JUNE 2014 $6.99US $7.99CAN
Mountain bike tour in Scotland June 2013 Questâ€‚ 1
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The Best Cycling Gear for 2014 While kicking back on your couch watching this year’s Tour de France contenders suffer their way up the Col du Tourmalet, you probably felt that nagging itch to get back on the bike and start logging some serious miles. And of course, that itch is always compounded by a burning lust for more gear. We gathered up some of the best hard goods the 2012 season has to offer - bikes, components, shoes, helmets, shades and apparel - taking it all up into the California hills for a week to put it to the test. In this round-up, you’ll see how it all shook down. Ladies and gentlemen, start your wallets.
Trek Domane 6 Series Road Bike Trek’s new Domane road bike ($6,930 and up) is outfitted with some pavement-smoothing technology that keep your poor bones from getting too rattled on long days in the saddle.
Capo SC-12 Cycling Jersey
They are designed to be ridden over rough roads for long distances in bad weather, much like the Specialized Roubaix frame Tom Boonen rode to a decisive victory in this year’s wild and woolly Paris-Roubaix race.
Capo’s SC-12 jersey ($150) is clearly made for performance cycling, but it feels more like it’s designed for hurtling through space at great velocity. The first thing I noticed when slipping on the top half of this middle-tier kit is, well, nothing. That’s precisely the point. this $150 jersey from the Emeryville, California-based company is so snug, breathable and light that it would be a passable replacement.
Specialized Prevail Helmet The Kevlar-reinforced internal skeleton inside every Specialized S-Works Prevail helmet ($230) helped the company’s designers get away with massive vents that wouldn’t be possible with pure foam. The added structural support allowed them to shave away external foam to create massive ports and channels, which have a double benefit: They allow more cooling air to flow over the wearer’s head and also, according to Specialized, improve aerodynamics.
Gore Fusion 2.0 GT AS Jacket $259.99. There’s only one chest pocket, but both it and the front have waterproof zips – they can be firm to use but you will appreciate the very close seal. If you usually find Gore jackets on the slim side, it’s worth noting that this cut is more generous, and thanks to the strategically placed stretch fabric through the shoulders and forearms and shaped sleeves, the whole jacket moves with you.
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Smith Pivlock V2 Sunglasses If you’re out there mashing it three or four (or 10) hours a day, you’ve got enough obstacles to deal with. Fighting for a clear field of vision shouldn’t be one of them.
Sidi Ergo 3 Road Cycling Shoes The Sidi Ergo 3 road cycling shoe ($400) is packed to the gills with technology. These pedal-pushers are outfitted with enough straps and buckles to make Houdini drool all over his penny-farthing.
It’s a dangerous distraction, but mostly it just takes all the speed (and fun) out of it. The Pivlock V2 ($160) is a new, rimless design from Smith that smartly solves this issue while still covering all the prerequisites typical to sport protective eyewear.
Up top, there’s Sidi’s new Techno II buckle, a line-and-dial tightening system that gives you a more accurate fit than a ratchet closure. There’s some Velcro below that to keep the forefoot snug. This keeps your heel securely planted on the carbon sole, which comes with little vents you can open or close.
Knog Boomer USB Twin Pack Lights $79.90. These lights may be pricey but they offer enough to make them worth the extra money. The front light has a lens that focuses the LED to give enough light to ride by. The rear is very bright and has one constant and three flashing modes. They both ran for about 4hr 30min in constant mode. They also have a translucent body that magnifies the light, making these excellent for all-round visibility.
CycleOps PowerTap G3 Power Meter Wheelset Like previous PowerTap models, the G3 unit is built inside a rear hub. But the G3 is thinner and lighter yet has wider flanges, which, in theory, would make any wheels built up with the hub stiffer and more durable. And for the first time, CycleOps is offering not just standalone hubs but also prebuilt wheelsets. I’ve spent two months on the company’s 45mm G3 Carbon Wheelset ($3,200), and even in the incredibly windy and hilly San Francisco Bay Area, I prefer them in most conditions to all of the other wheels I own.
Want to enjoy your riding more, and make your bike last longer? 1 Wipe and lubricate your chain after every ride. 2 Check your chain for excessive wear. 3 Keep your brake cables in proper adjustment. 4 Ensure that your rear derailleur inner limit screw prevents the derailleur from contacting the spokes. 5 Adjust your left shift cable’s tension so that your front derailleur works optimally.
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EXPERIENCE TOUR DE
Tour de France: July 19, 2012 Stage 16 – Circle of Death June 2013 Quest 9
TOURING THE TOUR DE FRANCE
Overall Tour leader Bradley Wiggins, in yellow, rides during the 15th stage of the 2012 Tour de France, Monday, July 16.
ere’s what I like about covering the Tour de France each July: wine tastings and Camembert in the press room, delicate croissants purchased fresh from a village bakery, and lazy cafe mornings spent reading the International Herald Tribune under a Provençal sun. Oh, and the bike race. Let me fill you in on a little secret: if you want to watch the Tour de France, stay home
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and catch it on TV. You’ll see more of the action. But to fully experience the Tour, with its competitive drama and pageantry, mere television images will hardly suffice. You must go in person. It is a wondrous experience, in many ways life-changing. Before my first Tour, I had no idea there was a void in my life that only Camembert could fill. But it’s not simple. Following the Tour demands preparation, logistical savvy and a great deal of flexibility.
The Tour de France is more than 2,000 miles and takes 21 stages to complete, with a prologue and two rest days thrown in. It is contested counterclockwise around the nation in even years, and clockwise in odd. This year’s Tour begins with a prologue in London on July 7, and then hops the English Channel for a clockwise loop of France, via Belgium, before ending in Paris on July 29. The
TOURING THE TOUR DE FRANCE
The yellow, green, red polka dot, and white jerseys worn by cyclists in the Tour de France represent the best competitor in different categories. The standings can change from day to day, especially early in the race.
It is worn by the leader of the general individual time classification. Prize money: € 450,000 for the outright winner (€ 1,000,000 in total). The Yellow Jersey has been sponsored by LCL since 1987.
It is worn by the leader of the points classification. The points can be won on intermediate sprints and at stage finishes. Prize money: € 25,000 for the outright winner (€ 125,000 in total). The Green Jersey has been sponsored by PMU since 1992.
It is worn by the best young rider aged 25 years or less in the general individual time classification. Prize money: € 20,000 for the outright winner (€ 65,000 in total). The White Jersey has been sponsored by Škoda since 2004.
course will head due south along the spine of the Alps. There will be a four-day stretch in Provence, then three decisive days in the Pyrenees before the riders turn north for Paris. How you experience the Tour depends on which of these stages you attend. For a full breakdown of stage lengths, mountain profiles and start and finish cities, go to the Tour’s official website: www.letour.fr.
It is worn by the best climber. Points for best climber classification are awarded at the top of any classified slope. Prize money: € 25,000 for the outright winner (€ 107,000 in total). The Polka Dot Jersey has been sponsored by Carrefour.
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TOURING THE TOUR DE FRANCE
STAGES OF THE 2013 TOUR DE FRANCE
FINISH MONT SAINT-MICHEL
PARIS CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES AVRANCHES FOUGÈRES
10 SAINT-GILDA DES-BOIS
LE GRAND-BORNAND ANNECY SEMNOZ ANNECY
16 GAP 17 EMBRUN
ALBI CASTRES BAGNÈRES-DE BIGORRE SAINT-GIRONS
9 ON TRACK
BASTIA AX 3 DOMAINES
TEAM TIME TRIAL
INDIVIDUAL TIME TRIAL
MOUNTAIN PASSES & HILLS THE STEAPEST OF THE STAGES 2000 m 1500 m 1000 m 500 m 0m
BASTIA > AJACCIO
AJACCIO > CALVI
CASTRES > AX 3 DOMAINES
SAINT-GIRONS > BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE
TOURING THE TOUR DE FRANCE
2010 Tour de France: The Eiffel Tower during the final stage into Paris.
London will be amazing, but the crowds will be ridiculous. The first week of the Tour is traditionally rainy and cold. The stages are flat, notable mainly for the dazzling sprint finishes, which often feature punishing crashes. But the Tour really starts cooking during the second week, when it reaches the Alps, and then again during the third week’s Pyrenees stages. In between the two mountain ranges will be a dash through the pastel beauty of Provence, in which every traveler should revel at least once. The weather of the second and third weeks is warmer, the ambience more pastoral,
and -- for that ultimate Tour experience -- the fans more rabid.The Germans and Dutch, with reputations for intense Tour revelry, will line the roads during the Alpine stages. The French will cheer for one of their own to win on Bastille Day (July 14). Spanish fans, not to be outdone, will turn out in force for the brutal Pyrenean climbs. Theirs is a particular brand of cycling mania that must be seen to be believed.
If your priority is a favorite rider’s autograph, go to the starting line. Each team has its own tour bus, and the riders disembark each
morning just prior to the start (a team’s top rider traditionally gets off the bus last). They stretch, talk to the fans, hop on their bikes, and ride off to sign in. This is the best chance to see the racers standing still. The end of a stage, by contrast, offers few opportunities for autographs. As soon as the riders finish, they are whisked back to the team bus to begin their recovery. If your goal is to watch the action up close, be among the throngs lining the road for a mountain stage. Not only do the spectators close in around the riders, leaving a path no more than three feet wide (close enough to
2000 m 1500 m 1000 m 500 m 0m
GIVORS > MONT VENTOUX
GAP > ALPE-D’HUEZ
BOURG-D’OISANS > LE GRAND-BORNAND
ANNECY > ANNECY SEMNOZ
TOURING THE TOUR DE FRANCE
touch the riders, but don’t - that’s a major faux pas), but the steep terrain means the cyclists are going slowly instead of whizzing past at 30 mph. A trick many French locals employ is to pick a spot on the course, then watch the live feed of the event on television in a cafe. Just before the race passes by, they step outside to see the cyclists in person, then head back inside to watch the finish on TV.
Or bring a sleeping bag. Either way, plan ahead. Hotel rooms are at a premium, particularly close to the mountain stages. Camping outdoors is very popular at the Tour, so it’s not considered an indignity to sleep under the stars. Personally, I like to be prepared for any eventuality. My buddy Austin and I, for instance, often found ourselves working late in the pressroom last year. By the time we
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were done, most hotels were full. So we made do. We slept two nights outdoors, six nights in small roadside hotels, two evenings in five-star luxury, and even spent a night on the floor of a local family’s home.
It is possible to follow the Tour by train. People do it. But to follow the Tour properly, a certain command of one’s own agenda is mandatory. A car means full mobility, making it possible to see the riders at several points during a stage, stop for lunch in a quiet village, return to the race, then retire to your hotel. You can also drive up the winding roads of the Alps and Pyrenees to watch the riveting mountaintop finishes, traditionally the most dramatic battles of the Tour. A train means schedules, a brief glimpse of the riders at the finish, hordes of like-minded travelers battling for a room in the same station hotel, and no access
to the mountains. Of course, having a car means being responsible for navigation. One of my favorite moments last year came when Austin and I went totally astray while trying to find the start one morning. We ended up in a Mediterranean village with cobbled, narrow streets; it looked like it hadn’t changed a whit since Napoleon ran the country. I stepped inside a patisserie to ask directions. The shop was the size of a walk-in closet, but the smell of fresh breads and pastries was heavenly. Not only did I walk out with the proper directions, but also with the most warm, feather-light pain au chocolat I have ever had the privilege of eating. Which brings me to the next point...
And not just any map. Michelin’s France: Tourist and Motoring Atlas shows every street and lane in the nation. Buy this. At 420
spiral-bound pages and 3.1 pounds, it takes up its share of luggage space, but it’s worth its weight in peace of mind. And stay off the highways. As beautiful as France can be, a freeway is a freeway. The Tour follows two-lane country roads, and so should you. You’ll travel past fields of lavender that look like giant purple carpets thrown across the landscape; you’ll ease past acres of golden sunflowers and come upon castles in the middle of nowhere, built before Columbus discovered the New World. Go ahead. Get lost. Half the fun of getting anywhere in France is losing your way on side roads. Having said that, no one likes to stay lost for long. So again - get the map.
Forget, if just for a week or two, every single thing you have ever read about low-carb, low-fat, low-anything dieting. To properly experience the Tour de France, you must not
overlook the fabled culinary offerings of this country. The wines — even the homemade table wines served in bottles without labels — are always splendid.
I know it’s the completion of the Tour, but I find the finale in Paris to be anticlimactic. The crowds are just too big (and accidental, as if they’ve stumbled onto a parade), and the riders are suddenly distant after the relative intimacy of the preceding stages. To experience the Tour, I prefer remote nooks like L’Alpe d’Huez or towns such as Nîmes, rich with history and where the smells of rosemary and roasting lamb fill the air.
I get up at dawn and go for a run along the Seine. The city is quiet and mysterious. Then I stroll through the Musée d’Orsay around
noon before doubling back to the Place de la Concorde to watch the Tour come to an end. It is a moment grand and glorious, with anthems playing and crowds cheering. That’s why I go to Paris. There is romance in that glory, the romance of pushing human limits (as the riders have done so gallantly), that vital daily infusion of joie de vivre, and the hope that each of us might be inspired to push ourselves to the limit, and beyond.
Le Tour de France 2010 riders cycles paswt sunflowers between Revel and Ax-3-Domaines, France
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How to Plan Your Own Bike Tour by Charles Hansen
Choose a Country & Objectives Language If you only speak English, the British isles are your best bet, although some of the accents can make interpreting speech almost as difficult as with a foreign language. Some European countries have a much higher percentage of citizens speaking English than others. High on this list are Holland (the Netherlands) and the Scandinavian countries. Generally, not speaking the native language is more of a problem in the country than in cities, but this is where cycle tourers frequently find themselves. I feel it’s very important to at least learn how to ask
‘Do you speak English?’ in the native language; don’t be an ugly American who just assumes everyone should speak English.
Landscape This figures into two factors - ease of cycling and attractiveness of the landscape. Unless you crave mountainous terrain, Holland is at or near the top of the list in both categories. Most of the other European countries have diverse regions, from mostly flat or rolling farming regions to mountain regions. Although mountains can be very dramatic to cycle through, the terrain means there are few roads - which June 2013 Quest 17
BIKE THROUGH EUROPE
PLANNING TIMELINE: WEEKS BEFORE LEAVING 12-24
Determine how much time & money you have
puts you on the same roads as all the cars and trucks. Although many people find the European landscape generally more attractive than the North American landscape, there are ugly sections of most countries.
Select the country or countries you want to visit
Determine a rough itinerary with start/ finish points
If you’re craving ‘guaranteed’ clear skies and hot sun, the closer to the Mediterranean you are, the happier you’ll be. Although northern Europe is known for ‘less valued’ weather, there can always be surprises.
Trip Planning Resources Travel Books
Purchase airline tickets
Purchase and fully equiped touring bicycle
Plan your detailed route and itinerary
Purchase panners and ride with projected load
Make at least one ride of your intended average daily distance
Reserve any critical lodging (first/last night, major cities)
Determine how you’ll get your bicycle to the airport
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If you’re not certain what country you want to visit, or what regions of that country to focus on, there is nothing like perusing coffee-table travel books with stimulating large-format color photographs. Several times I’ve had the experience of seeing a photo of a spectacular or wondrous place and saying, “I want to be there”, and then planning my route so I do get to go there. I think this is a perfectly fine way to plan a trip. Pick a half-dozen places from pictures in a travel book and then see if you can construct a logical route joining them.
Maps I love maps. I can sit for hours looking at maps of places I don’t know, imagining what the locale looks like and deciding what areas I want to visit. Understanding maps - even non-topographic maps - is not a universal skill or pleasure. You’ll want an overall map of the country you want to visit - the larger scale the better. If there are several brands available, look at each of them to determine which has the most detail, is the clearest to read, or that
is printed in the colors you like best. This map will be used for general itinerary planning and fixing locations mentioned in guidebooks. Since the roads shown on this map will not be the ones you’ll be riding on (or you’re in trouble), find a map where the roads don’t obliterate the whole landscape. The Michelin series is generally the best in this regard. Detail maps for actual route planning (1:200,000 - 1:50,000) may or may not be available in local stores based on the country you’re visiting. If they’re not in stock, ask if they can be ordered. If the store can’t help, try calling the country’s tourism office in the U.S. The detailed maps may be less expensive in the source country, but I feel it is valuable to have them ahead of time. First, looking at and evaluating your potential route will help to keep you interested in and excited about your trip. Second, you want to make sure there are acceptable roads to cycle on your chosen route. I usually get good quality, detailed maps (say Michelin 1:200,000) before I go, because I like to do my actual route planning in advance. I then photocopy them, generally enlarging at the same time for more clarity, with one day’s ride on each sheet. I highlight my route, sometimes using different colors for alternate routes that I want to evaluate in the field. These are then used in my handlebar bag for basic navigation, although I take the original along - safely wrapped - to look over the next day’s ride each night. This protects the expensive original from all the folds necessary to get the appropriate section to display in the handlebar bag. I also look at the original during the day if I can’t get enough information from the copy - the colors do help in deciphering small details. If only I had access to a color photocopier! Bringing the originals adds a good few pounds to my kit, but I consider map browsing terrific entertainment as well as a tour necessity. This can also be used for tour planning - highlight several alternate routes on the photocopies for evaluation without marking up your original. When I toured the Dordogne I marked the suggested itineraries from three different books and combined what I liked best from each into my final route - with my own modifications.
Guides These come in several flavors - guides to budget travel for all of Europe and specific countries, focusing on attractions in major cities, lodging and food; or more general travel guides for a country or a region in that country. In most cases you will not want to bring these guides along with you on the tour for space and weight reasons. You might want to photocopy some pages or make notes from these sources. What I do recommend for bringing with you is the Michelin Green Guide for your chosen country,
BIKE THROUGH EUROPE
or region if you”re touring in France. These are reasonably compact and provide useful information about the region’s geography and history, and info on each town arranged alphabetically. These guides are also helpful in that they have maps for most cities and towns, so you often won”t need a separate city map. The city maps also tie into Michelin”s road maps for city entrance/exit routes, although these may have heavy or moderate traffic. These guides do not provide lodging and dining info, so you’re better off with the budget guides for this type of data. If you’re staying in hostels a lot, you will want the international hostel guide for Europe. The guides most helpful to us are cycling guides for Europe or specific countries. This last category is a good beginning point for your trip, although you have to use them with some caution. The routes shown are those actually taken by the authors, and are not necessarily the best in terms of attractions, roads suited to cycling, or your preferred daily distance. There is much variation in the nature and quality of these guides, as illustrated by the three guides I’ve brought for France. Sometimes a cycling organization for the country will publish their
own guide, such as the British Cyclists Touring Club. However, a similar guide published for any other country will not be so easy to use. My best advice is to use routes in the guides when there is a close match to where you want to go, and create your own route at other times. I feel the best book for European touring in general is Europe by Bike: 18 Tours Geared for Discovery, by Karen and Terry Whitehill, published by the Mountaineers.
Detailed Itinerary Planning When to go - Crowds and Weather When you go on your tour can be impacted by many things. Your job may mean you’re restricted to certain months, or in some jobs you’re forced to take your vacation at a fixed time. You may have favorite times of the year for traveling - spring or autumn. All other things being equal, I usually try to travel right around the summer solstice for maximum daylight hours. Generally, Europeans take their vacations in July and August - specifically August. It’s often said that Paris closes down for the month of August, which might make it an excellent time to be there! Particularly for the popular tourist areas, going at the height of
the season means that you’ll have more company than you want, and that you’ll spend lots of time looking for lodging and seats in restaurants. June and September can also be busier than the rest of the year; it’s best to check with the tourism board of each country regarding the region you’ll be travelling in. Weather is also a strong criteria. Some countries and regions have known rainy seasons, while some countries (England, Ireland) are known for grey skies and rain just about anytime at all. I went to Holland in late April and early May primarily for the tulips, but I was surprised to learn that spring is actually the driest season there - and experience confirmed that. However, European weather - like our own in New England - can be very changeable, and two weeks of near-perfect weather can easily be followed by two weeks of rotten weather. I’ve come to believe that some people are just lucky when it comes to vacation weather and others are unlucky. You also have to be aware of and plan around prevailing winds. These are notable around the North Sea and the Mediterranean (the Mistral), but can occur elsewhere. Check guidebooks for the specific country you plan to be in - if possible, a cycling guide book.
Cycling the Swiss Alps
IRELAND If youíre after challenging terrain and plenty of Guinness to replace the lost calories, then take your pick of the roads between Cork and Galway. The Beara, Iveragh and Dingle peninsulas are particular gems.
‘Irish Cycle Tours’ provides guided trips around most of the south-west
SOUTH DOWNS, ENGLAND Hardcore mountain bikers can indulge themselves by plunging down the steep scarp faces while the rest of us can pootle along the ridge and admire the view.
LA ND S
Join the British Heart Foundation on one of its South Downs randonnees
FRENCH PYRENEES The steep climbs reach more than 2,000 metres. Try heading west to the Basque country and the cols de Soudet and Bagargui.
Laurent Fignon Centre in Gerde in the French high Pyrenees offers a seven day course for €899 per person
PICOS DE EUROPA, SPAIN SWITZERLAND
The Vuelta a Espana occasionally passes this way. Situated on Spainís north coast the weather can be wet and sometimes wild, but the sense of adventure is well worth it.
Head to Santander with Brittany Ferries and then make your way westwards until you hit the mountains
PROVENCE, FRANCE Provence has exceptional weather, beautiful scenery, and empty roads. Head to the Luberon for a proliferation of scenic hilltop villages. Base yourself in Carpentras for access to attractive villages and the Ventoux.
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Thanks to the Tour de France, this has to be one of cyclingís most important pilgrimages. The Cormet de Roseland is picturesque but gruelling. Alpines Etape organises cycling holidays in the French Alps from £495 per person a week
YORKSHIRE DALES, ENGLAND The roads are blissfully quiet. the climbs from valley bottom to moor top are usually a succession of false flats and intensely steep pitches.
For a real challenge, try the Etape du Dales one-day cycle ride every May
Take a trip to Flanders and punish yourself over the cobbled hills. If youíd prefer something a little more scenic, head out from LiËge into the Ardennes to find climbs that last a few miles.
If you want to experience the full pain and glory of Flanders cycling, try the amateur version of the Tour of Flanders
CZECH REPUBLIC SLOVAKIA UKRAINE
ROMANIA CROATIA BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
ITALIAN DOLOMITES SERBIA
BULGARIA KOSOVO MACEDONIA
The Dolomites are to the Italians and the Giro díItalia what the major passes on the western side of the Alps are to the French and the Tour de France. Join Sporting Tours for the Gran Fondo Campagnolo in the southern Dolomitesversion of the Tour of Flanders
PELOPONNESE, GREECE GREECE
You can cycle through an Arcadian idyll and end up at the home of the Olympic Games. Or perhaps you fancy a visit to the Spartans in their home city. Fly to Athens with EasyJet and then either catch the train to Patras or head to Piraeus
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BIKE THROUGH EUROPE
Choosing Tour Objectives and “Must Sees” As mentioned earlier, a perfectly fine way to plan a tour is choosing specific places you want to visit (“must sees”) from a coffee table photographic travel book, and then trying to connect them. Usually I’ll have an idea of a region I want to visit for excellent scenery and good cycling conditions: lack of both excessive climbing and traffic. I may choose several regions that can be connected easily by trains, as I did in England and Scotland. Some folks may want a more ‘relaxing’ vacation experience than I tend to choose, and prefer to thoroughly explore one region instead of attempting to
then selectively adding places from the other levels that seem to fit in smoothly. At this stage you’re not looking for the actual roads you’ll be riding on, since they won’t likely be shown on this scale of map in the first place. However, you should begin to determine your overnight stops, and verify that they’re a days ride from eachother (less necessary if camping). Mark the map’s scale on a piece of paper and use it to measure the rough distance between locations. You want to look for more-or-less straight lines connecting places, and an overall loop shape. Another option is the make the whole trip a single line connecting two major cities with a scenic region in between, or an arc shape, and use a train connection to complete the loop back to where you flew in to. If you find you have to make choices between multiple ‘nonlinear’ places you really want to visit, you have to determine how much out of the way it would be, or perhaps look at the guide books again to help decide if you really need to go there after all.
visit several. I want to see everything - or at least as much of it as I can - and try to visit several areas that interest me. I also believe that my experience will help guide me if I decide to return to the country or region for a longer visit in the future. But part of me suspects that there are so many new places to visit I may not ever get back again, which is all the more reason to sample as much as I can. I enjoy exploring urban areas on bike, and what often works well is to take a train to a city you want to see, cycle to another major city on a pleasant route, and then take a train somewhere else. An excellent example of this would be a three or four day bike ride between Luxembourg City and Koblenz, Germany, largely on bike paths along the scenic Mosel river. It works best to have several levels of areas you want to visit, from the “must sees” to the “if at all possible” to the “not essential, but if it works out”. If you have the Michelin green guide, in the front of it is a map showing attractions at three levels: Worth a journey, Worth a detour and Interesting. In my experience these are a good guide to the relative value of destinations, and might well serve as the basis for planning your route. However, you have to modify these to your individual taste; I have no interest in tramping through 100 rooms of some restored palace. Make photocopies of the overall map for the country, mark your three levels in different colors, and try drawing possible connecting routes. One approach would be to draw the most logical path connecting the “must sees”,
Knowing Your Preferred/Maximum Daily Mileage You’re best off if you’ve had your touring bike for a while before you go and ridden it on a full-day ride with your anticipated load. If you’ve done this several times, or on a weekend mini-tour, you should have a good idea of how far you like to ride each day. There are many factors which can impact this, even for a given rider. Weight of the load, state of conditioning, terrain, weather, attractions along the route,
(over 100 pounds) was only a minor hindrance. If I was touring in the Alps I would have been one sad puppy. Rain and headwinds can make you disspirited and just want to find a dry and warm room for the night in the next town you come to. On the other hand, an unexpected downhill or sudden sunshine can get you psyched to cover more miles in one hour than you’ve gone in the prior 2 or 3. I usually try to plan overnight stops in decent sized towns to give me variety in lodging, dining, and evening activity if I feel up for it. Particularly if you’re traveling in the high season and haven’t made reservations, you should make sure you end up in a town or city with multiple lodging options. I generally know each night’s stopping point before I begin a tour, but will try to pick out a back-up in case I’m tired or hit bad weather and can’t make it to my original destination. One other thing that can change your plans is encountering something unexpectedly wonderful, and deciding you want to spend more time exploring it; or, riding into a charming town and making up your mind on the spot that you’re going to spend the night there. Several times on my Dutch trip I had planned to just spend one night in a city, and then decided that I wanted a whole day there instead. If you’re planning to stay primarily at hostels for budget reasons, their locations could have a large impact in determining your route and where you stay.
Map-reading to Select the Best Cycling Routes After you have a rough idea of your route and where you want to spend your nights, it’s time to start looking at your detailed maps
Dublin Ireland 2011
and to a surprising degree: psychology. Even if you’re not used to touring and have done little training, after a few days you will start getting used to riding all day with a load, and after a week it should feel totally comfortable. The weight of your bike goes hand in hand with the terrain. In Holland, my heavy bike
(1:200,000 to 1:50,000) to select the actual route. Sometimes you’ll discover that there is no acceptable route between two chosen points, and you have to decide between heavy traffic for all or part of the day and changing your planned route. If you’ve selected all of most of your route from published cycling guides, June 2013 Quest 23
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Alps October 2010 June 2013 Quest 25
Many European maps, including the Michelin’s, use a green line along a road to indicate that it’s scenic. In my experience these roads also generally have light, or at the worst moderate, traffic. Use these roads whenever they come even remotely close to connecting where you want to go between. However, there is a major caution associated with the green lines: they will sometimes indicate spectacular, mountainous roads which will make your day longer and more difficult. If the whole region is mountainous there isn’t much you can do, but your best bet is always to look for roads following rivers or railroad tracks (which usually follow rivers in rough country). Most nontopographic European maps use the chevon symbol ( > ) to indicate grades on roads. A single chevron might be less than 8%, two together 9-17%, and three together mean you’ll probably be walking with the bike. Sometimes the route you want will be wonderfully close to a straight line, but other times it will seem like you have to zig or zag at every country crossroads. On these occasions it may be best to look for a possible path that goes out of the way in one direction, then bends back towards your goal, in each case following a straighter line than the zig-zag alternative. This
then your task is easy. To do this process, I recommend making copies of the sections you need from your maps (use 11” x 17” paper if you can), then use highlighters to mark your planned route. Use a different color to indicate possible options or side-trips. Save these maps and use them on your actual tour. One note here: some European countries have special maps (usually 1:50,000) with bike paths and preferred cycling routes marked on them. You’re not likely to find these in the states, and they’re going to be expensive if you try to get a whole set for the area you’re covering. You may want to purchase these selectively upon arrival for sections where you couldn’t find a good route from a smaller-scale map, or just look at them in bookstores to confirm the routes you’ve planned. Very often these will point you to a less-traveled road than the one you selected. However, following these preferred routes will often require much more 26 Quest June 2013
navigation than simply taking a numbered road. While riding through the Black Forest to Strasbourg, Dana and I found ourselves on uncomfortably busy roads. We stopped at a bookstore in a decent-sized town, and I bought a cycling map for the region that soon had us on quieter and far more scenic roads. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on maps, my recommendation is the Michelin 1:200,000 series sold widely in the US. These will not show every back road that may be of interest to you, but they will meet 90% of your needs. Where these - and often even larger scale maps - fail, is in navigating around large cities. Usually the best bet is to look for signs to the next town you want, but be careful when heading toward large cities, since these signs will invariably point to the fastest route for cars - just where you don’t want to be. Always look for a sign pointing to the next small town on your route - ask if you have to.
Adjustable wrench (6-inch)
Pedal wrench - the longer the handle the better (for increased leverage)
Allen wrench - the longer the handle the better (for increased leverage)
Cables (a new bike shouldn’t have any cable breakages, but always good to have a spare)
Lubricant for chain and other parts
Phillips and regular screwdriver
Pliers (this can be small, 6” or less)
Pump and pressure gauge
Spare tube or two
Tube repair kit
Extra bolts, nuts and washers
BIKE THROUGH EUROPE
might especially help if the ‘detour’ is on lightly traveled numbered roads, since following short sections of unmarked roads will invariably mean stopping to look at your map and ask directions all day long.
Putting it all Together Each of these components should be an element in your final itinerary planning. After you put the whole trip together, ‘walk’ through your route to make sure everything works. Make sure you haven’t bitten off too much mileage for a day early in the tour when you aren’t in touring form yet. Have you allowed enough time for attractions that you want to visit in an area? Try to plan in at least one noncycling activity every day: a major museum, a hike, a boat trip, perhaps a leisurely two-hour lunch in a good but economical restaurant. Have you considered elevation changes for each day to ensure you can cover the necessary miles in the allotted daylight?
Lodging Hostels I must admit that whether I use hostels or not depends largely on if I’m traveling alone or not. When you are touring by yourself, there is certainly no less expensive way to go, and the hostel can provide company after a day on the road by yourself. Some European hostels do have assigned chores, which may be a surprise if you’re used to big city hostels with professional staffs. I used hostels for about half the nights I was in Holland and Belgium - basically, whenever there was one where I wanted to be. It was a very mixed experience. The locations varied from enchanting stone and brick ‘castles’, to inner-city contemporary. Some were neat and clean and relaxing,
other poorly-run, crowded and noisy. Perhaps the worst was being in a room with 16 other ‘singles’ of mixed gender, while the best was being the only person in an 8 bed room with a private bath. A number of the hostels were joint operations with budget travel housing, although often the rooms were identical. What was different (besides the cost), was the quality of the food and sometimes how you were treated by the staff. Since the budget travelers, often bus loads staying for the night, or some sort of overnight organizational ‘retreat’, paid more than the hostelers, I frequently felt like a second-class citizen. If you’re going to be traveling in the high season (June-August), you should try to get reservations in hostels (many countries have a system for booking ahead the next night), especially in the most popular cities. There are also international reservation postcards you can buy to make reservations before you leave for Europe. However, this means you need to know in advance when you’re going to be where. You can contact Hostelling International - American Youth Hostels in Bostonat (617) 735-1800; they’re located at 1020 Commonwealth Ave near Boston University.
Hotels This category includes a wide range of lodging choices, again differentiated by the country you’re traveling in. The large popular guides (Let’s Go, Frommers) are very helpful here, but with the proviso that they generally stick to the large and/or ‘touristy’ cities and towns, and may not have listings for every burg you plan to stay in. You can frequently get info on B&B’s and hotels from the tourism boards of your chosen country, most of them are located in NYC. Lower-cost lodging is often combined
Alps October 2010
with a restaurant which has rooms for overnight guests. This combo is particularly helpful when you’re forced to stay in a lightly populated area, since it means you can satisfy your two basic needs under one roof.
Camping About all I’m going to say here is that I’ve never camped on an extended bike tour. One bias I have against it is that you have to carry at least 10 pounds more gear, and even more if you plan to cook. As I said, I like staying in the center of the city so it’s easier to explore. Also, camping will mean you have to get to your destination an hour earlier than you would otherwise, and will also require more time to depart in the morning. If you’re not cooking for yourself, you’ll probably have to ride to town to find a restaurant or eat in a miserable campground snack bar. European campgrounds tend to consist of a single large grassy area, with cars and caravans set up for the week or summer next to you. There may be some with spots reserved for bikers and hikers, but I haven’t researched the matter. However, the authors of my favorite European bike touring guides appear to have camped exclusively, and campground locations are featured in their tour descriptions.
Packing for the Road I’m not going to provide a packing list here (it may be a separate handout), for a number of reasons. Firstly, since I invariably overpack, I’m the last person you should listen to. There are countless lists in any number of publications. Finally, what you bring is very much a personal choice. Perhaps the best way to fine tune this is to pack your projected load and go on a two or three day training tour. Of course, you won’t go through as many sets of underwear and socks as you would on a longer trip, but you should consider anything you don’t use on the short trip as something to reevaluate for the longer tour. Although I won’t provide a list, I will mention a few key items. Bring at least two, and possibly three pairs of cycling shorts. I can’t wear anything besides the tight style of shorts, although other folks do fine in the looser touring style of shorts. Whatever type you wear, wash each day’s pair that evening so it can dry overnight. You will also want a pair of tights, and/or leg warmers. I have tights that look like lycra/spandex but are actually 90% Polypro, which I think handles wind, cold and moisture better. For cool weather top layers I prefer Polypro or some of its relatives. Actually, I find the EMS Bergalene product to be more comfortable and wear better over time. You can buy sneakers specially designed for bike touring, but many people find that some sort of running shoe works just as well. The bike shoe will have a stiffer sole so the pedal doesn’t bother your June 2013 Quest 27
BIKE THROUGH EUROPE
foot, and if you use a running shoe it should not have too wide (flared) a sole. Clipless pedals are another option, but be sure to get the type where the “clip” is recessed into the shoe so you can walk around in them. The last mandatory item is raingear, and Gore-tex is the best choice here. It does cost more, but it’s well worth it. Top and pants are best, but at the very least buy a parka or cycling jacket. There are Gore-tex suits designed specifically for cycling, but these are usually only obtainable through mail order. You may also want to consider some sort of cycling booties to keep your feet dry and warm; if you don’t have these, bring a pair or two of wool socks. You will want casual clothes for the evenings, but don’t even be tempted to bring blue jeans they are far heavier and more bulky than other choices. [Fendersshould also be considered essential equipment for European touring-Sheldon Brown] Your handlebar bag should be ‘tour control central’ and contain all your valuables, including air ticket home. I have never used any sort of money belt, but perhaps I’ve just been lucky. However, I am always aware of my surroundings and don’t stop in places where I don’t feel comfortable. Whenever you leave your bike, put the shoulder strap on the handlebar bag and bring it with you. You may or may not lock your bike depending on the situation. The nature of your trip will be radically changed if you lose your bike, gear and clothing, but not nearly so much as it will if you lose your wallet, keys, passport, camera and airline ticket. The Whitehills mention that it’s particularly important to be vigilant in train stations; don’t leave your valuables - or even your panniers for that matter - out of sight for even a second. Line the pack with a heavy duty garbage bag to keep the contents dry in case of rain. Bring a couple extra on tour, since they will inevitably tear with use and you’ll need to replace them. There are waterproof nylon covers that go over the pannier, and these can be an alternate solution. Don’t bring the empty garbage bags but not pack your gear in them, thinking that you’ll use them if you have to - I speak from sad experience. The best solution for packing is to get about three small stuff sacks for each pannier. You can put like items in these, and their drawstrings will help you compress the load for space and stability. You can also buy different colors so you know what’s in each, and they’re generally easier to deal with than sorting through lots of loosely packed gear. These are available at camping/mountaineering shops. Put the heaviest items on the bottom of the panniers, where it will impact the bike’s handling the least. Put those items you want fast access to in the pannier that goes on the left side of the bike, which is where you should be when you get off the bike.
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Life on the Road Bicycle Touring is like no other way of traveling. You will find that your day is a neverending sequence of ups and downs, highs and lows, as you encounter lovely winding country roads, steep hills, friendly native people, obnoxious truck drivers, driving rain or headwinds and exhiliarating downhills. As I said in the FootNotes article, I would be hardpressed to go on any future vacation without a bicycle. Although, I will admit that there are some kinds of trips and destinations where it is not the best solution. For example, if you planned to spend a vacation hiking in some of the national parks in the southwest, it makes much more sense to rent a car. But when your French Pyrenees
adjustments and repairs. If you’re not familiar with working on a bicycle, there is help available. Check with local adult-education centers and bicycle shops to find out about local classes. When you go on a supported tour for multiple hundred dollars per day any required bike work will be done for you, but when you’re touring on your own you should be self-sufficient. The best place to keep your tools is in a small bag hanging from the back of your seat; you should also keep a rag and small packages of hand cleaner in there. Many of these items can be found in prepackaged tool kits, and these are generally a good place to start. The quality of the tools in these kits is not always the same as if you purchased the components separately, but they will do the job. You will have to add to what comes in the kit, but it’s generally much less expensive than purchasing everything separately. It’s essential that you know how to repair a flat tire, but you should carry extra tubes for when you get a flat in the rain or possibly after dark, or any other occasion when you don’t want to find and patch the puncture. It’s good to give your bike a going-over every morning before riding to make sure everything works OK. It’s especially important to check for loose fittings, such as those holding your racks, fenders and toeclips. If they work their way loose and come off completely, you could have a major problem on your hands; far better to tighten them up when needed. Your chain will probably need lubrication at least once per week, more frequently if it rains.
Training and Preparing for the Trip
goal is to explore diverse regions of a foreign country, I prefer to cycle. Unlike driving in a car or riding in a train, the very act of getting from place to place becomes a major part of your travel experience. Of course you can see the landscape from a car or a train, but on a bicycle you are part of the landscape, and as anyone who has ever cycled knows, there is a world of difference between the two.
Tools and Maintenance Every touring cyclist should have an adequate tool kit and know how to make essential
Especially if you aren’t used to cycling, it is essential that you get used to your new bike and riding with a touring load before you go to Europe. Going on a group ride can be helpful in getting advice on riding posture, style and tips of the road. If this will be your first tour, I recommend taking a two or three day mini-tour as a shakedown before you go to Europe. As mentioned earlier, you should have your daily route highlighted on a copy of the detailed map. This can be folded and put in your handlebar bag for ready reference on the road. Most of the time the highlighted copy will be all you need to navigate, but it will never be as clear as the original and you may need to check the source map from time to time. You may or may not want to keep a journal, or at least track the number of miles you ride each day. As your trip date draws near, check to insure that everything is in order: passport, airline tickets, hostel pass, travelers checks, etc. Make a checklist of everything you want to bring and go over it several times.
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Kayakers in Australia 30â€‚Quest June 2013