Bela is very easy to get to, being very close to Klagenfurt and Ljubljana airports. The local village, Bad Eisenkappel, has a lovely authentic feel and, if you need to do the trip cheaply, the organisers – BIGMOUNTAINSKATE – have an excellent relationship with the locals and use a football club as their base for camping.
I found the track quite unusual compared to other European rides. Many of the hairpins are banked – seriously banked! The thinking is that the large log-carrying lorries might topple if the bends were flat.
Anyway, for me, still being a relative novice in downhill, it was my first chance to feel comfortable gripping a 180 bend. Going up on the first day I was thinking it looked like a fast track with few technical turns and I might need to pendy during the long straits to keep my speed down.
Day One proved a complete surprise! The track is actually fairly abrasive (eats brake soles) and almost stony in finish at the top. My max speed without tuck was 34mph. It is mixed with super smooth repaired sections that occassionally caught me out. It must have been this slowish-cool demeanor of the track that sucked riders in. During the first two days, 2 ambulances and a helicopter had to be called for injured riders! There was a light shower, which gave us an opportunity to sample the delights of the restaurant at the start of the run. The ladies there were pleasant and friendly although I wasn’t too keen on them smoking whilst cooking….! The beer was decent, cold and ash free.
Day Two brought many more great runs. The turn around with the uplifts is quick, giving Chris Ledwith the chance to overrun a corner, slide between two trees into the dense forest. Mo Osman had a very fast fall after hitting a rogue un-manned board on the straight and the medics patched him up in time for the next run. There were only a few in leathers as most, like me, wore back, elbow and knee protection. Then there were some very fast people who used just helmets….far too risky for me as I crash far too often and without being invited.
Day Three was mostly dry and cooler than the previous days. With my purple Kegels (which I had to flip to get more grip) I was feeling much more of the road and a gentler slide when the temperature dropped down to 25°ish. At 30° the purples are just too slidy for such a road. We had less runs, delayed by another ambulance and then helicopter lift again. I was told after the week, that Bela has the highest rate of ambulance calls per event that the organisers run. That should not put you off, whether novice, intermediate or expert. It is a track you can enjoy to your own limits or just outside if you prefer. Track ettiquette was very good in my view, signals were clear and timely by both slower and faster riders.
Day Four, unfortunately, was a complete wash out! It rained hard-non-stop so the organisers arranged an alternative visit to a local Cave tourist attraction – which was a nice touch. For me, I preferred to watch football and drink beer!
Considering Bela for next year? It should be on your short-list because it is fairly economical to get there, camp and ride.
Words & Images by Kev Hurdle