Riding on Cola Bear to the Ends of the Earth

A Journey from Stuttgart to Budapest to Milan

Wrote By Chao Du

In late July 2023, I embarked on a long-distance cycling expedition from Stuttgart along the Neckar and Danube rivers to Budapest. From there, I continued southwest along the Drau River, a tributary of the Danube, covering a total distance of over 2,100 kilometers over 15 days. Finally, in early August, I successfully reached my destination, Milan.

This long-distance cycling trip was short on time but long on distance, traversing seven countries. Given the varied terrain, including the Danube Valley and the Dolomites, and the unpredictable weather, I couldn't afford to be unprepared. I chose the Accolmile MTB Cola bear, equipped with a 750-watt mid-drive motor and a 17.5 Ah battery. I believed it could handle harsh weather and challenging road conditions. Additionally, for this trip, I decided to forgo a bike rear rack and panniers, opting for a large backpack instead. I packed essential repair tools and spring/summer clothing, ensuring that my total load (bike, gear, and backpack) remained under 100 kilograms.

accolmile cola bear

For economic reasons, I took a FlixBus night bus from Lyon all the way to Berlin. Little did I know that this journey would start with an unexpected incident – the bus's rear window shattered shortly after departure. As a result, when I arrived in Paris, it was already 2 a.m., delaying my planned departure time by a full two hours. By the time I reached Stuttgart the next day, I was three hours behind schedule. This made my initial plan to cover 150 kilometers to Wertingen on the first day extremely tight. I had planned to start riding at 10 a.m., but I ended up starting at 1 p.m. and had to ride over 20 kilometers at night to reach Dillingen. Fortunately, I had already added extra front lighting and night lights to my Cola Bear, in addition to its built-in automatic headlight, so I could see the road clearly when riding at night or entering tunnels.

Dillingen a.d. Donau

On the second day, I traveled through Regensburg and reached Wiesent, enduring almost half a day of rain. To make matters worse, I encountered road construction and had to navigate several gravel paths. Just before reaching Regensburg, the rear tire of my Cola Bear burst for the first time. At first, I didn't realize it and only felt that something was wrong with the rear wheel's movement. Upon inspection, I found that the tire had gone completely flat. With no better option, I had to repair the tire in the rain and then ascend the hill to the Walhalla. It was on this hill that I was surprised to find that, even though it was still late July, there was snow on the ground. From then on, I learned a new skill: judging whether a bike tire has burst by feeling the elasticity of the tires with my buttocks.

Walhalla Hall of Heroes in the outskirts of Regensburg

The third day marked the end of the German leg of the journey, with my arrival in Freinberg, Austria, via Passau. At the confluence of three rivers in Passau, I paused for reflection. My host that night, Rudi, was very welcoming and let me have an entire villa to myself. Gazing at the forest and rolling hills outside the window, I highly recommend this place for a romantic getaway with your significant other.

The fourth day was the longest cycling day of the entire trip, covering a distance of 190 kilometers and finally reaching Melk in the evening. This section marked the beginning of the Wachau Valley, where I encountered a cyclist from Los Angeles who agreed to ride with me. We cycled through the Rhine Valley together, and it became evident that the Wachau Valley was rather ordinary in comparison.

Danube Cycling Path

Days five, six, and seven took me through the outskirts of Vienna, a brief passage through Slovakia, entry into Hungary, and a stop in Gyor before reaching Tata. My warm-hearted host in Tata specifically catered to travelers on foot or bike. He showed me a memorial book with messages from various adventurers, including those who had walked from Stuttgart to China and others who had traveled to Mongolia and then bought a bicycle to ride back to Europe. There were countless stories of adventure here, and if you have the chance to visit, I highly recommend getting to know the host.

Hungary Gyor Take photo with the landlord Tata after breakfast

On the eighth day, I took a train to Budapest and then transferred to Siofok. To my surprise, I encountered my second flat tire on the rear wheel, caused by a small piece of glass piercing the inner tube. Since I didn't have the tools to remove the rear wheel, I spent 5,000 Hungarian Forints (about 13 Euros) at a bike repair shop to get it fixed just an hour before boarding the train. Hungarian train fares are quite affordable, and 500 Forints (1.3 Euros) took me nearly 200 kilometers. For the whole day, I cycled along the southern shore of Lake Balaton, Hungary's largest freshwater lake, where it seemed like the entire nation was out for a swim. After leaving the lake area, I enjoyed a comfortable ride on paved roads. It turned into an endless gravel road when it started raining heavily, forcing me to ride alongside the highway with the cars. Luckily, there were wild apricot trees by the bridge, and their sweet fruits made for a great snack.

The train from Budapest to Siófok

On the ninth day, I bid farewell to Hungary and, passing through Croatia, entered Slovenia, ultimately reaching Ljutomer. Just before leaving Hungary, I had a last-minute adventure, using my limited German and English skills to communicate with a shopkeeper in Deutsch Goritz. I spent four Euros and got a hearty meal of rice, chicken legs, and a large piece of pork. Hungarian chefs really know how to cater to Chinese tastes. By the way, although Croatia had recently joined the European Union, their border control stations seemed abandoned and had a neglected appearance. This country has preserved the best aspects of Yugoslavia, and the infrastructure is excellent. I cycled 96 kilometers from Zagreb and found that the roads here were maintained at the level of highways, with ample bike lanes. Of course, prices were quite "EU." While I didn't miss the poor road conditions in Hungary, the region's cleanliness was a stark contrast.

Near Ljutomer Slovenia

On the tenth day, I left Slovenia and entered Austria, reaching Klagenfurt in the southern part of the country. Slovenia was characterized by numerous hills, which made for challenging riding. On this day, I cycled over 210 kilometers, climbing 1,600 meters, breaking my daily distance record for the trip. The rain accompanied me almost all day long. Additionally, Slovenians, like Viennese people, appeared rather indifferent. Fortunately, in Klagenfurt, I met a cyclist from Los Angeles and an Italian couple, all fellow adventurers. The cyclist from Los Angeles had flown to Norway with his bike, ridden for over 40 days, and reached the southern part of Austria, planning to fly back from Croatia. The Italian couple had set off from Dili, East Timor, cycled through Croatia and Slovenia, and intended to take a train back to Bologna the next day. We also talked about our shared admiration for Eddy Merckx. They kindly recommended a cycling route through the Dolomites, advising me to be cautious about heavy rainfall.

Maribor Slovenia

On the eleventh day, I arrived in the last Austrian stop, Irschen. The stretch of road along the lakeside near Villach is part of the famous Brahms Hiking Trail. It was a privilege to walk in the footsteps of my favorite composer and was truly awe-inspiring. West of Villach lies the eastern foothills of the Alps, where the Drava River, which flows through Slovenia, becomes the Drau River. The people in the Austrian mountains were notably down-to-earth. I observed the host and his large family living together, which had its own charm.

Drava River Valley Drava River Valley

On the twelfth day, following the advice of the Italian couple, I took a train to San Candido, Italy, officially beginning my cycling journey through the Dolomite Mountains. Perhaps this was the worst day of the trip—rain, a third flat tire, and an 80-kilometer descent. Before the Dolomites emerged from the sea, they were submerged underwater. Through geological movements and erosion by the west winds on the southern slope of the Alps, the once-hidden coral reefs formed the unique and surreal landscape of the Dolomites. The mountain peaks, resembling saw teeth and spires, seemed to pierce the sky. I was in awe throughout the ride. On this day, the rear tire of my bike went flat for the third time halfway through the journey. So, passersby saw a Chinese person who spoke French and had an intimidating look repairing his bike by a lake near San Candido and finishing his last Austrian pork knuckle of the year. I spent the night at the Santa Croce del Lago Music Academy and began seamless conversations with the host in both French and Italian. When the day broke, it was clear, and the distant Dolomite Mountains were so beautiful that I didn't want to leave.

Valle di Cadore - San Martino Church Dolomites Mountains Santa Croce Music Academy

On the thirteenth day, I reached Veronella, covering a distance of 190 kilometers. This was likely my last long-distance ride, and I had to inflate the rear tire twice in one day. First, I cycled south to Treviso, about 40 kilometers from Venice, and then continued on to Padua. Italy had more cycling paths than I had imagined, but it was still easy to accidentally end up on a highway. I was reminded by car horns to get off the highway. In Padua, after taking a break and visiting the Basilica of Saint Anthony, one of the city's landmarks, one of the shoulder straps on my backpack suddenly broke, which startled me. Since I didn't have a rear rack for my bike this time, I was relying on my backpack. Fortunately, I secured the strap tightly, allowing me to continue on my way. It was another reminder not to let my guard down. When cycling alone, my determination is largely based on self-encouragement. I also preferred to change the Cola Bear's battery level indicator from a percentage to voltage, so I could be less concerned about remaining battery power.

Padua Rational Palace

On the fourteenth day, I first rushed to Verona to see Juliet! Seeing this embodiment of love, which is essentially a constant series of misunderstandings between lovers, was quite the experience. However, when I arrived, I found the small courtyard was packed with tourists, making it impossible to move. Not far away, there was Juliet's tomb in a museum, but it was also empty. I felt like I was peeling an onion, layer by layer, until there was nothing left. Perhaps the most beautiful Juliet resides in the hearts of each reader! Afterward, I swiftly moved to Lake Garda. My knees couldn't take it anymore during the uphill climbs; it was a kind of aching pain that pierced straight through. So, I boarded a train to Cremona.

Verona City Walls Verona Summer Theater Lake Garda

On the fifteenth day, the last 100 kilometers were reserved for the journey from Cremona to Milan. Somehow, I found myself on a highway again without realizing it. I don't know how it happened; I just heard car horns, and that's when I realized I had taken the wrong route again. When I reached the outskirts of Milan, I got a firsthand look at the dirt and chaos—the streets were filled with young people loitering, the scent of marijuana in the air. It felt like I had returned to the worst neighborhoods in Paris. However, riding on Cola Bear was like riding a faithful steed; I wasn't afraid of anything. So, I calmly cycled through the old city, made a stop at the Milan Cathedral and the La Scala opera house, and considered visiting the Toscanini family tomb. Unfortunately, the train back to Paris was already boarding, so I had to save that for another time.

Milan Cathedral

In conclusion, I made it back to Paris in the early hours of the next day. For some reason, as soon as I returned to Paris, I wanted to ride my bicycle again. Even though I had maintained a steady pace of over 20 kilometers per hour for the entire 2,000 kilometers, the moment I got off the train at Lyon, I felt like I was moving too slowly!

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