Gravel Guide Graz: Europe's Emerging Gravel Hub
Our third Global Gravel Guide looks at the European city of Graz, Austria. Famous for its alpine vistas and MTB shredding, Graz has slowly become a new capital of European gravel. If you are ever in Graz and want to hit the dirt, start here.
Until destiny stepped in, I had never thought about riding anything other than a mountain bike. It was a nasty back injury that left me unable to ride any proper trails. After what felt like a decade of not riding and uncountable hours spent in physical therapy, I decided to give the non-mountain bike side of life a chance. I discovered that my hometown of Graz was offering more possibilities for cyclists than only shredding the surrounding mountains. Riding along cycling paths and in the empty city streets at night or discovering new corners of my hometown—it all was fun. I was back in the saddle! The mere act of cycling brought me joy.
Soon, I was fit enough again for longer touring and even mountain biking. But those chill rides around town changed my way of looking at cycling. Riding to explore, to be outside, or to just “cool down” after a stressful day was a form of cycling I didn’t want to miss anymore. I bought a Kona Sutra, which was kind of a revelation. It had mounts for fenders and racks for touring and commuting or could be stripped down for faster exploration rides. It was the “racier, stripped” mode that turned heads—people weren’t sure what kind of bike this was. Disc brakes and wider tires with a drop bar? That was around 2016. Nowadays, everyone knows what a gravel bike is as it has hit the mainstream.
I sold that Sutra and replaced it with some adequate iron horses like the Kona Rove ST. Not only have my bikes changed since then, also my collection of tours around Graz has increased. Thanks to the popularity of gravel biking a lot of new routes have been scouted by people who have locally caught the gravel bug. Exploring new routes around town offers a great opportunity to get to know your own city or region better and the best tool to do so is the bicycle.
Graz’s Cycling Infrastructure
Getting out of town is relatively simple. Our government was clever enough to steadily improve our cycling infrastructure over time. It is not Amsterdam, but it’s ok though. One could get from A to B without having to ride on busy roads by just using bicycle lanes and alleys - with the help of open street maps, google maps etc. If you are not from Graz something like the Bike Citizens App also comes in very handy to help you navigate through the streets in a bike-friendly way.
The cycling path that runs along the river Mur is probably the fastest way to get from the North to the South of Graz. This section is also part of the official cycling path, R2, that follows the Mur from the Alps way beyond the Austrian borders to Croatia. There are a few great starting points for your next ride along this cycling path, for example, the coffee bike shop Maghanoy. It’s a perfect place to meet with friends, have a coffee, and get your bike serviced before starting any adventure. Coffee Ride, a coffee shop targeted at cyclists, is another nice starting point. Or meet at the Puchsteg promenade if you are heading south. Since most of my rides start there I will choose this as a starting point for my favorite 3 gravel routes around Graz.
To give you an idea: Graz is surrounded by mountains and hills by a U-shape and opens up to the South. Austria in general is predominantly mountainous with the Alps covering about ⅔ of the country and the East giving way to the Pannonian plain. So… without further ado let’s get started!
Route: Schöcklblick Tour
The first tour takes us to the north, where we get a nice view of the local mountain of Graz, the Schöckl. We start at the Mur promenade and follow the main bike lane along the Mur towards the city center. If you feel the need for a coffee you are in luck because we leave the R2 at the Keplerbrücke shortly after passing the Schlossberg with its famous clock tower. You could take the chance for a proper warm-up and cycle up the Schlossberg to enjoy the beautiful view over Graz. But first, get a coffee at Maghanoy (closed on Sat and Sun)!
After a caffeine infusion, we follow the bike lane to the city’s central park, the Stadtpark, where we leave the bike lane and take the Zinzendorfgasse leading us to Karl Franzens University. Passing the university and following a quiet alley we reach Hilmteich and Leechwald. Enter the wood where the gravel finally begins! This fantastic gravel path through the Leechwald leads to the Basilika Mariatrost, another favorite spot for sightseeing. Enjoy the gravel because the rest of the tour will be mainly on paved roads, which doesn’t mean it sucks. In the summertime, you can have ice cream at the foot of the Basilika next to a small pond. Don’t forget to enjoy the small things 🙂
Next up, is a moderate climb around the Platte—a small mountain better known among cyclists for its mountain bike trails. What goes up must come down: a nice downhill section lays ahead. Don’t forget to stop in between for a view of the Hausberg of Graz, the Schöckl. If your motivation is high you could also take a ride to the top of the 1445m high mountain. To be honest, I prefer to do so on my mountain bike as the downhill is just more fun.
The final section of the tour mostly follows a cycle path and finally leads you back to the city and the starting point of the tour. It’s a short but nice tour that gets me out of town for a while and doesn’t take a lot of time.
Route: Gravel Heaven
Okay, “heaven” might be a bit too much praise but this tour offers a relatively high proportion of gravel roads. Unlike the other tours shared here this one involves a short trip by train (just 40 minutes) but the short train ride gives it an adventurous feel.
Again starting at the Mur promenade, it is just a short ride to the train station. During the week there is a train every 30 minutes, but to be safe take a look here. Don’t forget to buy a separate ticket for your bike as you may risk getting a fine.
We get off the train in Leibnitz, a small town south of Graz, ride through the “center” of Leibnitz, and a few minutes later take the cycling path along the river Sulm which leads us to the picturesque Kitzeck. Kitzeck is part of a region in the south of Austria and next to the border to Slovenia that is called the “Styrian Wine Route”. It is a hilly area covered with vineyards and full of so-called “Buschenschanken” where you can enjoy local and regional specialties. And of course wine! To get an idea take a look here: Styrian wine routes.
Hills mean there will be some elevation to climb but nothing too serious. And you will be rewarded with some stunning views and a nice downhill! A few ups and downs follow before finally hitting the gravel roads through the fields. After those lovely gravel sections and a short climb we are heading back to Graz, passing by the “Schwarzl See”, a swimming lake south of Graz.
Route: Off-Road Fun To The Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum
After discovering a little bit of the north and south we are exploring the east of Graz.
Once again starting at the Mur promenade the tour starts with a a short section of the Murradweg R2 and some kilometers with a mix of street and cycling paths. The first climb awaits us in Seiersberg at the “Gedersberg”—a short but rather steep ascent. From there, a small road through the woods leads to a lovely place with a great view, ideal for a short break under the shade of the trees.
From there, things get a little bit off-roadish but nothing a gravel bike can not handle. As we circumnavigate the “Buchkogel” we can enjoy some nice views over Graz. There are 2 taverns (Gasthaus St. Johann und Paul and Gasthaus Orthacker) along this short section, in case you should feel the need for some food or beverages. Above the second tavern is a little chapel with a skywalk and another wonderful view over Graz.
The next section leads us towards the “Thalersee” and will be a mix of gravel and forest roads. Hint: If you would like to add some elevation you could cycle up to the “Fürstenstand” and descend from there towards the Thalersee. Only a few meters away from the lake Thalersee is the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum. It is located inside the house in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was born.
The rest of the tour leads through the outskirts of Graz back to the starting point. This may not sound like a special tour, but it covers several spots with great views over Graz and includes some nice off-road sections.
These 3 routes might not be the most challenging gravel rides in Graz, nevertheless, they represent a nice mix of tours around the city that are easily accessible and can be done within a few hours.
If you are up for it, many of my favorite tours are overnighter distances from Graz or easily accessible by car. One of these tours, which is among my favorite gravel tours in Austria, is the Gravel Styria 33+. As the name suggests you will want tires with a width of at least 33. 33? Sound familiar? It is the UCI convention for cyclocross bikes. The tour crosses the borders between Austria and Slovenia a few times, offering a lot of off-road fun and stunning views.
Also, the northern part of Styria also has a lot to offer. For example, the lovely Mariazellerland Loop bikepacking tour scouted by Radneuland. If you are in Graz without your bike but still want to go on a ride, reach out to Radneuland as they offer gravel bikes, fully equipped with everything you might need for an overnighter including the .gpx tracks, for a reasonable price.
Bikepacking may not appeal to everyone, but gravel bikes have certainly made their mark in Austria. What once raised eyebrows a few years ago has now become commonplace. At times, there seem to be more gravel bikes than road bikes around. However, you don't necessarily need a dedicated gravel bike to undertake these tours. An all-road bike, an older mountain bike, a randonneur—any of these bikes are suitable. The key is to have fun and enjoy the journey!"