Balkan Spirit X Meet Bagoly Levente, ultra-distance cyclist, DJ and adventurer

Balkan Spirit X Meet Bagoly Levente, ultra-distance cyclist, DJ and adventurer

We continue our #BalkanSpirit series where we set out to meet awesome, beautiful people from the Balkan cycling community.

Bagoly Levente, age 30, or simply Levi, as everyone calls him around here, is an ultra-distance cyclist, born, raised and based in Transylvania, Romania. Levi is a man of many trades - industrial designer, bed-room DJ (I’m actually writing this whilst listening to one of his MixCloud mixes), adventurer and ultra-distance cyclist. He has ridden many times and many thousands k’s through Europe for fun, if you can say that. Competitively, in the past two years Levi has ridden the Transcontinental Race No5, finishing 18th, and the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race, finishing 2nd.

Levi at the Transcontinental Race. Photo from  https://www.facebook.com/transconrace/

Levi at the Transcontinental Race. Photo from https://www.facebook.com/transconrace/

Levi, what did it mean for you as a kid to receive a bike from your parents? Do you see a connection with who you have become now?

Yes of course. The bicycle itself was always a very important element in my life. I remember one of my first bikes being a Pegas, just like for so many of us 90’s kids in Romania. It opened up new territories around the flat I was living. I was able to reach out to nearby neighborhoods in no time, somewhat what my racing bike does to me today, only on a different scale. :) My bikes always made distances shorter and cities smaller, and thus my whole lifestyle has developed around this beautiful invention.


You have more than three solo expeditions under your belt and tens of thousands of km through Europe. Do you remember how did it all start and what made you leave the comfort of your home and head out on an adventure?

I didn't rush into the big rides. I took all the necessary steps to reach this level of adventuring. Luckily my family was always bike centered so holidays used to involve some cycling as well. Until I became a teenager, 60 k rides were an ease for me. Then I started XC racing and even had a short period of dirt jumping as well. Then the next step was once I've moved out of my little city to the capital for Uni years. This is when things went all radical. Once I've started to use my bikes as daily commuting, I’ve realized the efficiency of road bikes over mtb's, got into the freshly developing fixed gear sub-culture, and saw the scene rising while I've felt a part of it. The competitiveness of my teenage years remained so I've always tried to beat my own PR's in the first place. Pushing my limits always further little by little. After a few amateur road racing competitions I've realized that I'm not strong enough to get good rankings in these kind of races, but I've found out that I'm pretty good in not stopping and pushing those pedals for the long hours. Riding long distances has become my thing and people around me started to acknowledge my achievements. Which felt good. From here It was just a matter of time for me to do the 24 hour challenges and get beyond the country borders as well by multi-day rides towards distant destinations.

When you’re here, in Romania, it seems you’re always surrounded by your crew, friends and family. What do you get from riding alone and do you think there’s something you can only experience if you are by yourself?

Levi at the Transcontinental Race in 2017. Photo by  Lian van Leeuween

Levi at the Transcontinental Race in 2017. Photo by Lian van Leeuween

I consider myself as a sociable guy and I always like to be around my people, but when it comes to cycling it's totally different. I like to ride in my own pace whether it would be faster or slower then with any potential partner. Most importantly I don’t like to make unnecessary stops. And the larger the group the more stops. I like to ride far, alone, to be with myself, adventure to foreign places and not have to confront with anybody else. I feel free when I'm adventuring alone.

You must have tons of stories to share from your adventures. Do you remember an interaction that had a lasting impression on you until this day?

It's hard to pick just one. There are so many memorable stories I'm treasuring in my bag. Probably I would underline the story of the guy I've met in Barcelona back in 2013. It was my first destination on my first ever longer trip and I didn’t know anybody in that city. Freshly arrived to the city I was sitting on a park bench a little after midnight and this guy, Pablo walked up to me and we started to chat. Both being bike enthusiast I've found myself a few hours later on the top of his flat under the open sky where I was allowed to stay as long as I wanted. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at that moment, and ever since I'm out there alone I've always have meet people with good intentions and willing to help. It's one of the best parts of being a cyclotourist.

Two years ago it was the TCRNo5, last year the SRMRno1 and God knows what’s next. Being at the sharp end of these races, is both physical and mentally challenging but yet you choose to do it. What drives you to be competitive and put yourself through the pain?

Just as I said earlier, the competition is within myself in the first place and this has not changed since I'm taking part in official races. Riding against others is just a good opportunity to get motivated and focus on overcoming my own records and to become better and stronger. Yes, sometimes it's hard, so hard that I'm even questioning myself why I am doing it, instead of staying comfortably at home, but at the end of the day it somehow everything makes sense. Just like many other sports, endurance cycling has its own ups and downs, the thing is just how you can level these out.

Levi on the Transfagarasan. Photo by  Cristian Vladoaica

Levi on the Transfagarasan. Photo by Cristian Vladoaica

We both cycled the TCRNo5 although at literally opposite ends of the race. I remember being in the race, way behind you, making my way to the Transfagarasan, where I was supposed to meet my family, when I saw this photo of you and your dad. It had a powerful impact on me and as it did on other riders and dot-watchers. What can you tell us about the thoughts and emotions that you were experiencing back then?

It was my first race of this kind and being able to meet my friends and family within the race was one of the best gifts I could possibly get. I've rushed across Romania in 2 days, but really felt like home all that time, and friends and family took a huge part in this. I remember it was so hard to carry on from that CP4, still facing a thousand km's till the finish line at the Meteora in Greece.

Mike Hall used to say that “Nothing that's worth anything is ever easy” and I see that, as many of us cyclists, you adhere to this mantra. What does it mean to you?

Although I wasn't lucky enough to meet him in person, I always felt like I’ve had a close connection with him ...I know this sounds strange. He was, it is and will be the greatest inspiration for me. This saying of his will always stay with me in my down moments, and helps me not to give up on things too early. And not just while cycling but in life in general. #bemoremike for me means to not to be a quitter, stop whining, and get to your goals even if it hurts. It's worth it.

Let’s come back closer to home for a bit. What’s your favorite place, road or climb in the Balkans?

My local climb will always be the closest to my heart. It's an 8km road to the Sugás ski slopes near my hometown. I've ridden it hundreds of times, even 'everested’ it (44reps in one go) and still can love it in every bits and corners. Other than that I really do like the Saint Anna lake climb but mostly because of the lake itself at the end of the ride. My whole local area is just the 8th wonder of the world for me and even though I was lucky enough to ride the best roads throughout Europe and see the most beautiful places, riding back home will always be untouchable by any other experience.

Choose only one. Road bike, gravel bike, fixie. Why?

Levi at the Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018. Photo by  Giovanni Maria Pizzato

Levi at the Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018. Photo by Giovanni Maria Pizzato

This has got to be the most cruel questions. Probably I would like to choose a ‘groadie’... and even so I would probably hurt my polo bike. There's a bike for every discipline, but for now probably the gravel bike would be the best all rounder. It has almost all the efficiency benefits if my road bike but added a whole lotta roads to the map and opened up places hardly reachable till now.

Music has a reputation of lifting us up when we’re at the bottom of the energy jar. What are those songs that make you give that extra 10% you need to get going again.

At the moment I'm hooked on Óperentzia - Dubweiser, FM Belfast - Underwear Killaflaw - Set me on fire and Barbatuques - Baianá (CloZee remix)

You gave some hints about a plan to cycle around the world. What can you tell us about that?

It was just a post ride blues thing… I signed up for a race which is announced for 2020. If there will be some further information on it, I would probably still consider seriously it as becoming a globetrotter would be the pinnacle of an endurance cyclist. But as with any race the hardest part would be to get to the start line.

Levi at Silk Road Mountain Race 2018. Photo by  Tom Hardie

Levi at Silk Road Mountain Race 2018. Photo by Tom Hardie

In closing, share with us why do you think it’s worth going out there, to explore the world but also to get to know yourself a bit better in the process. What have you learned?

For me the experience itself is the one and only thing money, time and effort is worth investing into. Experience will not lose its value over time and nobody ever will be able to take it from me. Living to acquire material achievements is like looking at books cover, the real value being within its pages.

You can follow Levi and learn about his adventures on https://www.facebook.com/bagolylevicyclist/

The Alps vs the Carpathians

The Alps vs the Carpathians

The Alps vs the Carpathians

Mountains are a cyclist’s playground, a place to test the limits of both their physical and mental capabilities. None of us really know why we search far and wide for the most grueling climbs, all we know is that there’s some kind of weird, masochistic joy to be gained from pushing our bodies to the absolute extremes.

There’s no place better to do just that than in the Alps or Carpathian mountain ranges, two idyllic playgrounds separated by the Danube River and centuries of social, cultural and political evolution. Cycling in eastern Europe and the Carpathian mountain range has always been the less popular of the two, however, with some of the longest and most beautiful climbs, the cheapest travel options and the most diverse collection of cultures in Europe, it comes as no surprise to learn that more and more of us are now choosing to head east.

From the climbs and mountains that pockmark the regions to the food that fuels their peoples, here’s how the Carpathians stack up against the Alps…

Highest mountain pass

The Alps

Peaking at just over 2,800 m, the Ötztal Glacier Road in Austria takes the crown of the highest paved road in the Alps, as well as the second highest in the whole of Europe.

The climb is a one-way up access road from the town of Solden below to the Rettenbach glacier, a popular spot for skiers. It’s a grueling ascent, not necessarily for its length (10.2 km) or average gradient (11%), but for its altitude – the oxygen is so thin here that many riders struggle even to make it to the summit.

The climb has featured as the finale on two recent editions of the Tour de Suisse where it took word-class climbers like Warren Barguil, Laurens Ten Dam and Robert Gesink over 40 minutes to complete.

The Carpathians

While the highest climb in the Carpathians may be dwarfed by the Ötztal Glacier Road, it’s certainly no less tough. The Transalpina Highway is an exquisitely paved mountain road located in the Southern Carpathians, making it the perfect feature climb for cycling tours in Romania.

The one and only Transfagarasan climb in Romania.

The one and only Transfagarasan climb in Romania.

The Transalpina, or Urdele Pass, dominates the area’s skyline, peaking at an impressive 2,145 m. The climb snakes its way up the mountainside for 25.5 km, an excruciating distance once you learn that the average gradient is 6% with pitches as steep as 20%.

The fastest riders complete the climb in just over 80 minutes, but for mere mortals, anything close to the two hour mark is respectable.

Longest climb

The Alps

There are several climbs in and around the Alps that claim to climb for 60 km+, but upon closer inspection of their profiles and continuous uphill gradients they’re a whole lot shorter. The climb that often takes the top spot as the longest in the Alps is the Col de l’Iseran, a climb that tops out at the dizzying height of 2,764 m.

The road climbs for 22 km from the small town of Bessans where it gradually ramps up from 3-4% for the first few kilometres to a killer 10% average gradient for the final 12 km. It’s often used as the ultimate test of strength on the Tour de France and regularly features as the highest point on the entire route.

The Carpathians

The Transfagarasan Highway has been described by both cyclists and motorists alike as the most beautiful road in the whole of Europe. Gradually rising at a 5.2% average gradient, the climb snakes it way up the northern face of the mountain for 30 km, taking in countless hairpin bends and crossing numerous bridges along the way.

Transfagarasan again. The South Side.

Transfagarasan again. The South Side.

Its impressive length makes it one of the toughest climbs in the Carpathians and the focal feature of the Transfagarasan Epic, one of the best two-wheeled Balkan holidays that we offer.

Taking just over two hours to complete, those that ride the Transfagarasan Highway are treated to a long and stunning display of mountain vistas completely devoid of any other humans. For those who enjoy the simple solitude of riding, this is the perfect place to visit.

Landscape

The Alps

Separated geographically by only the Danube River, the Alps and Carpathians actually share a very similar looking landscape. However, with higher peaks in the Alps, you’re much more likely to encounter snow and frozen mountain tops.

The Alps. Yes, they are amazing.

The Alps. Yes, they are amazing.

The Alps are also littered with ski resorts which can often blight the otherwise beautiful mountainous landscapes. To see the most stunning landscapes in the Alps, you’ll have to head deep into the centre, braving the isolation and distance from civilization.

The Carpathians

With fewer cloud-crested peaks, the Carpathians see a lot less snow, making for a much greener rolling landscape. A lot of the southern Carpathians in Romania are blanketed with dense pine forests which are home to native wildlife likes wolves and European brown bears.

The Carpathians. Not too bad ;)

The Carpathians. Not too bad ;)

There are also far fewer tourists in this neck of the woods, the only evidence of civilization being the roads that you’re cycling on. This makes for some of the most stunning and uninterrupted natural vistas in the whole of Europe, the best of which can be seen from Bâlea Lake at the top of the Transfagarasan , or from the peak of the Transalpina , Romania’s highest paved road.

Affordability

The Alps

Whether you’re on a tight budget or looking to splash the cash, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to cycling in the Alps. From budget B&Bs to fancy 5* ski resort hotels, it’s up to you how you choose to spend your hard earned cash.

What is a little hard, however, is finding cheap flights to the main Alpine airports like Geneva, Grenoble or Turin. You’ve also got to consider that it may be even more expensive during peak seasons like winter and summer – not that you’d really want to cycle the high Alps during the deep dark depths of winter.

As cycling in the Alps is extremely popular, the prices of package holidays and cycle tours can often be hiked up to astronomical levels, preventing anyone operating on a smaller budget from joining in. It gets to a point where your options are planning your own independent tour or looking towards the east where prices are a lot more favorable to the budget conscious traveler.

The Carpathians

Travelling to and from airports in the Balkans and around the Carpathian mountain range is extremely affordable. Flights to Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania are incredibly cheap, particularly during the off-seasons around early spring time and the end of summer.

Ah, the green landscapes of the lower Carpathians.

Ah, the green landscapes of the lower Carpathians.

Travelling around the Carpathians is also remarkably inexpensive, with inter-city train fares costing an average of just £4 – ideal for those looking to ferry their bike from one city to the next. Accommodation is just as cheap, with a night in a private room, delicious sit-down meal included, available for as little as £20, even in the more popular places.

Organised cycle tours in this area of Europe are also a little cheaper than those in the western Alps. In all, a cycle tour in the Balkans and across the Carpathians is the perfect choice for those cycle tourists who appreciate a good bargain – in other words, all of us!

Food and drink

The Alps

An abundance of cloud-topped cols isn’t the only reason the Alps are considered a haven among cyclists. As much as we enjoy battering our bodies up vicious climbs, nothing can quite beat the euphoric feeling of re-filling the tank post ride with copious amounts of savory and sugary treats.

Nestled deep in the Alps are countless tiny communes, each with their own unique palette for food and drink. High up in the mountains, these people rely on rich, creamy dishes such as raclette and tartiflette to warm their bones, and calorific blueberry tarts to fuel their bodies.

Wine, of all colors and varieties, is extremely popular in the Alps but perhaps the most popular drink among the locals is Le Genepi, a traditional herbal liqueur made from a common plant that grows all over the Alpine peaks.

The Carpathians

Simple, hearty and delicious are just three words to describe Carpathian cuisine. Like in the Alps, palettes change across the towns and villages that litter the mountain range, offering a diverse range of food and drink to sample as you tour the region.

Home smoked meats such as beef, pork and fish, are extremely popular, as are hearty potato and mushroom stews that warm you right to the core after a long, cold day in the saddle.

Beer is a firm Carpathian favorite and if you’re lucky, you may just happen across a town with its own unique brewery, offering beers that you can’t taste anywhere else in the world. One of the most popular post-ride beverages is a traditional fruit brandy called Pálinka, a drink that is guaranteed to put hairs on your chest.

Beer is probably the favorite recovery drink after a long and hot day of cycling.

Beer is probably the favorite recovery drink after a long and hot day of cycling.

As you can see, it’s not just the Alps that boast the best landscapes and cultural experiences for a once-in-a-lifetime cycle tour – it’s about time we started to look to the east and the Carpathian mountain range for our two-wheeled holidays. Click here to learn more about our cycling tours and where we operate, and be sure to check out our inspiration page for ideas on where to head next
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Underwater Cycling Adventures

Underwater Cycling Adventures

Here at Martin Cycling Adventures, we are always looking for ways to make the Balkans more accessible to cyclists all over the world. Underwater cycling has been picking up in popularity constantly in the past few years, so we are happy to announce we have expanded our services with a new line: Underwater Cycling Tours.

Underwater

Silviu Martin, Product Manager of the Water Sports Division, had this to say about the announcement:

I have always been a big fan of both water sports and cycling so this is a perfect opportunity to mix them in a new way that I’m sure people will love. To be certain we are in top form for our very demanding clients, our team has been preparing all winter long by spending most of their off-season training time underwater.

Lake, Bled, our first underwater cycling destination

Lake Bled

Martin Cycling Adventures has been already running regular cycling tours in Slovenia, but now, with the addition of underwater cycling, we are focusing around the area of Lake Bled and we are investing in a new underwater training facility for our clients but also our staff.

In closing, Silviu Martin added:

Getting straight into cold water after a demanding bike ride is always beneficial for recovery but in most of our regular cycling tours that is quite hard to do. Not anymore. Now you will be both cycling and recovering at the same time, making it possible to spend an indefinite time on a bike. It will revolutionize cycling as we know it. I will be looking forward to meeting everyone this Summer and make a big splash together…

Balkan Spirit | Meet Elvir Sulic, Race Director at King of Ucka, Croatia

Balkan Spirit | Meet Elvir Sulic, Race Director at King of Ucka, Croatia

The Balkans have loads to offer when it comes to adventure travel and at Martin Cycling Adventures we are constantly trying to put the area on the map when it comes to what we know to do best: road cycling. I feel that it takes courage, a lot of determination, some would probably say a bit of madness too, to start organizing a new cycling race, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found the King of Ucka cycling race. The race takes part in Kvarner Region, Croatia, on one of the most epic roads you can find in this part of the world. The route starts on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, continues through the Ucka Nature Park and reaches 1.383 m after 22 km of pure climbing. We had a chance to chat with Elvir Sulic, Race Director at KoU, about himself, about adventures and, of course, about the race he is managing.

Six reasons to book a cycle tour in the Balkans

Six reasons to book a cycle tour in the Balkans

With an area about the size of Spain (193,000 square miles), a rich mountainous landscape, and a diverse and fascinating collection of cultures, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Balkans is one of the best parts of Europe to book a cycle tour.

The Balkans, however, are often pushed to the side when it comes to cycle touring, with many aspiring adventurers choosing to embark on more familiar trips into the French Alps, Spanish Pyrenees or Italian Dolomites. These are all fantastic places to visit on two wheels, but are they better than the Balkans?

No, and here are six reasons why your next cycle tour should be a Balkan cycle tour…