“Ones seating position on the bike is actually quite similar to that of a road bike, so it’s quite aerodynamic,” explains Josef. “This allows us to remain quite fast, even when riding through gravel far away from the traffic and paved roads,” adds his brother Bernd. Even after speaking for just a few minutes, it become immediately clear to me just how enthusiastic the siblings are about their gravel bikes and all they can do with them. Even though they could probably go on for hours about the merits of this kind of cycling, it’s time to let actions speak louder than words. Keen for some first-hand experience, I climb on to a gravel bike for the first time. What will we take with us? As little as possible. A rain jacket and a granola bar tucked into the back pocket. As for water, that’s available at every turn. “There aren’t many places where water is as readily available as here in the Bregenzerwald region. In some countries, we’ve even had to head to the cemetery just to get clean drinking water,” recount the brothers in describing their travels with gravel bikes.
The way forward in gravel?
A gravel bike, of course! Brothers Bernd and Josef Frick love the freedom of gravel biking. In their view, it combines the best of mountain biking and road biking in one. For several years now, they’ve been spreading the word about this type of cycling throughout the Bregenzerwald region.
But where are we headed today? We’ll take the road towards Schönenbach, then the gravel road to Sibratsgfäll, up to the Renkknie peak and then west towards Hittisau via the ridge. Although that sounds like an oddly specific plan, in reality the brothers are always open to changes along the way. “We always decide on the actual route and duration along the way.” Being open to change is part of the adventure. But they do agree that the most important part of every journey is escaping the hustle and bustle and getting out into nature. I note that the road from Mellau to Reuthe hardly has any traffic, which affords us plenty of space to enjoy the surroundings. “If you’re looking to recharge your batteries, it matters where you go. On the Furka Pass on my road bike, for instance, I always have to be on my guard. Will the next car that passes by me cut me off? Biking through the region offers me a real sense of connection. After all, when driving in a car, you really have no opportunity to take it all in. The duo go on to explain how when driving you really miss out on the sounds, the smells, and the air temperature be it warm or cool… “We also appreciate the cultural diversity of the villages.” As we approach the entrance to Bizau, I begin to understand why cycling in the Bregenzerwald region has such a special appeal. Soon, asphalt turns to gravel. The flat area becomes a mountainous landscape. The brothers particularly appreciate variety: “You can head up from Lake Constance to the Hochtannberg area and then to Lech via the Auenfeld high valley. Such a route offers incredible diversity and riding one hundred kilometres is no problem at all. You can really experience the diversity of the entire Bregenzerwald region in just a single day.”
After a while, we find a lovely spot to take a break. While resting, I enquire about the pair’s favourite places. My question is met with a laugh. “It’s a bit like mushroom-picking spots, isn’t it? If you tell everyone, then it won’t be the best for long, right? But honestly, I don’t have a favourite place. Although it’s nice when I’m standing in the Bödele area and the sun is setting and I can’t wait to ride back down into the valley below. That being said, I’m equally happy when I’m biking towards the rising sun on the Hochtannberg Pass. Of course, it’s beautiful here even when it’s raining and foggy.” When it comes to changes they might like to see, both mention possible improvements in traffic and more focus on the environment. After all, feeling safe on the road matters. “When you think about it, we are at quite a disadvantage as non-motorised road users. But we believe that the road should be open to everyone,” say the brothers, nodding in agreement. As we proceed, I ask myself: “So what’s so special about gravel biking?” I have a few ideas but I think it’s best to let the experts explain. “The ability to seek out new routes, new places. We can really just go with flow. If the weather turns poor, we have the ability to go in a new direction. For us, that’s true freedom. At the same time, a gravel bike is also particularly suitable for everyday use. Sometimes, I ride to work but take a detour somewhere else along the way. Gravel bikes unite transportation, sports and enjoyment in one.” With my legs beginning to shake with exertion, I get off the bike. I feel exhausted, but happy. Looking back on our route, we’ve covered a considerable distance. It’s amazing how multifaceted gravel biking is. “Just like life,” the brothers note: “New experiences happen when you’re out and about. Whether an experience is good or bad is a matter of perspective. After all, sometimes ‘interesting’ situations make for the best stories. Some of the best experiences we’ve ever had are the result of mishaps.”
Author: Christina Düringer
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2023