Gravel Culture: Travel Gravel – The Black Forest & Alsace
Gravel Union On
4 September 2020
Shimano Gravel Alliance rider Erwin Sikkens had to re-arrange his holiday plans due to CV19, but it all worked out in the end and it sounds like he had a proper adventure in Germany’s Black Forest region
With travelling being an issue this summer, but also walking around with a big bikepacking itch that needed to be scratched, I found myself looking at komoot maps for the best places to go. With the corona virus still at large, I didn’t want to travel too far, which forced me to open my eyes to places I had overlooked before. Instead of traveling to Spain or the Alps, or taking a plane to a distant place, I was going to visit the Black Forest with my good friend Bas.
The Black Forest is a large forest and mountain range in the south of Germany. I always ridden past it on my way to the Alps or Italy previously, not giving it the attention it deserved. The Black Forest however is a beautiful area filled with some of the finest gravel roads you can find in central Europe, not to forget some amazing but not too harsh climbing and beautiful scenery. It also has the geographical bonus of the Rhine valley next to it. When tired of climbing, we could easily descent into the valley and have a rest day at will.
Our plan was to take a car to a starting point near Offenburg and from there go where the wind would take us. One thing was pretty sure in the beginning though, we wanted to go south. The southern part of the Black Forest had the highest peaks of the whole area, with the Feldberg being the biggest of them all at nearly 1500 meters. From there on, our trip was going to be open ended. We had two weeks of cycling in front of us and nothing or nobody to tell us where we had to go. A perfect start to a relaxing bikepacking trip I’d say!
After reaching the Feldberg in the south and eventually the Rhine river at the German - Swiss border, we had to come up with a plan for what was next. We had been sleeping in so called schutzhütte in the Black Forest. They’re half open shelters spread throughout a lot of German forests, offering a roof over one's head when in need. They however also made for great bivvy spots. Perfect, since the only sleeping gear we brought with us were sleeping bags, sleeping mats and bivvy bags. You could say these shelters are like the bothies in the UK, but less fancy. Outside of the Black Forest however we would not find any of these shelters, and the plan was quickly born to go west. Direction Vosges, the French counterpart of the Black Forest.
It took us a good day, riding through Basel into France, to find ourselves in this completely different landscape. Instead of trees we were riding through dry fields in the hot burning sun, and eventually at the foot of the Vosges mountains. The plan had, while riding, shifted from going into the Vosges mountains to riding the famous French Alsace Route du Vin north, back to our car.
The last couple of days were spent riding amongst vineyards and steep gravel hills in the burning sun. With a lack of shelter, we turned to local wine farmers and with permission we slept in their vineyards, often saluted with a welcoming bottle of local wine. My personal first thought when thinking of going bikepacking isn’t necessarily that of drinking wine amongst millions of stars in a vineyard, but that just shows how amazing and open adventure can.
In the end we found ourselves crossing the Rhine valley back into Germany, riding loads of beautiful dirt and country roads. The Black Forest and Alsace have really surprised me in the best possible way, and showed me again that even on a bigger scale you don’t have to travel too far to find the most beautiful and surprising gravel adventures out there.
You can find out all the details of Erwin’s route here: