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Category Archives: Touring

Kitties and Bicycles

I’ve complained before that my pets aren’t so much into my hobbies of cycling or kayaking. Well, check out Pikachu the Travelling Kitty! He hangs out in his bike trailer and let himself be chauffeured across the USA.

I’m not sure about the angle on Ted’s bike seat though.

My dogs are both too heavy to pull, so I got to thinking about the advantages of having a kitty companion on a bike tour.

They are much smaller and lighter than even the littlest dogs, and they don’t eat very much. They sleep 20 hours a day, so you can leave them doing their thing in a trailer whilst you drive the pedals. They have great balance so you don’t have to worry about them falling over in the trailer when you take a tight turn.

The problem is getting a kitty that is willing to encounter all kinds of new situations without freaking out too much. I am not sure either of my cats are as brave as Pikachu.

mittens bike

There is a big difference between sitting on my road bike on the trainer. I have raised the possibility of looking for another pet who could join me on my adventures but the inn is already full.

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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in biking with cats, Touring

 

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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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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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Owner Review: Bike Friday New World Tourist Folding Bicycle

Bike Friday NWTs

Our Bike Friday New World Tourists on the bank of the Rhein

We purchased these bikes directly from Bike Friday, custom built to our measurements in February 2011.

I based my measurements on my small Surly Long Haul Trucker. The bikes were primarily purchased for our tour of Europe in June – July & August 2011. We chose to get the New World Tourists with the Travelcase system, which consists of a Samsonite suitcase and a lightweight, bolt on trailer frame.

So far I have logged 1,400 kilometres on the Bike Friday, and it has performed admirably, comparing very well to the Oyama Lexington folding bike which I initially bought to see if I liked ‘small wheelers’.

My particular NWT is fitted with a Shimano dynamo hub, a women’s Brooks B17, and some flat pedals with ‘power grips’. It has SRAM X4 running gear and Tektro Mini V brakes.

The Good

Bike Friday promises that their bikes will ride just like your best bike. I was sceptical at first, but was converted quickly. The steel frame with longish chainstays and seat stays make it very comfortable over the bumpy stuff, particularly for the small 20″ wheel size. The bike handles well at speed, is easy to accelerate and could climb a vertical wall. I did find it hard to cruise on the flat over 25kph, but that is more than quick enough for a tourer.

The tyres are tough, without a single puncture on either the bike or the trailer. After 1,400 kms there is some wear on the rear tyre but they have a lot of meat on them so it will take many more kilometres to wear them out.

The SRAM X4 twist grip shifters are the best twist grip shifter I have ever used. They are comfortable to rest your hands on, and very easy to grab and twist, which is important when touring, as fatigue is likely to come into the game somewhere.

The bikes did well both on and off road, and some of the tracks were very muddy and rough. We also climbed the Col du Tourmalet on them.

Bike Friday Tourmalet

Me and the Bike Fridays on top of the Col du Tourmalet

I have front and rear racks for the Bike Friday, though I only use the front rack on tour. The chain stays are long for a folder, but there is a heel strike issue when my panniers are stuffed to the brim on the back of the bike. I have taken the Bike Friday shopping as it is stable and handles well under load.

The trailer hitch is ingenious – it is an air hose coupling which is brazed on to the frame. It is compact and efficient – just make sure you keep the trailer hitch clean and lubed, otherwise it will jam up and will be impossible to get off. It also may cause problems with your trailer bolts if the bike falls over and the hitch won’t rotate…. (see the ‘Bad’ below).

Packing the bike up and taking it ‘incognito’ was awesome, especially for the French trains where taking bikes is a hassle, and for the ICE train from Germany to the Netherlands where you have to pay extra for a bike. Having the bikes in such a compact form was also handy for catching taxis to and from the airport, as we could fit them both in a wagon (it would have had to have been a maxi taxi otherwise!), and we didn’t have to go to the separate ‘oversize luggage’ drop off at the airport as the Samsonites fit on the conveyers. It was also good for hotels who otherwise would not let bikes into the rooms.

The Bad

Initially the buzz from the tyres bothered me. You only notice it when in quiet areas with smooth riding surfaces though, so I didn’t notice it much on tour.

The ‘draw bolt’ which attaches the draw bar of the trailer to the Samsonite suitcase bent and snapped when we were dismantling our gear to put it on a train rendering the trailer useless until I found a new bolt. I did find a new one, but the way that the original bolt bent meant that the hole was widened when unscrewing it to get it out. This meant that the replacement bolt had to be periodically retightened on tour.

The suitcases, while stylish, were the weak point of the system. The handles clogged up with dirt which meant they jammed and did not extend easily. The main lock jammed a few times on tour, making it hard to open the case, and after a while they required a good, sharp whack in order to shut them properly. They were roughly handled on the flight back, and did their job well protecting the bikes, but I needed to use the claw part of a hammer to get the lock open.

In Conclusion

The Bike Friday New World tourist bikes were the perfect solution for our tour. I will also use mine in future for tours that involve the Australind or Prospector trains in WA which make taking full size bikes a hassle. The Bike Friday will also become my summertime commuter when the bike cage is overflowing, and I need to fold the bike, put it in a bag and carry it upstairs to keep in the store room.

Waiting for train in Lourdes

Our Bike Fridays and other luggage stacked on the platform waiting for a train from Lourdes

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Folding Bikes, Reviews, Touring, Touring Bikes

 

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