After a weekend at the Nurburgring , I set off to ride a less famous Ring, a track I only learned of because my wife’s family lives on Gotland, an island off the coast of Sweden. I sit through the 400 miles to the Puttgarden ferry to Denmark then cross the suspension bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo (disappointingly devoid of bodies from Scandinavian crime dramas) and into Sweden proper.
It’s early evening, but I’m still feeling fresh and only have 220 miles to go to the ferry to Gotland and the fabled Ring I’ve heard talk of. But I start to feel unruly hooning past conscientiouslydriven Volvos with families looking at me disapprovingly and manage 100 miles until boredom and fatigue necessitate an overnight stop. Still, I’m pretty smug about a total of 797 miles in 11 hours with an average of 74 mph.
After eating my bodyweight in cooked meats the next morning I get the Oskarshamn ferry to Gotland in good time and get talking to the other bikers in the queue which have formed well-familiar cliques: Harleys and proper bikes.
The former seem to be ridden by wealthy middle-aged Swedes sporting matching lifestyle kit, and the latter ride everything else from a knackered Ural sidecar combo to a blinged up 996. The proper bikers come and talk to me but just like in the UK, the Hogs keep to themselves and presumably talk about their Harley branded toiletries.
Three and a half hours of ferry later and the Island of Gotland takes me back to the 1950s. Ten times the size of the Isle of Wight, with a tenth of the population, it’s a nice place to ride a sportsbike fast. Outside of the quiet villages there’s a massive amount of island with good quality roads and virtually no traffic.
If you’ve seen the cross-plane crank R1 advert where Valentino talks through the benefits of the new bike, then cuts to a guy backing it in wearing leathers not quite the same as VR’s, you’ve seen the Gotland Ring. Built in 2007 and still unfinished, the aim was to bring F1 to Gotland. The lack of garages, seating, infrastructure and having to drive through an old quarry and forest track to get there suggests they’ve got some way to go before Bernie helicopters his mates in. But that’s good news for us – it’s an utterly fantastic and competitively priced track.
Blind crests, elevation changes, a mix of sweeping and tight corners and a positively cambered downhill right-hander combine with the lack of pretence that would make most UK track days choke on their health and safety manuals. Signing on involves a credit card payment of £120 and being told to take it easy and go on with other bikes. After no further instruction or noise testing you’re waved onto the track for 20 minutes every hour. The other 40 minutes are for cars and go-karts, so pretty egalitarian. It’s uintessentially Swedish.
My first two sessions have me with three other bikes, two of which are a father on an spiderman-themed R6 showing lines to his teenage son on some 125 contraption. Thereafter it gets a bit busier, with at one point a grand total of eight bikes on the two mile track. The sunny day and confidence-inspiring RR5 Blade mean a few liberties are taken. On my second outing I manage to get my knee down for the very first time, and when I recover from the shock, pretty much every corner sees me grinding my cheapo HG sliders.
The other riders are a mix of locals on track bikes – all dripping in the locally produced and presumably un-exotic Ohlins – and the odd road bike on track rubber. My UK plate brings a few interested conversations, but this being Sweden I’m largely left alone to get on with it, albeit in an amazingly friendly and inclusive atmosphere. Recommended.