As an avid cyclist, I have often been asked whether riding a bicycle in Romania is more about madness than pleasure. Actually, aggressive driving, big city traffic and roaming stray dogs are not as bad – by far – as receiving a message that read: ‘our group of cyclists has been assaulted with stones by local people who blocked the road off Surduc’. An incident which ended with one of the cyclists having his arm broken by a brick thrown at him as well as several theft attempts, all occurring in otherwise bucolic and enchanting Transylvania. It has to be said that cycling – or most sports, for that matter (other than football, the major exception) – is not all that popular as a national pastime. There are sports-supporting NGOs and clubs, new specialized websites that appear every now and then, trails marked by enthusiasts, and trackposts complete with waypoints, accommodation units and logistics. But such enterprises are rather scarce and remain both individual and independent. There is no really committed action and hence the results: cycling in Romania obeys the unwritten rule that goes: “You are on your own, folks’. In terms of bike trails alone, there isn’t much except for a few routes such as the fine, if rather short, bike trail off Bunești in Central Transylvania. As far as they are concerned, larger cities have seen more or less successful attempts to create cycling lanes: a few such examples are Timișoara, greater Bucharest, and with a special note – Odorheiul Secuiesc / Székelyudvarhely. Taking a heap of suitcases on board a train will create no issues regarding their size, weight, or the CFR luggage policy. But taking a bicycle on most trains will turn one into an outcast, even though a dozen of the state-run trains (out of hundreds) and all private trains are bike-friendly: people are allowed to take a bicycle on board by paying a fee. On most CFR trains (i.e. on most passenger trains in the country), however, that remains a questionable business. But then, there is no easy way to happiness – or so the optimist argues when getting out of bed.
Whether it is about racing, cross-country cycling or downhill riding, the country has great potential. The rolling hills of Transylvania, with its fortified churches and remote villages, invite one to pedal and explore them whether on fatties or slim tires. At the same time, the many picturesque guesthouses that have sprouted up even in more remote places give one the option of traveling light. Rounded mountains with extensive pastures are just perfect for that cross-country weekend escape, while camping, or relying on mountain huts. Examples are plentiful, from the Suhard or Obcine in the North and all the way to the Leaota and Căpățânii in the southern Carpathians or Apuseni in the West. In some of these mountains, the local authorities have marked certain dirt roads and published cycling maps – yet it must be said that they have done so without providing any other cycling- friendly facilities. From my own experience, I have found cycling to be particularly popular in the Székelyföld in eastern Transylvania, with the first real cross-country trail established in Baraolt / Barót Mountains, off Sfântu Gheorghe / Sepsiszentgyörgy. But then, all mountains in this region – east and west of the Olt and Mureș valleys – are perfect for riding and are rarely travelled except for very few places.
Road racers would love the road along the Danube while noticing that despite the beautiful scenery through the Danube Gorges, the first section (to Orșova) could use a new layer of asphalt while the leg between Orșova and Calafat is rather busy with trucks. All cyclists I have met or worked with there were impressed with the twists and turns of the country’s second highest paved road, the Transfăgărășan. With totally different scenery and quite different expectations, I found the Danube Delta to be a treat for hybrid bike riders or cross-country addicts: dirt roads run alongside some of the canals deep in the Delta, while a combination of boat (to cross some canals and lakes) and bike (for those long distances) is a great way of exploring this nature reserve at ease. And then, riding a bicycle through the countryside around major cities such as Brașov, Bucharest, Timișoara, Sibiu or Iași provides infinite options for short trips to get away from it all.
That said, and with a few common sense precautions taken, I would encourage people to join the pedaling crowd, whether for commuting to work, short countryside hops, or for longer excursions. The bicycle will take you to places where you would not walk, while at the same time allowing for a greater degree of independence. Apart from the great nature on the way, you will definitely get closer to the local community on two wheels than by traveling with any motorized vehicle. I have been invited for cheese, brandy and an hour’s chat in more houses, sheepfolds and forest ranger huts than I can remember – and some of these encounters have resulted in long-lasting friendships. So the question is: would I ever give up cycling?About the author:
Shortly after getting his degree in tourism, Alex started traveling across Eastern Europe. He then went farther on, Eastwards, riding trains, bicycles or overloaded trucks, as well as trekking through the Middle East, Central Asia, the Subcontinent he never gets tired of and, more recently, Central Africa. When at home, he spends his spare time hiking, cycling and camping in the Carpathians, respectively researching and exploring Bucharest. His passion towards these places can be read about in the guidebooks on Romania he worked for, or in his websites, bucharestian.com or notrails.info