Top Slovenia interview: Andraž Grum

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Andraž Grum is the president of the Kolesarski klub Zagorska Dolina and a huge MTB enthusiast, as well as a mountainbike instructor and guide. Andraž Grum and his devoted team of trail builders are building the newest Slovenian bike park, Cilenca Trails, which is located in Zagorje ob Savi and scheduled to be open in the late spring of 2021.

Andraž Grum, you have been involved with biking, especially mountain biking for over a decade now. What attracted you to this sport?

I learned how to ride a bike quite late, so I was around 7 when I could ride a bike by myself. When I was at the end of primary school I started to get more interested in bikes, especially in mountain biking even though I was heavily invested in skateboarding at the time. After a while, I have purchased my first proper mountain bike and I have been hooked ever since. For me, the magic of mountainbiking is that the bike can take you places you’ve never imagined going let alone with a bike. It gives you the feeling of freedom, the hype when you discover a new path, and of course good times and laughs with your riding buddies.

Slovenia is becoming recognized as a destination for active tourists who enjoy cycling on their holidays. Where do you see the further potential in the development of cycling tourism in Slovenia and what are the biggest obstacles?

Terrain-wise, Slovenia is an excellent destination for cycling, especially mountainbiking, trekking, since every hillside in the country has a path or two. One day you can ride alpine trails and the next day you’re already pedaling along the Adriatic coast. Basically, you can take the whole country as one big riding area, with different trail types in totally different environments just an hour or two apart. The problem is, that even though mountainbiking is heavily advertised by tourist services providers, little to no work goes into developing trail networks, trail maintenance, teaching proper trail etiquette, or even supporting local trail builders who maintain the trails. Of course, there is also a lack of specific services, like shuttles, repair stands, etc. Then there is a problem of state laws which forbid any bike riding on basically all the paths, except major dirt roads, so until something is done in a way of opening at least the majority of paths for cycling or double use, the options for developing mountainbiking as a tourist product are very limited.

As the president of the Bike club Zagorska Dolina (in translation: Kolesarski Klub Zagorska Dolina), which combines both road cyclists as well as MTB enthusiasts, could you tell us how the bike scene in Slovenia changed over the last couple of years?

Zagorska Dolina Cycling Club has been active in the Slovenian cycling scene for 21 years now. For the majority of its existence, the club was mainly dedicated to road cyclists but in the last 6 or 7 years, we actively turned to mountainbiking, developing infrastructure, and working with the youngsters who are interested in this sport. We currently have 100+ members and there is almost an even 50/50 split between road cyclists and mountain bikers with the majority of new members joining the club being into mountainbiking. The mountainbiking scene in Slovenia didn’t develop until 2010 or so. Before we were mostly a bunch of enthusiasts riding bikes, having fun, competing, but in the last few years the interest in sport from the general public has risen tremendously. Bikes became more accessible, there is a lot of older people riding, not just youth, a lot of people started riding just as an alternative to fitness, running,… The scene is growing yearly, there is a lot of new infrastructure in development so I think the future of the sport in Slovenia is very bright.

Kolesarski Klub Zagorska Dolina organizes several cycling events every year. Could you tell our readers which events does your Kolesarski Klub Zagorska Dolina organizes throughout the year?

Our main event is a road race on a most known local mountain which we organize every August (Vzpon na Zasavsko Sv. Goro) and is a big event with over 150 competitors which go against each other on a 13km track with 850 vertical meters of ascending. Basically, the whole track is one big climb so it’s quite the challenge for even the most experienced riders.

In May we have an MTB marathon which is not a competition, but more of a group ride that spans 60km across every major hill in Zagorje ob Savi with more than 2400 vertical meters of ascending. It’s a fun free one-day event, anyone can join and the whole ride is fully supported by GRS.

Then we have a lot of smaller events, like a race on our Pumptrack Zagorje for Slovenian national series, Halloween night ride, various group rides, and trips.

A couple of years ago you launched a project during which you opened the first pumptrack in Zagorska Dolina. First of all, could you tell our readers what is a pumptrack?

Pump tracks represent a rapidly growing trend in the field of sports infrastructure. A pump track is an asphalt circuit with the looped sequence of rollers, banked turns, and features designed to be ridden completely by riders “pumping” – generating momentum by up and down body movements, instead of pedaling or pushing. The facility is suitable for bicycles, skateboards, skates, scooters, and other sports equipment on wheels and is also a gathering place for local communities with minimal maintenance.

Where did you get the idea to build the pumptrack in Zagorska Dolina? What feedback did you receive after the opening of the pumptrack and how has the community accepted it?

Not sure where did I get the idea. It was around 2014, pump tracks have just been at the beginning of their popularity and I saw the video of one of the first ones being built by a Swiss company. So why not have this in Zagorje? We developed the idea, went to the major who was interested in it from the start so in 2017 we opened one of the largest pump tracks around at that time. The feedback was and still is great, track gets constant use there is a bunch of new riders some of who also started riding mountain bikes in the club. We were surprised by the attention and use the track gets. On the weekends especially there are so many users that it almost looks like we need to build an even bigger one.

In the summer of 2020, you launched a series of courses for children called »Little school of Pumptrack«. What is the aim of this course for children? Do you plan on adding more courses shortly?

When you go out to the pump track you always see a bunch of youngsters. Many of them are there for the first time, they don’t know the technique, are a bit scared of the rollers and berms, so the course was developed to teach the kids all there is to know about riding the pump track safely. We start with complete basics, like position the bike, braking, turning, pumping, and then transfer the skills to the track itself. It’s a two-hour course with an option for a more expanded one for those interested.

In 2021 we will also offer mountainbiking workshops and courses for all skill levels and ages, since know that the bike park is being built we will have an excellent infrastructure to teach all aspects of mountainbiking. The courses will range from basic to advanced, for riders of any age or skill level, we will also offer one on one coaching sessions, women-specific workshop, jumping workshop and more.

As an MTB enthusiast with plenty of experience in both riding and building trails, you also started working on building a bike park in Zagorska Dolina on the hill of Cilenca. Was this always a dream of yours to build your very own bike park? What inspired you to start building the bike park?

Yeah, that one was always somewhere behind in my head since I started riding. What’s better for a mountain biker to have a bike park with a bunch of trails almost in its backyard. We were always riding existing walking paths which can be fun, but there you always have to look for other trail users and they lack specific features. So to avoid all this the idea of having a purposely built trail for bike use only came up.

Could you tell us what the overall process of building bike park Cilenca looked like? What steps did you first have to take and where do you currently stand on with the development of the project? Were there any complications you had to work through?

I would lie if I said it was easy. The requirements and procedures for building a bike park in Slovenia are non-existent since there aren’t many parks outside of major ski areas. The process of finding the location wasn’t that hard since the hillside where we are building a park now has always been on my mind as a perfect place for it and all the trails end almost right next to the existing Pumptrack Zagorje. First, we developed the idea, make project documentation with maps, measurements, technical drawings …

Then there was a process of getting all the appropriate documents and agreements from the Slovenia Forest Service, local municipality, etc. The process took a year or two since there is little information available on what documents you need to be able to start building. But we got it sorted out last year and we started building the first trail immediately.

Currently, we have one of the main trails which is a flow line finished, with two single trails currently in the works, so by the opening time in late spring 2021 we will be able to offer 3 trails of various difficulties to riders with another 3 planned by 2022. Who will be able to ride the Cilenca trails once the bike park will be open? Anyone. The park will be free to use and is developed in a sense of progression, so the trails go from the easiest to more advanced so there is a trail for any skill level and age. You show up and go ride with your friends or alone.

What can people expect when they will come and ride the Cilenca trails? How many trails will be featured on Cilenca?

As I’ve said above, we will offer 3 trails at the time of opening. The main attraction is certainly going to be a Flowline, which is kind of a downhill pump track with a smooth dirt surface full of berms, rollers, and jumps. The second trial will be fast technical singletrack for more advanced users and the third one will be an expert line, a twisty technical trail with a lot of natural obstacles like roots, rocks, etc. The park itself will also have a dedicated uphill trail to access the top of the park, there will be a chill spot where you can take a breather and chat with your friends, a repair stand if anything goes wrong and a bike wash for that extra muddy days.

When do you expect Cilenca trails to be officially open for biking business?

Depending on the epidemic situation we are hoping to officially open the park around late May or at the beginning of June.

Alongside the many events and activities, Kolesarski klub Zagorska Dolina organizes, the overall offer of biking activities in Zagorska Dolina is seemingly expanding. Could you share with us what other projects your bike club is currently working on?

There are always a lot of ideas floating around and we wish to further develop Zagorje ob Savi is a great biking destination. We are currently working with a local municipality on developing a mountain bike destination, with trails being planned from all major hills in Zagorje, along with support infrastructure, guided tours, shuttles, accommodation, etc. Basically, we plan for the whole municipality to be one big riding region catering to any type of bike rider.