig’s List), he found a likely candidate for the bargain-basement price of $350. During Matthew’s test ride, the owner confessed to selling it because “its seat squeaks.” But peeking into the guy’s tiny garage and seeing ten other bikes, I’m thinking that his wife had decided it was time to make room for the car.
Our first couple of outings on our new steeds made it clear that city riding can be tricky in Oslo. Aside from the painful tenderizing your posterior takes while traveling down cobblestone streets, it’s virtually impossible to avoid getting your tires stuck in the tram tracks and taking a resulting header. We’ve sat corner-side at our favorite coffee shop and counted the number of folks who’ve done a face plant right in front of us when a car unknowingly crowds them into the Trikk rails. Needless to say, I’d advise sticking to side streets whenever possible to avoid these bike traps.
A bit of exploration, trial, and error has now helped us discover our favorite bike route, the Frognerstranda, which takes us along a six-mile, round-trip stretch of the Oslo fjord via a dedicated bike lane. No cars, no pedestrians, and only a few cyclists mean fewer targets for me as I continue to hone my independent riding skills. Everybody wins. So like hamsters on a wheel, we take this same path every day during our evening ritual of after-work exercise. (Check out the bike path in the banner photo up top.)
You’d think it would get boring, but the view is always changing. New wildflowers border the trail each trip; we get to watch the geese families grow up; somebody’s always showing off their new sailboat in the harbor; the King’s farm seems to regularly rotate herds of cattle, sheep, etc.; and we keep discovering new little cafes along the way — which isn’t doing much to help our dieting issue.
Peruse the gallery below and click on the images to learn more about the royal, historic, and natural sights we’ve spied during our cycling ….
One final note about our bicycling adventures. They’ll have to be put on hold for awhile, as Matthew has had his first accident. Riding home from work, he pulled into the park and hit a thick spot of gravel. It gripped his front wheel, jerking it sideways, which launched him over the handlebars. End result? A broken hand, which means no cycling for a least a month. Guess we’ll have to pull out those running shoes again.
And as a eulogy to our bike riding days, I thought I’d create a little gallery of the sunsets we’ve been privileged to witness during our rides.