The opposite of an outdoors person
Born in Berlin, Alexander Arpaci was much more of a city kid than a mountain boy. "Growing up in the big city, in Bohemian Kreuzberg, I had an amazing childhood with tons of adventures." Being in the great outdoors, however, wasn’t one of them, for the simple reason that he’d never really had the chance to experience it. Only once a year did he turn his back on the metropolis and travel with his family to Turkey, the country where some of his roots lie. But if you don't actively seek out nature, it just might find you anyway. While still in their golden twenties, Alexander’s best friend infected him with the surfing bug. They hitchhiked together through Central America on a search for the perfect wave. The unspoiled romantic beaches of Costa Rica and Nicaragua ultimately led Alexander to follow the call of the wild: "That's when something clicked! I never really came back from that trip; for years I was just earning money for the next winter trip."
"England and New Zealand were on the shortlist. Plus Vienna, especially because my wife wanted to study there."
"Being the most liveable city in the world, sure Vienna is a rad melting pot of cultures, but to get out in nature, you’ve got to go to Lower Austria. For me, you can’t have one without the other."
Surf and Turf
What followed were lengthy trips around the world: "Basically, anywhere you could surf – I was there." A time that Alexander enjoyed very much, but which he also knew wouldn’t last forever. As a thirty-something a decade later, he started asking himself how he could turn his passion for surfing into something resembling a career. He ultimately settled on doing graduate work in International Forest Ecosystem Management, which gave him the chance to take a year-long jaunt with his wife to northern Spain. "I was able to do some good work there, wrote my master's thesis on the effects of climate change on forest fires, and spent every free minute on the surfboard."
Next stop: Vienna!
Back in Germany, they mulled over their next destination. "England and New Zealand were on the shortlist. Plus Vienna, especially because my wife wanted to study there." And so the Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) popped up on Alexander's radar for the first time. In retrospect, it might be called love at first sight. "Being the most liveable city in the world, sure Vienna is a rad melting pot of cultures, but to get out in nature, you’ve got to go to Lower Austria. For me, you can’t have one without the other." In search of some flow away from the city, Alexander discovered the awesomeness that is mountain biking. And found a true paradise in the Vienna Woods. The only things to rain on his parade were "so many people on off-limits trails, no one talking to each other, an outdated trail concept, and as a forestry graduate, I heard loads of negative comments on the subject of mountain bikers."
The Vienna Woods Trails and Europe's first urban trail centre
Alexander had a plan: bring solutions to the table and host a kick-off in grand style. Together, Alexander and his MTB buddies began to develop concepts and the result of this journey, four years later, is something to be proud of: Hohe Wand Wiese, Europe's first urban trail centre with more than 12 kilometres of groomed mountain bike trails along with shared trails for a total length of more than 20 kilometres. The centre’s got a trail for everyone: gentle flow lines for beginners, lots of tables, doubles, and gaps for gravity and airtime fans to rock out on, and an enduro line for those who really want to shred. Plus, no one is left to their own devices: The Wienerwald Trail School offers an extensive range of classes and instruction for kids, teens and adults. The trail centre is also linked with surrounding mountain bike facilities which, along with Wienerwald Trails, form an amazing network throughout Lower Austria with a variety of routes at different levels of difficulty. Trail planning and management in the Vienna Woods proper are looked after by the Wienerwald Trails Association, co-founded by Alexander for just this purpose.
Sharing is caring in the Vienna Woods
Of course, it goes without saying that mountain bikers are considerate of all the other park visitors and respect the rules of the Wienerwald Biosphere Reserve: "If I only made the mountain bikers happy, but not the hikers, then it wouldn't work in the long run. Especially in a densely packed landscape, where you can't build umpteen new trails in the forest, but where cooperation counts, you also have to be able to sit down and hash it out. And because the Vienna Woods is a biosphere reserve, there is a clear indication to do so anyway." In any case, the newly developed trail concept is working, because even on weekdays long after the holiday season has passed, the trail park’s carpark is full. "Outdoor sports as a whole are becoming massively trendy, maybe because they allow you to not only to exercise but to gain a sense of being grounded again. All you have to do is scroll through your own Instagram feed to realise what passions you may be chasing. And tons of people are willing to sacrifice a lot for their passions. Mountain biking is a rad solution because recent technical advancements have helped the sport itself to be much more accessible. People used to think that it was an endurance sport all about lone bikers sweating up massive climbs. That image has completely flipped. Today it's more about the experience, fun, flow, and being out in nature. And technology has really moved with the times. I see e-bikes as an incredible opportunity here."
Those who find that mountain biking can be a bit too exhausting are jumping on e-bikes and having a blast doing it. Although for Alexander, e-bikes are much more than just sports equipment: "A lot of folks ride them to work every day. Especially for a city like Vienna, it's a cool mobility factor. You can get to anywhere within a radius of 15 to 20 kilometres in a chill way while doing a favour for both your health and the environment. As far as urban mobility goes, this has got to be the solution. A lot of people start on an e-bike and when they feel the urge to conquer some trails, they switch to a normal, lighter mountain bike. This makes the sport much more accessible. For tourism, that's a massive opportunity." And speed is of the essence, because on an e-bike, after-work tours involving upwards of 1,500 metres of elevation gain become surprisingly realistic. For Alexander, the Wienerwald in particular is ideally located for such tours: "The trail network, the range of routes, it's all so close. If you live in the 14th, 15th or 16th district, you can be out of the city and on a trail in no more than half an hour, giving you that back-to-nature feeling."