Saturday 4 June 2011

Riding the Siegtalradweg, kind of

At my British friend Nick’s suggestion, today we planned to ride a section of the 140 km (or 128 km, depending on the source) bicycle path running alongside the Sieg River, to the east of Bonn in the Bergisches Land. Nick and I had ridden a section of this near Eitorf and I thought it would be a nice relaxing ride and a way to introduce my colleague, Henri, who is new to road cycling and has just purchased a very nice Storck Vision Lite bicycle, to the joys of riding in Germany. All of the websites I looked at suggested that the bike route was pretty flat as it followed the river valley and this would be a nice introduction. I figured out a route starting in Betzdorf that would allow us to get a tailwind as we headed west towards Bonn and I was hoping to ride 80-100 kms, finishing in mid-afternoon.

As Robert Burns noted, the best laid plans ‘o mice an’ men gang aft a-gley and our plans to went somewhat awry. Nick decided he would ride from his home in Seelscheid-Neunkirchen to meet us at the Betzdorf train station, which we arrived at after a transfer from Cologne which all went very smoothly. Nick’s ride was not so smooth since he began at 7 am and discovered every hill (including some 14% grades) between his home and Betzdorf, arriving with nearly 70 km in his legs and nearly 1,000 m of climbing!

After a late start, we realized that we could not find the Sieg bike path and heading in a likely direction along a river discovered we were following the Heller, thus keeping the Lost Boy tradition of immediately going in the wrong direction alive in Europe. Turning around and going back through Betzdorf, we headed westwards through some very busy streets as everyone in Betzdorf was going shopping but the traffic almost immediately evaporated and we found ourselves on an excellent road, the Landstrasse 62, that brought us quickly along the floodplain of the Sieg and even through some forests.

We had been told that the path itself had not been constructed everywhere and really only began near Hamm/Sieg. The road we were on was well-marked and we could make good time, so we were not complaining. It was framed by hills that had been excavated over the ages for coal. The road took us through Wissen, where Germany’s saddest railway station exists, being located under a series of concrete overpasses and consisting of a single ticket vending machine next to the tracks. We eventually found a place to get onto the paved path along the river but it kept coming back up (usually up a steep incline) and then at one point we took a turn along what was supposed to be our bike route but turned into something quite different

Once again we followed a river along a road that began in poor condition but improved. It clearly had almost no traffic ever and we were surprised to pass a nice-looking Gasthaus. Where did the customers come from? But then the fun was over as we realized we were heading in the wrong direction entirely. We decided to try and get to Hamm/Sieg and get back on course but this required climbing the most difficult hill of the day for us from the hamlet of Bruchertseifen up to Roth, some 120 m vertical in only 2 kms of climbing. My Basso was meant for flatter roads than this so I did not go up in a hurry, although I was eventually able to catch up to Henri for the mountain points.

After passing through Hamm/Sieg rather quickly, we crossed the Sieg at Au (!) and found the path again and were able to follow it for quite a while for a change. In Windeck we realized that we were getting thirsty in the hot sun so we decided to look for a place to get a cold drink and possibly some food. There was a ruined castle to see as well so we went uphill a bit to take a look.

Drinks were served at a place next to a 1789 watermill that had been restored and looked very nice. We had some alcohol-free beer which was quite refreshing and which will not tire you out in the heat of the day and exertion of riding.

While Henri and Nick relaxed a bit, I turned the Basso uphill and made my way as far as I could to the castle ruins, having to walk the last section of road which was steep dirt. The view was quite spectacular over the Sieg Valley and the castle ruins themselves were impressive. It must have been quite impressive to look at, the foundations of the towers indicating it was a major fortification. The sign on the wall that gave the detailed history of the castle suggested its heyday was from the 13th to the 17th Centuries, when it was pretty much destroyed by cannon during the 30 Years’ War. Typically, it then became a quarry for the locals needing building materials. A fancy villa was built next to it in the 1850s but this was completely destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II and there are not even any foundations left.

Leaving Windeck, we continued all the way to Eitorf, first along the bike path and then along the main road without getting lost. We caught up with a group of four cyclists who were managing a really pathetic paceline but moving pretty well nonetheless. We sat in and, when two of the riders jumped, we went with them. It was fun but then they all went their separate ways as we came to Eitorf. We had made some good progress so it was time to celebrate! Returning to our favourite café in Eitorf, we had some sandwiches and liquid replenishment before walking around the corner for a well-deserved (particularly in Nick’s case) ice cream.

Leaving Eitdorf, our navigation of the Sieg did not go so well as we headed towards Hennef, first going into a dead-end and then winding up on a mountain bike trail that saw some walking, although Nick managed this quite well with his mountain bike experience and Henri looked good with his 23 mm tires too. The Basso is actually set up to ride this kind of “road” but my lack of experience on the trail made me nervous. And strangely enough during our ride on the mountain bike trail we had some very light (and rather welcome in the heat) rain.

Eventually we found our way to Hennef and the railway station where we met Nick’s girl friend, Nadja, who had taken mercy on him so that he did not have to add to his 160 kms and 1900 m of climbing for the day and could get a ride home without climbing four more ridges. After we enjoyed some more cold alcohol-free Weissbier at the surprisingly nice station café, we parted company. Henri and I took the S-Bahn to Köln Deutz-Messe, where we transferred to an absolutely packed Regio train for the mercifully-short 30 minute ride back to the main station in Düsseldorf.

Although Henri and I only rode about 90 kms and just over 750 m vertical compared to Nick’s epic ride, it had been a hard and somewhat frustrating day as the failure of the bike route to live up to its promise had dented our pleasure somewhat. But parts of it were really excellent, and it was still better than the gruesome Erftradweg!

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