The Trans Dinarica cycling route: It takes more than a village

Work, desire, and passion are needed to create a cycling route across the Western Balkans.

 

Trans Dinarica Cycle Route Team on scouting trip in Albania.

 

It is easy to say 2024 is Trans Dinarica’s year. The first cycling route connecting the entire Western Balkans Region is due to be completed, with a trail map and POI info, in July 2024. But as we prepare to get out on the road and finish up the fieldwork in the coming months — finalizing the bike trail linking Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia — it’s important to look back on the progress made, the unseen work performed, and the lessons learned that brought us to this point. Everyone remembers a ribbon-cutting or the launch of a route when it opens. Few remember the late hours, the creative tension, the challenges, the solutions, the lows, and the many highs that happened to seemingly make a route “an immediate success.”

 

From idea to the full navigational pack

The work on any bike trail starts, romantically, with an idea and hope. Practically, a route can only be completed after enough encouragement and funding come together so that the creation of a product as vast and far reaching as the Trans Dinarica bike trail, traversing eight countries, can begin to take form. For that, our crew of development specialists got lucky.

The initial and main support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its “Economic Development, Governance, and Enterprise Growth in Europe and Eurasia,” or EDGE, project. From the beginning EDGE saw the potential of a cycling route that focuses on communities and promotes sustainability across the region. Last fall, the Albanian office of the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) provided assistance and investment for the stages crossing Albania. Their knowledge of cycling and how it can act as a catalyst in their country was key. Finally, RECONOMY, a regional program of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), implemented by Helvetas, saw the value of the route and has provided valuable support.

 

What has this encouragement and funding meant to the success of the Trans Dinarica trail? 

First, it meant we could start virtually planning the route. Then it meant we could take the time needed to communicate with experts in each of the countries to make sure our version of the Trans Dinarica was moving in a logical direction according to the judgment of those who know best: local cyclists. After we created a proper plan — and before we set out on the trail to guarantee every kilometer of its course — the support from organizations like those above meant we could afford to host educational workshops focused on residents within the Western Balkans and all along the itinerary. 

These workshops — held virtually — are among the most important work we do. The sessions provide information about the route and help inspire local operators, business owners, government officials, journalists, storytellers, and tourism professionals to make use of this itinerary. The workshops also act as a networking thread between thousands of villages, parks, nature reserves, cafes, hotels, restaurants, tour guides, bike shops, and enterprises we can’t even imagine yet. (In total, there will be more than two dozen workshops by the fall of 2024.)

 

Cyclists on gravel bikes checking the navigational data for the Trans Dinarica cycle route.

 

Checking the roads on field

After creating a virtual plan and then communicating with locals along the route, our team geared up to head into the fieldwork to check every kilometer of the trail. We searched the proposed path to make sure the ascents and descents were doable for intermediate cyclists. We made sure there were places to sleep and eat on every stage. And, we found the most logical course that included the best possible points of interest so travelers could truly experience the heritage of the Western Balkans. We ensured that the Trans Dinarica cycling route was not just a bike path, but a journey through the heart of the Balkans, offering an immersive experience in the region’s rich heritage.

At every point along the way, our crew did what we could to promote the Trans Dinarica … without making the endeavor seem too desperate. We believed — and believe — in the route and wanted others to as well. We knew it was a good “story” and trusted that the right journalists, editors, and publications would find their way to us. What we couldn’t have known was that several of them would list the bike trail as one of 2024’s best experiences.

 

Attracting media’s attention

First, Lonely Planet put the Trans Dinarica cycling trail on its Best in Travel list. Then, Time Out, the Daily Mail, and Outside magazine proclaimed the new bicycle trail one of the year’s most important destinations and adventures. Finally, CNN, one the world’s largest news organizations, named the route to its “Where to go in 2024: The best places to visit” list. According to the famous media outlet: “Riders can enjoy Albania’s and Croatia’s spectacular coastlines, Kosovo’s national parks, Montenegro’s rugged mountains and lush woodland and sparkling rivers throughout Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia.”

Which leads us to now, the beginning of 2024: the year of Trans Dinarica. In the spring, our crew will head back into the field to finish the route. As we do so, we will share our progress and make sure adventurers around the world know how special this region truly is. Our most sincere hope is that the route will become a catalyst for sustainable travel and community-based tourism through the Western Balkans.

 

Keep an eye on this space and the Trans Dinarica website for updates, merchandise, and navigation information. Send us your thoughts and questions. We would love to stay in touch.

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