Tag Archives: mountain bike

A funny little lane

Our cyclo-tour of France took us some way along the banks of the Loire River which I really enjoyed. We like the wide open spaces of rural areas and had plenty of this sort of countryside to ride through.

The beautiful Loire River. Our route followed the river bank as we approached Orléans.

The beautiful Loire River. Our route followed the river bank as we approached Orléans.

When we did come to large cities (unless we particularly needed something), we would side step them if possible. This avoided issues with the traffic and getting lost! Our paper maps were terrific for going from town to town, but they were dismal when it came to navigating through large cities. We bypassed Orléans by riding along the cycling routes which followed the river. The city was beautiful and I have photos here showing it shrouded in mist.

Once we had traversed the city and crossed an amazing bridge to the southern bank of the Loire, the fog had lifted and the day was pleasant if a little cool.

BridgeOrleans

The amazing and beautiful bridge in Orléans where we crossed the Loire.

Working our way through suburbia, we came across the most amazing little lane. It climbed quite steeply up an incline and at the same time, sloped to a central drainway.
Narrowlane1
We came upon it quite unexpectedly and it was negotiated with much merriment. KJs chain had came loose at the bottom, and once the problem was fixed, the slope was too steep to get a loaded mountain bike going uphill. The lane was also too narrow to turn around so he was stuck with walking and pushing the bike instead!

Narrowlane

This was a sensible idea, but it was quite funny at the time! Sometimes things just become memorable and this odd little lane and the circumstances surrounding KJ having to walk it instead of cycling are one of those times 😆 .

It wasn’t too long after this that we were back in our element – riding along the river, enjoying more the of the fantastic scenery for which this area is justifiably famous.

Loire

Follow this link for access to other posts and the itinerary and details of our Tour of France).

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Orléans – eerie in the morning mist

If you have been following my Tour of France posts, you will know that we started riding in Dijon in the east and crossed the French countryside to get to the Loire River. We then turned north and were following along the river crossing it from time to time as we found suitable cycling routes. We were on our first cyclo-tour ever and learning a lot about both France and bicycle touring!

Our bikes were mountain bikes which we had adapted for our trip. We had Old Man Mountain pannier racks which supported 4 pannier bags – two larger ones on the rear and two small ones (which I had made) on the front. The bikes were comfortable and we were travelling well. Our itinerary was just right – not too much riding each day, so that there was time to stop and enjoy the sights as we went along.

The loaded Anthem showing how the bikes were packed.

The loaded Anthem showing how the bikes were packed.

We had got as far as the city of Orléans and had toyed with the idea of going into the city, but eventually we decided against this. We had no need to go into the busy central precinct and did not have any detailed maps, so navigating was going to be a hit-and-miss affair at best. This does not bode well in an unfamiliar city at morning peak hour!

Instead, we decided to cycle through/around the city along the River. It was quite early as we had stayed overnight at a B&B in a small town just to the east of the city and had not taken us long to cover the distance to the outskirts of the city.

Our decision was a good one. The morning was foggy and very still. The river was eerie, shrouded in wisps of fog and very beautiful. We stopped a number of times as we rode this stretch, taking photos and generally enjoying watching the city wake and start a new day.

A beautiful bridge over the Loire River. This is where we crossed.

A beautiful bridge over the Loire River. This is where we crossed.

I now envisage Orléans as a place always shrouded mystically in mist, which is probably unfair as it probably has quite lovely weather most of the time 🙂 .

Bridge1

Follow this link for access to other posts and the itinerary and details of our Tour of France).

Bikes ain’t bikes

It used to be that a bike was a bike was a bike. These vehicles of yesteryear had a basic frame (male and female styles), two wheels, a seat, classic shaped handlebars and a bell. Some bikes had brakes, and some were the backpedal brake variety. As a teenager, I had one of these clunkers. Mine had ‘real’ brakes, and a single, very large chainring on the front. It was hard work to ride, so it often also sported a nice collection of spiderwebs which I was generally happy to leave undisturbed.

I was amazed and impressed (and a bit overwhelmed) when I re-entered the cycling world some years ago. I had been assured that these old bikes were long gone. And my mentors were right! But one thing I was not prepared for was the enormous variety and the complexity of the modern treadly.

steel is real

Such a lot of choice (Photo credit: Flowizm)

Nowadays when one speaks of a bicycle, it is difficult to know what the discussion is about! Mountain bikes have become a class of their own – big chunky tyres, bouncy suspension front and rear and (if you mountain bike in Scotland) a good set of mudguards (fenders). At the other extreme, road racers are slick, lightweight machines with such skinny tyres and superfit owners who count every gram of weight as a potential threat to their performance capability. Then there is something called a hybrid……. 🙂 Not to mention touring bikes which are in another class of their own – panniers, granny gears and multitudinous spaces and places to attach touring gear.

Women now ride bikes that look like the mens bikes of yesteryear and in many places, what used to be a ‘womens’ style is now unisex and it is difficult to know the difference (if there is one).

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere. Sadly, these bikes are no longer available.

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere.

So when you go to purchase a bike, it is important to be very clear in your mind what you intend to do with that bike before you enter the shop.  Otherwise, be prepared to be bamboozled by the (fantastic!) array and complexity of choice that will face you! Even if you know exactly what you want, you may find yourself being tempted by something that is right outside your intended scope!

Dahon Tournado [Ritchey Break-Away frame] w/ S...

A Dahon Tournado fully assembled (Credit: Kaptain Amerika)

Which brings me to the point of this post. It has almost reached the point where a cycling enthusiast has to own more than one bike.

The commuter which can fold down to the size of a large carry bag is a must if one travels to work on a busy train, but it is just not suited to a holiday tour. Likewise, if you enjoy bouncing down the rocky slopes on a mountain bike, the same vehicle is not going to get you anywhere fast on the sealed tarmac.

Giant Anthem - a mountain bike set up for touring.

My Giant Anthem mountain bike poses near Orleans (France). I bought and modified this bike for this tour. Because it had front and rear suspension, I had to get special pannier racks (Old Man Mountain racks). I have since replaced the pannier bags with waterproof ones.

To me it feels rather excessive to own more than one bike, but it is almost becoming a necessity given the degree of customisation and incompatibility between bike styles. What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you agree, or do you feel that your bike is able to comfortably cover all the activities you enjoy?

Cycling on a bomber runway

Almost two years ago to the day, we were cyclo-touring through the UK and were headed towards York. It was mid afternoon as we approached the city from the south-east. About 8 kilometres from our destination, we unexpectedly came across Elvington Airfield.

Elvington was a Halifax bomber base in the second World War, and boasts one of the longest runways (3km) in Britain! It is now a private airfield and hosts many air displays as well as other intriguing sporting and community activities, including land yachting, motor cycle racing and car racing.

There was a (ground based) air display in progress on the day we discovered the airfield. Spitfires and other war machines were beautifully displayed for an appreciative audience. However, as we had arrived fairly late in the day and were rather weary, we decided not to stay too long. Instead, we confined our viewing to a quick look at the displays from a distance.

But one thing we did get to do before we left, was to ride around sections of the main runway which were open to public access. Up the far end, a land yachting regatta was in its final stages (which I found intriguing – I thought people only ‘sailed’ land yachts in places like central Australia where the rivers seldom have water in them!).

The loaded Anthem and Trance near the nose of the plane

The loaded Anthem and Trance near the nose of the plane

It was incredibly windy and this was another reason we did not dally! The wind might have been good for the yachts, but it made cycling challenging work!

On our way back down the long runway, we deviated to have a look at a few older planes that were parked away from the rest – well to one side. It seemed that in all the activity of the main show, they had been forgotten (I am sure this was not the case, but it just seemed like it!).

I am not an expert on planes, but one rather strange looking bomber particularly attracted our attention. So we parked the bikes and went to have a closer look. Lusty Lindy was certainly an imposing lady, but I must confess, I am in awe of the people who flew in her. She seemed formiddable, yet somehow rather fragile (maybe due to her small size?) and I thought it must have taken a lot of courage to trust one’s life to the likes of this machine!

KJ looking at the plane just before the bikes blew over

KJ looking at the plane just before the bikes blew over

The wind got a bit stronger while we were looking at the plane and when the bikes both blew over, we decided it was time to move on. But not before we got some photos to remember the day we rode up and down a runway and parked the bikes under the wings of a Victor bomber plane!

Lusty Lindy's tail structure

Lusty Lindy’s tail structure

As a post script to this story, we later emailed our route for the day back to friends at home (with no explanatory details!) and they were astounded and somewhat concerned when they loaded the files onto Google Earth to find that we had been cycling on a runway!

I have checked the details for Lusty Lindy. she is a Handley Page Victor K2 XL231 – these bombers succeeded the Halifaxes in the Royal Airforce. Victors were used until 1993 and Lusty Lindy is one of only a handful left. She is now permanently grounded at Elvington. (All these details and more excellent photos can be found on the SmugMug website).

(Follow this link for details on the overall UK tour route).

Scottish Highlands tour (Part 4 of 4): Blair Atholl

This is the final post in a series of 4 which cover our Highland cycling tour in Scotland. This stretch takes us from Kinloch Rannoch back to Pitlochry, with a detour to Blair Atholl. You can read the first, second and third installment of this series if you have not already done so.

Following along the river – glimpses of the water through the trees

After our epic ride the day before, we had stayed overnight at a delightful B&B near Kinloch Rannoch. The final day of our tour started again in the rain. Then the clouds started to clear and by mid afternoon, the threatening skies were gone and the day was sunny and quite warm.

We spent a large part of the morning riding along the northern shores of Dunalastair Reservoir and Loch Tummel. The riding was fairly easy as we were tracking along edge of the water, and the road was relatively flat.

Loch Tummel in the sunshine

The old Tummel bridge (a new bridge now crosses the river parallel to the old one)

The views of the water were lovely, especially when the weather cleared up and the light was better. At the town of Dunalastair, the Reservoir narrows to a weir, then flows as a river for a while before widening again into Loch Tummel to the east.

A lovely old bridge spans the river near this point. It is no longer in use as it has been replaced, but made a good spot to get some photos.

The very old Tummel bridge frames a lovely view of the river before it widens into Loch Tummel

We got back to the main turnoff to Pitlochry about lunch time, but instead of turning south, we decided to go the other way, through Killiecrankie and on to to Blair Atholl. The plan was to visit Blair Castle and the beautiful walled garden in the castle grounds.

Blair Castle

Our ride out to the Castle was into a head wind, but since it was a nice afternoon, this was a plus rather than a minus. The breeze was lovely and was also good in that it thoroughly dried us, the bikes and all our gear as we rode along. The other good thing was that having a headwind as we went north, we got a lovely tail wind all the way back to Pitlochry!

Blair Castle and surrounds provided a lot of wonderful photo opportunities, but we decided to focus our attention specifically on the incredible Hercules Garden. This is a 9 acre (~4 hectare) walled garden in the Blair Castle estate. There is a large statue of Hercules overlooking the garden – hence the name. The garden has been restored to it’s former glory and is now quite magnificent, especially in summer and it is immaculately maintained.

The walled garden at the Castle

There are a number of special features in the garden. The most obvious of these is the 100 (or so) fruit trees on either side of the lake. A Chinese bridge is located at one end of the lakes/ponds. Other features include a folly and some thatched duck huts. A number of statues are placed around the garden as well. There is an air of peace and tranquility which invites the visitor to pause, reflect and relax.

The other end of the lake in the walled garden

We returned to Pitlochry to find we were a mere 2km short of 10 000km tally on our cycle tacho. This count included all the kilometres we had ridden since starting to ride some 18 months before! We could not just ignore this milestone, but also could not celebrate it until we reached the magic number! So we rode up and down the main street of Pitlochry until 10 000 registered on the clock 🙂

Ten thousand kilometres… well nearly!

We celebrated our achievement by going to a “Scottish night” put on by the locals for charity. It was an enormous amount of fun and a great way to conclude our Highland tour.

(Follow this link for details on the overall UK tour route).

Tracks, but no trains

There is no doubt that Tasmania (Australia) is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The natural beauty of the rainforests on the western coast has to be seen to be believed.

Exquisite scenery

But beware! Tasmanians think nothing of their wet weather and when they casually invite you to explore their ‘railtrails’ on the western side of the state, you had better make sure you are well prepared!

Most importantly, you will need a good camera to capture the magical waterfalls, creeks and the magnificent rainforest vegetation. But, you should also take a raincoat, even if the sun is out when you leave (the weather is notoriously changeable, and it gets wet, very wet, very quickly!).

The wise railtrail cyclist will realise that they will most likely also get somewhat grubby! If you are really keen, and love splashing through the mud, then you will be in for the ride of your life and will emerge in dire need of a hot shower. It will also be weeks before you get all the grit out of the moving parts of your bike, no matter how well or how often you wash it! If you are not an avid mud lover, you may even be tempted to consider porting along some gumboots for the really wet bits (just kidding!) 🙂

Remains of rail sleepers left in the forest to decay

Old wooden rail bridge, now overgrown with mosses and ferns

In the summer of 2010 we tackled the railtrail near Zeehan. The trains have long since ceased running but evidence of their presence can still be found in some old wooden bridges and half buried sleepers.

I am a bit sentimental about disused railways and never get tired of marvelling at and exploring the relics of bridges and other infrastructure that is now sadly abandoned and left to rot. It is difficult to imagine those heavy old engines and their loads steaming over the fragile looking wooden bridges and stone culverts with their shrill whistle echoing through the valleys.

Being a bit passionate about plants too, I found the forest truly awe-inspiring. It is one of those places that is spectacular regardless of the weather. We rode through rain, mist and smatterings of sunshine and the vegetation was different and lovely in each one.

A few sections on the trail posed some interesting challenges. I must confess that I was not overly impressed at the creek crossing which had to be negotiated on foot, given the size of the boulders in the river bed.

There was no mention of rocky beds and creek crossings in the guide book!

But my fellow cyclists were highly entertained by my discomfort and delightfully caught it on camera! Afterwards, when I was no longer wet, it did get me laughing too! The only consolation was that it had not been raining for long, so I only had to negotiate shallow water. It would have been a different story if the creek was full!

Railway cutting, now only accessible to bush walkers and cyclists

We rode on two sections of the trail. One part is only open to cyclists and bush walkers. The condition of the track was excellent in this part and gave you the opportunity to look around as you were riding.

Unfortunately the other part, which is open to motorised transport, was very degraded with big muddy potholes and slippery sections. Here it was necessary to watch the road carefully all the way to avoid ending up in the mud. If I did the ride again, I would not bother with this section, as I really did not enjoy it.

But overall, it was a great experience and a wonderful way to experience the incredible natural beauty of Tasmania.

Getting to St Magnance

After stopping overnight at Pouilly-en-Auxios, we continued northwards along the same canal that we had followed the day before.

The weather was balmy, there was not a breath of wind and the scenery nothing short of spectacular. All along the waterway, buildings and bushland were mirrored in absolute perfection, disturbed only when a boat quietly moved past.

Canal harbour

Mirror image reflections

There were a number of people using the canal trail, but nowhere near as many as the day before. We were quite surprised at the popularity of the route for joggers, cyclists, walkers and serious hikers. Everyone was very friendly and cheery greetings were exchanged with each meeting.

I was intrigued by the lock-keeper’s cottages – small houses located at each lock, now mostly owned by people who worked elsewhere, not on the canal. Most were impeccably cared for and the gardens were just lovely. I was determined to get a photo of at least one of these beautiful buildings as we rode by, but this was not as easy as I had hoped. There was inevitably something in the way, or the setting was just not quite right.  But finally, I was lucky enough to find one that had a perfect reflection in the water and was just what I had been looking for.

Lock-keeper’s cottage

We left the canal trail at Villeneuve and rode on the roads to Semur-en-Auxios, where we stopped for lunch. The magnificent weather suddenly changed in the afternoon and became grey, chilly and overcast. It also coincided with a change in topography, as we exchanged easy, relatively flat riding with some rather more challenging hills.

Our choice of route had been largely non-negotiable, as we were headed west for our next stop in St Magnance. Whereas this is an easy place to get to in a motor vehicle, bikes are illegal on the very busy highways in France so those routes were out. The alternative was a legal, but very busy main road, which did not sound very attractive or enjoyable. So the hilly route was the way to go. But the extra effort kept us warm and we were very delighted at the way the trail bikes dealt easily with the uphills (the downs were also no problem :-)).

Our stop for the night was a really lovely B&B in St Magnance. Our delightful hosts treated us to an awesome dinner in front of an open fire. The attention to detail in this establishment was amazing and this was extended to the garden, which was impeccably tended and very beautiful. Our hosts took the time to chat with us for quite some time, explaining a lot of the French culture and teaching us useful new words and phrases to use as we went on through our holiday.

Beautiful garden

Lovely house in a pretty setting

My spoken French was full of mistakes :-), but I realised after speaking with our hosts at our first two B&Bs, that what I knew was sufficient to have a reasonably sensible conversation with the locals. The French people love to hear foreigners attempting to speak their language and will go to a lot of trouble to speak slowly and repeat themselves if necessary, so that you can follow their conversation.

At this stage of our tour, I stopped worrying so much about getting the verbs and sentence structure right and started to enjoy using the language spontaneously instead. It was wonderful.

(Follow this link for the itinerary and details for our Tour of France)