Now that winter’s almost over, it will soon be time to put away the skis and snowboards (and boots, helmets, goggles, and poles). But that doesn’t mean you have to give up the mountains. Mountain biking aficionados know that. But, unless they are highly skilled and fearless (or foolish), the mountains they bike up and down on won’t be quite as steep and challenging as the ones they conquered on snow – unless they get off the bike when facing a trail that is too steep or technical and carry their two-wheeler up the mountain.
Welcome to bike & hike, an activity for both MTB lovers and avid hikers. There are special trails throughout Europe that enable bikers and hikers to combine their favourite outdoor activities. Bike & hike gives bikers the chance to see glorious mountaintop views they probably would not have seen if they’d stayed on the machine, as well as long technically challenging descents. And it gives hikers the chance to stay longer at the top – and the thrill of that long descent. It provides everyone with the necessary biking skills and hiking stamina the opportunity for real outdoor adventures in marvellous settings, such as Patagonia, the Alps, the Himalayas or the Scottish Highlands.
One prerequisite for tackling challenging mountains via bike & hike is excellent MTB skills. You’ve got to be able to come down that tricky, steep slope you walked up with the bike on your shoulders.
And that’s the second prerequisite: you should be able to carry your bike safely and comfortably up long, steep trails. According to Chris Gibbs, a guide for H&I Adventures, which offers bike & hike tours around the world, there is a correct way to carry the bike. Here are his tips:
- Position your bike so the drivetrain is pointing away from you.
- Ensure the chain is in the biggest chainring.
- Point the near-side crank arm vertically towards the ground.
- Squat down and grab the crank arm with your right hand and the fork leg with your left hand.
- Stand up, using your legs, to protect your back from strain.
- Place the downtube over your shoulders and backpack.
- Center the bike’s weight and get comfortable and balanced.
- Ensure that every foot placement is secure because, with the bike on your shoulders, you are now very top-heavy.
You’ll also need to prepare well for the trip. If it’s just a day trip, you’ll need to check the weather forecast, take a map (even if the trails are well marked, as they usually are), pack plenty of food and water and a first-aid kit, including sun cream and insect repellent.
If your trip is longer than a day, you’ll need to pack more, of course, in addition to the basic one-day stuff mentioned above. According to the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), the essential truth of packing, especially if you’ll be carrying the bike uphill, is “less is more.” You’ll need a sturdy but lightweight backpack to avoid saddling your bike with too much weight. Clothes should be lightweight, non-bulky (that is, easy to pack) and appropriate for the season and climate. However, as you’ll be changing altitudes, you’ll need to be prepared for all kinds of weather.
The clothing should be suitable for wearing both on and off the bike. The sun is particularly strong at high altitudes, even when it’s cold, so long-sleeved shirts are probably a sensible idea. Wearing layers of thin clothing is better for warmth, and easier to pack, than bulky sweaters. And, of course, waterproof shells are a must. “Cycling shorts, cycling shoes, a helmet, rain gear, tights, and cycling gloves make riding more comfortable,” the ACA advises. “A good rain jacket and pants are necessities and there is a variety of options specifically designed for cyclists; look for Gore-Tex or another waterproof/breathable fabric that breathes (so you don’t sweat too much) and protects from rain and wind.”
The cycling shoes should be flexible enough to use off-bike, especially for climbing. If your feet tend to swell when riding, bring shoes that allow free movement of your toes and room for a second pair of socks. And you’ll probably want to have a fleece jacket for those chilly mountain evenings.
Of course, you’ll need to bring tools and replacement parts, in case of breakdown. And if you’re planning on camping out on the trip, you’ll need the appropriate equipment for that.
However, the internet is crowded with companies, such as H&I Adventures, that sell guided week-long bike & hike tours over difficult mountain trails. For example, H&I offer seven days and eight nights over Torridon and Skye on Scotland’s rugged western coast, for 1,530 EUR. And biketours.com have a guided bike & hike tour through Macedonia, eight nights starting at 1,994 EUR.
And for hardened bikers and hikers, Lost Earth Adventures offer a 15-day tour of the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalaya Mountains, with a high point at 5,416m altitude, for 2079-2195 EUR. “This is hands-down the best riding in the Himalaya,” the site promises. And you will not have to carry the bike up the mountain!