Fat biking at Finland border  ()Fat biking at Finland border () © Copyright

Go fat in Finland

If you fancy pushing yourself to extremes in the most extreme landscapes get yourself to Finland and rent a fat bike. We did it so you don’t have to...

Finland is not top of my bucket list of places to visit; I’m more of a warm weather kind of guy on account of the fact that my fingers can go numb holding a pint of lager on a summer’s day. So when I Google the weather forecast at my destination, Martinselkonen, Finland, and see that it’s -16C my mind races to think of ways I can make my excuses and pull out. It’s only the very real prospect of seeing the Northern lights, confirmed by my aurora watch app, that stops me.

My mood is not improved on my journey when I look out of the window of the domestic flight from Helsinki to Kajaani to see the runway covered in compacted snow and ice; this can’t be right. So when the pilot pulled off a perfectly decent landing I was tempted to clap and cheer like a hen party arriving at Magaluf after one WKD too many.

Fat biking through snow and forest in Finland ()

 

I was here to sample the alleged delights of fat biking in the snowy landscape of northern Finland with Jani and Riina at Martinselkonen Wilds Centre. So, after a hearty breakfast of porridge with wild blueberry compot it was outside to set up the bikes for a taster ride around the local roads and trails.

Fat bikes are the latest thing to hit the bike world. Think mountain bikes but with bigger tyres. Like, really big tyres; 26 x 4.6in. These things are designed to go anywhere but really come into their own on sand and in snowy conditions. Handy, because the ground around the wildlife centre is currently under a minimum of 50cm of  fresh, virgin snow.

Fat bike in Martinselkonen with FS magazine ()

 

It’s hard to know what to wear to cycle in temperatures of -5 so I opt for a pair of Roubaix tights, two merino base layers, a windproof jacket, a down jacket, a merino collar and a wooly hat, and two pairs of socks. Oh, and two pairs of gloves, for use inside a set of handlebar muffs a bit like the ones motorcyclists use. After a short pep talk from Jani we set off on a 7km circuit around the centre. We start off on the road but, after letting some air out of our tyres to improve traction we soon veer off onto one of the many Nordic skiing trails.

My cycling is usually confined to road bikes so I struggled a little at first. My instinct was to keep my cadence high and as a result I soon became tired and sweaty. Jani offered a few words of advice which was basically, slow down and keep the tempo steady, and that really helped: I was no longer spinning the back wheel and I could look around and enjoy the surroundings.

Fat biking through snow and forest in Finland ()

 

And these really are incredible. We’re cycling through forests and across frozen lakes; hidden from view beneath the snow are the brown bears that populate this region, but in plain sight is a huge variety of footprints: foxes, moose, reindeer, wolves, snow hares and wolverines. This last one was news to me: I thought that just a Marvel character, but it turns out it’s a small bear-like creature, like a large ferret.

As the sun sets (4pm) we are faced with the evening’s challenge: a snowshoe hike across a frozen lake to a reindeer farm where we’re promised a hot meal of reindeer stew. I’m now so cold and hungry I’m well up for a hot meal and will happily strap a pair of glorified tennis rackets to my walking boots to tramp through thigh-deep snow to get it. The three-course meal that we sit down to after wading through the snow – morel mushroom soup (poisonous in the wrong hands, apparently), reindeer stew with mashed potato, and stewed plums – is, like most of the food I’m presented with in Finland, basic but wholesome and delicious.

Dining round a fire in Finland FS magazine ()

 

The next day we wake up to what I’m beginning to see as normal: -5, still, thick cloud, snow everywhere. So it’s on with the socks, gloves, layers, shovel down some porridge, and out.

This time we’re going off road! Jani’s dad is going ahead of our mini-peloton driving his skidoo and towing a sled weighed down with slabs of concrete. The idea is that he creates a pathway of compacted snow for us to make our lives easier. And it works, after a fashion. On the whole it is easy to pedal along on the hard snow, but every now and again you hit a soft patch which means the wheels either sink or slide sideways beneath you. If you veer off the path, you are lost; at various points in the morning, often at the most gentle of bends, I topple over as I lose my front wheel to find myself arse over whatsit in deep deep snow, laughing. The only time I don’t find this hilarious is when I time my fall from grace badly and take a tumble just as I pass a tree: the resulting whack on my lower spine is sobering to say the least as I hear Jani’s warning ringing in my ears: ‘go easy on the downhills as the nearest hospital is two hours away by helicopter’.

Walking through snow and woodland in Martinselkonen ()

 

This is way harder than I was anticipating, and so when I see the wooden hut that marks our lunch stop appear on the horizon I am properly relieved. Finland, a little like the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, has a range of these ‘bothies’; shelters for use by anyone in need. Jani’s dad has gone ahead and lit the stove, made cowboy coffee and heated some vegetable soup as well as set a roaring fire outside. The effect is genuinely magical. I have to admit that when I listen to Jani recount stories of how he has in past spent the night on the bunk beds in the shelter, looking out the window to see the Northern lights, I am utterly jealous. We have to make do with the next best experience; cooking a sausage over the open fire and gobbling it down with mustard and a glass of white wine.

The return leg of our ride sees more of the same. If there is a downside to this kind of cycling it’s that the landscape can be a little monotonous as forest paths and frozen lakes roll past: beautiful, but monotonous. The only exception to this was when we pulled up at a sign in the middle of nowhere warning us that that we were at the Border Zone. A line of poles painted yellow marked the no man’s land at the border with Russia; a faintly terrifying place to be.

Fat biking at Finland border  ()

 

Ride completed, it was time to warm up the Finnish way: sauna. They love a sauna here - in fact there are more than 2millions saunas for a population of 5 million – and there is an etiquette too, of course there is. They follow a routine of warming up and cooling down, with the option to beat each other with birch twigs. I resisted the beating but as a result felt obliged to roll around bollock-naked in the snow between spells in the sauna, which actually wasn’t as brutal as it sounds, though I wouldn’t recommend it in a densely populated area.

The evening was then finished with an indoors barbeque of fresh salmon that had been pegged out beside a fire to smoke for 2 hours.

The only disappointment of the trip was that the fabled Northern light never appeared; they were there alright – the app confirmed my worst fears, that we would have had a fantastic display if only the cloud had cleared.

Oh well, I guess it’s an excuse to return, maybe in the summer to see the wild bears too.

Cooking sausages on a fire in Martinselkonen with FS magazine ()

 

How we did it

Wild Taiga fat biking programme from €1170 including accommodation in a twin room with full board, use of the bike and helmet, five guided bike tours, one snowshoeing trip, evening sauna, and airport transfers from Kajaani. Visit www.visitfinland.com for more information. 

Just for your reference I have included the programme below.

The programme is as follows:

Day 1: Transfer from Kajaani or Kuusamo airport to the Martinselkonen Wilds Centre. Accommodation in twin rooms. Dinner.

Day 2: Breakfast. Get to know your bike. Guide will give you tips on safe driving on a snow. Driving short tracks around the Centre. In the evening snowshoe trip.

Day 3: 17km trail. First full day driving the bikes. We will head to the Martinselkonen Nature Reserve to drive 17km trail.

Day 4: 15km trail at a lake just next to Russian border. Full day driving the bikes.

Day 5: 19km trail following the East Border Winter trail. Full day driving.

Day 6: We return to the groups favourite trail once more. Full day driving.

Day 7: Breakfast and Transfer to the airport.

Finnair flies from London to Kajaani via Helsinki, with fares starting from £220 return in Economy Class including all taxes and charges. (www.finnair.com / +44 208 001 01 01).

Maali Finish fat bikes in Finland ()

 

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