When someone mentions Russia you think in cold long winters, couple meters of snow, Siberia, vodka and bears wandering around on the streets, the usual stereotype. But many don’t even imagine that due to the vast terrain of the country and the wide variety of terrains, you can find anything in Russia, ever frozen lands (permafrost), long winters with -50 Celsius and alike. But in the South you have places where it barely snows and average temperatures rise above +10 Celsius. And also think that the highest mountain in Europe is Elbrus mountain, located in Caucasus mountain range, precisely in the South, not far from Crimea.
Precisely Crimea is one of those privilege places, with warm and dry summers and short not very cold winters. Recently there was lot of talking about this region due to political conflicts between Russian and Ukraine. Many friends commented “Are you sure, what about security there?”. Forget about that issue, there are no issues at all in Crimea, security is not a problem at all. A big percent of local population has Russian roots for generations so switching from Ukraine to Russia was not an issue for them, on the contrary, most of them are really happy with it due to the quick increase of Russian tourists and all business possibilities that come with that. Historically Crimea has been the main summer tourist destination for all ex-soviet citizens, currently citizens from around 15 different countries. So everyone cares more for the increasingly number of tourists and therefore the increase on businesses and income related to this.
And what about mountain biking, what can you say about? Well my friend, welcome to the paradise. Mountains up to about 1700m high, with a wide variety of terrain, there is a huge trail network for all levels. I stayed for 3 weeks in the small town Alushta, just 70km (1h drive) from Simferopol where the international airports is located. Alushta is right on the seashore on the beatiful Black Sea, surrounded with a U shaped mountain range with highest peak ranging 1500m. This location offers an extensive variety of trails, flowy, technical, step, fast, all kind of them, many ending just 5min from the sea where to enjoy a fresh local beer once you finish the ride and even take a plunge on the sea if you feel brave enough.
I planned my 3 weeks of riding with the help of BikeTest.ru, a small but active company focused 100% on MTB routes for all levels. Their main leader and guide is the known russian riders Vados Barbados, with more tha 25 years of riding experience. In the 90’s and begining of the 2000’s he used to race profesionally and even participated on several DH world cups in Fort Williams, Vigo and Catalunya. With those credentials, fun is assured.
I booked my flight to Crimea just one month before my trip, so it was somewhat on the pricy side, around 300€ from Spain to Simferopol. But if you plan ahead several months, you can get two way tickets for less than 200€ from Spain and other locations in Europe. All flights pass throught Moscow where you need to do a change to a local flight to get to Simferopol in Crimea. There aren’t, at least for now, direct fliths from european countries to Crimea. Aeroflot was my choosen airline, it offered the best price. And also, if you travel light and your bike+box doesn’t weight more than 23kg, there is no need to pay extra for the bike. So you save about 50€ as compared to other airlines. Just grab all your clothes and helmet with you on the cabin luggage, that’s what I’ve done without any issues. For 3 weeks it was more than enough for me, so if you plan for just one week, you will be covered.
BiketTest.ru offers pickup and drop off at the airport, so you don’t need to worry about a taxi, bus or alike. After 1h drive you arrive to Alushta, the accomodation suggested by BikeTest.ru is a “bike friendly” small hotel with 12 double rooms and one attic for 4 persons. It has secure room for the bikes, washing station and a staff perfectly aware of riders necessities. It has a small restaurant where they offer tasty local food and breakfast. The hotel is located 5min ride from the sea and town center where you have plenty of places to choose to eat and enjoy a nice holiday. Prices are usually around 30-40% less than in most european countries. And, whats most important, about just 1h slow pedaling from the first trails.
Trails, what about trails?! Let me tell you, there is lot more than you will be able to ride in one week. I spent 3 weeks riding, doing around 40km long routes on a daily basis, some days combining lifts and some pedaling and still didn’t tried all the trails around. Just about 30min pedaling from the city you have already several fun flowy trails for all levels, mainly green and blue levels as Ceraus, Ai-Iori, Mamontovaya or Alushta trails.
BikeTest offers several options according to each group of riders, trying to accomodate same level riders on one group so the ride satisfies everyone. There are also technical step trails for the hardcore riders with lot of exposed zones, rockgardes and more gnarly sections. Trails like Iagodka, Zimelinika, Man, Zpovednii, will leave you with a big smile on your face. And the views from the top…ohhh man, that’s something to take into account. Starting at around 1500m height and ending near the Black Sea means same amount of non stop descent with very few climbs. There is ton of information on the TrailForks website, with all data. I even updated some of them to make it even more accurrate.
|map taken from TrailForks site, Alushta area in Crimea|
Somedays we had even up to five uplifts with some pedaling involved to get to the trail head, accomplishing by end of day about 1500m of cumulative climbing and an astonishing 3700m of descent. Day usually start at 10am with pickup at the hotel and a small briefing to let everyone know the plan of the day. Usually around 3-4pm the route is over, that’s about 6h of rinding, including stop for snacks and the delicious sandwich that BikeTest always has ready for each rider each day. For me, the best moment of the day, to enjoy those minutes just seating, enjoying the views and eating that sandwich, thinking about the awesome trail that lies ahead.
In order to enjoy to the fullest the days riding in Crimea my advice is to be on a relatively good physical shape and be able to withstand several hours on the bike. There are no really long and epic rides, but riding several days in a row, doing lot of descents where your arms and legs will suffer, is recommendable to have be ready for that. If not, you will risk having crashes due to fatigue. And you will not enjoy to the fullest all that the trails have to offer.
As for the spares I recommend taking with you at least the minimum necesary for a several days of riding. Couple of tubes, one spare derailleur hanger, at least one pair of brake pads and if you have the space, take also a spare tire just in case. On my case I didn’t took one as I was limited by weight, and on the 3rd day of riding I had a clean 2 inches cut on the rear tire, a brand new 27.5 Minion 2.3 Exo tire. Thankfully Vados had some spare tires at home and I inmediately bought one from him (una HighRoller Exo 27.5) and had it ready at night. I also had some issues with one of the rear wheel bearings and on same day I could get a spare one from a store located on Simferopol, but spent one day without riding waiting for it to come and later mount it.
I used that day without riding to do some tourism on the nearby known city of Yalta, remarkably known as the place of the “Yalta Conference” where leaders from USA, UK and Soviet Union gathered at the end of 2nd World War to shape a post-war peace agreement and Europo postwar reorganization. Is a beatiful city by the sea, with a long stroll along the seashore, known to be visited by most of the main intelectuals of pre-Soviet era late 18th century, Pushkin, Chekhov, Khanshovkov, Gorki and more.
Summarizing: I would totally recommend spending at least one week riding in Alushta area with BikeTest as your guiding companions. The area has outstanding trails and lot to offer to everyone. You will certainly not regret flying there.