A lot of people are now talking about Hvar as a great cycling destination – which it is – but how much do you know about the cycling pioneers of Hvar? Lovely email from one of them. Leo Birg explains in his own words.
Once tourism had these rules: Sea – Sun – Accommodation, a great plate of food specialities and the tourist returned home satisfied.
Today the clock of tourism is ticking in another direction. The tourist doesn’t just sunbathe any more. The tourist wants to take action. In first place there is the bicycle. A view to the queues of vehicles on the highways, which move down south, shows us, that many vehicles transport bikes. Croatia, including Hvar, can´t buck the trend.
On Hvar Island, in that regard, was made history. In 1992, during the last war, the first mountain bike was ridden on the Island of Hvar, just a few years after the invention of the mountain bike. It was a Centurion Kathmandu Lhasa, the first European mountain bike. A bike invented by the bike pioneer Wolfgang Renner. One year later, one of the first carbon bikes of the world was ridden, a Trek 8700, on the stone walls of Hvar Island by Leo Birg. People of Vrboska started to wonder about the odd bike.
2001 Leo started the first organized bike excursion with about 40 German bikers on Hvar. The farmers of Hvar were even more stupendous when Leo and his group rode up the hill to reach the other side of the island and then back. When the farmers, working in the stone hedged fields, saw these first mountain bikers, they thought they were having a Fata Morgana, a mirage. Today, a couple of years later, these bikers became a reality of each early season . Leo named his group „croatia-bike team“, created his own kit, made a web site www.www.croatia-bike.eu, which drew thousands of other bikers from Europe to Hvar. He organized the creation of an internet bike map of Hvar by a professional geographer, the first internet map in Croatia.
Winter 2006 his friends, Hannes Genze, European champion and Student World champion on mountain bike and Jochen Kaess, German champion, Winner of Trans Alp and still one of the best bikers in the world, both professionals, came to Hvar. They shot some action films all together with action cameras of the old generation.
One year later came Eva Fünfgeld, winner of silver medal of the Paralympics in Athene, together with a great group to Vrboska.
And then, the highlight, another friend of Leo, the famous bike legend Wolfgang Renner came to Vrboska in winter 2007. Also Croatia´s first bike magazine „Biker“ wrote about this visit. Wolfgang, one of the inventors of mountain bikes, co-founder of the best European bicycle magazine „tour“, co-inventor of the race „Trans Alp“ , chief of the famous bike firm Centurion and chief of development of the bike firm Merida, team manager of Merida Racing team, one of world´s best teams, etc. Wolfgang Renner enjoyed his short visit on Hvar. Many magazines began to write about Leo´s activities. By the way, in 1997 Leo become 3rd of World´s Medical Championship. He started for Germany, but with Croatian colours.
About 16 years ago Leo argued, that there´s no good tourism in the preseason without a good infrastructure for bike tourists. Leo didn’t do it professionally, because he has another profession. But he supported all Croatian friends who had interest in developing his recommendations. For example, he exchanged experiences with Ozren Renko, a very successful hotel director of Valamar group in Porec. Ozren succeeded later in filling his hotel in the preseason with bikers. Also a professional proteam, which participated on the Tour de France, were his guests. Leo had also often contact to his friend Martin Cotar, once a European champion, today head of bike tourism in Istria and president of the Croatian bicycle association. In short, Leo Birg had his vision about bike tourism 16 years ago. A vision, which unfortunately just recently was realized in Croatia.
Leo realized the full-service for bikers successfully in a small scale. He offered his small stone house for bikers, offered programs during their stay on Hvar. Then he planned to build a Sport Villa for bikers in the preseason. But finally, instead of a center for bikers it become another object: a luxury villa, which is in great demand from famous tourists from all of the world. Nevertheless, there still exists a connection between the new villa and the bike history: the house offers a tandem bicycle and excellent mountain bikes for rides through the wonderful nature of Hvar Island.