Cycling in Romania. If we're absolutely honest, it's not a country we've known much about in terms of its cycling credentials.
So when Epic Road Rides reader, Costin Davidescu, a passionate road cyclist who lives in Romania got in touch, we jumped at the chance for him to tell us all about the cycling here.
Based in Bucharest, but with a love of travel, Costin knows the country well and in this guide he gives us his insights on the best places to ride in Romania, from the infamous Transfagarasan Highway and TransAlpina Road to the super steep Sultanu climb.
If you’ve ever fancied venturing beyond the confines of western Europe and the climbs made famous by the Grand Tours, this will make interesting reading!
By Costin Davidescu
Costin is a member of the Drujbarii Pe 2 Roti cycle club (aka DP2R). Feel free to get in touch if you're heading to Romania!
Cycle climbs/routes in Romania
Cycling in Romania is amazing and the big advantage is that travel here is cheap. The people will give you a warm welcome and most of them speak English.
In the last few years the infrastructure in Romania has started to improve so some incredible road rides have begun to appear on the map - for example the Transfagarasan Highway (made famous by Jeremy Clarkson/Top Gear) and the TransAlpina Road.
What's the best cycling climb in Romania? What's it like?
There are two very famous roads in Romania for cyclists.
1. Transfagarasan Highway
North side of Transfagarasan
The north side of Transfagarasan has some amazing switchbacks. The climb starts about 50km from Sibiu (more on Sibiu below) from Cartisoara village.
Unlike the south side, where the really twisty parts starts closer to the top, here, basically the entire road is twisty as hell from around 4km in! It’s a steady 6-7% gradient and through the forest, but once you pass the Balea Waterfall the forest is left behind and you start to see almost to Sibiu (on a clear day).
After a few more twists you get to this amazing view of the final climb, a neverending S shape road, biting the hard rock of the mountains. It’s really, really impressive. Here on top of the mountain, the twists are wider and you start to see what Clarkson meant when he said is the best road in the world!
Make sure you have a good camera on your phone because from here to the summit, there are some breathtaking viewpoints which give you amazing views.
The road in the final kilometre, is cut into the rocky mountains until you see the final corner, the Balea Lake Cabin and the amazing lake sitting on top of the mountain.
After this 30km climb with 1,500m of elevation gain, you can really enjoy that beer at the restaurant, with the glacial lake and the great mountains behind you. It really gives you a satisfaction like no other - that is until you start the descent!
And, oh boy, what a descent it is, with amazing corners and speed, which makes you feel like Valentino Rossi in a MotoGP race!
More info: Strava segment here
South side of Transfagarasan (Strava segment here)
The south ride starts at the amazing Vidraru Dam.
From the dam, the climb goes up for a steady ~6% average for about ~40km.
The road winds through forest alongside the Vidradru Lake for the first few kilometres. After that it reaches the foothill of the peak and gets really twisty. That’s when the fun really starts and for almost 10km you climb about 1,000m in elevation. It’s really challenging!
If you want to ride this side, you could stay in one of the two hotels on the side of the Vidradru Lake. I've been to Hotel Posada Vidraru and it's really nice and cozy. You can also enjoy a cruise of the lake right from the hotel.
The other option is Hotel Valea cu Pesti. It’s a little bit bigger, but got great views of the lake.
2. TransAlpina Highway
The TransAlpina road is the other mother of all mountain roads in Romania. It’s about 30 kilometres from Sibiu city centre.
I suggest starting at Tau Bistra, where you have a nice hotel with a very good restaurant. The TransAlpina road from Tau Bistra to 2,145m and back, will get you ~120km and ~2500m elevation gain. It’s a big climb!
From Tau Bistra, the first part of the climb is a mellow 2-4%, but with great views of the winding road among the forest and a few dams around it.
After the first 30km of 2-4% you get to enjoy some well deserved 7-9% peaks for about 5km and then, all of a sudden, from nowhere, the road starts to go down and down and for the next 5km and what a joy to have, speeding at about 60-70km/h (not compulsory of course!) on a very nice curvy road way until Obarsie Lotrului intersection.
There you make a right turn, ride about 3km and the forest is left behind. The final stretch starts, about 10km of breathtaking views and an "easy" 8-9% climb with 1km of 14% that makes your day better (or not!!)!
You get to over 2,000m, cutting through the clouds and you think to yourself, that's it...but no, that's just one step closer - but it’s not the summit yet! In the distance you get to see the peak where you reach the highest point on a Romanian road, the 2145m mark.
Be aware that it’s not a summit with a village/tourist attraction, as the road was built with the practical purpose of crossing the Carpathian Mountains! However there are 180 degree views of the mountains nearby and the immense valleys. The feeling of climbing over 2,000m by bike also makes your day better!
Of course, what goes up must come down, and what a ride it is! If you want, it can be a very fast descent... I clocked 83km/h, but it was windy, so I'm sure you can get to 100km/h with the perfect conditions assuming, like me, you love speed!
The landscape, the winding road and the amazing satisfaction of being on top of Romania on your bike is just what you need to appreciate this wonderful country we have.
A final note that might be helpful: from Tau Bistra up to the top of the TransAlpina, there are quite a few places you can get a snack or a cold beer. There’s even a sheep farm where you can have a Romanian dish called Bulz (cheese and milk with polenta) if you fancy it!
What's your favourite cycling climb around Bucharest - and why?
My favourite climb in my area is the Secuiu climb, mainly because it’s part of one the most famous Romanian races for amateurs, the Drumul Vinului Race. It’s organised by a Romanian former pro cyclist named Alex Ciocan (now a Eurosport Romania commentator for cycling).
The competition is open to anyone, there are about five different classifications from elite to amateurs, and the level is for anyone depending on your training. The atmosphere is amazing and it’s really well organised.
I have some great memories from it.
What's the best climb that not many people know about in Romania?
One of the hidden gems that I love to ride is also one of the steepest roads in Romania! The climb is called Sultanu (the Sultan) and although it’s short, it averages 17%. At the top the gradient hits 30%! This is the Strava segment here.
I also like this climb, known as “piatra arsa” (burnt stone). It’s also known as Transbucegi. It’s very challenging but has some amazing views from the top of the mountain. The Strava segment is here.
Both of these climbs are northwest of Bucharest. Sultanu is accessible from a town called Sibiu (which is about 300km from Bucharest - more on that below).
The Piatra Arsa road is at about 180km from Sibiu but on the road from Sibiu, there are some really nice places to visit, like Fagaras Fortress, a really nice church Sinca Veche, the Bear Sanctuary of Zarnesti, the Rasnov Citadel and one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, the Peles Castle which is in Sinaia.
Where to stay (for cyclists)
If I was to pick one place to stay, I’d suggest basing yourself in Sibiu. It’s situated near the centre of Romania, in the famous Transylvania region and it’s close to the TransFagarasan and TransAlpina climbs.
It’s a historic city too, so as well as the cycling around Sibiu, there are also lots of places to visit, including some of the best attractions in the country (see below!).
If you’d like to do the Seciu race I mentioned above, you could drive to Sinaia after Sibiu.
My perfect itinerary would be time in Sibiu for the TransFagarasan and TransAlpina, then spend a day or two in Sinaia and ride TransBucegi, Sultanu and Seciu (mentioned above and do the hikes I mention below).
I was recently in Sibiu for three days - here are my routes on Strava, to give you an idea of the riding that’s available!
Bike shops/hire/rental in ROmania
Bike rental in Romania
There are a few places that hire bikes in Romania, but it's an area that's only just starting to develop. You'll find most of the bike hire shops in Romania's big cities and they are generally focused on renting city bikes, though there are a few that rent MTB or road bikes.
In Sibiu take a look at Light Cycling, who offer road and touring bike rental and they deliver.
However, if you can, I would suggest you bring your own bike as it's safer due to the possible issues of finding somewhere to rent you a bike, size availability, choice of gearing etc.
Bike shops in Romania
There are plenty of bike shops in Romania.
In Bucharest I highly recommend Bike Fix - he is the bike mechanic our cycling club use and he is great and with fair prices. He's also a really good rider!
In Sibiu, there are a few options you can check out: Bike Show, Explorer Sport, and Downhill & More.
Also there are Decathlon shops in main cities around Romania.
When to go
I’d suggest you visit any time between May and late October. Probably May to June and September to October are best because the temperatures should be just right. In the mid summer, we get about 32-35℃ in the city. On the mountains the temperature never really gets over 30℃ even between May and October.
Transfagarasan and Transalpina should be rideable from 1 June until 1 November (but that might be subject to change - July to September is probably a safer bet and check before you head out there). This Facebook page has a lot of information on the conditions on Transfagarasan.
For all the other roads, you can check the state run website http://www.cnadnr.ro/.
Tips and articles
Is there anything that visitors shouldn't miss while in Romania?
In Sibiu, there are great museums and beautiful buildings (as well as lots of places to party!). From Sibiu you can also travel to some amazing sights:
Honestly, there are so many things to see, it's hard to make a single pick!
From Sibiu there are also lots of hiking trails to take, some reaching the highest peak in Romania, Moldoveanu Peak at 2,544m
From Sinaia, you can hike a little to two of the most important landmarks in Romania, who are in reach from Sinaia: the Sphinx and Babele. There’s also the famous Caraiman Cross (or the Heros Cross) on the same Bucegi Plateau, in reach either by foot or by cable car (more info here). The Cross is in the Guiness Book of records, being the highest cross on top of a mountain.
What's your advice for coffee/bar/café stops in Romania?
The big cities have amazing places to stop, but my advice is to enjoy the small local bars and restaurants in the village centres.
That will show you the real Romanians, the hard working people that really enjoy a bottle of beer after a hard day in the field. Sharing a story with them will make your day.
It might not be some hipster coffee shop, but the raw beauty will win you over for sure.
What are your best tips for people cycling in Romania for the first time?
Bring cash because the village bars and restaurants don’t use cards or have ATMs. So if you want to order that beer, it’s safer to have cash!
One other tip would be don’t be afraid to explore. The cycling culture in Romania is booming and if you take a look on Strava, you will see lots of routes. They may seem odd choices, but have faith and you will find some amazing gems.
Also, Romanians are very warm people and no matter what trouble you’re in, they will help you the best they can.
A big thank you to Costin for sharing his insights. If you've been to Romania, we'd love to hear from you. Please comment below!
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