Roads like the Mortirolo, Alpe d’Huez or Tuscany’s Strade Bianche are the benchmarks on many cyclists’ wishlists. But are they actually the roads to happiness?

We’re fortunate that our work for GRAN FONDO Magazine lets us travel far and wide with our bikes. We get the opportunity to not only trace a route along some of road cycling’s most renowned passes and roads, but also explore new places. From Kazakhstan to Mexico and Taiwan, we meet inspirational people and experience unforgettable moments on our bikes. But how far do you really need to travel to achieve this? What is it that truly defines road cycling?

Scorching heat, 32°C in the shade, no wind. We’ve already plundered the GRAN FONDO HQ freezer on an ice cream mission. This issue is about to go to digital print and laptop keyboards are smouldering, much like our heads. No one tries to play down the intensity of the workload right now. The giant E-road bike group test still needs to be written, there are final touches to be put to the tyre group test and we’ve got more than ten new bikes to report on over the next two weeks. Bike launches are bread and butter for the website, but writing them up eats into the heavy lifting for this new issue.

At 9 pm we take the executive decision to pack up our belongings and hop onto our bikes in flip flops and Birkenstocks. There’s half an hour until the sun goes down. Just enough time to reach the next town where my grandma has the key to access her gated garden for a camp out.

Pit stop at Rewe. Dinner is whatever takes our fancy: sausages, antipasti and walnut bread. Standard roadie fare, right?

What we’re about to undertake feels pretty surreal as we cruise towards the sunset. Nina, Ben’s girlfriend, has prepared well, filling an Ikea bag with sleeping bags. I’ve also planned ahead and bought supplies. And Ben? Well, you could say he’s got all the gear a professional overnighter would dream of, including Rapha’s minimal sleeping bag and a super light roll mat.

Hunting for seconds, 40 km/h along the flat in a chain gang with lactic acid building up in the legs. None of that today, thanks. You can’t put a time on a good time!

It sounds cliche but this moment feels like freedom. The breeze rushing by us, the redness of the night sky and the buzz of the freewheels. We’ve broken the rules and today we’re outlaws. This isn’t about social approval, dress codes or roadie etiquette. No pressure to fit in or follow Velominati rules. It’s our version of the game now and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. We’re the riffraff, the ones who have cobbled together some equipment for the night. Who needs a breathable, windproof jacket with all manner of innovative, awesome technology and a € 500 pricetag when you’re going three minutes down the road to the bakery? We love cool things and artisan products as much as the rest of you, but in all honesty, isn’t it more fun when you’ve got less so you learn to be creative? Make do and mend, right? This trip is proof of this mentality.

Any road cyclists out there who don’t think we are completely mad for declaring this 10 km bike ride the best one of our entire lives?

We make our camp a mere 4.9 kilometres from where we started. We laugh, recount stories, sleep under the stars, snore, and then, come morning, admire the sunrise, enjoy the coffee and tuck into camp stove cooked porridge with freshly picked cherries and berries from Grandma’s garden. After this, we load up and ride back to the office.

So, what happens when road cycling isn’t about actual road cycling? Forget Strava segments and how your newest jersey and wheelsets boost your ego for a moment. Are those the elements that make you happiest? Whether you’ve been out on your own or with good friends, take a step back and think about the small things – on the Mortirolo or Alpe d’Huez, or in a little garden near Leonberg.

Our 10 takeaways

  • Anyone can tick off kilometres, but sometimes you should prioritise chilling out and having fun.
  • Even for a 10 km jaunt, carbon saddles require proper bib shorts.
  • The longer you plan, the higher your expectations. And when things don’t turn out as anticipated, it leads to disappointment and stress. And as no one can predict the future, things very rarely turn out as imagined. So focus on point 4.
  • Relax. Have a plan, but don’t plan on following the plan too much.
  • Stop discussing. Just go and do it.
  • Follow your instincts and be a little mad, even if it feels mad to do so.
  • Neither Birkenstocks nor flipflops are well suited to SPD pedals.
  • After an overnighter, it’s always a good idea to bring fresh pretzels into the office to share.
  • Who needs a holiday to break from the daily grind? Just get out there, right now! This song should inspire you: Ich fühl mich einfach Disco. It’s crazy yet somehow brilliant:
  • Cycling is whatever you make of it.

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Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Benjamin Topf, Robin Schmitt