Erstellt am: 2. 4. 2016 - 12:23 Uhr
"The possibilities are endless"
Spot on sports
Snowboarding, mountain biking and alot of fun
It’s not quite mountain biking season yet, it's cold and drizzling and I am churning through the mud as I head down to Weidlingbach to look at Projekt Trailpark - probably the most exciting project for mountain bikers that the Vienna Woods has seen in a generation.
Up a steep, root-strewn hill an unpaid team from a group called Wienerwald Trails are spending their weekend planning and shaping two legal single-trail routes that should get the pulses of adrenaline-loving mountain bikers racing without causing unnecessary conflict with hikers or other users of the glorious forest that rings Austria’s capital like a green lung.
The Wienerwald Trails crew is led by Alexander Arpaci, a forester and passionate mountain biker with roots (forgive the pun) in Berlin and Turkey.
His team of dozens of volunteers are working on two new trails. One of them will challenge the more expert riders, with wooden tables and drop-offs. The other - the Family Trail - should provide a flowing run that will serve as a learning ground for beginners or provide an alternative route down for bikers, like me, who prefer a more relaxed ride that offers speed without terror.
These carefully shaped routes will be separate from two other hiking paths that cover the same area of the woods. Everyone should have their own space. As Arpaci puts it "If you are really going to have fun, you'll probably ride quite fast and so you'll want to know there are no hikers on the route."
The bike trails replace an informal, illegal single-trial route, the location of which was enthusiastically shared on social media among biking aficionados that included terrifying gap jumps and was illegal.
To give it an alcoholic metaphor, they have taken a shady illegal bar - a "speakeasy" - given it a licence, and made it safer and more accessible. The trails will also be patrolled, as in ski resorts, so that if you do fall and hurt yourself, someone will find you. For the enthusiastic outlaws, that perhaps sounds a bit unromantic but if mountain-biking is to reach its full potential in Vienna it is a vital step in the right direction.
It might seem strange that mountain biking trails have ever been illegal. Why has enjoying the fresh air and beautiful nature of the Vienna Woods ever been against the law?
We live in an age where doctors and health officials are constantly urging us to exercise our muscles and our sooted-up, citified lungs - the linked issues of obesity, diabetes and pollution-damage are becoming epidemics. You might imagine that mountain biking would be actively encouraged and applauded by the authorities not outlawed? You could argue that we should be given tax breaks to go biking!
Sharing The Woods
Well, of course, mountain biking has been officially endorsed and encouraged for years - but only up to a point. Land use issues relating back to forestry laws written in 1976 have meant mountain biking has only been legal on officially authorized routes, marked out with green signs.
The Wienerwall Trails crew is celebrating an After Party as part of the Argus Bike Fest - 2.4.2016 from 10pm in
The Loft, Lerchenfelder Gürtel 37, 1160 Wien
And that makes sense - the illegal former trail at Weidlingbach was a precipitous, rollicking ride down a hiking path. No walker, enjoying their Sunday stroll, wants to see a speeding biker flying towards them with all those terrifying metallic clinking noises associated with off-road bikes. It’s scary and it’s dangerous when paths are shared like that.
But the problem until now has been that mountain bikers have had few options but to share the paths. The official Vienna Woods network has been slowly growing over the course of the past two decades and at 900km it seems fairly generous but they date from a time when, as Arpaci describes it, mountain bikes were basically just normal bicycles with slightly fatter tyres.
For an earlier generation of riders, meandering scenic routes on wide gravel paths were fine but since then the technology, - the lighter bikes with better suspension - and riders' tastes have moved on.
"When do the trails begin"
This became clear to me whenever I took friends from abroad on my favourite routes in the Vienna Woods and deep into the official network they were still asking "When do we get to the trails?" So, unsurprisingly, more and more mountain bikers left the official routes and tested the limits of their bikes and riding ability on footpaths.
Conflict was unavoidable and anti-mountain biker sentiment has been expressed in depressingly sneaky ways - big logs placed across the paths, sometimes near blind corners. This is potentially lethal. If riders hit them, they could to be thrown head first over their handlebars. The Kurier has even reported of "mountain biker traps".
"I think the whole process only works if we offer the mountain bikers attractive opportunities," says Arpaci. "At the moment everyone rides wherever they want to, and no-one can stop them. We are never going to have a forest police."
Wienerwald Trails hope that if bikers have a genuine choice between a fun but legal mountain bike trail and a footpath, they will be reasonable and stick to the sanctioned path, leaving the hikers in peace.
"Naturally this means we will have trails which we will be not allowed to use because they are especially sensitive environmentally," says Arpaci. "These must be protected for future generations. Other trails will be for hikers only to provide them the same benefits as us."
But this mutual respect only works if there is a proper choice for the bikers. In recent months Wienerwald Trails, through a process of consultation and negotiation, have persuaded the authorities to open several footpaths officially for bikers.
"The idea is that these will be shared spaces and the different parties will be aware and respectful of each others' presence. These shared paths - trails and forest roads - will connect what Arpaci hopes in the end will be ten to fifteen trail parks like Weidlingbach."
These trail parks should be mountain-biker only playgrounds and allow riders to use our bikes in a more flow and downhill oriented way without any conflicts. He envisages hip wooden-hut cafés, like the ones serving trail parks in Wales and Scotland.
So what is the potential of mountain biking in the Vienna area? "I think it is huge," says Arpaci, “"We estimate the biker community in Vienna is already between 20,000 and 30,000 people. I want to get as many people using their bikes as possible because it is fun and it is healthy. I want to get kids on their bikes. The possibilities are endless."