C E-Bike Bregenz, Lake Constance (c) Peter Mathis / Vorarlberg Tourismus
This here is an eagle,” he says, rolling the bicycle out of the workshop. “You’ll float on this. It’s like flying.” The man in the sports shop pats the front tyre, caressing it almost. The tyres are pretty thick and have an impressive tread. Everything about this bike looks like it is ready for a fight: the frame is bulky, the handlebars wide, the chain looks as if it could be used to heave a fallen mountain climber out of a gorge if need be. Everything is matt black. I am not sure whether eagle feathers have the same colour, but with me in its saddle it’ll be anything but eagle-like anyway! More like a crow. The man checks the tyre pressure, the chain, the gears right and left, and ponders whether he has forgotten anything. He has. He presses a key into my hand. A key for the lock for releasing the battery from the frame. “You won’t need it. The juice will be enough for what you have planned.”
What I have planned is a ride and a half. I am going to take the train from Dornbirn to Bregenz, the state capital located on Lake Constance. From there, the plan is to go to Partenen at the foot of the Silvretta, across Vorarlberg, from the plain up to the mountains. Almost 100 kilometres, an elevation gain of 600 metres. The cycle path is perfect for leisurely tours by e-bike. And if
you have had enough, you simply get on the train and take the easy way home. These are perfect framework conditions – it is easy to make adventurous plans. We intend on covering the distance in one day. All 100 kilometres of it. The crow and me.
And we are already out and about. This means: we are already taking our first break. In Bregenz. Next to the lake, on a bench, in the sun, right next to the “Milchpilz”. The Milchpilz has been an unofficial landmark of the town since the 1950s. You won’t find a better milkshake anywhere else in Vorarlberg – probably anywhere in the whole of Austria. It would be easy to stay put, the whole day, looking out towards the lake, if only I didn’t have those 100 kilometres ahead of me.
So off we go! A quick glance at the map, the gear in “Eco” and the tyres are already purring on the Lake Constance cycling path, and the crow spreads its wings and takes off. Into an Austria that is in full bloom, past pastures and orchards and through meadows in which storks stalk frogs. The cycle path follows the River Rhine and appears to know a short cut – in any case, we are in Hohenems in no time. Maybe the short detour for a dip in the Old Rhine helped… Between Lustenau and Hohenems. The crow may need a new battery at some point – five minutes in the water have done the trick for me.
Vorarlberg has taken on a different appearance now. Until just now, the mountains were pastel drawings in the haze of the horizon. Now, all of a sudden, they are much closer. Some of them are even up close. The church in Hohenems nestles up to a steep cliff as if even the house of God itself has to seek protection. The following mountains are so covered with trees and vegetation that you feel as if you are cycling into a landscape framed in green. And soon I reach Feldkirch, where I stop for lunch. A few years ago, they filmed some scenes for a James Bond film, “A Quantum of Solace”, in the historic old town, which must have been pretty exciting. In real life, Feldkirch is much more tranquil. Much more relaxed, a lot more casual – almost Mediterranean in fact. At lunchtime, half the town sits over a glass of wine in the sunny marketplace. Not only that – the pasta is as good as it is in Italy.
A brief detour – not to Ludesch or Thüringerberg, but rather into the world of theory. If you have never been on an e-bike, it is feasible that you have the wrong idea about them. An e-bike isn’t a moped that drives on its own – you have to pedal it. “Bicycle with pedal-assist system” is the official designation. It is possible to use the aforementioned pedal-assist system in stages. It feels like an invisible hand giving you a bit of a shove on your back. The motor provides more thrust from stage to stage: when it reaches the highest, the cyclist’s efforts are doubled. So what exactly does that mean? It means that the crow sometimes does actually turn into an eagle! Even with me in the saddle.
Once you pass Nenzing, you realise how far you have already come by pedalling these past few hours. You have left flat Vorarlberg to get to alpine Vorarlberg: from Bludenz at the latest you feel that you are in the Alps – thanks to the snow-covered peaks over on the horizon. In the Montafon there is no doubt that you are in the Montafon: there is no such thing as a flat
stretch for 100 metres at a time. The Montafon as a whole is a region that reaches for the sky: the valley of the Ill is edged by mountain ranges towering into the sky, the Silvretta with its mountains over 3,000 metres high, the Rätikon with its lime pinnacles right next to it, on the other valley side the Verwall, all mountains, none of them exactly small. There is no claiming that geology has been restrained in the Montafon. Instead, the world looks as though it wants to reach for the stars here.
I change the battery in Schruns. Not because it is empty – I just want to find out what it is like to change a battery. All in all, it takes about the same length of time as it takes to change a tyre in Formula 1: a member of staff sees me getting off my bike and is already holding the battery when I enter the shop holding the old one. She wants a signature, and that was it. A minute later,
and the crow is full of power again. To make getting off my bike worthwhile, I go and sit in the beer garden opposite. And order a shandy.
Then it is late afternoon and the valley becomes increasingly narrow, then I find myself in Partenen which stands guard ahead of the winding roads of the Silvretta alpine road. Soon back, in Gaschurn, I will have to part from the crow. From there, I will take the bus to Schruns and, from there, continue to Bregenz by train. For a moment, I am tempted to bestow the crow with wings once again and, with a new battery, to climb up to the reservoir at the foot of Piz Buin, 2,300 metres above sea level, where you can practically touch the clouds. Then I discover the words “thermal baths” on a hotel. The words “sauna” and “Vorarlberg specialities” do it for me and that is the end of any idea about taking the windy roads. Even e-bikers need to visit the charging station every now and again…
Guaranteed great views: e-bikers in the Montafon
Tour information: from Lake Constance to Piz Puin
This is one steep trip, no doubt about it! The tour, which is about 100 kilometres in length, starts in Bregenz on Lake Constance at an altitude of about 400 metres and goes as far as Gaschurn at an altitude of about 980 metres. The first stretches along the River Rhine and through the Walgau are also suitable for families. The stretch from Gaschurn via Partenen and on to the windy Silvretta alpine road to the Bielerhöhe and Wiesbadener hut at the foot of Piz Buin presents seasoned cyclists with a challenge.
If you have athletic ambitions, you can complete the entire tour by e-bike in around eight or ten hours. Parts of the tour can be covered easily enough by normal bike. Whichever you prefer – you are well advised to schedule more time for taking lovely detours and, of course, for any amount of breaks to enjoy the view. Incidentally: if, despite the boost you get with the e-bike, you want to take an even more leisurely approach, you can simply get the train for some parts of the tour.
We rented the e-bike from “Intersport Montafon-Rankweil-Dornbirn” in Dornbirn (www.sportprofi-vorarlberg.at). The Montafon has a particularly dense network of rental, exchange and charging stations.