Erstellt am: 8. 5. 2009 - 13:26 Uhr
Indiana Jones in Lycra
When the former US President George W. Bush was asked three years ago what things he was looking forward to during his whistle-stop visit to this beautiful city, he said he hoped to find time for some mountain biking in the Vienna Woods.
Now, however foolish you consider his policies during his time in office, on the subject of leisure activities the man from Texas showed an uncanny wisdom. Biking in the Vienna Woods must be one of the greatest sources of joy the Austrian capital has to offer.
There are 45 interlinking mountain bike routes in the forests that begin on the very fringes of the city and they cover, all in all, a total of 1,000 kilometres of trail.
From any of the access points in seven separate districts of Vienna and you are thrust from genteel suburbia into a genuine wilderness, where it is no rarity to have slam on the disc-brake suddenly to avoid startled roe deer.
Although you will constantly find yourself either ascending or descending, the rounded hills are not too viciously high, never getting much above 500 metres or so. That means if you were to draw the profiles of the routes, they'd all trace the pattern of a very healthy cardiogram, contrasting starkly with the killer heart attack charts that you'll see representing routes elsewhere in Austria.
My personal favourite route is the Hameau, a 4-hour circle that will offer you technical single-track sections over hump-backed roots, around switchback corners and through shallow fords, throwing up fine spray in your wake. On the narrow, root-strewn parts you have to ride it hard and think on your feet. It's adventurous stuff, making you feel like Indiana Jones in Lycra.
You don't have to sweat up and down the full thousand kilometres of trails, of course. Even if you stick to just one familiar route, the Vienna Woods will provide variety with its ever changing kaleidoscope of colours, so that the same loop can offer a new experience each time you bike it.
In early spring, when the city is still grey and cold, the forest floor is already carpeted in a rich green flora, dotted liberally with violets. Primroses tuft up cheekily from beneath hazels and the sweet smell of wild garlic dominates the forest. Come summer, the shady woods offer, during the day, a cool haven from the caustic Central European sun and, in the evening, a refreshing respite from the cloying humidity of the baking city below.
But it is during autumn that I love the woods the most. Then, a thick layer of leaves coat the forest floor, so that biking becomes like skiing though a fresh new fall of powder snow, and the same closely huddled trees that kept you cool in summer now shelter you from the cold October winds. The colours are magnificent now; with the yellow, golden and even red shades of the oak and beech trees, highlighted by the stubborn green of pines and firs.
For me, an exile, biking in the Vienna woods is a life affirming ritual. For those moments when I speed down the final brake-searing descent back towards town, my arms tingling from the jolting, juddering and my face flushed from the cold and the exhilaration, Austria's capital can be as smoky and grumpy as it wants. As long as it's surrounded by its crown of wilderness, accessible even on an evening after work, it remains, for me, a paradise.