Inspiration Scandinavia 2011

5 Good Reasons To Go Cycle Touring Or Bikepacking In Winter (& 5 Reasons Not To!)

Cycling to Arctic Scandinavia in midwinter was one of the most intensely memorable and rewarding experiences I’ve had on two wheels. Here are five reasons I reckon you too should try cold weather cycle touring or bikepacking in a place like this:

  1. Challenge
    Winter cycle touring throws a lot of new considerations into the mix. After 18 months on the road in more temperate climes, I needed to push myself, broaden my experience and learn some new skills – and I did.
  2. Beauty
    The ethereal sunlight and snow-clad lands of the far north might be as familiar to locals as grey skies and patchwork fields are back home, but for the visitor this harsh spectacle is rarely short of breathtaking.
  3. Solitude
    The countryside in winter is sparsely populated, and the backcountry is all but deserted, save for a few skiers and skidoo enthusiasts. Need a place to unwind and reflect? Head for the Arctic.
  4. Hospitality
    “We’re as cold as the weather”, said one Norwegian lady. But, although a world away from the hospitality of the Middle East, I was often taken in from the bitter cold for food and a place to sleep.
  5. Safety
    If you do get into a pickle, the fact is that you’re still on the road, probably in range of mobile phone signal, and therefore never far from help. You’re not so far from home. It’s not a polar expedition, even though your clothing, camping setup and ice-beard might have a lot in common with one.
Sleigh riders

Not convinced? Excellent! Here are some handy reasons why it’s a really silly idea:

  1. It’s cold. Really cold
    Frozen toes, cold-aches, numb buttocks, oozing nostrils producing giant snotty icicles, permanently fiddling with zips and hoods and gears and brakes whilst wearing massive mittens — and this is supposed to be fun?!?
  2. It’s dark. Really dark
    Go north at New Year and you’ll notice that the sun doesn’t bother rising at all. A little later and you get only a few hours of pale light in which to accomplish your daily distance. Otherwise you’ll be riding at night at minus goodness-knows-what-temperature, which is fine if you’re a masochist, but not if you aren’t.
  3. It’s expensive. Really expensive
    Norway’s reputation for high prices is well-earned. Expect supermarket food to be twice the price of back home; accommodation three or four times more.
  4. It’s slow. Really slow
    This can’t be overstated. You can’t ride at a clip without getting hot, sweaty, cold, and motionless, in that order. Everything has to be done with painstaking methodology, in acute awareness of temperature, sunlight, wind-chill, gradient, exertion, food intake and caffeine level. It’s exhausting.
  5. Camping sucks
    Sleeping bags suck up body moisture and freeze solid. Stoves, lighters, matches, cameras, laptops, tent-pegs and a host of unpredictable bits and pieces stop working properly. Forget to change into a down jacket immediately and you need half an hour of star-jumps to get warm again. Condensation freezes inside your tent and you get a shower of ice crystals every morning. Your food freezes on it’s way to your mouth, to the sides of the pan, and to your Edwardian-explorer-style moustache.
Sunrise in Lapland

Like many such endeavours, the memory of an experience like this is far sweeter than the reality from which it draws. But if you detect a rogue thought wandering your mind, craving irrational challenge, and you’re already well-versed in the routines of life on two wheels (or even if you aren’t), I’d highly recommend giving a winter in the outdoors a little consideration.

Find out more about the equipment I used when cycle touring in the Arctic Circle, or read about how to stay warm when camping at thirty below…

5 replies on “5 Good Reasons To Go Cycle Touring Or Bikepacking In Winter (& 5 Reasons Not To!)”

Awesome story and photos! What a great adventure and challenge to take on. How inspiring!

Glenn — we are based in the Yukon and have an online adventure magazine. I’d LOVE to hear more about your upcoming Yukon cycling adventure! Please feel free to contact me if you are interested. 🙂

Tom, I enjoy following your travels and reading your entries. As a fellow adventurer I am looking forward to my first set of Winter expeditions, one of which will be in Norway and the other in the Yukon on a bike. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on winter travel.


As I sit with just my swim-shorts on beside the Indian Ocean and wait for my Mozambique visa to be processed, the second half of your post reminded me why I am not fond of cold-weather cycling. I distinctly recall having to frequently stop in Tibet when descending from those 5000m passes with toes and fingers that were about to drop off. And then there was the getting up to pee in the middle of the night when it’s minus whatever outside and you are cocooned in your sleeping bag. Hot weather cycling (like really hot as you also know) is also a killer, but one gets used to it. That all said the crisp clear skies and clean vistas make for good photos, and most cold places don’t smell like hot places do.

Tom, it was great reading your article from the warmth of a cozy apartment! You summed up my winter camping and cycling experience with a crispness and clarity that left frost on the windows. And what a great video to go with it! Thanks for getting me excited to get out and about this winter!

Hi Tom
Inspiring post! As a winter commuter on bike in Norway, I am full of admiration of your trip. I guess one of the pleasures of winter trips are the moments when you actually manage to have some level of comfort despite the grim conditions – I really like the contrast between the cold outside and the comfort of the sleeping bag myself.

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