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Reasons to Ride: The place where we live

The Bike Fridays on a ride along the coast

There’s certainly no doubt about it – Western Australia has some nice places to ride, for both casual and serious cyclists. What it lacks in hills though, it makes up for in gusty wind – which is good when it is behind you, not so good if it’s in your face.

The South Perth foreshore

The South Perth foreshore now has a dedicated cycling path so that the pedestrians and cyclists don’t have to share. It makes it easier to cruise along and enjoy the view, one still has to be aware of the unleashed doggies and meandering pedestrians who do not read signs.

A bridge near Rivervale

Of course, aside from puttering around the river, I use my bike for errands and transport. Unfortunately, bike racks are not always available at the destination. As long as there is some kind of pole though, parking is possible. Bikes really do not take up much room.

A trip to City Farmers for doggie treats

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Bike Friday, Everyday cycling, Reasons to Ride

 

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Everyday Cycling: Breakfast and Sausages

Riding on beautiful bike path

My "bike highway"

This morning we resumed our usual tradition of going out for breakfast on weekends. We hop on our bikes and ride to Maylands with it’s abundance of newly founded cafes.

It is quicker to ride than to stuff around getting the car out, driving it and finding a parking spot at the other end, which is becoming increasingly difficult as people in the surrounding suburbs discover this new cafe strip.

Bike parking is not the norm in the area though, thankfully there are plenty of parking signs that are good to lock your bike to.

A parking sign makes a good bike rack

A parking sign makes a good bike rack

The cafe is called ‘Chapels on Whatley’ used to be an antique store, but now is a cafe/tea house out the front, and an antique store out the back. They have a bottomless tea deal, you buy tea and you can have as much as you want – you can even have different teas. The only condition is you aren’t allowed to share your cup. It is a pretty good deal considering how many different varieties they have. They import all their own tea, so they are different blends which you might not see in a standard cafe.

the tea wall at Chapels

The wall of tea at Chapels on Whatley

I am not really a tea fan, so I got a coffee – which was great. Breakfast was good and so was the conversation around the table.

Today is the day of the Australian Football League grand final, and the plan was to sit around at home and watch the game. We decided to go via the butchers on the way home to get some sausages to cook up at half time for lunch. Parking near the butcher is a bit of a pain for cars, but we get to park right at the door.

Parking at the butcher

Prime parking at the butcher shop

Sausages acquired, we headed home to take up our positions on the couch. It has been a great day so far. Now, GO THE CATS!!!

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2011 in Everyday cycling

 

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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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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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