@intandemmemories. David and Kate had approached Bristol Bicycles for a bit of help when planning their LEJOG (Land’s End to John o’Groats) trip. Of course we were more than happy to oblige, and hearing good words about them from Oli and Ruth ( who previously cycled halfway around the world on their Bristol Bicycles) we struck a deal to sponsor the trip. This was day seven for the guys, and the route took us from Bristol’s best coffee spot, ka:fei, up the River Severn ending in Gloucester, taking in country lanes, canal towpaths, and the odd “hill”, on what was a relatively flat day. This was much to the delight of Kate and Dave who had already
come through Devon and Cornwall (possibly the most challenging section of the tour). I had set out to ride with Kate, Dave, Oli, Ruth, and their friend Louie for the day, and join a short leg of their much longer journey. Oli, Ruth, and Louie had also joined from Bristol with all but Louie undertaking the whole rest of the trip; Louie is planning to peel off at Manchester, which in itself is
a big effort, especially when you take into account the boneshaker bike he’s chosen ( if it works it works – you do you!). The rest of the group were all on Bristol Bicycle touring models. Ruth’s and Oli’s had been to Bangkok, but were still going strong with original kickstands and even a bag of unused spare spokes. Kate and Dave were showing off their flashy new up-to-date touring bikes with hydraulic
disc brakes, dynamo lighting and full rack setup. I had been informed that they were almost fault-free since they had set out. A bit of minor gear adjustment and double-wrapped bar tape and these bikes aren’t going to hold them back from any adventure. I’d often find one of the group staring
longingly at their bikes as the bond between rider and bike grew day by day, tour by tour. Even on a small section of the ride we met people along the way that wanted to share their own LEJOG stories or local tips: most notably a couple just outside Berkeley who took us to a local cafe called Perfect Blend, highly recommended… seeing all the cyclists there you might already know it. Heading out of Berkeley a little bit heavier from a coffee and lunch, we (or rather I) had the first mechanical mishap. My oh-so-supple tyres had come back to bite me, sure enough, the front was flat. A quick change of tube and I thought I had it… Nope: pop went my pump as I stared down at what now amounted to a couple of metal tubes and a few valves. My pump had given up and, with no luck putting it back together, I had to plead with local cyclists to see if I could find someone better equipped than I was. Sure enough, we got it back up and running and the trip continued. With a little top-up 20 minutes later as we met up with Oli and his old faithful pump from India, I was set for the rest of the trip. The rest of the day was much the same: a steady progress along sweeping country lanes and gravel canal paths fuelled by a potent mix of jelly babies, cashew nuts and coffee. The social aspect of the day meant we ate through the miles and I didn’t think too much about the distance. Whether it was Dave’s plan to become the Elon Musk of bug farming or Oli waxing lyrical about F1, the chat is all part of the experience. This was far being from everyone’s first rodeo with Ruth and Oli and their epic around the world trip, or Louie and his forays touring in Japan, I felt like a mere mortal hearing about the trips these guys have done. Nonetheless, with cycling stories being shared and snacks handed out, we quickly caught up with our destination. My arrival in Gloucester that evening was greeted by yet another puncture, which put the final nail in the coffin of any remaining ideas about cycling home that night; so I shacked up with the rest of them in their hotel, and enjoyed a well-deserved meal from a local Thai restaurant. The next day it
was a bright and early start and farewell to the group. They left me to funnel my breakfast in and make a dash to the local bike shop. Cheers Eastgate Cycles for sorting me out!
being home I was already planning my next adventure. Thanks to the gang for having me along and good luck with the rest of the trip!
The collection of an old man or a 21-year-old lad?I think you can tell a lot about a man from his bike collection, and in my case, you can certainly tell I’m a middle-class boy with very few overheads… or an old man that’s got overly excited about his retirement.
With all this time at home, I thought I would run you through the collection and get nerdy for a little bit. I wish I could say “ oh yeah I just have the one bike for everything really”… but I don’t, I’ve probably got too many bikes for very little reason. So here we go…
The commuter: ‘Bromhilda’ (Brompton B75)I’ll come clean guys: I drive. OK, I know it’s bad but I live out in the sticks and it is my only option. The Brompton, however, has meant I don’t go anywhere without a bike. It lives in the boot and means I can cut the miles down and cycle lots of my journeys. Also, my car (a very sexy 1 litre Kia Picanto) is only small and a folded Brompton is about all I can fit in it.
Not much more to say on this one, it’s got three gears. The brakes work and it gets me from A to B with a smile on my face. When I purchased Bromhilda I was told I may be the youngest person in Bristol to own one… it’s not a huge accolade but I’ll take it. The few bits of personalisation have been a lovely leather saddle from Ruperts in London, front and rear mudguards, new brake levers and a huge front bag to carry cameras and my laptop in (also often beer) on the way home.
The mountain bike: Genesis LatitudeAfter saying I don’t need a mountain bike I can just ride my drop bar bike around the Mendips, I quickly ate my words after purchasing a home build Genesis latitude a few months back. It became a new love and I feel like I’m 50 years late to the mountain bike party. Living at the foot of the Mendip hills, within minutes I can be in the woods and bombing around local singletrack, fire roads and sweating it up to trig points. Obviously, this one is having a bit of a rest at the moment with the lockdown. No getting “Rad” for me at the moment.
The bike itself I bought second hand from a “home mechanic”… and its a beaut. A steel genesis hardtail frame and a selection of Shimano parts. Nobby Nic tyres to shred the local trails and 150mm Rock Shox Sector forks to take up every bump. I’m no downhiller, nor am I going to be hitting the biggest jumps (or many of the small ones for that matter), so a full sus would be lost on me. Looking forward to strapping some bags on this one when the lockdown is over and getting lost in the woods for a weekend.
The racing whippet: Trek DomaneForget “steel is real”… carbon is light! And it’s fast! (I take that back, I love steel really!). When the sun comes out so does the Trek. I never fully believed that light bikes made much difference and I’m not the smallest chap so I could do with losing the weight myself, not the bike. Yet… this one makes it feel like you’re gliding up hills (rather than the retrospective chugging I normally do).
Nothing too unusual on this one really, it’s 10spd Tiagra all round and comes in at around 8-9kg, so light enough for me. It’s not a super sporty geometry and comes under Trek’s “endurance” range, meaning I can go on long summer rides and still feel comfy. It currently lives between the Mendip climbs and the turbo trainer. It’s fair to say it’s getting a lot of use through the lockdown. It will be due a full strip down and a new set of summer tyres when this all blows over I think (28mm of course, the fatter the better)
Old faithful: Brother Kepler DiscThe bike of many faces. My beloved Kepler disc has done me well, from French tours to all-day gravel rides (both detailed in my previous blog posts). This is not far off being my dream bike really; a possible groupset change to swap the 105 road gearing for something a bit more versatile and it will be complete.
This bike has been on our social media and my blogs a fair bit and it constantly changes its guises from full tour mode to gravel grinder and currently long-distance mile smasher. With its new set of 32mm smooth Gravel King tyres, new 100 lux dynamo light, brooks cambium c15 saddle and Restrap frame bag it’s set up for a summer of long rides (fingers crossed) and the trans-Devon ride (more info on the turbo trainer blog).
So there we go, the tour of my collection! I know what you’re thinking: NO BRISTOL BIKE!!! As yet I’ve not needed a Bristol bike, but with the creation of our new Randonneur model (details to follow shortly) I’ve got plans in the pipeline. Sticking true to my style something gravelly, a little bit classic but a lot of fun. Keep your eyes peeled for that blog!
Whose collection do you want to see next? Jase the E-bike man? Colin and his new child-friendly Bristol Bicycle? Or perhaps you want to go straight to the top and see what oddball gems Jake is hiding away and perhaps what inspired the first-ever Bristol Bicycle?
Luckily I had recently acquired an indoor turbo trainer. For some it’s the worst thing in the world, the idea of sweating indoors for the sake of spinning your legs just doesn’t appeal… well, I would normally agree and to some extent, I still do. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Earlier in the year, I had booked a place on the Trans Devon, a 300ish km ride across the south of the UK. The ride is set up much like the longer ultra-endurance events such as the Transcontinental but at a much more accessible distance for those seeking a mini weekend adventure. With checkpoints dotted across Devon (hence the 300ish) you have to match them up and get your brevet card stamped, much like the popular Audax discipline. To me, this seemed to be a gentle way into a summer of big miles and wide smiles.
This is where the turbo trainer comes into play: 300km is not to be sniffed at and I quickly realised I would need to do some training to be in with a chance of completing this event. The indoor trainer has meant I can do fast structured rides and fit them in with day-to-day life. This means an hour or so on weekday evenings paired with longer rides over the weekend. With lockdown it has become a much more indoor affair and the turbo trainer has become a vital part of the daily routine.
I’ll be honest: I’ve grown to love it. Even just an hour can burn enough energy to tie me over, also it keeps me from feeling lazy… or tricks me into thinking I’m not lazy, it’s one or the other. A smart turbo trainer allows you to use apps such as ZWIFT, that way I have something to look at on the screen and at least pretend I’m outside. (It really does amaze me what they can make Smart these days… I saw a smart toothbrush the other day, what makes it smart? Do I need an app for my dental hygiene?)
If I’m riding my turbo most days then I can quickly rack up the miles and before you know it you’ve done 100 miles a week without leaving your house… what’s not to love? I get bored pretty easily (I shaved my head within 24 hours of lockdown!) so I hate to think what would have happened if I didn’t have my turbo trainer. Do you guys use turbo trainers? Let us know what you think of them. They cant replace outdoor cycling but mine has been a great asset for my physical and mental health during these strange times. And if you also use a turbo trainer and ZWIFT, who’s up for a group ride?
I’ve started to spot a recurring theme: whenever I end up on holiday, it’s always centred around bikes. Some would argue that I do it on purpose, but I think it’s more of a natural attraction. A week in Copenhagen; I can tell myself it was for the Scandi architecture or the “modern art”… but really it was all about bikes and pastries and, you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The land of pastries, bikes and the ten pound pint (yep, I know, THE TEN POUND PINT ). Now I’m a big fan of all three. Well, maybe I prefer my pints towards the three to four pound mark, but when in Rome… It only ever hits home just how hilly Bristol is after you visit a place like Copenhagen. Not a hill in sight, there was barely a derailleur visible too, but then again why would you bother with gears when the biggest hill is the odd bridge here and there? The first thing that struck me was that, although there are loads of bikes, hardly any of them are any good. It’s not like Bristol in the way that if your bike’s not up to it the roads will eat it up and the hills will destroy your legs. In Copenhagen the cycling infrastructure is so well thought out that you don’t need a brand-new shiny bike. The second thing I noticed is that brands are almost irrelevant. No one cares if you have the new flashy on-trend road bike or a five-year-old banger; even bike shops are in on it. Almost every shop I peered into or went in to peruse the shelves was selling bikes by the gear number. It might be £200 for a single speed and then £250 for a double and so on and so forth. It was like a set menu for bikes, what’s not to love?
Another popular sight on the streets of Copenhagen was the humble cargo bike. I have a weird soft spot for the cargo bike, although I have no practical need for one – I just think they are the coolest. I can see why in a city like that they would be so popular; why pay to insure and service a car when most of your needs can be met by a cargo bike, be that kids in the basket or a week’s shopping loading you down? If it all gets a bit much, just get an electric version and you’ll be laughing. After a quick Google I found that the cargo bike was actually invented in Denmark. Lurpak and cargo bikes: is there anything these Danes can’t throw their minds at?
Now in the UK its probably fair to say we are going through a slight housing crisis. I’m no expert on Denmark’s socioeconomic problems, but they must not be suffering quite so badly as we are. After thinking many of the basement-level apartments seemed a bit empty and run down, I quickly realised that they were actually filled with bikes. It turns out that it’s fairly common to use the bottom floor in apartment buildings for bike storage. This must certainly cut down on bike theft! As I alluded to earlier, I’m not sure how popular it would be to turn perfectly liveable flats into bike storage in the UK but if you’ve got the space, why not?
Now I know you what you’re saying, “Oh George this is all great stuff but where is your obvious and tenuous link to Bristol Bicycles?” It’s coming up, don’t you worry.
Hire bikes… now a banned word within my family but I’m sorry Mum and Dad, I’m breaking the silence as we really do need to talk about how shoddy those bikes were. After one morning of failed Donkey bike hire (imagine if the Boris bikes had dropped out of school and gotten in with the wrong crowd… Bingo, you have Donkey bikes) we decided to cut our losses and hire bikes properly the next day. After traipsing around multiple hire bike places looking for that special Dibble price (cheap) we found what were to be our hire bikes for the day. Now these bikes were in no real shape to be on the road, but after having looked at multiple other places it seemed to be a recurring theme. We’re a friendly bunch but were not the most confrontational, so after we had picked up our bikes and found that one (Dad’s) was way too small we did the most British thing possible by keeping quiet and pretending it was all fine. Here’s a little check list of what you want to see in a hire bike (and what we pride ourselves at Bristol Bicycles).
What you want from a hire bike:
- Healthy-looking tyres
- no signs of rust
- trued and straight wheels
- brake pads with meat on
- a good lock
- gears that index.
Now here’s a check list of what you don’t want to see (and what I got):
- worn-out tyres
- not a spot left unrusted
- a visibly wobbly front wheel
- brake pads – what are they?
- a lock attached by a zip tie
- hub gears that can’t decide what gear they want to stay in.
In the shop every time we have hire bikes come back we do a good check over and test ride of every bike, even if it’s out for half a day. This really does help save the bike from getting any worse. This chap in Copenhagen was probably not checking his bikes very often. After we got back and explained the issues we found we were treated with a casual shrug and, “Well I wasn’t to know was I?” I’m not one to judge, but I think it may be his job to know. In all honesty we did manage to get a small refund, it seemed to change my dad’s mind and what was a terrible hire bike became a bargain day ride. At least one of us was happy.
I must admit I did enjoy my bike by the end of the day. The hub clicks became part of the charm, and I was starting to ease into the mix of upright ride position with a back pedal brake. I must come back to Denmark on my own bike though, maybe that’s the next tour. In conclusion, is Copenhagen the cycling city its cracked up to be? Well yes, of course. The bike paths are amazing, the flat roads are a breeze, and the general acceptance of bicycles makes it perfect. Not all bikes are built equal and Copenhagen seems to be full of some scary and cheap builds. I’m probably just being a bit of a snob, but it seemed that bikes had become so big in their culture that they really aren’t anything special, yet at the moment in the UK it can often feel like you’ve found a life hack when you start enjoying your bike commute. Also, sort your hire bikes out!
There is always that one person at the side of the road saying “you should have gone tubeless” as you’re wrestling with the third inner tube of the ride. Well, I’m ashamed to say that was me… WAS me!
We often get asked ‘should I run tubeless on my bike?’
To be honest it all depends and who you ask and why you’re asking. Tubeless has its place and when it works, boy is it nice!
For your daily commute, you really don’t need the weight saving and possible “protection” that tubeless brings; good strong tyres and a watchful eye on tyre pressure and you’re going to be absolutely fine.
There is no worse feeling than when you’re halfway to work and your tyre has decided to give in on you or you’ve managed to ride over glass from the previous night’s revellers. Now imagine this has happened but you have tubeless tyres. To add to the stress your tyre will now be spurting latex fluid all over your clothes. Don’t take my word for it, come in to the shop and ask Jason how long it takes to wash the sealant off (actually just come into the shop and have any conversation with Jason, he’s bound to tell you anyway).
As for the tried and tested tyre-and-inner-tube combo, we believe we have hit the sweet spot on our Bristol Bicycles. The Continental Contact tyres are the perfect mix of supple and solid (supple being the hipster buzz word when it comes to tyres.)
The big man in the world of commuting tyres is the Schwalbe Marathon or its big brother the Marathon Plus. They might be heavy and pricey but they are built to last and can even roll over a drawing pin without puncturing.
Now, I may seem like a Luddite but you’d be surprised to know I actually run tubeless on my own bike! Before you hang me for hypocrisy I must make it clear that it is not on my commuter bike. My beloved gravel bike has been set up with tubeless and I must admit I love it… sometimes. The reason this blog post has come about is that I happened to find myself with a three day weekend and decided I was going to catch the last of the sun and head to the New Forest for a gravel adventure. This is when I called upon dreaded tubeless to help me out. Having previously put tubes in my wheels after an unfortunate blow out, I had to set the wheels back up as tubeless.
This took a bit of work but wasn’t too bad and wasn’t terribly messy. Luckily the wheels and tyres I have are a famously good match and are made with this combo in mind. But, now comes the reason why we don’t recommend the everyday commuter gets this set up. Not only do you need the correct tyres but also the correct wheels this can often mean you have a rather large investment for something that’s not going to give you many advantages over a good pair of commuting tyres. I wasn’t commuting so I wanted nice soft tyres that I could run at quite low pressures, and with the New Forest being famous for flint and sharp rock I didn’t fancy taking my chances with tubes.
Whilst at the New Forest I stayed in a little local campsite just outside Lyndhurst. After arrival and set-up I decided it was time to get some grub and check out the local area. I headed into Lyndhurst and got myself a couple of local Thai take away dishes and some bevvies (see previous blog posts). After enjoying the sunset over the forest and the ever-growing excitement of riding the gravel tracks the next day I headed back to camp. To my horror, the rear tyre had decided to deflate itself after I had spent a good hour trying to set it up earlier that week. A long dark walk back and some angry Instagram stories later, I hedged my bets and decided to pump the tyre back up. After doing this it seemed to then pop itself onto the rim and then stay inflated. After a good night’s sleep (and I mean good, I sleep like a log in a tent) the tubeless gods had worked their magic and the tyre had sealed itself overnight.
For any fellow gravel seekers, or just someone looking for a ride that’s a little bit different, get yourself down the New Forest, you will not be disappointed. The ride I was doing was designed by bikepacking.com with help from the Woods Cyclery; it’s a two-day ride with campsites dotted along the route but I didn’t have two days so thought I could bang it out in one. It’s 90% off-road on wide forest tracks that are interspersed with wooded singletrack, hike-bike through marshland and a few road sections (to boost that average speed). The whole route is around 63 miles but add on the time for getting lost here and there and then the extra loop back to my car and I would say I could have been knocking on 70 by the end of the day. Not huge miles, but enough when most of it is through wooded tracks with a few river crossings chucked in for good measure.
Doing it in one day, although a fun challenge and a good day ride, did mean that I had less time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. You pass plenty of pubs to stop in and little tea rooms for a sugar boost, so perhaps doing it in the recommended two days means you have more chance to appreciate the soundings (that’s what its all about after all). A few places to note are Brockenhurst as a perfect lunch stop or fuelling station. It’s the perfect spot to grab a coffee, cake or anything that’s going to get you through the next section of the day. Whilst in Lyndhurst you must stop at the Woods Cyclery, if there is anything about gravel bikes and bikepacking they don’t know its probably not worth knowing. If you’re looking for a full range of kit to strap to your bike or even just to go in and pick their brains for route ideas it’s a must stop for ALL cyclists. I probably spent too long there in the morning discussing last night’s tubeless mishap and sipping some of their amazing local coffee (dirty dirty hipster I know).
So the moral of the story is: tubeless is worth it… when necessary.
For most, tubeless is another thing to go wrong. You have to remember to top the tyre up with sealant every once in a while. This is easy to forget no matter how much of a bike lover you are (trust me I learned this the hard way). Get yourself some puncture-resistant tyres (Schwalbe Marathons or Marathon Plus if you fancy forking out) and for that everyday commute, you will be absolutely fine.
If you start to push the boat out and fancy getting off the beaten track then tubeless can be your saving grace, especially if you want to have the option of running lower pressures on rough terrain, but for the day-to-day commuter or even the roadies among you… don’t bother. Find another trend to get into, like spokey dokeys.
Here is the route… have fun and let me know what you think.
“Ooooh you work in a bike shop, now you can fix my bike” (when reading that it’s best to imagine a tiny little overly enthusiastic Bristolian lady)… No Nan I can’t… Well I couldn’t. Right up to the point I finished my first Bristol Bicycle.
Before I started here I could do the basics: change my tyres, straighten things up, maybe adjust the brakes if I was feeling adventurous. Having just finished a Bristol Bicycle build for our hire fleet (hire bike number 1 if you’re interested) I feel as though I have learnt a great deal – and tested the patience of the team (sorry Mat for all the stupid questions).
Now if I can build a bike I think you probably can too, it’s like a big Meccano set (sorry again Mat). OK, so there might be a bit more to it. Hopefully I won’t hinder business by saying little jobs here and there I’m sure everyone could do. Indexing gears and replacing brake pads are all jobs that you can quickly learn (and I mean LEARN… please don’t just go into the job blind, but once you know how it’s not hard to do the regular jobs). You never know when having those skills will come in handy.
Some of the bigger jobs do require a professional hand. When building our own bikes we pride ourselves on the detail. Hand-built wheels and properly installed headsets, it’s the little parts that make a difference. Although I would love to say go for it, try it all and who cares in you fail… unfortunately that’s not the best advice. Some things can be dangerous, believe me we’ve seen some disasters waiting to happen in the store. Odds and ends I do think you can learn as long as you put aside some time to researching how it’s done. Bigger jobs such as truing wheels and fitting bottom brackets if not done right can easily break your bike even more or make the bike more dangerous to ride (not that I’m trying scare you).
I’m sure many of you are aware of GCN (the global cycling network). They are a cycling entertainment company mainly posting on Youtube. They have a really good series of “how to” videos where they will explain maintenance tasks from the super easy to the super complex. It’s a good place to start if you are looking at doing a bit of your own work at home.
Back to my bike building odyssey. Don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking… “I don’t want a self professed cycling idiot to be building my hire bike” and in all honesty its a fair comment. Its been checked over by Mat (our in-house Bristol Bicycles guru) and he has tightened the loose ends and given it the all clear. And I’ll be keeping a close eye on hire bike 1 so if any of you take it out don’t be surprised if you’re waiting a while for the post-hire check-over. No one is going to mess with my baby!
After riding some of your workshop bikes (most of them we’ve used in our “bike of the week” Instagram series) and watching nice shiny new bikes coming out of the work shop it makes you begin to question your own bike. I’m lucky enough to have what in my opinion is a very nice bike but I began to pick up on the odd click and creak that I now know were not supposed to be there. So, long story short, I’ve been practicing on my own bike. A new bottom bracket and a full brake and gear service later on a new second hand bike and I was feeling rather smug with myself. Not that it’s impressive, but it’s a small sense of achievement in an other wise mundane set of skills. It was this though that made me realise that the devil is in the detail. After I had fixed my bike up to what I thought was a perfectly good level, Mat checked it over and even the smallest tweaks here and there made the bike a hell of a lot safer and not to mention running even smoother.
In conclusion, if someone like myself can learn to do the odd job on their bike I’m sure you can too. So next time you are watching the 5th episode of cats do funny things or whatever people watch on youtube these days, why not consider watching some bike maintenance videos or doing a bit of a read up. You can pick up the basics pretty quickly, just remember to do your reading! Maybe the big jobs are best done by the professionals. Baby steps is the term that springs to mind! Nothing worse than shearing a bolt on your nice new frame or cross threading a bottom bracket… Believe me we have seen it often enough to know these things are fairly common mistakes.
Cycling and camping, can you name a better pair? Go on give it a go, Peanut butter and jelly? black and white?… Ant and Dec? Nothing quite goes together as well as cycling and camping. If you had told me a year ago that I would be organising my own cycle camping mini adventure I wouldn’t have believed you, that’s for the cool bike packing kids on Instagram, not the chubby lad from North Somerset. If you had also told me one hour before that only one other group of people would actually be camping I would have probably cried.
So what’s all the fuss about and was it a success? The summer solstice has become a hot date on any adventure cyclist or bike camping fanatic’s calendar. With this in mind I thought it would be a great opportunity for us at Bristol Bicycles to jump on the band wagon and start running our own little rides and events. The first event I think was a success, and although it was only a father, his son and me that camped, they were super friendly and everyone that came out for the ride was very jealous of our peaceful camping spot in sunny old Bitton. Or so we thought…
After work we all met at the shop and rode out along the Bristol to bath bike path. Picking up a few faces on the way we ended up with a little group of what must of been 8 of us. The sun was out, and everyone was happy just to have a friendly social ride. After all that’s what cycling should be about: forget Strava times (yes I’m talking to you Colin, you may have beat me up Vale Street but who’s the one still smiling?), I don’t care if your new carbon wheels are 0.1 grams lighter than your last ones or that you’ve learnt a new slip streaming method from your cousin’s mate down the pub. Riding bikes is about getting out and about, and what better way to do that then with a group of friends and customers?
After a quick meal at the local pub and a couple of drinks we were ready to hit the hay. Jake claimed to have a cold (a likely story!) and headed back into the big smoke, and I joined my fellow campers on the site. After talking camping stoves and politics it was finally time to bite the bullet and squeeze into my tiny bivvy bag. There are not many times you would look to a tent as a form of luxury, but this was one of those.
I wanted to keep it low key and not too difficult, with mixed weather leading up to the day and my general lateness with organisation, the camping turn-out might not have been what we hoped for but it was a success nonetheless. We stayed at the Stable Campsite in Bitton (5 mins off the Bristol to Bath cycle path). The site was idyllic: just a field, running water and a couple of toilets – what more could you want? Oh yeah, a wedding in the field next us… that’s just what we needed to finish off the peaceful experience. Now I like Oasis as much as the next guy (in fact I’d say I might even like Oasis more than the next guy) but when you’re into your fourth rendition of Wonderwall by yet another drunk bridesmaid, even I can get a bit bored of Oasis.
1AM, Do you know what improves the wonderful display of fire works? Not actually seeing the fireworks, and only being able to hear them from what seems to be metres away from your own head… now that’s the sweet spot!
2AM, Silence fell on camp, finally it’s time to get some rest. My friends next door had another idea though. Reggae Dub-step, Not a genre I’m particularly familiar with. Growing up in rural North Somerset I’m more into The Wurzels than The Wailers. I can see this particular genre being popular in a dark Bristol club late one night… perhaps not in the middle of a country field out in the sticks though. Sure enough the when music stopped I was sound asleep.
5AM, Woke up to a pretty amazing sunrise. Well, I’m not sure this sun rise was particularly remarkable but after spending 20 years previously sleeping-in too long to see many sunrises, it was a pretty sight!
8AM, after a few more hours of “sleep” I was up. A quick coffee and some porridge and I was ready to head home. By the time I was ready to leave my fellow camp mates were rising from their life of luxury in the tent. They had planned to carry on going, and would follow the bike path down to Bradford-on-Avon. I, on the other hand, didn’t have time on my hands and had to head back home ready for work on Tuesday.
I hit the road early and after a longer than expected stop at Bristol’s finest cycling coffee shop Camber I had soon left the city behind and would be sprinting into the hills. Always fun rushing past a group of Lycra clad weekend warriors when your bike is fully loaded up and you’re in the same clothes you slept in. I think I had gravity on my side as well as that caffeine kick. Soon enough I was back home nestled into the Mendip hills. Although it was only going away for one night I think there is real value in these micro adventures. A night away from your phone and the various distractions in life can do us all a lot of good.
One for the tech nerds now. I went for a front loaded bike, a little bivvy bag, a cheap air mat and a sleeping bag (I’ve invested in some nicer bits now) . Always got my nice stove and some good coffee… That’s all you’re getting nerds, this bike touring malarkey shouldn’t be about kit, it’s all about the fun of riding your bike.
So did we have a massive customer turn out? No. Was the camp a success? Yes! We had a great group that came along for the ride out. With Iggy and his son staying with me at the site it made it a fun and interesting night under the stars. Iggy had told me that he was once cycling 400km a week and had not ridden a bike for a few years. He decided that our camp was to be the opportunity and excuse he needed to get back riding his bike. Jake started the company with the idea of that if he could get every customer cycling again or getting a person a day onto a bike then it was a success. That is exactly what we did and Iggy then ventured on from our camp on a weekend tour with his son.
*Bivies- a bivi is a protective outter lining for your sleeping bag. You would put your bag and mat into your chosen bivi bag. Think of it as a half way house from sleeping bag to tent. An outdoor sleeping sock if you will.
*Bevvie- A bevvy is the slang term for a beer. The term would often be used by the laddy types. Often in conjunction with cracking open a cold one with the boys. We have to remember George (me) is technically part of the youth bracket (although you wouldn’t guess this from his actions or possessions!)
*Oasis- a Little know Indie rock band from Manchester. Fronted by brothers Noel Gallagher and our kid Liam. They are known for classic tunes such as Wonderwall … or that other one they did. Not to be confused with the tropical squash drink Oasis, an often easy mistake to make.
Sun, beaches, bottomless drinks, relaxing by the pool… Nah I’ll take cycle camping around France for a week in the cold and the wet any day. That is exactly what I did. Some of you may of heard of the Avenue Verte connecting London to Paris via cycle paths and secluded country lanes ( many of you may have done it as well). Well, we missed out the UK part, after many recommendations from friends, we decided that the UK bit sounded stressful and, well, just a bit boring compared to France.
Friday night we left for Newhaven (by car) and spent the night living it up in a premier inn. The next morning it was straight into the ferry on our fully loaded bikes. We weren’t the only ones though, there seemed to be a couple of fully supported trips heading off on the same route as us. Of course, they were in full Lycra gear and were making us feel lazy when they boasted that they would be in Paris within a couple of days. We, on the other hand, hadn’t planned on getting to Paris until Tuesday.
Once off the boat fueled up with a veggie breakfast and lots of coffee (gave up on the veganism over that week) the fun really started. One thing I will say about the trail is although on the most part it’s well signposted, it was easy to lose track of where you’re going when you get into the towns and villages. Sure enough, this happened from the get-go. After 40 minutes winding around Deipe off we went. The first day was a smooth 30 miles of old railway track. After our first night in the tent, a pizza in town and one puncture we were ready for the next day and the inevitable hills. Not that the hills were massive – it’s no Alps, but when you’re fully loaded and unprepared the rolling French countryside hits you pretty hard. I now fully understand why we build our Bristol Bicycles with triple chainrings for when the going gets tough.
The whole route was really varied from railway tracks to muddy fields. Within the same day, we could be following a river and then pootling through woodland. This makes it feel as though you have traveled a long way even though it was only a measly (by other people’s standards) 300ish miles there and back.
Little top tip with bike touring: never look forward to an easy day. On the final ride into Paris we had done a long trip the day before so it was in our heads that it was an easy spin into Paris. So, confident in this we decided to have a celebratory beer halfway through… Biggest mistake of the trip! The rest of the ride was hard work. We had to follow the River Seine into the center of Paris. When God created the Seine I believe he went a bit over the top with the bends. It’s fair to say that when we got to our air B&B (I know it’s cheating) we were knackered and after eating yet more pizza we slept like a log (or is it slept like logs? Both sound wrong)
When cycle touring as a holiday it is not all about speed and miles, so take a day off! And where better to do that than in Paris. You will thank your self for the day off, it gives you time to recover and have fresh legs for the trip back. Fully “refreshed” after 20,000 steps around Paris we hit the road yet again. Well, technically we hit the train but that’s not got as good of a ring to it. Another top tip for touring is don’t feel guilty about cheating. After the headache of cycling into Paris, we made a very quick decision to get the train out of Paris. I must remember to learn the French for elevator as hauling your fully loaded touring bike down an escalator is not fun!
Once back on our bikes the riding started to get interesting. Rolling country roads soon turned to rutted tracks which quickly escalated into muddy fields. My bike was made for these kinds of tracks and with plenty of clearance and no mudguards I had no issues and the wheels kept spinning. On the other hand, my dad’s bike, although it’s a lovely Temple Cycles touring bike, has mudguards meaning he was forever stopping to scrape mud off his bike to allow the wheels to spin freely.
(For this you have to know my dads name is Paul…)
One more night in the tent and yet more rain, so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel on the final night… it’s a holiday after all! Having pizza in a restaurant is great, but I’m not sure it beats pasta from a camping stove. One of the best new gadgets I bought for this trip was my Jet boil stove (well, a cheaper Planet X one). They’re great for quickly boiling water for that post-ride cuppa. Or even making everyone’s favorite camping convenience food: pasta.
Back on the ferry and the holiday was nearly over. It’s always a sad time as the end of a trip draws near. I had plans for future bike trips spinning in my head. Determined to make this summer the summer of bike tours the trip had fueled me even more. Getting this tour under my belt gave me a bit more experience to talk to some of you more hardened tourers in the store. It was only a week but it felt like much longer. Being greeted by rain and wind felt like a true British homecoming. Here’s to a summer full of smaller and perhaps bigger adventures on my bike!
PS, the French for escalator is espalier mechanique (who would have guessed?)