Transylvania mountain bike trails

On the third week of summer holiday in Romania, I embarked on an overnight bike trip with Silviu and his college friends (Florin, Ionel and Nicolae) – “The Boys”. Last year, we did a day trip on Transcindrel and Transalpina national roads. This year, we explored the recently completed Transylvania mountain bike trails, a network of 100km of mountain bike trails, linking 8 Saxon villages. The trails traversed across forests, meadows, and rolling hills. Our itinerary was:

Day 1
Sighișoara – Aurel Vlaicu – Daia – Meșendorf – Viscri – Dacia – Rupea (49km + 18km)

Day 2
Rupea – Fișer – Bunesti – Criț –  Meșendorf – Grânari – Lovnic – Văleni – Făgăraș (62km)

Day 1 

Route and elevation profile of Sighișoara to Viscri, part of the Transylvania mountain bike trails.
Train ride from Sibiu – Sighișoara

From Sibiu, we took the 6am train to Sighișoara, via  Copșa Mică. I had heard from Silviu only disparagements about the Romanian train system (endless delays, out-dated and slow trains) . As such, I was expecting all sorts of train mishaps.

Looking fresh (and smelling) at 6am at Sibiu Train Station while awaiting for the arrival of train to take us to the start of our route.

The first train to Copșa Mică was late for 30 minutes, which was better than I expected. In addition, the train seemed to be relatively new.

Bike storage on the first train from Sibiu to Copșa Mică.

The connecting train to Sighișoara was almost on time. However, this time round, our storage space was so cosy that we had to stack the bikes up.

Our 5-bike train ticket meant a cosy space in the corridor to stack up the bikes. The Boys had to take turns to ensure that the bicycles do not tumble, and shift them if any passenger needed to pass through.

 

Sighișoara to Viscsri to Rupea

Our initial plan was to ride through Saxon village of Criț , and replenish our fluids before heading to Viscri, giving us a total of 74km on the first day. However, by the time we reached the junction down to Criț , most of us were really exhausted. Our progress was slower than expected. All we wanted was to get to Viscri, the last village on the Transylvania mountain bike trails, as soon as possible. At Viscri, we would have a proper meal before heading out on 17km of mainly asphalt to Rupea for the hotel.

In short, we cut out the 15km deviation and rode directly to Viscri. A direct route from Sighișoara to Viscri means that there were no means for us to replenish our victuals and fluids. No villages nor streams along this 49km of Transylvania mountain bike trails. Fortunately all of us had enough food to last till Viscri, albeit we ran low on fluids.

Arrival of the boys at Aurel Vlaicu, after the first climb from Sighișoara. A climb of 100m/D+ over 1.5km on gravel and asphalt. The first 7km from Sighișoara was mainly on gravel and asphalt, before switching to dirt roads and forest trails.

 

heading towards the forest
After riding for about 7km of asphalt and gravel, we headed now towards the forest.
Forest trails 

It was a very nice shady green forest with trails strewn with little pebbles, and thickly padded by dead leaves and branches at certain sections. From the perspective of a trail runner,  the trails were non-technical and extremely runnable. On the other hand, from the view of a MTB newbie, it was another story. For a novice like me, the size of every turn, bump, pit and obstacle on the trails are magnified ten times. You can imagine how the whole ride is like for me – a roller coaster that makes stomach clenches overtime.

Roller coaster ride

Some of the trails were narrower and lay on the edge of a [slope]. If I did not pay extra attention, a trip on a stubborn rock or branch would mean tumbling down the slope. There were also muddy sections and big logs across the trails that I had to stop the bike in time. If not, I would either be stuck in the mud, or crashed into the logs.

The turns

They were not hairpin turns. Yet, for a newbie like me, I found it hard to make a proper swerve, without getting flunk off the bike.

Ditch crossings

What I called “The ditch crossings”.  I would drop sharply into the ditch and then leveraging on the downhill momentum to push the bike out to the other side. Initially I was afraid that I would be stuck in the ditch, but I eventually got the hang of it.

Undulations

I did not terribly mind the ascents as the quadriceps strength I gained from my running was a great help. It was the descents I hated – my achilles in cycling. As previously mentioned, grisly images of me being flung out of the bike pass through my mind at each fast descent. I could climb better than an average biker due to my endurance training, yet descents make me sick to my stomach. Descents on uneven roads like that of the forest trails were worse.

Mosquitoes and flies

I was constantly swarmed by flies and mosquitoes and often found myself having to ward off the circling flying creatures with one hand while on the bike. These cunning managed to slid behind my sunglasses and entered into my mouth (protein supplement for me). They also left traces of themselves on my limbs – the red, itchy bites. I was amazed that I did not fall from the bike while fending of these pesky insects.

My poor arms

As I was tensed throughout the ride, holding on to the handlebars as if my life depended on it, my arms seemed to have a tougher workout than my legs. The unwieldy 14kg of aluminium bicycle (smallest bike as compared to those of the guys, yet the heaviest) did not improve my situation. At the end of Day 1, my arms were so tired that I could feel the fatigue during my sleep, and that even holding my cutlery became a chore.

Mountain bike trails in forest
Man-made trails in the forest. This particular section of trail seems easy to ride on, even for MTB newbie like me. However, not all the sections are like that!

 

Transylvania mountain bike trails are well-marked in the forest.

 

Silviu returning from a scouting mission.

 

That’s me, in the middle of meadows. It was really an idyllic sight with wild flowers strewn everywhere.

 

The Boys. Serious discussion on finding the correct directions.

 

End of Day 1. Well deserved dinner at Viscri after 49km of mountain bike trails, 900m of elevation gain.

Day 2 

Rupea to Făgăraș + Detour
Route and Elevation Profile of Rupea to Făgăraș.

The original itinerary was to cycle 40km on asphalt roads, directly from Rupea to Făgăraș, reaching Făgăraș by early afternoon. This would leave us plenty of idle time as the train for Sibiu was scheduled at 7pm train to Sibiu. I was hoping for an easy day, lazing around at terraces, after the body aching ride from the previous day.

Change of itinerary

Hélas, my hopes were dashed. Over breakfast, Silviu and Nicolae suggested taking a detour to the villages of Criț and Meșendorf, extending the route by 20 km. The detour would provide an opportunity to visit fortified churches in these Saxon villages. I could either join Florin and Ioan who preferred to stick to the initial plan, and spend the rest of the afternoon in a pool in Făgăraș, or join Silviu and Nicolae.

Fear of missing out (the infamous FOMO) on the fortified churches and the idea of spending the afternoon in the pool did not strike me as particularly interesting, I chose to join the latter. Besides, they promised the route would be on mainly asphalt, and perhaps some gravel, but no forest trails. I would break down and cry at just the mere thought of spending a few more nerve wreaking hours on the forest trails in the company of flies and mosquitoes.

Lowest point

At mid-way mark, my energy fell to the lowest point of the 2-day ride. It was also around that time we hit the forest trails in Meșendorf. It was supposedly easier to cycle in the forest with the shade. However, the stress of tackling the trails, and being immediately swarmed by flies and mosquitoes, thoroughly demoralised me.  At one point, I was cursing non-stop at the boys for misleading me into taking up the extra 20km.

The Boys were generally pretty good in directions. However, once in a while…The Boys got a little lost, after asking directions from a local kid for directions to Criț .

 

In Bunesti. We cycled on a narrow trail across extensive maize fields.

 

In Bunesti. Traversed through different types of terrains, including pushing the bikes across a raggety-looking bridge.

 

Criț. Cafe terrace.
View from the cafe terrace, next to the Fortified Church at Criț. It feels like being in a terrace in one of the popular wine regions in California or South Australia.

 

Criț. Fortified Church
In the Fortified Church at Criț.

 

Fortified Church in Meșendorf. It was closed. We had to climb up a longish gravel road to get to the church, which was unfortunately closed on Sunday.

 

Colourful Saxon village houses lined up neatly along the dusty roads in Meșendorf.

 

Văleni. Fuel stop. Pepsi.
Fuel stop: a shot of sugar from Pepsi before the 1.7km / 5% climb in Văleni.

 

Final destination. Făgăraș
End of the mountain bike trip. Standing in front of the Făgăraș Castle in Făgăraș.
Got out of the maize fields and headed towards Grânari .

 

Battle scars : Fallen thick branches on the trails and the prickly bushes