Showing posts from September, 2011

Mini Reviews: Best Summer Kit Purchases 2011

1) Ortlieb Classic Panniers I had a year of commuting in London last year and used a 30litre hiking rucksack to carry my kit for my 36mile round trip between London Bridge and Heathrow. I was always a bit scolding of the 'pannier boys' who couldn't squeeze through the gaps between the red buses and couldn't track-stand as easily at the lights. But when we started planning our France and Spain Touring Trip back in January, I clearly couldn't put off the pannier conversion any more. I researched what the round-the-world tourers used (just in case we got lost I guess!) and found that the Ortlieb Classic was world renowned as one, if not 'the' best panniers out there. So I ordered a pair and waited to see what all the fuss was about. And now I see - they are worth the fuss! From the moment I opened the box the German manufacturing build quality was evident. These panniers are built effectively as a roll-top waterproof bag with pannier mounts. But the qua

Seven Hills Killer 2011

This year the Isle of Wight Council decided to rack the price of entry for the Seven Hills Killer event up to a whopping £25. That kind of price is perfectly acceptable for a XC event such as the Southern XC series, where there are costs such as course creation, taping and marshaling; but for an orienteering event, where Wight Mountain (the sponsor) appears to cover most of the costs and organisation of the event and the only real cost seems to be the hire of electronic dibber equipment, I find it hard to understand how a price of £25 is justified. £15 would be acceptable for a fun, non-race event, where the aim should be to encourage people to get out on their bike for a challenge. Sorry, that was a bit of a rant; but I think the Council should be doing its best to encourage people to get out on their bikes, not using the cycling festival as a money-making scheme. Onto the event. Because of the price and the fact that I am still getting over my little ride in France it seems, I de

F & S Final Stats

Departed: 31st August 2011 Returned: 18th September 2011 16 Full Days of Riding Distance: 2283.13 Kilometers (recorded - we missed a few off) [1418.67 Miles] Riding Time: 99:33:12 Hrs (probably over 100 considering the missed) Average Speed: 22.9 kmph [14.23Mph] Average Daily (moving) Riding Time: 6.2hrs in the saddle Average Daily Distance: 143 Kilometers [89 Miles] Rider Weight: On departure: 76.0 Kgs On return: 72.9 Kgs Bike Weight: Between 30-35kgs Fully Loaded

F & S Day 19 18/09/11 The Final Day

Lazy start to the day - breakfast and coffee in sleeping bags. Fast progress down the river valley towards Le Havre in the first few hours and a chance to stop for some awesome panoramic pictures. We rode over the fantastic bridge on the approach into Le Havre and felt quite euphoric as we headed down towards the city. Le Havre certainly is a bit of a dump of a town - made worse by the spitting rain and cold northerly gale that was blowing through it as we made our approach. We found a small supermarket to grab some lunch and a celebratory bottle of French cider for the ferry. Slight mess up when we found that our fast progress meant we couldn't check into the ferry for another two hours; which meant we had to shelter outside a shopping centre for an hour or so. We got over it when we were on the ferry though - the last leg of the epic journey - It was a pretty interesting crossing with the winds as they were too: We were back on the Isle of Wight by 2230 and had a fast ride back f

F & S Day 18 17/09/11 The Last Big One

It was a good start to the 5th century-mile day in a row today, although once again a pretty chilly one; it is noticebaly getting a lot colder as we head north. Good tailwinds on long sections of flat road aided speeds of between 45-50kmph in the earlier part of the day, as a result we made some seriously quick progress. Although the flat lands of this area of France are fast with a tailwind, I couldn't imagine using them as a training ground - they would get rather dull and rather tedious if you ended up just cycling on the flat all the time - but at least you would get some pretty awesome TT times if you chose the right route! We arrived in Beaumont le Roger an hour and a half earlier than expected, and as we fancied an easier day tomorrow for the last day, we continued on down the river valley, eating into the last few kms towards Le Havre. About 5km out of Beaumont it started spitting with rain, we sheltered under a bus stop as a huge rain shower came through before heading out

F & S Day 17 16/07/11 Tailwinds and Turbines

Good night sleep in the woodland camp last night. Drizzle to start the day, but all disappeared by about 1030. Very long, straight flat roads meant some very high average speeds and some serious mileage done even before lunch! (70km before the morning break!). This seems to be a really nice area of France - definitely more wealthy than the southern areas that we have cycled through over the last few days, and a lot more interesting architecture. We saw a Francais des Jeux Pro Rider doing some moto-pacing behind a scooter just before lunch, no wonder they come to this area; the roads are almost all newly resurfaced and practically deserted. After a lunch in a small village, when we rescheduled our ferry for the 18th; we headed out of the more forested area and onto the open agricultural plains. The early afternoon riding was EPIC; force 6 tailwinds meant that we were reaching 55kmph along the flat! as we sped through the fields and fields of Vestas wind turbines (probably made on the Io

F & S Day 16 15/09/11 Sunshine and Rolling Roads

Misty and cold start to the day today as we rolled out of the campsite, but at least there was no rain! The mist cleared by about 10 o'clock and we were left with a hot, clear day as we rode down deserted, rolling roads. We have really reached the flatlands now - and boy are they welcomed, the legs are feeling it on every slight hill as the past two and a bit weeks of riding catches up with us a bit! We clocked up a good 105miles today, once again eating into the last few days: we are pretty sure that we can be back two days earlier now! result! bring on the hot showers! Camped in a quiet woodland and had a big dinner of pasta, lentils and sausage. Baby wipe shower unfortunately: as we head further north there are less clean rivers available to wash in! things are going to start smelling ripe soon!

F & S Day 15 14/09/11 Rain and Long Roads

It was raining as we headed out this morning - so it was Sealskinz on and raincoats as we descended down the rest of the valley and onto the road towards Thiers. Because of our plan to lop a day or two off the end of the trip we were going faster routes when and where we could. Today it was possible to stick to the A-roads and have a faster and longer day as a result. There were a fair few hills in the first part of the route, but it soon flattened out and the rain cleared after a few hours; leaving us to ramp up the speed and do a bit of team time trialling down a few very straight sections of road. After lunch we were onto quieter roads, despite still being A-roads, and we quickly passed through the hillside town of Thiers where we had planned to camp. Now in warm sunlight we continued riding until about 1830, clocking in at over 50km passed Thiers by the time we set up camp in some woodland beside a river. After a quick dinner of Chilli and Rice, we washed ourselves and sweaty kit i

F & S Day 14 13/09/11 - Descent out of the Alps

We started the day with a long downhill into Grenoble - it lasted for about 50km! averaging 30kmph without hardly pedalling - proves how high up we were last night! No wonder there was freezing fog for the first hour or so! We arrived in Grenoble about 1030, said our farewells to Ben at the train station, then continued plugging on down the valley out of the Alps as the heat grew and we became coated in HGV fumes and sweat from the busy trunk road out of the city. After about 20km we turned onto quieter d-roads and had some pretty sweet long downhills for very open straight sections of road. It was fast and fairly easy riding as we clocked up some good mileage. After a while we began to approach the "mountain" range of Mont Pilat where we planned to camp tonight in the town of Pelussin; however because we had made such good ground, and as we planned to try and knock a few days off the end of the trip, we continued over the top of the mountain range and down the other

F & S Day 13 12/09/11 - Alp d'Huez

Today was meant to be a rest day, but we always knew that we could never resist a climb of the legendary Alp d'Huez. We had a great pizza in town last night and a nice lie in till about 8:30 this morning. Then after a lazy start, picking up a baguette in town for breakfast, we began the ascent at 1030. Francis decided he wasn't quite ready when we left so Ben and I left together. We hit it pretty hard - sticking together up the 21 hairpin bends and briefly enjoying the stunning views of the valley below when we weren't squinting trough the pain and sweat. We eventually got to the top in a time of 0:59:52, so just under an hour! Pretty good really considering the weight of our bikes and the fact that we have been riding almost solidly for two weeks! This afternoon we wandered around town and got some food from the supermarche, then chilled out in the campsite. We are losing Ben tomorrow - real shame, but he needs to be with his family at the moment for personal reasons, so f

F & S Day 12 11/09/11 - Approach to d'Oisans

Easy start to the day as we continued down the rest of the great descent from half way down the Col we camped on last night. We had a small up hill to a little Col after collecting some baguettes for lunch. Today was never going to be an ultra challenging day; we only had 45km to go to get to Le Bourg d'Oisans. The main challenge of the day was the Col d'Ornon, which actually proved to be a fairly gentle gradient, even so after procrastinating collecting wild apples and buying Haribo we began the ascent at about 1130, it didn't take too long and after summiting about 1230 we had lunch half way down the Alp and then descended down a seriously epic, empty road to d'Oisans. We found the same campsite that I stayed in a good few years ago when I was in d'Oisans. This afternoon we washed, swam in the pool and washed our clothes - wild camping might be awesome at times, but it is nice once a week to have a good clean up of you and your kit. Tomorrow we hit Alp d'Huez!

F & S Day 11 10/09/11 - Col de Pennes

Today was pretty epic. After our efforts yesterday we had a few less miles to do, but in fact we still had quite a challenging although very enjoyable day. We got off to a decent start, picking up some baguettes from a nearby shop and heading off the D - roads onto the practically deserted white roads. They provided some pretty scenery from the word go. Just a few miles down the road we were into a fantastic gorge; huge towering cliffs either side of the road. It made the hill we were climbing seem easily manageable and because of the slower pace we had decided on today it was even sweeter to just sit back and admire it. After a beautiful little descent the white D-roads provided some great little hairpins up the side of our first Col of the day, before a deserted descent down into some very picturesque villages. We then hit the biggest Col of the morning; stopping to have our lunch at a nice little picnic spot just on the side of the lanes at the base of the climb. After a relaxed lun

F & S Day 10 09/09/11 - Vineyards Everywhere

We had a great night sleep last night on our beach campsite, and were ready for our 4th century-mile day. We rolled out onto some big hills to start and were glad they were at the start of the day as the temperature was reasonable. After a few hours of steady paced riding the temperature was well up again; I imagine above 30'C, but we didn't see an actual recording of it anywhere. We stopped at a boulangerie and a supermarket to get stuff for lunch and then sheltered from the sun in a McDonalds patio area, while we wolfed it down; we had done a good 60miles by lunchtime and the legs were feeling it, so we needed a decent break. We trucked on down what was now a busy road after lunch, and in the distance the Alps began to loom into view. After making a brief stop to get some dinner stuff and some gas we then did the final 20miles or so to the town of Nyons. Passing through masses of vineyards and seeing Mount Ventoux to the south of us, those last few miles were actually some of

F & S Day 9 08/09/11 - 35'C Century Day

Warmer start to the day today being further south and closer to sea level. Last night we decided that we didn't want to head along the coast through the big cities such as Montpellier; but instead we would do some extra climbing and mileage and head inland back into some hills. Most of the day was pretty uneventful really. We started off down a tree-lined road and were clocking up some serious miles averaging about 25mph for the first hour. After passing through Beziers though, the wind turned against us and it was quite a slog along the road. By lunchtime the temperature was well up in the 30'Cs and we were heading through vineyard upon vineyard, in the dry, dusty plains. After finally finding a supermarket to stop and have lunch at, we gratefully refueled, before hitting the road north again; now in even stronger sun and heat. It felt a bit like we were crossing a desert at times when we were climbing up what was apparently a Col, even though it was only 330m elevation. It mi

F & S Day 8 07/09/11 - Tree Lined Roads

The century day: 104miles. Probably one of the easier centuries that I will do, but it still had its challenges. The day started out with another clear cold morning and riding on almost deserted D-roads in the foothills of the Pyrenees. As a result it was still pretty lumpy and the legs felt it quite a bit after yesterday's trials. After about 30miles though we got onto the C roads and passed through some beautiful little villages that seemed very tranquil, although my muttering of curses when I got a puncture in one slightly changed that momentarily. By lunch time we were making good progress and had 50miles logged when we stopped to munch on some huge baguettes, ham and wild figs. The first few miles after lunch were a bit of a slog on bulging stomachs, but eventually they settled down. Leaving the foothills behind and reaching the flatter plains of the south we had a strong tail wind to push us along through the tree-lined, empty roads. We passed the hill top town of Montreal an

F & S Day 7 06/09/2011 - Col du Tourmalet (+100miles)

What a day! A real mix of elation and suffering. The Col du Tourmalet and 94miles of riding bolted onto it. We knew the forecast for today was good and that rare clear skies were expected at the top of the Tourmalet. But when we woke up this morning we could hardly believe how clear it was - barely a cloud in sight. We could be pretty sure that there would be some epic views from the top. One result of the clear skies was that the temperature early in the morning when we began the ascent was very cold. I only had a buff, jersey and shorts on, because I knew it would soon warm up; but in the shady lower slopes of the climb it was quite hard work just to move enough to stay warm. We began climbing at 0930 exactly and the 19km ascent began with the lower slopes heading through wooded roads which seemed pretty deserted. I ended dropping Francis and Ben by 3km or so up the climb, Francis first then Ben a few kms later on. As I came out of the trees the view was indeed stunning, you could

F & S Day 6 05/09/11 Rest Day

Woke up late today, wandered round the pretty mountain town of Luz Saint Sauveur in the Pyrenees. Breakfast of awesome pan au chocolats from the artisan patisserie and mini pizza and baguette for lunch. Chilled out afternoon fixing bikes and writing blogs. Then a fantastic pizza in the evening and excitement for the Col du Tourmalet tomorrow. Fun times.

F & S Day 5 04/09/11 - Col d'Aubisque

Today started flat, but we all knew that it wasn't going to be a flat day. We had 2054 meters of climbing scheduled in, including the legendary Col d'Aubisque. Luckily it hadn't rained last night so most of the kit wasn't even wetter after yesterday's ride, after packing up camp we headed down the road towards Laruns and the base of the Col. As we approached Laruns through the valley the mountains enclosed around us and we could see that we were finally in the wooded hills of the Pyrenees. After a great little coffee stop in Laruns we began our ascent. We had agreed at the base of the climb that we would allow each other to go at our own pace, so not climb as a group; as it is difficult enough climbing a "hill" this size, let alone racing up it. Ben and I left Francis after the first couple of Kms (every km of the climb has a board next to the road to let you know the average gradient of next Km and how many more of the 16km are left to the summit). It was

F & S Day 4 03/09/11 - Enter the Pyrenees

Today it rained. Proper torrential rain at the beginning of the day, we were just riding along fully sodden and praying that the wetness wasn't going to stick around for too long. Luckily after a few hours it eased and then stopped, as we finally entered the foothills of the Pyrenees. We were headed south from the coast and before long we had left the busy roads and were onto the quiet lanes of France. Apart from gradually drying out and enjoying the quiet rolling roads it was a fairly uneventful day. We grabbed lunch in a small town and headed towards the clouded peaks. It was a good 86mile day and when we arrived in Oloron Saint Maire we had a bit of a low point as we struggled the find the exit road to the east. We did eventually find a little road off though and after a short ride out of town and a dismount and walk up a forest track we found a deserted wood with just some cow bells to keep us company. We cooked cassoulet and rice for dinner, had a quick freshen up in the mount

F & S Day 3 02/09/11 - Last Day in Spain

The N634 hadn't eased up with traffic when we set off this morning and it looked like the day was going to be a long slog along a busy road. Luckily though after a few hours we passed through some road works and it seemed that most of the traffic was due to them, so the road subsequently emptied out and we were left with more picturesque riding through the Spainish mountains and coast. We must have been staying quite high up in the hills during the night as we had an absolutely epic downhill through a river valley and then onto a stunning road hugging the cliff into the beautiful beach resort of Zarautz. We passed a number of beautiful little ports and I remember thinking that this coast would be a stunning place to come on a boat as well as a bike. I was the first puncture victim of the trip as we came into the town of San Sebastian which as a city proved to be another odd mix of modern and run-down houses. From San Sebastian the road filled up with trunk road rush hour traffic as

F & S Day 2 01/09/11 - Spanish Coast Roads

The alarm didn't wake us up this morning, but luckily the light did around 0740. Last night was pretty damn hot, expect it didn't get below 19'C all night; was glad of a lightweight sleeping bag! Don't know how Frank managed with his Down Alpkit bag! It took us a while to get going, but we eventually rolled out of our field around 0900 and headed for the N634, which we would follow for the next two days really. It was a fantastic start to the day and pretty clear it was going to be a hot one. The coast road was stunning - some breathtaking climbs and views followed by whooping decents. We had the road almost to ourselves and just kept tapping up the hills, looking forward to the views at the top. We didn't really eat enough in those first few hours, probably because of the trepidation and excitement. As a result we had to make a pit-stop at a small bar to pick up some baguettes to wolf down before we continued on towards Bilbao. On the outskirts of the city we decid

F & S Day 1 31/08/11 - Arrival in Spain

The first France and Spain blog now the trip is underway! Long day on the ferry playing cards and looking at the expanse of water that is the Bay of Biscay. There were a group of people on a whale watching tour - pretty sure they didn't see any wales and all they did was get back on the boat at Santander and go back to Plymouth! Dire! Anyway, as we neared Spain the air temperature was increasing noticeably and when we docked in port at 1800, it was reported as a warm 26'C! Nice! We got a bit lost trying to get out of the seaside metropolis that is Santander; it always seems to be the case at the first city you get into; I remember doing the same in Le Havre when we arrived there on the Paris trip. It was a short 15mile ride out of the city (once we had escaped) and we came to the small village of Villaverde de Pontones where we pitched our first wild camp, in a shrubby field under some trees. Apart from one inquisitive old man and a farmer cutting his grass at 9 in the evening