A report of our Transylvania Expedition. Told by Gus, our chief expedition specialist, who devises and curates trips around the globe to the roads less travelled.
In late 2022, I found myself in Romania on a whim. What started out as a scouting trip looking for interesting roads became a touching experience filled with local legends, centuries of culture, animal encounters, and unique cuisine and customs. All of this in the beating heart of Transylvania. One year on from my first pedal strokes into the mesmerising world of Transylvania, myself and the CURVE team led the Touring Ursus (Romanian for Bear, a local animal in these parts) our 2023 Transylvania Expedition crew around the mountains for an unforgettable journey of their own.
With riders coming from Australia and Austria, it couldn't have been more different to regular life back home. Where the tram is a popular form of transport in Melbourne, Transylvania locals utilise the horse and cart. The looks of bewilderment go two ways. Seeing these tough local people work through each day in the harsh weather is just as strange as a group of foreigners passing by on their bicycles. Each day on our trip was a journey into a time machine, witnessing from the saddle ancient traditions and lifestyles long forgotten to much of the Western world.
Brasov, a medieval city with a long history, would be the starting point for the expedition. The city is home to many mtb riders with trails starting and ending right from the best craft beer bar in the town centre. Our shakedown ride, serving as a chance to test the bikes ahead of the big adventure would climb the hills just above the town square and circle the former city walls of which the remains are still intact. Our ride would finish in the local bike-friendly cafe, Fixelli also home to a workshop. Serving as a handy final source of mechanical assistance before heading off into the more remote parts of Transylvania. We wouldn’t be seeing another bike shop for a while.
The route I had devised had been built largely in collaboration with a local legend, Bagoly Levente. A well-known endurance cyclist of the region and someone whom I had been fortunate to share some great rides with in the past. “Levy” also joined us in Africa in 2022 for the first edition of the Rhino Run, riding all the way from Plettenberg Bay to Windhoek. For months we had gone back and forth, perusing the maps and largely with the experience of Levy serving as a guide in building out our route. In the months before the expedition I would head out to recon the course and lock it in.
I always like to strike a balance between challenging and fun, hills and flat, gravel and tarmac. Sometimes it is easier said than done to build a route ticking all the boxes but thankfully Transylvania is home to a large variety of roads, tracks and trails all linking up to make for a great experience. I knew what the Touring Ursus group were in for with plenty of interesting hotels, meals, and even wildlife encounters. Shepherd dogs, and hopefully no bears!
Our first day started heading straight into the thick of the forest, trees tall and with thick canopies filtering through all sunlight into tiny rays that would find their way through the trees like slivers of gold. Although protected from the direct sun at times it could be full of transpiration with no wind to speak of whilst climbing through the trees.
Lunch was had by a local spring, where locals come to fill their bottles with the natural mineral water brought up from below the ground. Below the rich farming earth, the minerals are plentiful and the locals have long drunk the water for its health benefits.
The afternoon’s ride was the first steps into the Transylvanian time machine, the trees parted and spread out exposing a wide valley full of livestock, shepherds roaming with their dogs and logging machines loading up trucks to take away the timber. I was told something from the window of a passing ute in the local tongue. From what looked to be a logging supervisor he told me I’m not allowed to be taking photos, or something to that effect. With plenty of illegal logging taking place some folks aren’t too keen to have their photo taken.
Animals and locals were perplexed by our arrival:
Our second day was going to take the group higher above the treeline and would involve some steep climbing through the forest, potentially even some hike a bike sections. This would mean a picnic by the river ahead of the remote second half of the day.
The steep climbing begins:
Reaching the top of Transylvania:
The beautiful Gymesi Valley:
Dinner time! Peasant soups and Palinka:
Raindrops and distant thunder gave a gentle alarm to wake the Touring Ursus from bed. The traditional accommodation was comfortable and quaint, the falling rain made it even more difficult to leave such a beautiful place.
Luckily the rain passed and before too long the epic views once again revealed themselves. A hilltop lunch stop was welcomed with glimpses of sunlight warming up the Touring Ursus.
Our penultimate day in Transylvania was short in distance but had plenty of vert. Finishing at almost 2000m above sea level with a 19km climb on rocky forest roads. To get there we would meander our way through former Soviet mining towns and some unruly shepherd dogs.
The route was lined with small villages, and as our group rolled through we were met with strange looks from locals. They were perplexed to see people riding bikes with what looked like pleasure when they are normally only used for transportation.
Mountains with legendary meaning to locals:
Thinning air near the top of the climb:
Palinka with every meal it seems:
For the final day, we would be leaving our hosts for the night Beci and Timi, local legends and kind souls who told stories of their people and their history. Beci was supporting the Touring all week giving laughs and delicious fresh Melon!
We would slowly creep back towards civilisation, reaching the city of Brasov with enough time for dinner, packing up bikes for the flight home and of course some final sharing of Palinka before bed.
The final forest roads:
Drinks break in the shade:
Perplexed on both sides of the road:
Washing off the mud of Transylvania:
Time for a celebratory drink:
Expedition Guide - Gus:
If you enjoyed reading about our adventure through Transylvania you can book your spot for 2024! Click the link HERE to find out more of how you too could experience Romania's rich heritage by bike. Why not check out our other Expeditions, too!