Back Issue | Heading East: A Road Trip to the Eastern Germany
Finale Ligure, Livigno, or Lake Garda? Everyone knows these bike regions. This time we decided to search out trails in Germany’s border regions in the Czech Republic and in Poland — and we found some real pearls.
Admittedly, the idea sounded pretty absurd at first; who would want to set off from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and drive north for eight hours to reach Germany’s eastern neighbours when you can head south and reach bike meccas like Finale Ligure in the same time?
But Scott employee Julian didn’t give up, and so finally we set off one Friday morning for a 1500km weekend road trip. The first port of call was Dresden, where we picked up two more compatriots, Alex and Lutz. For some time both Scott riders have been increasingly competing in Marathon races in their neighbouring countries, as the atmosphere is always great and the percentage of singletrack in the races is very high. Alex was the organiser of our trip and dealt with all of the details, so all I had to do was sit in the car and let the next days happen.
The four of us crossed the Polish border at Görlitz late that afternoon, and just a few kilometers later another border into the Czech Republic. Since the end of the border controls, crossing into another country is only noticeable through the language of the road signs and the changing quality of the tarmac.
At this point our destination was the Singltrek pod Smrkem trailpark, where we wanted to reach the trails for the last rays of the sun and then have a relaxed evening. But as soon as we got close to the car park, my scepticism was already growing to impossible levels: there was no sign of any mountains like at home, at the very best a few hills. And this should be home to one of Europe’s best bike parks?
Either way I’m no spoilsport, so doubts aside I quickly got changed, set up the bike, put on my lid and set off with the others. What happened next was a surprise which I was completely unprepared for. On this apparently miniscule hill, Julian and I experienced flow in a completely new dimension! The special biker-built trails snake along the flanks of the hill with perfect berms and uncountable dips and rises. Even without a notable altitude drop, speed is high and pedalling mostly not required as momentum can be made by pumping the trail. Slowly I began to realise how Singltrek pod Smrkem had earned its reputation….
Time passed quickly as we hacked along the trails, and the sun quickly dropped below the horizon. More or less blind, we continued to chase each other through the woods; only the light sandy trail was visible in the otherwise completely blacked-out forest. Helmet lights, no way! Slow down? Why bother! The trails are so well built that we had no unpleasant surprises.
At a spontaneous brief stop at a forest hut run by the local fire brigade, we soon got distracted by the friendly hosts and cozy campfire. As international relations are often best assisted by a cool drink, the beers soon started flowing and Julian and I had a lengthy discussion about where to rank the day’s trails in our personal top-tens.
(We both agreed that it was actually in the top five!)
For the next day a ride in the Riesen Mountains was on the agenda, and we set off that night for yet another border crossing to reach our overnight stop in the Polish town of Karpacz. Thanks to the numerous winter visitors, the infrastructure for tourists in the region is exceptionally good. Hotels and guesthouses are numerous, of high quality, and offer exceptional value. Everything looks modern and western — the image I had
of the East in my head was never reality, as I only rarely saw ruined or run-down buildings.
The hearty breakfast was of course typically Polish — masses of sausage, cheese, and eggs before we set off on our ride. Luckily our marathon-experts switched down a gear on the hills and we tackled the 700 metre climb at a relaxed pace. By now we were expert border crossers, and this ride took us along demanding natural trails continuously crossing from Poland into the Czech Republic and back again. However, care is recommended regarding your choice of riding trails within the national park — if you leave the permitted routes, big fines can be risked.
Still buzzing from the previous day’s riding, on our drive back to Germany we stopped again at Singltrek pod Smrkem – none of us wanted to say goodbye to those trails yet!
There was also the small matter of our internal Strava battle. The time differences were pretty slim, and again I was surprised at how quick the marathon riders were on the downhills!
That evening we had to let go, and then set off for the last destination on our trip — the small village of Oybin in the Zittauer Mountains. This last detour was the perfect conclusion to our trip, as it combined both breath-taking scenery and demanding trails.
Picturesque sandstone formations accompanied our climb along yet another border — this time between Germany and the Czech Republic. From the viewing platform at the summit of the “Töpfer“ summit we were rewarded with a fantastic view over the surrounding mountains to the east and the plains to the north. Lutz let slip that this was his favourite area for practicing riding technique. A few moments later we saw why: the steep descent started off rocky, then changed to soft forest loam as it dropped in elevation. Closely stuck to a back wheel, I used a “copy/paste” riding style to follow the lines of the local riders and got back to the car with a gigantic grin glued to my face.
The trails here are stupendous!
On the way home Julian and I were in agreement: the East rocks, and we’ll be back! Next time, however, for more than a weekend, as we’d had little time to really get to know the countries we’d visited — a tight program of trails and driving meant the cultural exploration of this three-country border region was pretty non-existent. A perfect excuse to come back soon and once again ignore culture for even more trails! Don’t you think?
Text & Photos: Christoph Bayer