MTB Tour – Ardenne & Eifel – Couvin to Remagen

A Mountain Bike trip from Couvin (BE) through the Ardennes (BE) and the Eifel to Remagen (GER).

I got curious to know how the south of Belgium close to the French border might look like and if it possible to spontaneously go from Couvin (approx. 50km south to Charleroi) all across the Ardenne and the Eifel to the Rhine River in Germany. Even though I can’t show you a final picture of the Rhine River here as I jumped into the train at Sinzig (which is a few km south to Remagen) it went pretty well and was very inspiring.

And I am writing this post to share these 5 days, some experiences and the GPS track. First, the full trail at once can be found here but I also segmented the tour into section please read on below.

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Day 01 – Couvin to Bouillon (~80km & 1400hm) :

First I took the train from Brussels to Couvin. At Charleroi you have to take a smaller train and more hikers join towards the very pretty landscape in the south. I arrived rather late (11 AM) at the starting point for the longest distance and highest elevation on this travel. In combination with a freshly packed bike and some new tools like the Navi, I was very nervous if I would arrive on time in the evening in Bouillon. The good thing was, I had fresh legs. This Session was great. It leads through impressive areas in Belgium and France. I can definitely even recommend it for a 2 days trip to e.g. Namur. Trails are sometimes very remote and I had to muddle through high grass trails and mud. It is not very technical but has several long downhills to cross two river valleys during the day and ends with a third and a long descent at the end towards Bouillon.

Komoot Trail from Couvin to Bouillon

 

Bouillon Castle and River in the evening 2015-08-14 21.41.20-1

Day 02 – Bouillon to Lavacherie (58km, 1100hm):

The second day has some real fun trails during the first half day. Single trail downhills at the edge of a cliff while looking down to a river. It made me laugh while riding/stumbling the down with my packed and 2.0 tires outfitted MTB on rainy slippery stones and mud or leaves. It was awesome. I was definitely not racing it down like with big plush tires but the material held up and my abilities to find the perfect lines were the limit.

Second half of the day becomes much flatter and more forest fire roads and grass fields become present. Unfortunately it started to rain around lunch and for the rest of the day and by evening I was soaked. Luckily it was only windy but not too cold. The Hotel I had, had heating systim on and provided water to rinse my bike. Good for the gear, good for the hotel entry. Water was standing in my shoes at this end of this day. 

Komoot Trail – Bouillon to Lavacherie: Sorry there are a few passages in it which are across restricted area. I had to drive around it which add 5-10km.

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Day 03 – Lavacherie to Ouren (65km, 1100hm):

The morning was clear cool and sunny. I switched the route a bit and went first 10km on the street along the river. Pretty good start for a Sunday. The trails through the forest and back on the trail are rahter easy first but led across two freshly used rondonnee abused trails. 🙂 The rain of the day before made the ground pretty slippery and short but very steep up and downhills were part of this day. 

Towarss Luxembourg it get shallower again but the ancient grass burried road is not fun at all shaking me up while having to paddle stabding for quite a long time. Lux itself does not become much better in terms of trail flow.

The last km s to the Rittersprung and down to Ouren are amazing again.

View: Komoot Track from Lavacherie to Ouren

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Day 04 – Ouren to Hillesheim (61km, 1200hm):

The destination of this day has the option to stop the trip here and to take the train to Trier or Cologne.

The trail along the Our is pretty touristic but good to get into the mood before taking a steep and long climb towards Germany. The frist part in Germany with longuphils through fields while cows stare at you seem to be endless. Time to have a chat with your inner self. 😉

The later part become more remote and the trails lead through forests and  on green grass trails. At the end I was totally done that day used quite some energy.

Komoot Track – Ouren to Hillesheim

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Day 05 – Hillesheim to Sinzig (easy on the bike roads, 75km & 650hm)  // more rather tough Hillesheim to Ramagen (on trails, 72km & 1450hm)

As my girlfriend joined me the last day (and I have to honest my legs were sour too) we took the easy route down the Ahr valley. It is a beautiful route along the small river and the hills are getting higher and higher until Altenahr where the wine fields of the region starts. It is really worth a travel and not as nice to do a the also nice Via Claudia TransAlp which we did a few weeks before (the high mountains in the background are missing a bit).

In consequence, I can’t make any statement about the trail section of Day 5 which would be a final rather high elevation trip. I plan to take this an other day as it is easy to access Hillesheim from Cologne and to go back to Cologne from Remagen.

Komoot Track Hillesheim to Sinzig (easy) & Komoot Track Hillesheim to Remagen (tough)

 

Arrival and Transfer:

This tour is rather easy to access. It takes 45-60 minutes from Charleroi to get to Couvin by train. Bike transfer is allowed at any time. Remagen and Sinzig on the other side are at a Rhine Train rim. There are one to two trains per hour going to Cologne and possibly to Koblenz/Trier or Frankfurt.

 

Using Komoot for route planning and navigation:

I planned the tour via a tool called Komoot  (an app and online platform based in Germany) and the iPhone App is one of the few offering voice announcements to navigate you through the forest. I must be honest. I never used it before but I did a short trial and took the risk to pay the rather hefty price. I comparison of standing every crossing and looking at a phone map without voice I thought it is really worth the time saved during a five days trip. It was worth it. I also pre-planned the whole route via Komoot. The effect was that the mixture of trails was very random in a positive and also negative way resulting in a trip which I would call a really worth taking it. I never rode so many untouched trails and having the feeling to drive through the back door of the country. But sometimes there were also very boring trail in it … that also happens to a tourist road.

In addition the tool seemed during planning much faster than OpenRouteService. I only tested the latter briefly but it was too slow to get the results and it was lacking a further integration to navigate on the trail.

Why not GARMIN: Might work but I am not very happy with the GARMIN I have as it also slow and takes me too long for route planning and freaked me out on the trail with its menu structure, with the tiny screen and the „joy“-stick to navigate. Have lost/deleted stored tracks on the trails a few times by accident which made me stuck in the middle of nowhere. Also costly.

Biggest downside I experienced with iphone navigation was the rain. The touchscreen has hard times in the rain to separate your wet finger from the raindrops and I got pretty mad about it at times. But it worked ok. Other issue is the energy consumption. You need an additional Accu Pack. I had a very small 2000 mAh with me and it was sufficient during a one day energy independence.

 

Bike tech-talk:

For this trip I used again my OnOne Inbred with Reba Fork incl LockOut, Avid BB7 brakes (180/160mm), Marathon Mondial 2.0 tires, Tubus Disco Rack and Ortlieb bags. Tried my more all-mountain bike first but the TOPEAK MTX rack was building too high and I would have had to take a bag on my back which I finally wanted to avoid (better to have a heavy drifting and twisting machine under me rather than having a stone on the back while rattling down hills for several days).

Some words about components (I do not get money or parts for free or what so ever, it is my very personal opinion). I am pretty impressed about the BB7 brakes (having Hope, other Avids and XT too). You have the feeling of the pads at your fingers. The sinter pads sound perhaps not very pleasant, a bit like scraping with nails on a black board. They are a bit too grippy and difficult to modulate without when the set up is too light. BUT if you have 8-10 kg extra luggage on the bike the brakes becomes really nice and direct. I love them for being so analog and easy to maintain. Tires: I was really afraid this time that the 2.0 Schwalbe Marathons were A) too slippy for going really through rain, mud, over roots and offroad and B) too slim to take the big hits with the added weight when going downhill real trails. But both were no issue. Yes they slipped a bit but did not turned into a nightmare while still being very fast rolling and puncture proof. I am very positive about the tires. Sometimes I had to smile about myself and all the MTB fuzz about bigger, grippier tires and „real“ best tire. I had zero rim contact on the back in rocky downhills. It took me a bit speed to pick the right line. But hey, I also did not wanted to jump-test the rack and bags either.

The Reba fork and the Inbred rame – Noodles aldente: Both perform very well but yes they are certainly flexy when loaded with bags on the rack and with me close to 90kg. Looking down on it while braking, the front wheel is moving a lot to the left and the fork is bending backwards. Not an issue in terms of function. As the whole steel frame is flexing meaning twisting too due to the luggage at the back. In consequence there is more the feeling of a living thing under you rather than having a precise machine. I find it predictable and it was never an issue to pick the right line. A different fork would add weight (perhaps a  REBA with 15mm axle would make a difference). Or just, look up on the trail and stop thinking about it. 😀

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