The first lesson you learn when mountain biking in the Tirol is that distance is strictly relative to gradient. 16km doesn’t sound much, does it?
But when it’s uphill all the way on a path that climbs though more than 1000 vertical metres and the thermometer is edging past the 30C mark I need all the help I can get…an e-bike makes the going a whole lot easier and, for me, a whole lot more fun.
Climbing up this week from the pretty village of Westendorf at 780m to the remote Gamskogelhutte at 1850m made me realise why I am here. My heart is in skiing, but the mountains in the Kitzbuheler Alps are at their most beautiful in summer.
Last August I spent a week cycling in the Wilder Kaiser mountains and was smitten. There and then I decided to come back for a longer period. After trawling the internet we found an apartment in Westendorf that looked big enough to accommodate various friends and family members who would be coming to visit – and our dog was welcome. Most importantly, it had fast WiFi – fast enough to convince us that it was possible to sneak away from the UK for much of the summer and still work as normal. Have laptop, will travel.
The unspoilt village of Westendorf links into the massive SkiWelt area. It provides ideal biking terrain for those who are not looking for the sort of high mountain terrain that will scare them. This part of the Tirol has mainly gentle terrain with nothing too steep. A dozen gondolas operate throughout the summer and nearly all of the area’s 77 mountain restaurants are open year-round.
We left home in Winchester on Friday afternoon, having decided to make a relaxing journey of it. Our Thule roof box comfortably fit in our very light and roomy Samsonite Cosmolite suitcase, a box of kitchen essentials the apartment may not have, plus helmets and other cycling kit.
With a Thule bike rack fixed to the rear of the car, Jackson the chocolate Labrador settled comfortably in the boot, we were ready for the off.
We made our Eurotunnel journey in the afternoon using a very useful FlexiPlus ticket, which means you can just turn up at any time and join and it without having to queue. You can also use a special lounge (although not if, like us, the addition of your roof box classifies your car as a high vehicle).
From Calais, you have a choice of routes: the free route via Belgium and the German Autobahns or the toll one via French autoroutes to Strasbourg and then across less of Germany. We chose the latter, covering the 1000km uneventfully and arriving on Saturday evening.
The apartment turned out to be smack bang in the village centre, across the road from one of the village’s two supermarkets and sharing a building with the local doctor’s surgery. Mountain biking can be hazardous – useful to know where it is, but hopefully it will not be required.
Our Movelo Focus e-bikes were rented (from 35€ per day) from Sport Rudi in nearby Kirchberg and we were all set for a summer of mountain biking, hiking, climbing and watersports…along with some work as well!
You can, of course, bring your own bikes. But as with skis, the choice of rental e-bikes in Austria is exceptionally high. The Focus Jarifa model we’re riding has a single charge range of 100km in the valley and around 60km when climbing. This should be enough for anyone in a single day, but practically every mountain restaurant offers recharging facilities while you have lunch.
Cool, damp weather turned to brilliant sunshine on Monday, and we joined the weekly e-bike ride that is organised by the local Tourist Office. It goes to a different area each week, along meandering valley roads and paths. You don’t need a lift pass, as it doesn’t go up the mountain. The best thing of all is that it is completely free to anyone who books – and the guide accepts a maximum of ten riders.
Our tour with Sabine from the Westendorf Tourist Office took us through farmland and forest trails along the Windau Valley and up to a sweet little old farmhouse, Käseralm Straubing (+49 8032 189 660), for a drink and some home-produced ham and cheese. The others on the tour were a Dutch family, a Belgian couple, and a young Australian woman whose husband was off doing a paragliding course. It took three hours in all, but the tour is flexible and often runs for four hours or more. You just turn up with an e-bike, preferably one with fat tyres.
Our Focus bikes have the wider 27.5 inch tyres which give more stability on rough tracks, but marginally less performance on tarmac – the right rig for where we are.
The following day it was time to get our bearings by using the lift network. All the gondolas take mountain bikes (and dogs), but the technique of carriage varies: you either hook the bike on the outside (which requires a bit of muscle power or, hopefully, assistance from the liftie), or it fits inside the cabin.
We booked a private guide to show us around. This cost 25€ per hour for our group of three people. Andreas Maier used to be a Lufthansa pilot, flying 747s around the world until opting for a more relaxed lifestyle as a hiking and e-bike guide in summer and snowshoeing in winter. The trip began with a 15-minute flat ride along the valley to the gondola station in Brixen-im-Thale, and then up we went.
A tiring but enjoyable morning ended up with a late 2pm lunch at a charming restaurant, Zum Fischerstadl (+43 5334 8889), next to a trout lake down in Brixen.
We’d only covered 30km during the morning. As I said, distance is strictly relative to the gradient. If I had been on an ordinary mountain bike it would have felt like 60.
We drove to Austria transporting our bikes using a very efficient Thule Easyfold 931 Bike Rack for up to two bikes.
If you’re unsure of how to ride an e-mountain bike, The Bike Academy at Kirchberg runs two-hour private courses costing 130€ for one person, €5 per extra person.
Private e-bike guide, Andreas Maier (+43 650 380 7143) charges 25€ per hour.