Downhills and downtowns: meet the mountain bike for all occasions
It's one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. It's also one of the most dangerous. But for its advocates, mountain biking brings a sense of freedom, exhilaration and adventure unmatched in the sporting world. Don't believe us? We recently sat down with Swedish mountain bike Olympian Emil Lindgren to discuss his first biking memories, his favourite trails and why he's spearheading the next wave of Scandinavian riders.
"I first learned to ride a bike when I was two years old in a park near my parent's house in Dalarna," remembers Emil Lindgren. Since then, the Swedish national champion record holder and former Olympian reckons he's travelled more than half a million kilometres on his bike over the course of his 20-year career. "I probably do more miles on my bike every year than most people travel in their cars," says Emil.
Mountain biking (MTB) is going through something of a post-pandemic renaissance. In a desperate rush to escape the crowds, thousands of us are dusting off our old bikes and taking to the trails of the nearest woods. This passion for fresh air, nature and winding dirt tracks is a common theme when talking to bikers. "Mountain biking is about being free and being outside in nature. Sweden is, of course, one of my favourite countries to ride. It's so wild and free up here," says Emil of his home country. As a young boy growing up in rural Sweden, he saw his bike as an opportunity to explore his vast surroundings. And who could blame him? For anyone who has spent time in the Nordics, this need to discover the great outdoors is almost instinctual.
It should come as no surprise that Scandinavians are mountain bike-mad. Much of its considerable landscape (which comes in at just under 1 million square kilometres) is ideal for the rugged, unspoiled off-road action many cyclists crave. This unpredictable rocky terrain has been sculpted under one of nature's most potent tools: ice. For millennia, glacial sheets had battered this part of the world, leaving behind a jagged and uncompromising habitat - an ideal playground for two-wheeled, adrenaline-fueled mayhem. It's no exaggeration to say you could close your eyes, throw a dart at a map of the region and land on (or close to) some of Europe's best trails.
But Sweden (Scandinavia's largest country) has another trick up its sleeve. While most countries have particularly stringent rules on where the general public can wander (remember all those "PRIVATE PROPERTY" signs littering the countryside?), Sweden does things a little differently. "You have absolute freedom to ride your bike anywhere in this country. You can really explore as much as you want," explains Emil. He is, of course, talking about allemansrätten - the Swedish tradition allowing its citizens the freedom to roam pretty much anywhere they want. As you'd imagine, this is great news for cyclists. "That's what makes Sweden such a unique place for mountain biking. You can go anywhere."
Despite Sweden's abundance of natural wealth, you must leave the archipelagos and travel 9,000km to find one of Emil's favourite MTB destinations. Interestingly, it's located on another - albeit entirely different - western coast.
California is something of a mecca for the biking community. Legend has it the foothills of Mount Tamalpais gave birth to the first mountain bike trail sometime in the 1960s, when a group of high schoolers started hurtling down the local canyons on their custom-built bikes. Since then, the sport has exploded across communities throughout the world. Though now hugely popular globally, many cyclists still see California as a sort of spiritual home.
"I've been lucky enough to ride my bike in pretty much the whole world, but there are a few special places where I would like to ride even more. The mountains surrounding Los Angeles are one of those places. I've been on roads over there, without any GPS, that have taken me over big mountain passes - crisscrossing back and forth - and then all of a sudden you end up on a movie set with all this equipment," Emil recalls of a recent visit to the U.S. "It's surreal where a bike can take you."
Though Emil still competes at the highest levels of professional mountain biking, he now has one eye firmly fixed on the future. With the next generation of Swedish cyclists nipping at his heels, he recognises that his role must eventually shift from beating the competition to mentoring them instead. "It's one of my biggest dreams that someone else can live the same life as I have done and achieve what I have achieved on a bike. I can see some exceptional talent coming through in the team and if I can help nurture that, then I will," explains Emil.
This responsibility has seen him take on a growing role at bike manufacturer Allebike (who also own a racing team in which many of Sweden's up-and-coming riders compete). Allebike - known for their high-end professional bikes – are keen to put Swedish cycling on the map. For that, they've enlisted the help of Emil and a team of specialist Polestar designers to produce what they're calling a downcountry, all-purpose mountain bike.
Some partnerships just make sense. In the world of mobility, similarities in design philosophy and performance-driven engineering are always solid foundations on which to collaborate. The Allebike Alpha Polestar edition is the culmination of one such partnership. By taking the expertise and insight from one of Sweden's most innovative bike manufacturers and adding Polestar's unique design philosophy, we've crafted a bespoke mountain bike that looks as good as it rides.
"For me, mountain biking is about peace. I feel at one with the bike," Emil says about his emotions when riding. This is an important distinction. Cyclists spend so much time on their bikes that the equipment becomes an extension of themselves. So, picking the right bike is a critical part of their process. "I've been riding bikes for 20 years. If I would choose just one bike to ride, I would have a mountain bike with a little more suspension, which will give you a more relaxed style of riding."
Solid advice from one of mountain biking's most famous riders. So, what would Emil's bike of choice be for riding through the Nordic wilds?
He smiles. "This bike I've been using today is created to be a trail bike which also runs pretty good on the road. It's what we call a downcountry bike. It's got a more relaxed riding position, but you can still hit the big downhills and still be able to ride fast on the road. You can basically do anything on it."
So, there you have it. The Allebike Alpha Polestar edition. A downcountry, all-purpose mountain bike that's good enough for an Olympian. Sounds pretty good to us.
Click the link below to find out more about the Allebike Alpha Polestar edition
Top 3 trails
Wondering where to ride your mountain bike this autumn? Look no further than Emil's favourite MTB destinations around the world.
(This list also includes one submission from our CEO, who like Emil, loves to explore the world on his Polestar Allebike.)
1. Rotorua (New Zealand)
Any trail among redwoods is bound to make the list. The Whakarewarewa route in New Zealand is nothing short of biking nirvana. Think ancient forests, volcanic soils and lush vegetation. Mountain biking just doesn't get better than this. The only real problem is that you'll never want to come back.
2. Stellenbosch (South Africa)
More commonly associated with merlot than mudguards, the Stellenbosh mountain range offers one of the most picturesque backdrops to any biking adventure. Snaking their way through estates, vineyards and foothills, the trails provide the perfect escape for an afternoon - both on and off your bike.
3. Hisingen (Sweden)
This list would not be complete without a Swedish trail (and this entry comes courtesy of our cycling enthusiast CEO). Located on one of Gothenburg's many coastal stretches, this route offers a constant vantage point to the Kattegat Sea (a raw and powerful body of water that buffets Sweden's western shores all year round). Not for the fair weather rider, this trail is a wild and blustery journey into Swedish coastal life. You'll love it.
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