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Back 12.26.2017

Europe by Bike — Anja’s Great Cycling Adventure

Zipp and SRAM ambassador Anja Kallenbach of Germany loves immersing herself in cycling adventures. She chronicles her rides across Europe on the SRAM Stories blog. We wanted to introduce Anja to Zipp’s audience. Below is our recent conversation with her: 

Your passion is cycling. But your occupation is teaching. What kind of teacher are you?
I work at a high school teaching mathematics and biology from grade 5 to 12.

You take your bike to many beautiful places, from the French Alps to the Italian Dolomites, to the hills of Scotland. How do you select your locations? Do you use GPS to plan your routes? 

I just look where I can find beautiful mountains. I get inspired by races like the Tour and the Giro but also look on Facebook or Instagram for great places. And we have a portal where you find tours from other users around the world. I plan my routes trying to find connections on small roads between the mountains. Sometimes I load them up to my Garmin but more often I take a map with me as I find it more flexible when you want to change your route. Often I just start without a plan at all looking for the most beautiful roads and then using the map to find my way back again. 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to be more adventurous in planning trips to new places? 

Cycling is perfect to get to know new countries or places. My best trips were always when I took my backpack or a small bag attached to the saddle, a cycling kit to change into, and a pair of normal shoes and then take a road trip. You can do a round trip or return by train. Just don’t plan your days to be too long as there is often something unpredictable like weather or flat tires. In popular tourist locations, book a place to sleep in advance. I often meet local riders on the road who then suggest new beautiful places. 

About how many kilometers do you ride a year? What other sort of activities do you do in the offseason for fitness or fun? 

Typically I ride about 8,000km a year (almost 5,000 miles). I am fond of mountains not only on the bike, so I also love climbing and mountaineering. It is a huge dream to stand one day on Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. My second passion is photography, especially astrophotography. So when I am not on my bike, you can find me in the mountains anyway, often at night. I can highly recommend cross-country skiing for winter training. It trains legs and the often-forgotten back muscles so you really benefit in spring when you can start riding again. 

Many road cyclists are now interested in riding on dirt and gravel. Is this something you’re doing? Is gravel and adventure road riding gaining popularity in Europe?

Since I now ride larger tires (28mm) I don´t care anymore if there is a “real” road or not. But I have not specifically searched for gravel roads yet. I think the United States is ahead in the popularity of gravel riding, but there now are gravel events in Europe, too. I normally wanted to participle at the Votec Gravel Granfondo, the first gravel event in Germany, but unfortunately was ill. But I want to ride more gravel in 2018. I think it is a great opportunity to find new routes in well-known places, and it is unfortunately also because the roads are becoming more dangerous. 

What has it been like to be a SRAM and Zipp ambassador in Germany? Is it something your friends ask about? What has it taught you about selecting, caring for, and evaluating your equipment?

I am proud to be part of the SRAM and Zipp family. My friends always want to know about new products and what to buy. I also have the chance to get in touch with a lot of people over social media, SRAM stories, working at the SRAM booth at Eurobike, or my blog. They are looking for technical advice, my personal experiences with the product or advice for their next cycling adventure. I love getting to know other cyclists like this.

I also love the technical part of cycling. After getting into cycling I wanted to learn as I built up my first bike on my own. I’ve learned many things. At first, I didn´t think disc brakes were necessary and wondered why you’d ever want one chain ring when you could have two. I also was unsure about riding carbon rims. Luckily as an ambassador, I had the chance to try all that (Zipp wheels and SRAM Force 1)! Now, I never want to ride a bike without disc brakes anymore, and my 2x bike hardly leaves the cellar anymore. And I am absolutely in love with the Zipp 202 Firecrest Disc-brake, much lighter and more stable than aluminum rims. I have also had the chance to ride a Zipp Super-9 Carbon Clincher Disc combined with an 808 Firecrest wheel on my time trial bike. It feels like flying!  

What is your favorite place you’ve ever ridden? Why? 

I am absolutely addicted to the Dolomites! I went on my very first climb there and have to come back a minimum of one time each year. This a real place for mountain lovers, endless stunning beautiful and hard climbs. Where else can you ride seven mountains in 130km, which makes 4,200m of climbing and no flat part? But most of the time you don’t even feel the pain because you are enjoying the view of the beautiful landscape and stunning peaks so much. And just around the corner of the Dolomites you find legendary climbs like the Stelvio and the Mortirolo, which are really unique in the entire world. When you ever get the chance to visit this UNESCO world heritage site, don´t miss it! 

Have you ever visited the United States to ride bikes? If not, is that something you hope to do? 

I had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon as a child. But as a cyclist and landscape photographer, my dream is to come back one day to explore more of the beautiful and wild landscapes in the United States! For sure, I will come with my bike one day to add more mountains to my collection list, as the European mountains are almost all done. 

You’ve made efforts to promote women’s cycling. What can local shops or fellow cyclists do to make the sport more welcoming for more riders? 

When you want your girlfriend who is a new cyclist to ride with you, you have to go at her pace and stop looking your average speed! She has no chance to fall in love with cycling, trying hard to hold your back wheel and being short of breath all the time. Did you remember how difficult your first ride was, knowing nothing how your bike behaves and not having the fitness you now have? A lot of people also get scared riding downhill at first. You should teach beginners first how to change a tire and how to fix your gears if necessary, so they are not afraid anymore of training and riding on their own.  

I often use rides starting at bike shops to get to know new places, but often I am shocked and pull away from the group quickly. The people don´t know how to ride in a group taking care of each other and giving signs on obstacles and stops. There is no group structure like riding in two lines, instead, everyone riding how he wants, passing others even on the right. The group rides are more like races. That is all very dangerous and way too much for beginners. I had the chance to learn from the pros and then also worked as a bike guide very often. We always start together and come home together taking care of all riders. 

Tell us about your plans for 2018.

I want to ride the famous gravel roads of the Strade Bianche in Italy and feel the shake of the legendary cobble sectors of Paris-Roubaix in France.
Also, the Tour de France is passing again through my backyard in 2018, the French Alpes of Haute Savoie, where I also race and ride on weekends and where I know every curve of every climb and downhill. I want to ride the 10th L’Etape du Tour from Annecy - Le Grand Bornand in June to know how the Tour de France pros will feel in July. Of course, you can follow along with me in my SRAM Stories blog updates. So hope to see you in 2018!

Anja Kallenbach rides Zipp wheels including the 30 Course Disc brake, 202 Firecrest Disc-brake, 303 Firecrest 650b Tubeless Disc-brake, 808 Firecrest Carbon Clincher, and Super-9 Carbon Clincher Disc as well as Service Course SL bars, stems, and seatposts.

Follow Anja on Instagram and Twitter or her website.