Our Must Do Rides series features some of the best routes around the world. This ride captured by Munich-based photographer Christian Brecheis and features Amélie and Maria from the GRL PCK cycling team.
Munich is one of Germany’s most populous cities, a dense municipality and the capital of the Bavarian state. It’s home to international businesses like BMW and tourist attractions like its annual Oktoberfest. It’s also situated just an hour away from the alps that separate Germany and Austria – making it a great jumping-off point for some fantastic mountain biking.
The ride starts off with a train from Munich to Schliersee, which takes about an hour and a half. You’ll pick the train up in the heart of the city in Munich and get off in front of a bike shop, surrounded by mountains. The trains in Germany start running around 5 a.m. and depart almost every hour (as punctually as their reputations would have you believe), so you’ll have plenty of options and won’t need to worry about getting home. But if you want to make the most of your trip out to the mountains, you can book a night in one of the many traditional Bavarian Inns.
We stayed at the Obere Firstalm, which is up in the mountains above the Spitzingsee. The ride to the Inn from the train station will take 90 minutes and it’s mostly uphill – so make sure you bring lights or arrive early in the day if you’re going to stay here. If you want to make it a bit easier, there are plenty of places to stay in Schliersee – but then you’ll miss out on the beautiful morning views.
If you choose to spend the night in the mountains, you’ll get to start your day with a delicious traditional Bavarian breakfast. Fuel up, because this is going to be an epic ride. Although it’s only 35 kilometers, it has 1,464 meters of elevation gain. Most of that comes from some very steep climbing on dirt/gravel roads. And the downhills, while not extremely technical, are quite challenging as well. The recommended rig for this ride would be a hardtail cross country bike with a dropper post.
If you stayed up in the hills, make your way down to Bayrischzell to start the ride. If you’re just getting off the train, then you’re ready to go! The route starts going up almost right away, with 4 kilometers of climbing through what is a ski resort in the winter (to give you an idea of the gradient of the hill).
That first ‘short’ climb is followed by a fun descent before you begin the real uphill. The main climb is about 7 kilometers, again mostly on forest roads. If you’d like to add in a little extra vert, we included an extension that goes up to a traditional farmhouse where you might be able to enjoy some local meats and cheeses. The farmer offered us a pretty unique local convection – cheese preserved in a bucket of oil. Because the farmhouse doesn’t have electricity, the oil keeps the cheese fresh during the summer. It also makes for an extra-delicious fatty snack to fuel the second part of the ride.
From the route’s high-point, it meanders up and down including a few sections of challenging singletrack. This might be a good point to talk about the differences between mountain biking in Germany (and Europe in general) and the United States, where I’m from. In the US, many mountain bike trails are on public lands and are built specifically for mountain biking. They’re wide enough for 800mm bars and feature sweeping bermed turns and descents that feel like riding a rollercoaster.
The trails here are not like that. First off, most of the trails are built on private land - so throughout the route you’ll need to cross a few gates that are meant to contain the landowner’s livestock. And the trails are all multi-use and not particularly manicured. They were first built to connect point A with point B in the most direct way, some of them hundreds of years old. Only recently have these trails been adopted by mountain bikers. That means they are narrow and natural, rocky and rooty. Rather than a rollercoaster, it feels like you’re navigating an obstacle course; moving slowly and picking your line carefully.
And so, after about 5 kilometers of tricky descending, you will find a sweeping forest road which you’ll take the rest of the way back down. At the end of the forest road, you’ll connect with a bike path that you can take all the way back into Bayrischzell. It would only be fitting to conclude the ride with another meal of Bavarian baked goods, before you take the train back into Munich.