Ultracycling Geographies: Munich/Upper Bavaria

Germany is playing a relevant role in the endurance cycling scene. The number of top adventure cyclists and initiatives of races/events is exciting. Within the country, there is a very active city: Munich. Data on our followers show a similar proportion of ultracyclists compared with to major European cities. In Munich are living more than 1.5 million inhabitants (3rd-largest city in Germany and the 11th-largest in the European Union in terms of population) and 6 million in the metropolitan area (includes Augsburg). The population has continued to grow in recent years and Munich’s big technologic and engineer companies, as well the universities and scientific research institutes, are attracting qualified young adults (for instance: Marion Dziwnik recently moved to the Bavarian capital). The high quality of life is also a hallmark of the city (consequently the high cost of life).

Ulrich Bartholmös is certainly the most notable ultracyclist from Munich. His curriculum is impressive. In just two years he won Transiberica, TransPyreeness & Two Volcano Sprint in 2019 and Three Peaks Bike Race and Two Volcano Sprint in 2020. All are supermassive ultracycling road races with a mountainous profile. Before riding long distances, Ulrich was a granfondo cyclist. Nowadays - as an adventure rider - he recognizes how insane and dangerous these races were due to the strong spirit of competition in the peloton.

The transition to self-supported was basically an accident. Ulrich was on vacations in the Iberian Peninsula and searched for road cycling events in Portugal and Spain. Ulrich recalled the participation of Omar Di Felice in the first edition of the Transiberica in 2018. As a mountain lover, he started with the first edition of the TransPyrenees (same organizers of Transiberica). He “raced” for the first place with Christoph Fuhrbach and the experienced German adventure cyclist introduced him - precisely during the “fight” for the 1st place - to the world of long distance and bikepacking. Ulrich won the race as a rookie on the self-supported field and he didn’t expect it. Then Transiberica organizers challenged him to ride - in a few weeks - the race across the Iberian Peninsula and Ulrich won his second ultra challenge.

Ulrich helped us understand why there is such a cycling special vibe in Munich and eventually a long distance atmosphere. The first hypothesis is the geographical conditions in the south of Munich and proximity to outdoor attractions. Leaving the city towards South, the landscapes quickly changes into a rural and nature setting. Cycling around the lakes - as the Starnberger See or the Ammersee - is a usual route for many cyclists living in Munich. However if you want to go further you will have an amazing reward: the Alps. Only 90/100 kilometers away from Munich there is the opportunity to reach great climbs and magnificent views of the mountains. Cycle from Munich to the Alps, explore the mountains and then returning to the Bavarian capital means a long journey and eventually a pleasant transition to the reality of ultracycling.

Lisa Wårg is precisely a new adventure cyclist who lives near the mountains of Upper Bavaria and who has explored the Bavarian Alps in recent months by bike. Lisa’s sports background is running and trail running. She is a Willpower athlete and has known an inspirational community of runners. However injuries are hampering her performance/health and the transition to adventure and long distance cycling was precisely a way to maintain the contact with nature and mountains.

Lisa is riding off and on road. A few months ago she participated in the Orbit360 is Ride For a Reason challenge with Paul Marschner. They rode a beautiful 180 kilometers (and 2,000 meters elevation gain) loop near the Austrian border. She recently explored the Italian Alps on a bikepacking adventure. In a few weeks she will return to Italy for the Veneto Trail and in August she will ride the FURTHER race. Lisa also recently joined the GravGrav - a gravel and bikepacking community and she plans to write an article precisely about the upcoming adventure in the Italian region.

All photos by Lisa Wårg

Another hypothesis for the Munich’s special vibe is linked to the engaged cycling community, specially the massive online groups that are constantly planning weekend (or even after work) rides. No matter your pace, distance and elevation gain, surface type preference, fun or serious. There is always a group ride that meets your cycling needs. It’s also usual to meet people on the road/track in special meeting spots. Beyond the Bike Coffee (or Beer) Shops, there are also some interesting and innovative activities.

The Down Dog Yoga classes for cyclists is the perfect example. Christina Ilchmann started teaching yoga four years ago. At that time she was already an urban cyclist and then she started cycling longer rides and bikepacking, exploring nature and neighboring countries. More than a way to join two passions, 'Yoga for Cyclists' began as a challenge for fellow riders. With specific yoga for cyclists classes, she has built a trusting and special environment for riders, meeting to their needs and bodies. Concerning learners, Christina mentioned that cyclists are committed people. So yoga for cyclists classes are working pretty well.

During the pandemic/lockdown, Christina started to teach the ‘Yoga for Cyclists’ classes online – with the positive outcome that cyclist friends from all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland where suddenly able to join. The community grew, as she teamed up with her Friends from Veloine (women cycling apparel) and later GRL PCK - from Hamburg - for sponsored virtual classes.

“It’s a bad coincidence: riding a bike and sitting at an office desk are similar body positions. The idea is simple: practice the body movements opposite to these positions”. Christina told us that the goal isn’t to change the position on a bicycle, but to balance the body and contrabalance the more usual positions to avoid and prevent certain muscles from shrinking or becoming weaker. Prevention is the key to allow riders to cycle longer throughout their lives. However yoga isn’t only to improve the physical condition and performance, but mostly the mental strength (a key element in ultracycling as we all know!), calming down the nervous system. Learning and practicing breathing techniques also plays an important role.

Nowadays Christina is a multi-surface cyclist: road, gravel and trail. This allows to improve even more the trust relationship and engaging environment in the classes. She will also ride Veneto Trail in a few weeks. Certainly Lisa and Christina will meet there (seems that riders networking is really working in Munich).

Photos (1) (2) (5) (6) by The Down Dog Yoga & Photos (3) (4) by Katja Brömer 

Back to Ulrich. He plans to participate in the Transcontinental no.8 in 2022 (he was already in the lineup for 2020 and 2021). We asked him if he is felling some kind of pressure to win the most famous ultracycling race of the world due to his curriculum. However the main boost to him isn’t to win, but to achieve his personal goals. He told us he doesn’t take racing as seriously as eventually people think.

This year Ulrich will race again the Two Volcano Sprint (2VS) in October. He will have the opportunity to win the Italian challenge for the third time. However for him the most important is to join again into the special environment between riders/organizers. This is a solid reason to explain why so many riders will participate for the second or even the third time. In the last 2VS we saw an amazing battle between Ulrich and Sofiane (and Omar Di Felice as well). A few months earlier the same happened in the Three Peaks Bike Race. Eventually this was the beginning of an amazing rivalry in ultracycling. A very special and healthy rivalry. Ulrich analyses this “battle” as the pace versus the endurance (minimal time as possible out of the saddle). The racing context forced him to give more power and avoid resting time. He mentioned how this experience was important for learning more about himself. Ulrich hopes that Sofiane can recovery well from his injury and comeback even stronger (it's certainly just a matter of time they race together again).

The Transiberica in August is also in Ulrich’s calendar - to replace the Transcontinental - as well the Switzerland Ultracycling CHallenge (SUCH) in September. He likes the innovative concept of this event. Precisely concerning this, Ulrich believes that the diversity of races and events will increase in the future, particularly different interpretations of the notion of self-supported and riding under equal conditions. Thinking about the next years, Ulrich would like to try off road and gravel challenges, but firstly he wants to experiment a route by himself (as the route of the Atlas Mountain Race).

When we planned this report and investigation, we expected to find some sort of local and regional phenomena concerning long distance cycling. Indeed Munich has special conditions to promote ultracycling: cosmopolitan young adults, an engaged cycling community and a geographic set. However as the same way that Ulrich was guided and inspired internationally to move into adventure cycling, he is now a role model and inspiration for new adventure cyclists from Munich, Germany and certainly from around the world.

June 3rd 2021

Finisterra thanks Christina, Lisa and Ulrich for their contributions, as well as other Munich and Bavaria riders: Max, Sebastian, Sandra Schuberth, Nick Rotter and Fabian Frinzel.

All photos by Ulrich Bartholmös