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Tom in Transylvania

Our writer, Tom Owen, headed out to Romania to check out the relatively undiscovered mountain bike trails they have in the mountains of Transylvania.

I didn’t know much about Romania before I went there. I had a few ideas about rolling rural landscapes and Bucharest being perhaps a little too full of drunken English stag parties for my tastes. But I had never been there so see it.

The three-night trip started in Budapest, after a really terrible flight from London Luton with WizzAir. I’d recommend you steer clear of both airport and airline. Then it was a two-hour drive up into the mountains to Fundata, a tiny village totally out of the way, within sight of the mighty Bucegi mountain ridge, which forms part of the Carpathians. After an evening welcome meal and a quick look at some maps of the region it was time to hit the hay.

The first day was set aside for getting used to being on a mountain bike again, after not really hitting any technical trails for a couple of years. That’s not to say it was easy. There is no easy riding in Transylvania as far as I can tell.

Day one takes us into the valley below Fundata and then back up the other side. We spend the day going uphill and down dale – through the tiny villages of rural Romania, complete with horse-drawn carts and aggressive shepherd’s dogs.

We head down a narrow cowpath that gets thicker and thicker with muddy sludge, before hitting the bottom of a long gorge near the town of Zărneşti. It’s a tough old battle to get up the gorge, especially on the full-susp downhill bikes we’re riding, but eventually we hit the summit and the view from the top (and the following descent) are more than worth the struggle.

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On the second day of riding things start to get properly fun. We drive to the foot of another valley, one that leads straight up into the Bucegis. From the very outset it is tough going, the gravel track we are following soon switches to a singletrack path up through the dense pine forests that cover the mountain’s lower half. Before long we are all four of us off the bikes and pushing our machines. As more of a roadie, I’ve always found the pushbike element of MTB quite funny. Why spend all that time shoving your bike uphill when you could be pedalling? Well the truth of it is that pushbike can be as satisfying a part of cycling as slaying a climb on the road. It’s all about effort, anticipation and reward.

After more than an hour of slogging up the side of the mountain we hit the timber line. Suddenly the close alpine confines are gone, replaced with exposed buffeting wind and rain. We have made the summit of the ridge, which we’ll now traverse to reach the ‘start’ of our descent.

Riding across the ridge is phenomenal. Especially dropping in to the singletrack path, with steep declines on either side. It’s really, properly wild up there.

To get to the topmost point of the ridge, from where we will descend we have to pushbike across snow. The incline must be 25% in places, basically a wall we are climbing up, through the snow, carrying 10kg of mountain bike each. It’s ridiculous. But also fun.

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Then finally it’s time for the reward, as the rain starts to intensify we set off down through the rock gardens that make up the ‘path’ back downhill. Going as fast as we dare in an attempt to quickly get back under cover of the pines. It takes ages to get all the way down, we thrash the bikes along precipitous. tree-lined paths, up minor inclines and round the banked turns that seem as though they have been built just for us. The rush is massive, even better than descending a tight, hairpin-filled road descent. I remember just how awesome MTB can be.

All-too soon it’s over. We are back at what passes for ‘ground level’ up here in the high hills. We hop in the car, absolutely obliterated and glad to be going back to a big meal and a warm bed.

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I’ve been riding Crankk gear for almost a year now and in that time I’ve put it through plenty of different challenges – from city riding in London and Buenos Aires, to hilly days in the Ecuadorean Andes – but a weekend of mountain biking in the Transylvanian mountains was definitely a new one. I was stoked with the way the its own on those long bumpy descents.

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Tom Owen is a professional cycling writer. He went to Romania as a guest of Martin Adventures, a travel company specialising in outdoor and adventure trips.

 

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