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Shine A Light

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If you awoke from a 50 year coma there would be quite a few surprises. Many things have changed almost beyond recognition but I’m pretty sure that you would have no trouble recognising a bike!  Almost every aspect of the bike has improved beyond measure but the basics remain the same and there really haven’t been any ‘game changer’ technology developments.  Except, that is, for the lights. 

As a boy my bike’s lights weighed about the same as the bike itself, and cast a beam so feeble that it barely reached to front wheel .  Furthermore, the batteries cost a fortune, lasted about 5 minutes and if you forgot to remove them from the lamp unit they would leak within minutes, ruining the lamp.  The invention of the LED light has completely transformed nocturnal cycling and, depending on your needs, you can now buy something for a few pounds that will run for hundreds of hours and let you be seen, or a monster packing many thousands of lumens and costing about the same as a cheap bike.  These very high intensity lights have brought their own problems with cyclists using lights designed for off-road riding and ‘blinding’ oncoming motorists. 

Whenever I pass a bike shop I always pop in to see if there are any new and exciting gadgets  and on my recent trip to Australia I found a new lighting innovation that I have never seen before – a bicycle brake light!  This fantastic little gizmo clips onto the rear brake cable and casts a bright red light whenever it is operated.  If you have ever cycled into the back of a rider because you hadn’t realised they were slowing down you will immediately see the benefit!

 iLumenox-SS-L329-Nano-Duo-Brake-Light-Bicycle-Brake-LED-Light-Bike-Brake-Rear-Light-Cycling

Je T’Aime

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The best country in the world in which to cycle is France. End of debate. Having just returned from the final reccie for our latest French route (Perpignan to Nice) I am more convinced of this fact than ever.  A ride along the entire French Mediterranean coast sounds as though it has the potential for busy roads and endless resort conurbations but au contraire (I think I may have turned a little bit French!).  This 400 mile journey offers a huge variety of scenery: classic twisting coastal riding, causeways between lagoons full of flamingos, wild Camargue ponies and an occasional glamorous town.  Yes there are some busier stretches but most are mitigated by cycle paths (including superb paths that carry one through the major cities of Toulon, Cannes and Nice).  For a grand finale (oops – a bit more French), and just a few miles from the finish, we cycle through Monaco – something for which the term ‘cool’ was probably invented.  Of course, the thing about cycling in France isn’t just the cycling.  Lazy coffees in roadside cafes, excellent meals in intimate family-run restaurants and the automatic warm welcome that is bestowed on anyone turning up in Lycra all contribute to the ambiance (damn – I’ve got to get back to speaking English) that makes France so special.

Even at this late hour there is time to join the trip, which starts on Saturday April 9th.

Breakdown

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The bicycle is an astonishingly reliable bit of kit; I ride up to 10,000 miles each year and seldom experience anything worse than a puncture. Furthermore, when something does go wrong, it is almost always fixable at the roadside provided you carry a small but well chosen set of bits and bobs. 

There is an old saying that you can fix everything using just gaffer tape and WD40 – basically if it moves and shouldn’t you use gaffer tape and if it doesn’t move but should you use WD40.  In reality it is a bit more complex.  For what it’s worth, here is what I carry when I am touring (or riding sweep on a cycling holiday):

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Perfect

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I’m sometimes asked for advice about what sort of bike to bring on one of our trips. I am always happy to offer an opinion…..though it is usually ignored.  Perhaps my advice is useless (a distinct possibility!!) or perhaps they get to the bike shop and are beguiled by something shiny and feather light.  Of course, half the problem is that MY advice relates to what is needed on the trip and THEIR choice is probably influenced by other factors.  Probably they are selecting a bike that must serve multiple purposes and this will inevitably entail many compromises.

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Go The Distance

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There is nowhere better than the saddle of a bike to do some serious thinking.  On my recent trip down under I got to thinking about the fact that good old fashioned ‘miles’ is a pretty inaccurate way of describing how tough a day’s riding will be.   Some factors, such as headwinds, are very hard to take into account but the most obvious other variable is the amount of climb. Surely, I thought, it would be possible to come up with a fairly simple equation that combines distance ridden with climb to give a unit of measure that allows comparison of rides in all terrains.

Ladies and Gentlemen (drum roll), I give you…… the Terrain Adjusted Mile (or TAM).

To calculate TAMs you start with the distance to be ridden and add (or subtract) miles according to the actual climb against a ‘normal’ value.  This ‘normal’ value, and how you convert any shortfall/excess into miles is bound to be contentious but I reckon the following works for me:

‘Normal’ climb is 50 feet per mile.  The adjustment is 1 mile per 150 feet (either plus or minus).  Here is how a 100 mile ride looks, based on 6 different amounts of climb:

Miles ridden

100

100

100

100

100

100

Feet climbed

1000

2000

3000

4000

5000

6000

Standard climb

4000

4000

4000

4000

4000

4000

Difference

-3000

-2000

-1000

0

1000

2000

Mileage adjustment

-20

-13

-7

0

7

13

             

TAMs

80

87

93

100

107

113

Or, to put it another way:  A 100 mile ride with 3000 feet of climb is the same as a 50 mile ride with 9500 feet of climb. 

I’m going to try this out on the next trip (Camino and Portugal) – I’ll work out each day in TAMs and see how this compares with a subjective ‘how hard was that ride?’ test.

2000 Miles

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So, our exploration of Australia‘s bottom right corner is complete.  It had been my intention to provide an update once we got to Melbourne but, to be quite honest, we were just too busy having a good time!

It has been a challenging trip but this was largely a problem of our own making:  We set ourselves an 80 miles/day target and ended up doing several considerably longer days and we were hauling all our own gear.  Despite this we had the time of our lives!  The coastal route offers a great variety of scenery, ranging from ‘pleasant’ to stunning, the roads are mostly cycle-friendly, Sydney and Melbourne are world-class cities and the Australians are friendly and welcoming.  Oh yes, and the weather is brilliant.  Accommodation along the route was plentiful, available and inexpensive and we ate like kings.  There can be little better than a double lamb shank after a hard day’s ride.

We ended up with 2100 miles on the clock, which was done over 25 riding days.  Our longest day was an eye-watering 117 miles and our shortest was about 60.  Our hottest day reached 40 degrees and the coolest started at about 12.  The task now is to package some (or maybe even all) of the route for a magical Bike Adventures trip in 2017.  See you there.

PS

If you would like to see our tan lines, Chris and I will be leading the Camino and Portugal trips in late April/Early May – it isn’t too late to join us!

Two Out of Three Aint Bad

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We have a great many customers from the antipodes, a number of whom are repeat offenders and have become friends over the years.  Several of these live on our route and have offered us support in various forms.  Last night we arrived in Sydney, one third of the way through our trip and a nice round 1000km from the start, where we are staying in the lovely home of Lynn and Graham for a rest day.  As if this wasn’t enough, we have been lucky enough to spend a rest day on the yacht of another customer,seeing the sights from the waters of the harbour.  
 
When I think of Australia I automatically think of three iconic images: Ayers rock,  Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and today we ticked off two of them.
 
So what of the ride so far?  Fan-bloody-tastic.  The scenery is far more varied (and greener) than I expected, the people are incredibly welcoming, the roads vary between good and outstanding, and the provisions for cyclists are excellent.  My only dilemma in  considering adding a part of the ride to our commercial programme is deciding exactly which part.  
 
A potential concern was the heat but even this is not such an obstacle.  Temperatures are steadily falling as we head south and as the calendar advances.  On the hotter days we start and finish early and we make sure we take plenty of stops in the shade and drink copiously.  
 
We have seen a variety of fauna including kangaroos, bandicoots, large lizards and  kookaburras but sadly no koalas.  It seems that most Australians have never seen one in the wild either!
 
Our next leg, on to Melbourne, starts tomorrow.
 
Ps our ‘leader perma-tans’ are coming along nicely

Down Under

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It is a long way to Australia (only Bike Adventures brings you this sort of insight!).  However, based on our first 3 days on the road, it is well worth the journey.  We are now in Grafton, on the banks of the Cavendish River, having covered an heroic 225 miles.  For the first 150 of these we rode almost entirely on cycle paths with a wide variety of scenery, all stunning. Today we had to make do with a major highway but, even on the highway there is a generous shoulder and cyclists have no need to feel ill at ease.
 
Australians are, naturally, friendly and welcoming but stuggle to hide a look that says ‘Jeez mate, you must be bonkers’ when we tell them where we are heading.  So far we don’t feel bonkers at all!
 
After 3 glorious (but very warm) days we made it into town as the heavens opened and we are sheltering from a tropical downpour and rehydrating 😉
 

The Lunatics Have taken Over The Asylum

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You are probably wondering how it is that Bike Adventures tour leaders rock up at the start of the season all bronzed, toned and fit as fleas.  Well, it isn’t easy!  It is a measure of our dedication that Chris Heywood and I (we are the good looking ones) will shortly be heading down to Brisbane to start a 2000 mile unsupported trip around the Australian Pacific Coast to Adelaide.  If that doesn’t sort out the tan and the leg muscles nothing will.

You may notice that all my blog entries have a song title as the subject.  Sometimes these are obvious and sometimes a little lateral thinking is required.  I’ll give you a clue for this one but don’t expect one every time:  there are three of us going, we are boys, and we are going to have FUN.  Got it yet?  The third member of our ‘Fun Boy Three’ is Neil: part friend, part customer, part carpenter.

We set off on Jan 25th and start riding on the 27th.  Our route is pre-planned but the schedule is flexible; we are aiming at 80 mile days with 3 rest days but it all depends on what happens during our month on the road.  We already have plans to visit friends from the Bike Adventures community in Sydney, Batemans Bay and Melbourne  but if you live on our route please get in touch, we would love to see you.  As well as having a great time and drinking more beer than is probably wise, we will be looking for a suitable route/itinerary for an inaugural Bike Adventures trip to Oz for 2017.  I will file the odd blog entry to let you know how we are doing but if you want the whole day-by-day account (and aren’t easily offended) try my personal blog.

If you can’t wait until 2017 to cycle ‘down under’ why not take a look at our 2016 New Zealand Tour.

 

Little Boxes

By in Cycling challenge, Mountain Biking, Sports & Fitness Comments Off on Little Boxes

As our programme grows we find ourselves visiting more and more new places; in 2016 we will take people cycling in over 20 countries.  Many of these trips start or end at a foreign airport and the topic of how best to transport one’s bike is a contentious one. Hard sided cases provide great protection but:

  1. They are expensive
  2. Considerable dismantling of the bike is required
  3. They are very bulky to haul in the support vehicle during the trip

Regrettably, for reason 3 above, we cannot accept hard cases on most of our trips.

Soft bike bags address most of the above problems but the protection they afford is poor.  The manufacturers response to this now seems to be the fitting of an internal cage, rendering them as bulky and unacceptable as hard cases.

The bike you purchased was almost certainly manufactured in the Far East, stacked 10 high in a container, hauled by truck to a port, loaded onto a ship, unloaded at the other end and trucked to a distributor.  From there it was removed from the container and placed in a warehouse to later be loaded onto another tuck and delivered to your Local Bike Shop.  This was all achieved using nothing more than a cardboard box and a bit of careful packing! 

Not least because I am a notorious ‘tightwad’, I am a big fan of the humble cardboard bike box to protect my pride and joy when travelling.  The key to the whole thing is the ‘careful packing’, which finally brings me to my point.  I am shortly off on a cycling adventure (more in the next blog) and I thought it might be worth sharing with you the process of converting my vulnerable and fragile collection of exotic metals into an airline proof parcel.

Step 1:  Select Your Box

Bike shops are usually delighted to give away boxes – they have loads and would otherwise have to pay for them to be disposed of.  Pop in a couple of weeks before the trip and ask them to put a suitable one aside.  If you are feeling generous slip them fiver, it is a good long-term investment.

The crucial trick is to get the optimum size and the most common mistake is to assume that bigger is better.  The BEST box is one that is JUST big enough to contain the bike when collapsed as described below.  Your bike will fit so snugly that it shouldn’t require any packing materials at all!  If necessary do a trial pack as described, measure the result and take these measurements with you to the shop.

Step 2:  Remove The Sticky Outy Bits 

If you use mudguards remove the front one (the rear should be OK) and remove any racks (you may find there is room for the rack to remain, in which case your box is probably bigger than it needs to be!).  Where possible return the removed bolts and washers to their threaded holes – you won’t lose them and you will know what goes where.

Also remove the pedals and the front wheel.  Take a moment to apply a little grease to the pedal threads – it will make removing them at the end of the trip much easier.

20160110_115601

Take the skewer out of the front wheel and make a bag of the pedals, skewer and any other left-over bits.  Tie this bag to the crossbar.

Remove the saddle/seatpost/saddle bag as one unit.  Re-tighten the seatpost clamp so it doesn’t fall off.

NOTE:  There is absolutely no real reason to let air out of the tyres.  Most airlines now know this but some still ask.  I have found that the simplest thing is to leave them inflated and just lie when asked about it!

Step 3: Pack The Main Bit

As well as the box, your Local Bike Shop may be able to give you the bits of plastic that the manufacturer uses for shipping.  There is a plastic bar that sits in the front fork drop outs and a plastic gizmo that sits on the end of the rear skewer to protect the derailleur.  These are not essential – I never use them and have never had a problem.  

Put the bike in bottom gear (little ring front, bike cog back).  This pulls all the vulnerable bits in close to the frame.  Remove the handlebars and stem as one piece (this preserves the position of the bars on the stem):  undo the bolt/cap on the top of the fork steerer tube, loosen the bolts that clamp the stem to the steerer and pull the stem upwards. Once removed replace the bolt/cap in the top of the steerer.

Turn the forks through 90 degrees.

Suspend the handlebars from the cross bar – this is the only tricky part, see the picture.  Depending on the type of bars and frame size the best position may vary.  Usually this can be done so that the only parts in contact with the frame are those wrapped in handlebar tape but if you are worried wrap a bit of old towel round the frame first.

20160110_115632

Pick the bike up with one hand, holding the handlebars in position with the other.  Hold the box open with a third hand….or get someone to help.

The whole thing should drop in neatly and snugly.

Step 4:  Pack The Leftover Bits

The front wheel should fit down one side – you may need to experiment with whether the handlebar hangs on the left or right and exactly where the crank arms rest to create the optimum space.

There should a nice space somewhere for the saddle/seatpost combo.  You may want to use a little bubblewrap to keep is secure and protect the frame.

Mudguard can usually be placed around the front wheel.

There should be enough space to tuck in the rack (often just sitting on the rear wheel) and, with a bit of creativity, you will probably still find room for your helmet and cycling shoes.

Step 5: Seal

Packing tape does a good job.  Be careful not to tape over the handholds that are usually cut into the sides and end of the box.  If you are a ‘belt and braces’ sort of person add a couple of luggage straps.  A useful by product of doing this is that you can attach a shoulder strap to them giving you a means of hauling everything to check-in.

 

I cannot guarantee that a bike packed this way will emerge unscathed but you have given it the best possible chance.