For years now I’ve thought of Europe as the heart of bike touring, the place where bikes are treated as equals and the roads are crafted and shaped to create a cycling haven. Passes that wind their way up mountains, valley roads through fine wine regions and the Arden forests of Belgium.
For me, the past month I just had… was one of my bucket list bike tours.
The last time I was overseas was 2019 when I flew back to Australia from Indonesia on my around the world cycle. To be back on an international flight and off to different cultures and countries again felt like the first time, it took me a while to re learn how to travel overseas.
Now, this trip was quite different to the bike adventures I’ve done over the past couple years during Covid times. It actually couldn’t be any more different! In the deserts of Australia planning was the difference between survival, facing distances of over 800km at times with no resupply points and roads that were as rough as guts. Here in Europe I don’t think I ever carried more then a litre of water or went an hour or so without passing a café or patisserie. It simply felt like a holiday compared to my previous expeditions in the Aussie Outback and far out it was fun! There was no stress over rationing water or having to buy food that would last up to a week or worrying about awful road conditions. There just seemed to be a bike path or coffee shop everywhere I went. Mix that with Belgium breweries or the Swiss Alps and there you have it, a few weeks of dream cycle touring.
This was actually the second time I’ve cycled across Europe, the first being on my world trip. However that time I was avoiding the mountains as much as I could and hugging the Mediterranean coast, as it was the middle of winter. This time though it was long sunny days, mid 30 degrees and often-Ideal cycling conditions.
So… I had my faithful Ground Effect green checkered shirt and a pair of Slimjims on and with my bike fully loaded I had just under 4 weeks between work to get myself into and out of as much trouble and as many countries as I could. It all began in Munich, Germany.
The first couple weeks of my trip were all about the mountains. As an outdoor enthusiast, climber and lover of adventure I wanted to hit some of THE Mountains and mountain towns of the world. I’m talking The Eiger, Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Innsbruck and everything in between. My first 800km of riding took me over 25 000m of vertical ascent, roaming from the Bavarian mountains to the Swiss Alps and finally the French town of Chamonix. I had created a route that took my GMX+ and I through the heart of the Alpine mountains.
Landing into Germany was a slight shock to the system. I had just been living and working in the Flinders Rangers for the past couple months where it didn’t go much above 15 degrees and would regularly be sub 0 in the nights. So to land on a 35-degree day quite jetlagged and jump straight into it knocked me around a bit. In classic Jimmy style I went too hard too soon. I was just too excited to be there and quickly found myself knocked on my ass with heatstroke, lack of sleep and a little bit of sickness. In hindsight I shouldn’t have made my first stop in Munich the famous German beer hall… It took me a couple of easier days to sort myself out, find my rhythm and settle into the bike touring routine again.
As I began to explore and travel towards Austria I couldn’t believe the European infrastructure for cyclists, I felt like an equal to cars and it was near impossible to not find a bike path, gravel track or MTB trail between towns and cities. It was just fun and simple touring.
When I got to cycle through Innsbruck and Austria it felt immense. The valley underneath these shears mountains almost made be tremble. I couldn’t believe the enormity and scale of them, the whole valley had this aura of adventure to it. Climbers, cyclists, MTB’s and hikers simply filled the valley. I didn’t feel out of place or like I was someone different travelling through, It just felt like my bike and I fit into the crowd.
As I then ventured towards Switzerland the mountains grew to a whole other level, snow capped peaks and glacier filled valleys filled the skyline and roads that seemed to weave their way up and over mountain after mountain after mountain. I was constantly catching myself with my jaw open gawking at the view or just in awe of where I was. Every corner I turned it felt like I was looking at another postcard view, just epic! I don’t quite think the photos do it justice.
Two mountain towns were high on my list to get to on this trip, Grinderwald & Chamonix. Towns that are at the epicenter of alpine adventure and European mountain climbing, both situated underneath mountains like The Eiger, Jungfrau, Mönch and Mont Blanc. I can tell you now, they did not disappoint! If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or lover of mountains then go to these places, buy a plane ticket bring a bike, shoes or rope and just go crazy in these Mountains. I can’t wait to get back one day with some climbing gear!
From the mountains my route took me across North Eastern France towards Luxembourg and Belgium. Through rolling farmland and canal bike paths. The temperatures reached the low 40’s and an afternoon siesta became a standard part of my day, finding a shady tree or café to sip on Panache Monaco beers till it cooled down. Whilst Luxembourg was small, and you almost cross through it in an afternoon I’d go and say it has one of the best bike paths through the city that you’ll find anywhere in the world, you even take a lift at one point to scale the gorge walls?!
France & Luxembourg were almost like a commute to get to the next key part and reason of my trip – Belgium! Whilst another small country I ended up spending quite a bit of time there and from the outside some started calling it an extended pub-crawl by bike, they weren’t entirely wrong… Some of the world’s best beers are found in Belgium and with them was an amazing experience. Sipping Trappist beers in ancient Abbeys was pretty unique and special. Tasting the likes of Orval, Chimnay, Westmalle & St Bernudus after a day of stunning Arden forest riding was just the best, simply the best.
As I reached Flanders and Eastern Belgium I got to connect and stay with someone whose been an idol of mine for many for years, a household name and friend of CURVE, Kristoff Allegart. I rode into his hometown of Kortijk and got the full Kristoff experience. Honestly, you cant get a more kind, easy going and friendly person. Oh and he can ride bloody fast! “An easy hour spin together when you get here” to quote Kristoff, that quickly turned into “Maybe we’ll go the long way” and finally became a 75km fast ride. Still on my semi loaded GMX+ all I could do was sit behind him and hold on for the ride. I got a private tour of Krisoff’s local roads and gravel tracks through the Ypres war fields and stopping to see the last post performed at the Menin Gate. We rolled back to Kristoff’s town after 9:00, sat down and drank some strong trappist beers till late in the night. Like I said, the full Kristoff experience!
After my time with Kristoff I rode out of Belgium slightly hazy and headed to Calais to get the Ferry across to the UK and eventually a flight home from London a few days later. Finishing near London meant I got to connect with the CURVE community more, with friends of mine and see the G!iRO café fellas once again! Jordan, Jamie & Danny were there 4 years ago when I passed through on my world cycle as just a young 19 year old and now to see them again was pretty special. It’s hard to explain what they’ve created at G!RO, its more than a café, more than a bike shop but a community and hub for bikes & people in the area. I’m in awe of what they’re doing and to be able to step into it for a little bit and see them all again was the perfect way to end my month away. Danny took me out on their Thursday night gravel ride which was an absolute hoot and then came back to beers and Mexican with the G!RO community. The kindness that these guys have offered me over the years is beyond special and I can't wait to see them again, wherever that may be.
Looking back at my month and the few thousand kilometres I travelled, I managed to see a fair few things. It was fun, easy and safe touring. The perfect balance to what my last couple years has looked like bike travel wise. It’s relit a flame inside me that’s calling out for overseas travel by bike and I made a vow to myself across Switzerland that I’d do everything I could to do it as much as I could.
Next up is the Rhino Run in Africa come October and then you can bet there’s an endless spiral of adventures I’m starting to scheme up for around the world.
Bike & Bags:
- Curve GMX+
- Dirt Hoop 29” wheels. SP Dynamo Hub & 2.4” Pirelli Scorpion tires
- Walmer Bars
- K-Lite Dynamo System
- Syntace Aero bars, stem & seatpost
- Garmin Etrex 32x
- Quadlock mounting sytem
- Treadlite Frame bag, Top tube bag, feed bags and handlebar bag (Ashby Sack…)
My Ground Effect Closet I took away:
- SlimJim shorts (Washed 0 times)
- Dogma checkered shirt
- Merino Earl Grey
- 2 x Foot soldier socks
- YoYo Arm warmers
- Chipolata gloves
- Flash Gordon Rainjacket