As a kid I was brought up on cycle touring. We did everything from short bikepacking trips in Norfolk where we lived to big adventures (for a 12yr old) in Northern France. I remember lots of little stories about them but most of my memories got lost in the 15yrs I was a professional cyclist travelling the world for ‘work’. It wasn’t until after I retired, that adventurous non-competitive tours suddenly became appealing again and the first one that really grabbed my attention was Munich to Venice.
Two years after first seeing the signposts while out riding in my hometown of Munich this idea was finally becoming a reality and I was so very excited. My husband, Stef, had meticulously planned the route using a combination of the designated route from the official website, Komoot and booking.com. It may seem easy to just follow a route, but it is 590km over 7 days, plus every hotel has to include a cot for my 2yr old, some form of bike storage, be almost on route and have a restaurant to avoid further km’s in the evenings. There are sections of the route over the Dolomites with a distinct lack of hotels, my son needs breaks every 2hrs from the trailer which need to be combined with food stops and entertainment like rock throwing, trees or a kids playground, so not so simple as it initially seems.
All the bikepacking gear
"We got the packing pretty dialled using just a double set of rear panniers with top bag plus 2 handlebar bags from the Dryline range."
I also had space in the back of the trailer for all my son’s clothes and toys. The hardest thing about packing is the fear of missing something, leading to looking through everything, packing it, emptying it, repacking it, then finally checking the weather and repacking again just in case. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t going to use everything I’d packed but it turns out I used all but one item of clothing, you never know what the weather is like at 1600m altitude. Fortunately, I never had to use the thermal jacket, the heaviest item I’d packed. Normally I’d be gutted about this, but I’d packed it in Stef’s pannier, so happy days! We found the top extender of the pannier great for stashing a waterproof each for any quick weather changes as the last thing you want to do is open the waterproof pannier in the rain to find your jacket.
I chose to take 3 sets of cycling kit with me in case we struggled to dry clothes after hand washing our kit each day. So I alternated between the Progel Undershorts (with the Esker Women’s Trail Shorts as the outer) and the Progel Plus Cargo Waist Shorts. As the padding is the same across both I knew they would be very comfortable and despite not riding back-to-back days that often in a long time, I never had to think about comfort… it just worked perfectly.
Making the most of the days
Despite the pessimistic iPhone weather reports we actually had some of the most glorious weather over our bikepacking trip with just 2hrs of riding in the rain over the 7days. It was perfect really, shorts and jersey everyday with maybe a gilet to start in the mornings. My son wakes up at 6am and as we are all in a room together our days started at 6am too, so we were able to hit the road around 9am every day so we would arrive in our hotels between 2 and 3pm missing both the hottest parts of the day and the crazy mountain thunderstorms.
I would say that the route was about 90% bike path, trail or bike designated road which never crossed into busy roads. Komoot could give you the exact stats but it was around 30% gravel which was very easy to ride. It also stuck pretty close to rivers and used old train lines so the gradient of a lot of the trip was really gentle; sure it was wearing but mostly really nice climbing. On the second day of our trip, we finished with a 6km climb out of Innsbruck which was brutal but my husband and I had agreed we would both ride at our own pace and meet at our hotel at the top. I have an e-bike that assists up to 150watts depending on the setting you are using. When riding over 26kmph the engine cuts out so if you ride faster than this you don’t use any battery. This is possibly not how most e-bike owners think, however my brain says if I make Stef ride the valley on the front at over 26kmph, by the time we hit the climb after 75km I’ll still have a solid amount of battery left and won’t feel the 35kg of child/luggage/trailer I’m dragging behind me. He kept up his end of the deal, and I slammed through the remainder of that battery and loved every minute of the climb, taking a good 20 minutes on GC on Stef in the process!
That night in the hotel the owner told us she wouldn’t take any of her six children or three grandchildren in a trailer on the section of road we were to ride the next day taking us over the Brenner pass; the old road that is now replaced by an incredible structure of toll road/tunnel that is the main motorway from this area of Austria into Italy. If you’ve ever driven in that area of Europe you will have been on it for sure. She said we could take a train and would be able to bypass the busy road and take out a 10km climb to Brenner town. We thought about it a lot, as our child is our everything and it would be selfish to put him in harm’s way just for my personal sense of achievement. We, however, agreed that we would start the road and see if we thought it was OK, and if not we would turn back immediately and get the train. Bearing in mind this was at the beginning of day 4 and we still hadn’t been overtaken by a single lorry at this point we felt fairly secure.
Well, it turns out Saturday morning the road is empty until the final few hundred metres where the first motorway exit is. If we had done this route alone we wouldn’t have even questioned that road in the first place. Stef rode like a legend sticking close behind me (even though the trailer gives zero wind protection) the whole way to the top. There was one moment, that may have involved a swear word or two from him, when I was pointing out the incredible architecture of the Brenner pass, and I felt potentially he wasn’t enjoying the climb as much as I was. However, once we crossed into Italy we joined this amazing gradual flowing bike path/old railway line that was absolutely gorgeous and the suffering was entirely forgotten.
"The Dolomites section was stunningly beautiful to ride through and no amount of pictures could capture the colours and vast nature of these rocky mountains."
The route through here had only been open a few weeks as they had very late snow this year so the gravel roads had been freshly graded giving them that strange bumpy feeling that doesn’t have a rhythm like normal gravel. We did end up using the road in a couple of places as at this time of year they just seemed empty. Despite our fear of not finding decent food stops due to bank holidays and Sundays in Europe, we never went without. We even found some of the best pizza I’ve had in a long time right next to a fantastic kids playground, in the middle of nowhere. To be fair on day five everything tasted good, I guess it could have been hunger talking.
We had anticipated that we would encounter slightly chaotic driving and busy roads in Italy, especially as the final day was through Treviso, Mestre and Venice, all built up areas. However, somehow the route planners had done an amazing job and once we hit Treviso we just followed a river for 50km to Venice. There is even a bike path on the only 5km road/train bridge that takes you into the centre. As we got to the bus station and car parks we were surprised to find 150 bike lockers in an underground carpark with sign posts just for cyclists. Each locker was specially made to accommodate a bike with luggage and were really cheap to rent. It is illegal to take a bike beyond the train station in Venice for obvious reasons and we didn’t book a hotel there, instead we stayed on the mainland as we didn’t want anything to happen to the bikes. If we had known about these lockers we would have stayed for sure. Even taking an adventurous toddler into Venice for the day was nowhere near as scary as I had imagined it would be. Prams are also not a thing with so many little bridges, so I ended up carrying him for 8km giving my poor legs another day’s workout.
The overall bikepacking experience
"I genuinely enjoyed every moment of the bikepacking trip and was sad when it came to an end. Everything lived up to my expectations and it all went so well."
Sascha came out of his shell with strangers for the first time in his life and we met some lovely people along the way. The train home was just as beautiful, and we even rode back from the train station to our house in daylight. We all loved the experience, and I would highly recommend it to everyone from the long-distance adventurer to the family wanting to make lasting memories. It was nowhere near as tough as I thought it would be and the provisions along the way out-weighed all my expectations. We plan to do the first day and a half again with an overnight on Tegernsee lake as they had a real ferry for a playground! I think it would also make a really fun group adventure and could easily be done in five days as the route suggests. Having only ever done competitive cycling or training Stef has officially caught the bike packing bug and is currently looking into our next adventure. He’s thinking Prague to Budapest. I’ve created a monster.
- Ribble CGR ebike with range extender
- Cannondale CAADX
- Thule chariot cross trailer
- 2 Dryline rear panniers
- 1 Dryline handlebar bag
- 1 Dryline top bag
- 1 Vortex front bag
- Esker Women’s Trail Shorts
- Progel Women’s Undershorts
- Progel Plus Women’s Cargo Waist Shorts
- All Roads Women’s Short Sleeve Jersey
- Endurance Women’s Short Sleeve Jersey
- Icon Women’s Short Sleeve Jersey
- All Roads Women’s Lightweight Jacket
- Ridge Pertex Women’s Waterproof Jacket
Komoot planned route: https://www.komoot.com/tour/733775073
Venice bike lockers: https://www.veneziaunica.it/en/content/bici-park
Train: https://www.bahn.de (bikes have to be booked in advance)