Innsbruck, Austria, cycling tours: A city built for cyclists of all types

"I think we will take the easier way today," says my guide, Bernhard.

"That sounds like a good idea," I reply.

It's not that I'm afraid of a little effort, but we're about to embark on a cycling trip of the area surrounding Innsbruck, Austria, and some of that surrounding area looks, to put it mildly, a little steep.

Innsbruck is nestled in the Inn valley between the Karwendel Alps in the north and the Patscherkofel and Serles ranges in the south. Although not as famous as Austria's two largest cities, Vienna and Salzburg, it's a tourist hotspot due to its central location. To the north is Germany's Munich, to the south Italy (and just a couple of hours driving gets you to Venice) and to the west is the Swiss capital Zurich. As such, Innsbruck has become a popular spot for a stopover for tourists on driving holidays through Europe or on board the still-popular bus tours.

Today though, we'll be escaping the city, with its narrow streets and beautiful baroque and gothic architecture, and heading into the countryside.

It doesn't take long. A 10-minute drive gets us to the village of Mutta, just outside Innsbruck proper, where we ditch the car and switch to the bikes. Although we're taking an easy route, we're still going to be using e-bikes.

Though not really a thing in Australia, e-bikes have become huge in Austria and other parts of Europe. Once I saddle up and try mine out, it's easy to see why. The e-bikes use an electric motor to assist your pedalling, and you can ramp up the level of assist, or tone it down, depending on your need. Got to climb up a steep dirt hill? Pump it up to "sport" mode and it will be a breeze. Coming down again is easy – the electronic assist automatically switches off when you don't need it, and the bike also has regular gears you can use to control the amount of effort you need to put in.

The popularity of e-bikes explains why so many people around Innsbruck use them for getting around. In town, the city is largely flat, making cycling a quick and easy way to get around, but the terrain becomes steep quickly once you hit the outskirts, where many of the population live.

In fact, cycling is so popular the city opened a new bike park in mid-2017, which is now home to an annual bike festival featuring the extreme antics of the Crankworx World Tour (see crankworx.com). The mountains surrounding the city are also covered in dirt trails, which ambitious cyclists can pedal up to the peaks, and less ambitious ones can ride down after catching a funicular.

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As someone who regularly cycles at home, it feels like a bit of a cheat to be using the motor. On the other hand, we are riding heavy mountain bikes with thick tyres – the type you typically see mainly designed for downhill cycling. Getting one of these things up a hill unassisted would be challenging, to say the least.

We start out on the paved roads of Mutta before heading off on to dirt tracks and making our way through the beautiful Stubai Valley. We pass small farm houses and barns, hikers and other cyclists and follow along the bright Ruetz river, flowing fast with ice melt in the spring sunshine.

After about an hour we hit the village of Stubai itself, a small town that's filled with newly constructed houses and apartments (though still in a fairly traditional style). As the limited flatlands of Innsbruck fill up, real estate prices have skyrocketed, forcing young families to move out to the surrounding villages (even so, their commute times would put those of Australia's major cities to shame).

Here we turn around and climb further up the mountain, eventually entering a pretty meadow where we find a "hut". It's actually a large restaurant and farm where we stop for lunch.

The rest of the journey back to Mutta is largely downhill and it's a lot of fun to switch off the assist and let the weight of the bike build up speeds of more than 50km/h. The tracks remain wide and the corners gentle, which suits me fine at this speed.

The city offers a wide range of cycling trails for all sorts of styles and skill levels. Much steeper, more challenging runs can be found on the other side of the valley. The truly game can also do tours in winter and ride on snow (trying this without the electric assist is almost impossible, Bernhard tells me). Given the ease and fun of today's spring ride, I'm tempted to come back and give it a go.

Trip Notes

MORE

traveller.com.au/innsbruck 

innsbruck.info 

FLY

Various European carriers fly into Innsbruck from other European cities. Australians can fly with several airlines into Zurich or Vienna and take a train to the city (three hours, 40 minutes from Zurich, four hours, 50 minutes from Vienna).

CYCLE

Guided cycling tours of the Innsbruck region are offered by Hotel Seppl (you do not need to be a hotel guest to do a tour). See hotel-seppl.at/en for details.

Craig Platt travelled as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Organisation

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