Road Cycling in Austria | A Guide to the Best Riding Near Innsbruck
The capital of the Tyrol region in the Austrian Alps is an untapped cycling paradise
Are you looking for a new place to take your bike on holiday? We’re always on the lookout for new and exciting places to ride our bike, and we think the mountain town of Innsbruck is a perfect place to get some spectacular riding in while avoiding the usual hotspots of the French Alps and Pyrenees.
Set within the Austrian Alps, Innsbruck is the capital city of the Tyrol region, best known for its winter sports scene when many of us cyclists have packed our summer bikes away and are donning rain jackets and leg warmers. However, during the summer the region becomes a perfect haven for outdoor sports types, including cyclists, with an infrastructure that’s arguably as well set up for riders as it is for skiers and snowboarders.
Want to know more? We thought you might. Here are our six top reasons to make Innsbruck your next cycling holiday destination.
1) Easy access to Innsbruck and beyond
Flying into Innsbruck is an experience in itself, with the airport nestled deep inside the valley, mountains rising on either side. The fact you can fly direct year-round (from London Heathrow and London Gatwick in the summer) makes the city an easy holiday destination. Otherwise, connecting flights usually route via Vienna or Frankfurt, while Munich is also a common access point, with a two-hour transfer over the border.
The surrounding area is easily accessible by bike too, with lots of recommended routes, making Innsbruck the perfect launch pad to explore the Austrian alps and Tyrol area.
2) It’s a climber’s paradise
The Austrian alps, for half of the year, plays host to thriving winter sports scene with various resorts in the Tyrol area – but like most Alpine areas, the mountain passes and climbs are perfectly setup as a natural climber’s paradise when the snow has melted.
While there are plenty medium-length climbs that immediately surround Innsbruck, if you’re willing to explore the surrounding Tyrol region you can find some real gems.
Innsbruck - Kühtai
A classic 110km route takes you to the west of Innsbruck to climb the ascent of Kühtai, which rises to 2,020m. The ride starts flat, travelling alongside the river through Telfs and Haiming before turning into the mountains, where the climb of Kühtai starts at the town of Oetz. The 18km climb has a maximum gradient of 18 per cent but you'll find mountain huts on the way for refreshment. Kühtai is a ski town in winter but a sleepy mountain village in summer and from the summit there's the fast descent back to Innsbruck to enjoy. You can see the full route on the Innsbruck website.
Innsbruck circular tour
This 60km circular route, which takes in 1,200m of ascent, features quiet roads with little traffic, despite consistent views of the city - an ideal way to get to know the immediate surroundings of Innsbruck. The loop passes through the small villages of Mühlau, Arzl and Rum before turning towards the high plateau of Gnadenwald in Thaur. In Gnadenwald, there are several options to descend back down to the Inntal valley. On the way back to Innsbruck, you can stop for a break in Wattens and visit the Swarovski Crystal Worlds museum, which will host the start of the women’s individual time trial at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships.
Innsbruck - Mieming
This 80km route features less climbing, with 550m of ascent in total, but that does include the short but steep cycle path climb to the sunny plateau of Mieming - 1km at 11 per cent. However, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the rough limestone Wetterstein mountains. The loop also passes Stams Abbey, where you can visit the orangery, and the pilgrimage church of Wallfahrtskirche Locherboden. You can find the GPS route here.
The Kleinvolderberg is a cracking climb within striking distance of the city. The tough, hair-pinned ascent, just to the east of Innsbruck, is accessible by the bike path which runs adjacent to the river Inn.
At 4.1km with an average gradient of 11 per cent, it’s a real leg-tester, and you also have the option to add the Tulferberg climb on top of it, for another 4.1km at 11 per cent. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views backs over the valley and city below.
3) There’s something for everyone
Innsbruck, being the capital of the Tyrol region, is a thriving town throughout the entire year, not just when the ski season rolls round. It’s a central hub for food, nightlife, festivals, museums and exhibitions, so there’s plenty to do and see when you’re not out breaking your elevation records on Strava.
If you’re set on exploring the city, you can hire a city bike for easy access to all the major attractions, or there’s the option to hire e-bikes, with 90km of dedicated cycle lanes around Innsbruck. It’s easy to get around safely, with the rules governing the ‘Bike City’ largely imitating Britain’s own road laws, including a stringent drink-ride limit, and a ban on making phone calls while riding.
There are also many other cycle tours that don’t involve long riding up mountain passes, including family-friendly rides and culinary tours. You can also make the most of the region’s thriving mountain biking scene, with countless lift-accessible trails to explore, or you can even get your randonneur hat on and take part in some long distance tours too.
4) Ride the worlds
Innsbruck is home to a number of major events, and it’s plain to see that the region knows how to host one, given that it’s one of the very few cities to have hosted two Winter Olympic Games. Next year, for us cyclists, it’s playing host to the UCI Road World Championships, with all races finishing in the city, starting from various points from around the Tyrol.
The proposed route of the road races looks supremely challenging, starting in Kufstein, with a climb up the 2.8km, 10 per cent average Schlögelsbach serving as an appetiser for a mountain loop which will include the 8km, 5.7 per cent Patsch climb, and latterly two ascents of the Gramart that sandwiches a final rise up the main climb of the route. A descent marks the finale but only after 5,000m of ascent, so it’s sure to be an exciting finish.
There’s a clear opportunity to ride the route as it’s located in the immediate vicinity of the city, while it’ll be easy to catch the riders multiple times as they complete the course if you plan a holiday to watch the worlds in September 2018.
And, if you’re interested in testing your own fitness levels, there are several sportives organised in the surrounding area, including the 238km Ötztal Bike Marathon and Haute Route Dolomites, which begins its seven-stage duration in Innsbruck before proceeding into Italy and finishing in Venice.
5) Tailor-made infrastructure and accommodation
Being a ski town for the winter months, Innsbruck and the surrounding Tyrol area is tailor made for active tourists, including cyclists, come summer. This means the chalets and hotels that usually accommodate those who wear salopettes and skis during their holidays can also host cyclists and their bib shorts and bikes.
In fact, there are several hotels that the Innsbruck Bike City website recommends, which handily takes away the need to check if the hotel or chalet has storage space for your bike. Those hotels boast features like bike storage, washing facilities, guides and expert advice on where to go, as well as a menu suitable for keeping your energy levels high.
The city itself also has a network of signposted bike paths, from the scenic Inn Valley Cycle Route, to a network of 'cycle highways' to the airport, university and shopping centre.
Additionally, one of the added benefits of visiting a region set up for tourism the year round is the wide range of languages spoken, with English being a one of those understood tongues in Innsbruck. We’d always recommend learning some local lingo before you go, but it’s nice to know you’ll be understood if your GCSE German fails you!
6) Explore the undiscovered
One of the best reasons for visiting Innsbruck, however, is the fact that it’s largely undiscovered for road cyclists. That means every day is going to be an adventure, and an adventure that you can regale your friends with for many a club ride long after your visit has come to an end.
For the riders who’ve already scaled the major climbs of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, there are equally tough challenges in Innsbruck, while the scenery and quality of the roads are the equal of anything the famous climbs of the Grand Tours can muster.
At the same time, there’s something for everyone in the bustling, self-styled Bike City, with the potential to experience an active summer holiday paradise.