For years now I’ve romanticised Europe as the heart of bicycle touring. A place where bikes are treated as equals. Roads are crafted, shaped and graded just right - climbing over mountain passes and winding through valleys, vineyards and forests. Bucket list biking for sure. I was fortunate to score a month of this cycling bliss over the European summer.
Flying down the runway for Europe.
This was my first overseas trip since bikepacking around the world in 2019, pre covid and an eternity ago. It was a blast to re-engage with international flights, foreign countries and different cultures. I'd almost forgotten how it all worked.
Europe was so different from my recent Australia-based desert adventures. On those, detailed planning was essential for survival with at times over 800 km between resupply points and rough-as-guts roads. In Europe I don’t think I ever carried more than a litre of water or went an hour or so without passing a café or patisserie. Such a relaxing holiday by comparison, and far out was it fun. No stress over rationing water or buying food that had to last for a week, nor worrying about awful road conditions. The occasional Belgium brewery and Swiss alpine scenery added to the mix to make for some dream cycle touring.
My previous trip across Europe was during my world cycle tour. It was the middle of winter and I was on a bigger mission. So I hugged the Mediterranean Coast and avoided the big mountains. This time it was long sunny days, mid 30 degree temperatures and more relaxed objectives.
Packing my faithful Curve GMX+ bicycle and default Ground Effect wardrobe of green checkered shirt and Slim Jims baggies, I had just under 4 weeks off work to get myself into and out-of as much trouble - and as many countries - as possible.
Part One - The Alps
An alpine theme dominated the first half of my trip. As an outdoor enthusiast, climber and general lover of adventure I was keen to eyeball some of the classic European peaks and alpine villages. I planned an 800 km route with over 25,000 m of climbing - roaming the Bavarian, Austrian, Swiss and French Alps.
Kick off was in Munich and it was quite a shock to the system. I had been living and working in the Flinders Ranges for the past couple of months where it didn’t get much above 15 degrees during the day and was regularly sub zero at night. Landing jet lagged into a 35 degree day knocked me around a bit. In classic Jimmy style I went too hard, too soon. I got a swift kick up the ass with heatstroke, lack of sleep and a dose of the lurg. In hindsight, the Munich beer halls were possibly not my best choice as a first activity. It took a couple of easier days to sort myself out, find my rhythm and settle into the bike touring routine again.
Edging my way south towards Austria I was blown away by the Euro cycling infrastructure. Car drivers were kind and there was almost always a bike path, gravel track or mountain bike trail linking my destinations. Simple, and fun.
Chocolate box living in Innsbruck.
Innsbruck lies in a valley surrounded by imposing sheer mountains. Their enormity and scale made me tremble with excitement. Climbers, cyclists, mountain bikers and hikers filled the area, creating an aura of adventure. My bike and I immediately felt at home as we pedalled amidst their energy.
Fly like an eagle.
As I ventured on to Switzerland the mountains grew to a whole new level. Snow capped peaks and glaciated valleys dominated the landscape. Ribbons of tarmac weaved their way up and over mountain after mountain after mountain. Postcard views appeared at every corner. I often caught myself with my jaw open, gawking at the view like the tourist that I was.
Magnificent Swiss alpine passes.
Two alpine villages were on the top of my hit list - Grindelwald in Switzerland and Chamonix in France. Both are steeped in climbing lore. The dominant trio of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch loom over Grindelwald. And Chamonix is home to Mt Blanc, the majestic Aiguille du Dru and countless other classic peaks. Neither location failed to impress. I can’t wait to return with my climbing kit.
Magnificent producers of Swiss chocolate.
Room with a view.
Part Two - The Beer
From Chamonix I made my way across North Eastern France to Luxembourg and Belgium. Pleasantly rolling farmland and the occasional canal bike path made for a chill time, unlike the temperatures that were nudging the low 40’s. The afternoon siesta became a standard part of my routine - snoozing under a shady tree or supping a panaché at an obliging café.
On the straight and narrow.
Luxembourg is not a big country. You could almost ride across it in an afternoon if that was your gig. But the capital has one of the best city bike paths you’ll find anywhere in the world. There is even a lift at one point to scale the gorge walls. Worthwhile to linger and enjoy.
France and Luxembourg were a kind of liaison stage between the mountains and my other objective for the trip - Belgium and its beer. I ended up spending quite a bit of time there and from the outside some friends started calling it an extended pub crawl by bike. They weren’t entirely wrong. Sipping Trappist beers in ancient abbeys was a pretty unique and special experience. Tasting the likes of Orval, Chimay, Westmalle and St Bernardus after a day riding through the forested Ardennes was the best, simply the best.
Moving eastwards through the Flanders region I connected with a longtime idol of mine, a Belgian household name and friend of Curve Cycling, Kristof Allegaert. I rode into his hometown of Kortrijk and got the full Kristof experience. Honestly, you couldn't imagine a kinder, more easy going or friendly person. Oh and he can ride bloody fast. "An easy hour spin together when you get here” to quote Kristoff, quickly turned into “Maybe we’ll take the long way” and finally became a 75 km fast ride - still on my semi loaded GMX+. All I could do was sit on his tail and hold on.
I received a private tour of Kristof’s local roads and gravel tracks through the Ypres war fields, stopping to see the last post performed at the Menin Gate. We rolled back to Kortrijk after 9:00 pm, sat down and drank trappist beers 'til late in the night. Like I said, the full Kristof experience.
The full Kristof experience!
Epilogue - London
After my time with Kristof I exited Belgium in a mild haze and headed for Calais to catch the ferry to the UK.
The White Cliffs of Dover.
My flight home left from London a few days later. While there I was able to meet up with more of the Curve community, as well as the G!RO café fellas. I first met Jordan, Jamie and Danny four years ago when I was on my world cycle tour. It was pretty special to see them again. G!RO is not just a café and not just a bike shop - more of a community and hub for cyclists in the area. I’m in awe of what they do.
Danny took me out on their Thursday night gravel ride that finished up with beers and Mexican food. What a hoot. The kindness these guys have extended to me over the years is beyond special. Hanging with them was the perfect end to my trip.
Looking back now at my month in Europe and the few thousand kilometres cycled, I reckon it panned out pretty well. I saw heaps of stuff. It was fun, easy and safe. The perfect balance to my big Australian desert rides over the past couple of years.
It’s rekindled my passion for overseas travel wth my bike. I made a Trappist vow to myself to do everything possible to do as much of it as I can! Next up in October is the 2,750 km Rhino Run in Africa. And I'm already scheming more adventures to follow that up.