Wideopen Interview - Why Make The Move?
We sat down with Pete Scullion from Wideopen to talk about why we decided to move the business, you can read the original article here.
2020 will see a chance of location for Any Excuse to Ride, how did that come about?
Yes, we are very excited to be moving to Nesbyen! It was a combination of things really. We had originally been looking to move, mostly because of the remoteness, but still be within Hardanger. It is very cool living out in the middle of nowhere but it can get a bit lonely. Also, we had been having a difficult time getting permission to fix old trails for hiking and biking. We tried to do everything right by asking every landowner before using or making any modifications to trails. I suppose somewhat naively we thought they would be happy to have us clean and fix the trails, but people were much more protective and sceptical than we expected. We got a lot of negative responses proposing projects to open up and fix old trails, and after a full summer of mostly ‘no’ responses it got quite demoralising.
We had been across to Hallingdal several times for some weekend riding events and racing and it’s evident that there is a lot going on with mountain biking there. Mid-September we were across for a round of the Norwegian national enduro series and we told people about looking for a new house, a few of our friends from Hallingdal joked we should move there. At the time we mostly dismissed it as too big a change but it certainly put the seed in our minds. Over the next weeks we started talking about the idea a lot and how it might work but we had a lot of questions and uncertainties. Would the locals welcome us? Is the scenery too different? What about the trails we’ve built here? Will guests still want to come? Can we afford it? Can we find a suitable house?
We then ended up staying in Hallingdal working for a company called Trailhead Nesbyen through October, building trails. Once we were there looking from the inside out and spending time with locals it was much easier to see how it might work. A lot of our questions got answered and our main worry of people thinking we would be coming and taking advantage of their hard work was quickly disproven, everyone we spoke to was welcoming and happy about the fact we wanted to move there!
So our minds were made up, we would move the business over to Hallingdal for 2020. Now we just had the off-season to figure it all out.
What were the pros of being in Kvanndal?
The views have to be the top one, the setting was pretty insane. The farm there sat right on the edge of the fjord with a view out about 20km across the water. Even the locals that visited us were jealous of the view from our house.
Actually we’ve sat trying to think of answers to this, but the fact that we can only think of this one pro of being in Kvanndal compared to where we’re moving to, kind of proves that we’ve made the right choice.
What didn’t work so well about being in Kvanndal?
Living in the middle of nowhere is tougher than we thought. Neither of us are city kids by any means but we certainly missed even the most simple social situations and some convenience to shops or cafes. From a business point of view it was harder living far from everything too, even if you just needed some bread it was a 20km round trip on a singletrack road to the nearest shop.
Being remote also meant that we were the only mountain bikers around - the only ones building/fixing trails and the only ones speaking to land owners and locals that had never really seen mountain bikes before. Add not being from Norway to that and it made for some quite difficult communication. We wanted to use existing trails and create projects fixing up old, unused trails in the area, thinking it could benefit the locals as well as us. But we found that most people in this area were very sceptical, at least the people who we needed to ask permission from anyway. Spending huge amounts of time and effort in hunting for usable trails, then explaining who we were, what mountain biking is, why we wanted to fix trails and in what way… only to be told by 9/10 land owners they didn’t want us to use bikes on their land, was very frustrating. In several cases people were not even willing to meet us or talk to us about it. Dealing with that over and over again without having any other local mountain bikers to support us was quite demoralising and hard to deal with.
This is a big difference we can see with Hallingdal. Having some smaller communities of riders around to help share the work and just generally support each other is something we are really looking forward to. As well as some bigger organisations which are driving forward the bigger Hallingdal wide mountain bike development.
Had you planned to move?
Yes and no. We had been thinking we needed to make a change but only locally for some of the reasons explained above. Something else that we talked a lot about towards the end of this summer is Klara’s rheumatoid arthritis. It tends to get worse in damp or humid weather, which the west coast of Norway is well known for. She’s had a pretty hard time with it since we moved to Kvanndal and we were realising it was simply not going to work for her to stay there. This motivated us to make a bigger move and eventually decide on the move to Hallingdal, it is one of the driest and warmest places in Norway so we’re hoping it will make a big difference.
How did you go about choosing the new location?
We explained a little before about how we decided on Hallingdal, but there was so much choice within Hallingdal we had to make a decision on where would be the best spot to access trails and facilities.
The MTB valley of Hallingdal consists of 7 different destinations that all offer prime mountain biking. Nesbyen is one of those 7 and is within good reach of the other 6. We will be taking our guests all over Hallingdal but Nesbyen felt like a good base for us. It is the place where we have spent the most time and therefore simply felt the most familiar and at home with. It has trails right out the door, a good community, it is not too far from Oslo for guests to get to us, there’s a train station in the town and then it isn’t all that far from places like Sognfjord so still leaves us with the possibility of doing trips over the fjords.
Mostly though it was through experience and contacts, as is often the case in life it is about who you know.
How will the riding differ?
The riding will be much more diverse, both in terms of type and difficulty. The new location offers everything from big mountain hike-a-bikes to uplift accessed singletrack and we will be 45mins-1hr from two of Norway’s most well-renowned bike parks.
This was one of the main reasons for moving to Hallingdal, it already has so much to offer and there is a lot of things still being built. It is also the sunniest and warmest place in Norway. So the riding should be a lot dryer than what we’ve previously offered.
The riding where we were before was pretty spectacular but it was also really difficult, it reduced our audience a lot being only able to offer trips to much more experienced riders. In Hallingdal we’ll have some really technical and challenging trails and big loops to ride as well as much easier flow trails and shorter tracks for the less experienced rider.
How will what you offer your guests differ beyond the riding?
The accommodation will see a big upgrade in many ways. The house we are moving to is a lot more spacious and has an overall higher standard. More bathrooms, a bigger lounge area and a separate dining area. Also we will be living in a separate apartment to the guests but in the same building. It is an old solid timber building at the heart of Nesbyen’s old town so it has some great character and we are excited to be part of making it come back to life. We will be part of the town centre, just a stone throw away from shops, restaurants, a pumptrack and the bus and train station.
What are you most looking forward to about the new location?
Being part of a community, for sure. Both the smaller community in Nesbyen but also to be involved in the bigger picture with developing Hallingdal as a bike destination.
Another exciting thing is that we will be able to welcome riders of all sorts and abilities. In our previous location we unfortunately had to say no to some beginners, as we simply didn’t have anything suitable for them to ride. That will not be the case anymore as there is something for everybody to ride in Hallingdal, we are sure to have trails for riders of all levels.
Also, since we will now be a part of the centre of Nesbyen, almost like a shop front, we are looking forward to see if more people will find us, attracting passing trade and hopefully become an active part of the town centre.
Scouting and guiding new routes was a big part of your setup, will you be able to do that in the new location?
One major bonus of the new location is that there are a lot of trails already mapped, cleared and being used as mountain bike trails. That will provide a good base for us to guide on. We know some of those trails already but there are still many to be tried and tested.
One of the reasons we love this job is that we both love exploring new places and trails on our bikes. We think that is something that will never go away, that drive is the foundation of our whole business and what keeps us going. It’s essential for us to keep things interesting for ourselves but also for returning customers to know that there will always be something new on the plate.
There’s also still plenty of scope to open up more trails and build new ones, having build some of our own stuff in Hardanger and seeing what other people are building we’re super excited to build more trails!
What kind of riding scene is there in the new spot?
There is already a lot going on in Hallingdal and we are hoping to add to that. For example there is the yearly Hillbilly Huckfest in Ål, the mapping company Trailguide are based in Gol, Trailhead Nesbyen are building trails, running uplifts and organising events in Nesbyen, there are two well renouned bike parks in the valley and there’s an active and enthusiastic local riding scene. All the MTB development in the valley is overseen by Track’n’Roll.
It is a big call but when we look at the landscape and the bigger picture it almost feels like Hallingdal is similar to what the Tweed Valley was like in its early days.
Any pleases and thank yous?
We would like to say a big thank you to all the people back in Hardanger and Voss that did support us. To our friends and helpful neighbours, to the people at Granvin Herad, to anyone who helped us dig trails, speak to landowners and to the landowners that did let us dig trails and ride on their land. Thank you! It really meant a lot to us and our two years in Kvanndal taught us a lot.
Thank you to the people of Nes Kommune who have been very welcoming so far and especially Knut and Ove of Trailhead Nesbyen and Knut of Hillbilly MTB who have answered numerous questions about the area and have been so helpful in us making the move.