For the parts I completed (240 miles of the ;600 mile route), the originators have created a simply stunning introduction to some spectacular parts of the Turkish countryside, and Turkey’s culture and history. I can’t fault it. Many parts are quite remote and you should prepare for this.
Caroline’s book (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Evliya-Celebi-Way-Long-distance/dp/0953921891) is of course the essentially guide to this route and also offers great insight into the area for anyone interested in it. If you are visiting the region or touring by car it would make an excellent companion too.
As a Bike Ride
If you aim to follow the official route it really is a fairly tough mountain bike ride. I’m sure there are some pro cyclocross racers who could get round it on a cyclocross or touring bike but for the great majority the bike of choice will be a mountain bike. Doing the ride unsupported point to point means carrying quite a bit of gear even without a tent, as I did. Even keeping everything as light as possible, the extra weight makes the off-road climbing very hard. The off-road descents were great fun though and proper mountain biking though there was very little highly technical single track. It certainly isn’t a ride for a novice mountain biker and don’t tackle it unless you are confident of your off-road bike handling skills. There are plenty of very steep, loose and broken tracks. For technical difficulty I’d rate it as about 7/10 and no harder than the red runs in the UK trail centres. For physical difficulty I’d go a little higher (8/10) especially if you choose more of the off-road climbs.
Somebody half of my age and with a good level of fitness (and reasonable mountain biking experience) would be able to reduce my riding times by at least a third. (If you want a bench mark, riding steady without trying really hard, it usually takes me about 3.5 to 4 hours to do the full Dalby Red Run in the North Yorkshire Moors, including breaks. I think a few “whippets” have done it in under 2 hours. On a good day I’ll get a silver medal on a 100 km sportive. On a bad day I’ll just finish it …)
The busier road sections that I had to use (and were not part if the official route) were awful and I would recommend avoiding these if possible. This includes the stretch at the start from the ferry port at Yalova to Altınova (that you need to use to get to the start of the route), and the run into İnegöl from Boğazköy (the Yenişehir road) that I chose to use. Even so, these roads do have quite a wide hard shoulder and weren’t particularly dangerous (though care was needed at junctions and turn offs) but no fun. The main road into Kütahya was a bit less busy and not so bad. All the other main roads were quite useable but be aware that many of the roads that link the villages are not surfaced,
The bad weather seriously affected the surfaces on the last two days and if you decide to ride off-road I would suggest you have a plan to keep to the more major routes if the weather deteriorates or the tracks haven’t dried up.
I used my iPhone 5 for navigation and route finding with GAIA software. Previously I’d down loaded the route (in GPX format – supplied with the above book) and satellite images from Google Earth and ESRI and World Topo Mapping. This worked very well and I could always easily check my position against the route. The GPX route is approximated in may place as and you have to be aware of this. Also, the satellite images are very grainy is some places and the tracks or roads are not distinguishable. The drawback of the Topo Maps is that many of the off-road tracks are not shown but in the hills the hill contours often gave enough information for direction finding.
I used an iPhone 4 for back up and route recording though this was disappointing and on four of the six days the app seemed to switch off part way through the route. On the last two days I go full routes recorded. I’ve yet to find out why this happened. It has occurred rarely on previous walks and rides and I always assumed I’d done it when I’d stopped to take a photo. But on this trip the phone stayed in a bag the whole day with the screen locked. On the two days it did work it was kept in a dry bag but I can’t see what difference that could make.
Battery life was fine on both phones and they never needed topping up during the day. At the day’s end my navigation phone would be down to about 25 % and the route recording phone to about 75 %. I did take precautions to extend battery life by switch off all unnecessary functions though I kept the phone part on and took plenty of photographs. There are battery saving tips and links on the GAIA website.
Asking people for directions is tricky. Very few local people even on the route know about the ECW. So they will tell you the easiest way to get to where you want to go. In Seydikuzu I asked a middle-aged guy the way to the track to Fındıcak. He tried to direct me to the main road. When I said “No, I want to use the mountain path”, he said there wasn’t one. Then two other guys came over who were laying road blocks and one on them know of it’s existence. I’d often asked people the way even when I knew I was on the right track just to practice my Turkish. Just don’t expect anyone to speak English or rely on anyone for directions.
Rather than use panniers and racks (which are fine for road use but are heavy and may eventually fail off-road) I chose a light weight frame bag and seat pack along with dry bags from Alp Kit. I used a pair of Salsa Anything cages on my forks each holding a 5 litre dry bag. Inside the seat pack I used an 8 litre dry bag though for shorter trips you could probably
manage with a polyethylene bag. This all worked very well and the pack never worked loose and my spare clothes kept bone dry. In my frame bag I had hand tools, cable locks and first aid kit. Again the bag worked well and was no problem.
In one Salsa cage, in a 5 litre Alp Kit dry bag, I had my “sleeping system” which was a large piece of bubble wrap to use as a mattress, a silk sleeping bag liner and an Alp Kit bivy bag. Given the bad weather this set up was too lightweight and on my penultimate day, had I not found a room in Şenlik I would have had to ride on another two or three hours to Yoncalı. In the other fork bag, I had my spare inner tubes and jacket and a warmer top, plus emergency food and emergency foil blanket. Again these dry bags stayed dry and were robust enough not to get damaged during any of my bush whacking forays.
I elected not to use a handle bar bag as there is nothing upsets a bikes handling more than this and I used a medium-sized bum bag for other items I needed ready access to such: as the book and maps, phone chargers, lights, compass and whistle, cap and spare buff and spare glasses, passport.
I used a top-tube frame bag which had two side pouches for my phone and spare power supply charger. This wasn’t water proof so I used a dry box for the phone and though the power supply was supposed to be water proof I kept it in a poly bag. This frame bag also had a pouch with a window that I thought I could put my phone in but this was impractical and so I used the window pouch for my route cards which had the names if the places I passed through or near with a tulip type diagram. This turned out to be a good idea as I find remembering any sort of name difficult let alone Turkish ones. It reduced route checking on the phone to some degree too.
Bike Set Up and Review
The Genesis Fortitude Adventure was designed with this sort of expedition in mind. I just loved riding it. It rolls along rough surfaces well and allows very confident descending. I chose to ride very defensively because a fall and injury in some places may have meant abandoning the bike for a long walk to find help. I had no falls and the nearest I came to this were at very low speeds when the front end washed out in deep mud or loose sand when I had to put a foot out a couple of times.
I put some ergo bars grips on with integral bar ends on which allowed various hand positions and took some of the strain off my wrists. I liked these. After a couple of longer training rides I was minded to put riser (handle) bars on which would lift my hand position about 40 mm as I’d felt a bit of pressure on my wrists. I also thought it would improve the handling over very technical single track. As it turned out I never got around to it and in any case it was not required as I never spent long periods riding with out a break. There were many frequent stops for drinks and route checking.
I was concerned that going with rigid forks was going to give my wrists a bit of battering too, but this was not the case. I think a combination of slower riding and careful line choice helped here as you can’t just plough through everything in a rigid bike.
Tyres are always a compromise and I had a big debate with myself over my selection. I was really very pleased I went for something with some proper grip which were the original Continental W-King 2.2’s. Great tyres. I ran them at quite a high pressure (~55psi) to reduce the chances of punctures. I also used slime sealant (inside the tubes) for the same reason which added weight but did work. I never even topped my tyres up on the whole ride. I think a good semi-slick tyre is the right tyre choice if you’re going to ride the off-road sections.
I used Nuke Proof pedals and removed all of the contact pins apart from the centre ones (as they looked like real skin gougers). Again these resin pedals worked well even in the rain. I much prefer riding in SPD’s but went down this path to save having to carry another pair of shoes for walking and sight-seeing. I just had a pair of disposable flip-flops. This back-fired slightly as it meant walking around Kütahya in wet shoes on the day I arrived. I used the standard saddle and I never particularly noticed it (a good sign!).
I also left the bell on which proved useful in the quiet villages. Not very hard-core I know but quite a good practical thing.
I put a plastic bottle-shaped toolbox in the rear frame bottle cage as this was quite heavy. This contained chain lube, spare chain links, chain tool, puncture kit, a rag, old tooth-brush (chain cleaner) and very lightweight poly gloves. The lid popped off this and I got lost on the decent after Safa and I had to use tape (roll remnants gifted from a hardware shop in Domaniç) to cover it. I hung onto this bit of tape (I am from Yorkshire) and it proved useful at the airport when I had to reopen my bike box.
The Avid cable disc brakes worked fine and I can say they were every bit as effective the hydraulic brakes on my Whyte 19 Mountain Bike.
Gear ratio selection is covered on another page here: (https://martjenk.wordpress.com/gear-and-gears).
That word probably won’t make the OED but here’s my take on things velocipedic.
When I was in my late teens I worked with a chap who liked a good drink of beer. Not too unusual in Leeds. I came in with a bad hangover one morning and blamed it on bad beer. He told me there’s no such this as bad beer, it’s just that “some is better than others”. I’ve carried that simple philosophy with me. It applies especially to bikes. You could definitely do this ride on an older second-hand mountain bike. You might have to take it a bit steadier on the descents but it would be doable provided it had been well prepared.
I think there must be few people who perspire more than me. I usually ride my mountain bikes with Camelbak-type hydration system that is bum-bag mounted and I toyed with the idea for this trip. In the end I went for one conventional 750 ml bottle mounted inside the front frame tube and a BBB long bottle cage mounted on the underside of the front frame tube. This cage us designed to take a 1.5 litre mineral water or beverage bottle. Water supply was plentiful and on this route I didn’t really need this extra capacity, and a second conventional bottle would have sufficed
There are plenty of fountains around. All the villages have one and there are many on the route. I noticed that at the lower levels some of the fountains troughs had large amounts of algal growth which can be a sign of eutrophication (over nutrient feeding) due to fertilisers use. Also, the farmers use pesticides which end up in the water courses. So, I think there is an unknown chemical content. This isn’t going to kill you or do much harm on a short trip though. Also, natural waters tend to have a higher coliform count than treated water and whilst these will probably be in low numbers these are organisms that a visitor’s digestive system is not used to. Touring no place for a gippy tummy and so I generally avoided the fountains in the lower areas (and used bottled water) and I put a steri-tab in to any water I drew (when no one was looking!), just to be on the safe side. I imagine many frequent travellers to the area and local people would think this a complete waste if time (and it almost certainly was) but I don’t see the point in taking risks with it. I also used a hydration tablet three times a day to replace salt loss.
If you choose to go following any long dry spells you ought to consider carrying more water as some fountains do dry up.
Health and Beauty Aids
Ok, I know … just health then…
I probably should have taken some insect repellant and proper bite relief. I only had a Savlon first aid spray (which I never used) and Savlon antiseptic cream which I used up. My lower legs got covered in small scratches and I got numerous bites. I think some were from mosquitos in the hotels and some were certainly horse flies out on the trails.
I used a sunblock on the first few days which was essential. Though goose fat would have been more useful on my last two days …
I only had one small accident which was off the bike. It was when I was following the middle-aged gentleman’s nocturnal habit of going to the loo in the small hours. I stubbed my left foot on the protruding base of the bed in my Iznik hotel room. Having treated the other guests to a language lesson shouted in strongly Yorkshire voweled Anglo-Saxon I returned to bed. In the morning I couldn’t work out why my bed sheets were covered in blood. Anyway, the Savlon kept the cut pinkie and nail infection free.
I managed to wash out my biking gear every night. I would wring it out and then roll it up in a dry towel and wring in out again in the towel. In the mornings it was dry or dry enough to wear. This was apart from my stay in the Mosque guest room in Şenlik. By the time I’d found the stop tap it was too late … or so I’d convinced myself. There were no showers there either so I had to make do with a gentleman’s wash and a more liberal application of medicated chamois cream to my shorts and well … you know where ….
Even staying in hotels, it certainly wasn’t an expensive trip apart (from the air fare and my UK transfer). I’ll post the details later but I spent about £340 whilst in Turkey and that covered everything.
Did I enjoy it? Most certainly. It was an incredible experience and whilst it might have been more fun with my pal (ok, there is more than one) there was something satisfying about doing it solo. It does also encourage you to speak to more strangers and that’s certainly a good thing. I’ve enjoyed Turkish hospitality for quite a few years but now I’m able to converse, even though it’s at a basic level, it just gets better and better. Everyone was so kind to me. That is apart from that total prat (thanks Caroline!) in the petrol station. Maybe he was having a bad day, well he should get out for a walk or a ride on the ECW, he’d feel a lot better after that.
The weather took the edge off the last two days but that can be a surprise element in any travel. With hindsight, I probably should have abandoned the off-road routes on the last days and stuck with the main road via Tavşanlı. That might have been a bit more comfortable route but I certainly do not regret taking that decision to stay off-road.
Am I coming back to do the rest of the route? I hope so. I’ve already had a look and if I can find one place to stay between Kütahya and Afyon then it looks do-able without camping.
I know the organisers are looking for ways to improve the ride. I don’t think they should be overly worried about the route and way marking. “Good enough” mapping is available at low-cost in GAIA. The GPS coordinates give enough route information and I think as long as the traveller passes through the main villages, towns and historical sites, whether they used exactly the right route is immaterial. There’s seems to be none of the concerns with rights of ways that we are so hung up about in the UK. On a few occasions, I appeared in someone’s farm-yard and nobody ever batted an eyelid.
In my mind, there is only one significant improvement to make. There should be better access to accommodation along the route. Not everyone wants to camp. For solo travellers it significantly increases pack weight. I think this is even more important when biking for reasons of riding enjoyment. Currently, if you aren’t prepared to camp then it means longer riding days and less time sight-seeing and absorbing the culture. Some days I did not arrive at my destination until 7 pm and this is a bit late. I suppose the options are the guest type rooms that belong to the Mosques or home stays. All travellers would be prepared to pay for this which would increase their cultural immersion and give some help to the local economy. I couldn’t get Ahmed to accept any money for my stay at the Mosque. Maybe there’s a reluctance to accept cash as it is in their culture to help travellers regardless. I noticed that even the smaller villages had Internet Cafés and so it should be quite simple to set up a bulletin board where guest accommodation can be posted. This initiative would no doubt needs a lot of support and I don’t know how this would best be progressed but I believe this is where the most effort should be placed.