Solo Adventuring — The Black Forest 400 #BlackForest400

The Black Forest 400 BlackForest400
I am frequently asked what inspires me to ride a bike. My answer is curiosity.

Curiosity to see how far you can ride; how fast you can travel; how many new places, people and cultures you can see along the journey.

Endurance cycling is an adventurous challenge, to both body and mind. At numerous points one will be shouting at the other to stop; but they rarely agree. It is a perpetual cycle of disagreement.

The idea of the Black Forest 400 ride arose from curiosity. At Christmas, I drove for nine hours to reach this beautiful part of Germany. On the drive back, I got wondering… could I ride that? Non-stop? Self-supported? A challenge was born…

400 miles, with over 8,000 metres of elevation gain. My longest ride to date.


The ride starts from the historic town of Arras, in northern France. Arras was an important stronghold in both World Wars, and the scene of great battles (including the Battle of Arras in 1917). The long straight road out of town is lined with cemeteries; one of which is the resting place of my great uncle.

The sun shines down, as the pedals start to turn.

Flanders fields

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow. Between the crosses, row on row." My route takes me north east from Arras, towards Belgium, and past signs for next weekend's Paris-Roubaix. The wind is behind me, and progress is good for the first 100 kilometres to Bavay, where my first pastry and coffee stop adds some fuel to the engine.

The Ardennes

Turning southeast at the Belgium border, I ride through the Forêt de Domaniale de Rance. Empty roads, and spring sunshine; hares having boxing matches in the open fields.

100 miles in, the road turns upwards. Welcome to the Ardennes. After 7.5 hours of riding, these back-to-back 400 metre climbs through the dense forest suddenly slow progress.

200 kilometres, and I pass through the town of Fumay, with its beautiful river and cobbled streets. With the sun setting, it is a long climb out of the valley; followed by twisting single-track descents.

Foraging for food

A jar of baked beans in Belgium, half a dozen cereal bars, and two French pastries isn't enough to stop my stomach rumbling after 11 hours in the saddle. I go foraging for food…

8pm on the evening before Good Friday is not a good time to go looking for a meal. The Belgium town of Bouillon was deserted, so I pushed onto Florenville, and found myself frites and mayo in a kebab shop. Nothing fancy, but fuel for the ride, and a chance to warm up a little ahead of a long night.

Luxembourg alone

By 325 kilometres, the clock shows 13 hours ride time. It is midnight, and the roads are completely deserted. One 10-kilometre stretch of road is blockaded off (not shown on my route planning), but luckily I can skirt around the cement barriers, and enjoy a completely closed road shared only with darting deer and the occasional owl.

The temperature is falling rapidly, and I am glad I opted for full Sportful winter apparel and GripGrab deep winter accessories.

03:30 - Tiredness is really kicking in. I have a banging headache; contributed to no doubt by the brain freeze, constant concentration, and dehydration. The grass verges at the side of the road even begin to look appealing. Just a quick lie down… but I know with the zero degree temperatures I would freeze for certain.

I stop for a Coke from a vending machine, outside one of many shut garages. I never normally drink coke, but I hope the sugar and caffeine might reignite my spluttering engine. For the most part, it doesn't.

Saarbrücken revival

I push on through the night. My speed, heart rate and power all drop off; just like the temperature.

At 6am, I am onto a 20-kilometre stretch of riverside cycle path between the industrial German cities of Saarlouis and Saarbrücken. The traffic-free riding is welcome, but the freezing fog along the river chills me to the bone.

Finally, at 06:30 the petrol stations and takeaways begin to open up. I take a detour off the cycle path to a nearby Macdonalds, and spend 30 minutes warming up with two coffees and a burger.

440 kilometres. Engine re-fuelled. Back on the road; the sun rising over the river.

Morning motivation

The caffeine and warm food push the memories of a cold and rather lonely night to the back of my mind. My average speed lifts, and by mid-morning I am back into France, and heading for Strasbourg.

The hills around the town of Bitche seem appropriate. It is a slow climb onto the plateau, before the long descent into Strasbourg. I stop for a mid-morning pain au raisin and café, before the patisseries all shut up for Good Friday.

By 1pm I have made it to the Franco-German city. Winding my way through the centre, I find the river crossing that signals the transition back to Deutschland. 80 kilometres left to run.

The final climb

The road between Strasbourg and Hornberg is quiet and flat; the sun shines down, and it is a rare treat to need to take off my gloves and winter cap.

Hills punctuate the horizon though, and my elevation map confirms that I still have over 1,500 metres of climbing to endure, despite being in the final 50 kilometres.

At the town of Hornberg the mountains begin. The road sign says it all: "WARNUNG 19% 6km". My legs cramp a little, even just reading it.

The road sign, and my Wahoo's elevation chart don't lie. The road ramps up, and my speed drops to single digits as I shift down to my lowest gear. 20 kilometres remain.

Even at the top of the 1st Categorie climb there are still ramps remaining. The sun is going down, and spatters of rain add to an atmospheric late afternoon.

On the final ramp a friendly face appears: my hosts and photographer for this final ascent. I manage to muster the motivation to stand on the pedals, hold back the grimace, and push the pedals to the summit.

402 miles logged. 32 hours since the start in Arras. 27 hours of riding.

Legs of jelly, and a mind that can think only of food and sleep. A ride that I will surely never forget: my hardest challenge on a bike, to date.

Ride stats

  • Distance - 648 kilometres (402 miles)
  • Elevation gain - 8,172 metres
  • Moving time - 27 hours 19 minutes
  • Elapsed time - 32 hours 13 minutes
  • Calories burned - 15,729 kcals
  • Average heart rate - 120 bpm

Fuel for the ride

  • 7x Litres of water
  • 5x Coffee
  • 2x Maurten 160 Drink Mix
  • 1x Coca Cola

>>> Read more about the kit used for the ride here <<<


Popular posts from this blog

SwissStop Disc Brake Pads Comparison Test Review – Are All Disc Brake Pads Made Equal?

Recipe – The Ultimate High Energy Flapjacks

Review – Selle Italia SLR Boost Gravel Superflow Saddle S3

Review – TRP Spyre SLC Cable Disc Brakes

Best Gravel Bike Cycling Routes on the Isle of Wight