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Travel Guide: Riding the Road to Vienna

22nd Aug 2016 4:28pm | By Russell Higham

Riding a bike is one of life’s simple pleasures: it’s good for your health, doesn’t harm the planet, costs nothing to fill up or park and will get you to work through London’s streets usually a lot quicker than a car or bus. But whilst the capital’s cycling infrastructure is definitely improving, riding in congested streets as lorries thunder past belting out exhaust fumes is not the most enticing of prospects to tempt people on to two wheels.

So how about swapping the South Circular or the East-West Super Highway for the traffic-free bike lanes of Holland, Germany and Austria on a ride to the heart of Vienna alongside the Rhine and Danube rivers, taking in two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and enough breathtaking scenery to make even three-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome want to slow right down and take it all in? That’s exactly what I did when I joined a group of cyclists for the final stages of their epic 17-day journey of over 900 miles, starting from the UK port of Harwich, arranged and supported by travel company Pedal Nation, the cycling division of Sheffield-based High Places who have been organising walking, hiking and photography holidays all over the world since 1987.

Tour leader Nick Mitchell, who is also the author of three long-distance cycling guide-books, told me as I arrived in Passau on the German-Austrian border to catch up with the group: “This is an ideal trip for recreational cyclists who don’t like riding on roads. It’s a total distance of 904 miles over every kind of terrain but less than 10 of them are on vehicular carriageways. The route follows European cycle routes that are nearly all on completely separate bike paths far removed from even the sound of traffic, and the small remainder are on distinct sections that are well protected from cars and lorries”. Safety aside, the scale of the tour is still daunting for someone like me who feels pretty pleased with himself after riding just 30 miles between country pubs on a Sunday afternoon. Nick, however, reassures me again: “We average a speed of 8-10 mph and stop regularly for coffee breaks or to take photos. The furthest distance we cover in a day is 68 miles and the shortest is just 35.”

So, as I don my helmet and climb aboard the Ridgeback Velocity touring bike which Pedal Nation have lent me, I’m introduced by their Operations Manager, Sunny Wattal, to my fellow riders and am surprised to find that many of them are over 50, with the oldest being a spritely 68. Sunny explains that the make-up of every tour group is different with varying ages and backgrounds. Most of this group have completed at least one Lands End to John O’Groats jaunt (or ‘LeJog’ as veterans like to call it) but I am amazed when Karen, a 59-year-old farmer’s wife from Warwickshire, tells me that she only started cycling two years ago, having given up two-wheeled transport since she was a small girl. “Age is no barrier” she proclaims confidently.