What do you get when you lock a boxer, a karate ninja, a judoka and Taekwondo fighter together in a cage? Right, it’s called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). It is sports entertainment’s latest big hit, and not only since the night when the boxing legend Floyd Mayweather stepped into the ring with MMA fighting star Conor McGregor. But why do I tell you all this? Well, there are certain parallels to cycling. What do you get when you put an Enduro rider, a Cross Country racer and a Roadie on a bicycle that is fun for each of them? “GRAVEL” is the answer.
A combination of technical and endurance riding, multiple surfaces, with Gravel there is something in it for everybody. Pedal power meets bike handling, the divisions between the different cycling disciplines start fading. Gravel bikes bring together types of riders that otherwise would have never met. Purebred mountain bikers now ride side by side with asphalt warriors and each can demonstrate their strengths. In the end, all have fun. Even though it’s not a race, each type of rider is looking to “knock out” the other in their own discipline, not unlike the MMA fighters.
Expedition into the Eifel, Ardennes and the High Fens
Together with 3T , we had the chance to re-discover and present our local trails in a new way, setting off on a bikepacking tour. For that purpose, 3T and other partners developed a really special format: An expedition on Gravel Bikes and set in a 3-day format. This demonstrates really well that bikepacking and gravel riding work nearly anywhere, be it San Francisco, the Moab desert, South Africa or in our case, the Eifel and Ardennes region on the border between Germany and Belgium. Bikepacking and gravel riding open a whole new micro-adventure world, right on bike-components’ doorstep.
Uli, who won a spot on the team and took part in the adventure, already wrote a great post on his experience as a rider. The beautiful scenery and the challenging terrain in combination with the bikepacking made for an awesome adventure. We have put together detailed route descriptions for each day’s stage with all the important information that you might need in order to follow us in our tracks.
Stage 1: Aachen – Heimbach / 82 km – 1393 vertical metres
We start at the bc store in the centre of Aachen. Make sure you drop in for a cappuccino before you set off. After a few kilometres, you hit the first singletrack. It is not the most challenging trail, but it provides you with a first idea of the capabilities of a Gravel Bike. We cross an old rail road track now turned bike path and continue our track into the hills of the Eifel, making our way towards the Wehebachtalsperre, a large man-made lake formed by a dam. The singletrack is starting to get more technically challenging here and all the riders now feature a bright grin on their mud-sprinkled faces. First we hit the dam and ride across it. Later on, we will return to the Wehebachtalsperre from a different angle on the rougher southern shore. We continue, going up for about 100 vertical meters parallel to the stream that feeds the lake. Then we hit another creek, the Tiefenbach and follow it down its valley on a wide gravel road that offers great views of the beautiful scenery.
At the foot of the descent, we turn into the Kalltal, another valley and around kilometre 56, we arrive at Mestrenger Mühle. The old mill turned café makes for a great rest stop. No worries, there is ample chance to ride off the extra calories just taken in. After crossing a small sleepy Eifel village, you hit a steep climb with about 200 vertical metres, leading you out of the narrow valley. The challenging accent requires all your concentration to keep your rear wheel from slipping.
Up on top, yet another challenge is waiting for you, maybe the toughest of the stage in form of steep, rock-covered singletrack that takes you down to the Rursee, another man-made lake. You can spot the water through the trees while descending the trail. The views are quite splendid, especially when the sun shines through the foliage. Now there are only a few kilometres before you reach Heimbach, the end of stage 1.
Stage 2: Heimbach – Ligneuville / 92 km – 1580 vertical metres
Stage 2 starts where stage 1 let off, in Heimbach. Again, we follow the eastern lake shore for about 20 kilometres. The riding is great fun as every turn offers a different view of the lake. Right before you leave the lake behind, there is a chance to stop for food and rest. Then it’s on into less inhabited territory along less travelled paths. After all, the event does not have expedition in its name for nothing.
After an epic uphill-trail that climbs for about 250 vertical metres, the route takes you down again to yet another lake, the Oleftalsperre. Now, ever steeper, unpaved logging roads lead you deeper and deeper into the thick pine forests. Without notice, you have crossed into Belgium before reaching a few little hamlets. You get to the northern shore of Lake Bütgenbacher See. It features great singletrack for gravel riding that goes all around, but since the stage is not finished, this is left for another day.
This part of Belgium is French speaking and the views across the rugged, but quaint landscape are awesome. The final kilometres leading into Ligneuville bring back memories of the one-day road classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege. They suck the last bit of energy out of your legs before you arrive after long and tough hours in the saddle. It’s a great stage finish though as the local cuisine and craft beer scene make up for the day’s suffering.
Stage 3: Ligneuville – Aachen / 78 km – 985 hm
The start of stage 3 does not hold back its cruel character. As soon as your tyres hit the road, it’s all uphill and a crude reminder of the previous day’s work. Then you get to Malmedy and you begin to follow the Warche River. Normally a little creek, when we were around it had grown to the actual size of a river, resulting in a few wet feet as we had to get on the other side of it. There is a little bridge for the faint hearted, but we crossed on two wheels and let this part of the stage earn its top rank in the epic rating. At kilometre 30, you are not far from Signals de Botrange, Belgium’s highest peak. And, surprise, surprise, there even is a little ski area to match it. The wind usually blows hard from the front here and will accompany you all the way down from the High Fens. At kilometre 43, you reach Eupen and with it the last man-made lake of the trip. Here is another chance to stop for coffee. We then follow side roads back to Würselen near Aachen.
After a total of 252 kilometres, 3958 vertical metres, ever changing views of the rolling hills of Eifel and Ardennes, and a ride flavoured with the different cultures and languages of Germany and Belgium, you are back where you started. Your legs and bodies are tired and in need of rest, but it was an awesome experience and you’ll have many stories to tell. The smiles on your faces will reflect this.
This micro-adventure gave us the chance to re-discover the Eifel, Ardennes and High Fens region in a new way. There are so many great places right in front of our doorstep, one just has to look for them. The beautiful Eifel region is classified as a national park and makes a visit worthwhile even from further away, be it for a day, a long weekend or even longer. There is always another gravel road to travel.
The featured route leads over unpaved roads for about 75% of the way. Cyclocross tyres (700c / 33 mm) are great, but wider tyres (700c 38-42mm or 27.5″ / 47mm) make for a more comfortable ride.
In regards to the weather, it can be sunshine in one moment and rain the other, so be prepared. Even in summer you want protection against wind and cold nights. Fall, winter and spring require more insulation.
Bring a GPS device for navigation and a power bank to charge it. Occasional closures during the hunting season are possible and might require alternative routing to get back on the track.