A beautiful country: On the road at the MainFranken Graveller

Kein schöner Land: Unterwegs in MainFranken // A beautiful country: On the road at the MainFranken Graveller (Foto/Picture: Tobias Köpplinger)

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that the beauty is often right on our own doorstep. You don’t need distant countries and landscapes – as charming as they are – to have a great bikepacking experience.

And the Main-Franconia region is such a beautiful place and in it the MainFranconia Graveller. It leads from Würzburg once in a circle through the Spessart, the Rhoen, the Hass mountains and the Steigerwald. You can choose between a long track (632km and 9060HM) or a short track (429km and 6080HM).

These tracks are divided into four smaller sections, which makes it easy to combine short and long routes. Because the MainFranken Graveller is all about discovering this beautiful landscape by bike and off the beaten track. Without time limits, check points, placings and all the bells and whistles.

We have Jochen Kleinhenz to thank for this, who has lovingly scouted these routes and adds new sections every year.

I was a guest in this region once before. Back then I was with Tobias on a training weekend in preparation for the Atlas Mountain Race. Tobias comes from this region and lives right in the middle of the Mainfranken Graveller Kreis. So it was only natural that I should visit him again and we could take a look at his home on Jochen’s tracks together.

And so, in the cool but sunny morning of Ascension Day, we stood together with about 70 other participants in Würzburg in front of the Residenz and started together on the tracks.

We first chose the long route. Slowly the group of riders dispersed and soon we were on our own. 9,000 metres of altitude difference are a challenge for the legs, but I felt fit and well, even though I had been suffering from a cold for a few days. Apparently I had managed to get a grip on it in time for the start. But how wrong I was.

The first section of the route led through the Spessart before the track turned into the Rhön. In the Spessart, I find the forests the most impressive. In the Rhön, I like the mountains the most.

In the evening hours we reached Gemünden. Here the Sinn and the Fränkische Saale flow into the Main. Here we took the opportunity to have a good meal. The stretch up to here had taken a lot of energy. After all, we had to overcome more than 2,600 metres of altitude over 160 km to reach Gemünden. But the weather was good, even if it was so cool that we could hardly take off our jackets or leg warmers all day. This also meant that the breaks were always quite short. I quickly started to freeze and the cold kept coming back.

But now we sat in a restaurant after the bridge in Gemünden and enjoyed carb-loading. Sated, we planned to ride another 30km before going to sleep on the veranda of an old hunting lodge deep in the forest. (Thanks to Jochen for the tip!).

The next morning the dawn woke us up. In contrast to the day before, however, I felt groggy. My nose was stuffy, my head hurt a bit. And Tobias also coughed himself into the morning. We packed up and then rolled off. The forest road was very rough and my gears had problems finding and holding the gears. Wait a minute! Why does it actually do that? Normally, the SRAM AXS runs precisely and without complaining.

Unfortunately, a look at the gearshift body didn’t reveal any more information. Only that the shift cage was somehow more slanted than usual. Anyway, we continued and took a closer look at it during the first break. But that wasn’t so easy, because parts of the gears worked, other parts did not. Fortunately, it was the mountain gears that worked well, and so we first went up 800 metres in altitude. No time to think. And I had forgotten to eat breakfast again, so I quickly added a gel and a porridge bar to keep the stove going. But somehow the legs and the head were heavy. And the cough remained.

But the weather was right again. It was no longer so fresh and the sun bathed the landscape in a great light. Optimistically, I started the climb up to the Dreistelzberg (660m). But then my chain jumped and I had to make a full stop. The gears seemed to be a bit more misaligned or bent than I thought. And I didn’t know where it had come from so suddenly.

The next surprise came when I put the chain on the front chainring: the pedal crank was not tight and could be pushed back and forth. The reason for this, however, was sitting in front of the bike and wondering, when the world’s best mechanic had installed the bottom bracket himself and probably overlooked a spacer. And he didn’t notice it on the 100 test kilometres before the MainFranken Graveller.

Great! So we had to reschedule and hoped for help in a bike shop in Bad Neustadt. When we arrived there, they were very helpful, but couldn’t help me directly. So we followed plan B, which was to drive to Tobias’ place (only 35km away) and have my bike repaired in his workshop.

When we arrived, Jochen was already waiting for us and we had coffee and a chat. Then I set about the repair, drove briefly to Schweinfurt in between to buy a bottom bracket tool and then installed the spacer. Problem 1 solved. Problem 2 was the gearstick, which was still not right.

On closer inspection, the derailleur hanger seemed to be the cause of the fault. It was bent in itself. I still don’t know how this could have happened. As an experienced cyclist, however, I had a spare derailleur hanger with me and lo and behold: after the change, everything worked perfectly.

Since it was already evening, we decided not to continue until the next morning. And somehow I was also pretty exhausted, tired and worn out. And after a pot of spaghetti, I fell asleep at 9 pm.

The alarm clock rang at 6 a.m. and after a quick breakfast we set off. Our plan for today included the highest mountains and heights in the Rhön: Kreuzberg, Himmeldunk, Hohe Hölle, Rotes Moor, Wasserkuppe and Heidelstein.

That meant 1,800HM on 50km, a lot of climbing and also hiking from time to time. For the first 35km up to the Kreuzberg at 928m we needed 3 hours. The sky was overcast and a cold wind was blowing at the top with temperatures below 10 degrees. So we had to keep moving.

Photo: Tobias Köpplinger

After a short rest at the Kreuzberg monastery, we continued towards Oberweißenbrunn and then up to the 888m high Himmeldunkberg. On the last few metres I had to push, it was so steep and so absorbent was the meadow path.

After a short break at the summit cross, we passed the “Hohe Hölle” (high hell), where there are many old boundary stones that marked the former border between the Kingdom of Bavaria and Prussia.

After a steep and stony descent, we could already see the next destination from afar: the “Wasserkuppe”. In the meantime, the sun had taken over the reigns and so there was a beautiful view of the radar dome on the 950m high mountain. The Wasserkuppe is the highest mountain in the Rhön. It is considered the cradle of gliding and the source of the Fulda River. There is also a flying school up there and many people visit the mountain. This is accessible via a developed road, which was not so nice to drive on, also because many motorbikes and cars took the same route. The Wasserkuppe is not a highlight and I was glad when we went back to the ” Red Marsh”.

There we fortified ourselves with far too many chips and then climbed up to the 925m high Heidelstein. Up here is a 218m high antenna that marks the Heidelstein transmitter.

After about 75km we had done all the big Rhön mountains and rolled back via Oberelsbach, Bastheim, Bad Neustadt and Münnerstadt. This tour was the worthy finale of our personal MainFranken Graveller. A total of 420km with 6,300 metres of altitude difference were in the books.

Unfortunately, this also left its mark on me and with the certainty that I would not be on the bike the next day but in the car back to Hamburg, my body switched off tour mode again and the cold with headaches and aching limbs returned in full force.

Now I’m recovering properly before I start preparing for the next event in Bohemia. Hopefully without a cold then, because that’s not really good.

What remains, however, is the MainFranken experience and the many great hours spent in great nature and scenery. The Rhoen, Spessart, Steigerwald and Hass mountains are a wonderful region to spend a few days cycling. It’s a challenge from a sporting point of view and a great touring region thanks to the diversity of nature and culture. Come and see for yourself, just follow the MainFranken Graveller or join us next year.

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