These are in no particular order!
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I queried one of the regulars on the BNA forums about his recent travels in Europe, particularly his experiences in France. He rides a 2012 Vivente Randonneur, so his comments are relevant to the default bike configuration too. This is what he had to say:
France is an amazing country, period. It’s also very nice to cycle through most of the time.
I rode from N-W Germany to Marseille, taking trains on certain sections due to weather or crappy areas to cycle in.
Unlike Germany, France has a serious lack of dedicated, signed cycle routes. This became an issue for me as I wasn’t riding along the EuroVelo routes (which are mostly dedicated paths and well signed) so I often ended up riding on major roads with lots of high speed, large vehicles.. not an enjoyable experience. Having good quality, well-scaled maps is essential.. but it is difficult when you are crossing 1200km worth of land.
The EuroVelo route from Mulhouse to Dijon is pretty amazing, pretty flat and great scenery. We also rode a 70km path south from Strasbourg to Breisach which followed the Rhone-Rhine canal and it was amazingly good. Very flat path, forest scenery, no cars or traffic, well signed, plenty of camping grounds just off the path etc.
The gearing for the VWR is fine for small hills and flat paths even with a loaded bike.. but obviously take as little gear and weight with you as possible.. every bit of extra weight makes the ride less enjoyable especially if you want to be able to cover a reasonable distance each day (for us it was about 70-85km depending on the hills and weather). However since my knees have spectacularly failed on me and basically ruined my tour (it got to a point where I couldn’t do more than 40km a day near the end) I will most definitely be looking into refining the setup with a smaller granny gear chainring and possibly a cassette with a larger cog as well to be able to spin up hills with the gear.
So basically I strongly recommend the EV paths as they are easier to plan for as they follow a set route, there is lots of dedicated paths that follow rivers and railway lines which are flat and friendly for all levels of touring cyclists, and they often run through scenic areas too. This will be especially good if you are doing this with your Mum. There’s nothing worse than being lost in the middle of backcountry somewhere with no maps, no idea where a camp ground or supermarket is etc. It gets stressful, you have to be a very happy go lucky person to cope with it. Much nicer to know where your going and be able to just cruise along and enjoy the ride instead.
Just had a look at that link [referring to the EuroVelo site at http://www.eurovelo.org/routes/overview-route-database/].. the EV6 was the one I mentioned before. The section from Dole to Mulhouse is a very nice path in a scenic area. The section of canal path south of Strasbourg is the EV15. Basically for a recreational tourer following the EV is a very good idea. For the more adventurous and fitter tourers it would be too easy and boring though, but as I said before being able to just cruise along and enjoy the scenery is really quite nice. Plus they shouldn’t be too hilly either as they are designed to be accessible for all types of people. Go for it!
I found some information on travelling to France, specifically with respect to visas. Check out this web site: http://www.ambafrance-au.org/Frequently-Asked-Questions.
As far as I can tell, if we’re staying for less than 90 days (which we would be, since my long service leave is only three months), we don’t need a visa, because of something called the Schengen Agreement. This applies to other countries in Europe, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Spain and Sweden.
But then this page mentions a Schengen Visa: http://www.ambafrance-au.org/General-rules-applying-in-France. If we don’t need a visa, what’s the point of a Schengen Visa? This Yahoo Questions post answers it, I think: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090129062054AAIPq7k. It’s for people who aren’t from a country that’s party to the Schengen Agreement. This site is useful too: http://www.schengenvisa.cc/. It says, “The Schengen visa is a “visitor visa”. It is issued to citizens of countries who are required to obtain a visa before entering Europe.” And since we don’t require a visa, we don’t need to do anything more. I think.
If it turns out we do need a visa (even if it’s just a Schengen Visa), then the whole thing becomes a giant pain in the arse, because they want to know your every movement (hotel booking confirmations, flight booking confirmations) during the stay, proof of means of subsistence (ie you’re not going to work whilst in France), bank account statements, visits to the Embassy in Sydney and god knows what else. The hotel booking part would be impossible to provide, given we intend to camp and just tool about without planning accommodation too far ahead.
But I think we’re OK without a visa. I think.
OMFG flights to France are expensive. I just had a quick look at webjet.com.au and the cheapest return flight to Paris (admittedly using dummy dates) was a touch over $2000 per person, in Cattle Class. With a 20Kg luggage limit. I checked another site, JetAbroad, and it’s not much better there. Maybe Tasmania is a better option after all. 😦
We’ve just been on our annual Cycle Queensland ride. I’ve decided I hate crappy roads, deadshit drivers and boring Australian scenery. Mum’s decided she hates Australian drivers. So we’re now giving serious thought to Europe!
It’s just an idea for now. But I think with a bit of research we’ll be able to make a decision one way or the other pretty soon. I can’t help thinking of Andrew P Sykes’ book (which I reviewed on this blog some time ago). I might have to re-read it 😉
I’m lying in the tent after a sleep-out. I’m warm and comfortable. I’m posting from my iPad and don’t have my reading glasses, so I’ll leave it at that until I get to my computer later 🙂
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. A couple things have happened since my last post. First, and probably most importantly, mum took Violetta for a few nice long rides over the Easter break. She’s very happy with the bike overall, though I suspect she’s not entirely happy with the trekking bars. Depending on which side of the bars she uses, they’re either a bit close or a bit far away. Of course, if the bike were adjusted so that the near side was at an ideal distance, the far side would be unreachable. So I don’t know what the answer is to that. I do know that I do not want the trekking bars, and I also don’t want the drop bars. So, assuming I get a VWR, I’ll be having it modded to regular flat-bar or slightly curved straight bars.
On one of her longer rides, I loaded mum’s bike up with my panniers. Now, when I say “loaded up”, what I really mean is “panniers with not much in them”. When I commute, I carry two rear panniers. The left hand one is light, containing rain gear, spare tubes, a bike lock and not much else. It’s pretty light in the great scheme of things. I split this pannier’s load into halves, putting each half in a pannier, and put that on mum’s bike. And she complained about the weight! My normal commuting load consists of that, plus the right hand pannier containing a backpack, a laptop, and miscellaneous stuff. So mum’s got a bit of work ahead of her to get used to riding loaded.
We also decided to have a crack at cooking some pancakes on the Trangia. Pancakes from a bottle, that is. Gluten-free pancakes, at that. Now, I know what you’re all thinking. Cooking something like that, on a small pan, on a metho burner which doesn’t have the greatest in flame control? It should turn out a burned, charred, lumpy mess, right? Well, you’re right. It did. But we did learn something from the experience. We learned that a) gluten-free pancakes don’t taste as crap as you’d imagine; and b) the burner control on the Trangia really isn’t much chop. To change from a low heat to a high heat, or vice versa, means removing the pan from the flame, and somehow getting to the burner ring without burning one’s fingers, adjusting the hot burner ring, and putting it back. We ended up using long BBQ tongs. It was very impractical, and it’s made me think more seriously about a gas conversion kit. Also, the cleanup of the burned, charred mess was very difficult. I tried to scrub it off with a scourer. It wouldn’t budge. Mum tried. It wouldn’t budge. We soaked it for a day. It wouldn’t budge. I attacked it with bicarb soda (a suggestion from the internets). It wouldn’t budge. In the end, MaxBabe took care of it. I still don’t know how she did it. My theory is that she used a sandblaster.
My next attempt with the Trangia will be poached/fried eggs. I hope it doesn’t involve a big, charred mess.
A very comprehensive review of the Vivente World Randonneur!
All my bikes are insured by Velosure. So when we got mum’s bike, it made sense to also insure it. Many people assume their home and contents policy will adequately cover their bicycles. I called my insurance company and was told it was only covered for theft, and only if it was within my house at the time. Bike totalled by a hit and run? Not covered. Fall off your bike and trash it? Not covered. Stolen from a bike rack whilst you’re out? Not covered. Stolen from a car rack, even if locked? Not covered. Racing? Definitely not covered. Velosure tick all the boxes, and even cover the bike if taken overseas (extra premium for this option).
Understandably, Velosure want lots of details about the bike. Its purchase value, the type of bike, the owner’s details etc. All of this helps determine the premium. And of course, they want the frame number. One minor problem. The Vivente doesn’t have a frame number! Urgh. I asked them the question – can they insure a bike that doesn’t have a frame number? And the answer is yes.. all I have to do is, and I quote: “.. take a photograph of the bike with a piece of fruit on the saddle. That way we know that this is your bike, and the photo has been taken for insurance purposes.”
I swear I’m not making that up. So, here it is. I couldn’t decide between grapes or passionfruit, so I went with both.
Violetta has 700×35 Schwalbe Marathon tyres. I went to the LBS near my work the other day, and they didn’t have tubes for 700×35, but assured me that a 27 x 1 1/4 tube would do the trick. I was skeptical, because he didn’t seem all that confident about it, but it turns out he was right. Here’s an article from Schwalbe themselves, with a handy tube sizing chart.