Day One - Sheffield to Biberwier.
It was one of those sublime travel moments when the usual rules of time and space have been flouted. 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. One moment scared shitless aboard a 30,000 horsepower Airbus, next, scared shitless aboard a one horscroftpower mountainbike. 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 and the surprises arrived thick and fast once I arrived. The call had come because the Tirol tourist board had set up an audience of journalists to promote the newly opened Bike Tirol Trail, offering over 1000km of networked trails. The Cube Hotel in Biberwier was the stage, an extraordinary piece of modernist architecture in the midst of a very traditional Tirol village and provided the ideal base for the touring mountain biker.
The Cube Hotel Biberwier Austria - John Horscroft
Internally, the Cube appears pretty conventional until you realise that it represents a whole new approach to mountain sports. The large concrete ramps in the main atrium 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.
Ample purpose-built bike storage at the Cube Hotel.
Having dumped all my gear, it was straight back to the lobby to check out the hire bikes. I've hired bikes in Europe before and they've been absolute pigs so I was relieved to discover that the range of Specialized 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. Why do the europeans have to do everything the wrong way round? Drive on the wrong side, brakes on the wrong side, I think I detect a theme. Two or three ragged descents of skinny, rooty singletrack 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 swap the brake levers 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 to make the alarm clock redundant just to annoy the Swiss or something. Flippin' charming thought I, my beauty sleep had been rudely interrupted and I had a 60km ride with a climb of 1400m that day.
Rocky descents in the Austrian Tirol - John Horscroft
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 day's 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.
Bike Trail Tirol - Martin Bohm
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.
Wide gravel tracks snake through pine forest - Martin Bohm
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.
Stunning aerial views of the valleys below - Michele Mondini
Finally we arrived at Seefeld and were treated to a two hour lunch. I was keen to make the most of Austrian hospitality, but owing to my determination not to seem churlish, I'd followed the salad starter with a big bowl of pasta, chips and a mountain of pancakes so the road climb out of the village turned out to be more than averagely arduous. At the foot of the Karwendel Valley, I was somewhat alarmed to find a race had been arranged. Carefully placing myself at the back of the pack to avoid being run over in the mass start, I readied myself for a tough afternoon. The initial climb in to the valley proper was steady and I found myself being lulled into a false sense of security by the flat trail that followed.
The hares had already disappeared from view by this time and the tortoises quickly settled into a steady pace interrupted by further photo-stops. Then Esther broke the companionable silence, "Look, you can see the hut!" I searched in vain but failed to locate the fabled hostelry. "No, up there, higher." I looked again, raising my eyes to the lofty saddle at the head of the valley. There, looking for all the world like the Schloss Adler in the film "Where Eagles Dare" was the Karwendel Haus. It was at this point I realised things were about to get a whole lot tougher.
Huge climbs demand riders 'dig deep'. - John Horscroft
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 and some of the team hit the beer with glee. Mountain huts always seem to have a happy buzz as people re-live 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 hit the 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 day's 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.
Fast descents reward hard effort on the climbs - Martin Bohm
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 were tinged with genuine alarm.
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, which soon had the team laughing again.
Water-splash descent in the Austrian Tirol - Martin Bohm.
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 too 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.
'Hardy souls' taking a refreshing dip - Martin Bohm
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. For those keen on maximum mileage and height gain, the trail is a superb way to see the Austrian Tirol in all its glory.
Tom Rustebiel -
Jona Dekker -
Martin Bohm -
Michele Mondini -
Esther-Maria Wilhelm -
PlanetFear media is exclusively funded by our online store. Consider shopping with us for your latest outdoor gear: visit the planetFear shop here.