Speed limit sought for ‘Birken’ racers

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The upcoming summertime cycling version of the classic Norwegian Birkebeiner race, also known simply as “Birken,” is raising some unusual complaints this year from those living and vacationing along the race route. They think the racers are cycling too fast.

Cyclists in the annual race "Birkebeinerrittet" should slow down, according to owners of holiday cabins in the area where the race is held. PHOTO: Birken AS/Geir Olsen

Cyclists in the annual race “Birkebeinerrittet” should slow down, according to owners of holiday cabins in the area where the race is held. PHOTO: Birken AS/Geir Olsen

Norwegians owning holiday cabins (hytter) in the popular Sjusjøen area, through which the race route passes, are the most upset, according to reports in local media. Several of those on holiday at Sjusjøen have pointed out that the racers cycle much faster than the speed limit set for cars and other vehicular traffic on the local dirt and gravel roads used in the race. They think the speed limit should apply to the cyclists as well.

Local newspaper Gudbrandsdølen Dagningen reported that it’s not just the annual Birkebeiner bike race, scheduled for August 29 this year, that worries property owners around Sjusjøen.  They complain that speeding cyclists are a problem as soon as the ski season ends.

“Cyclists have a tendency to roll full speed ahead on their own premises (without regard for others),” Jan Ove Holmen, leader of the property owners’ association Sjusjøen vel, told state broadcaster NRK. “And now there’s talk about promoting Sjusjøen as a cycling destination as well. Those of us with hytter here want to at least have a word on that matter.”

Holmen is especially critical of the “large groups of cyclists who use the mountain roads for training,” arguing that their interests often collide with those of hytte owners who want peace and quiet and use the roads (which generally restrict vehicular access) for walking.

“We believe there should be room for everyone, but the cyclists must take those out walking into consideration,” Holmen said. The roads are closed to all vehicular traffic during the race days.

The organizers of the cycling race called Birkebeinerrittet, Birken AS, declined comment on the speed limit proposal. The leader of the local Lillehammer Cykleklubb, one of the owners of Birken AS, told NRK, however, that he thinks it would be difficult to impose speed limits on the racers, who ride 92 kilometers over the mountains from Rena in the east to Lillehammer in the west.

“You must try to take those who view (speeding cyclists) as problematic into consideration,” said David Tofthagen of the local cycling club, “but during a competition like Birken, I think it will be difficult.” He noted that by the time the racers get to Sjusjøen, they’ve already cycled many kilometers. It’s simply too tempting, he suggested, to cycle as fast as they can over the flat- and then downhill route from Sjusjøen.

Per Fineid of Pihl AS, which owns much of the forest land in the area where Birken is arranged, downplayed the problem. “But we do want to avoid conflicts among the various groups who use the mountains,” he told newspaper GD.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund