Schopp: Biking for beginners German park makes great family outing

By BEN BLOKER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 21, 2008

As an avid cyclist, I often dream of the perfect day on a mountain trail: narrow ribbons of single-track lacing through evergreens, rock garden ledges with the occasional drop-off; and, of course, downhill speed runs.

Sounds great — but as middle age creeps into my existence, and the size of my family grows, those opportunities seem to fade into a routine-driven family life.

The Technikparcours in Schopp, Germany, may just be the way to assimilate your family into that dream. Set on the edge of the Pfälzerwald’s mountain bike park, this training course provides 15 different obstacles in a condensed area designed to build confidence for new riders.

Just like your first day on a bike, it begins with balancing skills. Six-inch-wide planks just above the ground form balance beams for the first few obstacles. A quick downhill run and climb come next. The final portion throws out different types of obstacles to ride over, such as stacks of logs, a rock garden, stairs and a drop-off that’s fun to jump, according to my 10-year-old son.

But for an intermediate rider, there isn’t very much. The whole course could be navigated in less than 10 minutes by a rider with any skill.

Then it’s time to hit the trail. After "playing around" at the beginner course, you can link up with Trail 3, which runs from Schopp to Johanniskreuz to Queidersbach and back to Schopp — if you’re up for 67 kilometers of riding.

The trail is one of five that spider-webs across 300 kilometers of trails that make up the Pfälzerwald, Germany’s largest unified wooded area. The woods — the Palatinate Forest in English — is a beautiful part of the country. But beware: Without a fair amount of planning, you could spend your whole time looking for the trail.

The Web site for Mountainbikepark Pfälzerwald, www.mountainbikepark-pfaelzerwald.de/en_index.php, is helpful. At the very least there are starting points, distance, elevation changes and trail descriptions. There are also some decent hints that touch on what to see, historical info and where to eat.

I decided to ride Trail 5, leaving out of Johanniskreuz, with some friends. One of them had a really fancy waterproof map of all the trails that he bought at a local outdoor recreation shop. Finding Trail 5 was easy enough, but staying on it proved to be very difficult. There are a few types of markers, but they aren’t prominent at each intersection.

And then there’s the terrain — not very exciting. We heard that there were pretty technical sections of single track from others, but the only one we found was closed.

My advice: If you are looking for technical and exciting, look somewhere else. But if you enjoy just being on your bike with your family, the Pfälzerwald may exceed your expectations. It truly is beautiful.

Exit Autobahn 6 on B270 toward Vogelweh (the Opel exit). Drive through Hohenecken for about four miles, continuing on B270. Turn left toward Schopp. Once in town, turn left on Friedhofstraße, and follow the road all the way into the countryside until reaching a Velodrome sports park. The technical course entrance is by the tree line.

Open year round.

There is no charge to use the park. Take euros for food, drink and shopping, but otherwise the trip — including the natural setting — are free.

Check the Web site for specialties based on which trail you choose. Most of the villages you will be passing through will have a variety of fare, including the standard German dinner, for those who want a bit more.

Visiting the Mountainbikepark Pfälzerwald Web site, www.mountainbikepark-pfaelzerwald.de/en_index.php, is a must. It is in English and provides good starting points for each trail. The German version also includes some good safety suggestions.

Nick Schulte, left, and Mike Glenboski charge into Trail 5 on Sept. 26 in Pfälzerwald’s mountain bike park at Johanniskreuz. Trails spread over more than 300 kilometers of the Palatinate Forest, so plan ahead before taking on this trail network

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