Mallorca or indoor trainer – are these really the only winter training options? As is so often the case, the world isn’t just black and white – there are plenty of alternatives for some winter drop bar action. To get a jump start on the season, we made a few tweaks, and were rewarded with a first ride of the year that exceeded our expectations.

We’ve all been there before. The biscuit tin full of vanilla shortbread, the fat Christmas goose, and the dusty indoor trainer (sorry Zwift!) have left their mark. Suddenly, you’re no longer in the same shape as you were last summer, and you long for the feeling of a warm summer breeze as you crest an epic summit.

Time to despair? On the contrary: it’s time to break out the axe and get a cold start to the season. From 0 to 100. Without boarding a plane, without sun, without an indoor trainer, and without Mallorca! Instead, it’s deep ravines, green fir trees, and a dense fog in the legendary Black Forest. The legs feel sluggish, and the gravel roads are wet and cold, but it doesn’t matter!

The first ride of the year – The master plan

We’ve chosen the location for our first ride. Right on our doorstep lies the Black Forest, Germany’s largest contiguous low mountain range, and with its countless 1,000-metre peaks, it’s every cyclist’s dream. At least, in summer it might be…
But why wait in anticipation when we can get a head start on the fun? The Black Forest is known for its steep climbs, breathtaking views, and fast descents. This is going to be epic! Our euphoria makes us forget that it isn’t summer just yet, and the weather won’t be so kind. Our planned route keeps getting longer and longer on Komoot.

Stop! Reality check! The weather app predicts 4 degrees and drizzle, and heading for the mountains at full tilt straight out of your winter break has never done anyone any good, so a compromise is in order. An epic ride light, so to speak. Something that compensates for our cookie-induced softness and the sub-optimal conditions, but also gets us back into the swing of things!

How about a little extra help to get us back into the swing of things? We call Anna from TQ to see if she still has some cool gravel bikes we can use for our project – we want e-gravel bikes so we can work the occasional forest trail into the route. Thanks to the support of the TQ motor, we won’t have to push ourselves to the limit right out the gate, though we can still shift to a lower support more and shift up a gear to really break a sweat if we start to feel the cold. Speaking of breaking a sweat, we definitely need a post-ride program that can keep up with nude bathing in the Mallorcan evening sun – a worthy conclusion to an epic day! And maybe something that will get the blood to thaw in our feet? There was only one thing that would do the trick: an aprés ride sauna, instead of an aprés ski bar. Plan? Check!

We make Baiersbronn the route destination. Wellnesshotel Tanne sounds like the perfect ending to the first day in the saddle, thanks to its impressive treehouse sauna, wellness temple, and traditional Black Forest delicacies 😉 . Our master plan is coming together. The bikes are hooked up to the charger, and the clothes are hanging on the washing line. We go to bed with a tingling sensation in our stomachs.

Cycling through the clouds

We set off early in the morning. The thermometer shows 4 degrees, fog lies threateningly in the valley and hangs over the peaks, enveloping the mountain in a dark grey veil. Christoph is still ailing. His nose is runny. Was this really such a good idea?

We turn left and the gravel path reveals a daunting climb. Normally, this is when you start breaking a sweat. Christoph pushes the small boost button on the handlebar, unleashing the full 300 watts of support, and pulls away laughing. No trace of bad vibes, and even the damp weather and 18% gradient can’t dampen the mood. We’re warmly clothed, we’ve got two bananas, and a total battery capacity of 770 Wh on board. The small TQ-HPR50 motors provide ample support and we fly uphill.

A look at the top tube display reveals how much power is coming from our legs and how much is coming from the motor. It’s clear we’ve had a long off-season, but that doesn’t matter. We take things easy and stay within our limits. The trail winds up the mountain, past rugged rock faces, and dense woodland. The fresh air and the smell of wet forest soil have a calming effect, underlining the revenant mood.

Suddenly, the dense clouds give way, revealing a bright blue sky. As quickly as the clouds disperse, so do the thoughts of the dark, never ending days of the last few weeks that we couldn’t ride our bikes. Instead, we’re filled with a sense of euphoria and feel our spirits rise. We get up out of the saddles to test our legs and before we know it we’re flying along the double track. Our heart rate monitors flash, proving that you can still get your blood pumping on an e-bike.

The highest point of the route arrives sooner than expected, revealing a view of the foothills of the Black Forest that we’ve left behind. Time for a banana, a bit of sunshine, and that summit feeling we haven’t had in so long. It’s nice when a plan comes together, and the gloomy outlook swings in the opposite direction. We pause to soak up the warming solar rays. We close our eyes, and for a moment we feel like we’re in Mallorca. But when the sun disappears behind the clouds once more and the cold slowly sets back in, the bubble soon bursts and we begin the descent. The descent is followed by another climb… and so the day goes on: we pass lakes, hear our breath, and find our rhythm. We pass by a group of tough woodsmen, see a shy deer scurrying through the undergrowth, and just enjoy the hours in the saddle – there’s always something to discover in the Black Forest. And thanks to our electric motors, we’re able to venture significantly further than we could without them.

Shortly before dark, we roll up to the Wellnesshotel Tanne with cold hands and big grins on our faces. Our batteries are empty, but we feel recharged. We can feel our legs, the fresh breeze has made our cheeks rosy, and we’re ready for the next point on the itinerary of our master plan – a cold start with a warm end! The sauna with a view of the Black Forest is just what we need right now. We park the bikes, swap our bib shorts for bathrobes, and hit the wellness temple.

E-gravel bikes – A viable alternative to Zwift and Mallorca?

After a few sauna sessions, an ice bath, and some healing water, we sit down for dinner, take stock of the day, and discuss how e-gravel bikes stack up as an alternative to the typical drop-bar winter activities.

Of course, road cycling in Mallorca is completely different, and suggesting e-bikes as an alternative to a training camp sounds strange at first. But not everyone has the luxury or even wants to fly to a different country to make up for the last few months of no cycling in one week. While our “hardcore” roadie friends haven’t even booked their tickets for the Mallorca training camp yet, we’ve already ushered in the new season.

In principle, it’s just like doing base fitness on the indoor trainer, just outside, and independent of the route. You can keep to your own performance targets, and everything beyond that is taken care of by the motor, no matter how steep the climb. Thanks to grippy gravel tires, you can ride tracks, trails, and wet roads. It’s undisputed: e-gravel bikes let you turn your base training ride into an epic day out.

By riding your bike all year round, you’re not just staying fit through the winter, but also keeping your bike handling skills sharp. Last year, when we met up with rally legend Walter Röhrl, we asked him how to improve your riding technique as quickly as possible. His tip: the worse the conditions, the faster you learn. It doesn’t matter whether it’s snow, ice or mud, as long as it’s slippery!

Well that’s easy to say when you’re sitting in a car where it’s warm and dry. Of course, there are winter days when you don’t want to go outside even with an e-gravel bike, a warm jacket, and the promise of a post-ride sauna. But the support of a motor makes you more likely to head out spontaneously when the weather clears up, and as we learned today: fortes fortuna adiuvat. Fortune favours the brave – and rewards them! As it did us. If you just grit your teeth on a grey morning, chances are good that you will be pleasantly surprised, and can lay down to rest tired and happy in the evening.

The cold start to the season was a complete success, and hotter than expected. Thanks to the e-gravel bikes, we were able to slowly find our legs without compromising on the route. We were rewarded with the many sights and scenes of the Black Forest, steep mountains, and the fresh forest air. Ultimately, it proved to be a ride for the head and soul more than for training goals and Strava stats. You won’t find a smoother start to the season than this!

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Words: Jan Richter Photos: Antonia Feder