Travel Story: Heli-Biking with Specialized in Romania
AND… ACTION! A trip like this should be unforgettable! Four days in Romania with Specialized and TC.P XPower. Never before had I thought about the possibilities of riding my bike beyond Poland or Slovenia. So, when Sebastian asked me whether or not I was interested in biking through Romania with him, he didn’t need to ask twice. Romania? It sounded like an adventure to me!
I didn’t have the slightest clue what Romania would have in store for us, and the best thing about it was, neither did Sebastian! Naive and excited, we flew from Munich to Sibiu. It’s not just the trails, action, and adrenaline that excites me about biking, but also the places you travel to, and the people and cultures you get to know in the process.
Having returned from Romania, I still think about those amazing four days – proof that this trip was unbelievably exciting and fascinating. It takes time to review and process experiences, and we had more than enough excitement during this trip! Where should I start? Awesome trails, breathtaking views, the most potent twenty-niner on the market, a city filled with culture, helicopter rides, friendly and interesting people, delicious food, and a vibrant nightlife! In a nutshell: memories that last!
A world full of contrasts: as we traveled to Sibiu, my stereotypes of a poor, rough Eastern Europe were initially verified, only to vanish into thin air again upon seeing the skyline of a modern city appearing behind the rural suburbs.
We were picked up at the modern airport by the trip’s organizer TC.P xpower and went straight to the Ibis hotel. During the fifteen minutes it took to get there, we passed horse carriages filled with produce as well as Porsche Cayennes, Eastern Bloc architecture, and then Baroque buildings. We saw Romania in all its glory and contrasts.
The Ibis hotel was to be our base to return to after our excursions during the next couple of days. Not exactly a Romanian atmosphere, but a very convenient place for storing and preparing our bikes with its fenced-in backyard.
Our first tour brought us out into the middle of nowhere by shuttle. Waiting for us was pure freeriding at its finest – but on Enduro bikes of course. High-speed sections on open pastures, fields of scree, and the finest singletrack with uncountable corners made up a fun mix. The fact that these trails were also being used for motocross explained the rough patches along the way. With a full-face helmet and light protective shirt we blasted downhill with a healthy dose of fun and adrenalin. The Specialized S-Works Enduro 29 was definitely the right choice! On this demanding terrain, ridden on sight, the big wheels are an enormous advantage, providing more stability and security. We cruised down and up the trails on our 12-kilo mini-downhillers – a capability that was perfect for the 12-kilometer trail that was to be the highlight of the day.
For the rest of the day, and the following days to come, we were spared long, tough uphill passages! Not because we couldn’t handle them, but because organizer Thomas didn’t plan it into our schedule. Speaking of organization: during our trip, a paramedic with a KTM motocross bike was constantly on standby – just in case!
Our second tour led us to the Făgăraș Mountains. Travelling on an elevated highway, we dropped into the Bâlea pass where there is supposed to be a beautiful lake! Unfortunately thick fog and snow from the side of the road lay like a curtain over the window of our bus, so we will never know what lay outside. The first couple of hundred meters in altitude were descended on asphalt, but then turned into a Romanian downhill trail –used for annual races – where we found flow, steep passages, jumps, roots, and a fun, wet river crossing!
After two more runs on untouched, wild trails and an extensive lunch at a trout farm, we left for Sibiu again. Arriving back at the historic city center just in time for dinner, we finished off the day nicely with outstanding restaurants and good cuisine. The area has an active nightlife, fancy bars, pubs, and overcrowded clubs lure people in with good prices: You will pay around four Euros for a cocktail, and one Euro fifty cents for a beer in the best locations – and of course, cheaper is always possible. For dinner, we paid approximately 10 Euro for exquisite rump steaks (at the strongly recommended Restaurant Max).
100% fit the next morning (no joke!), we were standing on a lonely field about an hour by car from Sibiu’s city center. It was dead silent, broken every now and then by a creaking horse carriage or a howling engine sound coming from some Richie Rich. The obvious yawning gap between the social classes was omnipresent. We – as “extreme- tourists” – were right in the middle of it all. All of a sudden, there was a light hum in the air. That’s when we saw something at the horizon: a helicopter. A truly surreal sight!
Our bikes were carefully flown to the top of the mountain (a different helicopter came than planned). Our pilot wasn’t as careful though!
Our pilot could have easily played the role of James Bond’s archenemy. With masterfully exciting maneuvers, he made us scream as we zoomed perilously close to the mountaintops and dived into valleys – flying maneuvers that would have definitely been Hollywood-style with the addition of added gunfire. Awesome! The trails weren’t any less exciting. Rich in variety, they led us down the mountain through different vegetation and undergrowth. Moments of freedom, happiness, and satisfaction. It’s hard to tell which one was better – trail or helicopter?
Once the trail spat us out at the bottom of the mountain, after dropping 1000 meters in altitude and having a ton of fun, reality struck like lightning. Here they were again: the horse carriages, poor and simple living conditions, and rough roads. And we were, very unnaturally, right in the middle of it all, equipped with high-tech material which would cost an average Romanian a whole years salary. That’s how the questions about the meaning and use of life came up. Is ours a dream, a bubble? Far away from material abundance and high-tech, people seem to be less stressed and more modest.
Do we live our lives too fast in the Western world? Too hectic, the endless search for a good living standard, and still no satisfaction? How often do we complain about banalities in our everyday lives: “Sheesh! The last trail section could have flowed more than it did!” – that’s clearly a luxury problem.
Here, once again, I was reminded how lucky we are and that we should be grateful about all the things we are allowed and able to do.
Just like us, Romanians strive to gain status. We saw a Porsche, and one of our local guides told us that Romania is going through a change, and everyone who can is showing off their upgrades in social status. In our financial and social (!) development we might be ahead of Romania. Emancipation is still a new concept over there – actual rights of women and children, enforcement of compulsory education, the bad reputation of teachers, and smoking as a common amusement are only a few of the controversial topics in the EU Member State.
But I still think that we can learn from countries such as Romania. To be quite honest, I was a little jealous of the people in those villages, if I might say so. Here and in many parts of this country, time seemed to have stopped, or at least was running out a little slower. And here is our topic: time, a luxury that we rarely ever get to take advantage of in our structured everyday life. We neglect things that you really shouldn’t: family, yourself, or biking!
Back on the plane, thoughts were running wild. We had a little peace and quiet and a moment to reflect on everything that had happened over the last couple of days. So we have the memories of our adventures, which remind us to be more grateful for what we have. Money alone can’t make you happy – but a trip like this sure can! A break from your everyday life, a little adventure into unknown terrain that I still think about till this day – at the office…
Member of the European Union since 2007 and has the 7th largest population of the EU Member States (19 million). The currency is the Romanian leu (RON); 1 Euro equals about 4.5 RON. The official language is Romanian, which is pretty similar to Italian and Spanish. It’s in the Eastern European Time Zone, which is one hour ahead of the Central European Time Zone.
About Sibiu (Hermannstadt): Europe’s cultural capital in 2007 is located near the Southern Carpathians, has a population of 150,000, and its own airport. Sibiu was founded around 1150 by Cologne settlers and, to this day, has a strong German character – obvious from the architecture. There is even a German, weekly Hermannstädter newspaper, as well as German kindergartens, primary schools, and high schools. A shortage of skilled employees and an unemployment rate of 3% are proof of strong economic growth, not least because of Austrian and German multi-million Euro investments. Thus, companies such as Continental, Siemens AG, and Thyssen Krupp have their own factories in Sibiu.
Direct flights from Munich, Stuttgart or Vienna to Sibiu are available starting at 250€. Regarding cars: caution, Romanian drivers don’t know any kind of mercy and drive carelessly (using risky maneuvers to pass you). The infrastructure is bad, and there are almost no highways!
For Central Europeans the prices seem very cheap; for excellent food in the best restaurants in town we had to pay only half of what we would have paid in Germany in an average restaurant. Taking a cab is extremely cheap as well. The 15-minute ride from the hotel to the airport only cost 5 Euro!
More information: www.tcp-xpower.com
Read more stories in our ENDURO issues – free & digital, of course!
Photos: Christoph Bayer | Text: Robin Schmitt