John Horscroft rides Tirol
John Horscroft travelled to the Austrian Tirol to sample the Karwendel section of the Bike Trail Tirol. Professional mountain bike guides are available from Bike Guiding Zugspitzarena at www.bikeguiding.at
Covering over 1,000 km, the Bike Trail Tirol is the longest continuous mountain bike round course in the Alps. The trail takes adventure-loving mountain bikers over 32 stages across the entire province. For more information visit www.biketrail.tyrol.com.
During summer, Innsbruck is served by easyJet.com twice weekly on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s from Gatwick airport.
Day One - Sheffield to Biberwier.
It was one of those sublime travel moments. Four hours ago, I’d been bracing myself for take-off on the tarmac at Heathrow. Now, I was astride a Specialised Enduro heading off into the mountains of Austria. We live our lives at a frantic pace these days but, sometimes, that isn’t such a bad thing. Let me explain.
The phone call was a short one, “Fancy a couple of days mountain biking in Austria John?” Before you could say XT chainset, I’d cancelled appointments, moved heaven and earth and deadlines and I was off to the Tirol. Living life off the cuff has its advantages. I’d had very little time to research the trip before I left, so the surprises arrived thick and fast once I arrived. The Cube Hotel in Biberwier is an extraordinary piece of modernist architecture in the midst of a very traditional Tirol village and provides the ideal base for the touring mountain biker.
Internally, the Cube appears pretty conventional until you realise that it represents a whole new approach to mountain sports. The large concrete ramps appear a bit brutal until you realise that they allow you to take your bike up to your room. The outer lobby of the room has everything the returning mountain biker could ask for, bike hooks on which to hang your trusty steed, a boot dryer and plenty of space to shed muddy clothes.
Having dumped all my gear, it was straight back to the lobby to check out the hire bikes. My experience of hire bikes in Europe hasn’t always been entirely positive, so I breathed a sigh of relief when I realised that the range of Specialised bikes corralled in the lobby were for our trip. By this time, the rest of the team had turned up.
Esther Wilhelm from the Tirol Tourist Board introduced bloggers and website journos from Holland, Germany, Italy and fellow Brit, David Arthur from Bikemagic. Typically, while the other nationalities busied themselves setting bikes up, David and I acted like a couple of kids in a sweet shop, donned our riding kit and headed out. Which is when I discovered that my brakes were on back to front. Two or three ragged descents of skinny, rooty single track later, I decided that I’d better quit before I did myself a mischief. Back to the hotel for a shower and a prodigious meal before I found time to swop the brake levers round before I hit the sack.
Day Two – Biberwier to Karwendel Haus.
I’d always assumed that cowbells were low-tech location devices ensuring a mountain cowherd always knew where his stock was. As I woke at about 0530 to a clanging symphony, I realised that the canny Austrians had simply decided make the alarm clock redundant. Flippin’ charming thought I, my beauty sleep has been rudely interrupted and I’ve got to ride 60km and climb 1400m today. Next thing I knew, it was gone 0700 and I was rushing to stuff as big a breakfast down my neck as I could. Carbo loading is such a pleasure sometimes. Our start time was a very civilised 0900 allowing me to sort out suspension and tyre pressures for the days capers. We were also issued with a pre-programmed GPS which makes it almost impossible to get lost. Our route for the next two days comprised the Karwendel section of the Bike Trail Tirol, at 1000km the longest continuous mountain bike trail in the Alps.
We were accompanied by Esther from the tourist board and led by Markus, an experienced local guide. The pace as we left the hotel was way too fast for me and I soon found myself bringing up the rear. Most of the team were in their twenties or early thirties so I was the granddad of the peloton. Thankfully, after a short climb, we started to head down through magnificent pine forest mainly on wide gravel tracks with short excursions onto grassy singletrack. Another short climb brought us to the Ehrwald gondola and a chance to gain 400m without expending any effort. At the top station, we were treated to magnificent views of our next target, the Gaistal Valley formed by the imposing walls of the Wetterstein and Mieminger Kette mountain ranges. Wide gravel paths led us into the heart of the Tirol, the whole group craning their necks to take in the surroundings, our progress interrupted by frequent photo stops. The rock walls are frequently scarred by enormous gulleys that must be a majestic sight when in full spate during the spring snow thaw.
It was at this point I realised things were about to get a whole lot tougher. When I hit the first of the zigzags, I just put my head down, shifted into granny ring and began to wonder if the Enduro had been such a good idea after all. To my surprise it turned out to be pretty well balanced on the climb, the front wandering very little as it steepened. About half way up, I involuntarily looked to the heavens only to see the hut above me, still frighteningly remote. Thankfully, my new Italian friend Michele stayed with me, giving me a rear wheel to concentrate on. Arriving at the hut was a moment of sheer bliss topped only by the arrival of a huge hot chocolate. The evening was surprisingly lively given the expenditure of energy. Mountain huts always seem to have a happy buzz as people relive the experiences of the day and our host spared no effort to make it a memorable evening. Exhausted by the day’s efforts but mollified by the thought of some tasty singletrack the next day, I hitthe sack early.
Day Three – Karwendel Haus to Achensee
Again, the first climb of the day was purgatory. Given it was about one hundredth of the previous days ascent, I put it down to altitude. All the fatigue dropped from my body however as I crested the rise and saw other riders lowering seats and donning pads. The singletrack that followed was as sweet as spring water to a thirsty man, rocky, rooty, slippery in the intermittent rain and insanely quick. Having lagged so miserably on yesterday’s climbs, it was a chance to regain some British pride. Precision was the name of the game, and the old adage went through my mind, ride smooth and you’ll ride fast. It wasn’t dissimilar to my local riding in the Peak District and as we gathered at the end of the run, the grins were ear to ear. Marcus, our guide was now on a mission to find us more of the same. The next run included a couple of tough chutes covered in limestone chippings. As hard as I braked and dropped my heels, I still accelerated and the whoops of enjoyment told their own tale.
All too quickly, we were back on gravel tracks. The final big climb to the Plumsjoch felt tough, but perhaps some kind of mental barrier had been breached the day before and I felt more comfortable. The weather had taken a turn for the worse however and we were all soaked to the skin. When we arrived at the Plumsjoch hut, the atmosphere was unusually subdued for our ebullient team. Thankfully our host had the perfect antidote for the doldrums, quickly lighting a fire and dolling out coffee and tea containing the biggest tot of rum I’ve ever seen. Soon the team were laughing again. The final descent was a madcap dash down a loose gravel trail with a big drop on one side. Fortified by the rum, the inherent dangers did little to slow the team, the promise of a hot shower and a cold beer to strong to resist. The Enduro now came into its own, a stable platform under heavy braking and taking the hits from the bigger stones without a flinch. Many hairy moments later, we were congratulating each other on our survival and cycling down to the lake in Achensee where some hardy souls had a refreshing swim in the lake. If I’d had the strength to take my clothes off, I’d have joined them.
Taking on the entire 1000km of the Bike Trail Tirol is probably beyond all but the fittest. However, my experience suggests that the averagely fit British cross country rider will cope well with sections of the trail. The hotels and huts are well prepared for the growing number of bikers holidaying in the alps and Austrian hospitality is second to none.
John Horscroft - Freind of UK Mountainbiker Ltd July 2010