My-XPDTN: Stoneman Miriquidi on Exploros

My-XPDTN: Stoneman Miriquidi on Exploros

We are a bunch of friends around Kolovna (www.kolovna.cz ), cycling related business operating in the Czech Republic. We were stoked to become official dealers of 3T Bikes and got our hands on our personal Exploros or Stradas. After a few couple of rides and the lifting of pandemic restrictions, we felt it is the right time to do an overnighter to put our Exlporos through their paces.

I suggested to ride the Stoneman Miriquidi (https://www.stoneman-miriquidi.com), which is German leg of the Stoneman project (https://www.stoneman.bike/), created by the MTB legend Roland Stauder. I rode Miriquidi in very slushy, wet and cold October conditions in 2017 (on an enduro bike), but I felt that summer conditions might be perfect for a gravel bike.

The Miriquidi route, located in the Ore Mountains at the German / Czech border, is 162km long with 4,400m of altitude gain. The principle is simple. You collect your starting pack at one of the local partners (hotel, pub or a tourist office) along the route and complete the full circle at your own pace. There are three levels depending on your fitness: golden, silver, or bronze for one, two, or three days ride respectively. As part of the package you receive a plastic card that you pierce atop of 9 peaks that you need to conquer. Upon presentation of the fully pierced card at your starting point, you are officially recorded as a Stoneman.

The Stoneman concept is very popular among the German speaking MTB scene and proved to be very beneficial for the local tourism. Other Stoneman routes are MTB specific and they are located in the Italian Dolomites (the original Stoneman), Austria (Taurista), Switzerland (Glaciara), and Belgium (Arduena). Kolovna would like to be part of the new openings in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, stay tuned.

Day 1

We wanted to depart from Prague pretty early to have more time at the route, but as usual, we started picking up delays on every step. In the end, after a 2.5 hours ride, we parked at the Prijut 12 bar in Oberwiesenthal. Prijut 12 is a wooden hut operated by super friendly MTB and freeski/snow crew, who are deeply involved in the Stoneman project. We did the pre-registration online, so the collection process was easy. When the Prijut 12 guys figured out we will be riding gravel bikes we sensed little surprise in their faces.  “Cool, but you know there is a blackline downhill in the Rabenberg trail park in front of you!” “Well, yes, worse come worse we walk it down”. We said Tschüss to our friends at the Prijut 12 and around 11:00 AM we took off.

The route starts immediately with a steep asphalt climb through the town and towards the woods. We exchanged few dirty comments about our 1x gearing but continued to climb. Rosta forgot to fill his water bottles so he fixed this in the last hotel above the village. We took our time to test the fixing of our bags in the abandoned skatepark. After this exercise we were good to go. Actually, first 10km are mostly downhill on well-maintained gravel / asphalt wood roads. You only need to be careful about wood harvesting machinery but otherwise this section is perfect for a speedy downhill pursuit with occasional flat parts. What comes down must go up, so we started to climb towards Bärenstein (898m). The final part is pretty steep but asphalt road so manageable. At the peak, you find the checking machine together with a large map of the next section.

The information and signage posts are perfect. At the check point you always find a large size map of the next section, including the profile, length and altitude along with the signage of interesting spots as well as food and lodging possibilities. During the route, you find little Stoneman signs showing next turn.

The next section towards Pöhlberg (832m) was pretty easy – 16 km and 330m of climbing. It again started with a lengthy downhill part followed by a steep climb through deep woods. It was raining heavily a few days back so certain sections were pretty muddy. The last climb towards Pöhlberg was set in beautiful old abandoned forest road but unmanageable to ride. Steep and slippery so we converted our riding into hike a bike. At least there was a restaurant with nice terrace and beautiful panorama overlooking long fields and forests. We decided to stop for a quick lunch, which turned out to be a mistake. We were hoping that “Stoneman special spaghetti” will be served fast, but after 30 minutes we were still hungry looking at neighboring tables being served. The pasta was pretty close to high school canteen nightmares. Next time we would either pass or order different food (which looked OK to be fair).

Descent from Pöhlberg was quite steep but not technical. After a few hundred meters of singletrail we landed on a nice asphalt road that continued for a while. We let the brakes off and enjoyed long downhills. With filled stomachs and beautiful weather, the mood was high and we repeated among ourselves how life is beautiful from gravel bike’s seat. The section from Pöhlberg towards Scheibenberg (807m) had similar profile like to previous one, with 17km and 370m of climbing. However, the final climb was preceded with a technical mud and roots galore. It would have been easier on MTB, but we enjoyed these moments challenging ourselves in the funky climbing sections. It was actually nice change from gravel and asphalt sections. While I was the only one who cleaned the uphill trial section of wet roots, Lukas was the only one who managed to climb the near final steep ramp. On top of the climb we rested between fresh piled wooden blocks. From there, there it was only a few hundred meters of asphalt climb towards the checkpoint. You can get food on top of the hill but with a slight delay we continued immediately.

Afternoon heat is on
Afternoon heat is on
climbs are steep
climbs are steep

The longest section of the day (37km and 920m climb) was ahead of us. From Pöhlberg you take a steep rocky singletrail descent. It would be great to plow it through full speed on a fully, but one needs to be careful on a gravel. Nevertheless, the Exploros held up decently. Surprisingly, we had to climb again. The climb towards the Hundsmarter (848m) dam was brutal. Not really steep but Michal who accompanied us put the pedal to the metal and we decided to suck on his back wheel and push ourselves. The climb ended at a large artificial dam on the hilltop. The dam has a nice circle road with excellent surface and it is often used by roller skaters and cyclists. After we regrouped we were delighted to have a couple of snacks before a fast descend towards the village of Pöhla followed by the next climb.

I named the Pöhla climb “heartbreaker” back in 2017. It starts with a brutally steep asphalt ramp. With 40T in front, I had to employ Sagan’s uphill zig zag slalom technique in order to continue. After the initial ramp, the road flattens from “brutal” to “steep” and continues for a few kilometers. We surpassed a number of mountainbikers’ groups pushing their bikes uphill. In the end the climb continues through open pastures where you are exposed to sun or rain, depending on your day. With over 60km in your feet, this average climb (on paper) can turn into a nightmare. Luckily, we had good mindset and cleared it off quite comfortably.

The next stop is the village of Rittersgrün with a fantastic surprise pitstop. The local family reserved one part of their garden and set up a self service support buffet for the Stoneman riders. You can use fresh water or take cold sodas and snack from the fridge in consideration for your voluntary donation. They even provided lounge chairs and free wifi. This was true miracle at around 6PM and before the last climb to the Rabenberg Trailcenter.  We took a little break and enjoyed ice cold Cokes with A One Nutrition energy bars to boost our stamina. The climb towards Rabenberg starts without any compromise right from the Rittersgrün. Steep asphalt is followed by gravel sections. The last third is quite flat and it feels great to start seeing enduro riders with knee pads along the route. You know you are close to the top.

At the Rabenberg Sportpark we met Tomas, our photographer for the next day and discussed our plans. We decided to stick to the official route and tackle all downhill trails ahead. The top Flowing Ten trail is nice and flowy, and you can let the Exploros go even with bags. We carved through berms and pumped over the humps with great joy and excitement in the golden hour light. Even if tired, you wish this flow never stops. The lower Kyril and Garage Trails are black technical enduro trails. There are few steep and rocky parts, definitely not with gravel in mind. We trusted our bikes and instincts and just let go. The Exploros made it all with pride and we never walked them on our way down. Chapeau 3T!

The trails end in Erlabrunn, which is a small historical medical town with renowned clinics and hospitals. We headed immediately to the Alte Schleiferei hotel for a well-deserved diner. The waiter had no problem with worn out cyclists and served us on an outside terrace. The hotel is a Stoneman partner and they brew their own craft beer. After the whole day we dumped the “special” schnitzels and fried cheeses with all the pleasure. The beer was excellent and we felt in heaven. With stomachs filled with so much love we knew we are free to ride this evening as much and as far as we wanted. We left the restaurant around 9:20PM and decided to head towards Sosa, the next check point, against the night and go to sleep when we find a decent spot or become too tired.

We rode about 12 km and 280m, combination of asphalt and fast compact gravel. The whole section flew through forests and after we reached the peak (891m) the dark set completely. We put the lights on and commenced our night descent. It was very special – flashing lights, fast shadows and blind cornering on  a fantastic gravel road. We were pissing happiness. On our left hands side we occasionally saw the Sosa dam, on the right hand side deep woods. The Sosa dam is protected drinking water reservoir so we wanted to stay in a sufficient distance for the night. We found a great spot above the huge parking lot, overlooking village of Sosa. The illuminated church tower provided a nice nocturnal scenery. We quickly set up our camp, which was really just sleeping bags and mats. We had no tents or tarps but the first row of trees provided sufficient shelter from the morning dew. We shared a quick round of rum shots instead of dessert and went to sleep. With plenty of biting insects the night was not the easiest.

Day 2

The sun came out just opposite of our campsite of us around 4:20AM. We climbed out of sleeping bags shortly after 6:00AM, ate some snack and lazy packed our stuff, making sure we leave no traces of the night camp.

At around 7:00AM we started to ride. At the parking lot we met a bunch of MTB guys attacking the golden route. They rode well over 2 hours already. The morning at the dam wall was quiet and beautiful. We mark the cards and continued.

This first section was very short, only 9km and 270m of climbing. The sun was out, and we rode via pastures and trees, still in the early morning autopilot mood. Finally, we reached Eibestock. We noticed a hotel dedicated to horse riding, with a sun covered terrace. We asked for a coffee but realized they also serve full buffet breakfast to non-guest. For EUR 10 it was a non brainer and in second, we were enjoying a rich breakfast. After we finished, we completed a few hundred of meters to the check point (650m). The team spirits were high and we immediately continued to the next stop – Auersberg (1020m). This section was short (10km) with a punchy final climb (444m). Auersberg provides amazing panoramas and plenty of opportunities to rest outside in the picknick areas or inside in a restaurant. We stopped for a cola and debated our past bike experiences.

The next section towards Rittersgrün was a gravel bike paradise, 27km and only 390m of climb. Downhills were mostly on forest roads, climbing and flat sections on awesome gravel roads. We knew we had to enjoy this part to the limit as the last section was uphill only. Long gravel straights fired up spontaneous sprints and other energy wasting stupidities. It was pure blast to ride our Exploros here.

About half way we stopped at the Czech / German border town of Potůčky with a bizarre combination of East German fast food culture, Czech-Vietnamese flea markets and roaring motorbikes. We enjoyed ice cream and said bye to Tomas (thanks for pics and kudos for keeping up on his 25kg bikepacking steel Kona [*he was successful junior XC racer, which explains it all]). We climbed back to the Rabenberg Sportpark and cheered bikers going in opposite direction.

This part pretty much copies yesterday’s route from the other direction. It is quite interesting to see people suffering the climbs you did yesterday. The section ends again in Rittersgrün, the old good garden service buffet point. We filled the water again, ate snacks and took off. It’s pretty much all uphill from here. The last part was 15km with 780m of climbing divided into two hills.

We split into two groups. I followed Michal, the mountainbiker, as I did not want to waste too much time cooling down. Lukas and Rosta chilled a little longer. The beginning is quite mellow, with one kilometer of climb, followed by a slight descend. The real climbing starts only thereafter, good gravel road but 8km and 400m gain. It is not so bad as you are partially hidden in the forest, but you know you will lose about 150m in 1 km during a short singletrail descent before the last climb. We somehow took wrong turn and climbed back to the loop start. We realized it after about 10 minutes, so we had to go back the same way. The final climb is about 5km and 350m. The beginning was reasonable, with decent forest road.

The unnecessary mistake and the extra effort took its tall and I got panic hunger. Fortunately, Michal carried some spare bar to pump me up. I was back on track but way slower. We part away before the last, sun exposed ramp towards Fichtelberg (1213m). The end was brutal, steep with beating sun and tourists / hikers along the road (partially cheering, partially questioning your soundness), but beautiful. I decided to ride all the way and not walk, so I had to stop two or three times to rest and cool down. The Fichtelberg was packed with people, tourists, motorbikers and cyclists of all kinds. Finally, we regrouped within 20 minutes period on the top and enjoyed good peak beer with a weird sausage / potato salad combo. We were super happy to conquer the Stoneman on gravel bikes.

After refueling we commenced the final descend to Oberwiesnthal. The downhill copies the old abandoned bobsleigh track. Had we had more time or our photographer, we would probably ridden at least part of the bobsleigh track. Finally, after about 28 hours we arrived at the Prijut 12 again.

We presented our cards, claimed the eternal glory of being silver Stoneman heroes and enjoyed the finisher beer before the final photo. After a little bike Tetris game we packed everything to our van set off towards Prague.

While the Stoneman was designed for mountain bikes, the recent new 2020 C route can be utterly recommended for the Exploros. In fact, we believe this is pure gravel ride.  Be prepared for a few technical sections, but if you are used to trail riding, it won’t be any problem. Worse come worse you can walk down (or up) two or three times. If you are around, it is definitely worth travelling and conquering it.

Practicalities and tech

Our bikes: Martin rode the custom Exploro Team with 1x GRX drivetrain, Torno cranks and Discus Plus i28 LTD 650B wheels. Lukas rode the stock Exploro Pro GRX, right out of box. Both bikes had 40T x 11-42 gearing. While we hoped for an easier gearing in some steep ramps or technical sections, we would not really change the front rings to 38T just because of the Stoneman. GRX worked great and we experienced no issues whatsoever.

Tires: Martin rode WTB Resolute 650 x 42 in tubeless. Lukas rode WTB Ridley 700 x 37 with stock tubes. We were both happy with the tire choice. No puncture occurred despite some funky rocky sections.

Gear: Martin rode in Isadore kit (Utility Bibs and Signature merino jersey). Lukas rode in Maloja jersey and Kolovna bibs made by Kalas. We were super lucky with the weather and never used any additional layer.

Packs: Martin packed into Topeak front loader bar bag (8l) and back loader saddle bag (6l). Saddle bag was used for sleeping bag and rain gear, while front bag for an inflatable matt and all other clothes and stuff. Apidura Bolt on fuel pack carried Martin’s snacks and charging device. Lukas used Vaude’s front loader bar bag (9l) and back loader saddle bag (12l).

Route and best time to ride: June/July is the best because of long days. Stoneman is doable in one day, but you will have more fun during an overnighter like we did (regardless if you camp or stay in a hotel). The route is officially open from early May to late October. Check the Stoneman webpage for precise map and all details of the route.

Lodging/food: Check Stoneman website for partner accommodation providers. There are many food options along the course and cyclists are more than welcome. However, carry at least 1.5 liter water capacity to avoid issues, in particular during summer time.

Final shout out: 3T Bikes for making such rad bikes, Kolovna team for supporting this idea, A One nutrition for snack and fuel, Roland Stauder, the MTB legend, Stoneman founder, and last not least to our friend Philipp Heinrich, Oberwiesenthal local and true mountaineer, who used to be in charge of the international Stoneman expansion but unfortunately ended up in hospital only a few days before our ride took place. We are with you man!

Riders: Martin Matula (@matulatorr), Lukas Zahradnicek (@lukaszahradnicek)

Text: Martin Matula

Photo: Tomas Slavik (@tomasslavik_), Martin and Lukas.