“The day’s scant sunlight is already fading into the lead-coloured winter sky. The icy roads reflect our lights like a mirror and we’ve only covered half the intended distance. We’re supposed to have lunch in Göteborg but people here are already hurrying home for dinner. I guess we might have to change our plan.”
How exactly does a ride become an adventure? When the unexpected becomes normal. When you push the boundaries of what feels possible and maybe even sensible.
Mark Beaumont is no stranger to an epic trip. So instead of looking south, like most road cyclists do when winter sets in, he headed north – to Norway.
His companions for this 1000-kilometre ride were his Shimano DURA-ACE Di2 12 speed-equipped Argon18 road bike and his long-time riding buddy, the photographer Markus Stitz. They are familiar with long distances: both have ridden around the world and Mark holds the world record, doing it in 79 days. They decided to take on the best of winter riding, enjoying one last big ride in 2022 together.
Home can sometimes be everywhere and nowhere at the same time for adventurers like these two. But, when in doubt, home is where you are from – and with Markus knowing people both in Oslo and in Berlin, the start and endpoint were clear. After working out the logistics, they found a route that looked tough enough in summer, let alone when you’re counting down the days to Christmas.
Crossing four countries
The two winter warriors cycled between December 18 and 21. Not to break a record or set a fast time, but to push their gear and test their grit while crossing four countries renowned for their challenging winter riding conditions. They started in the snow and ice, making their way down the Swedish coastline and aiming to be in Berlin in just three and a half days so they wouldn’t miss Santa Claus.
Weapon of choice
Some people might opt for a more off-road approach, but Mark decided that his DURA-ACE Di2 equipped road bike with 50mm DURA-ACE carbon wheels and 34mm wide tires, which fit the Argon18’s frameset, would be his weapon of choice. He trusts this pro setup, sure that it can stand up to the wintery conditions. But will he be right?
After a hectic weekend prepping the bikes and kit, the two heroes set off in the gripping cold of Oslo. Although they planned their ride meticulously, they didn’t want to take any chances and bring all the kit they need for their daring December epic. Years of experience come in handy here and Mark especially knows what to bring and where to put it on his bike.
The snow is thick and the skies are clear in Oslo. The temperature is a crisp -6º but the windchill makes it feel even colder. The first leg is a “short” one: Mark and Markus only need to cover 150 kilometres, but daytime looks more like night here at this time of the year. The sun sets at four in the Norwegian capital and the mercury drops as well, as the intrepid pair head straight into a biting headwind.
Unaware of what lies ahead, Mark and Markus are still enjoying the ride through snow and ice, although it is sometimes slippery, even on 34mm tires. After all, this is what they came for – it really feels like a Christmas ride, a totally different experience. Just staying warm in these temperatures burns a lot of calories, so eating enough is crucial.
Of course, the two knew that the conditions would be challenging. What they did not foresee was the freezing rain front that covered northern Europe on their first night, turning passable roads into treacherous ice rinks. The last stretch into Sweden turns out to be impossible to ride without risking a crash. Even walking it takes balance and nerve. After some deliberation outside the border checkpoint, they decided to hitch a ride for the final bit to the hotel just across the border in Sweden. The amount of crashed cars they see along this short bit is confirmation that they made the right choice.
Sitting down for dinner
On day two, Mark and Markus wake up to a dark sky. 300 kilometres south is on the menu, but apparently, the weather has other plans. There is still snow in the air and ice on the roads. They get going but their goal seems ambitious as they had planned to average around 22 kilometres per hour but never even managed that. They push on into the howling headwind, but instead of reaching Göteborg around lunchtime, they get there as the Swedish locals are sitting down for dinner.
In a way, this is turning out to be exactly the adventure they were looking for. An atmospheric challenge to remember, one that truly pushes them. If they want to make it in time for the Christmas celebrations, they need to come up with a plan fast. Being seasoned travellers, they realise that the only way to get to Berlin on schedule is to skip Denmark completely and take a ferry from Göteborg to Kiel in northern Germany.
Feel like defeat
For some riders, this might feel like a defeat, but this duo has already proven what they can do when put to the test. Mark won the GBDuro race in 2021 and broke the North Coast 500 record the following year, riding the 500-mile route in just under 29 hours. He knows what it takes to go deep, but also when he’s on the road to enjoy himself, whatever the weather.
A bit of a beating
Besides the two riders, their equipment is also taking a bit of a beating. Snow, ice, grit, then salt and mud: it’s about as bad as it can get. Mark is still happy with his choice. “It is nice to not have to think or worry about your gear,” he says. “You’re just focused on staying upright and moving. It’s nice that every shift is still as crisp as when we set off. Even the brakes seem to be doing okay, although not many pro cyclists will ever ride this Shimano groupset under these circumstances. I really like the worry-free, hassle-free setup. Even the battery doesn’t seem to be affected by the subzero temperatures, it easily made it without any recharging. It’s just impressive what this gear can take.”
The ferry across the North Sea is a pleasant surprise. Mark and Markus enjoy some warmth and comfort as they head for the port city of Kiel instead of Rostock as planned. Unfortunately for them, as soon as they leave that welcome cover on two wheels again, the rain greets them. Yes, it might be about ten degrees warmer, but the downpour is relentless as they make their way south, following the former border between West and East Germany. Because of the change of plan, they now have to ride 350 kilometres from Kiel to Berlin instead of a gentler 230 from Rostock, where they were supposed to start their last leg.
As the ferry docks in Kiel at ten in the morning, they decide to break this last stage up into two parts. The landscape is hidden by layers of cloud and fog, while they pedal through an interminable mist. Luckily, both not only have well-equipped bikes but are also layered up properly, an essential for a marathon ride like this.
Eventually, the weather breaks and Berlin comes into sight as the sun falls. They choose the city’s landmark, the Brandenburger Tor, as their official finish. Trading the calm of the ride for urban bustle is something Mark appreciates.
He used the tough journey south as a kind of meditation. “We usually don’t talk a lot while riding, but have fun and laugh in the face of adversity during our fuel stops,” Mark says. “I actually enjoy that and we’re both so used to riding by ourselves that it’s nice we’re able to share the silence too. It is important to ride with people and gear you can rely on and don’t need to look after all the time.”
At the end, Mark and Markus rode close to 600 kilometres in three and a half days. They both agree that the wintery Norway part was the most beautiful and inspiring part of the trip. “When you want to go on a true winter adventure, you should take your bike into the dark and snow,” Mark says. “Of course, riding in Mallorca is also nice but my bike was very much at home here in winter too. If you want to challenge not just your body, but also your mind and gear, go ride your road bike in Scandinavia in winter,” he says, with a big smile on his face.
About Mark Beaumont
Over the past two decades, Mark has pushed the limits of endurance cycling, spoken at thousands of events and worked in over 100 countries. Amongst other Guinness World Records, he remains the fastest person to have cycled around the planet. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with his wife Nicci and two daughters.