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Austria: Thrill of the bike ride

Whether you’re just starting out or a fitness fanatic, there’s a trail for you to blaze, from cycle paths to rugged mountain tracks

Austria: Thrill of the bike ride
Biking at Kitzsteinhorn. Credit: Sebastian-Doerk

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Beginner

Route: Stanzertal Valley Circuit
Distance: 16 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 712ft
The pretty ski village of St. Anton am Arlberg is an ideal location for beginner bikers, although hikers also use the pathways. Following disused train tracks to Nasserein gondola station before cutting through forest to the Rosanna River, this trail takes in sights in Pettneu am Arlberg, and St Jakob in Defereggen, and offers a rewarding side-trip to the narrow Schnann Gorge.

Route: Hungerburg to Arzler Alm
Distance: 4 miles, return
Cumulative elevation gain: 900ft
From Innsbruck’s pretty suburban neighbourhood of Hungerburg, locals and tourists alike cycle up to the mountain restaurant of Arzler Alm: a tranquil spot to take in views of the city. The pastoral pedal up, amid lush green pastures and cute grey cows, is moderately easy. The ride down, along forest trails, can be as white-knuckle as you like.

Route: Strass to Mayrhofen
Distance: 20 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 410ft
Ideal for families, the fast, flat Zillertal-Radweg follows the Ziller River along verdant valleys, offering plenty of stops to keep kids entertained — they won’t be short of friends in the numerous playgrounds and swimming lakes, nor will you want for company in the many cafes along the route. Depending on how fit you feel at the end, you can take the train back to your starting point.

Route: Hinterkaiser circuit
Distance: 6 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 490ft
A family-friendly bike ride from the pretty little town of St. Johann in Tirol, taking in meadows and forests with the beautiful Kaiser Mountains as a backdrop. Head towards Hinterkaiser, take the Hinterkaiserweg to the Maurern farmstead, follow the track to the Rettenbach River, then enjoy the ride to Innsbruckerstraße, where a cycle path returns you home.

Melk Abbey on a rocky outcrop above the Danube. Credit: Wolfgang Ehn

Melk Abbey on a rocky outcrop above the Danube. Credit: Wolfgang Ehn

Intermediate

Route: Passau to Vienna
Distance: 180 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 2,820ft
Almost as iconic as Strauss’s world-famous waltz, this cycling trail is one of Europe’s favourites. Following the River Danube from the German border to Vienna — passing vineyards, the UNESCO World Heritage landscape of the Wachau Valley and the city of Linz — the Danube Bike Path is long. But with bicycle ferries and numerous e-bike charging points, it’s set up for gentle exploration and overnight stays.

Route: Salzkammergut Cycle Way
Distance: 214 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 6,070ft
The Salzkammergut is Austria’s Lake District, and this loop takes in 13 lakes and lots of chocolate-box villages. It passes Schloss Ort Castle, on Traunsee Lake, and thermal spas in Bad Aussee and Bad Mitterndorf. Clearly, you’ll want to linger a little over this bucolic bike trail, so give yourself seven days to cycle these asphalt tracks: easy for regular riders.

Route: Schönau to Traisen
Distance: 38 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 2,657ft
Starting out on the southern edge of the leafy and tranquil Vienna Woods, this undulating bike ride follows the Triesting and Gölsen Rivers through forests, meadows and Alpine scenery. Passing quaint villages and historic marvels, from the ruins of Araburg Castle in Kaumberg to the lovingly restored Kleinmariazell pilgrimage church, this is a great ride for active families.

Route: Lake Plansee circuit
Distance: 30 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 2,300ft
This four-hour ride is perfect for touring cyclists. Beginning in Ehrwald, the route follows a bicycle path to the former German border station in Griesen, before heading through the unspoilt Neidernachtal Valley to lake Plansee and on to lovely lake Heiterwanger. Bring your swimsuit for a refreshing dip or take a boat ride before heading back.

Kitzbuhel Bike Hahnenkamm. Credit: Michael Werlberger

Kitzbuhel Bike Hahnenkamm. Credit: Michael Werlberger

Advanced

Route: Wüstlau Trail
Distance: 4.2 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 560ft
Located in the Zell am See-Kaprun resort area, this challenging single track course shoots (mostly) downhill from the Häuslalm, crossing Alpine pastures and twisting through a treacherous forest trail of exposed tree roots and scattered rocks, before wildly winding into the valley. Four miles has never seemed so far.

Route: St. Anton to Darmstädter Hütte
Distance: 8 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 3,655ft
Another craggy course to a high-altitude eatery, this Alpine ascent is uphill all the way, and only suitable for super-fit cyclists. Rough gravel tracks snake upwards, passing black salamanders, cliffside shrines, and a couple of places to grab a much-needed restorative repast. Leave room for some knödel (boiled dumplings) at the top — you’ll have earned them!

Route: Iron Curtain Trail
Distance: 400 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 14,750ft
A trip to Austria offers the perfect opportunity to conquer a leg of the continent-bisecting EuroVelo 13— also known as The Iron Curtain Trail. One for 20th-century history buffs, this course — encompassing Upper Austria, Lower Austria, and Burgenland — is flat throughout but the sheer length of this mammoth cycle makes it one for the dedicated pedaller.

Route: Kitzbühel to the Kitzbüheler Horn
Distance: 14 miles
Cumulative elevation gain: 2,950ft
Road cyclists looking to test their physical limits need look no further than this insane hill-climb up
the imposing Kitzbüheler Horn. Along the main road to St. Johann, there’s a well signposted right-turn through a railway underpass and onto your own personal hell: gradients range from 10% to 22%. Signposts helpfully count down the kilometres remaining, and mockingly show steepness. Hardcore mountain bikers can continue an extra 1,050ft to the summit.

Cycling tips

1. Warm up
Starting slow directs oxygen from your blood cells to the working muscles and removes excess heat. Go easy for the first 20-30 minutes before speeding up — and take short recovery breaks for 90 seconds every 7-10 minutes during your exertion.

2. Get familiar
…with your gear. Test out new piecesof kit close to home and check the air pressure of your tyres before setting off for any race, long-distance ride or trip abroad.

3. Easy on the brakes
If you feel like you’re losing control, your intuition may be to pull hard on the brakes. This actually gives less control and takes focus away from using your skills to tackle the challenge at hand.

4. Whistle into the wind
On windy days, pick a route that heads directly into the wind first to avoid an exhausting journey back. Draw in your elbows and knees to avoid dragging and pedal at a faster rate than usual.

5. Food matters
During the 30-minute period after your ride, your body will be in need of protein to repair muscles and to top up energy levels. Pack protein bars or trail mix.

6. The extra miles
You should be able to get at least 3,000 road miles out of your chain, but check every 500 miles. Place a ruler with the 0 at the rivet of one link — if the 12-inch mark aligns with another rivet, your chain still has miles left in it. If it’s over 1/16th of an inch out, it needs replacing.

Published in the Austria supplement of the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)