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.
We cycled 150kms over from Luchon to Vernajoul (in Foix) for a 2nd chapter of cycling in the Pyrenees. The ride over took in 2 challenging cols, and 2 easier ones. There were plenty of other minor climbs too, so still plenty of challenge.
The first climb was the Col de Ares, a beautiful col which gains height with not much effort as it’s always under 5%. The road the follows Le Ger river valley on quite a drag to the foot of the very challenging Portet de Aspet climb. The climb is about 7% average with steeper sections at about 10.5% over about 4 or so miles. It’s worth stopping near the bottom of the climb to see the fabulous memorial to Fabio Casertalli who crashed and died in the 1995 TdF whilst descending at high speed.
The route descends all the way to St Girons, exhilarating descending around 30kms non stop! The route then follows the steep sided, and slightly chilly gorge of the Arac river all the way to Massat. This is an alternative town situated right in the middle of a multitude of mountain passes. A peaceful rural vibe.
From here our route took us around halfway up the Col de Port, a moderate 7% climb that is on a lovely smooth road. We then headed up the dreaded Mur ‘wall’ de Peguere, which is very steep over the first km and a half at around 18% and then levels(!) to around 10% or so, still extremely tough. The whole climb is around 4.5kms. What is nice though is the reward of descending all the way to our destination, about 20kms, downhill at a good speed!
The final destination was cyclepyrenees.com where the hospitality is second to none. (I’m afraid they’re fully booked for 2020)
The weather looked fine so climbing out of France and into Spain seemed like an ok plan. It was also a Sunday, so apparently there would be no lorries using the mountain pass, the Col Portillon. Even better as it must be terrifying to be passed by slow moving juggernauts on narrow mountain roads.
This col is hemmed in by high valleys either side, and to me, it made it feel as you were never gaining height, with no appreciable views of upward progress, unlike the Col De Peyresourde which we climbed earlier in the week. It was a bit demoralising, the gradient was also tough at times, the steepest part being at nearly 14%, but mostly hovering around 8%. At least it was fairly shaded from the sun so you never got fully roasted. There’s no 360 degree spectacular view at the top, just a view of a short distance back down the valley.
The descent is a great reward though for making the effort to get there, some good switchbacks on a wide road, with huge pine trees making the scenery feel somewhat prehistoric. There are also really spectacular views down the Val D’Arran if you stop halfway down.
The descent finishes at the valley floor in Spain at a small village called Bossost. It’s quite attractive with a tree lined avenue and a big river running alongside the main strip. It’s very touristy, lots of restaurants and bars. We were passed by a big peloton and their leader shouted ‘vamonos’ to us, a friendly bunch!
We took the road down the valley, skirting alongside the big river with its spring melt strewn boulder bed exposed as it was the end of summer. A good fast descent of around 20kms to Saint Beat, and then the last major col to climb the Col de Mente. The climb was very tough as it was very exposed to the sun, my computer read 29.9 degrees! The average gradient is just a shade over 9% and there are quite a few pitches which are steeper. So not easy. We were glad of the fantastic fountain at the top. The restaurant was packed, but our legs would not have taken kindly to a long stop.
The ride from this point was largely downwards, with the minor col de Ares to tackle. It’s a gentle climb of 5%-6% so never too tough, nice and shady too after a long hot slog up the Col de Mente. The last challenge was 20kms mostly alongside the main valley road back to Luchon. It wasn’t unpleasant, not too much traffic, just into a headwind which on a big main road always seems to amplify the difficulty level! Overall a great ride, but tough.
The Peyresoude is a tough climb over the col from the attractive town of Bagneres de Luchon for about 15kms, it’s about 7% average gradient, but most of it is more like 8% -9%, which is what my Garmin computer displayed as I climbed. You gain about 950m in altitude and the views are spectacular.
With about 300m of climbing still to come a set of 4 or 5 switchbacks come into view. They look really steep and quite off putting because of this! But when you actually climb them, they’re not that bad. It’s probably because the switchbacks are ‘squeezed’ into a small portion of the mountain pass at its steepest part , and this makes it look all the more dramatic.
Our ride then descended down The Peyresoude to Genos a lovely little village next to a blue green lake, to the start of our next climb up the Col De Azet. As can be seen in the picture above the views of the mountains 360 degrees were spectacular, the fine weather helped.
We descended three quarters of the way down the Azet, stopping to fill up on water at a very picturesque water trough which a local sheepdog decided to take a bath in! From there we picked up a small level ‘route forestier’ through 3 tiny villages. The road was lined with mature natural and planted forests, with the odd sheep farm or three. This road descended to the main valley road back to start, our last ascent up the Col de Peyresourde.
The final climb of the Peyresourde was fairly painful, about 8%-9% with a flat section quarter of the way up! The relief at getting to the top was great, as by that point I’d certainly had enough of climbing by then. Getting out of the saddle more and more on the last climb was a sign my knees were asking for a bit of respite.
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’ve got just the one Garmin 25 for 85:00 (was 139:00) and the Garmin 20 for 75:00 (was 109:00) on the shelf. Nice little computers! The new Garmin 130 is here too and it can be price matched online too.
I have 3 Ex-display Elite turbo tainers for sale in the shop. They have been assembled and used in the shop very infrequently for people to try out, so they are essentially as new apart from light scuffs on their supporting legs. Pictures of the trainers below
There are 2 superb ex-hire Ebikes for sale, their main plus points are excellent motors and they fit a wide range of heights.
The first bike, pictured below, is a Bristol Bikes S’Park, in a medium large size. Its Unisex so suits both men and women. With disc brakes it stops quickly, and the brake pads last an age compared to rim brakes, plus your not going to wear your wheel rims out braking – really important on a heavy Ebike!
Its on sale for 1150:00. Its been used for 6 weeks and has less than 100 miles on the clock.
The S’Park got an amazing review from Ebiketips – read it here
The second bike, pictured below, is an Adventure road sport ladies Ebike. Its a really lovely bike in an eye catching blue colour. Its biggest plus point is it has a Shimano Steps Ebike motor system, one of the 2 market leading systems (the other is Bosch). Its range is also a big plus, 60 miles on one charge (hills, wind and weight dependent of course!)
Its on sale for 1550, the RRP is 2250 so its a bargain, and its done less than 250 miles. Its a medium but again like the first bike fits a wide range of riders, from short to tall.
Its the time of year again as the summer is not far off ending that our ex hire hybrids are for sale. They are 2018 Ridgeback Speed bikes, fully serviced and ready to go to new homes.
Please call by to try there are a range of sizes.
They are 399.99 new and they are on sale for 299.99, NOW REDUCED TO 250:00 AS AUTUMN APPROACHESwith a free 6 week service and a 1 month guarantee against any part failure, with free labour to repair should a part break.