At first glance, the term Beer & Bike could be misinterpreted as an irresponsible mixture of consuming alcohol and operating a vehicle, like re-marketing Drink & Drive into something that appears harmless. On the serious side of that, there are laws in Europe regarding alcohol levels for cyclists. In Belgium, penalties start kicking in at 0.22 mg/l exhale while in Germany, they seem to start at 0.4 mg/l. However, that is not what the Beer & Bike is all about.
The concept of the Beer & Bike is one where the bike ride links scenic beauty and historical sites within the framework of beer tourism. No doubt, there is always the dilemma with a Beer & Bike ride regarding the actual consumption of beer along the way. A ride can consist of multiple breweries and cool beer drinking venues. While the alcohol in the beer can obviously cause some impairment, for the uninitiated, the one thing worse for a long bike ride than drinking a single beer is sitting around for 45 minutes at a time doing it. As cool as it is to be lounging on a shady terrace sipping a brew on a beautiful day, the clock is ticking on your legs.
I have learned to compensate over the years by substituting beer photos for the drinking part. I have to admit to being jealous on occasion when I see a group of gangly Belgian cycling dudes with legs like steel cables sitting around a table drinking a beer without a care in the world. On the other hand, they may be drinking beer, but they spend 100 kilometers breathing the guy’s vapors in front of them. That’s not the design I am looking for. I ride for the story. Inevitably a character in the story will be a brewery. That’s where the fun of planning begins and the idea takes hold.
A region which provides scores of opportunities to string multiple breweries together into bike rides is Bavaria, Germany. I have covered parts of Bavaria, namely the Franconian region, and its incredible density of breweries in other blog posts. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit another region in Bavaria where you find the Bayerischer Wald or Bavarian Forest. The density of breweries here is a bit less than Franconia but there are still enough to create interesting bike routes. However, compared to Beer & Bike rides in Belgium and Franconia, the Bayerischer Wald presents a higher degree of difficulty thanks to the low mountains that roll thru this region. As I would soon learn, executing a Beer & Bike ride in the Bayerischer Wald would be riddled with suboptimal planning and pratfalls. The challenge it would be on one’s fitness level also upsets the balance between riding for the sake of laid-back touristic enjoyment and riding to make it alive from point A to point B. The outcome perhaps had me rethinking one key component of the Beer & Bike ride. Not the Beer, but the Bike itself.
The Three Brewery Ride That Wasn’t
On paper it was already daunting. 76.2km and 530m of uphill. But there were three breweries, Weißbräu (Deggendorf), Arcobräu (Moos), and Bräu zur Isar (Plattling) to cloud my judgement. Because I was on holiday, my mind somehow rationalized that this alone changes the laws of chemistry and physics. Three beers along the way would be no problem. My legs however seemed skeptical, while the biggest cycling complainers of all, my glutes and hamstrings, made it no secret that severe pain was likely.
But at the beginning of any ride, hope and anticipation are overflowing, and with this wide-eyed naiveté, I set off on my bike. I beamed as I was cruising along the quiet rural roads, mostly downhill early on. The scenery was exhilarating and flew by giving no true sense of distance travelled. By the time I reached Deggendorf, I had not worked very hard yet, but it was time for the first beer.
Until it wasn’t.
Closed on Mondays
It was the birth of bad vibes and the discovery that some breweries don’t tell you the opening hours of their biergartens on the internet. My beer blogger brain cursed my poor planning, but my glutes secretly high-fived my hamstrings. My legs would get a reprieve.
However, it didn’t take long for the bad vibes to shape itself into a small nail which brought the ride to a deflating halt around the 25km mark. If there is one positive note, I was prepared with a spare tube.
The relief of having a fresh new front tire tube and resuming my journey temporarily pushed aside the gnawing doubt. But that lasted only 4 kilometers.
The route was supposed to cross the Danube River using a ferry at Neideralteich. But on Mondays, they do not operate.
This abbey has been in existence since 741.
The biergarten here is also not open on Mondays.
There are not a lot of crossings over the Danube in this stretch of river. A detour was needed to reach the next bridge at Winzer. This would add an additional 16km to the trip.
After crossing the Danube, which was not as blue as the waltz would suggest, the ride headed towards the next brewery, Arcobräu. At this point, the weather was starting to take an ominous turn. But it was difficult not to be charmed by the wheat fields.
Of the three breweries along the route, Arcobräu is probably by far the largest. I know that it has international distribution because I first drank one in the Darling Harbour area of Sydney, Australia.
So arriving into the village of Moos, there was still some hope that the biergarten would be open. Clearly though, my psyche still had not completely got the memo.
This will not be your day.
Closed on Mondays
Thank goodness I went to Australia in 2016. Meanwhile my glutes and hammies did a fist pump. One brewery to go.
Bräu zur Isar (Platting)
Arrived at 15:03
Opens at 17:00
As tempting as it was to wait, the worst thing for the legs at that moment with about 33 kilometers of mostly uphill to go would have been to wait around for 2 hours and then spend another hour drinking a beer. At that point, my beer blogger brain was completely at the mercy of my glutes and hammies. They couldn’t have been happier.
And then the rains came…
For the next 10 kilometers, it was a torrential downpour. I think I can speak for every cyclist that the worst thing about cycling in the rain is not the visibility or the treacherous conditions or getting your upper body or legs wet, it is the feeling of water soaking into your shoes. Rather than take a break under some shelter, once you are wet, it becomes just a stubborn acceptance to forge on and get home as soon as possible. I was heading back towards Deggendorf where the ride would then double-back the way I had come from Ruhmannsfelden. The route changed from rural farm roads to a busy thoroughfare heading into the city. There was no evident bike path and the row of disgruntled trucks and cars lining up behind me was making me feel pressure to get off the road. That was when I spotted one of those combo bike path-sidewalks and tried to steer my bike across the flooded gutter up onto the path.
It’s amazing how many swear words cross your mind when you realize your mathematical error in that split second you are no longer sitting on your bike but flying thru the air about to say goodbye to the skin on your elbow. Turn angle of the wheel, rotational speed, brake pressure, height of the curb. Eureka! The ratio of turn angle to the coefficient of friction between the wet curb and my bike tire was a bit off. I put the decimal point in the wrong place. And that was when carrying around a first aid kit all these years finally paid off. My right elbow took the brunt of the fall while my right hip and shoulder supplemented some skin to cushion the fall as well. But during the onset of a blackout which never arrived, I came to the conclusion that all my body parts were still working.
Despite some damage to my bike and more so to my pride, I still had access to my lowest gears. Which was a good thing because there were still about 22 kilometers to go and at least 20 of them were uphill. This is where my glutes and hammies rewarded me for scheduling this ride on a Monday. You could say my butt saved my butt.
The ascent over this stretch was about 250m and there were two or three monstrosities, maxing out at a 10% grade. I would like to think that my fitness level pushed me up those hills, but I am sure I was pumped full of adrenaline resulting from the wipeout. When I rolled into the parking lot of my holiday rental, I couldn’t remember feeling so much spare energy after a long bike ride. My beer blogger brain set to work to try to find a way to recommend the ride in a future blog post. But the conclusion I came to from every train of thought was that I wouldn’t wish this ride on anyone. However, it was going to be a helluva lot of fun to write about.
Total Elevation Change: 630m
Back in Ruhmannsfelden
Enjoyed an Arcobräu later at the holiday apartment.
Two days after the Three Brewery Ride that Wasn’t, a second Beer & Bike ride was planned which would finally assure a real beer at a real brewery. This time the route was pared down to a single brewery and 35 kilometers. Despite that, the total uphill would still be 610 meters. This meant the ride itself was even more intense. The hills came frequently and they reached a 12% grade at one point. Fortunately, Brauerei Falter was probably my favorite of all the breweries and beer that I consumed during my week holiday, and my beer blogger brain would argue that it was worth the effort.
There comes a time when you are pushing yourself up hill after hill that you start to wonder why you are on holiday killing yourself for the sake of beer tourism. Sure I felt a sense of accomplishment for completing the rides in one piece (more or less) and getting to the top of each hill like Rocky Balboa on the art museum steps. While I am glad that I did them and they will always be fun to look back on, there just seems something wrong with the math that leaves me unable to promote them. The punishment factor is just too high. There IS a solution to that. One that I would have argued vehemently against prior to this trip. Why not use an electric bike for such rides? You still get tons of exercise, and the punishment level goes way down. Why have I created such strict rules for myself about what qualifies as a proper Beer & Bike ride? At the end of the day, they should be fun. And having one or two beers along the way should be perfectly manageable. My beer blogger brain is still not fully convinced but I know my glutes and hamstrings were onboard with that idea immediately. The Bayerischer Wald is actually quite a wonderful region to see by bike. The road conditions for bikes are good and the rolling hills mean the scenery is changing frequently. When I consider that there are so many more breweries to visit, I could envision coming back to this area in the future. The next time though, you might actually find me here promoting Beer & Bike rides by electric bike (but not on Mondays). My glutes and hammies just did a forearm bash.