We’ve all had that conversation with mates when you’re in a bar and someone asks if you want to do a bike race that you’ve never even heard of, nevermind a clue of where the hell it is, it goes something like:

“Do you want to do the Dalsland Runt?”

“What is it?”

“Dunno. Some guys did it last year. Said it was rad.”

“Yeah, Ok, count me in.”

“You wanted a pint, right?”

That conversation took us, Romance Cycling, to a latitude of Sweden we were sure even Google Maps didn’t know existed; to test our minds, bodies and bikes against the worst that the seemingly peaceful Swedish region of Dalsland could throw at us.

The Dalsland Runt is described as being “as far away as possible from an organized race – it’s all about having fun on the forgotten roads of Dalsland.” Apart from that there’s little else to go on, just rumours of a magical ride in Sweden’s backyard.

And so, in early June 2017, we’re stood with seventy-five other cyclists in a car park on the edge of Vänesborg, Sweden. The wide range of bikes on display shows that no one really has a clue about what lies ahead. Weathered cross bikes, sturdy tourers and even some hopeful roadies on no more than 25 mm tyres. Fortunately, Romance had gotten their mitts on three Specialized Sequoias – purpose built adventure bikes – and were eager to see what they could handle.

Suddenly we were riding. Without so much as a Hej!, we are screaming north on sublime Swedish tarmac. But soon enough we turn off-road and are hit with what is in store for the next three days. Gravel tracks, forest paths, gauntlets of rocks, and non-stop risers and dips, risers and dips.

It’s no surprise that the canny Swedes have built their quintessential wooden summer houses here, the scenery is jaw droppingly beautiful. Lakes and the dense pine and birch forests are something to behold. Often during a quick pause in riding we hear… nothing.

The terrain over the weekend is certainly the toughest that many of the riders have tackled. Brutal, gruelling, relentless. The only way up the short, stony climbs is to attack or grind to a standstill. The only way down is to throw caution to the wind and fly. But even on the descents, your eyes constantly surveying and navigating the boulder strewn tracks saps you mental strength. We pass dozens of mechanicals and countless punctures, stopping to help when people are in real trouble, because that’s what this ride is about, camaraderie. But inside there is also a tiny bit of smugness thanks to the bomb proof, problem-free rides the Sequoias grant us.

With your conscious thought drenched in exhaustion and when it all seems to be a bit too much, the mind wanders, thinking…in such deep wilderness, if lost would you ever be found. Then the Runt gifts you a small respite, the forest parts and a little village offers you a wonderful café and art gallery set in an old paper mill. The attentive hosts’ freshly baked cinnamon buns and steaming mugs of coffee are a direct shot to the bloodstream. Refreshed. Small groups of riders follow suit and this tranquil space is soon full to the brim, everyone grinning and chatting to people they’ve met on the road. Then onwards.

The Dalsland Runt is an unforgettable adventure. Exhausting, yes. But non-stop fun too. It brings together some of life’s great characters, it tests the limit of mind, body and bike. Returning home with bleary-eyed smiles on our faces and battle stories to recount on our next long ride.

The Runt is organized by Johan from the Wenersborgs Racer Club and he really does a damn fine job. Apart from the epically beautiful and tough as nails 400km+ mainly gravel route, he arranges somewhere for everyone to sleep, shower and eat at the end of each day. Entry is haphazard and word of mouth, all of which adds to the sense of adventure and underground vibe that the Dalsland Runt is shrouded in.

Find it if you can. Ride it if you dare.

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Words & Photos: Romance Cycling