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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Perth Cycling Infrastructure: Update, Maylands Station Lock n Ride

maylands lock n ride

Open wide, come inside

The fancy SmartRider access reader is still not operational, so they did the same thing they have done at many other stations – just propped the door open. I’d say about 60% of bike commuters at Maylands are using the cage, while the rest are still awkwardly locking their bikes to fences. I think the people still locking their bikes to the fence are scared they will come back and the cage will be locked. At least there are no more bikes parked on the wrong side of the fence jutting on to the path.

We are having a wet spring so far, so the bike numbers are not high. The most I have counted in the shed is 3 – and 2 chained to the fence that day. There are still some old bike lockers at this station as well (I think 6?) and these tend to fill up first as they offer the highest level of security for the bike and it’s components.

Giant TCR Advanced in Bike Cage

Whoa, someone left carbon in the bike cage.... oh wait.... that's mine

 

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Owner Review: Busch + Müller Lumotec IQ Cyo Senso Plus LED Front Light 175QSNDi

Fork mounted B&M Lumotech IQ Cyo on my Bike Friday

Fork mounted B&M Lumotech IQ Cyo on my Bike Friday

I bought this light for my Bike Friday New World Tourist which I ordered custom with a Shimano dynamo hub built into the front wheel. It cost 50,34 euro from Bike24. The part of the blurb which sold me on this particular light was:

The Lumotec IQ Cyo light revolution: Dynamo headlight which is up to 500% brighter than required by German road traffic regulations (StVZO)! With IQ-technology for an even and homogeneous beam.

One can recognize a Lumotec IQ Cyo immediately. There is no bulb in the centre of the reflector. Instead, a high-powered LED is used as an indirect light source. One glance into the “empty” reflector makes it clear why Busch + Müller chose the slogan “nothing but light” for their IQ-TEC products. An elegant and concise statement that becomes a genuine sensation after dark: The useable lighted area of the Lumotec IQ Cyo is uniformly illuminated to a maximum extent and twice as wide as with conventional reflectors – simply “nothing but light”.

The Lumotec IQ Cyo features a standlight function with a capacitor. No batteries are required. The standlight function can be switched off by a turn-switch. Wether in the dark or in tunnels the Senso technology automatically activates the entire lighting system when the hub dynamo is in operation.

Any normal 6V dynamo can serve as power supply for the Lumotec IQ Cyo, so it can immediately be installed on any dynamo equipped bike.

Firstly, postage from Bike24 was SLOW. There was much hand-wringing in anticipation of the light’s arrival, as we were running out of time and were about to leave on our tour. The impression out of the box was excellent, though this is my first German designed dynamo-light, and I had high expectations. The light is tough, light, and in my short experience with it, unlikely to be stolen off the bike (to steal it requires an allen key and a small wrench to get it off the fork bracket).

Approx distance from camera: 100 metres, camera height: 30cm (sitting on a retaining wall)

The Good

It is much brighter than the $30 battery powered, handlebar mounted LED light that it has replaced, and even compares favorably to my Ayup lights which I had bought to share across a number of my other bikes. While it doesn’t have the retina-burning spot power of the Ay Up lights, the IQ Cyo has a vertical cutoff (so no complaining from oncoming cyclists on a dark bike path – which I sometimes get if my Ayups are pointed on slightly the wrong angle). The IQ Cyo also has a wider throw which means that you have better peripheral vision at night – great for dark country roads where animals (or pedestrians) might leap out at you unannounced.

Water resistance was thoroughly tested on tour and the light passed with flying colours. The standlight function has more than enough capacity for the longest wait at the traffic lights.

I was a bit worried about fork mounting putting the light too low on a 20″ wheeled bike, but it doesn’t seem to be detrimental to visibility, and it has left more room on the handlebars for other things, like my Otek DVS550 camera.

I have been converted to dynamo lights now, after umming and arring about them for at least a year. I have now ordered a dynamo hub (Shimano DH-3N72) and another version of this light (the Lumotec IQ Cyo Plus LED Front Light 175QDi for 46,13 euro) without the senso function for my Surly Long Haul Trucker.

The Bad

Not much bad to say about this light at all! The only disadvantage was that I had to unbolt it every time I packed the Bike Friday up into it’s travel case on tour. I couldn’t stand the thought of it getting scratched or bashed or squashed while it was still attached to my fork in the case and relatively unprotected.

While the ‘Senso’ function is useful because you don’t have to remember to turn your lights on, I find that I don’t use it. I always turn the light off when I get into the bike cage at work, otherwise it sits there shining until the capacitor is flat, and some ‘helpful’ person will come and turn it off for me anyway.

In Conclusion

This light gets a five star rating from me, although I don’t think I need the Senso function. I think dynamo lights are very, very valuable if you want a low maintenance commuter bike – they very rarely fail and you will never have to worry about flat batteries again!

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in Bike Friday, Reviews

 

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Owner Review: OTEK DVS550 Camera & Rigidmount Handlebar Mount

I bought the OTEK DVS550 camera from oo.com.au for $100.90 shipped. I also got a Kingston Class 10 16GB SD card from the same online retailer. The handlebar mount was custom made for the DVS550 by Rigidmount. The Rigidmount site is a good one to check out for reviews of affordable cameras that are useful for bicycle-mounted applications.

Bike Friday with Otek camera fitted

Otek DVS550 and Rigidmount

The camera specs are as follows:

  • Records high definition video in 720p
  • 5MP still photos
  • Music player
  • HDMI output
  • Weatherproof
  • Supports high capacity SD cards
  • Camera pouch and carabineer for extra safety
  • Digital Zoom: 3x
  • White Balance: Auto
  • IO Interface: USB 2.0
  • Sensor Sensitivity: Auto
  • Lens: F/3.2, f=7.5mm fixed lens
  • Video File Format: H.264 (MOV)
  • Still Image Format: JPEG
  • Internal Storage: 128MB
  • External Storage Media: SD Card, SDHC Card (compatible up to SDHC 16GB Class 6)
  • AV out: NTSC/HDMI/PAL
  • Operating System: Windows Vista, XP
  • Power Supply: NP40 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery
  • Weight: 80g
  • Dimensions: (L) 10cm x (W) 6.4cm x (D) 2.2cm
Otek DVS550 on Bike Friday

View from the cockpit

Here is some example footage from the camera in low light conditions. I took this back in June.

The Good

I have tested this camera mounted on the bars of my Bike Friday New World Tourist. It has so far proved to be weatherproof, and the custom mount has proved to be rigid, as claimed with very little blur from vibrations. The quality is good enough to capture vehicle plates in good conditions, with good light and no rain. The LCD screen is very handy as you can see exactly where the camera is pointed, and whether it is recording or not.

Spare/replacement batteries are cheap and battery life is OK, I have been consistently getting 2 hours worth of recording out of my original battery (the spares have been ordered and are yet to be tested).

The sound is pretty good for a weatherproof camera too. It picks up some wind noise but it also picks up my voice when I talk to it. It comes with a carabiner which can be used as a safety precaution if the primary mount fails. I have mine attached to a cable tie that I wrapped around my stem.

The Bad

The battery can rattle around in the body of the camera due to less than stellar manufacturing tolerances – this can be fixed with a little electrical tape. The method is detailed on the Rigidmount website.

The still photos are not great by modern camera standards.

The camera takes up quite a lot of space on the bars

In Conclusion

I would recommend this camera for commuters who wish to record their commutes for any reason. It is good for capturing recreational road rides as well. It may not be the best for mountain bikers with a lot of inconsistent light, as the camera is a bit slow to compensate for changing light conditions.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Commuting, Reviews

 

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Everyday Riding: Visiting IKEA

For the second weekend in a row, I rode to IKEA. Last weekend I took the xtracycle and came back with three shoe racks and various other odds and ends –  I also picked up a massive teddy bear along the way as there was a bulk waste collection (that is where the local government sends out a notice, people put all their junk on the roadside verge, and on the day the council workers come around and take it all to the rubbish dump).

This week we went to check out the range of couches, as we are looking at getting rid of our old ones. It is about 13 kilometres from my house to IKEA, with a 3k stretch which is on a 70kph, 2 lane major road (Morley Drive). The rest of the distance is on back streets. You can do the 3k stretch on back streets too, but you will end up doing an extra 3 kilometres and exponentially increase your chance of getting lost!

Morley Drive is not normally very busy on a Saturday morning, so there is plenty of room for cars to overtake. We were still buzzed by one driver who did not have the foresight to change lanes before he ended up right behind us. There happened to be a car in the right hand lane just then so he passed me about 30 centimetres alway from my handlebars at 70kph. All he needed to do was slow down a bit and he could have gotten in the right hand lane, or he could have done what everyone else was doing, changing lanes as soon as they saw us.

As usual, when we got to IKEA, we were the only cyclists there. IKEA has very well located bike racks, right near the main entrance, but the surrounding area is a major freeway on/off ramp and it is a traffic sewer – always busy and congested.

IKEA bike parking

Lovely bike parking at IKEA, as usual we have it all to ourselves.

We went straight to the couches and tested them very thoroughly. I am sold on the Kivik range, but I think I may still have some convincing work to do. There were a lot of people wandering past wearing West Coast Eagles jumpers, as they were playing in a preliminary final at 5.30pm. I then realised why IKEA was so quiet last weekend – everyone was at home watching the Eagles lose to Collingwood!

testing IKEA couches

Testing out the couches - yes I am wearing SPD shoes...

I don’t usually wear my SPDs on short cycling trips like this, but my casual shoes were wet from the ride home from work on Friday. SPDs have a tiny, recessed cleat, and apart from the stiffer than usual sole they are not bad to walk in.

After testing the couches, we wandered through the rest of the store, but there were no purchases this time around. We ate cheap IKEA food in the food hall (the coffee wasn’t very nice though!), and then headed home. We stopped at home for 20 minutes, swapped bikes (the Giant CRX2 swapped for the Giant TCR Advanced W), met up with a mate and then went for a ride to a lovely Tea house on the river.

Total kilometres for Saturday: 42. Not bad.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Everyday cycling

 

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My Xtracycle: Uses & Modifications

Xtracycle = Shopping Trolley

The xtracycle is my cargo-hauler. They are also known as SUBs or Sport-Utility-Bicycles. I like the term “longtail” also, as there are now more of these style of bikes on the market. For example the Yuba Mundo.

I use it for grocery shopping fortnightly, and have transported bulky and awkward loads like flatpacked furniture, eskies, outdoor chairs, and even other bikes. It attracts a lot of attention when we are out and about – a lot from kids who would like to be able to transport all their stuff independently, and also more random people who aren’t bike-types, yet. The pairing with the STP makes it look tough and utility like which seems to add to it’s appeal.

No car - no worries. The xtracycle loaded up after a trip to Kmart & IKEA

Back when I bought the freeradical frame in 2009, the Australian Dollar was not very strong against the US Dollar. If it was, I might have just gone for a Radish or a Big Dummy. I was on a budget though so I ordered the freeradical, and was going to decide which bike to bolt it onto when it arrived. I had an idea of bolting it to the back of my long-suffering Malvern Star, which I stripped down in anticipation, but in the end, I decided my Giant STP2 dirt jumper, which was not getting ridden now I had moved back into the city, was a better option because it had disc brakes, super strong wheels (Sun Rhynolites), and a low top tube so I could use it as a step-through when required because of a passenger or higher load on the back.

I did have some problems with this arrangement though. The suspension forks on the STP were too soft and didn’t have a lock out so any kind of climbing out of the saddle or hard braking had a disturbing ‘pogo’ effect. I swapped them out for some second hand rigid forks, but these forks are not quite long enough, resulting in a lower bottom bracket height, which means pedal strikes when cornering happen if I am not paying attention. The solution here may be a different crankset. I need a bigger ring on the front for downhill or unloaded riding, as the STP only has a 46 – this would be an opportunity to get a different crankset with shorter crank arms, and maybe downgrade from the big chunky downhill cranks that the bike has on it now.

The STP had low end Shimano running gear, and the Acera derailluer coupled with the Alivio combo brake & shifter levers struggle with the length of cable pull to the back. I have since upgraded the rear derailluer to Deore XT, and while this has improved matters, the shifter still causes issues as it cannot change more than one gear at a time. If you accidentally try to shift two, it will only shift one and then slip when you put pressure on the pedals. As the rear end is 8-speed I am starting to think friction shifting would be the most reliable way to go here, so I am looking for a good quality but also reasonably priced friction shifter option.

The bars on the STP are also excessively wide. At first I liked them for extra leverage while riding loaded but now I want to go narrower. I am thinking about some backsweep too as I am finding the hand position on the hoods or drops is most comfortable for me, and that is similar to bars with backsweep.

In terms of cargo bikes, I think the xtracycle has a good capacity, and I don’t think I would be able to pull any more weight anyway. I am a diminutive sort, being a whole 158cm tall, and don’t have the power output of a lot of cyclists out there. I think for the xtracycle to be a true car killer for the masses, electric assist might be a deal maker.

Xtracycle with grocery shopping

In writing this blog post I realise I have not taken as many ‘epic loads on the cargo-bike’ photos as I should have. Hopefully in the near future this will change, and I’ll post some more about my cargo bike adventures, and any modifications I make to the rig along the way.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Cargo bikes

 

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Bike Touring: France, Germany & the Netherlands (Part 4)

In Part 3, we started in Geneva and made our way to Briesach. Now for the final part of our journey, where we made it all the way to Amsterdam for the Pride celebrations.

23/07/2011 RIDE Hunigue – Strausbourg (100k)

White Swans and their babies

White Swans and their babies on the Rhine

The track was wet and muddy, and when we looked at the maps that were near the track, it looked like it would be straightforward. However we ended up having to take a huge detour around a canal, and ended up on some even rougher tracks. It was much nicer when we emerged from the detour and got back on the path which was built up into a bank along the river.

Rhine track

The best of the Rhine-Weg

We came across a group of people wandering down the track, and stopped to have a drink and a snack. One of the women had a dog, who was busy hunting in the grass. We were watching her hunt, and it’s owner said “I see you like my hund”. We ended up chatting to her for a while. The woman actually lived in Mongolia for a while, and rescued the dog there, then importing her in to Germany. There were no quarantine requirements, it was just very expensive.

The lucky dog from Mongolia

We got to a big bridge to cross over to the Strausbourg side and thought we were close to our destination. We ate the last of our food and headed towards town. Turned out it was a lot longer than we thought. We ended up in the Strausbourg forest from following the bike signs, so we asked another cyclist which way we should go. He told us to go down the road as it was more direct, but we ended up riding through the whole industrial area before we got close to the centre. We then had to buy maps in order to find the hotel.

By the time we got to the hotel it was dark and late. It was a very very long day. We went on a boat tour around Strausbourg the next day because it was still raining. Later that night we enjoyed a bit of a free jazz concert near my favourite cathedral.

Notre Dame Cathedral - Strausbourg

Strausbourg was probably one of my favourite places – I like the half-timber houses, and watching people walk their Alsatians (German Shepherds) around the centre of town.

strausbourg

A typical old centre street in Strausbourg

25/07/2011 RIDE Strausbourg – La Wantzenau (20k)

The way out of Strausbourg was much nicer than the road we came in on. There was a bike path until the outer reach of town, and then we rode via a quiet country road to La Wantzenau. There is a bus service that connects La Wantzenau to Strausbourg but it is a small town all of it’s own. It was a short ride, and when we arrived one of the locals asked us where we were going and where we were from with that look of wonder mixed with jealousy the locals often have. I think they would all love to be out on their bikes doing what we are doing, but their lives get in the way, a lot like us at home!

Coachman's Inn

N found an old Coachman’s Inn to stay in, which was affordable and charming. As it started raining heavily as soon as we got there, the receptionist allowed us to keep our bikes inside, leaned up against a wall in the hallway. The Inn was awesome although the ‘free wifi’ didn’t work in the rooms because it couldn’t get through the massive stone walls! We had a great dinner at a seafood restaurant.

26/07/2011 RIDE La Wantzenau – Rastatt (55k)

This ride involved our first car-ferry across the Rhine. It was also the smallest one, and it was free!

On our first car ferry crossing

We probably should have stayed on the French side though because the Germans don’t do camping like the French. The Rastatt campsite was expensive, and the showers didn’t really work properly. Usually at German campsites you have to insert coins into a little control box in order to have a shower. At this campsite the showers were free, but you had to press the little button on the control box and they gave you a timed amount of water. When the timed amount of water finished, you had to wait a long time before you could press the button again and get more water. Bad luck if you are still soapy! After we set up camp we went in search of a castle in the centre of Rastatt but we never found it.

Some big official building in Rastatt - wasn't what we were looking for!

27/07/2011 ride Rastatt – Karlsruhe TRAIN – Mainz

This was a frustrating day. We didn’t have a map, so we lost the bike path numerous times. A kind lady showed us where it was because she couldn’t explain in English. Once we got to Karlsruhe, N was in a bad mood. We ate lunch and decided we might as well catch the train to Mainz, as that is where the ‘pretty bit’ of the Rhine valley starts, known as the ‘Romantik Rhine’. This was the only train trip we took with the bikes as bikes, but the Germans have quite a generous view of bikes on trains, we didn’t have to buy a ticket, just haul them on.

Awaiting our ride from Karlsruhe to Mainz

Mainz is fairly big, and we picked a hotel at random. We checked in and there were thunderstorms again! We dried out our tent which had gotten wet in Rastatt. The rain continued so we decided to stay an extra night, but we moved hotels because the first one wasn’t that nice.

Tourist cruise boats start gathering in Mainz

In Mainz we came across some protestors who were floating down the Rhine on a raft crudely made of logs, with a small outboard motor. They were anti-nuclear power demonstrators, we looked to see if we would catch them again but they were taking their trip up the Rhine a good deal more slowly than we were.

The Robin Wood anti-nuclear protest boat

29/07/2011 RIDE Mainz – St Goar (65k)

Armed with a map (Radwegg) from a Mainz book store, we thought we were better prepared. At first we were following a family – mum, dad and a couple of barely teenaged boys. The boys were carrying their own panniers and had some impressive legs. We lost them after then turned away from the Rhine – but they probably knew something we didn’t.

Castles are plentiful in the surrounding countryside - this is the Romantik Rhine

Unfortunately, the path that we were intending to use was suddenly blocked off and there was no detour information. We went into the nearby town and tried to head towards the next town via minor roads – there was a marked bike route but it’s easy to miss the signs. We got a bit lost, and I spotted a tourer with red Ortliebs heading in the direction we wanted to head in. We caught him on a hill, and then found the signs again. We stopped to take photos of the steep vineyards we were riding in and he said hi as he rode past.

Pretty Vineyards

Then we got a bit lost, and N started talking to him as he had stopped too. He had a GPS, very handy bit of kit. We had a chat, and all rode together for a little while. He was riding to Berlin, and then catching the train back. He put oil on our chains when we went on the car ferry to cross the river again. We bid him farewell when we stopped for lunch.

On the ferry with our new friend putting oil on our chains

The Rhine Gorge

After lunch the ride was easy, and there were SO MANY other tourers. Most of them heading in the opposite direction though. The path was all paved, although at times the valley is noisy because you are between two rail lines, and two major highways.

Another castle

We stayed in a cute hotel in St Goar – the bikes went in the basement and we had to haul our trailers up the stairs as there was no lift. We saw the family again – they were loading themselves onto the Koln – Dusseldorf ferry. They recognised us and waved their cheery goodbyes. 

30/7/2011 RIDE St Goar – Bad Briezig – Bad Honnigen (75k)

The ride continued as it left off, on a separate, sealed path, amongst steep vineyards. There are so many old castle ruins along here you get sick of saying ‘castle!’ I wanted to stop sooner but we went all the way to Bad Briezig, then couldn’t get a room in a hotel. Some women stopped and asked if we were looking for a hotel room, then told us we wouldn’t get one because the Rhine fireworks were on tonight and everyone comes and stays in town for it. I had spotted a campground on the other side of the river, so we caught the car ferry across and rode to the entrance. We got the ‘last camping spot’, but they just had a big green common area for tents and it looked like there was plenty of room. This was a typical German campground where you have to feed the coin box in the shower and kitchen sinks for warm water.

The path was sealed and easy to follow, though at times was noisy

It was freezing but it didn’t rain much. We stayed up and watched the fireworks. They just set them off from the bank with very little of the safety regulations we have in Australia. The sparks and embers from the fireworks were landing in the trees – if that happened in Australia there would be a fire! There was a band playing all night so it took a while for me to get to sleep, but I slept soundly after a long day of battling a headwind, and then trying to keep warm.

A nice stroll along the Rhine after dinner

31/7/2011 RIDE Bad Honnigen – Bad Briezig – Bonn (35k)

The ride to Bonn was pretty easy – just follow the river! It was busy though, lots of cyclists, and as we got closer to Bonn, lots of joggers. There were also a lot of people who were rollerblading and pushing a pram along. It looked awkward and I hadn’t ever seen it anywhere else.

We had a charming hotel to stay in which had been offered at a special rate on the internet. As it was a classy hotel, the receptionist took one look at our bike trailers and bought out buckets of soapy water and rags so that we would wash the mud off them before we went upstairs. Our bikes were ushered into a stairwell space to be stored. When we left the next day, they rushed us out the back door. We got the feeling that taking our bikes to that hotel was not the ‘done thing’.

During our afternoon in Bonn we checked out the Beethoven museum. It was a very comprehensive collection of portraits and artifacts of his life. There were English language audioguides which were just like an old-fashioned mobile phone handset. At first it seemed really odd, all these people wandering around with phones pressed to their ears!

Bust of Ludwig Beethoven at the museum in his 'birth house'

1/08/2011 RIDE Bonn – Koln (32k)

The Dom In Koln - this Cathedral's image is printed on almost all tourist regalia

We lost the river because we had to divert around some big industry, and ended up coming in from the outer suburbs of Koln. I am glad we had a map of Koln or we would have had issues. The hotel in Koln did not have any bike parking, and so we had to lock our bikes up in a nearby mall. It was very busy with other bikes, and it was an alfresco dining/pub strip so there were a lot of people around. I figured they were safe enough – we could even see them from our hotel room window.

Koln is a fairly political and arty place and I felt right at home. We ate Japanese for the first time since we left Australia, and while it was expensive, it was delicious. We also spent some time in a massive art gallery, and just wandering the streets. The weather was warm and sunny again, but the heat was a bit much!

Politics in Koln

Koln has a lego shop which is worth visiting if you loved lego as a kid. I had never seen so much in one place. I bought two minifigure keyrings – one was a lego spaceman just like the ones I had when I was a kid, and the other was a lego version of the Anubis guards from some movie.

Souvenirs from the Lego shop

We also visited the chocolate museum which was really really interesting. I learned that hot chocolate was seen as a drink of the ruling classes while coffee with it’s stimulant properties was the hot drink of the working man. I also learned that the vast majority of workers who grow cocoa beans have never eaten the finished product, chocolate. They do grind the cocoa beans and eat them themselves though.

Delish dessert at the chocolate museum cafe

03/08/2011 TRAIN Koln – Utrecht

Koln is a hussling & bustling place, so we were on the look out for a quiet place to pack our Bike Fridays. We found a square which was a short walk from our hotel, took our trailers, bikes and tools there, and returned to the hotel with our bicycles hidden away from view in their Samsonite cases, so they could be in our room!

We caught the ICE train, and we didn’t bother reserving seating. As it happened, where we got on the train, most of the seats were reserved – you can tell because they have labels above the seats which say which stops the seats are reserved at. We ended up about a carriage away from our Bike Fridays though I bought the rest of my stuff down to the next carriage so I would have access to it.

The change in scenery was pretty abrupt when we left Germany and entered the Netherlands. Suddenly there were bikes everywhere travelling on their own bike lanes. It was a grey, miserable day but people were still riding. When we got to Utrecht, I remembered last time I was there – we arrived late and the surrounding shops were all closed, so the group I was travelling with rode through the mall. We walked through the mall and assembled our bikes, then rode out of the centre to our charming hotel in a quiet street. Bike parking was provided in front of the hotel, we locked them up with our own locks, and at night the hotel staff put a big lock through all the bikes for extra security.

A Street organ at the Utrecht museum of musical instruments (and clocks)

In Utrecht we visited the muscial instrument and clock museum. I found the street organs most impressive, and the organs for dance halls were pretty cool too.

Clever kitty making use of plentiful seating in Utrecht

Utrecht was a great place to get used to riding in the Netherlands. It was different because of all of the other cyclists – we are accustomed to being the minority, navigating our way through car traffic on roads, and the Netherlands is very different, mainly because cyclists are so variable in their speeds, abilities, and even the bikes they ride. We overtook slow Bakfietsen and guys ‘ghost riding’ a second bike, while we were often overtaken by people on their grandpa bikes. For a while it was a bit scary – bikes are so much more manoeuvrable and unpredictable than cars, but once we got used to it, I began to appreciate it.

It can be hard to find somewhere to park in the Netherlands...

05/08/2011 RIDE Utrecht – Amsterdam (50k)

The only inconvenient crossing - over a residential type canal

We absolutely blew through this ride, and stuck to the canal, even though we had to get over this inconvenient bridge which went over a residential canal. It was really cool watching the residents cruising around on their little boats, using them as Perth suburbanites use their cars. Riding along the canal was direct, and fairly fast. We were overtaking a lot of heavy ships along the way.

When we got to the outskirts of Amsterdam we decided to follow a sign that pointed through a park-looking area instead of just continuing to follow the Amsterdam Rhine Canal. We ended up in a rough looking neighbourhood trying to find the bike path again. Finally I decided we should head towards the train station, and I found the bike path again.

It was on this path that we had our first encounter with Dutch micro-cars. These cars can be driven without a license on bicycle infrastructure and they sound like lawn mowers. They are annoying because they are noisy, stinky and quite wide for a lot of the infrastructure.

Dutch Micro-car

We stayed in an apartment out in Middenweg, where we came across our first proper Dutch stairwell. It was fun carrying the bikes up there!

Stairwell, or ladder?

Amsterdam centre was really really busy, because it was the Pride festival. I could not stop thinking about how horrible Amsterdam would be if it was full of cars. With most people riding, catching trams or pedicabs for transport, the street parties were for the people, not cars. Even part of a tram line was shut down to ensure that people could use the space without being run over.

In the residential area where were were staying had 30kph speed limit streets, and I had to train myself out of the internal reaction to swoop in and collect children and dogs in case someone comes along and runs them over. It really hit home to me that there are better ways to plan our cities.

Crowd watching the Canal Pride Parade

We cleaned our bikes thoroughly in order to avoid an expensive steam/pressure clean by Australian customs when we arrived home, packed them into their cases, and then caught the tram and train to the airport. The train to the airport was very pleasant, but as we were on the Fyra (express) service, everyone, except us was caught out without their supplementary ticket. The supplementary train ticket costs 80 euro cents from the ticket machine at the train station, but if you don’t have it they charge you 20 euros on the train! Everyone complained they didn’t know, but there were signs on the platform and an announcement on the train that it was a special ‘fyra’ service and that you need a supplementary ticket. The announcements were in English and Dutch!

I was looking forward to coming home, though then I realised that meant coming home to my compulsory helmet, Air Zound, blazing Ay-Ups and Rad-bot and vehicular cycling. Ah cycling had been so relaxed and respected in Europe!

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in Bike Friday, Touring

 

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Perth Cycling Infrastructure: Train Station Lock n Rides

Licence plate surveys have revealed some commuters drive less than 400m to park at crowded Perth train stations each morning, prompting calls for more to be done to encourage cycling and walking to work. The car parks are overflowing at all of these stations, and you can’t get a spot if you arrive after 8am in a lot of places.

Maylands Station

The lock-n-ride cage at Maylands Station

The Yahoo7 article is here, and is topical because the State Government is rolling out $50 million expansion of train station carparks, adding an extra 3000 bays along the Mandurah and Joondalup lines.Rail commuters cause tensions in our local neighbourhood too, parking in retail car spaces and taking up the bays that legitimate retail customers would use.

The article states that cycling advocates have been requesting secure lockers and showers at stations! I am not sure which cycling advocates they have been speaking to – but I am not sure a shower is necessary after a 400 metre ride to the train station!

Anyhow, one of the issues with train stations is the lack of secure bicycle parking. If you are going to leave your bike at any train station, it better be a cheap one, and you better be prepared to arrive back at your steed and find pieces missing. I parked my BMX on a station platform once, locked to the U-rails. I would not ordinarily ride to the station, but I had sprained my ankle, and I wasn’t up to walking there, so I rolled. When I got back from work and hobbled off the train, I discovered that someone had stolen the (quite nice) handlebar grips off my bike!

The Public Transport Authority is now starting to construct ‘Lock n Ride’ bike cages, which are accessed by a registered Smart Rider, and have U-rails inside to which the passengers secure their bikes. The smartrider registration process adds an extra level of security, and theoretically makes it harder for someone to casually steal components from your bicycles. The whole concept has been discussed here on the Australian Cycling Forums.

The PTA informed us that there were new cages planned for Midland, Maylands, Guildford, Bassendean and Bayswater, and that most would be built by the end of June 2011!

The problem is that the cages are being built, but not quite finished off. The lock-n-ride bike cage at Maylands has been put up and padlocked shut for at least a month. The machine that reads your smartrider to unlock the cage is there, but isn’t turned on.

Bike Friday outside the bike cage

My Bike Friday says, knock, knock.... let me in!

Bike commuters to Maylands Station are still stuck chaining their bikes to the fence. There is still no sign of the Bayswater cage being built, although I have heard that the Guildford and Midland ones are in the process of being constructed.

The other issue I have with this lock-n-ride system is that you can only sign up to access one cage on the train network, and your ‘sign up’ to the cage expires if it goes unused for a certain period of time. Only a certain number of passengers can sign up to use the bike cage. Time will tell if this is overly restrictive and will lead to less than optimum usage levels of the bike cage. They have to get the system working and remove the padlock first!

 

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Bike Touring: France, Germany & the Netherlands (Part 3)

In Part 2, we explored the Pyrenees, in Part 3 we head to Switzerland, and then back to France just to enjoy more cheap and beautiful food! Part 3 ends in Germany, and then Part 4 will take us all the way to Amsterdam.

16/07/2011 TRAIN – Geneve

We learned a few things from this trip. It is better to get on a train near it’s point of origin, off the train near it’s final destination, and if you have to change trains, try to do it in a smaller station as it’s easier to find the platform and less distance to walk (while dragging 37kg of bike and luggage). Swiss trains are fast, quiet and efficent. This was our first real exposure to other European train systems so we could see the faults of the French system. The exits on French trains are too narrow and all French people bring a lot of baggage, so it causes delays in embarking/disembarking – this also means that on French trains people get up, get their luggage and queue for the door 15 minutes before their stop. If you get caught behind the hoard and are in a hurry you may miss your connecting train. The French also don’t display the platform a train is leaving from until 20 or 15 minutes before, so everyone is then running through the station with their massive bags stressing. Swiss and German trains tend to leave from regular platforms and display their departure platforms hours in advance.

Lego man stencil in Geneva

Lego man stencil in Geneva

The hotel was in the night life district, which was convenient for kebabs and McDonalds, but it was pretty loud, so we couldn’t leave the window open. I really would have liked to go out but I was so tired.

When we woke up in the morning it was pouring down with rain. We decided to go for a walk to find the ‘old city’ regardless as we only had a day in Geneva. That turned out to be a bad idea – it was freezing and I lost feeling in my hands. We bought some nice chocolates and went back to the hotel to warm up.

The Fountain

This Fountain at Lake Geneve is one of the major tourist attractions

The rain did ease off and we got to spend some time walking around without being rained on. I got a good shot of the fountain. 

18/07/2011 TRAIN – Zurich

Zurichsee

Lake Zurich view from Uetliberg

It rained a lot, but we managed to do a few things without getting wet. We took the train up Zurich’s ‘house mountain’ and then climbed the ‘observation’ tower. The view up there is great. We saw the view from another angle when we went on a ferry ride the next day.

Cruise on the Zurich

Cruise on Lake Zurich

We also made time to check out the Tram Museum, and walk around generally enjoying the charms of Zurich. It was the second time I had been and I will probably visit again if I’m in that part of the world.

21/07/2011 TRAIN – Basel RIDE Huningue (6ks)

After spending a bit of time in Switzerland, we were feeling broke. We decided we would catch the train from Zurich to Basel, and then ride across the border to France.

We put the Fridays together in Basel train station and got a lot of interested stares, and a lady who appeared to be telling us that her son works on bikes. The French/Swiss border in this area has a lot of heavy industry, so we didn’t take any photos on the short ride. It was difficult to find the hotel – the only reason we found it was that we happened to come across a sign directing us. We got to the hotel just as the rain started, and they allowed us to put our bikes into a car garage for the night. The hotel was pretty ugly, the beds were uncomfortable, and the WIFI barely worked. We had a great meal in the pizzeria next door though.

22/07/2011 RIDE Huningue – Breisach (65k)

crossing the rhine

This bicycle bridge had EU flags all over it

The start of the Rhine Valley ride, navigating was fairly straightforward. We followed some locals through the roadworks and got on to the path. It rained, the path was muddy, and this was a bit heavy going in some parts where the track was soft.

home made Rhein sign

Someone put this sign up on the trail

When we got close to town, a thunderstorm was over us, the rain was torrential and there was a bunch of racing sculls in the Rhine – it looked like it was some kind of racing carnival as there were tents and marquees set up, but the race was called off and the boats had all pulled over to the side. I would have been getting out!

Our hotel in Briesach was easy to find as it was an old medieval fort. We had to walk the bikes up there though as the road was wet, slippery cobblestones. We weren’t the only soaked bike tourers who arrived that day.

Snails

We tried the snails - they weren't that impressive

Stay tuned for Part 4 – Briesach to Amsterdam!

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Bike Friday, Touring

 

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Bike Touring: France, Germany, Switzerland & the Netherlands (Part 2)

In Part 1, we were in Jonzac after a cold and somewhat discouraging ride through some heavy rain. Our Bike Friday New World Tourist bikes were doing well, except that our trailer hitches were jammed up with dirt from the off-road sections of the cycling route in the Vendee. Now for the trip diary:

08/07/2011 TRAIN Jonzac – Bordeaux – Lourdes (first hotel stay)

waiting at jonzac station

The Bike Fridays packed and waiting for the train at Jonzac Station

We woke up feeling snotty from being cold for so long the day before. N had sore legs, and so we decided to catch a train to the Pyrenees. We found the local train station, and rode there, bought tickets and then started to pack our bikes. Only one problem – when I took the trailer off the Samsonite case, I heard a ‘ping’ – the bolt on the draw bar of the trailer had bent, and ultimately snapped. This threw a bit of a spanner in the works because I had no clue where to get a new one!

View from our Hotel in Lourdes

View from our balcony at the Best Western in Lourdes

Once in Lourdes, we stayed at the Best Western – it was close to the train station and it was a really nice hotel. It was not gut wrenchingly expensive either. We used the free internet to assess our options. There were a lot of things in the Pyrenees we wanted to do, but I couldn’t tow my trailer until we fixed the bolt. We decided to hire a car for a few days so that we could see everything that we wanted to see.

Lourdes cathedral

Lourdes is a place of pilgrimage - but we were just there because it was convenient

A lot of people seem to have strong opinions about Lourdes. It is a place of pilgrimage, and hence has a very high density of hotels. I noticed people eating packed lunches on the side of the road and in parks, and I had never seen that before in France because eating out is so cheap. There were also endless lines of people in wheelchairs, as there is some healing spring here which is supposed to have provided a few miracle healings. There are tacky tourist/God shops everywhere. Every restaurant had an English menu and most of the shopkeepers understood us, but the quality of food was poor by French standards, so we ate at our hotel restaurant more times than we ate elsewhere.

Immaculate Conception - Lourdes

A tacky religious shop

11/07/2011 HIRE CAR Lourdes – Bareges

We were concerned about getting a car big enough to fit both the Bike Fridays comfortably in the back, as there are a lot of sub-compacts getting around the B-roads of France. We ended up hiring something ludicrously huge – a pretend SUV. We felt a bit out of place on the narrow, winding roads, but it fit all our stuff in it very comfortably. We could have easily gotten something smaller.

Big hire car

The hire car - a behemoth!

On the way to Bareges, we stopped at the Parc Animalier Pyrenees. It was awesome. There were bears and many other very cool animals.

Brown Bear

Brown Bear waiting for his bit of carrot

We drove past Bareges initially to see if there were any camps further up the Tourmalet. We ended up driving all the way up and over to the ski resort on the other side, La Mongie. We then went up in the Pic Du Midi, which is a cable car that takes you to an observatory on top of a mountain. If you like mountains it is a must-see.

Pic Du Midi

Going up - view from the Pic Du Midi

Observatory at the top of Pic Du Midi

Observatory at the top of Pic Du Midi

We drove back down and decided Bareges was the best place to stay. They were busy, but they found space for us, we were camped near a raging stream that was constantly loud. N enjoyed the sound but I didn’t. In Bareges, the thunderstorms came. Our little 3 season MSR Hubba-Hubba tent did admirably protecting us from the torrential rain. It was my first time camping in a thunderstorm, and it was a raging one!

While based in Bareges we checked out the Point of Spain and the Cirque de Garavannie. We also went to a Carrefour and found a bolt that fitted my trailer so it was all fixed!

Point of Spain

Lake at the top of the chairlift - Pont D'Espange

 

Cirque du Garavanie

The stunning Cirque du Garavanie - when the clouds lifted

14/07/2011 Col Du Tourmalet (2111m alt)

I bought far more snacks than necessary and climbed the col with both my front panniers on the Bike Friday. On the way up, I noticed a helicopter, and then saw the ambulance above me. I rode up there and stopped just past the action, waiting for N. I saw emergency services crew carrying a guy on a spine-board stretcher up the side of the mountain. I didn’t really see him, just his cleated shoes as they loaded him into the ambulance. They drove him down the mountain a bit to the waiting helicopter. I heard two English roadies talking about it, sounding very shaken up. I think the guy just missed the bend and went tumbling down the mountain.

 

Alpacas on the Tourmalet

The Gendarme kicked us off the road so these Alpacas could be herded through

There was a great sense of satisfaction when we got to the top, and a couple of Aussie roadies told us that we were legends for getting up on the heavy lil Fridays. We ran into our Dutch friend from the Passage Du Gois – he was the Carrefour guy – he had those polka dot hats pinned all over him, and a blanket with red dots on it as a cape. He told us his ambition was to become one of those infamous characters, like the devil, who followed the Tour around every year. It was only his third tour though so this whole thing was in its infancy. We bought and ate sausage sizzles, and bought souvenir jerseys from the store at the top (though mine is too big – I think I was a bit hasty selecting it).

 

riders up the tourmalet

The Pros climbing the Tourmalet

We found ourselves a nice spot on the climb, and had to wait hours in the freezing cold for the Caravanne and then the riders. Turns out we were right in front of the feed zone where they get their snacks and jackets before the descent so there was a lot of action. Somehow a gaggle of English speakers formed around where we were standing. A cute English roadie couple sat with us, and there was a nice young guy in a team Sky jersey. The Sky feed person had a couple of bottles left after all his riders had gone past, so he gave them to the couple – the guy in the Sky jersey missed out.

Now for the fun part – the descent. We were pretty keen to get down off the mountain, so we left as soon as the gendarme let us on the road, we had to sit around for about half an hour not seeing any riders, walk our bikes over some rough terrain, and get down from a rather high retaining wall. After a couple of turns down the hill, the gendarme pulled us over – then a Team Katousha rider came flying down, sitting on his top tube. He was at least an hour behind and was eliminated from the race because he didn’t make the cutoff time.

pro rider suffering up the tourmalet

They suffer on the Tourmalet, while still going five times faster than us when we did it

15/07/2011 HIRE CAR – Lourdes

We went back to Lourdes and had to return the car – which was a bit problematic because of all the road closures for the finish of the stage. We finally got through all the traffic to the Best Western, dropped off our stuff, and N took the car back. We had to pay rental rates for the fuel because we hadn’t been able to find a petrol station on the way back – they are certainly not everywhere like they are in Australia.

 

The crowd in Lourdes

The crowd in Lourdes close to the finish, and just in front of the video screen

We watched the stage in the hotel for a while, then we headed out to see the riders finish. We ended up totally crushed behind a barrier, but we got to see Thor Hushovd win a mountain stage! One more night in Lourdes, and we moved on to Switzerland via the train…. but that is for the next episode.

 

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Bike Friday, Tour De France, Touring

 

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Bike Touring: France, Germany, Switzerland & the Netherlands (Part 1)

For a good part of June, July and August, I was in Europe touring around by bike, train, and *gasp* a hire car. I have divided the trip up into four parts, because we went to so many places, it’s just too long for one blog post. The bikes are Bike Friday New World Tourist folders, with the Travelcase system, as custom built by Bike Friday.

We flew into Paris via a stopover in Dubai and it was scorchingly hot in both places. While you didn’t notice it in Dubai because everything was well air conditioned, Paris was initially a struggle, with no air conditioning in the airport, or in the trains.

Burj Khalifa - Dubai

The Burj Khalifa - Currently the World's Tallest Skyscraper (Dubai)

Please comment below if you want to see some Paris photos. I will do separate posts for ‘cycling culture’ regarding the cities that we spent significant amounts of time in. Now for the trip diary:

30/6/2011 Train Paris (Montparnesse Station) – Nantes – Challans (ride 5ks to campsite)

Getting ourselves and our luggage (the Bike Fridays in their suitcases) to Montparnesse Station was a bit of a challenge. We decided against taking the metro – all those stairs! We took a bus instead and that turned out to be a good way to go, as we only had to haul ourselves up and down the tiny step from the road onto the bus – all the buses are open plan so there was plenty of room for us.

We had to change trains at Nantes, and didn’t realise that you need to know the end-of-line station in order to find out what platform to change to. It made it a tight change.

When we got to Challans my case wouldn’t open – I may have made an error setting the code as it wasn’t what I thought it was. We tried almost all the combinations until we got it open. It took us a long time to orient ourselves and find the campsite. The campsite was quiet and out of the way – we weren’t quite into the peak summer season of camping so the kiosk wasn’t open and we were left with hardly any food for dinner!

Campsite in Challans

Campsite in Challans

 

01/07/2011 RIDE Challans – Passage Du Gois (22k)

This was an easy, flat ride, and we did it at an average speed of over 20kph. It was a good introduction to French traffic, they gave us a nice wide berth. There were a lot of ‘camping cars’ with bikes on the back, we mused that they had their houses with bikes on the back, we had our bikes with houses on the back. We ate chocolate donuts as our ride fuel.

Bike Fridays on the Passage

Bike Fridays on the Passage Du Gois

It was very exciting to see all the campers parked on the side of the road. I couldn’t believe we were actually here at the Grand Depart of the Tour de France! When we got there, I wasn’t keen on crossing the Passage as the tide was rushing in – it is a crazy road which is only passable twice every 24 hours, the rest of the time it disappears underneath the ocean.

We met a Dutch guy who was following the tour in his car, and took his advice on stealth camping down a limestone track which ended in some fields. It was our first and only free camp, and we were only disturbed once, very late, by some people who were wandering down the track. When they realised we were there though, they were quiet, and left soon after.

Camping near some fields

Our campsite the night before the Grand Departe

02/07/2011 RIDE Passage Du Gois – Barbatre – Notre Dame De Monts (28k)

The Peleton on the Passage Du Gois

The peleton, neutral over the Passage Du Gois

We had watched the tour on the Passage – the Caravanne was so long that it kept us entertained for hours – the riders went past in a neutralised state, then we crossed over to the island, and had lunch at a bar/pizza place. The heat was stifling. We discovered that the French don’t cut their pizzas, so we had to pull it apart with our hands as there was no cutlery.

We then rode down a big main road for a while – and crossed at the proper bridge back to the mainland – then we joined a cycle network maintained by the Vendee region. It is off road, a sort of limestone track. It was a bit rough at times, but it goes past a lot of Camping Municipale sites. We stopped at one that looked nice. We were the first Australians to have ever stopped there. This was the start of a recurring theme.

 

our tent

Resting in our little home.

03/07/2011 RIDE Notre Dame De Monts – Olonne Sur Mer (70k)

Breakfast

Breakfast at the beach

We continued on the bike path, and it went along the coast a fair bit. It was pretty and pleasant. When we got to Olonne Sur Mer, we chose the first campsite we arrived at. It was a bit expensive, they put their prices up for peak season. It was pleasant though, there was a common room that we could use to plug in my netbook (which now had a dead battery) and watch the Sarah Connor Chronicles. There were fireworks, and there was a concert on as well – the welcoming party for the Tour.

In the morning we found a good spot to watch from, and got a lot of freebies from the Caravanne. It was still very hot. I was thankful for the bottle of water we got from the Vittel truck.

Olonne Sur Mer Tour De France

The sign at the entrance to town.

The peleton and Olonne Sur Mer

The peleton finally roll past to an appreciative crowd....

04/07/2011 RIDE Olonne Sur Mer – Les Sables – Le Veillion – Talmont-St- Hilare (25k)

After watching the tour go past, we got back on our bikes. We were on the road again, and the road was packed with tourists. An official tour car (may have been media) slowed down when it overtook us and on of the guys leaned out and said ‘bravo, more people should be cycling to follow the tour’.

Ladybug invasion

N's green shirt was very attractive to lady bugs... she missed them when we left the Vendee and there weren't any around

05/07/2011 RIDE Talmont-St-Hilare – Esnandes (73k)

We had a French road-touring atlas and the white roads were the rarely used, narrow ones. Today we did have to ride on some busier roads but they had bike lanes. We were now becoming accustomed to the sight of corn, wheat and sunflowers. Esnandes is a very small place, and the camping ground was probably the cheapest of the whole trip at about 6 euros.

Bike Fridays and Sunflowers

Lunch Break - Bike Fridays and Sunflowers

They had a common area and bar, and there was a TV. We arrived just in time to see the Tour coverage. There were a bunch of older, drunk French guys there who were trying very hard to talk to us. They were excited when they discovered we are Australian. One of them jumped around being a kangaroo. Then they asked who we were going for in the Tour. He said ‘Alberto Contador’, and I made a rasperry and a thumbs down… then he said ‘Cudel Evuns?’ and I said yeah, and gave a thumbs up. That day Cadel beat Contador in an uphill grind to the finish. I wonder if those old guys were thinking of us when ‘Cudel’ finally won the tour.

 06/07/2011 RIDE Esnades – La Rochelle – Rochefort – Pont L’Abbe (80k)

a Chateaux that was closed

Yet another closed Chateaux - we never managed to get inside one!

Navigating through fairly big places like La Rochelle and Rochefort is difficult when you only have a road touring atlas. We got through by picking out landmarks which were on the map and which were signposted – but we had to ride around a bit in order to find useful signs. La Rochelle was OK to navigate through as it as a kind of pleasant place. Rochefort was more industrial, and was where we had to ride up over a massive Viaduct bridge. There was a bike lane which was less than a metre wide, which led to a very close buzz by a bus as we were climbing up. Pont L’Abbe was a charming place, though by the time we got there we were exhausted. We got to the tourism centre before it closed and they directed us to the camp site. The woman in reception at the camp ground insisted that we come and sign the guest book in the morning. We were the first Australians to stay there, once again!

Campsite at Parc de la Gareme, Pont L'Abbe

Campsite at Parc de la Gareme, Pont L'Abbe

We had a beautiful dinner in Pont L’Abbe – even though we only vaguely knew what we were ordering. It was the first time in my life I have ever enjoyed eating prawns, as they were so fresh and came with a delicious dipping sauce.

07/07/2011 RIDE Pont L’Abbe – Jonzac (69k)

This is where the weather deteriorated on us. We got caught in a very heavy shower, which put a damper on the ride through some dense forest. We stopped at a bus shelter with no seat to eat chocolate eclairs and N changed her shirt because she was freezing. My shirt had almost dried but my pants were still wet. We were cold and miserable, and in Jonzac there was only one camp site – it was small and crowded.

checking the map

Checking the map - before we got wet

That is it for now, to be continued, daily, over the next four days. Don’t forget to leave a comment or drop me a line if there’s anything else you would like to know about this trip. For my concise review of my Bike Friday New World Tourist, and the Travelcase trailer, see my review here.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2011 in Bike Friday, Folding Bikes, Touring, Touring Bikes

 

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