European Bikepacking Routes

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Two years ago I wondered about bikepacking routes in Europe.  After eight months of riding, researching, and blogging from Amsterdam to Sevastapol to Athens, this resource is the culmination of our efforts.  Europe is a great place to explore by bike, off-pavement, and self-supported.  Eat great food, visit fascinating cultural and historical places, and learn new languages, in between bike rides.  In Europe, there are rides and routes for every interest and skill level.  Use the search function or the archives on this page to learn more about our rides in Europe through the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Greece.  Read more about our adventures across Europe in the Bicycle Times article Bikepacking Europe: North Sea to the Black Sea.

This is an incomplete list of European bikepacking routes.  These routes are either mapped, signed, and/or available as GPS tracks.  Many routes originate as self-supported off-pavement endurance races, multi-day stage races, or challenging routes for solo ITT.  Some are government tourism projects.  Others are the creation of avid riders or cycling organizations to promote the riding in their home country.  Lastly, some routes suggested here are repurposed walking routes, which may be done in sections or as a whole.  One route is currently planned, but is incomplete.  Additional rouetplanning resources include online retailers of maps and guides, or digital trail-finder resources.  The basic concept of this project is to awaken the world to the breadth of bikepacking possibilities in Europe, despite the lack of a single superstar route such as the Great Divide Route, Colorado Trail, or the Arizona Trail.  Bikepacking is a global phenomena, born of the passion to ride somewhere, off the beaten path, self-supported.

Use these links as a springboard to do your own research and riding.  Some routes may be easy with significant paved sections, non-technical terrain, and uncomplicated logistics.  Others are extremely challenging, with a large component of hike-a-bike.

Any assistance to improve the list is welcomed, including relevant comments about any of the listed routes and new route suggestions with links.  When possible the routes are linked to the most informative or relevant webpage, which most often originates from the route organizer or creator.  In a few cases, routes are listed without an official webpage or an official GPS route, such as The Red Trail in Poland, but the route is known to exist on the ground, is signed, and is indicated on Compass brand maps (and others).  To keep this listing simple I have chosen not to indicate the distance, difficulty, or source of route guidance (map, GPS, signs).  These features may come in the future, and if anyone wishes to host this list in further detail, contact me directly.  Start dreaming and get riding!

Please use the comment form below and check back in the future as this page develops.  Special assistance is needed to include routes from many countries, including: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary (The Countrywide Blue Tour?), Serbia, Kosovo, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belorus, Russia, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.  Israel is not in Europe, but is included due to a growing bikepacking scene.  Surely, there are many more routes in the countries listed.  Tell your friends.  Share it online.

Spain: TransAndalusTranspirinaicaTransiberia, Camino de Santiago, Camino del Norte, Transcantábrica, Via de la Plata, Camino del Cid; GR 48, Transnevada.   Many Spanish route maps and guidebooks available from labiciteca.com.

Portugal: Rota Vicentina, Via Algarviana

France: Traversée du Massif Vosgien, Traversée du Jura (maps), Traversée du Massif Central, GR5/E2 trail; VTTrack.fr for interactive MTB trail map of France

Belgium: GR5/E2 walking trail (general info); also, some images and info about the section in the Ardennes Mountains

Germany: GST: Grenzsteintrophy

UK: Bearbones 200England-Wales-EnglandLakeland 200, Pennine Bridleway, Ridgeway Double, South Downs Double, Coast to Coast, Trans Cambrian, Welsh Coast to CoastDevon Coast to Coast (Westcountry Way).  All routes and links thanks to selfsupportedUK.net.

Scotland: Scotland Coast to Coast, Highland Trail 550, West Highland Way, Cairngorms Loop

Italy: Italy Coast to CoastTuscany TrailSan Remo-Monte CarloMyLand Non-Stop (Sardinia), Alto Adige-Südtirol Extreme Bike TrailDolomiti TrailItalia TransmountainsThe Fat River (fatbike route), Transardinia.  Most routes courtesy of bikepacking.it.

Switzerland: National TrailsAlpine Bike #1Panorama Bike #2Jura Bike #3; Alpencross; National website for Mountainbiking in Switzerland

Sweden: Kungsleden

Poland: The Red Trail (Sudecki and Beskidzka, basic info only).  Compass brand maps show all hiking trails and cycling routes, including the long-distance red trails.  Note, the red trail is not a single trail across Poland, but a series of trails with lesser trails marked with painted blazes of other colors.  There is a route most of the way across the country E-W, mostly along red trails.

Czech/Slovakia: 1000 Miles Adventure

Montenegro: Top Biking Trail 3: Eastern Enchantment

Greece: Bike Odyssey

Israel: Holyland Bikepacking Challenge, Israel National Bike Trail (in progress), Israel National Trail (hiking)

Other resources: Footpaths provide the basis for many routes in Europe, most of which have developed over the past century.  Generally, these routes allow bicycles, with local exclusions, but they do not exclusively travel singletrack trails across wild lands and will pass towns, farmland, and paved sections.  The European Rambler’s Association (ERA) aims to complete a long-distance international trail system of footpaths throughout Europe, with numbered routes from E1-E12 currently in various phases of completion.  Most routes are assembled from pre-existing local and national trails. Each country may provide more detailed resources in the native tongue via dedicated websites or guides about national trail systems, such as the GR5 listed in France and Belgium, above.  Most often, printed regional trail maps can be found at local touristic centers, and commercial maps and guides may also be available.  Detailed roadmaps are also suitable for broad-scale navigation, and often show more detail than typical road maps in the USA.

Also worth mentioning is the EuroVelo network of cycling routes, fashioned much like the ERA, with international cross-continental routes numbered 1-12 in various stages of completion.  EuroVelo routes are generally ridable on a trekking bike, hybrid, or rigid mountain bike, and in some places are not recommended for a tire less than about 40mm.  Check out the EuroVelo6for the popular route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea.

If you wish to submit a route, please provide a link to the best source(s) of information and a brief description of your experience on that route, if any.  To qualify a multi-day off-pavement route for this listing, consider that it must be documented in detail, like the routes listed on Pedaling Nowhere-Routes or Bikepacking.net.

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Poland, The Red Trail

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Czech, Sumava National Park

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Ukraine, Polonina Borzhava

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France, Traversée du Massif Vosgien, Château Bernstein

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Ukraine

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Serbia

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Slovakia, 1000 Miles Adventure

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Greece, Bike Odyssey

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France, TMV

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Greece, Bike Odyssey

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Luxembourg, GR5/E2 trail

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Belgium, GR5/E2 trail

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Guidebooks for routes in Spain.

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Poland, The Red Trail: one of many PTTK resources for hikers and cyclists available in the mountains, often serving hot food and cold beer.

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Maps in a Slovakian supermarket.

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Interview at The Bicycle Story

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More questions and answers, this time thanks to Josh Cohen of The Bicycle Story.  Curious to know about my next touring bike, where we will be riding later this summer, and how we started touring?  Check out the full interview entitled Nicholas Carman: Pedaling the World as a Gypsy by Trade.

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Photos: Lael Wilcox, Przemek Duszynski, and Nicholas Carman

TMV: Châtenois to Thann

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Divided into three segments, the southern third of the Traversée du Massif Vosgien (TMV) comprises the most mountainous stage.  The granitic southern Vosges is most visited, both in summer and winter, and challenges riders with climbs nearly as great as 3000 ft.  For more details of the route, I’ve shared words and images from the previous two stages: from Wissembourg to Saverne, and from Saverne to Châtenois.  

This stage is defined by the rivers crossed and the ridges crested– thus, major descents and climbs, valleys and vistas.

We begin by leaving Selestat near Châtenois.  Selestat is the larger town a few km off the route, with access to the TER Alsace train and connections to further destinations.  We dropped Andi and his Pugsley at the train station; tended to some necessary affairs, including laundry and bicycle maintenance; and returned to the hills before the end of the day.

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Climbing, loaded with treats such as local cheese, wine, and bread.

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The climb reaches a plateau, where we camp for the night.  Castles can be seen on multiple hilltops nearby.  Shelters such as these are maintained by local hiking clubs.  Lael’s new Opinel knife is the first of many birthday presents given during the week.

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The next day, climbing towards 1200m.  Abundant logging and managed forests account for the complex of forest service roads, most of which are closed to private motor vehicle traffic.

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Most roads are durable hardpacked dirt, especially in the granitic southern Vosges.  The northern part of the Vosges are sandy, underlain with sandstone.  This road was recently tilled by the tracks of logging equipment.  In the transition zone between sedimentary sandstone and igneous granite from Saverne to Châtenois, we identify green, flaky metamorphic rock.  

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Cresting and riding the crête of the Vosges at 1200m, our highest point yet.

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Abundant water sources are found throughout the Vosges, especially in the south, where less permeable bedrock and steeper hills account for more surface water.

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The TMV mounts more than 20 named passes, or col. Here, looking back toward the the last col we passed, on our way to two or three more in the same day.  This is called ‘pass hunting’ in French and Japanese cycling traditions.

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A bit of rough doubletrack catches our interest, between endless rideable dirt roads.

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Intersecting many ski areas atop the mountains, we also encounter this downhill biking course, a growing source of summer income for ski areas around the world.  This one looks easy and fun.

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This one looks impossible.

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This, a little beyond our skills.

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Near the top of the ski area is a huge winter refuge.

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At the pass, we encounter a paved road, power lines, hotels, and the ski lift.  I understand why some people travel to the US in search of serenity, and the wild, but we don’t mind the the diversions from the forest and from riding.  Downhill from here.

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This map section is called Les Lacs for the four major lakes along the way.  

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Still descending.  The TMV frequently intersects local VTT circuits.

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All four of the lakes are contained by earthen or concrete dams.  In some cases they provide hydroelectric power, and a fine place to have a picnic or cool off.

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Streams and shade air-condition the forests, making a pleasant place to spend a hot July afternoon.

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The final lake on our descent to the Munster valley, accessible only by foot or by bicycle, was the busiest of all.  Alpine scenery and clear water are the reason.  

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Climbing away from the Munster valley, home to the famed cheese.  I enjoy climbing in the evening.  

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In the mountains, there are abundant hiking refuges which house as many as several dozen bodies in the winter.  In the summer, they may provide an option for lightweight travel without a tent.  It is possible to connect refuges and gîtes along the TMV for indoor accommodations and prepared meals.

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Nearing the highest elevation of the entire route…

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…on pavement, actually, but only for a km or two.

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And our most spectacular campsite in the Vosges.  By morning, thick fog climbs over the ridge, enshrouding the mountaintops.

 

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It clears by late morning for our second to last descent of the entire route.

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Arriving in the valley below, we are only 8km from the eventual finish.  The route favors another 22km through the forests in lieu of riding the roadways in the valley.

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We fill our bellies and our bottles in Moosch for one final climb and one final descent.

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Climbing for the last time.

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A well-used shelter awaits at the top of the climb.  Still early in the afternoon, we point our wheels towards Thann, only a few km away.

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The eastern flank of the Vosges Mountains are home to all of the wines produced in Alsace, depicted here from south to north.

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The same signage found in Wissembourg is also presented in Thann, over 400km away.  Continuing from here, one could connect either the Swiss or the French routes through the Jura Mountains, beginning less than a day away by bicycle.  For now, we have other plans.  

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Which bike?

Choosing a bicycle for the TMV is a simple affair, as any bicycle that accommodates a 2″ (50mm+) tire will suffice.  This may include a Surly LHT or an old ATB; a modern hardtail, full-suspension bike or even a fatbike.  Lael and I are both riding steel-framed mountain bikes with 29″ wheels, disc brakes and a wide range of gears.  Suspension forks have been valuable when exploring new terrain, but are not strictly necessary on the TMV as the route is mostly comprised of well-groomed dirt roads.  However, we have been happy riding with a suspension fork, which allows us to descend faster and tackle some more challenging rocky climbs.  

People sometimes ask if a hybrid-type bicycle with 700cx40mm tires will work for such a route.  It may, but only if packed lightly, if the rider is skilled, and if willing to walk short sections of the route.  It also requires that you don’t mind bumping around on dirt roads with medium (-high) pressure tires.  We don’t, and thus ride big rubber at lower pressures.  

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You may have noticed that we are somewhere in Switzerland, Germany, or the Czech Republic, on our way to points further east.  Some superbrainstorm sessions have given us new direction, to be discussed soon.  For now, if you live in northern Czech, southern Poland, northern Slovakia, or western Ukraine, send a message (nicholas.carman(at)gmail.com) if you’d like to meet for a ride or if you may be able to assist our route-planning efforts.  

TMV: Saverne to Châtenois

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This is the second section of the TMV, a newer long-distance bikepacking route in Alsace, France.  If you’ve missed it, check out the first part of the the route from Wissembourg to Saverne.

The Traversee du Massif Vosgien (TMV) continues from Saverne, back into the hills.  Andi jumped on a train from Germany with his Pugsley to meet us with only a day notice.  After a quick coffee and croissant at the train station, we immediately set out riding and routefinding, blending traditional maps with his Garmin GPS.  Once on the route, we settle into a big climb back to elevation.  In each of the the three major sections of the route– the north Vosges, the piedmont, and the more mountainous southern Vosges— the route becomes more topographically dramatic.  Through the piedmont segment from Saverne to Châtenois, the route ranges from about 200 to 800m (∼600-2600ft).

Climbing back into the hills.

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Cold, clear springs can be found along forest service roads and in towns.  This one was situated next to the church, under a watchful eye.

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For lunch, Andi turns cold water into a warm pot of green tea.  Lots of fun titanium bits to discuss.

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And plenty of fatbike discussions.  His Surly Pugsley is built with durability in mind, using doublewall 36h Surly Large Marge rims to a weatherproof Rohloff gearhub and a Schmidt dynamo hub.  Phil Wood, Chris King, and White Industries represent top-quality American makers, while additional German products round out the component list.  Luggage is a mix of Revelate equipment, and a homemade framebag, which features a fully-weatherproof zipper, as may be used in underwater equipment such as a wetsuit.  I tested the zipper– it is actually waterproof, unlike the shielded zippers use on lots of outdoor equipment.  All of this came together with lightweight camping equipment and DIY fenders for his ride on the GST this past month, a new bikepacking route in Germany that follows the former border between East and West Germany.

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Every good descent is countered by another good climb.  These aren’t the Rocky Mountains, but our legs are tired at the end of a day on the TMV.

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There is some pavement on the route.  With luck, that means climbing on pavement and descending on dirt.  It doesn’t always work out that way.

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The trail is very well maintained by local VTT clubs.  Active forestry means a few recently downed trees stand in our path.

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The climb from Ottrott to Mont Sainte Odile is a push, ending in well-worn singletrack.  At the top, swarms of tourists visit the mountaintop convent.  Swarms of tourists ogle Andi’s Pugsley.  Lael’s French is far superior to either of ours, so she is on ‘diplomatic fatbike duty’.  This is something all of us are familiar with, each having spent considerable time on a fatbike.

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The TMV is heavily forested much of the time, although not without the touch of humans.  Many forests are heavily managed as evidenced by selective cuts, picnic tables for hikers and bikers, and this owl, sculpted from a remnant pine stump.  Small towns can be found everywhere– in the valleys, on the hillsides, and even sometimes at the top of a climb.  Forest service roads are largely closed to motor vehicle traffic, in which case the forests are signed as ‘Zones of Tranquility’, for the practice of silent sports.

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The Vosges give a characteristic shadow feature every evening.  It is our plan to camp high when possible.

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This evening provides a special treat.

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Along the route– above the route– Château du Bernstein offers a place to sleep for the night.  These ruins are accessed by a dirt road, and are less popular than some of the other great castles in the area.  Spending a night in a castle is a special way to experience such a place.

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A little hike-a-bike up to our camp.  Note, grabbing hold of he chainstay is often the best technique to haul a bike up or over things, especially on a bike with a sloping top tube.

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But our sights are set even higher.

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After local wine, dinner and a fire, Lael and I climb further.  A dark, narrow staircase leads to the top.

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Andi’s camp below, in the master bedroom.

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Ours, above.

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Our bedroom for the night is breezy with a 5AM sunrise– perfect.  In the past it might have been a watchtower, or just a nice place to watch the sun rise.  It may have been a good place to plan local conquests, although it is now a great place to imagine routes and rides in the hills.  On a clear day, the Rhine River and the Black Forest are visible.

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From here, we descend towards Châtenois, near Selestat.  Wild strawberries slow our descent.

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As do wild poppies, which have been present for many weeks.  We are growing to love Alsace greatly, especially when the sun is shining.  It has been almost two weeks without a drop of rain.

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Where the mountains meet the valley of the Rhine, grapes grab hold to hillsides.  Above, our momentary home– Château du Bernstein.

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The third and final section of the TMV can be found here, from Châtenois to Thann.

TMV: Wissembourg to Saverne

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The Traversée du Massif Vosgien connects the forested Vosges Mountains of Alsace from north to south.  The Vosges are an understated range with few rocky exposures– they are the French mirror of the Black Forest of Germany, which is found just on the other side of the Rhine River.  The TMV has been in existence since 2004-2005, when it was officially mapped and signed by the Alsacian Chapter of the French Federation of Cycletourists (FFCT).  It claims over 400km of trail and 8000m of climbing, favoring the east side of the mountains and the intermontane zone along the eastern flank where most Alsacian wines are produced, between the Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin regions.  Compared to American dirt touring routes, the TMV offers riding similar to the Great Divide Route, with climbs as much as 800m (2500+ft) and a highly rideable dirt surface.  Maps and trailside signage serve to make navigation simple.  Resupply is simple, and available daily.  The route includes only about 10% pavement– little enough not to bother the dirt lover– and big climbs with grades and surfaces manageable enough to be inclusive of any athletic rider.  The TMV balances physical challenges with accessibility.  Also within range of many bike-friendly TER Alsace train stations (regional ‘slow’ trains accept bikes at no cost) and several major cities (Strasbourg, Colmar, Mulhouse, Basel), and short enough to be done in a week, the TMV will likely gain popularity as more French (and German, Swiss, and Belgian) riders become wise to the pleasures of dirt touring.

Taking a few days to regroup following weeks of rain, we center ourselves in Wissembourg at the start of the route, at the north end of the Vosges.  We climb into the hills every night to tuck away in the woods. Free, legal camping close to town is always a treat.  A morning descent to croissant and cafe is routine in France.  An inexpensive public pool is real special to a touring cyclist.

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Located just outside the ramparts.

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We installed new brake pads, a chain, and replaced Lael’s worn WTB Exiwolf tire while in town.  Espace Cycles in Wissembourg is one of the best mountain bike shops we have seen so far and readily supplied all of the parts that we desired, including Schwalbe tires for cheap.  A 30€ folding Schwalbe tire is a treat, considering that similar tires cost as much as $90 in the US.  With borrowed air from the shop’s compressor, tubeless touring is a breeze.  We haven’t had a single problem in two months of tubeless touring.  We have some spare sealant and tubes packed away, but haven’t had any use for it, and haven’t experienced any flats.  We’ve only used our pump a few times in two months.

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A placard near the center of town describes the trail and serves as an official start point.

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It departs, winding through historic Wissembourg, and follows a paved cycle path out of town.  Within six km, it joins a forest road and sets the tone for the remaining 400km– tranquility, with some climbing.

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Atop the first climb, we meet Gaby at his home.  He works as a mechanic at Espace Cycles and offers to lend us a hardcopy of the maps, which are currently out of print.  The complete set is available as a .pdf file online.  He and his wife Valerie lead us to a special camping place near Climbach with a fresh water source.  The site is an old chappelle, which predates Christianity in the area.  For a little guy, 26″ wheels still make sense, but 29″ wheels are starting to take off in France, even on some longer travel Cannondale models found at the shop in Wissembourg.

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The next day, despite some rain, we enjoy a diverse range of forested tracks connecting small villages.  The elevation along this part of the route ranges from 200-400m.  Still, there is plenty of climbing.

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And plenty of water.  Les sources, or public springs, are found in abundance in the Vosges.  Even when declared to be ‘not potable’, we usually fill our bottles.  All of the water is cold and beautiful.  Cemeteries are also a reliable source of water in Europe.

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Endless forest service roads are found in the area; most are closed to motorized traffic.  Mostly hardwood forests around, with interspersed conifers which favor well-drained sandy soils.

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Some roads are recovering doubletrack, on their way to becoming wide singletrack corridors.  Follow the orange signs marked TMV.  We mostly follow trailside signage, although the maps help us whenever we feel unsure about the route.

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Nearing another town we find scattered houses and farms.

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A church, mairie, école, and a bakery.  Often, a war memorial reminds of both major conflicts that affected this region in the last century.

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Some towns, especially in the Vosges, feature the ruins of ancient castles and forts.  They cannot be reached without a steep climb, ever.

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As quickly as we arrive, the trail leads out of town.  Steep climbs provide occasional challenges, although mostly the route is extremely rideable on anything from a rigid 26″ mountain bike (even a Surly LHT for example) to a full-suspension 29er or even a fatbike.  A minimum 50mm (2″) tire is recommended, especially as the northern Vosges are underlain with sandstone, thus mostly sandy roads.  Luckily, sandy soils drain well after weeks of rain.

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Evening is one of our favorite times to ride.  Mornings are reserved for coffee.  Some people tour early in the day, we prefer to ride late.

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Note, baguette protrudes from the Carradice saddlebag.  Overall, we both ride lean machines.  Framebags hide a lot of gear, even on Lael’s small frame.

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Even at the end of the day, Lael must go for a run.  As this was the 4th of July, I took the chance to prepare a special evening.  While she was gone…

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I prepare a fire for her to light.  We rarely, almost never, have fires on tour.

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Chilled some crémant Alsacien, a sparkling white wine, and a couple Alsacien beers in the source.

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Prepared a feast of sauerkraut and sausage, to be served on baguette with mustard.  This was our best effort at hot dogs and beer in Alsace.

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No fireworks.  Not bad.

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In memoriam, the cork becomes a new bar-end plug the next morning.

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The following day is our best day on the trail so far.  Smooth singletrack and wild blueberries spoil us.  Bicycle touring is not hard– not never, but not always.

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Sandstone defines the northern Vosges– the area encompassed by the Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord, from Saverne to Wissembourg along the TMV.  Sandy soils are ever-present, but rarely are they soft like beaches.  Mostly rideable hard packed surfaces are found, while pine needles and beech leaves quiet the ride.

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Many tourist offices provide resources for free, or for a small fee.  The TMV maps are out of print, but I know at least one copy exists in La Petite Pierre if you want it.  A trail map is not essential, but a regional road map would help in case you lost your way and were traveling without the official guide.

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The FFCT promotes cycling touring, and the growing sport of touring by velo tout terrain, or VTT.

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A few squishy, muddy spots make things interesting.  Mostly, very little special equipment is needed except for a big tire.  Guesthouses and hiking shelters offer an alternative to camping for some.  Camping is possible almost everywhere along the route.

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Local hiking and biking clubs maintain trills, signage, and shelters.  The number of hiking routes in the area is astounding.

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These aren’t guesthouses, but troglodytic homes restored for viewing.  For the culturally curious, there is much to do in the area.  Alsace has changed hands many time between French and German leadership over many hundreds of years, and Alsaciens maintain a strong identity despite a diverse heritage.

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For us, the riding and the camping are most important.  This is some of the best.

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Ride down to Saverne to meet Andi for a few days of riding.  The TMV is officially mapped in three sections: the northern Vosges, the piedmont, and the mountainous southern Vosges.  Leaving Saverne, we begin the Pidemont des Vosges, gaining elevation.

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Out Somewhere in the Vosges

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We’ve just descended the Vosges Mountains for the last time, having enjoyed just over a week on the Traversée du Massif Vosgien.  The TMV is a newer route in the east of France– in Alsace, upland of the Rhine river– with over 400km of mapped and signed dirt riding.   We shared the route for a few days with Andi, a new friend and a Surly Pugsley rider from southern Germany.  More soon, but some great representative images can be found on his blog Out Somewhere.

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Thanks for a great time Andi!

Detour aux Vosges

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A wet week post-Luxembourg has sent us looking elsewhere for good weather.  Clay-rich French soil has caked our drivetrains more than a few times, and soaked our socks to the point that you don’t want to be behind us in line at the supermarché.  After nearly two months of rain, excepting my hiatus while visiting New York, we began looking south– at Provence, Spain and Italy.  Instead, in the face of potentially more wet weather, we set our sights east to the Vosges mountains, and a new long-distance mountain bike route through Alsace, the forested northeastern corner of France.  Notably, the region is home to the Rhine basin and cool-weather grapes, but the uplands rise quickly and sharply, in Appalachian style, in a way that continues to remind me of home.  They are also responsible for some of the only beer brewed in France, a continuing theme of our trip.  The Traversée du Massif Vosgien will be our home for the next week. 

The only risk of this decision was more wet weather, making muddy mountain trails unrideable, and no fun.  We broke from the GR5 after drying out in Metz, and hit the road for two days to reach the start of the trail.  Lael and I swore that if the rain continued, we would, absolutely, ride south as fast as possible.  Two days of road touring reminded us why we ride off-pavement whenever possible, although we did encounter many peaceful canals, voie verte and country roads.  Road touring in France is blissful, for sure, although we still find it more peaceful, and interesting, to ride dirt.

With barely the chance to check the weather forecast in the past two weeks, a funny thing happened when we arrived at the start of the route in Wissembourg near the German border– the skies cleared, and the sun promised to stay all week.  What lucky kids we are!  We made a brief tour along the Rhine to Strasbourg to let the forest dry for a few days.  Strasbourg is surprising– perhaps our favorite city anywhere– boasting pan-European style, bikes of all kinds, hip kids and old French, and the mighty Rhine.  There is more to say, but make a visit if you can.

Below: Near Metz, in the north of France near Luxembourg, at the top of a muddy hike-a-bike that convinced us to begin looking elsewhere.

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Riding to Wissembourg from Metz, to see for ourselves if the trail was in rideable condition.

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Crossing the northern stretch of the Vosges Mountains.  Camping in public forests is straightforward in this part of the country.  Always comparing to the familiar, this feels much like Oregon, or the Lost Coast of California.  The southern Vosges are supposed to be much taller and more rugged.

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In Wissembourg, Espace Cycles is a good place to check in for parts and repairs.  Cheap 29″ Schwalbe tires are in abundance.  Lael has got a new Nobby Nic in the rear for 30€.  Wissembourg, like a very little brother to Strasbourg, is also amazing.  Situated at the north end of the Vosges on the German border, it is a haven for hiking and biking.  Germans visit daily in hordes.

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The TMV, on verra.

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Correspondance: Les sentiers de grand randonnée en France

FatFeb Colorado Trail Tennessee Pass

Last spring on April 8th, 2012, I wrote to Yann for the first time about touring France via the network of GR (Grand Randonnee) footpaths.  Those plans eventually fell by the wayside as Lael selected to participate in a yoga training in England, following by travel in Corsica and Germany, before rejoining me in Denver to ride the Colorado Trail in late summer.  I left Alaska on my own, on my Pugsley, and eventually landed in New Mexico.  This spring, we return to the idea of following footpaths in Europe.  The leading concept at the moment is to bring real mountain bikes, and to commit to off-pavement exploration– a hybridized bike would breed a hybridized version of these plans.  At worst, we encounter rough tracks and convoluted trails, or monotonous flat doubletrack through farmland.  At worst, we ride pavement part of the time while connecting trails when possible.  At worst, we ride bikes, sleep outside, shop at fresh markets all summer and see another side of France, and Europe.  At best– well, the potential spoils of ideas are the reason we dream.  At best– this could be the best summer yet.  

Yann is the craftsman and the gentleman behind Salamandre Cycles, producing some of the nicest fatbikes anywhere, and perhaps the only custom fatbikes in France.  He lives near Ardeche, in the Massif Central mountains of south-central France.  Visit his blog to see more of his bikes and the inspiring terrain in his region. 

 This correspondence begins last spring, 2012.82151046

4/8/12

Yann,

My girlfriend Lael and I are planning a trip to France in May. We spend much of our time cycletouring, and have lived in Alaska for the winter, riding fatbikes (Surly Pugsley) and working to save money for our next trip. From our past experiences in France, specifically when Lael was a teacher in St. Malo, we recall the extensive network of GR trails. Is it legal to ride these trails on a bike? We are hoping to bring our Pugsleys for a full summer of riding in Europe. In the US many walking trails do not allow bicycles, but I thought that France may be different. Also, we might like to meet up with you. Where are you located?

nicholas
www.gypsybytrade.wordpress.com

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4/8/12

Hi,

I’m located in the south of Ardèche. The locality name is Banne. The place there is perfect for fatbikes: there is no snow, no sand, but rock everywhere and fat tires are wonderful on that kind of ground. The countryside is wonderful with many different landscapes only a few km from each others. But the weather is warm in the summer and after 11 o’clock, I prefer having a bath in one of the various clear water rivers rather than riding my bike.

In France footpaths are not walk only tracks. This is just a leading line for people who want to have long hikes. Paths are rarely forbidden to cycles. One general exception are coast tracks that might be officially forbidden to bikes especially in Brittany where they are very pleasant (you already know them if you were in Saint Malo). But, as a matter of fact, there is quite no policy made on them (not like your rangers) and if you don’t ride them on weekends you won’t have any problems. Of course in the summer there are more people there than the rest of the year, but you only might have some remarks from unhappy walkers (but if you have some problems, I’m not responsible !).

The main areas where you might have some problems are the national parks, except the Parc National des Cévennes (close to my home) where some people are living and where the restrictions are low restrictions (camping…). But National Parks are only a small part of France and you have many others wonderful places to go in France.

Some other countries in Europe might be less permissive (Austria, Switzerland, maybe Germany but it has to be verified).

bye.

Yann

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Lael and I did not ride in Europe together that summer.  Instead, she rode her Cannondale Hooligan and hopped planes, trains and ferries to various destinations.  I reconnected with Yann this spring.

3/28/13

Yann,

I wrote to you last year about riding in France.  We were diverted from these plans, but have committed to riding in Europe this summer.  We will fly to Amsterdam (cheapest ticket to Europe), and hope to ride south to spend some time in France.  As mentioned previously, most of the GR trails are legal to ride, and may be quite nice.  We expect to push our bikes at times if the trail is very steep or rocky, but would still be happy to experience the “less traveled” paths of France.  The system of GR trails seems perfect!

I have learned that there is a major GR route from Amsterdam to Bruxelles and Paris, GR12.  Have you heard anything about this route?  I expect it is mostly flat, perhaps muddy and with many roots in the spring, but it would seem to be a good way to begin our trip.  Any thoughts?

There is a map/guidebook available that I hope to order.  Also, can you think of any other significant resources to help us plan for a summer of off-pavement riding?  Maps, guidebooks, established long-distance routes?

The fatbikes on your website look amazing!  If possible, I hope to visit you this summer.

nicholas

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3/28/13

Hi Nicholas,

I remember this email. Is your girlfriend Lael (who went to France last summer but didn’t find time to get here)?

I don’t know anything about GR12. Yes it must be flat except in the Ardennes (low altitude mountains where SSEC took place in 2011) between Belgium and France.  You might have long flat rides in crop fields. I think you’d better go straight to the south, for an example following GR14 and then GR7. You’d travel in the wineyards of Bourgogne and Beaujolais before really entering Massif Central near Saint Etienne. There’s a long climb to go up to the crests of Pilat (alternatives to unridable GR7 from Saint Chamond to the top are possible, I can tell you on request) and there it’s perfectly ridable. It never goes under 1000m altitude for more than 150km. From there it’s possible to go down to my village by wonderful technical singletracks.

Another general alternative would be to join Luxembourg and then folow the GR5. You’d have a non-stop mountain ride to the Mediterranean Sea ! You can follow the top line of the Vosges (sandstone) that culminates 1430m, drop down to Belfort and climb just in front to top line of Jura (limestone) that culminates around 1700m, have another drop to Genève and then enter the Alps to the Mediterranean or not. And if you want to visit me, you’ll just have to cross the Rhône.

According to me, the best places for ATB riding in France are under a line that goes from Strasbourg to Bordeaux (+ Britanny) but this requires much time if you have to come from Amsterdam. Maybe you won’t have enough time to go so much southward. But I’d be glad to welcome you at home. Just let me know.

Bye

Yann

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3/28/13
Yann

Yes, Lael is my girlfriend and we will both be riding this summer.  We will be riding from Amsterdam, and do not mind several days or weeks of travel to reach more interesting trails.  We hope to connect each local destination with small lanes, unpaved routes, and singletrack trails.  Thus far, your experience has been very helpful.  I will do some research and will likely contact you again once I have gained some greater perspective.  Thanks!

nicholas

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First image: Lael Wilcox; final image: Nicholas Carman

All other images: Yann, Salamandre Cycles

A Sunday in Hell

A videographic celebration of bicycle maintenance.  Don’t wait until the chain squeals to give the bike love; daily affection will do well to maintain the amorous connection between cycle and cyclist.  A soft-bristled brush is like a fine champagne for your bike.

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The complete film is a narrative of the 1976 Paris-Roubaix event, full of colorful cycling caps and wool jerseys, Campagnolo Nuovo Record equipment, Eddy Merckx and an aging Raymond Poulidor.  French labor demonstrations interrupt the race at several points; Eddy Merckx obsesses over saddle height; and, “a rare steak is a good breakfast for what lies ahead”.