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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!

 

 

Hello world

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.

Violetta’s maiden ride

I know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting a review or ride report for mum’s new bike, Violetta.  Yesterday morning, I took her for her first ride (yes, it’s a “she”.  What sort of male bike would be called Violetta?).  It wasn’t a very long ride, only 14 Km or so.  But in my defence, I was running late for work and didn’t have much time.  You’ll see it was a pretty slow ride in the great scheme of things.  In fairness:

  1. I rode slow because I haven’t been riding much lately
  2. I rode slow because it’s a brand new bike and I didn’t want to crash it
  3. It’s not my bike!  It’s mum’s bike!  And it’s set up for her.  I am taller than her, and boy could I tell that bike was set up all wrong for me.  Every single pedal stroke proved it.
  4. It was rainy and the roads were slippery.

 

So why did I take a brand new, shiny bike out for a shakedown ride on a rainy day?  Well, there are things about this bike that make it just “want” to ride on such a day:

  1. Dynamo lights.  They’re the lights that keep on going and going and going…
  2. Full mudguards.  Not the crudcatcher compromise guards I put on my commuter.  I’m talking about the real deal.
  3. Front disc brake.  Why not test the theory that disc brakes are superior to rim brakes in the wet?
  4. Fat tyres.  Compared to my regular 130PSI skinny road tyres, these should be much better in crappy weather, right?

 

I’m actually running late this morning, too, so I won’t make this a long post.  Instead, consider it a teaser of a more thorough future post.  I will simply say that this bike made riding in shitty weather a pleasure. In quick bullet-point summary (because I’m really late for work now):

  • First of all, the mudguards kept all but the tiniest amount of road grime from getting on my legs.
  • My feet actually stayed dry.
  • The fat tyres made for a more comfortable ride, but I can’t really say they contributed to better or safer handling.
  • The front disc brake was unfortunately a bit of a let-down.  It’s nowhere near as strong as the rear rim brake.  I suspect there needs to be some adjustment to it.
  • The dynamo lights actually saved the day.  In my haste to insert the battery into my PDW Radbot 1000, I didn’t quite “click” the unit closed.  It worked for.. well, who knows?  It worked when I set off for my ride, but somewhere along the line, it came apart and the battery dislodged.  Were it not for the dynamo tail light, I would’ve had no rear lighting at all.
  • Compared to my light, carbon road bike, it is noticeably heavier.  This shouldn’t be counted against it.  Of course it’s going to be heavier!  But I noticed it, and combined with my loss of bike fitness, parts of the bike ride were tough.
  • Lower gears did make up for this when climbing.  Once I get my bike fitness back, I’ll have a better appreciation of whether the gearing is appropriate or if needs to be lowered a touch.

Now of course a 14Km ride can’t possibly educate anyone about how good a bike this is as a tourer.  I will try to take her out for longer rides, and will also make an effort to load her up.  This is, of course, assuming my mother doesn’t come and take possession of her own bike!

OK, gotta go.. stupid work getting in the way of life!

 

Some photos

As some of you have requested photos, it’s best I post them.  Otherwise, I will be forever plagued with the memeish “Photos or it didn’t happen”!

Violetta, in all her glory.

The front half. Note the disc brake, dynamo hub, full mudguard and three bidon cages.

Note double-sided pedals (SPD and flat)

Note the rack, full mudguard and you can see the tail light there too. Both tyres have reflective piping on the sidewalls.

 

That’ll do for now.  I’m running late for work!

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.

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