Bikepacking in Sweden: Magnus Lagher, founder of Velonavia, talks about life after his accident, bikepacking trips and gravel biking
It was a brisk winter morning. I arrived at Kolmården to meet Magnus Lagher, founder of Velonavia, Sweden’s premier blog for all things velo. So, velo plus Scandinavia make the portmanteau Velonavia – get it? When I arrived, I thought I was late and called Magnus. He sounded surprised but did not question me.
“I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
Kolmården is a dense rugged forest in northern Östergötland, a province in eastern Götaland, Sweden. It is what we consider to be our backyard – a natural destination for anything outdoors – running, hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, fishing, and rock climbing.
Magnus arrived on his bike with a grin on his face. I knew right away that something was up.
“We said 1 pm, not 10 am.”
His voice was kind and compassionate, a disposition for which he is known. When I called him, he got up from whatever he was doing at home, jumped on his trusty steed, and sped away to accommodate my poor timing, three hours too early.
Hand-slap on forehead. Totally my bad.
In 2010, Magnus survived a severe car crash while he was biking. An avid adventurer, the accident changed his life and his relationship with cycling.
We have this in common.
On March 09, 2002, I almost lost my life in a multicar accident which took six years to be able to walk properly and perform daily tasks. Traditional therapy did not quell the PTSD and depression from irreversible physical damage. So, I turned to cycling and swimming which saved my life. As a survivor, I have great empathy for those who live with the aftermath of trauma.
I sat down with Magnus after our photoshoot to learn more about his life post-accident, bikepacking trips, and the Annual Velonavia Gravel Bike Series for 2022.
Magnus: After my accident, I started using my bike for my rehab, and I quite quickly found out that I could not ride as fast as I once did. But that wasn't what gave me the opportunity to use my bike for exploration – it was remembering how fun I had as a kid and growing up, just going on these small bike tours in my neighborhood. So, I started doing frequent, short, micro, overnight trips with my bike and going to the one of the many shelters in the woods around here. From there, I thought that if I like this, there must be other people who would enjoy doing this. So, I started to invite my friends and then did more public events. For the last five years now, it's like a five-year jubilee. I've also been doing gravel riding events starting with one the first year and now it's five events.
Yahnny: Where do you want to take that?
Magnus: I did get that question not so long ago. I think it's at a good place now. It's noncompetitive even though there are some fast riders. They can go as fast as they want, but also they enjoy the more leisurable side of cycling. So, where do I want to take it? Hopefully, there will be a bigger turnout this year than last year. But I'm not planning to expand it to more events. Five events are good for me to keep it noncompetitive – just to have a lot more people enjoying a good day on the bike with friends, learning, meeting new people, going places that they’ve never been to before.
Yahnny: How about bikepacking?
Magnus: In 2019, I did a tour throughout Europe from Sweden to Spain.
Yahnny: That was by yourself?
Magnus: By myself, yeah, that was solo, and I didn’t have really big plans for 2020. But as you all know, the pandemic showed its ugly face. So, I'm still planning to do some rides in Sweden, some solo rides, some rides with friends. I also have a plan. I planned a route around the southern part of the Baltic Sea, Finland, Baltic countries, Poland and back to Sweden. If that will happen this year or next year, I'm not sure. But for sure, backpacking and to give other people the opportunity to try bikepacking is something I would really like to do more.
Yahnny: Are there any benefits that you would like people to experience on these bikepacking trips?
Magnus: Benefits? The biggest benefit is for people to experience that they do not have to have the latest gear, the most expensive gear and to not associate bikepacking with, for example, a trip to Spain. You can absolutely do bikepacking in your own backyard – seeing places from another perspective.
Yahnny: What has this given to you - the life of cycling and exploration on your bike?
Magnus: Without sounding too cheesy, it has given me some sort of fulfillment. I think, it has for sure given me new friends and the opportunity to go places – places that I have been to by car, but experiencing them on your bike is another thing. We experience all the places with all your senses when you embark.
Yahnny: What can you offer a guest that would accompany you on a bikepacking trip?
Magnus: I can offer them a little bit more than just the riding. I can offer them some backstories of the places where we pass. Tell them the not so often told stories about the places we would go.
Yahnny: That's wonderful! And now, the big question is - what are your upcoming projects in the next year or two?
Magnus: Well, I want to incorporate my backyard – the wooded area called Kolmården and to make it accessible as a bikepacking or gravel riding route. Also, I want to create a guidebook, which you can use preparing and use during the ride. So, that's my big project besides the gravel series.
Yahnny: Is there anything else that you would like for everyone to know this year? What can they expect from Velonavia?
Magnus: Good old-fashioned fun with friends, lots of laughter, cooking over fire and having fun on our bikes.
Yahnny: To top this off, what are your top three - this is difficult a question - top three beers that you can recommend?
Magnus: Top three beers! Oh, wow! Totally caught me off guard! So, I think I'd suggest that, no matter where you are, find a good local microbrewery and let them recommend their three best beers. Hope that's an answer enough for you.
Yahnny: That is a great answer! Thank you, Magnus, and I'm sure that the world is going to be hearing more of you with your adventures.
Magnus: I'm looking forward to the collaboration!
I left that morning feeling uplifted from our conversation. Mostly, that I have something to look forward to on the bike. But there is more to this story. Check back for the next article on YBC Dispatch that will feature Velonavia’s Colmarþ Cycling Adventure and the Colmarþ Double Century this summer.
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