Ian chanced on us as he had to return from abroad to Bath for family reasons and needed work done on a steel Genesis mountain bike, which he’d bought to ride for practical reasons of getting about and as a bit of escapism from daily pressures. I think he asked me for ideas on touring on an MTB and I vaguely said check out bikepacking bags on the web, not sure what his idea for a tour really was, I thought he wanted to go to Cheddar for the day or something!
Well he certainly got into bike packing and the escapism, check out his story below.
“A big shout out to Tom and Adam, the guys at Green Park Bike Station for their support with my trips in the Southwest and Wales. The guys gave me a great new bottom bracket (Tom – a UK made Hope unit), new chain and gearset which set me up for my first trip: Bath to Portishead, then Strawberry Line to Bridgwater; a side trip to Glastonbury, Priddy and Chedder, then down to Sampson Peverell. Another side trip to Exeter, then NCR 3 over Exmoor to Barnstaple.
My second route took me from Bath to Fishguard. Day 1: Bath to Abergavenny, Day 2: Abergavenny to Carmarthen; Day 3: Carmarthen to Whitesands Bay near St David’s, then after a rest day a quick hop over to Fishguard.”
While the steel frame of my Genesis mountain bike keeps the ride pretty comfortable, the mountain bike set-up is obviously less than perfect for such long-distance touring, so most recently the guys at Green Park Bike Station have been setting me up with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires”
What an epic trio, three should be am award for these efforts! My suggestion to make riding even more pleasant would be 29″ wheels, more comfort and speed. The tyres we’ve upgraded Ian’s bike with will reduce the sluggish feel a good deal however. A mountain bike is a good idea for these rides, if you like taking quieter national cycle network routes they can often be gravel and / or not very good surfaces. If you know you’re only going to stick to roads a road / gravel bike is ideal and fast.
Well, who would have thought that two areas of the Pyrenees could offer such distinctly different cycling. Luckily we had the good fortune to stay in two different regions of the Pyrenees in October, starting off our trip in the Hautes Pyrenees and then finishing the second week in the Ariege further east.
The Hautes Pyrenees have the more ‘famous’ Tour de France climbs located there. Names like the Peyresourde and Tourmalet. The second base, the Ariege has fewer famous climbs, but massively more choices of lanes, medium sized cols and generally more places to ride!
My general impression was that the Hautes Pyreenes, certainly around the town of Luchon where we stayed, had lots of tough climbs, some famous, some less so, but all have featured in the Tour at some point. Sure, you could cycle down the main valley road and do a short detour up the gentle Col de Ares at 5%, but it would not be a very exciting ride – cycling away from the mountains and then slogging back to base camp up the main road. So far less to choose from than the Ariege.
However, we did some pretty stunning rides from Luchon. No warm up mind you, straight off uphill almost immediately every time, which felt sore! On our first day we cycled up the Peyresourde down to the valley on the other side, with a beautiful lake. Then up the Col D’Azet from the valley with stunning views at the top. This route had very open views of all the surrounding mountains as it is not overly forested, which is nice as you get a sense of the geography that surrounds you. The ride back conveniently skirted down and round the valley back to the Peyresourde, thereby missing a climb which was a relief. The gradients were generally 8%-9%, so quite tough. The changes in gradient were fairly gradual though so you could get into a rhythm, no lumps and bumps here.
On day 2 we tackled the Port de Bales. Funnily enough it was featured in a big write up in Cyclist magazines October issue which I bought in the airport! It made it sound tough, which it was. This road was quite different. Much wilder, less (read almost zero) traffic compared to the Peyresoude. It was also tougher to ride as the gradient changes were quite frequent meaning it was hard to keep a steady pace. But it did feel amazing being in the wilds of the Pyrenees, you’re generally climbing through pine forests, with occasional glimpse down the steep sided road to the river valley below.
It’s only in the last 3kms that the forest gives way to grassy moors and you get the idea that you are on a big expanse of mountain! The climb is around 20 or so Kms so it’s long, and the gradient is tough again around 8%-9%.
On day 3 we thought it would be a laugh to ride into Spain and back. We were recommended to go that particular day by our hosts at the super freerangechalet, seeing as there would be no lorry traffic into Spain on the Sunday. The ride goes straight up out of Luchon, twisting back and forth on some gradual hairpins, nothing too dramatic. It is fairly steep though so quite a tough climb at around 9%. The view at the top only looks back down the valley to France, you have to descend about a kilometre to see down the stunning Val D’Arran with its steep sided valley that seems to go on a long way into the haze of the midday sun. The town at the bottom of the Col du Portillon is a typical Spanish holiday town, restaurants and bars lining the main road. We headed on down the valley for about 20 kms virtually all slightly downhill which was nice. Here we headed up the Col de Mente, which was super tough. Mainly because it seems to be very exposed to the midday sun beating down on its slopes! It’s also quite long and fairly steep.
On day 4 we decided to cycle, despite the gloomy and threatening weather. It was probably a mistake, should’ve had the day off. We cycled up to the Hospice de France and halfway up Superbagneres, to the Devils waterfall. Very impressive too. But we got soaked and it was pretty horrid, at altitude it get colder that much quicker. Hospice de France was super tough, but the half climb of superbagneres was fairly easy, just a challenge dodging the wind blown chestnuts on the road on the way downhill.
On day 5 we went for a great walk up the valley side, opposite Superbagneres, there were good views of the ski runs and the town spread out in the valley below. The following day we set off for our second base camp in Foix, 150kms distant, and with 2 cols to climb. The route to Foix took us downhill in the chilly 10 degree morning air, for a good 20kms, so this wasn’t that great a start. However the Col d’Ares was a very pleasant 5% and we gained a fair bit of height, annoyingly only to go downhill again to the start of the Col named Portet D’Aspet. It’s quite a tough climb at 8%-9%, and also in a narrow river valley with forests either side. Nice and cooling in the summer, but in the shaded parts and touch chilly! Never mind, the descent which is almost 30kms (!!) to St Girons was bathed in lovely warming sunshine, and the upper slopes on that side of the col were not forested or in such a narrow steep valley. From St Girons we followed a very nice road for a good 40km to Massat, quite a narrow and wooded river valley, but much warmer now it was afternoon. The gradient was easy, never rising above 3% or 4%, so we made good progress. We’ve been to Massat a few times, so for once we’re cycling in familiar territory. We hit the lower slopes of the Col de Port, really easy at 7% and after 10kms turned up the Mur de Peguere. This was pretty murderous, the first km was 17%-20%, so hard, we crawled up. The climb eased as you progressed to 8%-9% so still hard. It was over fairly quick being only 5kms or so in length. The best thing now was we had zero uphill left and 30kms all the way downhill at 7%-8% to Foix. A really fast exhilarating descent! We were so glad to have the warmest of welcomes (read nice food!!) at the super cyclepyrenees.
In Foix we did 3 days of riding, and it was a lot easier than the riding we did in Luchon. Perhaps that was a subconscious decision, as there are some big climbs in this area of the Ariege. I’d describe the rides here as scenery spotting rides, as we headed for some famous local landmarks. On day one we headed down the quieter road towards Andorra, our first climb was Montolieu. This is not somewhere we have been before. It’s a pretty little village with a very distinctive tower perching above the narrow rustic streets. Moss grows in the middle of the single track road here, it really is out of the way. We then headed to Les Cabannes, which is the town at the bottom of the climb to the famous Plateaux de Beille cross country ski resort. Here we headed up the other side of the valley to the road at the top known as the Route des Corniches. It’s a great climb of 7% with some nice switchbacks. We didn’t get to see the more spectacular bits of the Route des Corniches, but headed back to base on the busier, but still pleasant main road. The drivers in France have an all round courtesy and respect to cyclists, as our hosts explained, it’s more to do with insurance laws than being in the home nation of the Tour de France, where drivers are presumed at fault in any incident with a cycle.
The next ride we did was to a Col well known to us called Montsegur, it’s featured in the TdF quite recently. We’ve cycled it 3 times before, but always from Belesta, which is the longer and tougher side with the hairpin bends. This time we cycled up it from the other direction, which is way easier. Unfortunately coming down the other side I had a spectacular tubeless failure and spent an hour trying to fix it, until much to the disgust of my ride partner, put an inner tube in. I called in at the amazingly well stocked bikeshop in Laroque-d’Olmes
The following ride was a bit gruelling, it seemed that despite feeling fine, perhaps we weren’t and nor was my Garmin as it only recorded half the ride. It was quite a long ride, around 50 miles, round a lake on battered old roads to the cave at Mas D’Azil, which the main road goes through and is so spectacular. Especially on a bright sunny day where you go from bright blinding sunlight to the coolness and calm of the cave.
Next we headed up a climb on backroads to the D117 to Bastide De Serou, where we headed up the climb, new to us, towards Sentenac de Serou and ultimately finishing just below the Col de Peguere. Whilst it was a great climb, with lush pine forests and views and topping out at almost 1300m, we felt shattered from all the cycling and didn’t really enjoy it. The descent to Foix is a highlight, 16 miles of freewheeling, but our numbed brains hardly processed the exhilaration, and all the will we could muster was to think about cornering and braking safely rather than enjoying it. We still managed to walk into Foix after to enjoy the atmosphere of the medieval centre, with the imposing Chateaux.
The final day of our holiday was a trip to see the famous underground river at Laboiuche. It’s near to where we were staying so we had a pleasant walk down the voie vert, the old rail line, to the attraction. You descend into the caves and jump onto a big aluminium boat with a guide who shunts the boat along, talking in fast French, mostly unintelligible (!). It’s s really spectacular experience however, so a nice way to finish our stay.
Convert your own beloved bike with a new ‘Swytch’ conversion kit. Swytch have designed this from scratch and have miniaturized the front hub motor – its about half the size and weight of a regular electric motor hub.
So when you remove the battery pack from the handlebars,your bike is ‘Swytched’ back to riding and feeling like your regular bike!
The kit includes a front wheel and handlebar battery pack with the controls in. It even has a light! This normally costs £550, but I can match the pre-order price Swytch has them for which is £350, and best of all I have them in stock!(You have to wait a number of weeks if you order from Swytch)
I have been using an Elite turbo trainer for 18 months now, and it really is a great way to keep cycling in the colder weather,
You can follow a training plan to get faster, or fitter or stronger or all 3! In the summer its also really useful if you just want a brief 30 minute spin if you’ve had a busy day.
Turbo training has become massively less boring due to the emergence of lots of training apps, like Trainerroad, Sufferfest or Zwift. They make training really fun, or rather they make pedalling nowhere have an actual purpose!
I have 3 Elite turbo trainers set up in the shop, with an ipad and you can try the different training apps. The trainer below is winning all the praise, its called the DIreto. It’s said to be one of the best trainers for its pricepoint, beating some of those around the £1000. Its currently £675.00
The Volano at £350.00 is a budget direct drive trainer, again road.cc did a review of the model, without the ‘smart’ sensor, but they really liked it. The one in the shop comes with a smart sensor that connects to your ipad, tablet or PC.
A whole new range of DT Swiss road wheels have come in for 2018, and one of the new features is that they are all tubeless tyre compatible, they work fine with normal inner tubes too. If you’ve ever had lots of punctures, or want a more supple and comfy ride then tubeless is the answer!
The special offer is that I will give you a free set of tyres (normal or tubeless) with any pair of DT Swiss wheels purchased.
Wheel highlights include the 35mm deep carbon PRC1400 wheels, pictured below. They are light enough for climbs unlike some deeper carbon rims that can feel deadened on climbs, but uniquely also offer an aero advantage.
The hub is nicely cut away to reduce weight. The rounded rim is more aero than a sharp or blunt profile, and the wide 25mm rim perfectly hugs 25mm tyres adding to its aero profile.
Another highlight is the OXIC ceramic wheelset. This is an aluminium rim that has been dipped in electrolyte and a high charge plasma current passed through it creating a ceramic coating on the rim. The advantages are a rim that never wears and massively superior braking. The stealthy all black looks cool too, the braking surface remains black forever. They also weigh a featherweight 1450g
The hubs on the PR1600 rim and disc brake versions are a real work of art. The hub internals are based on the DT 350s hub which has their legendary star ratchet freehub which is virtually maintenance free.
I am lucky to have ebiketips next door and I was really impressed with an electric bike they were testing. Turned out it was a bike they built using a motor and battery available as a kit to convert your own bike to electric. So impressed that I got one for the shop.
The motor is £400, now on summer sale at £350, and simply replaces your existing cranks. A motor at the cranks places the weight low down and has far less effect on bike handling than a wheel motor. Plus the crank motor works better on hills than a wheel motor.
The battery costs from £200 – £500 depending on how much capacity you need, but the £200 battery on this bike should take you 20 hilly miles. Its neatly bolted to the bottle cage bolts.
The bike used is a Saracen Studio 74 with disc brakes, I’d really recommend this bike but of course we can convert your own.
Ebiketips did a little write up of installing the Panda M-Drive motor, worth a read if you want to know more about the technical side of installing it. We can supply a motor or supply and fit the motor for an extra £90 labour.
Have just had the first electric bike delivered to the shop, what an amazing machine to ride! So effortless yet you still have to put a little pedaling input in to make it go which means you’ll still get the fitness benefits from an electric bike – so its certainly not a moped!
The bike is an Adventure Road Sport from Madison the biggest bike company in the UK (‘ladies’ they call it but lets say its Unisex as the step through frame makes it easy to get on and off for all ages and genders!!)
Its got a motor in the middle of the bike frame, not in the wheels, which means you get better power delivery and it’ll haul you smoothly uphill – wheel motors tend to struggle on hills. The battery is also neatly tucked into the frame, not taking up space on a rear rack or adding to weight at the rear which means handling is better as the weight is more central.
The middle of the frame motor also means all the important bits are in a self contained unit – unlike wheel motors with wires all over the bike. So much much less to go wrong. And the motor on the bike is a Shimano STEPS motor backed up by the UK distributor Madison’s 48hr EXPRESS WARRANTY should anything go wrong.
Powerful hydraulic brakes that never need to be adjusted, much like a motor vehicles only when in for a yearly service. Plus kickstand to make it easy to park anywhere.
Bike computer tells you how far you have to cycle on the current battery power you have. Very small switch to power up or down doesn’t get in the way of you hand, and the bars have nice gel grips for comfot, as well as a Selle Royale gel saddle which is very comfy!
Neat cabling goes into the frame and is kept out of your way, also nice stealthy black mudguards look cool. A rack can be mounted on the fixing points on the frame should you need one.
I’ve been talking to and hearing of a few customers who’ve struggled on various rides, be it a leisure ride, sportive or race. By struggled I mean they have noticed that their ‘usual’ speed over distance is not as good as it could be or they feel pretty awful and lack any drive. Quite frequently when I ask how much they’ve eaten they answer invariably ‘one bar / gel in the hour or nothing at all!’ Maybe the excitement of the event makes them forget to fuel properly, or perhaps they forgot to prepare well beforehand. Anyway it seems to me that a lot of people are seriously under eating (or fuelling) on rides.
I came across Secret Training’s ‘Stealth’ range of nutrition products at the Madison trade show year before last. The founder Tim Lawson founded Science in Sport years before, had a short break and then wanted to produce nutrition products with a bit more of an edge. He was at the show in person and convinced me of many benefits of his new Stealth nutrition range.
I’ve been using them for over 18 months and have found using them really great. The gels taste really natural and not overly sweet, probably because they use rice starch and natural flavours which are a little less sweet than artificial ones, the rice starch is slightly slower to release energy as well so the energy effect can last longer. One favourite of mine is the Berry Caffeine energy gel, it has natural elderberry in it that apparently increases bloodflow to muscles, the caffeine also really dulls any pain. I’ve set some personal best records on hills near the end of long rides by downing one of these a couple of minutes before the climb!
The hydration powder is in a sachet (and makes it easy to take spares on a ride) and as Tim explained this means they don’t have any nasty fizzing or binding agents. The taste of all the powders is quite slight, not overly strong, which is much better as it makes you sip rather than gulp. Also the powder contains a small quantity of carbohydrate which is said to help the absorption of liquid into your body.
Here’s the offer
So as a ‘sweetner’ to encourage all riders to fuel properly:
boxes of 14 energy gels for 15.00 (RRP 17.50) Isotonic varieties (1.07 each)
19.99 (RRP 24.50) for the Caffine and ‘Real Fruit’ varieties (1.43 each)
14.00 (RRP 16.00) for a box of 20 sachets of the super hydration powder. (0.70p each)
That’s a good saving on the RRP, no excuse not to fuel or hydrate properly!
A couple of new mountain bikes have arrived, great for riding our local trails with their ever so slightly aggressive geometry which gives you stability downhill. Have a good look at the Saracen Mantra Trail and Mantra, if you’re tempted why not come in to give one a spin.
Beffy dropouts mean the Mantra Trail can take a hammering downhill, the clutch mech will stop the chain slapping and clanging against the frame. A complete Shimano groupset means the bike’s even better value.
The short stem longish top tube is thoroughly modern, the steepish 67 degree headangle makes it confident downhill, 120mm travel fork is plenty enough for UK trail riding.
Crudcatcher mounts on the downtube and a hole in the seattube above the bottom bracket means a dropper post can be installed with the cabling tidily running inside the frame!
The Mantra gets consistently good reviews, for example this one is great