Maulwurf’s ticket to travel has always been his bicycle, even his mode of transport to out of the way destinations, always incorporated plans to maximise the potential for adventure. Imagine this, you live in Switzerland and want to go and race or ride bicycles in Australia. Most bike riders would just fly from Zurich to Sydney, not Maulwurf. On a couple of occasions in the 1980’s Maulwurf set off for Sydney Australia, from Switzerland by train. First stop Moscow, then the Trans Siberian Express, stopping off at all destinations including Ulan Bator, China then Japan and finally Sydney. When I first met this Swiss bicycle adventurer, in Sydney in the early 1980’s his taste for extreme experiences on two wheels was already highly developed, another train ride had seen him traverse continental Africa from north to south. Maulwurf also known as Agenteur Felix, now has decades of experience organising challenging bike events for all comers. For 2015, our friendly Swiss cycle Agenteur has been snooping about on the fringes of popular cycle sport to find a new test. This time round there’s no entry fee, no prize money, no support, no marshals, helpers, mechanics, nothing. Even the organisation of the event is provided without want of reward. In June 2015, you can make your way to Switzerland, then it’s just you and your mountain bike from the north east of Switzerland to the south west, on your own. From the Lake of Constance to the Lake of Geneva. For one thousand kilometres. Your aim point, the Freddie Mercury statue in Montreaux.
To get a sense of how much adventure is packed into the Trans Siberian Express experience, you first need to read this post about two other intrepid bike explorers - Bike Epic Novosibirsk to Everest Base Camp.
Influences run deep with Maulwurf’s bike touring exploits. After Australia, the Siberian express and African train rides, came new tours within the borders of Switzerland. Under the pretext that every corner of Switzerland is accessible, by bike or on foot the next phase developed. For many years our adventuring Agenteur has traversed the paved and unpaved trails of Switzerland. During this time Maulwurf has studied the Swiss landscape, encompassing winding forest tracks over mountains and valleys. Through farm lands inhabited by Swiss milking cows, their tinkling bells echoing across the green hills and lush forest landscapes, criss-crossed by crisp clear rivers and streams. A Swiss view, where on Sundays church bells resonate, unwavering throughout the morning, linking one small village to the next. Total immersion in the Swiss outdoors, now ingrained in the spirt of two wheeled adventures organised by Agenteur Felix, or Maulwurf as he’s known to his mates.
Before GPS systems for bikes and segments for any route anywhere, there was the reliability of Swiss Post. One of Maulwurf’s early ideas was to combine road mountain racing with an online results sheet, facilitated by Swiss Post. As an example, one of the Swiss mountain climb races I remember competing in was from Schaan to Oberplanken, you’d start close to the valley floor and race to where the road ends in a field somewhere up high. The format was always the same for these Swiss hill climb races, you’d compete in a mass start road race where everyone would warm up until they had sweat dripping from every pore. When the flag dropped it was a sprint out of the blocks. Every man for himself, no matter how fit you were or how well you could climb, you were going to be gasping for air in the first hundred metres, then just keep pouring the power on. When it was over you’d find yourself next to an alpine meadow, listening to those tinkling cow bells, while you wanted throw up. A couple of hours later would be race two, a handicap and your start order would depend on how you went in the first race. Agenteur Felix was inspired by this race format and organised a new style of mountain race, based on an online results sheet which was manually updated. This was only a few years ago, around 2002. Now there’s a whole generation of cyclist’s who will have only known GPS bike systems, and 2002 wasn’t that far back.
On the speed of uptake of technology, this week I showed a keen new bike rider pictures of a Bianchi X4 frame from the mid 1980’s, he noticed the longer rear dropouts. The question was, what are those, I’ve seen them on fixed wheel bikes, but not road bikes? It’s a bit over twenty years since frame builders ditched the old school longer dropout style with tip adjusters, and shorter versions became the norm. So in one rider’s eyes the longer versions are positively antique, despite the fact that he’s been riding a few years now and had never noticed longer dropouts anywhere!
For Maulwurf’s mountain race, all you had to do was register online and get a card mailed to you. You could then make your own way to the designated and spectacular 20km plus mountain pass over in the canton of Graubünden, in east Switzerland. You’d simply punch your card in a machine at the bottom of the mountain, race as hard as you liked to the top then punch the card again and hand it in at the mountain top kiosk. At the end of each day the cards would be posted to the headquarters of Maulwurf enterprises. The next morning in sunny Bettwiesen, the Agenteur would check the post and then update the online log for the mountain race. You had about three months to get to the mountain and record your time. Anyone could go there, professional or amateur. When the individual section was finished, if you wanted to have a crack at the overall classification, you could turn up for a second time and ride in a mass start race.
Following on from the pioneering concept of an online log where cyclists could follow other bike riders achievements, Agenteur Felix setup the Nutrixxion Mountain Rally which is still running. Five days of Swiss mountain riding. The Mountain Rally is a paid event and one for any serious fun loving bike rider’s bucket list, fully catered and nothing to do but ride through some of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere on the planet.
The brand new Swiss Navad multi day bike-packer challenge is a perfect combination of the Agenteur's previous experience in event organisation incorporating adventure as a key element. The latest GPS technology from Navad, and the use of a SPOT tracker perfectly compliments Agenteur Felix's original ideas. The Agenteur also drew inspiration from the gruelling Ride the Divide event, which is more than four times as long as the Navad 1000 . A catch phrase associated with Ride the Divide, the world’s toughest bike race is not in France attempts to articulate just how hard these multi day endurance events are. Finding or carrying food and clean water, mechanical logistics and repairs, bathing, animal and insect attacks, physical and mental fatigue, sleep deprivation, all these things and more come into play on these multi day bike-packer challenges. Resourcefulness, tenacity, endurance even luck affect the outcomes of each rider. Such a forceful communion with nature removes the rider to another plane, away from the mundane rigours of city life, perhaps this is the ultimate attraction.
The rules for the Navad-1000 are quite simple. It's about fun, a great experience, for the honour and fair play. If you can not manage the 1000 km unaided, you better stay at home.
An important new aspect to the Navad 1000 is it's green credentials. No vehicles are allowed along the route, this means zero emissions. Anyone participating in the event must arrive at the start in Romanshorn by train, you cannot drive there. All communication will be managed from Maulwurf headquarters at Bettwiesen in Kanton Thurgau. That means no paper, only online communication and all interaction with the riders takes place online. Family, friends and fans at home can follow the riders progress courtesy of each rider's SPOT GPS Satellite Tracker . It's mandatory for each participant, that at all times they are using a SPOT GPS tracker, this also ensures their personal safety. Riders will also be required to communicate via SMS a couple of times a day. The SPOT satellite position of each rider will be updated on a live, interactive map, the service potentially provided by Trackleaders.com
Riders participating in the Navad 1000 will choose how quickly they cover the distance. It's a personal challenge, so you could race as hard as you like, or sit back and soak up the Swiss scenery at touring pace. Technically the course is easy, so fun is emphasised. Maulwurf said that he wants riders to have an "unforgettable cycling experience in a breathtaking landscape".
Participants in the Navad 1000 will each ride with Navad GPS on board, providing accurate positional data, and loaded with detailed maps of each of the eleven sectors from Ramanshorn to Montreaux. Each participant will be given access to course documents a few days before the start in June 2015. Maulwurf also emphasised that maps are useless, due to the many twists and turns, the recommended device is the NAVAD Trail - 200, used in combination with additional power packs or with a dynamo hub.
Want to enter? Navad 1000
All images courtesy of Navad 1000 and Willi Felix.