If you are interested in cycling off the beaten track, you will certainly be familiar with the Orbit360 series.
Also this year, many endurance and gravel enthusiasts have scouted great routes all over the country and since the end of May, the hunt for best times or simply beautiful moments on the Orbit laps is open.
For me, the Orbit360 routes are a great preparation for the Silk Road Mountain Race. And so of course I couldn’t wait and have already ridden three Orbits, two of them before the start of the official race period.
Speed deluxe: Milky Way Mission
This year, the courses no longer have country names, but have been given spacy names. The Milky Way Mission was the first Orbit I rode, simply because it passes almost directly by my home.
This 193km long orbit is 90% on my training routes through Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. And it’s also very flat, with about 450 metres of altitude gain. This makes it a fast loop and ideal for those who want to try such distances without having to risk much.
The Milky Way Mission was scouted by Christian, whom I met at the Atlas Mountain Race and who also scouted the Schleswig-Holstein and the Hamburg Orbit last year.
The Milky Way Mission is not for the faint-hearted: the starting point alone, almost directly at the HSV stadium, will set some hearts racing. Especially if you come from St. Pauli. Then there are the harsh social differences that this route massively demonstrates to us: noble Elbe suburbs, huge villas, sophisticated gardens and privately owned forests on the Hamburg side.
On the other side, the Schleswig-Holstein countryside: flat, lonely, a hint of eau de manure, and when the wind is right, mountains are nothing compared to it.
The orbiters can expect plenty of rural farm tracks, forest highways, a few rooty greetings from the kitchen, touched with a few steep ramps along the Elbe to warm up and also a sandy reminiscence of the last kilometres of the Atlas Mountain Race.
I rode the Milky Way Mission at the end of April and had good wind and some rain. I also had a flat tire, which is why my total time was 8:30h, with a riding time of 7:49h. However, I wasn’t in race mode and had a break in addition to the flat. And in the city, the traffic lights are often annoying and take up a lot of time.
In the meantime, some people have already ridden the Milky Way Mission and I’m guessing that this route will take under 7 hours in race mode, I’d even say around 6:30 hours.
Nature & Gravel galore – Marsian Mountains
The Marsian Mountains were scouted by Anno, who also contributed the Orbit to Lower Saxony last year.
With 156km and 1,200HM, this orbit is short, but it has a lot to offer – and not much tarmac. I rode this loop at the beginning of May just a few days after the Milky Way Mission. The Marsian Mountains are also around the corner from me, so I cycled to the start and extended the total distance to 200km.
Unfortunately the weather was not really good, so the Marsian Mountains were hard work: Storm & rain gave everything to slow me down, soggy forest & heath ground sucked the tyres and then there was no water supply for about 70km and as if that wasn’t enough a chain break!
But I don’t want to complain, because the Marsian Mountains were really nice: a lot of gravel, great nature and a few nice climbs.
In the end, there were 200km on the clock. The Marsian Mountains Orbit itself should only take the trained rider around 6-6.30 hours. And a few days ago, someone even completed this route in just under 5 hours.
Some more impressions…
Hot Race – Venus Valley
Scouted by Johanna and Timo Jahnke, the Venus Valley Orbit leads east through Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Meck-Pomm. It was the first Orbit360 I did as a race this year.
I used the Feast of Corpus Christi to take the S-Bahn to the starting point in Hamburg in the morning. 193km and just under 800HM are not a lot, but Johanna and Timo did not let themselves be lumpen and built an equally challenging and beautiful Orbit. And that the Venus Valley Track was scouted with a Salsa Fargo became apparent quite quickly: it went through the green hell (a small path that meandered through a narrow overgrown forest) with the first technical refinements, trees lying across (several), tracks lost in the forest with pushing and searching, forest highways deluxe, sand passages de Hate, Grenzsteintrophy Gerüttel, root passages and proper field paths.
Some people will certainly rub their eyes and ask: “Is this still gravel?” Yes, and it’s pretty awesome. I was quite happy to have ridden this route in the dry. Because when it gets wet, parts of the track can be quite challenging.
I rode the Orbit clockwise and was very happy about the highway to Hamburg at the end. There you could really fire up and make up time!
Unfortunately, my plan to ride Venus Valley in under 8 hours came to an end with my hydration bladder emptying itself into the frame bag. This meant I needed some time to organise hydration supplies. And therefore my performance was also a bit more limited until Geesthacht, due to the lack of fluids.
In any case, this Orbit is fun and I can only recommend it to you. By the way, I’m in favour of renaming it Fargo Valley!
My tip: Don’t ride it on weekends or holidays when you’re on time. You won’t really get through some parts because of other cyclists and walkers. Especially along the Elbe between Lauenburg and Geesthacht, I don’t think there’s any way through.
Some more impressions…
If I had to rank the three Orbits, I would give first place to the Marsian Mountains and the Venus Valley and third place to the Milky Way Mission. All three are wonderful and a good way to experience our country up here in a different way.
I’ll do one or two more Orbits – and will report back, of course.
And I wish you lots of fun on the wonderful tracks – whether in race mode or as a relaxed tour with bike and tent.