You return home one day earlier than originally planned from a bike tour in Northern Germany. BEST.DECISION.EVER. You did everything right, yet, during the morning of the second day, as you were rushing to make your destination, a hotel that was still 100km away, you realized that you are missing the whole point.
Originally, you wanted to see the Lüneburger Heath (Heide) which is a beautiful nature reserve somewhere north of Hanover and south of Hamburg. Plans were made to spend the weekend with the misses in Lübeck and then ride to the Heide and then ride back home.
The goal was to see the Heide. Collection kilometers was of course an added bonus, but this year, with SARS-CoV-2 grounding sensible air travel, you see the opportunity to explore your backyard. You spent most of your vacation time flying places so actually taking the opportunity to explore Germany seemed like a sensible thing to do. The pictures of the Heath looked amazing and it was within “cycling distance.”
How often do we embark on a project, dig deep into the details, identify all the trees, the roots, the leafs and forget that the goal was at the other end of the forest? It happens a lot. This was exactly the experience you were having on day 2. After 3 hours of riding off road, on mostly horse trails, getting lost numerous times (Garmin be damned), having experienced a pretty weird dehydration situation the previous day, and being cold non-stop, you figure a lunch break was in order. With that break also came the realization that you were only focusing on one Key Performance Indicator (KPI): Distance Left.
The goal of the tour was to see the Heide. And here you were in the middle of the Heide, yet, you were only looking at the 100km left to ride to get to the next hotel and was completely ignoring nature that was all around you.
In an instance you changed direction. You replanned a route through the Heide, with one click (albeit deep in the app) you cancel the hotel, you roughly get an idea of where the train lines were hiding, and you update the misses to the new plans.
Everybody wins (apart from the hotel….sorry). You enjoy the beauty of the Heath, you have time to take pictures, you greet other travelers, you smell the flowers.
Keeping your goal front and center is key to happiness and success. If the goal was to ride a lot of kilometers, you would have failed. But the goal was to visit a beautiful area and in that you totally succeeded.
2020 is just around the corner and the amount of awesome rides in Europe are growing.
Instead of keeping a local list, here is what arrived on my desk so far.
More to come.
It’s snowing lightly, but you don’t feel cold. Excitement and joy are everywhere you look. You’re on the old path that was used to deliver mail between Berlin and Hamburg. With you, two of your crew mates, smiling ear to ear as the mud flies everywhere and the bikes are getting progressively heavier by the sticky earth.
It’s Saturday in early February and winter is still not coming. Instead of temperatures well below freezing the weather is just cold, hoovering around the 2-4 degrees with loads of very grey days and the occasional beautiful sky. To balance a hellish week of 12-14 hours days on the computer, you plan a nice all-roads adventure starting from the central train station in Berlin and ending in the train station in the town of Brandenburg an Der Havel – some 90 km West. Riding West in the morning, in Northern Germany or maybe elsewhere, means that you’re riding against the wind, but since the ride will take you deep in the forest, you’re not too bothered.
As you leave the city and get into the woods, the asphalt turns to nicely dry and packed gravel. The wheels spin as fast here as they did the previous 10km leading to this forest highway. Soon, the so called Reichgravel turns into much rougher and very wild path, if you can call it a path given the amount of fallen trees criss crossing the way. Here you get the first flat tire which just, as the whole crew decide, does not make sense.
The three bikes are prime examples of the new bike segment baring the term Gravel Bikes. The term is silly so you prefer to think about your steed and those of your two mates as all-road bikes. When you finally get out of the mud and into the street, realising that the train you should be taking leaves in less than an hour and the distance to the train station is around 22km, all three bikes ride at 30km/h without a problem on the road. The same is true when you’re deep in the forest riding the forest paths that are somehow identified on the map as “forest roads”. The three bikes have zero problems traversing deep Brandenburg sand and are certainly complaining a lot less than the riders do when the path turns to puddle.
So we establish, these bikes can take on any kind of road. The three bikes are prime examples of how much fun can be had on two wheels. They also represent exactly the three options on the market. One of the bikes is the beautiful Open UP. This carbon bike is loaded with a SRAM 1×11 setup, hydraulic breaks, fairly light components and 2.1 inch WTB Nano tires on 650B DT Swiss rims. The next example is a locally made steel bike, from cicli bonanno, with roughly the same group set, but a more “rando” setup with generator hub, lights and plenty of space for full fenders. This one is also rocking a set of 650B hoops, with WTB Ranger 2.0 rubber. The last bike represents the versatility of titanium and is made by Seven. It was originally setup as 700c with 44mm Compass tires, but recently it has been converted to 650B with Terrene Elwood tires. Ironically, these tires look at beefy as the 2.1 inch WTBs since they are mounted on the very wide Velocity Blunt SS rims. This is also the non-tubeless wheel set which is the only one to get a flat tire, in the middle of the forest, so go figure. This steed is also setup with a full Campagnolo group with a rather traditional 50/34 cranks and 11-32 cassette.
All three steeds perform beautifully. The mud collected can always be washed off and the clothes thrown to the washer. There will be another weekend in 7 days where these road bikes, all rad, all fun, will take you on the next adventure. That’s what they are for.
It’s a beautiful project. Go support them.
You wake up around 3 o’clock at night to the sound of your fellow rider chocking. Within a few short seconds you realize that the sounds emanating from the other side of the room are actually very prominently the sounds of a cyclist snoring. There are risks to touring with a group of guys you don’t know all too well and they are all more than worth it.
The whole adventure, later to be named The Vicious Circle, started with an email in which a friend asked if you’re interested in an off-road tour around the city. A full loop he promised, with almost no paved roads what so ever. It nearly sounded too good to be true which is why you immediately expressed interest and secured a spot. As is often in life, things got hectic, travel was involved and you almost forgot about it, until the email with the GPS tracks and the road sheet arrived. The plan was a 4 day ride, each day ending in a different corner of the surrounding land: east, north, south and then west. On paper it looked sublime.
The tour started on Thursday morning, not too early and not too late, in a small town just south of Berlin. Both groups, the Berlin crew and the Leipzig crew, met at the train station and after a quick round of introductions and a coffee you were on the way. 18.5 kilometer later, while riding on a nice forest road just south of Potsdam, a tree branch decided to jump into the rear triangle of the Hunter taking with him the derailleur hanger and breaking a spoke in the middle. Making hardware-related decisions on the trail is never a good sign, but the crew put on their thinking caps, turned a few screwed and within 15 minutes Hunter was turned into a single speed off-road touring machine. This helped releasing the crew from their desire to leave no man behind and you ride to the train station, head straight to the local bike shop, change the broken spoke, replace the derailleur hanger and ride out to the overnight location planned for day 1. Someone once said “yes we can” and he was right.
The next three days are spent enjoying the great outdoors in the lovely state of Brandenburg – the German state that surrounds the capital. You ride on nicely packed gravel roads, single tracks, forest dirt, military plates that are probably there since the days our country was split into two, thick sea sand that’s nearly impassable, a few proper cycling paths and probably a few more paved roads than were planned. You are often tempted by the silence in the woods and tend to let the group plow ahead while you hang back, taking pictures and trust that at some point a cafe or country-side bakery will stop the pace of the team. This system never fails.
The tour manages to find the most exciting and interesting non-roads in the backyard of the capital. The whole crew is elated as you realize, on day three, that somehow you managed to climb 1,000 meters in an area that’s well known for his flatness while also discovering beautiful lakes and fall foliage. Each accommodations are an improvement on the previous night which turns the whole adventure into almost luxury touring, but that just means that the crew is more energetic the next day and is rolling with gusto onto the next track. By day 4 discussions about the next tour, planned for next year, are already underway and as you roll into the same train station the tour started off, you feel a sense of nostalgia before you even dismount the bike. Such tours, with minimal yet epic mechanical failures (two derailleur!), with a solid crew, with enough time for snacks and photography, a rag-tag collection of off-road steel rigs (and one aluminum bike), and beautiful nature are after all exactly why we ride.