In reality our plan for three countries saw us spend around 25km cycling in Slovakia before crossing the border. What looked like an easy, flat start to the ride on paper, turned out to be a longer slog into the wind that required us to work hard and share the effort.
A quick stop in Vienna to visit a bike buddy and get our caffeine levels topped up and we were on our way again.
100km into the ride we left the windy river cycle paths and made our way north to the wine regions that straddle the border of Austria and Czech Republic. Rolling farmlands as far as the eye can see were typical views of the area around Hollabrunn.
Closer to the border we picked up the EV13 cycle route, otherwise known as the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’ that makes it’s way along the borders that separated countries that fell under communist control after the war. The small parts that we rode left such an impression, that I will endeavor to return and see more of them.
The Moravian wine region with its rolling hills, white gravel roads and vine-covered fields were reminiscent of Tuscany. It is here we spent a night, crossing into the Czech Republic briefly before returning to Austria the next day.
The next day was characterized by castles and continually rolling hills as we crossed rivers and went through forests, across farmland and past small villages. All the while, weather conditions made it increasingly hard to get settled on the bike. Sunny images don’t reveal how cold the wind was; warm climbs coupled with freezing descents made dressing tricky.
The Thaystal National Park that straddles the border was a beautiful region to ride. Switchbacks and winding roads that lead to Hardegg proved fine cycling terrain. The castle that sits on the border in Hardegg is also something that my ride partners thought I should see, they were right.
The third day started much as the second finished; constant ups and downs. This day differed however when we were given a target to achieve. Chimpanzee were exhibiting at a health-food expo in Prague and Ondrej was pushing us to make it there before the show finished. We took up the challenge and tried to cover the 150k we had remaining as fast as we could.
The elevation profile evened out as we pushed through the day with the final climb coming 50km from Prague. Once we had reached the top, the clear skies presented us with unobstructed views to our destination. Road weary legs enjoyed the downhill into the city.
Surprisingly pleasant forested surroundings on the outskirts of the city were reminiscent of the past few days, only here they were crowded with Sunday walkers – forcing us to slow the pace and dodge wandering dogs and children.
Mission accomplished, we reached the Healthy Food Show in time before celebrating over a beer in the car park. Next on our agenda was food and what better than the well known Mexican recovery food; a burrito (or two).
Nutrition and Hydration
Eating can become one of the trickier parts of planning a ride like this. Avoiding longer stops is a better way; shorter stops, more often can keep the body moving longer. Luckily for us Ondrej just happens to be from Chimpanzee, a natural energy company producing energy bars, chews and other healthy food and drink products. Not only that, but he is also quite an expert when it comes to fueling the body.
Energy shakes for the mornings either with breakfast or as breakfast itself. Energy bars during the ride, Gunpowder drink in the bottles and Energy Chews to top up the levels. Additional bananas and fruit proved enough to get us through the day until we ate in the evenings, and eat we did!
Mini Bike Adventures
My first proper A-B ride had been after finishing architecture school in London when my friend Will suggested we go and visit a building in Switzerland, by bike. An eight-day, 1,200km adventure that had been quite rigid as we pre-booked our accommodation along the route.
In some ways it was a life-changing ride. It was when I decided to create my own cycle brand; Podia. It cemented my love for life on two wheels. But, my body and my bike weren’t quite ready for that kind of adventure and my cycling life went back to faster road rides, mostly in a loop.
But, for the past couple of years I have been fantasising about going again. Since my first foray, bikes and the technology of ‘bikepacking’ has evolved.
The rise of this sub-category of touring, is also partly to do with the rise of the ’Gravel bike’. Some people don’t really understand this new genre of bicycle, they confuse them with a Cross bike; but there is more to them than that. The ride and response of a Gravel bike is very different from a CX bike, it is more relaxed and forgiving, much closer to a Road bike. The beauty of the Gravel bike is that it can take larger tires and in some instances a 650b wheelset and MTB tires.
These bikes are sometimes called adventure bikes, and for good reason. When you have a bike that can cover large distances at fairly high speeds as well as turn off the road and onto the rough stuff, you have a machine that is begging you to take it on an adventure.
The planning of such a multi-day adventure can sometimes become more consuming than the ride itself. Especially when you are trying something for the first time. There are so many factors that come into play, mostly around what you need to pack and how you can keep the weight to a minimum.
Then comes the idea of the ride. I like my rides to have an idea behind them, which dictates where you start, finish and what you will do along the route. On my first ride to Switzerland we were visiting a thermal spa building in the Swiss Alps and started by London Fields Lido in Hackney, so we called it Baths to Baths. It was an adventure which took in as many architectural delights as we could manage.
Since I got my own Gravel bike the desire to go on a bikepacking trip had been growing stronger. So it seemed had it been for my Prague-based friend Cory. A mutual friend and seasoned bike adventurer Ondrej didn’t need any convincing to join us on a short trip.
The idea was simple; 3 guys, 3 days, 3 cities, 3 countries – a story of 3’s, except for the 12 or so castles along the way.
It would require us to pedal 466km with around 4,500m elevation in total. We anticipated this would require about 155km per day. It would be done on a combination of small roads, farm tracks and forest paths. Anything from the smoothest tarmac to the muddiest tracks, but our bikes would be ready for anything.
March can be an unpredictable month of the year in terms of the weather. So as suitable as the terrain would have been for some wild-camping, the weather would not have been. So we decided on finding accommodation along the route as we went.
So what would such a trip require me to take? That is a question that played on my mind for a number of weeks before the departure. I would be packing into Apidura bags; a rather large full frame pack, compact handlebar pack and mid-size saddle pack. This didn’t present me with a lot of space, but with the lack of space comes careful planning on exactly what would be required.
Giro Synthe Helmet
Giro VR90 dirt shoes
2 x Podia Bib Shorts
1 x Lightweight Podia Jersey
1 x Prototype Podia Long Sleeved Jersey
1 x Podia Wind and Water resistant vest
1 x Podia Arm Warmers
1 x Podia prototype Leg Warmers
1 x thick wool socks
2 x thin socks
1 x winter cap
1 x summer cap
1 x Leather riding gloves
1 x Vulpine Deluge Rain Jacket
1 x Vulpine Gravel Trousers
1 x Vulpine Spring Cycling Sweatshirt
1 x Vulpine Extrafine Merino T-shirt
1 x Patagonia packable down vest
1 x Sony a6300 camera with 3 batteries and 4 32GB SD cards
1 x Wahoo ELEMNT GPS computer with routes loaded from Komoot.de
1 x Zendure battery with cables for phone, camera and Wahoo.
1 x Joby Gorilla Pod
2 x spare inner tubes
1 x Park Tool super patch kit
1 x tire boot
1 x Park Tool mini tool with chain breaker
1 x Lezyne micro-pump
1 x Leatherman mini tool
2 x tire leavers
1 x lightweight bike lock
1 x Exposure front light
2 x Lezyne clip on rear lights
Riding would be fairly high paced and so riding kit was chosen accordingly; tighter, wind blocking garments. Train journeys and evenings required casual clothing, but choosing pieces from a company like Vulpine meant that they could be used on the bike when conditions required it; especially when the sun went down and temperatures dropped. The Giro VR90 shoes provided a colorful evening shoe choice, as I selected to not take casual shoes.
My bike is the OPEN U.P. with 3T fork, stem, seatpost, handlebars and 700c Discus wheels. 36mm Challenge Strada Bianca tires offers a road tread with higher volume. They tend to roll well on tarmac and be wide enough and soft on the rougher terrain. A 1x groupset like the SRAM Force seems a good option for this type of riding, with a 42t chainring and a 10-42t cassette. This set up provides ample range for a bike that became around 10kg with everything packed. A Brooks C13 saddle adorns the top of my rig, which while it has little or no padding, was perfectly comfortable.
A full frame bag left no space for bidons in the triangle. Luckily the OPEN has bottle bosses on the underside of the downtube, which is the perfect place to mount a backup water bottle. An Apidura bottle bag mounted on the handlebars provided the accessible bidon, however this proved uncomfortable when riding out of the saddle, with my knee’s hitting it often.
It is a good idea to try and pack heavier items in the front or the frame pack to improve the handling of the bike. Less weight on the rear means it won’t swing so much when you are not seated. In this case, most items were of a similar weight, so weight distribution was less of an issue.
Items that I would need during the ride were in the framebag where they are easy to access. Food, camera and gadgets as well as tools in the lower part of the pack.
I would highly recommend the act of travelling from A to B by bike to anyone, it offers a true feeling of escapism; from Friday morning to Sunday evening I was completely engrossed in my journey. I had no cares or worries. Sharing this experience with great people only amplifies the moment.
I was pretty happy with how I packed. Maybe I could have taken even less clothing, I didn’t expect how much space ride food for three days would take. Just one jersey and two merino base layers would be have been adequate. Merino wool is always a good choice on multi-day trips due to its anti-bacterial properties that stop it from smelling, like other materials might.
So what is next? As I write this, I am already getting ready for my next bikepacking adventure and this time with camping. The April weather has changed from summer to winter overnight and in just a few days I will sleep in the wild forests of Beskid Niski. It requires a whole new contemplation on what equipment I will take; lightweight tents, sleeping bags etc. But after all that is part of the fun, right?