Bicicleta,  English,  Romania

Cu bicicleta prin Romania #2. Bike Trip from Bran to Transfagarasan and back

We have decided to take a 3 days bike trip in early June.
Me, Alex and Ion, 3 guys in our 40’s, far from being strongly trained for biking tours but having plenty of enthusiasm.
We have chosen road (racing) bikes, equipped with a couple of bags in order to avoid carrying backpacks. I have a Scott CR1 20 2016 to which I attached a MidLoader Frame Bag and a 6L BackLoader Saddle Bag from Topeak, for larger stuff. I also added two small bags for a toolkit and small things. In the end of this article, you can find a more detailed list regarding the bike and things I took with me.

Jun 4
We leave Bucharest in the afternoon (approx. 3:30pm), by car. We reach Bran in the evening, get our rooms at Cehov pension, our “traditional” host in the area. On our way we stop at Wolf – Mega Image and buy some food & drinks, for the next morning and the following days. After taking our rooms, we go out for dinner (Thomas restaurant, 10min walking). A bit of red wine helps us sleep better before the departure next morning.


Friday, Jun 5
Bran – Rucar – Campulung – Curtea de Arges – Corbeni. 117km, +1800m alt gain. 7h50m
We wake up at 6am, for an early start. The weather forecast shows potential rains after 3-4pm, near Curtea de Arges, so we should better get there not too late in the afternoon. We prepare a quick breakfast, set up the bikes and start at 7:30. We have planned for approx. 110km, 1800m alt gain.
The road is quite empty at this time of the day, there is traffic but not annoying. The route starts with an easy climb, towards Moieciu. Then the climb gets steeper but nothing to worry about. The views are great, we enjoy the perspectives left and right, towards Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mts, respectively. From time to time, cars and lorries overtake us but they are decent. Weather is great, promise of a sunny day. The asphalt is quite good. We take short stops every 20-30kms, for a bit of stretching, hydration and quick snacks. We stop at the soldiers’ monument along the route, where patriotic/military song are played in some strong speakers. It is a relatively strange environment but we buy some refreshments and homemade chocolate and resume our journey. Needless to say, as it is an epic ride, I take lots of photos and videos.
From Bran to Campulung, there are plenty of ups and downs but the air is good, as we ride long segments bordered by trees. From Campulung, at midday, the context changes a bit. There are some long climbs in full sunshine which require more mental strength, plus, of course, sun protection and plenty of hydration. I used SPF50 protective cream and added salt capsules in the water bottles.
As the road approaches Curtea de Arges (actually, a few kms after passing the city sign), we turn right, then right again on the road to Arefu, which leads from Curtea de Arges to Transfararasan road. The road is quite flat and we ride happily as the expected rain did not catch us, though it is close to 4pm. In over 8h, breaks included, we reach our accommodation at Meridian, in Corbeni.
We are allowed to take the bikes in the rooms, as they don’t have a special safe deposit area for bikes. The building is not very appealing, as it is situated just near the road, not very scenic. However, the people are very kind and the food is excellent. We spent on their terraced restaurant the whole afternoon, bridging lunch and dinner. Thumbs up for this location, we decide it is strongly recommended!

Strava log: Strava-Day1

Bran – Rucar
Towards Rucar
Approaching Campulung
Reward time

Saturday, Jun 6
Corbeni – Arefu – Vidraru Lake – Balea Lake – Cartisoara. 105km, +1900m alt gain. 8h40m
The rain eventually comes, during the night. However, the sleep is good and we meet in the restaurant on 7:30, very motivated. The weather looks great! We are slightly worried as we are not quite sure how much we have to climb today. We know we are facing the big challenge, namely the majestic Transfagarasan road. Some info shows around 2000m positive altitude, other sources point to 2800m. Quite a huge difference! Of course, having to climb 2800m would be much more difficult, especially considering that day1 was not easy at all. Pain is felt in the trapezius muscles, while sitting on the saddle is not the most comfortable thing to do.
We are about 70km away from Balea Lac, the peak of the day. We start the day at 8:30, aiming at riding the first 40km before midday, then stopping for lunch before attacking the steep climbs. In this first section we have to sum up about 1000m climb.
The road is not as empty as one might expect at 9 am, as it is summer and definitely many people head for Transfagarasan, by car, motorbike or bikes. Soon we reach the Vidraru Dam, a nice place but quite crowded. Then the road takes us around the lake for quite a few kilometers. We reach Valea cu Pesti, the “base camp” for Transfier triathlon race which happens here yearly, in September.
We face the Top Gear effect quite soon, as several fancy Porches start coming from the top, in fast descent. They are shiny, some of them convertible, with labels on, most probably proving their belonging to a club. They are not Romanians. I counted around 30 cars, which was quite impressive.
Climbs are nice as temperature is excellent and the air refreshing. As we ride, we meet a biker from Miercurea Ciuc, crossing Trans for the third time. He has a “team car”, as his wife is in his company along the route. We take advantage of his “promotional” offer to carry our luggage to the peak, Ion and later Alex putting their stuff in the car. I choose not to, as I want to test the climb with full gear. Anyway, I am a bit in advantage versus my mates, as my cassette is 11-32T, while Alex’s goes to 28 teeth and Ion has only 26. I promised in the morning I’d prove comradery and avoid shifting on the lowest speed, having a clear intention to limit my choices to the 2nd sprocket, a 28. Anyway, a good take-away of the day is to check the cassette you use before attempting to climb the Transfagarasan, unless you want to add a bit of spices to the effort.
Leaving Vidraru Lake behind, we reach Piscul Negru chalet and soon afterwards we get to Conacul Ursului, where we stop for lunch. The area provides a great view towards the mountains ahead, face to face with the much expected challenge. We have only about 13km to the peak, which is relatively soothing, as it is around 1-2 pm. Even on foot, we will make it!
After having a sour soup, we get back on the saddles and start the steeper climbs. The traffic gets higher from time to time but I would not say it is disturbing or aggressive. Alex pushes a bit and gets a distance ahead, then we lose him. I stay with Ion, climbing at moderate pace, taking photos and recording short movies now and then, on the mobile or on the Go Pro I attached to the handlebar (I managed to charge the batteries last night, which is good as I wanted to have it usable on Trans today). Sooner than we expected, we reach the top, approaching the tunnel. We encounter a long line of cars queuing to pass through the tunnel towards Balea, probably 500m long. Considering that I recognize some cars overtaking us several kilometers ago, I’d say the waiting time is around 1h at least. Luckily, on bike it is much faster. The cross through the tunnel is not a great experience. I turn on my lights (front and rear). I can see a bit of the road ahead of me due to the lights of the cars in line, therefore I choose to switch the front light to intermittent, thus being more visible by the cars. There is a risk that passengers on the right decide to step out and open their doors in front of me. The air is also not good at all. We manage to pass through and reach Balea Lake area, a very crowded spot, with lots of cars and people enjoying this place. Of course one would love to be there alone or with significantly fewer people around, but, realistically, as it is reachable by car, expectation should be set accordingly (for anyone in doubt, check some recent photos from Everest Mt.)
We eat on the terrace facing the lake, happy for our success! In about 1h, we start the descent towards Cartisoara. The ride is very fast, I basically keep the distance to the car ahead, with no effort. On the first kilometers, the asphalt is not perfect, therefore the attention is very high. Not a proper place to make mistakes. As we approach Balea waterfalls, the road gets better. We reach Cartisoara very fast and take our room at Casa Mosului. A very nice place, beautifully decorated and a great garden but with a rather stiff atmosphere as the host is a bit rigid. No safe deposit for the bikes as well…
We eat our dinner (menu prepared by the host, no a la carte menu), drink a few beers and palinca, then we put out for the night.

Strava log: Strava-Day2

Sunday, Jun 7
Cartisoara – Victoria – Sambata de Sus – Sinca Veche – Sinca Noua – Bran. 118km, +960m alt gain. 8h30m
We expect Day#3 to be the easiest of the trip. Around 100km with only 600m climb. We start on a quite nice road, with little traffic, having on our right (southwards on the map) the majestic view of the Fagaras Mts. We keep a good pace, and reach Sambata de Jos. We take a wrong decision here and head towards Sambata de Sus, on a constant deceiving climb which almost looks as a flat road but requires a bit of power. After almost 10km, as we reach Sambata de Sus, we realize we took the wrong way. We go back and take the right exit from Sambata de Jos, towards Lisa (Persani was often mentioned on the road marks). In Bucium, we stop at Casa Moga (about 100m on the right from the asphalt road) which is a great place, with great people. We eat here very well, as a storm prepares to reach us (quite unexpectedly, as the weather forecast does not show it). As we eat, the rain starts and keeps us “grounded” for about half an hour. Somehow we don’t feel panic, we have rain clothes and this is a good opportunity to use them, otherwise we would have carried the stuff in vain 
The last 30km take us back to Bran through a beautiful valley, the hills around in mist as the rain stopped. We reach Cehov Pension, eat from what we bought in the first night and go to sleep.
We did it!

Strava log: Strava-Day3

Trip overview:
• Total distance on bike: 350km
• Total Altitude gain: +4700m
• 3 days on the bike (about 3 x 8h per day)
• Total spending: 975 Lei (apprx Euro 200, including car transport, accommodation, food)
• Total burnt calories (bike rides, according to Garmin 935): 9400

Final notes:
– There are lots of small shops along the route, where you can buy water, snacks, etc.
– There is car traffic all along (less on Cartisoara to Bran, day 3). Not aggressive, but considerable.
– No need to carry a lot of water on Transfagarasan. There are many places to buy from and lots of mountain springs to drink, if needed.
– Have lights prepared, mainly for tunnels or in case the weather gets bad and natural light gets low.
– Plan ahead with back-up time, trying to keep riding in daylight. Adapt to the season.
– Be prepared for fast changes in weather. It could get pretty bad, very fast.
– The climb is relevant but doable. The descent is great but dangerous! So stay focused until the end of your journey!
– The asphalt is far from perfect. There are areas where it could get quite bad. Mind this mainly when descending at high speed!
– Dogs could occasionally occur. Be prepared. Walk in case they become aggressive and you don’t have time to depart riding at high speed.
– Enjoy the views, it is not just a muscle training session!!

• Road bike. Scott CR1 20 2016 (details)
• On the bike: midloader, backloader, 2 small bags attached to the handlebar, two bottles (500ml and 750ml)
• Front light, rear light, GoPro mounted on handlebar, phone holder mounted on handlebar (not used, I preferred to keep the phone in my jersey rear pocket for easier access to photos/videos), Garmin 935 wrist watch

Things I took with me:
• Helmet (Giro)
• SPD shoes (Shimano)
• Sunglasses
• 2 biking shorts
• 2 biking jerseys (short sleeved)
• A couple of socks
• A pair of trail shoes (Asics Fuji)
• Running shorts
• Long running pants
• 2 cotton t-shirts
• 1 thin running jacket
• 1 small towel
• 1 running cap
• Technical: 1 phone, charger + cable, GoPro cam, GoPro cable, 1 swiss knife, Toolkit (Topeak Alien II), spare tube, patches, Garmin charging cable
• Accessories: toothbrush, tooth paste, a few medicines, sun protection cream (SPF50), mosquito repellent, deodorant, plastic bags
• Docs: ID, card, cash (apprx 300 Lei)

Hope you will get some inspiration! 😉

More photos: Album