Riding Gravel and Talking with Tom in Germany

We stood at the clearing in the trees, far above the valley with Hidelberg directly below us and Manheim looming a bit farther off. The funicular rambled up to its terminus about twenty meters from us, and the adjacent terrace, Riosk Fuchsbau, was full of people absorbing the view and taking in a cold drink or two. A popular tourist spot in the area on normal days, the lookout on the Königstuhl peak was particularly abuzz on June 30th with ideal weather and the recent last day of school for most of Europe.

Most visitors had driven up, but cyclists don't get the reward of such a view without at least some effort, and this particular scenery came at the end of an hour-long climb up from the fahrstil klubhaus way down there in Heidelberg.

About thirty of us had gathered earlier at the klubhause for a unique opportunity to ride with Tom Ritchey, eventually leading up to this spot. Later in the day, we'd have lunch with Tom and participate in a question and answer session with this cycling legend. But for now, we took in the view and basked in the accomplishment of the climb.

Most participants for the day came from various parts of Germany, but the group also included people from Belgium, Austria, the United States and beyond. As one would expect to see when people are given the opportunity to ride with Tom, the collection of bikes on the ride included Ritchey rigs from over the years - everyone discussing the finer details of the bikes with each other…and with the man who designed them.

After a brief introduction, some words about the ride, and the usual last-minute bike fiddling and water bottle-filling, we clipped in and rolled out. We first spun through a light industrial area and then along a residential community, still partially under construction, which sits on the site where a former United States military base once stood. The dedicated concrete bicycle lane skirted the large, white and modern apartment buildings to the left and a variety of small playgrounds and other recreational facilities on the right. Cruising at about 30km, we suddenly took a left turn into some off-road terrain where we immediately met a wide patch of sand. Amazingly everyone remained upright, though there were some laughs and maybe a curse or two at the surprise.

The singletrack went on for only about 100 meters before we were back on city streets, which quickly pointed us up towards Königstuhl. Soon enough, we turned off the tarmac and passed a gate where our climb turned into a gravel ascent. Despite German laws forbidding mountain bike trails narrower than two meters, we noticed plenty of mountain bikers diving in and out of the singletrack that branched out into an obscure network from either side of the road.

Just after the sandy first bit of singletrack.

Tom, who logs about 16,000 kilometers of riding per year, kept a solid pace on the climb while graciously holding conversations with everyone eager to ride…and talk…with the man who's bikes many of them were riding. While some gasped for air asking him about his favorite rides and bike set-up, Tom kept spinning uphill…even as we passed a pair of riders atop full-suspension electric mountain bikes. One has to wonder if those kids had any idea who just passed them, giving them a quick sideways glance.

At one point the ride stopped to regroup at a World War One memorial, about two-thirds up the mountain. Also offering photo opportunities and a wonderful view, the structure of the large memorial included a set of wide stairs leading down to where we could get a good view of the valley. While most people unclipped and walked down the stairs, Tom casually and humbly descended them on his Outback without a word. For him, it was simply the easiest, and most fun, way to the bottom. A surprise to everyone, this action was not documented with photography or video. It's just the stuff of legends.

Requisite Group Photo

Once we reached Königstuhl, our support and photo/video crew met us with crates of the delicious Welde Naturradler, water and other drinks. We milled around there, took a breath and posed for many photos with Tom and the Heidelberg Valley as the beautiful backdrop.

When you're celebrating a mountain bike legend with a ride in his honor, it's only natural that the ride include some sweet singletrack. Luckily we got a nice taste of some twisty and flowy trails at the top of the mountain, with the added benefit of riding with Tom as he masterfully became one with his bike as he effortlessly and soulfully weaved along the trails.

Following the frollicling in the forest, we turned right onto a gravel road and settled in for a screaming descent back into town. Within no time, we were back at the klubhaus where we were met with a wonderful spread of potato salad, sausage, pork, bread and a wonderful variety of local beer - a more perfect après ride spread than we could have imagined.

While the assembled riders dined, Tom put his autograph to everything from posters to jerseys to books, photos and at least a couple of bicycle frames. The photos continued until we wrapped up the lunch in order to usher people inside for the start of the question and answer session.

The fahrstil klubhaus is an extension of what can be considered a taste-making cycling collective in Heidelberg that has influence beyond its native Germany. fahrstil is more than just a magazine that focuses on the depth and soul of the sport we live. With a community hub that includes a café, retail space and meeting area, the klubhaus is a ground-floor facility that coalesces the fahrstil brand and philosophy into a larger physical presence.

Thus, it's the perfect venue to host a cozy question and answer session with Tom. With Michael Ziegler as the host and moderator, Tom spoke for about an hour, riffing on topics that ranged from his perspective on electric bikes to the beauty of steel forks to the fact that sometimes non-standard spoke nipple sizes can get you stranded. Y

Watch the full video of the Q&A here.

The questions and answers could have gone on much longer, but it was getting late and it was time to wrap it up. After a few more autographs, Tom and Martha mounted their Break-Away Double Switchback Tandem and rode back to their hotel. Having flown in from California less than 24 hours earlier, they were ready for some rest.

With a fun, entertaining and enlightening day behind us, the group gradually wound down as people left with smiles and autographed goods in their possession. fahrstil and Ritchey staff shared one more radler and a bit more conversation before we also went our own ways.

Note: Many thanks to everyone at fahrstil for putting together such an excellent event. We also loved seeing so many people with such enthusiasm, and who appreciated the opportunity to meet Tom, ride with him and listen to him talk. Much thanks to Kay Tkatzik for the photography, which you can see...right....here....