Lately, I read an Instagram post about the Orbit360-series, saying that this is most likely the hardest cycling race in Germany and described it as “a beauty and a beast”. Fair enough, let’s get into it or just #letsorbit.
- 1. What is Orbit360?
- 2. Racing Strategy and Ranking
- 3. How do I plan my rides?
- Road Surface
- Bike Set Up
- Food, water and re-supply
- 4. Race Reports
1. What is Orbit360?
It was in February, when I first heard about the COVID-19 pandemic. I just came back from the Atlas Mountain Race, ready to train for other ultra endurance events in 2020, like the Race Around Poland or The Transcontinental Race. It didn’t take much time until the races were cancelled.
This was a big shock and even though I really like riding bikes, I prefer to have some highlights to train for during the season. Therefore, I scouted a new off-road route around Berlin and contacted 15 other riders (one in each state) to find a way to bring back healthy competition in a completely safe and exciting format, Orbit360 – The First German Gravel Series. It’s an unsupported, multi-surfaced, ultra-endurance gravel series where from 4 July to 6 September 2020, riders will tackle 16 routes, or “Orbits”, one for each of the 16 German states. Each Orbit, created by a member of the Orbit community, is a continuous loop, so riders may begin at any point along the route, at any time they choose. However, the route must be followed clockwise and exactly according to the GPX track. Participants can view the tracks at www.komoot.com or directly download them from www.orbit360.cc.
By joining the Orbit, riders collect points based on the number of Orbits they complete. Riders may attempt an Orbit more than once, but only their best time will be counted and awarded points. Top ten placings for each Orbit will gain additional points, and the season total will determine the final standings and the winner of “Germany’s 1st Gravel Series”.
Though the routes have been created to establish a new race format, we are happy to see people jumping on their bikes just to go out and try the tracks. But to be included in the official Orbit360 ranking, participants must register on the Orbit360 website.
It’s important to underline that this is an unsupported race. Riders may leave the track for resupply, but to continue, they must return to the point where they left the track. And, like all ultra-endurance events these days, Orbit360 must be completed in one-go; riders may stop for a rest for as long as they like, but the clock is running the entire time.
2. Racing Strategy and Ranking
Basically, the scoring concept is simple: ride an Orbit and collect points. We aimed for a solid balance between the number of Orbits that will be ridden by a rider and his or her performance (total time). Thus, the more routes you ride (in the fastest time possible), the more points you can collect. An Orbit can be ridden as often as you want, however, only the fastest time will be included in the ranking. Points will be awarded for three categories:
First, 300 points will be awarded for finishing an Orbit.
Second, there are 1.000 bonus points for all riders who finish three Orbits (or more).
Third, we award extra points for the top 10 positions in the following order:
- 1st – 600 points
- 2nd – 480 points
- 3rd – 360 points
- 4th – 264 points
- 5th – 192 points
- 6th – 144 points
- 7th – 96 points
- 8th – 72 points
- 9th – 48 points
- 10th – 24 points
3. How do I plan my rides?
All routes are designed as a single-day activity for advanced riders and a 2-3 day activity for gravel/ ultra endurance beginners. I was aiming for total times between 10 – 15 hours depending on the route. Since the landscapes throughout Germany as very diverse, the 16 routes differ from each other a lot. There is a lot of climbing in the pre-alpine south and middle Germany whereas the northern parts are very flat, facing strong winds though.
But it’s not only distance and elevation gain, that needs to be considered in planning the ride. The conditions of the surface are very important as well. Our Orbits should bring riders into Gravel, whereas Gravel is considered as off-road cycling. Off-roads tracks in Germany can be rough and it is important to know, that riders will have to overcome very difficult and technical sections here and there. There are stretches where riders easily ride 30 – 32 km/h on average and there are other parts that require great mountain bike skills and sometimes force the rider to get off the bike and push or even carry the bike.
Bike Set Up
The Orbit360 Gravel Series is a multi-surfaced event. We were looking for the best places, the most hidden spots and the wildest areas in Germany. Consequently, our routes include a mixture of all surfaces that can (are sometimes cannot) be ridden on a gravel/ MTB bike. For us, Gravel means off-road. And with our gravel bikes we have pushed the limits in races like the Silk Road- or Atlas Mountain Race. It’s just like Stefano aka Calamaro said: “You don’t get there on a road bike”.
I have much clearance on my bike. So I didn’t have to worry about sand passages, root trails and other mean obstacles. For the faster Orbits I rode my carbon wheelset from Goldsprint with Terra Speed tires from Continental (40 mm), while for the more demanding Orbits I rode on my HUNT wheels with a mixture of Race King and Terra Trail.
I put aero bars on my bike depending on elevation gain and road surfaces.
Since I didn’t plan to ride through the night I wasn’t worried about any light issues. With the SON 28 dynamo connected to the Sinewave Beacon light I had a solid light just in case (you never know…) and an USB-charger for my phone and Wahoo Element Bolt. I always carry a little back light.
In terms of technical equipment, I only carried an USB-cable to charge my electronic devices (if needed).
Food, water and re-supply
For the Orbit360 Gravel Series, I only took two bottles of water (with carbohydrates powder) and a bit of food (mostly bars and gels). I had planned one quick stop per ride (usually a supermarket after the first half). Since most routes will bring riders through very remote areas, there are not many re-supply options along the track. A solid pre-race planning of re-supply options is absolutely essential.
Considering the routes of the Orbit360-series as an ultra-distance cycling event, the distance are rather short. If I wanted to ride fast, there wouldn’t be any time for breaks. So I rather carried a bit more food and eat on the go than stopping at supermarkets too often, because this is when breaking time quickly add up.
4. Race Reports
I. Orbit Brandenburg
Distance: 302 km
Elevation Gain: 1395 hm
Total Time: 14:50 hours
Gravel: 64 %
Asphalt: 25 %
Singletrack: 8 %
When Antoine Dengler, the first rider of the Orbit360 Gravel Series hit the first Orbit in Brandenburg just at midnight, when the race window opened, I was still working on some last-minute issues to keep the race going. I have had some sleepless nights behind me, there was so much work to do to organize an event like this. But I also wanted to go on the Brandenburg route – a route where everything has started. I closed my laptop at 2 am, slept three hours and took the train to Bernau, where I would straight enter the route and ride the 305 km around Berlin as fast as I can.
I was pretty excited and had a quick stop at a fuel station before hitting the route. While enjoying a coffee in the sun and capitulate the past weeks I was really looking forward to finally see riders on our Orbits.
Following the black line on my Wahoo, I rode into a nice forest section very soon. Surprisingly, the lovely single tracks that I actually scouted in March/ April turned into a knee-deep grass path. I had been so busy during the past weeks, that I didn’t have the time to re-check the route. Anyway, it’s not too bad. A few stinging nettles here and there, a few branches, that riders would have to carefully jump over or just walk – nothing too serious.
It was a warm day, temperature rose to 28 degree Celsius. Soon, I left the eastern part of the route behind me. I passed a number of lakes on super funny single-tracks along the shore, continued on fast-rolling forest-doubletrack-highways and reached Sperenberg, where I had planned my only stop at the supermarket. There was a funny couple sitting in front of the supermarket who offered to keep an eye on my bike while I was rushing through the supermarket. Coke, ice-cream, chocolate, water. Everyday procedure. I loaded the pockets of my jersey and (again) looked like someone, who desperately tries to save food for bad times. I jumped back on my bike and continued towards to some sand sections behind Sperenberg. The sand was softer and harder to ride than in March/ April. I had to hike a bike a few meters here and there, but with my wide tires I was able to ride almost all of the section.
I checked the time. Shit, I needed to hurry a bit to catch the last ferry at 8 pm. It was 5 pm and I had 70 km to go until Tegel Ort. I overtook another Orbiter and arrived at the ferry at 7.45pm. There was a girl on a gravel bike just before the ferry. It was Svenja Schrade from Bike Build who just arrived from Hamburg and was about to start her ride (through the night). We took the next ferry, had a quick chat and I continued as fast as I could. Only 60 km left to finish my first Orbit. I didn’t have any water or food left and I didn’t want to stop another time. So I rushed through the dawn and arrived at the location where I started after 14 hours and 50 minutes. It was a hell of a ride and I was looking forward to ride many more orbits within the next two months.
II. Orbit Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Distance: 243 km
Elevation Gain: 1431 hm
Total Time: 9:41 hours
Gravel: 46 %
Asphalt: 49 %
Singletrack: 5 %
Alexander Ebell, the scout of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern route created a beautiful route around the biggest island in Germany, Rügen. I set the alarm at 3 am. After a quick breakfast and coffee, I took the first train to Stralsund at 4 am. After 3,5 hours in the train, I entered the route at about 8 am. I was blown away by the wind when fighting strong winds with up to 16 knots. The west part of the route was very remote. I rarely saw people and gained a solid average speed. There was a “Fischbrötchen” kiosk in a small town where I refilled my water and had the best fish roll of my life. Kap Arkona was the northernmost point of the route, so I expected tailwind for the next kilometres. But there was no wind at all, nothing. I continued towards the more touristic places of the island and had to watch out for other strangers as the places got very crowded. Sassnitz was the last town to re-fill water at an ice-cream shop, that charged 1 EUR for tap water. Well, I paid it because I was in a rush.
Alex was waiting for me at the finish (bridge) where I arrived after 9 hours and 41 minutes. Riding this route on my Goldsprint carbon wheelset was the right choice as there is a lot of tarmac and also the gravel sections are super rideable. Alex showed me a good Pizza place and after smashing a lot of food I took the train back home. This ride shows how simple our Orbit Series is. Pick a route, go there, ride it and have fun. Other events mostly need more preparation, longer travel time, costs for logistics and so much more, while in the Orbit360 Series is rather you, the route and your bike. That’s it.
III. Orbit Thüringen
Distance: 222 km
Elevation Gain: 4455 hm
Total Time: 13:23 hours
Gravel: 54 %
Asphalt: 38 %
Singletrack: 8 %
The Orbit in Thüringen is the one with the most elevation gain. But it’s not only the climbing! Thomas Taut, a good friend and scouter of this route, knows how to ride bikes. So I expected a brutal route that won’t be rideable at all times. And I shouldn’t be disappointed. I slept at Thomas’ place and he gave me a ride to the start of the route. I started a bit over-motivated and thus, it didn’t take long until my first crash of the day. After gaining a lot of speed I rode into a pretty sharp turn, but I couldn’t even start to turn right. So I just rode straight ahead into the bush, jumped off the bike and flew into another bush. At least I fell soft and the bike as well. I kept going and reduced the speed a little bit. Please, no more crashes!
The route is tough! It’s a mixture between doubletrack gravel roads of the Rennsteig and smaller paths through the middle of the forest. There are sections where riders will most probably curse us. But as I said before, gravel is much more than fast rolling doubletracks for us.
To be honest, I pushed my bike a lot. After a successful Everesting attempt four days before the Orbit-ride, my legs felt like pudding and I just didn’t have the power to ride all ascents on that day. My only stop at a supermarket to re-fill my water bottles didn’t take long. But I took some breaks in between because I just couldn’t pedal anymore. This added up to more than one hour paused time. Well, I guess I’m about to get a rough idea of what Tour de France racers are going through. Furthermore, I was running out of water and stopped at a cemetery. But there was a big sign: “No drinking water!”. The pouring water was green/ brown, but I didn’t care as I didn’t see any other option. For all other riders, you might want to re-check your re-supply-options for this route.
I finished after 13 hours and 23 min. What a ride. Thomas was waiting and drove to a beautiful lake where we had dinner. Carbs, a lot of carbs. I would find myself on the Sachsen-Orbit on the day after tomorrow. Not the best recovery…
IV. Orbit Sachsen
Distance: 208 km
Elevation Gain: 3153 hm
Total Time: 12:47 hours
Gravel: 62 %
Asphalt: 24 %
Singletrack: 14 %
If the Orbit in Sachsen wouldn’t be located next to Thüringen, there is no way I would ride these two Orbits in a row (with only one day of recovery). Robert is a badass mountain biker and I expected some technical sections in his route. To my surprise, the route is much more flowing than I thought. Fair enough! I had never been in the “Sächsische Schweiz” before, so it was time to see these beautiful landscapes. Too bad that it rained the entire day which made not only the riding very challenging but also left a grey veil which only disappeared for one hour in the afternoon. It’s a lot of fun to ride this track. The entire area in the national park consists of fast rolling gravel roads with quite a bit of climbing. There are a few tricky sections, most of them rideable. But this is what we were looking for. For me, this is the perfect gravel madness. Even though, I started this route with shaky and weak legs because I had already more then 14.000 meters of climbing (in the past six days) in the books, I enjoyed every meter of this route.
I stopped in Bad Schandau to re-fill water and smash a couple of ice-creams. The next section was a bit easier and I was hoping to arrive in Dresden soon. But I forgot the “Helfenberger Grund”, a technical, narrow singletrack before riding back through the Dresdner Heide. This section is a last challenge and the amount of rain didn’t make it any easier. I finished after 12 hours and 47 minutes and this was certainly my weakest performance within the Orbit360 Series. 17.000 meters of climbing within 6 days was just too much and I was looking forward to relax at my parents place for a few days. Cheers to Robert who did an amazing job.
V. Orbit Sachsen Anhalt
Distance: 208 km
Elevation Gain: 3153 hm
Total Time: 13:30 hours
Gravel: 63 %
Asphalt: 32 %
Singletrack: 5 %
After a few days of recovery at my parents place in Thüringen I was ready to tackle the next orbit in Sachsen-Anhalt. It was only 10 days ago when I ascended the Brocken for 18 times to reach a total elevation gain of 8,848 m, the height of Mt Everest. Just like the Everesting I choosed to start the Orbit in Schierke, where the long climb to the Summit of Brocken begins. I was going to tackle this Orbit with a very lightweight set-up. Instead of putting all tools, snacks and spare parts in my half-framebag, I decided to strap a smaller top-tube bag on my bike and put most of the food in my jersey. I set off at 7 am and rode straight into the climb, which was quite easy. So it was a good choice to start the climb with rested legs. I found many comments on komoot, saying that the descent is very difficult. The Hirtenstieg (the name of the descent) is very steep and consists of old concrete slabs, but I didn’t find it too hard with my wide tires. There is a very nice root trail at the end of the Ecktalsperre, that I really enjoyed as well as endless gravel roads of the Rübeland. I continued to Magdeburg and gained a solid average speed. The route followed a long cycle path and I discovered some really nice places next to the river Elbe. After Magdeburg the route quickly changed to some dirt tracks. I only stopped once to re-fill water (there was only one supermarket on the track anyway). I had about 100 km to go aimed for a total time of 13 hours. Obviously, I forgot that the ascent to the Brocken did actually not start in Schierke, but about 30 km before. I totally underestimated how long this climb was. So, without any food or water left O tackled the last 30 km of solid climbing and arrived in Schierke after 13 hours and 30 minutes. My dad was already waiting for me with loads of food. Thank’s dad!
VI. Orbit Nordrhein-Westfalen
Distance: 208 km
Elevation Gain: 2950 hm
Total Time: 11:58 hours
Gravel: 74 %
Asphalt: 20 %
Singletrack: 6 %
According to the pictures that I had seen from the Orbit in Nordrhein-Westfalen, I expected a rather fast route with quite a bit of climbing. I took the first train in Düsseldorf (where I slept at a friend’s place) and pressed the start button on my Wahoo at 6.30 am. I left cologne behind and headed towards the Eifel national park. It took me about 5 hours for the first 100 km. So far so good. I re-filled my water bottles before I entered the Eifel, a beautiful and remote area. In fact, the tracks is crossing the border to Belgium for a couple of times (at least this is what my mobile provider said). The surface in the national park is a bit more demanding. It’s all rideable, but sometimes I had to push a bid harder to ride over small branches and bushes. On the way back to Cologne little Groads with almost no traffic boosted my average speed. But my legs were tired and I didn’t have any food left. So I took my last gel, but somehow I couldn’t really push my limits for the last hours. I recognize that it’s getting harder to keep the motivation during my last Orbits. The landscape was so ABWECHSLUNGSREICG and beautiful, that sometimes I just got lost in thoughts and totally forgot that this was actually supposed to be a race. I arrived at the starting point after 11 hours and 58 minutes. There was no food and water left, so I rode back to Düsseldorf and literally stopped at every supermarket on the way. What a nice run! I had some pleasant days in Düsseldorf, met so many amazing people and found my new favourite Orbit. Baaam!
VII. Orbit Hessen (DNF)
Distance: 200 km
Elevation Gain: 2662 hm
Total Time: 11:34 hours
Gravel: 72 %
Asphalt: 21 %
Singletrack: 7 %
Since I felt a bit “overdressed” with the Maxxis Ikon 2.2 on the Orbit routes, I replaced them with Continental tires. These tires did an excellent job on the NRW-Orbit, even though I didn’t have the chance to ride tubeless. For a greater puncture protection, I converted to tubeless after the NRW-route and was happy that Ken (founder of Greffelründsche > so check him out) offered to help me in his basement. Somehow, the sealant of the front tire leaked out of a small cut. This was weird because I didn’t have any problems with the tube before. However, it takes some time for a tubeless set-up to get 100 % sealed, so I rode home to let the sealant move inside the tire. Back home I checked my tires and was happy that I didn’t lose any pressure.
I started the next morning at 4 am, because it was supposed to be super hot at midday, in fact 35 degree celsius. I only made it until the wider areas of Frankfurt a.M., when I realized that the tires were losing pressure. I stopped and wanted to put a tube in the front tire. But I didn’t find my tube in. Holy shit, I put so much food in the frame bag, that I totally forgot a tube. Well, stupid me. I rode back to my friend’s place, rang the bell and tried to call him. But he was sleeping. So I took a nap in a park and would try another Orbit-attempt later in the evening.
I took a 3-hour-nap at 9 pm, prepared some cheese breads and started at 1 am for another try. The temperature was mild and I didn’t need a lot of light as I was cruising through the (broader) city area the first hour. Until I took a left turn and rode into the forest. Navigation certainly become more difficult with only a dynamo light, but it wasn’t too bad. When the sun rose in the early morning I had already covered 80 kilometres. Wait, “already”, actually 80 kilometres in 4,5 hours is not a lot. But the northern part was hilly combined with harder surfaces that didn’t allow a faster pace (at least for me). The longer I rode the faster I got. I think the most demanding sections of this Orbit were located in the north of the route. I continued to a mix of forest trails, small tarmac roads and dirt tracks until I got another cut in my rear tire. The Salami didn’t seal again, so I had no other choice than using a tube. This is actually not a big deal, but in races like the Orbit360-series, paused time add up quickly and I spent too much time on fixing my tire problems. Looks like I’ve chosen not the best tire, because even though they are very light and fast, in off-road ultra endurance races it is more about reliability then speed/ performance.
After 11 hours and 30 minutes it happened that I got a branch in my wheel on a downhill, that caused two dislocated spokes. I tried to fix it, but it didn’t work. It was Saturday late afternoon and I had to hurry up to find a bike shop in Frankfurt a.M. I walked to the next train station, took the train and went to the closest bike shops. Unfortunately, all bike shops were about to close and couldn’t help me. That’s it! My first DNF in the Orbit360-Series.
VIII. Orbit Rheinland-Pfalz
Distance: 223 km
Elevation Gain: 4250 hm
Total Time: 13:13 hours
Gravel: 75 %
Asphalt: 21 %
Singletrack: 3 %
Ruben, my old friend from university scouted the route and only owned a full-suspension bike at the time when he created the route. So, I was mentally prepared for some badass riding. I also checked the komoot comments and found some articles saying, that this Orbit should be better ridden on a mountain bike. Fair enough.
I slept at Ruben’s place and we did a test ride on his full-suspension bike on the day before the ride. Well, the route was actually perfect for a gravel bike. I don’t really understand some people’s statements, that our routes are too hard. YES, they are hard. This is why we call it an ULTRA event (in case you guys missed it). And yes, there will always be some rare and short stretches that could be a bit more demanding on a gravel bike. However, it doesn’t mean that riders would be faster on a mountain bike. Most routes are 90 % (and more) gravel or tarmac. Amen.
I entered the route on the hardest part of the track – a remote downhill single track, but upwards. With fresh legs I mastered this technical section and continued on beautiful doubletrack forest lines towards the south of Rheinland-Pfalz. It took 60 kilometres until I faced another PANNE. I hammered down a long descent and realized that I lost control of my bike. I had another cut in my front tire and lost pressure. Same shit, different day. But I knew how to play this game and put a Salami in the cut, however, I had little hope that this would seal. It didn’t work last time, so why should it work now. I pushed the bike and the next ascent to let the sealant seal. Surprise, it didn’t work. I took off the wheel, removed the sealant und put a spare tube inside. I had about 160 kilometres to go and could only hope that I won’t have any other punctures.
I missed the ferry and waited about 20 minutes, while filling up water. This was not my day. The ferry dropped me off at the other side of the Rhein and I didn’t take any other breaks.
The route consists of many up- and downhill stretches. Some of them were very steep with up to 15 %. Sometimes I rather pushed my bike upwards to change the strain on the legs (and because I wasn’t able to ride these sections anyway). I finished after 13 hours and 13 minutes. Favourite route so far.
IX. Orbit Baden-Württemberg
Distance: 252 km
Elevation Gain: 4251 hm
Total Time: 12:39 hours
Gravel: 81 %
Asphalt: 16 %
Singletrack: 3 %
It was another hot day in the JAHRHUNDERTSOMMER. 38 degree Celsius would literally toast me. So I started at 4 am to enjoy the mild temperatures in the morning. The route started in Stuttgart (Marienplatz) with a first steep climb. The route followed a mixture of wide gravel roads and bike lanes towards the Schwarzwald.
I had problems to keep the race mode during the last Orbits. Mostly, I started with tires legs and most important, it became more and more difficult not to make breaks during the ride. My friend Nico finished the Baden-Württemberg Orbit two days ago (I picked him up at the finish) and I was wondering if I could beat his time. This was the perfect motivation to get back in race mode. I wrote down the distances that both Martin (fastest time) and Nico rode in each hour and sticked it on my stem. So, I was riding in kind of a ghost mode, that really helped to ride faster and do less breaks.
I realized within the first 50 kilometres that I coulnd’t keep up with their pace and decided to ride my own pace for the first 150 kilometres and see how I feel for the last 100 kilometres.
There were two long climbs at km 150 and km 170 that I wasn’t able to ride. With the hot sun burning straight on my head I suffered a lot.
When I left all climbs behind me I started to push very hard for the last 50 kilometres. I had some gels left, but no water. So I ate a last energy bar and kept pushing at a maximum heart rate. I finished at the Marienplatz after 12 hours and 39 minutes, 13 minutes behind Nico.
My body was shaking and I could barely move. There was an ice-cream place, heaven! I bought three scoops, but didn’t actually fell like I could eat ANYTHING. It took a few seconds until I ran to the bush and puked. Everyone was starring at me like I was a dickhead who just can’t behave. Well, maybe they were right. But I just had a hell of a ride.
X. Orbit Bayern
Distance: 259 km
Elevation Gain: 3415 hm
Total Time: 13:44 hours
Gravel: 57 %
Asphalt: 35 %
Singletrack: 8 %
The next days after the Orbit in Baden-Württemberg should give me a bit of time to recover. I catched up with Bengt and Lukas to start the next project for Orbit360. We planned a few days of riding through the beautiful valleys in Allgäu. This was more about spending time together and enjoying the scenery than cover a large distance. Liteville and Sea to Summit were happy to provide a bike and camping stuff for a great outdoor adventure.
My weapon of choice was a Liteville 4-one for the Bayern Orbit. I had some smooth rides during the last days and wanted to test the bike in race conditions. It’s a super light bike with an aluminium frame, tuned up with the high-quality carbon bike parts of their daughter Syntace.
I started my next Orbit on Sunday morning. To be honest, I was kind of scared because I read so many race reports in which riders were furious about the brutality of the track and wondered “if this is still gravel”. “Isartrails” is a word, that I heard quite often during the past weeks.
I walked down the stairs, turned left and jumped on the bike. Following fast gravel roads, I was waiting for the rough parts. To be honest, I was kind of disappointed because I expected to suffer, but in reality, I rode my bike and had fun. Well, there are a few locations where riding on a gravel bike is quite challenging. But this is what the Orbit360 series is about. It’s supposed to push peoples limits and let them achieve something that they have never thought would be possible.
The section between kilometre 20 and 30 were quite slow, giving me a feeling of what was ahead of me. But then I reached Bad Tölz and only rode over super-fast gravel tracks with the Alps in the Background. So, this track actually became a very fast Orbit.
I left Lengries and Silbersteinblick behind me and turned right the longest climb of the track. While I was pushing my bike uphill, the middy sun burned my skin. I had a mixture of sweat, sun crème and dirt all over my body. There were two more climbs, both rideable and mostly on asphalt or gravel.
At kilometre 160, I stopped at a petrol station to re-fill water and eat a snack. I was on time and only planned to stop for 5 minutes or so. But when I rushed into the shop I recognized Erik next to me. Last time I saw Erik was in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. He actually brought new flat pedals (my pedals broke during a test ride of Kegety pass) and, in fact, enabled my start of the race. What a lucky coincidence! Unsurprisingly, we talked a lot, resulting in a longer break. After riding together for about 15 minutes, I sped up for the last 100 km. Even though I had already climbed more than 2000 m while getting burned from the sun, I didn’t feel any fatigue. I overtook another Orbiter, Ellen Dier – Eriks girlfriend who started a few hours earlier – and rode like hell towards the finish line. I would say that this might be one of my best performances on the bike ever. And I can’t even explain way. But this is (ultra distance) cycling. Sometimes you will face your inner demons and it seems impossible to finish and other times you just don’t get tired and ask yourself where all this power is coming from. When I arrived at the bridge (which was the finish line) I called Lukas and told him that I just finished. He couldn’t actually believe it. It was a 20 km ride back home to Lukas’ place and I stopped two times for ice-cream. Lukas and his wife Lisa welcomed me with a nice dinner. What a day!
XI. Orbit Berlin
Distance: 223 km
Elevation Gain: 1327 hm
Total Time: 11:02 hours
Gravel: 66 %
Asphalt: 8 %
Singletrack: 26 %
Home match. Being on the road for almost five weeks was stressful. I was happy to be back in Berlin and see some friends. But there was one other thing to tackle – the Orbit in Berlin. I knew the route and had actually ridden it just before it was released. But this time was different. The sand was deeper, the climbs steeper and even the fast-rolling forest roads were hard to ride. It might be my tires legs but I also think that the ground is more digged up than it was in June. Anyway, this track tested my mental limits. After it only took me 4:47 hours for the first 100 km, I fell into a mental nightmare. I tried to pedal harder, but I just didn’t move forward. That’s the situations, where you have to overcome your inner demon. But what happens if there is no end. If this mix of exhaustion and pain keeps telling you to stop.
I lied down on the hot forest ground and set my mobile alarm for five minutes, because I was scared to pass out. And even if it was only five minutes it really helped to get back in race mode. I was still slow (and this wouldn’t change on this day because my legs were just tired after the Bayern Orbit on Monday), but I was able to continue.
A few kilometres later, I found a little Lotto-shop and bought snacks, water and coke. The woman behind the cashier realized, that I was quite tires. I explained her what kind of race I was just taking part of and she didn’t really believe it. When I left the shop, she said that she is going to ride her bike from now on. Well done.
The snacks and coke gave me a huge push and I was ready to finish this Orbit. The pace became faster and I was happy to see the airport. I knew that the sections behind the airport until Grunewald are relatively easy to ride. I passed Potsdam and had some badass trails in Grunewald and Teufelsberg ahead of me. But I knew the route, so this was not a big surprise.
XII. Orbit Schleswig-Holstein
Distance: 277 km
Elevation Gain: 2028 hm
Total Time: 12:11 hours
Gravel: 53 %
Asphalt: 32 %
Singletrack: 15 %
After being on the road and riding Orbits for five weeks it was a good (mental) change to spend a few days in my own bed and see my friends. It happened that Christian, the scouter for the Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein routes, was in Berlin on the exact day when I planned to continue my trip towards Hamburg. He was happy to give me a lift and place to sleep before I headed north to enter the Schleswig-Holstein Orbit in the next morning.
Hamburg almost feels like my second home. Many friends are living here as well as my brother who I visit quite often. The weather is just exactly as shitty as Hamburg is known for – rainy, a bit windy and the sun always hides behind the clouds.
The alarm rang at 5 am. I turned it off, turned to the other side and slept for another 30 minutes. At 5.30 am, still pretty tired, I got up, put on my cycling clothes and jumped on the bike. It was a 25-kilometre ride to the start of the route. I planned to stop at a café or bakery to get a good breakfast before starting another 10.000 kcal activity, but everything was closed leaving a big hole in my stomach. Just before the route of the Orbit appeared on my Wahoo, I passed a small bakery where I bought a number of pastries and a big coffee. Benjamin, the guy who recorded the very pleasant voice memo with his girlfriend Jane in Johannes last episode, texted me via Instagram. After I texted him that I’m sitting in a bakery, about to hit the next Orbit he astonishingly asked why I was still sitting in a bakery and assumed that I was aiming for a 9-hour finish (because of the late start). Well, I just the time and he was right. I should hurry up a bit. The days are getting shorter now.
The Orbit started with technically easy forest paths, quite a bit rooty though. I changed my wheels for the last Orbits, because I expected a bot more tarmac on the “north Orbits”. I put Continental Terra Speed 40 mm on my Goldsprint carbon wheels and gained huge speed on the asphalt section, whereas the single trails were a bit bumpy. And the rain didn’t make it any easier.
I passed another Orbiter and we were overtaking each other for a bit. Dirk had started in Lübeck, so he had an additional 60 kilometres in his legs. When I overtook him the fourth (and last) time he was facing fatigue and I had never saw him again.
For any reason the srew of my aero bar loosened after 60 kilometres and I had to stop at a shop to ask for an allen key, because the allen key on my multi tool was too short to fix it. Long story short, it got lose another two times and I took it off in the end. No aero bars for me…
I continued towards the northern part, passed beautiful forests, small villages, steep cliffs at the Baltic coast and the medieval town of Lübeck before pushing the final kilometres. It became dark in the early evening. This was the first time during the Orbit360-Series that I was happy about my dynamo light. Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen anything.
I finished the Orbit after 12 hours and 11 minutes and felt pretty tired in the end. At this Orbit everything came together: bad weather, tired legs, some other problems that kept my head busy, a broken aero bar and grinding breaks.
I rode back to Christian place and was welcomed with a very tasty Bolognese. Big shout out to Christian who did not only scouted two routes, but also helped me with my other issues.
XIII. Orbit Bremen
Distance: 320 km
Elevation Gain: 445 hm
Total Time: 13:30 hours
Gravel: 69 %
Asphalt: 26 %
Singletrack: 5 %
There are two reasons why I didn’t ride the Orbits in Niedersachsen and Hamburg. First, I was still exhausted from my ride on the Schleswig-Holstein Orbit and second, I put the focus on Bremen, where I wanted to set a new record. There was no way to stick to my actual plan (4 Orbits in 8 days). I mean, it’s possible, but I would have just been able to finish the rides, not to set records.
I knew that the Orbit in Niedersachsen is very sandy and since I was riding on thin tires I rather come back in autumn to ride this route in touring mode. In Hamburg, I was spontaneously joined by my brother, riding a Brobit rather than an Orbit. Even though this ride would not count for the ranking I had the fun of my live. It was super cool (and much needed) to “only” ride a bike, without any pressure or competition. Don’t get me wrong, I really do like competition mode, but the past weeks have been intense and I was ready for a break.
Thanks to Christian Schütt, who went back on the Bayern Orbit for a second time and bet my actual record (congrats mate!), I didn’t have a record time in any state. So Bremen would be my last chance to “win” at least one Orbit (or set the record and hope that no one else will beat me, because there is still one week before the race window is going to close).
13 hours and 44 minutes was the time to beat, ridden by Thorsten Graf who had quite a lot of good rides during the Orbit season. His komoot track showed that his paused time was only 23 minutes with an overall average of 24 km/h. Well, it’s gonna be hard to beat this.
I slept in Oyten at a friend place, not far from the track. The route started on mean meadow paths that were still wet. When I approached Bremen at 8 am, paused time quickly added up because the city was crowded and I had to wait on literally every traffic light. My bet I guess. I could have started earlier but I rather enjoyed a big breakfast than rushing through my morning ceremony.
I continued on very fast tarmac or gravel roads and gained a solid average speed. Every hour I checked Thorsten’s distances, that I wrote on a piece of paper stuck on my stem. I was good in time and could extend a little gap. This gap became even bigger on the long tarmac stretch at the “Deich” giving me a comfortable lead of about 30 minutes. Those long tarmac stretches suited me best, as this is what I trained for during the past months: gain a solid level of speed, move forward and make myself comfortable on my aero bars and keep pushing it for a number of hours. In german: “Gib ihm!”
I missed the ferry by only 2 – 3 minutes. But I had to re-fill water anyway and was actually happy to take a quick break. However, when I left the ferry on the other side the lead was gone and it became a head-to-head race. With a bit of tail wind I was averaging 35 km/h for the next 40 kilometres and extended another comfortable lead. Now, being in a flow, I didn’t only want to set the record but I was also aiming for a time under 13 hours. I guess this is how the Bayern Munich soccer players felt like when they played against Barcelona.
I was riding through some rougher sections alternating with faster gravel roads. Suddenly, when I turned left my back wheel felt like it would sink into the sand. But there was no sand, it was flat tire. I hit a long rusty nail. Fuque this! I wouldn’t be able to ride in under 13 hours, but I still had enough time to fix it and finish in record time.
It took more than 20 minutes to change the tube. The Goldsprint carbon wheels have a very high rim and the tube just didn’t stay rim base. When I finally set everything up, I realized that the tube overlapped a bit. So I lifted the tire with the tire lever and carefully pumped the tube. It worked. Fuque yeah! I was ready to go. But it took a lot of time and I literally saw Thorsten passing me, with a big smile in his face. I had about 80 kilometres to go and I knew, that I was a bit faster. So there was enough time to catch him.
Long story short: I had a blast. I rode as fast as I could for 80 kilometres and didn’t have any other puncture. I finished after 13 hours and 30 minutes and set a new record.
Next week I will do a 400 kilometre ride from Stuttgart to Italy and finally ride on the legendary Stelvio pass. This means, that my Orbit360 season is over. What a nice (and intense) summer.
I already have many ideas for the next season. While keeping the Orbit360 format alive, there will be some minor changes coming up. Stay tuned!