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Showing posts from September, 2016

The Coasts and Cols Tour - Final Numbers and Photo Essay

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Numbers aren't everything; but when combined with pictures, and context, they tell a story.

The 'Coasts and Cols' Tour was the hardest multi-day ride I have ever ridden. It was the biggest riding 'set' that I have ever completed. It was an achievement; an experience, and a challenge. It was also, crucially, a beautiful and enjoyable journey.

Here are some of the key metrics from the trip; accompanied by my favourite photo from each of the twelve days away from home.

94 hrs 20 mins    - Total Riding Time 1933 kilometres  - Total Distance Ridden 28,629 metres     - Total Elevation Climbed
Every kilometre and every metre climbed holds a little story. Below is a montage of memories.



Photo Essay
Day 0 - 'Rolling Out' The trip begins. I sit on the deck of the ferry, sipping a cold beer. We head out into the English Channel - bound for Spain, the mountains, and the unknown.



Day 1 - 'First Pedal Strokes' Ferry delayed by a Force 10 storm; I roll out of Sa…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 12 - 'The Dawn Finale'

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My alarm woke me at 5am. Having scoffed most of my remaining food last night, I munched down a stray banana, and stuffed my sleeping bag away for the last time this trip.

Rain was pattering the tent lightly, as I packed it up, and then rolled out of camp. 40 kilometres to cover; to reach St. Malo, the ferry home, and a hot shower.

The rain had abated by the time I reached Dinan, and the last 25 kilometres up the river were on deserted roads, in the gradually building light.

I rolled to a stop at the top of the hill above St. Malo. Looking out over the English Channel, I reflected on the trip; I'd come to my final coast of the 'Coasts and Cols' tour...

What an incredible journey it's been. From the mountains and plains of northern Spain; to the challenging weather and climbs of the Pyrenees. From a rest day with good friends in The Corbieres; followed by a northbound few days of mile clocking, through Bordeaux, Vendée, The Loire Valley and then Bretagne. Changing lands…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 11 - 'The Northwards Charge'

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Bike touring never ceases to amaze me. You can see so much, and travel so far; all under your own steam (or rather, a constant supply of pastries).

Today was all about covering as much ground as possible; in order to get as close to St. Malo as I could, before tomorrow morning's ferry home.

From my finish near to Les Sables d'Olonne last night though, there was still a good 180 miles to cover to get to St. Malo. I had gone to bed praying for a tailwind...

Luckily, as I woke amongst the wind farms of Vendée, I was pleased to see the previous day's north-westerly wind, which had made things such hard work on the open flats, had swung round to the south. Time to get romping!

I've been behind on my planned mileage since my mishaps on Day 9 (read of that day's events here), and so I wasn't starting today from my intended spot, nor would I be following my intended route. In the words of my CCF days: 'B-line it Boys', was the name of the game i.e. take the m…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 10 - 'Changing Landscapes'

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This morning began in a Bordeaux vineyard; hidden amongst some derelict vines. By 9am, I had reached Blaye, on the Gironde estuary; I celebrated the sight of the sea with pastries and coffee.

Back on the road, my route took me through more beautiful Bordeaux wine country, and up to Royan - my first real west coast of France port of the trip. 

From Royan, I set a target of reaching Rochefort, for a late lunch. To meet this, I ended up pushing hard along the A-road; but it got me there, and I enjoyed a good meal of pâté and oat cakes, in the city park.

Not wanting to do any more dual carriageway action, I took the dedicated bike route from Rochefort to La Rochelle; it was a winding and often poorly surfaced option, but it made the most of the stunning coastline.

La Rochelle is an incredibly beautiful port; I must go back there on a boat. For this trip though, all I had time for, was a quick photo - then a fast escape northwards.

Now into the Vendee region, I'm surrounded by a new…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 9 - 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events'

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It was always going to be a struggle to do my intended mileage today. 257 kilometres is a big day out on a fully loaded tourer. Little did I realise quite how difficult it would be...

The day started out well, and I picked up the Canal Midi towpath with ease, and set about clocking through 135 kilometres along its length; enjoying the flatness, for a change.

Things started to go a bit pear shaped when I noticed that I was losing pressure from the rear tubeless tyre, which seemed to be from a bulge in the sidewall opposite the valve. Eventually, the pressure loss was enough that I decided it was best to stop, and put a tube in. Puncture one of the trip.

40 kilometres later, and the front tyre seemed to develop an almost identical problem. Second puncture - now no more spare tubes.

10 kilometres further on, and on one gravel strewn section of towpath, the front tyre, now without any kind of tubeless sealing capabilities, fell victim to a cut. Because I had used both of my tubes, the on…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 8 - 'Onwards Towards Toulouse'

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Gus rode out with me this morning, on the first northwards stretch to Carcassonne. We could chat for hours, and it was a great feeling to have him join me for the first part of this second leg.

After bidding him a fond farewell, and many thanks for his superb hospitality, I continued north - out of the city and into the hills.

The countryside here is so different from the Pyrenees; expanses of farm land, open fields and roads; as well as a plentiful supply of fresh figs, pears, plums and apples on roadside bushes and trees.

Despite a bit of a headwind, I was making good progress. The climb up the Montage Noir was a bit of an unexpected shock; but the views and descent from the top of the plateau were well worth the graft.

The afternoon passed by in a blur of fields, rivers and lush agricultural land. I stopped off for lunch at a boulangerie, and topped up on pizza and pastries.

By the time my clock ticked over 200 kilometres, with 10 left to do, the sun was setting. I reached the tar…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 7 - 'Rest Day in The Corbieres'

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Today, a rest day. A break for the legs.

A gentle spin. Chilling out and chatting. A beautiful dog walk. All rounded off, by a fantastic cassoulet in Carcassonne.

A perfect rest day, with Augustus and Sarah Farmer, in their beautiful home.

Check out some more of Gus's great photos at augustusfarmer.com



Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 6 - 'Descent Out Of The Pyrenees'

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After yesterday's brutal finish, today was set to be an easier day. A day for heading down and out of the mountains; as I made my way to the Corbieres, and my rest day base with my good friends, the Farmers.

Last night's camp turned out to be only a kilometre or so from the top of the Col Portet d'Aspet; so despite a chilly start, it was just a short climb before I ticked off the first of my mountains for the day.

Then the descending began. It seemed to be downhill for hours, thankfully. By 11am, I had racked up 75km already, and made it to Foix. I stopped for coffee and pastries; planning the route out towards Carcassonne.

I didn't quite do my original route over the last few days; due partly to the weather, but also a pair of faltering legs. As a result, today wasn't quite the route it was going to be, either; I am effectively missing off the last two cols of the tour. It would however still be a tough 200km, on tired legs.

Foix to Lavelanet. Lavelanet to Espéra…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 5 - 'The Longest Kilometre'

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Day 5 of my 'Coasts and Cols' tour was always going to be a tough one; coming after a huge day of climbing the day before. With the Col du Tourmalet now carried over to this day too, I was just going to have to see how much I could manage...

It started early, and chilly. I had a good night's sleep in my little campsite in Luz; although I woke up to a pile of still slightly damp kit, after my enthusiastic washing in the campsite showers the evening before. No matter; I pulled on my down jacket, and the one pair of dry bibs that I had, and began my ascent of the Tourmalet.

I did this climb back in 2011, so I knew what I was letting myself in for: 18 kilometres of varying gradients, and a good chill at the top (there was snow on the peaks). I began clicking through the K's with relative ease though. All the time the sun was threatening to break from the cloud cover, but the temperature was also rapidly falling with the altitude gain. I shouldn't have worried about th…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 4 - 'Don't Play With Giants'

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Don't underestimate the mountains; don't play with giants; they're far bigger and more powerful than you'll ever be. That was a lesson I was reminded of after yesterday's "big freeze"; it was also a recurring lesson today, but one that I took heed of...

The first major Col of the day was the Col de Marie Blanque. It is a beautiful climb - a small deserted road, with a stream running alongside. The rain continued this morning though, and the heavens really opened on the top half of this first climb. By the time I had reached the top; pushing my lowest gear on the 13 percent sections; I was cold, sweating and damp.

I descended quickly into the valley, trying not to go too fast, to avoid the wind chill.

Before long, I was weaving onto the second col to conquer - the Col d'Aubisque. I know this climb well, having done it back in 2011; but the weather conditions and bike weight seemed a lot worse this time around. I clicked into a good gear though, and wa…

Coasts and Cols - Day 3 - 'Enter The Pyrenees, France and The Rain'

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Today started well: I rolled out of my campsite, onto quiet roads, with a beautiful sunrise. Heading east, I soon left Pamplona behind, and begun my first few cols of the day.
Each climb still seems surprisingly hard on the fully loaded Kona; I hadn't anticipated quite how much harder it would be. I'm finding my rhythm now though, and setting a decent pace.
By lunchtime, I had made good progress; with half the daily mileage on the clock.
Things got progressively harder after lunch, with more elevation gain and longer ascents. By 16:30, I reached the bottom of the Pic de Larrau - the final climb of the day. This mountain pass would take me into France; it is was a whopper though, at 1,000+ metres of ascent.
After a coffee in the town at the bottom, I began my assault. Within about 10 minutes of the hour long climb, the heavens opened. It wasn't too bad going up; just a case of grin and bear it. The descent though, was the tricky part...
Despite putting on a top of the ra…

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 2 - 'Mountains, Tailwinds and a Well Loaded Bike'

Last night's sleep was slightly hampered by the chorus of cow bells in the field next to me. I managed to get a few hours though, and rose with the sunrise, to get started on the first proper mileage day of the 'Coasts and Cols' tour. Before descending down from my mountain top camp, I put on almost every layer of riding kit I brought with me; it turns out northern Spain in September isn't so balmy as I remember! From the descent of that first col, I was quickly into the ascent of the next. I'm getting used to how the weight and load on the Kona handles, on the ups and downs. Sleepy Spanish villages flew by. I was pleased with my route planning, which took me down almost deserted roads, bar the occasional tractor, moped and other cyclist. By lunchtime, and with 110km on the clock, I was ready for a break. I wolfed down oatcakes, peanut butter, jam and malt loaf. I probably ate too much; as straight out from the small town I had stopped in, I began the biggest …

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 1 - 'Into the Hills'

I'm laying in my little tent, somewhere up in the hills above Santander; listening to the cow bells just outside. When the ferry eventually arrived in port - delayed by a Storm Force 9 that we battled through right across the Bay of Biscay, I rolled out into the grey, but the thankfully dry, evening. Out through the city, and into the countryside; I soon left the industrial port in my wake. The darkness closed in fast, and when I came to my main climb of the first day's route, I still had 10km to go, and my pace had slowed to 10kph. It was properly dark, and now raining a bit. I pushed on; with the idea that if I found a camping spot, I would stop. I eventually passed over the top of the pass, yet to find a suitable spot; but with the full intended distance for the day now done. Then I  found my field of cows to camp next to. First day done. One coast in the background, one col crossed.

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 0 - 'The Adventure Begins'

After months of planning, preparation, bike tinkering and modifications, I have finally set off. It's a strange sensation; a mix of excitement, trepidation and nerves.This will be a journey, in more ways than one. It is my first solo multi-day expedition. It is my first ride doing this kind of mileage and elevation gain, on a fully loaded bike. It will be a physical and mental test, for sure; but I am also sure it will be an enjoyable one.As I write this post, crossing the Bay of Biscay in a Force 9 gale, I sit looking at my pencil trace on my maps. Contours, rivers and peaks... that excites me. I'm looking forward to reaching the coast of Spain, and heading south and east - into the mountains. The 'Coasts and Cols' has finally begun! View the full route details here

The Benefits of Custom Insoles for Cycling Shoes

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Cycling enthusiasts will often spend hundreds of pounds on their riding shoes; choosing shoes that provide the lightest weight, maximum stiffness and most secure fit, in a bid to maximise their performance.

What many riders don't consider, is that much like running shoes, cycling shoes are not 'one-design-fits-all'. People's feet are notoriously personal features, with different widths, arches and volumes. The consequence of this, is that the structure and support that your shoes need to provide, should be tailored to the shape of your foot.

Perhaps people don't realise it, but professional riders will rarely be wearing off-the-shelf shoes. Most pro riders will have custom lasts (foot-beds) created for them, in order to provide maximum support for the shape of their foot. In particular, it is important to tailor the shoe shape around the ball of the foot, the arch, and on the heel; supporting the foot on the areas that move most when you push down on the pedals an…

Weekend Watch: TORTOUR 2016

One to add to the bucket list!

Review - Clement X'Plor USH Tyres

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​When you're looking for the best tyre for bicycle touring, you're demanding a whole host of attributes... You want a tyre that will grip well and inspire confidence, even when fully loaded. You want a tyre that will roll fast, so you can munch through the miles. You want a tyre that is puncture resistant, because changing a tube on a fully loaded bike is a right faff. Finally, you want a tyre that will last; because by its nature, bicycle touring is hard on your kit.

The new Clement X'Plor USH tyres are part of the 'Adventure' range from the French/ Italian brand. They are tyres designed to excel at back-and-beyond touring; ticking off all the attributes above, in the process. The USH X'Plor model is the 'hard-pack' touring tyre; it features a tread pattern that is at home on asphalt, but equally capable of handling gravel sections.

I selected the Clement X'Plor USH as my tyre option for my upcoming 'Coasts and Cols' tour; it was an easy s…

Book Review - Vélochef by Henrik Orre

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Vélochef by Henrik Orre provides an engaging and very readable insight into the world of professional cycling nutrition. As the chef for Team Sky - one of the world's most successful professional cycling teams, Henrik has developed a whole library of performance maximising meals and snacks; designed to provide one of the significant marginal gains that Team Sky are so known for.

Henrik demonstrates how simple, natural and flavourful meals are the key to success. Using ingredients that are easily processed by the body; his recipes are targeted at helping to fuel, and then repair/prepare the body for sport. From smoothies and juices, to rice cakes and risottos; these are simple and well known dishes, but with a real focus on (natural) performance ingredients.

The book is separated out into Pre-Vélo, Vélo and Après Velo; each section providing a selection of recipes to keep your taste buds tingling, and your legs firing on all cylinders. The recipes themselves are simple to follow, …

Review - Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Equipment

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Life In The Saddle, whether it is bike racing or long-haul bicycle touring, can always present unexpected challenges. There are times when you're left in need of a good "get me home repair"; or in the worst case, the need to signal for help. I came across the Gerber Bear Grylls Survival range whilst looking for kit for my 'Coasts and Cols' tour; it instantly appealed as a set of products that would be perfect for the 'back-and-beyond' bikepacker or cycle tourist.



The Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Multitool This plier multitool would be a great 'Every Ride Carry' for any adventurous cyclist. It features a plethora of tools, which could get you out of many a tight spot.

The pliers, with their integrated cable cutters, are ideal for jobs like brake pad and cable changes; and they're spring loaded, so they are easy to operate one-handed. The blade options come in the form of a serrated blade, saw and a standard knife blade; all of which are usefu…

Weekend Watch: Fast Forward

As my 'Coasts and Cols' tour comes ever closer, I found this an inspiring story.