Gravel-pyöräilyä Kuusamossa, kuva Aapo Lappalainen

Gravel Biking Rocks

This popular form of cycling is gaining a strong foothold in Ruka-Kuusamo.

Published 29.9.2023.

For many locals in Kuusamo, cycling on gravel and dirt roads is a familiar summertime activity that immerses cyclists in nature and exposes them to the area's diverse rural landscapes. However, few local cyclists realize that what they are doing is actually gravel biking.

Gravel biking is especially popular in Central Europe and is continually growing in popularity in Finland. From a tourism perspective, gravel biking also holds significant potential.

After Ruka won the "the Bike Park of the Year 2023 in Finland" award in mid-September as the first northern center, it's only natural to continue developing diverse cycling conditions in the area. Starting in September, Ruka-Kuusamo will implement a gravel biking route plan and concept. The development work aims to identify appealing cycling routes in Ruka-Kuusamo region, making use of existing gravel and dirt roads. The emerging routes could be up to 80 kilometers long and will be oriented towards services and natural attractions to diversify the cycling experience. The goal is also to establish a connecting route between the Kuusamo city centre and Ruka village.

"Both internationally and domestically, gravel biking is seeing a strong surge in cycling tourism. In this context, the gravel and dirt roads in Ruka-Kuusamo offer fantastic opportunities. It all starts with quality, sustainable route development that considers the roles of different stakeholders and the expectations of target and user groups. Gravel biking is wonderful because it has a low barrier to entry while offering excellent opportunities for nature experiences, which are abundant in this region," says Mikko Saarinen, CEO of Allegra Nordics, the expert organization for the development project.

The forthcoming route system will serve both local residents and tourists

"As a local who enjoys cycling, I'm delighted about this project. The emerging routes provide us cycling enthusiasts with opportunities to discover new routes and thus diversify our hobby. I believe a well-planned route system will also attract new enthusiasts to gravel biking. We have lots of roads, routes, and beautiful landscapes that open right from your doorstep, as long as you know where to go. The fact that there are plans to create routes around Kuusamo's town centre is excellent news for us town centre residents," says Kristiina Palosaari, a cycling enthusiast from Kuusamo.

One goal of the development work is to create new tourism-related business opportunities around gravel biking. The first experiences of this were already gained this August when a product pilot combining gravel biking and food tourism was implemented in the Via Karelia – Responsible Food Tourism Networking project. "This two-day culinary cycling holiday was a functional entity. The pilot resulted in a solid foundation for product packages of varying lengths and contents. The participating companies plan to have products on sale by next summer," says Jenni Kallioniemi, the project coordinator from Naturpolis.

The development of gravel biking will enhance Ruka-Kuusamo's tourism appeal during snow-free seasons, thus helping to balance tourism fluctuations. Smoothing out the seasonal differences between winter and summer contributes to the development of the entire Kuusamo region's economy.

"The wonderful thing about advancing our summer tourism is that we already have a lot existing infrastructure in Kuusamo that doesn’t require much new development but does require strong messaging. Gravel biking is an excellent example of this. Kuusamo's magnificent nature has numerous fantastic gravel roads for biking, and along these roads, there are plenty of stunning places to visit—Kuusamo's summer at its best!" summarizes Mats Lindfors, the CEO of Ruka-Kuusamo Tourist Association.

The gravel biking development is carried out as an activity within the Rethinking North – Year-Round Tourism as a Success Factor (ReiNo) project, by Naturpolis Ltd and Ruka-Kuusamo Tourist Association. The project aims to develop the area's international tourism by increasing low-season demand and balancing tourism fluctuations. Productizing gravel biking is just one of many actions within the project.

The project is a cross-regional group project, with actions also extending to Taivalkoski, Pudasjärvi, Salla, and Suomussalmi. Each region has its own budget for implementing area-specific actions. The group project's budget is €2.3 million, 80% of which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The project will last until the end of May 2026.

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