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I don’t fit neatly into the silos of interest that seem to have taken shape in modern cycling. I don’t race, at least competitively, and I don’t really care if I’m on a gravel bike or a road bike. I like to ride my bike as a vehicle of adventure but I certainly don’t fit the adventure cyclist mould. I like to go places and experience the world on two wheels but I also like to sleep in a bed and I don’t like to carry much on my bike. I have a feeling I’m not alone even if that’s not what gets talked about much.
I do have one more small quirk though. I don’t like to go to the same places as most people. While riding in Mallorca has a certain appeal, I like to look for something different. The same goes for big events too. It’s fun to show up along with everyone else but it’s also fun to find a part of the world that’s not so well trodden by cyclists. This year, I’ve been able to explore what this actually looks like a bit and share it with you. Generally, that has meant stories about a specific adventure like a ride through central California and a broken bike frame, or setting a record riding between Prague and Vienna.
This time though, there’s more to share. My adventure in the Czech Republic, or Czechia depending on the name you are familiar with, deserves a bit more discussion. Not everyone is up for 20 hours on a bike and there is a lot more to Czechia than the southern part of the country. If you like the idea of beautiful views, small towns, and favourable exchange rates, keep reading to see if you should explore Czechia.
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That favourable exchange rate continued to play out for the rest of my time in Czechia. The Uber ride dropped me off at the Hermitage Hotel Prague which is, at least to my eye, a fancy hotel. You can walk to bars and restaurants on the river and the old city, the biggest tourist draw, is a very short ride away. There’s also a luxurious breakfast included and even with all the amenities pricing listed on the hotel website is 2420 Czech Koruna (including taxes) as I write this, which is just over $110 USD.
While in Prague I walked to a variety of restaurants near the hotel where I enjoyed amazing food and Czech beer for very little money. I did also head to the Old Town square where I managed another traditional meal and beer while watching the tourists take in the sites. When it started to rain I jumped from awning to awning, including a brief stop in an Assos store, and made my way to Staronová Synagoga, Europe’s oldest active synagogue. Even in Israel, it’s not every day you can find a Jewish structure from 1270 so I wanted to make sure I’d taken in the sites.
This is about riding a bike though and on that front, Prague isn’t the best. There’s very little infrastructure and lots of cobbles and tracks to dodge. Just to drive the point home, I got honked at by a police car for riding too close to the edge of the bike lane as I headed out of town.
That doesn’t mean there’s no riding worth taking in around Prague. Honking by police aside, it’s short and uneventful to get out into the countryside. A short 15km ride South puts you at Ski a Bike Centrum Radotín (SBCR) which is a premier bike shop offering everything you’d expect. I had a bike fitting and a beautiful lunch outside but you can also rent a bike if you need one and there are a variety of organised rides that launch from SBCR.
In general, the area around SBCR is exactly the kind of riding I love. The roads are in excellent shape and they take you out into the country where there isn’t much traffic. The location near a river means there’s a fair amount of climbing and, with the help of a Garmin Varia or keen ear, you are free to enjoy your time riding two up and chatting while taking in the scenery. These are the roads the locals spend time on and if I ever come back with family in tow, Prague and SBCR would be an easy way to make everyone happy.
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Northern Czechia and the Varnsdorf area
I didn’t get a chance to take in every part of Czechia. I don’t know if one could ever really do that with any country during a short trip but I spent time in two parts of the country. Prague, as already discussed, and the area around Varnsdorf on the northern border shared with Germany. It’s the area up North that I felt most at home though.
While Czechia is an inexpensive place in general, Varnsdorf is on another level completely. The hotel I stayed in, Hotel Varnsdorf, wasn’t as fancy as my Prague accommodations but it had a different quality that made it just as good. Having grown up in a small resort town in Idaho, Hotel Varnsdorf had the same small-town feel I know well.
It’s a kind of hominess that you don’t get in big city hotels and in this case, it came with small but beautiful rooms that had everything I needed. Even with the nice breakfast included, a single room runs only 1000 CZK or roughly $46 USD at current exchange rates. That’s incredible but it’s the area that really makes it worthwhile.
What I experienced was just one small part of an area called Sudetenland. Until the second world war, it was well known for glass works, textiles and paper-making but things changed as the war ended. German inhabitants fled and industry began to disappear. The next 50 years of communist rule further depressed the area as all the smaller companies, and the buildings those smaller companies used, disappeared and fell into disrepair.
What that history means is that today, there’s not much industry left and, by extension, there’s also not many people. Instead what you will find is the Bohemian Switzerland National Park, incredibly friendly people, fantastic beer, and lots of redevelopment money. The roads I experienced were often about as wide as bike paths in the US but with asphalt so perfect it rivalled even those same bike paths. Cars were few and far between and every corner held a new vista more beautiful than the last.
I spent two days in the area, visiting the Posedla Bike Saddle Factory, and riding plus watching some racing during the Malevil Cup MTB Race. The first day started and ended in Varnsdorf and included a mid-ride beer, as Czechia is a place to enjoy a beer while waiting for a small storm to pass. I would have also gotten to spend time at a brewery in Varnsdorf but I was so jet-lagged and sleep deprived I had to turn in early. There’s enough riding, and beer, that I recommend spending more time in Varnsdorf than I did.
When I did leave though, my path took me to the Malevil Resort. That’s where I spent the second night in a room with an old-world feel and a style that harks back to somewhere early in the 20th century. The rooms are spacious and each one has a generous window with a view of the surrounding beauty. The Resort is considerably more upscale than Hotel Varnsdorf but the price is hardly any steeper. What is a bit steeper is the riding, the resort is in the mountains and viewing the racers meant steep climbs and steep descents. Given my experience, I’d say it’s worth checking out both locations.
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Just as I can’t tell you about every single part of the country, I can’t predict the weather for every season. I can tell you that there is a real winter though so you’ll probably want to plan for the summer months. I chose June, near the solstice, to get as much light as possible. Czechia is far enough north that summer days are nearly 18 hours long with sunsets close to 9 pm.
I also chose June because the temperatures are mild. Even at night, it stayed warm enough for only a light emergency jacket and during the day the high averages 24 degrees C / 75 degrees F. You don’t need to carry much with you while riding but you should make sure to bring a rain jacket.
Even in June and July, you might find yourself looking at a day of serious rain. I was lucky to find myself riding to Vienna just after such a day but I did get caught in a short storm while in the Northern part of the country. It stayed relatively warm but I was certainly soaked through and grateful for the POC emergency jacket I had with me.
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Do something different next summer
I took my ideas about tall socks, fast road bikes, and adventure to a country I knew very little about. It was a place not many people would say you should go with a road bike but I found the opposite. I found amazing people who love to spend time on two wheels and a country filled with mostly empty roads through beautiful landscapes of all kinds.
Prague is well known and isn’t worth missing but the best cycling is outside the capital city. If you want to stay close by, SBCR makes a perfect jumping-off point for the rides the locals do. If you head south, I’ve tested an amazing route all the way to Vienna. You can read about that adventure in my article about riding from Prague to Vienna.
Another option, head north. If I was looking for something a little more mellow, that’s where I would go. The roads are unbelievable and I’ve heard there’s amazing gravel cycling and mountain biking as well. The exchange rate is favourable with the Euro, British Pound, and US Dollar so your money goes a long way and beer has been a part of the culture since the sixth century. This isn’t the country you’ve heard about cycling in but it should be.