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Barcelona to Berlin King of Gravus

April 21st, 2016

Images: Jeff Curtes
Words: Ken Bloomer

Barcelona and Berlin are two of the most iconic European cities that also happen to be epicenters for a new wave of European frame building. Both host a young-hip counter culture that is redefining Europe. What also makes these two thriving metropolitan areas so unique is the ease of access to nature. A road trip between Barcelona and Berlin was the perfect opportunity to check in with some of our favorite builders and to explore more of what they had to offer in riding.

Surrounded by a coastal range, Barcelona sits on the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea and with its mild climate, is a hot bed for many outdoor sports from surfing to trail running. Mountain biking is also huge in Spain, traditionally the Spanish are right behind the US when it comes to trends in the sport.

We hooked up with two of the young frame builders (both of whom also happened to be Italian implants) that are re-shaping frame building in Europe. We stopped by the shop from Mattia Paganotti of Legor to check out his shop in the heart of Barcelona. Situated in an old light industrial area in the center, one would have no idea that Mattia is cranking out some of the most desired frames in Europe out of this unassuming building. It is no wonder when you take note of the craft brewery around one corner and the craft coffee roaster the next that, why they have moved into the growing neighborhood.

Enrico Belle’ from Belle cycles who also builds bikes in BCN, joined us for the rides we took straight out of Mattia’s shop. Just a mere 10 minutes through the city of 1.6 million people and we were at the first trail head. Parc de Collsera lies on the western edge of the city and has a huge network of trails and gravel roads. Armed with a quiver of gravel bikes, we wanted to ride it all. With so much to explore, it was helpful to have both Mattia and Enrico as guides.

After ascending some roads and trails, you are rewarded with some incredible views back over the city and out into the sea. Looking inwards you can make out the Pyrenees that lie just north of the Catalunya.

The next day we had the pleasure of riding just north of the city in an area called Parc de la Serralada de Marina, it consisted mostly of some smaller mountains laced with a myriad of single track. Most of the trails and roads are made of sun baked clay and rocks, which made for some very fast riding. The gravel bikes were ideal for most of the riding and the trails never got too crazy.

Being the typical sunny spring days that weren’t too hot, we saw a lot of people out enjoying the hills from moto-crossers to horse back riders, and of course tons of cyclists. Also since it was early spring, the air was filled with roasted onions, a traditional local dish where they roast big spring onions on open fires and serve them with tasty spicy sauces.

On our final day of riding in Barcelona we were joined by another frame builder, Sylvain Renouf of Caminade from just across the border in France. Taking another approach from Mattia’s shop, we went down to the coast and followed the El Besòs river back up into the hills of Collsera.

Despite Mattia and Enrico’s local knowledge of the land, our adventurous spirit led us down a few trails that had us lost for a short while. But I guess you are never really lost if you find your way back to where you started. After bush-whacking and riding for several hours, we dropped quickly back into town and Mattia redeemed himself by taking this hungry crew to an incredible ramen place, the Grasshopper, that was also serving up some great local craft beer.

We had three incredible days of riding behind us and were sad to leave, but it was time to turn the ENVE van northward and make our way to Berlin for the Berliner Fahrrad Schau. Like Barcelona, Berlin has one foot firmly planted in history, but is still a very young spirited and growing city.

Berlin has long been a strong hold for the fixie scene with some eclectic shops and characters. Standert and 8Bar represent the new school in bike brands that embrace the frame builder core with a broader appeal and are truly Berlin. The Berliner Fahrrad Schau pulls in some of the most reputable European builders in the trade. We were going there to host a gravel event, Gravus, and meet up with some of these builders.

One of the local Berlin builders, Florian Speicher of Troica, was helping me out to organize Gravus by putting together a super fun loop that would take participants from the show, south out of the city along the may lakes near Potsdam, then through the Gruenenwald past the historic Avus motor speedway and back to the show.

We have been riding before the show in Berlin for the past couple years on many of the local trails and thus the idea was born to hold an event to showcase the riding around Berlin. Once again the all-road bikes proved to be the best tool for the job be very cable of transporting one out the city very quickly and still being able to rally on the dirt roads and trails in the forest. That was the catalyst for inviting 7 builders to produce their version of an all-road bike for a special ENVE build off. Jaegher, Field, Mosaic, Legor, Belle, Crema, and Troica all made bikes for the show, that were also to be ridden in Gravus. We also showcased these rides in the ENVE booth and had an Instagram vote for the “Best All-Road” bike.

Gravus went off amazingly, all participants came back with huge smiles and exchanged stories over a BBQ and local craft beer. The format was a non-timed event with random groups of four going out in 5 min intervals to tackle the 70 kilometer course. There were 4 Strava segments riders could turn the gas on for bragging rights. Most if not all enjoyed the riding and company out on the trail.

We would get out and ride everyday before the show, taking advantage of the close proximity of the forest to the show to open the legs and lungs up before spending the day inside the show venue. More shows should figure out means to get show attendees out and riding. It is my favorite way to have meetings and conversations and share in something that we all love – riding.

It was great to catch up with all of the builders at the show and there were some truly amazing and cool bikes to see. Frame building in Europe is alive and well, especially when you look to centers like Barcelona and Berlin. And there is good reason, fresh talent and ideas are fueling the fire and with locations like these two cities, who wouldn’t want to ride.