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Touring in France – some notes from a recent visitor

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!

 

 

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And so I’ve come full circle

I met Ron Kinang yesterday.  Ron’s been helping me plan the Tassie tour, giving me bits of information here and there (not least of which, a link to his own account of riding in Tasmania).  Ron’s been putting together a custom touring bike (details here).  I was very excited to see the new bike and also to talk to Ron about his experiences touring.  We chatted for 2.5 hours about various bike-touring topics.  It was very informative.  Thanks, Ron!

And then, he showed me the bike.

A thing of beauty

Ron’s bike is beautiful, no doubt. And from my perspective, it is pretty much an ideal configuration (though I would’ve gone disc brakes, but that’s neither here nor there, what’s important is that Ron’s happy). I’ve been thinking about a custom build, based around an LHT frame with a Rohloff hub and all the various bits and pieces. Ron and I spoke about the Vivente Randonneur, a bike that ticks most of the boxes off the shelf.  Now that I’ve seen Ron’s beautiful bike – and I know this will sound odd – I’ve pretty much changed my mind and decided I might go with a Randonneur after all.

What’s that, you say, I saw a beautiful bike and decided I didn’t want one just like it? Yes. I know. I didn’t expect that either. But hear me out. I’m just getting into this touring thing. So new to it that I haven’t even toured. Not even an overnighter. It’s all just a concept right now, one that I’m learning lots about. I have grand plans, sure, but I don’t know how it will pan out. I might do it and hate it. And then I’ll have a beautiful custom bike that cost a fortune sitting around doing nothing. No. That’s not cool. So I think I’ll do some smaller tours (1-3 nights, or a week here and there if I can get leave) on my commuter (road bike with rack and panniers) and see how it goes. If I enjoy it, I’ll get the Randonneur for Tasmania. Once I’ve done Tassie, I’ll know if I want to keep doing it seriously, and I’ll also know if the Randonneur meets my needs or if I really do need something nicer/swankier/better/whatever.

The Vivente World Randonneur

Last weekend, I participated in the Brisbane to Gold Coast annual charity ride.  Before I get on with the point of this post, I would like to point out that I smashed the ride and got a bunch of Strava awards in the process! 😀

OK.  Now that’s done, let me get on with this post.  During the ride, I saw an unusual number of people riding bikes that were fully laden for touring.  I’m talking racks front and back, panniers front and back, mudguards, lights, you name it.  On these rides, you generally see one or two people riding like this, and it’s usually because they’re doing a test/shakedown ride, but last Sunday there were at least a dozen altogether.  I gave thought to chatting to some of these people during the rest stops, but didn’t actually do it.  I kicked myself afterwards.

Then, I saw him.  Pannier Man.  I call him that because he was riding a touring bike, laden, funnily enough, with panniers.  I caught up to him and rode alongside him.  I figured he’d probably been asked about his bike/panniers/setup/etc a million times and didn’t want to irritate him.  So, I came up with the second-best thing, which was “I bet you’ve heard a lot of comments about your bike today!”.  To which he answered “Yes”, in possibly the most unhappy manner possible.  He added, “and lots of jokes too”.  There was not the slightest indication of mirth or self-deprecating humour in his voice.  I figured I needed to skip any attempt at humour or joviality and just get to the point.  So, I started, “Well, I’m not going to make any jokes.  Actually, I’m really interested in talking to you because my mum and I are planning a tour of Tasmania”.  No sooner had I got those words out, then this guy riding with a kiddie seat (complete with kid) rode past and hollered, “Hey, you’re even more disabled than I am!” 🙄  What a knob.  Gee, it’s no wonder Pannier Man sounded apprehensive about talking to me, if that’s the calibre of joke he’d been hearing.

I told him how mum and I are planning this trip, and that we’re doing lots of research about touring bikes, equipment, tents, camping, you name it.  Once he realised I was serious in talking to him about his bike, he relaxed a little and we chatted.  He was riding a 2 year old Vivente World Randonneur:

His was a drop-bar model (shown above), but it’s also available in a trekking/butterfly bar model.  He liked it because it’s an all-included bike touring solution.  Racks front and back (the front racks aren’t pictured here), mudguards, pedals (you’d be surprised how many bikes don’t come with them), steel frame with mounting points all over, dynamo lights front and back, spare spokes, strong wheels with touring tyres etc.. you can find all the specs by clicking the link and going to the bottom of the page.

His panniers (Ortlieb, of course!) looked brand new.  I asked him how old the bike was, and I was surprised when he told me it was two years old.  Trying to reconcile this with the newness of the panniers, I asked how much touring he’d done on it.  It turns out that although he’d done plenty of recreational riding with the bike, this was the very first time he’d actually put panniers on it and loaded the bike up.  I just had to ask the question.. why had he waited so long?  Was it lack of opportunity?  Didn’t have all the gear yet?  Something else?  And he basically admitted that he simply hadn’t made the time to do it.  But obviously, something had clicked in him, because he’d finally loaded up and set off.  As I expected, this ride was a shakedown ride.  He planned to ride to the coast with the group, then ride back.  I don’t know if he intended to stay overnight or just turn around and ride back the same day, but that was his plan.

I personally think doing a shakedown ride on an event like the B2GC is a really good idea.  Firstly, it’s a supported ride.  If something breaks down or needs adjustment or whatever, there are roving mechanics who can fix it.  Because it’s a long distance over varying terrain and road surfaces, it gives the rider a proper appreciation of what a real loaded touring ride will be like.

Pannier Man told me he planned to do some shorter tours to start with, weekenders/overnighters, then eventually do a long tour.  He hadn’t decided on a destination yet.

I asked him about all manner of things.  His brakes:  he prefers rim brakes (the older model has rim brakes vs the newer model shown above, which has a disc brake at the front and rim brake at the back) and thinks disc brakes are a bad idea for touring.  Me, I’m not convinced of that.  I’ve heard a lot of people make that assertion on the basis that disc brakes are fiddly to adjust and a pain to repair.  There might be some truth to that.  However, the other side of it is that disc brakes can operate without loss in rainy conditions.  I think this is particularly valuable, particularly if one is loaded down with 30Kg of luggage.

I asked him about his wheel size.  His bike runs 28″ wheels.  I’m still doing a lot of learning about wheel sizes and why I’d want one size over another in a touring scenario.  Most touring sites tell you that 26″ wheels are better because you can find parts for them anywhere (ie Patagonia or Swaziland or Joondalup – 😉 😛 a call-out to my friend Aushiker in WA).  But, I don’t plan to go to Patagonia or Swaziland.  I might go to Joondalup one day, but I’m sure even backwaters like that can source parts for a 700C or 28″ wheel.  That said, it’s something to think about.  He was happy with his tyres, which I think were one of the Marathon family from Schwalbe, but not so happy with his wheels.  He complained he’d suffered a lot of spoke breakage over the years.  I found it interesting that he’d had broken spokes, given he hadn’t ever loaded the bike up.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to check out what wheelset he was using, but it’s something I’ll have to look more into.

He was very happy with his racks, which were a Tubus product.  No argument from me there.  Tubus have an excellent reputation.  When the time comes for me to get my touring bike, I won’t be skimping on the racks.

His bike was fitted with a Shimano groupset (I assume Tiagra), but since I have already decided my touring bike – whatever I end up getting – will have a Rohloff hub, I didn’t ask him about it.  I also didn’t ask him about the dynamo lights.  D’oh!

All in all, he was very happy with the choice he’d made.  He said he’d recommend it to anyone.  It’s one thing to read a recommendation on the internet, but quite another to hear it in the person.  I’m glad I chatted with him.  After about ten minutes, I thanked him for his time, and was on my way.  Thank you, Pannier Man, wherever you may be.

One fellow’s journey around Tassie

With thanks to RonK from the BNA forums, here is Ron Kinang’s account of his ride around Tasmania. Is it a coincidence that someone called “RonK” referred me to something written by a guy whose first name is Ron and whose last name starts with K? I think not! 😉

I’m about halfway through this travel log. Lots of information here, exactly the sort of stuff I’m looking for! Thanks, Ron!

Things I really need to research

  • Tents:  If we’re doing a tour of Tasmania, I don’t care how much I have to pay, I want a tent that can cope with the cold and rain.  And that’s not as heavy as 14Kg of bricks (however many bricks that might happen to be).  Which, coincidentally, is how heavy my current tent is.
  • Sleeping bags:  See above.  This year’s CQ taught me one thing:  There’s cold, and then there’s fucking cold.  I don’t want to have to sleep in every single item of clothing I own in order to stay warm.
  • Lighting: 6 hours battery life on the Ayups is fine, and I don’t expect we’ll be doing much night/dark riding.  I’m more concerned about the tail lights conking out.  We might have to look into dynamo lighting, or a way to keep the AAA batteries in the rear lights charged.
  • Camping:  Better double-check there are camp sites in all the places the Giro will take us.
  • Cooking:  Will we need to?  If so, we’d better find some little stove doodads.  And cooking stuff.  And figure out how to use it all to make something edible!
  • Showers, toilets and other ablutions:  Does this really need an explanation?
  • Water and food:  This might be our biggest challenge.  We gotta figure out how to carry it, especially for those sections of the ride that have big distances between grocery stores.
  • Water.  I know I said it above, but really, it’s important.  We gotta make sure we have plenty of water or we could die.  Really.

In all honesty, the Giro Tasmania isn’t exactly roughing it.  Most towns will have some sort of camping facilities or hotel or B&B.  But I like having all my bases covered.  🙂

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