By Donald Martin
With many people having been stuck at home throughout 2020, there is now a lot of budding excitement about near-future travel options. Along with coronavirus vaccinations, health and safety are expected to gradually return to Europe over the course of the year. And while it may still be a while before it’s safe or comfortable to fly, take trains, or mingle in crowded areas, some types of vacations will be reasonable in short time. Among these will be trail trips and cross-country tours for cycling enthusiasts.
While actually travelling to a destination and finding lodging will still require very careful adherence to proper health practices, getting out on the trails is going to be safer than a lot of alternative vacations. So, for those interested, we decided to write up a guide to trail biking in Europe in the coming year — with a few words on where to go, what to ride, and what to pack along.
Best European Trails
We’ll begin by saying there’s really no way to definitively rank European cycling trails. And even if we tried, the list could go on to include dozens of options. With those caveats mentioned though, the following are some of the true highlights we’d recommend looking into for a 2021 getaway.
- Reitanov-Lipsk-Dobromyslov-Domanovo (Belarus) – This stunning mountain trail made it onto our list of “5 Amazing Mountain Bike Trails In Eastern Europe” a few years ago, and it remains a compelling option. The defining appeal in this case is really that the trail combines mountainous terrain with a relatively brief and easy ride. The scenery is incredible, and yet it’s an accessible trail for beginner cyclists, making for a perfectly manageable (if somewhat brief) trail getaway.
- Hebridean Way (Scotland) – For a longer excursion (and a very convenient one if you’re in the UK), we’d also recommend the Hebridean Way in Scotland. While not entirely flat, this is a lower trail that makes for a nice and easy ride taken at whatever pace you choose (with the full trail spanning nearly 300km). You’ll see natural wildlife, wide open scenery with no other people in sight, and gorgeous Atlantic coastline all throughout the trip. For those seeking a particularly peaceful getaway, this may be the ideal option.
- Rovaniemi (Finland) – Rovaniemi is a fascinating area because it’s situated in the Lapland region of Finland — which is better known for snowy plains, ski terrain, and winter sports. Nevertheless, trails out of and around Rovaniemi during the warmer months of the year offer beautiful scenery and a variety of difficulties that appeal to a range of trail cyclists. As an added bonus, for those hesitant to travel from a safety perspective, Finland is also a particularly responsible destination. In a data-driven assessment of countries’ handling of the virus response, Bloomberg lists Finland as one of the most resilient nations in the world.
Best Trail Bikes
Here too we would hesitate to claim any definitive ranking, and there are of course plenty of great options. But the following cover a range of budges and make for accessible and excellent trail bikes for 2021.
- Ibis Ripmo AXS – For serious trail bikers seeking high-end options, the Ibis Ripmo AXS is just about impossible to beat at this point. Though it’s quite costly (selling for about €10,500, or £9,479), the consensus among reviewers is that you get what you pay for. Built into the familiar frame of the Ibis brand, with only the best parts and features, it’s a durable, reliable high-performance trail bike. Again, there’s no way to be entirely definitive — but the Ibis Ripmo AXS was widely considered to be one of the best bikes of 2020 for any purpose.
- Radon Slide Trail 10 – This is a fairly pricey option too, though somewhat more of a mid-range option for serious cyclists. Running roughly €3,700 (£3,340), it’s an excellent alternative to the Ibis Ripmo AXS with — for the most part — similarly high quality. The bike’s MAXXIS tire set is considered something of a minor drawback, though only particularly serious cyclists are likely to make any note of this. The bike will still perform well on any of the trails mentioned above (or any similar).
- Barracuda Draco 4 – The Barracuda Draco 4 is more of a budget option, for more reasons than one. First, it is available for about €550 (£497), which is a steal for a bike of this caliber. Second, it is a little easier and more affordable to obtain thanks to its listing at Very. According to a Groupon write-up on the retail giant’s shipping options, the company offers free and efficient shipping, meaning it’s both convenient and cheap to pick up this particular bike for a spring or summer excursion (whereas higher-end bikes can be in shorter supply, or may have to ship from afar). As for quality, this bike still offers a smooth, comfortable ride on all terrains that will suit most intermediate or beginner cyclists just fine.
As for what to pack along, it really depends at least in part on your style of cycling and the type of excursion you’re going for. Your packing load for the trail in Belarus, for instance, will likely be different than what you need in Scotland. Still, there are a few more universal recommendations we’d make.
- Osprey Raptor 14L Backpack – Having a compact, well-fitting backpack is an excellent idea on most any cycling excursion that’s going to last more than a few hours. And while there are plenty of terrific options out there from the likes of Camelbak, Evoc, Endura, and more, this is our favourite at the moment. It’s just as compact as it needs to be while still providing adequate storage; the Ospreys always fit nicely with easy adjustments; and it’s a bit of a steal at roughly €120 (£108).
- Contigo Ashland Chill Bottle – There are countless options when it comes to water bottles for a cycling trip, and if we’re being honest many of them will do just fine. What you want is a bottle that will hold a decent amount of water (or sport drink), will be easy to use on the go, and won’t be unnecessarily heavy. The Contigo option checks all of these boxes, with a fairly robust 590ml capacity and a handy spout.
- Apple Watch 6 – The Apple Watch 6 is a bit more of an investment than our other accessories. But it is nevertheless the top product on the market when it comes to fitness tracking and smart watches in general. As New Atlas points out in ranking this as the top available smart watch, the biggest improvement from the Apple Watch 5 is a blood oxygen monitor that some will appreciate from a health standpoint. But the truth of the matter is that it’s simply a superior device that will keep you from relying on your phone (for things like messaging or direction) while you’re on the trail.
Hopefully with this information in hand you feel all the more ready to hit the trail of your choosing later on this year!
I would thoroughly recommend the Hebridean Way, I cycled it in September 2019 in 5.5 days. A great adventure, 10 islands, fantastic and ever changing scenery and wonderful people. Getting to and from the start and finish takes a bit of working out but nothing insurmountable.