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Cycling and Mountain Biking in the Black Forest

Photo: Zum Bürgle Aussichtspunkt by Wittenschwand.

I have also written about visiting the Black Forest in general.

I have only experienced the southern Black Forest, but as far as I can tell the rules and conditions seem to be about the same everywhere.


The basics

Rules for cycling in Germany are well covered elsewhere.

In Baden-Württemberg there is a prohibition on riding on paths narrower than 2 meters wide. More on this in the mountain biking section below.

Infrastructure

Cycling infrastructure is mostly just a sign post telling your which way to go if you are following the network, even some painted lines on the ground are a bit much to hope for most of the time.

There are times that you will find a separated pedestrian/cycling lane, but that will only be when there is no other option for keeping you out of the way of cars on the fastest/busiest roads (e.g. alongside the Bundesstrasse by Schluchsee) and sometimes you are just left to deal with the road.

The paved road surface is generally good quality. However the little single track roads that connect villages or very rural areas can be filled with potholes.

This is made a bit more complicated by the general lack of street view in Germany. Meaning you can’t check out how it looks ahead of time.

Riding on forest roads

There are an endless network of forest paths which can get you anywhere. There are signs frequently showing no entry to any vehicles with the exception of farm/forest workers , but it is safe to say most people ignore those when on a bike (not least as some of these are on the cycling network). It can be hard to know what to expect based on the maps – a solid black line on the Schwarzwald planner website might be anything from a paved road through to near invisible path which has been buried under years of untouched overgrowth.

Some of the most beautiful roads I have come across are the car-free unsurfaced ones through the forest (e.g. the Murgtalpfad from Murg to Hottingen, and the Landhaagweg from the Burger Säge to Ibach).

Due to the warm and dry summers and problems with Bark Beatles there has been more and more forestry work to clear out dead trees. Visually this means lots of sad holes in the forest (though this does at least mean more open views), practically it means paths being damaged by heavy vehicles. Mostly it is fine, but within a few kilometers of riding you might find lovely smooth packed dirt, a muddy mess and/or torn up path with bits of tree everywhere from forestry work, and very bouncy newly laid rocks/gravel.

Many of the forest paths (at least in the southern part) turn soft and clay-like when wet (possibly as a result of forestry work…) and become frustratingly tiring to ride through.

It isn’t uncommon to find a fallen tree blocking the way on quieter and more remote paths. In the best case you can just duck a bit to get through, in the worst case you are going for a climb. I have spent 5 strenuous minutes dragging myself and my bike over an entire large tree.

An example of the amount of forest paths in even a small area.

Safety

Traffic

Drivers are generally considerate, I have never had any aggression and they usually give plenty of space. The one thing they lack is patience, but this is mostly a problem for oncoming drivers rather than you.

Rural locals will do typical rural local things like driving fast, cutting corners, and overtake in questionable places. The main concern as a cyclist is closing speed; drivers do not have much warning when they come up you on windy forest roads.

If possible avoid paved road on weekends in summer (or any sunny weekend really) when they fill up with swarms of motorbikes and touring cars.

If you can handle dirt roads (and some extra climbing) then you can cycle pretty much anywhere and almost never have to deal with traffic beyond a quick road crossing.

Cycling in the winter

Snow is increasingly unreliable. It can be that the conditions are below freezing and there is snow and ice everywhere, but it can also be that it is mild weather and perfect for riding. In recent years a bike has been far more use than skis for most of winter.

Christmas Day in Ibach (1000m). The sign tells you to stay off the cross country skiing piste.
Engelschwand (900m) in early January.

Resources

  • touren-schwarzwald.info The official tour planner letting you plan your own routes or find tour suggestions. The Route Planner is basically the plus version of OutDoorActive which is a fantastic tool with options to automatically follow the cycling or mountain bike networks, or set it to road-bike and always follow paved roads. It is free to use but requires registering with an email address to save routes and download them.
  • Schwarzwald phone app. The mobile version of the tour planner website. You can download map segments for offline use, but note that the offline layers for each activity type have to be saved separately. As with the tour planner website it requires registration with an email address to plan and save routes.
  • There is also a Baden Württemberg bike route planner, though I suspect the results will always be the same as the Schwarzwald Planner.

Accomodation

Websites

  • Der Trekkingradler (German). A number of MTB and trekking tours around the Black Forest (and elsewhere).

Youtube

  • Rainer Dornburg (German). Individual rides in the Black Forest and long distance tours in the Black Forest and elsewhere. His motivation to get out all year round is impressive, but some people might find his dialect a bit tough.
  • Bernd Raissig (German). Wonderfully upbeat and cheesy production values.

Books:

  • “Three Men on the Bummel” Jerome K. Jerome (1900). The sequel to his popular “Three men in a boat” where the friends set off for a bicycle tour of the Black Forest. It doesn’t add anything to a modern bike tour, and barely has any content set in Black Forest, but it is an amusing read (if a little tedious and dated). It is also free to download at Project Gutenberg.

Cycling network

Like the cycling network in Switzerland the idea is to try and keep you on quieter side roads.

  • The marked cycling routes generally do a fairly good job of being reasonably direct whilst avoiding busier roads where possible. Often they very scenic. They do go on unpaved roads sometimes, but in my experience this is only very smooth dirt.
  • There aren’t any signed road only networks, but using the road bike filter on the planner makes it easy to set routes which stay on paved roads.
  • Cycling on the road in the Black Forest can be pure joy of seemingly forgotten backroads passing through meadows and forest with glimpses of valleys and rolling hills, or on busy winding roads with suicidal locals and motorbikes tearing past.
  • There are multi-day routes, with the Schwarzwald Radweg being obvious choice which ticks off (or gets very close to) most of the big name spots.
  • Obviously busy roads are not fun, but especially the B31 between Freiburg and Titisee by bike has a bad reputation with cyclists.

Mountain Biking

There are a few dedicated Downhill parks (like in Todtnau) but with a vast amount of rolling relatively gentle landscape most of what you have is Cross Country.

About 95% of the official mountain bike network is asphalt or gravel; they largely subscribe to the idea that mountain biking means gaining as much height as possible and then gently descending. This is very apparent in the multi-day Schwarzwald Bike Crossing route which initially sounds like an interesting way to tour across the length of the region, but in reality seems to be endless climbing on gravel roads in the forest.

In my opinion a hard-tail Cross MTB is ideal for most of the Black Forest for a mix of speed and climbing. The paths are mostly too gentle to warrant needing a full suspension, but it is often a bit too rough on the forest roads for comfortable riding on a gravel bike or with drop bars (especially if forestry work has torn up the ground).

The mountain bike network

There is an extensive network of routes criss-crossing the region.

Confusingly not all the routes marked on the website are signed in reality, and likewise some signed routes are not on the tour planning website. This is obviously somewhat annoying when trying to plan and then navigate your way around.

Signage in general is a bit hit and miss. Sometimes it is very good. Sometimes there are no signs at all for smaller side trails. The south facing signs seem to bleach out from the sun quite easily so all you see is a yellow square without a direction marker. Sign placement and directions can also be questionable, I have come across numerous signs where the direction given was ambiguous or obviously wrong. Basically I would suggest downloading a GPX file and using a GPS device to avoid getting lost or wasting too much time. The plus side is that in the very unlikely event you do get in trouble for riding on a single trail path you can blame their signage.

Opposite signs mounted on the same side.
A sunbleached sign.

An Official single trail near Groß Herrischried as shown on the Schwarzwald planner. This isn’t sign posted on the ground (I had to stop and check where to go via GPS) and whilst not technically challenging it isn’t really a proper path either (it felt like a forest worker forced a tractor through it once years ago and it has been neglected ever since)

The 2m rule

This has been unsurprisingly unpopular with riders.

Given the size of the Black Forest and the endless forest paths it would make more sense to just put signs up in hotspots where there might be conflict on popular paths rather than a blanket ban. Especially as routes that are listed as MTB approved on the Schwarzwald Planner are often not signed anyway so hikers won’t have any warning.

With the increase in popularity of mountain biking and the decrease in reliable snow (as I write this it is December 29th and there isn’t enough snow to make a small snowman on the Feldberg) I expect that they will open up.

My advice (which is 100% not useable as a legal defense) is to use common sense and ride with care and respect. There are endless paths and unless it is a touristy hotspot or right next to a village then you are unlikely to see a single person. Certainly the ideas listed on Komoot and similar suggest that the locals are not taking this too seriously. I have never had any comment from hikers other than a hello/good morning etc.


Some of my favourite routes

I don’t have so many favourite tours, but more a number of favourite sections.

The Hornberg loop. There is no reason for the lower left side to be included, but if you want to train it is a wide paved and mostly car free 2.1km +/- 30m (not that it is convenient to anywhere).