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Looking for ideas for your next trip? 4 bike websites to inspire you.

Finding new places for bike journeys is one of the joys of cycle touring and bikepacking.  But where to start?  Sometimes the best places are the ones we don’t know about or hadn’t thought of – that’s where a little inspiration from others’ travels comes in.  So here’s a few websites that might provide some ideas for trips

BIKEPACKING.com – Bikepacking Routes, Gear, Inspiration

Source: www.bikepacking.com/

This site has great bikepacking trip reports matched with equally good photos.  As well as listing routes on all continents there’s also a lot of useful stuff about planning, gear, photography and longer features.  There’s a range of routes varying in length and difficulty, all off-road, plus lots of practical information route descriptions.

 

PANNIER | for the Travelling Cyclist | Cycle Touring / Bikepacking / Adventure Cycling Website & Resource

Source: www.pannier.cc/

There’s lots of good, useful information and reports on this site but it’s not the most intuitive website to use.  The ‘Routes’ tab lists about 20  routes, mainly in the UK, with GPX files to download.  But also go to the ‘Journal’ tab and click on the ‘Filter’ button to access lots more articles with great photography on tours throughout the world plus plenty of other stuff.

 Crazy Guy on a Bike   https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/

This site should really be called Crazy Guys on Bikes as it is a massive collection of blogs, articles, photos, forums, reviews, classified ads and FAQs all relating to cycle touring.  The home page has a stripped down appearance as it is designed to be used on slow connections – hence no preview page loaded here.  It has a good search facility to help you work your way through the hundreds of entries.  There’s also a nice serendipity section, which I guess is what many of us think bike touring is about.

Sidetracked Magazine – Adventure Travel Journal. Stories of adventure and exploration.

Source: www.sidetracked.com/

Sidetracked is a print magazine and also has a great website with features on all types of adventure travel and exploration.  So articles on bike trips sit alongside mountaineering, kayaking trekking and skiing in all parts of the world from deserts the polar ice caps.  Quite a few contributers seem to be professional photographers so there are lots of high quality images.

Hopefully these websites will have you getting the maps out and starting planning – and if not, flicking through them is a great way to spend a cold winter’s evening!

Mellow riding in Burgundy

2016-07-25-09-44-03Burgundy is big on gastronomy – rich foods and world famous wines abound. But Burgundy is also big on canals which offer hundreds of kilometres of mellow riding through some beautiful French countryside.  There is a Tour of Burgundy circular route of 800 km  using the tow paths along the Canal du Nivernais, Canal de Bourgogne and the Canal du Centre plus other cycleways to link the canals.  The traffic-free links between Tonnerre and Auxerre at the northern end of the circuit are still to be finished but it is fairly easy to make your own route using minor roads. The Tour of Burgundy website has interactive maps for each of the sections which makes it quick to find campsites, hotels, food etc along the way.

carte_generale_tbv_gb_2016As you can see from the map it’s possible to use part of the canals’ route  to link with other routes, including the Eurovelo 6 ( from Nantes on the Atlantic coast of France to the Black Sea). Or if you want a break from the easy riding, the Grande Traversee de Morvan  is a 330 km mountain biking route that could be linked to sections of the canals’ route.

2016-07-19-11-59-56I haven’t ridden the whole Tour of Burgundy, but this summer we did some multi-day rides along the Canal de Bourgogne from Tonnere to Dijon and the Canal du Nivernais from Auxerre to Chatillon.  The easy riding lets the miles glide by as you pass through a microcosm of rural France – ancient villages, wooded farmland, chateaux, vineyards, canal side ports, limestone cliffs, lock keepers’ cottages. There are plenty of campsites along the route and we used trains to get back to our stating points, most of which take bikes without booking. And there are loads of cafes, bars and restaurants in the villages nearby the route so it’s easy to replace  all the cycling calories – and more!.

2016-07-25-09-56-48Cycle (velo) tourism is growing fast in France and Burgundy seems to be another area where the intergation of information on accommodation, food and transport is taking place – useful for planning and for finding stuff when you’re there. All on the Tour of Burgundy website.

2016-07-19-12-35-00Travel to Burgundy is fairly easy. By train from Paris to Dijon – details from French Railways,  The UK  European Bike Express goes from various departure points in the UK to Auxerre. If you drive and want to leave a car somewhere, most campsites will let you leave a car there for a charge of a few Euros a day – ask for ‘garage mort’.

So, if you want a  laid back tour in the sun with great food and wine, Burgundy could be what you need!

Alpkit Airlok Dual handlebar bag – a quick review

2016-05-05-13-33-19The choices for carrying your gear on a tour used to be quite straightforward – panniers for an on-road trip, a seat post system like Topeak Beamrack  with a rucksack for off-road.  But the development of bikepacking kit over the last few years has given us lots more options.  As my ideal tour involves off-road as well as road riding, I’ve been trying out a combination of bikepacking gear with panniers.

I’ve been using an Alpkit Airlok Dual 13 litre (£15) with the Alpkit Joey harness  (£18) on some recent trips so this is a brief review on how I found it.

dscn0515The concept is simple – stuff a dry bag full of gear and then strap it to the handlebars, with the harness providing protection from chafing. I found it worked just as easily as that.  I packed the Alpkit bag with my sleeping bag, a down gilet  and spare clothes  – all things I wouldn’t be using during the ride.  Although the bag is waterproof, I lined it with a Exped dry bag for extra weather protection.

I thought attachment might be a bit fiddly but once I had figured out the best system for my bike it was really quick and easy.  I found the best way of doing this was:

  • 2016-09-03-10-24-42Roll over and close one end of the bag and leave it closed.
  • Attach the harness to the bag using the straps on the bag and leave it attached to the bag
  • Pack tightly and close the other end of the bag
  • Use another 2 straps to secure the bag and harness to the bars plus a short strap to go through the loop at the bottom of the harness and around the frame.

In use, it is excellent.  I used it on a 1,200 kg trip across Spain about 70% of which was off-road.  Once I’d set it up in the morning I never had to readjust or tighten it during the day.  I carried about 2 kg of gear in it and it had a negligible effect on the steering.  I was using a mountain bike with panniers on the back, bar bag on the front and was carrying about 9 kg in total including camping gear.

I’ve tried the Airlok bag on my road touring bike which has 44 cm wide dscn0502bars.  It fits quite securely  although you have to slightly reduce the amount you pack in the bag – depending how wide your bars are. Even so it provides much more capacity that a handlebar bag.  The only down side is that you can’t easily ride with your hands on the top of the bars but riding on the brake hoods, drops etc is fine.

In conclusion, a simple, well made and great piece of kit which does exactly what it says it says on the tin. It works well with either panniers or other bikepacking frame/seat bags. There’s also a 20 litre version of the Airlok bag.

Island hopping: 5 islands, 8 ferries and 12 distilleries.

2016-09-04-15-04-46Play a game of word association and ‘Greece’ will probably be the word most associated with island hopping.  But I’d argue that Scotland should come a close second – it also has white beaches, beautiful coves, and turquoise blue sea.  Okay, maybe the weather is not quite as good as Greece but it does have more distilleries….

Taking advantage of the good weather in September, I did a short trip up the west coast of Scotland starting on the Isle of Arran and finishing on Skye, taking in the islands of Islay, Jura and Mull on the way as well as the wonderful Ardnamurchan peninsula and Arisaig.

After taking the ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick in Arran we started the trip with a clockwise circuit of the island and camped at Lochranza in the north.

2016-08-31-15-11-28From Lochranza it’s a quick ferry hop to Kintyre and then a short ride to Kennacraig for the ferry to Islay.  Riding across Islay is like looking at the whisky shelf in your favourite bar – all those famous names keep appearing out of the mist so there’s plenty of diversions as they all offer tours and tastings.  Islay was wet and windy but we resisted the temptation and just kept going,  roding fairly directly from Port Ellen, through Bowmore to Port Charlotte.

2016-09-02-17-06-18On to Port Askaig and the ferry to Jura.  There is only one road on Jura and it is worth riding every bit of its 40km, even though you’ll have to return along it.  It dips and weaves across the moors, along the shoreline, through woodland, past remote farms with alternating views of the wild hills and the Sound of Jura.

 

2016-09-02-16-09-12The main/only village on  Jura is Craighouse and it has a perfect campsite on the front lawn of the Jura Hotel overlooking the bay.

2016-09-02-18-25-03If you get your timing right, you can take the ferry from Port Askaig to Oban (it only goes twice a week) and then catch another ferry to Craignure on Mull. From Craignure we headed to Salen and then crossed to the west coast of Mull which gives great scenery but some tough climbs through Calgary and Dervaig to Tobermory (campsite 2 km before the village and hostel in the village).

2016-09-04-13-12-27From here we took the ferry to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. At Kilchoan there is the option of turning left and heading to the most westerly point of Britain – Ardnamurchan Point – it’s an out and back ride. From Kilchoran  a switchback ride first climbs over the moors and then along the empty undulating road along the wooded banks of Loch Sunart to Salen (another one!) before heading north to Lochailort.   If you’ve got time there are plenty of side roads you can take to  deserted beaches.

2016-09-06-16-53-42From Lochailort there’s 15km of riding on the main road before you’re back on minor roads to Arisaig.  The Sound of Arisaig is dotted with white sand beaches, rocky inlets and has a backdrop of the mountainous islands of Rhum and Eigg –  to complete the idyllic setting we even found a hammock on a beach!

2016-09-05-19-28-33On our final day we took the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye and had a quick half day tour of the Sleat peninsular before returning to Mallaig for the train to Glasgow – a slow, meandering  train journey across the Highlands to complete an equally beautiful and meandering ride.

There are endless variants on this short tour – I’ll add  a page soon to the UK section of the website with all the practical stuff on travel, campsites etc.

2016-09-01-15-31-02

Why Ride the Bike website…

 

Alps06 042The idea for this website came last year when I was talking to friends about some recent bike trips. I promised to send them information but it took me ages to find all the difference sources of information I’d used when planning the trips.  So I thought a website would be a good way to organize all the various stuff I’ve found useful over the last few years – websites, travel details, maps, blogs.   And also it would be somewhere I could store photographs of the trips.

Ride the Bike will continue to grow as I add information from other trips – Hebridean islands and Burgundy coming soon! Plus blogs on random topics as well.

 

 

 

Tips for taking a bike by plane

dscn0476

Have you ever started dreaming about your next trip, getting enthused by the route and then are brought back to reality by thinking about how you might get there.  Flying with a bike.  Not a problem if you are doing a round trip – just use a hard bike case, check into a hotel or hostel near to the airport and negotiate to leave the bike case there for your return trip.  But if you’re doing a point to point trip it can seem a bit of a  hassle but there are ways to ease the pain….

Fly to and from small airports

Generally small regional airports are easier to ride into and out of than the big city airports.  A quick look at Google maps/Google Earth will enable you to check out the access roads to the airport.  In France and Spain, Biarritz, Girona, Seville are all airports that are easy to get into or out of on a bike.

Use meet and greet parking in UK airports.

If you have your bike all boxed up it is generally much easier to drive to an airport than to take your bike box on the train.  But parking at a long-stay airport car park and using their shuttle bus to get to the terminal can be a nightmare as many airport shuttle buses refuse to take bike boxes.  If there’s two of you, one of you can drop the bikes at the departure terminal and the other head back to the car park but this takes time.  A far better way is to use meet and greet services.  For not a great deal more cost you drop your car off at the meet and greet point – usually in a short stay car park next to the terminal building, the car is then parked for you and is delivered to the same short stay car park on your return.  Very simple and stress free.

Packing the bike for the outward trip

Most airlines want bikes packaged in a box or a bike .  It’s easiest to use a bike manufacturers’ cardboard box for the outward trip – available free from your local bike shop – these boxes are made of heavy duty cardboard and have already protected a bike on its journey to the bike shop.  To pack the bikes means dismantling and protecting the main components. There’s a really useful blog on how to do this so I won’t explain in detail here – see  http://travellingtwo.com/resources/packingyourbike  Secure the box with duct tape and tie up with the webbing straps you’re going to use on your return trip (see below)

Packing the bike for the return trip.

This always is more difficult as you are relying on what you have available locally immediately before you fly back.  But there are a few ways in which you can plan for this.  Before your trip make a lightweight nylon bag that you can take with you.  This can easily be made with basic sewing machines skills.  Get material from suppliers such as Pennine Outdoor  http://www.pennineoutdoor.co.uk/fabrics or Point North http://www.profabrics.co.uk/  and make it  about X xX .  The main purpose of the bag is to keep everything together some lightweight nylon will do.  This will enable you to pack the bike to the size accepted by airports.  Dismantle the bike in the same way as you did on the outward journey – remove handlebars and fasten to the top tube, remove the front wheel and skewer and place it against the frame, remove the seat post and saddle, remove the rear derailleur and attach it hanging loose to the frame, remove pedals and deflate tyres.  Take a good quantity of zip ties and strong cord with you to help with this job.

Pack the bag with anything you can find – cardboard, closed cell sleeping mats, newspapers, plastic bags all wrapping.  In Spain there seem to be a loss of cardboard recycling points in towns same may be possible to pick up some cardboard on the way to the airport.  Finally, allow plenty of time for packing your bike – it always seems to take much longer than it does at home.

Fly out – ferry, train or bike bus back.

It’s always a bit more difficult to repackage your bike for the return flight so one option is to do a point to point trip and make your destination a ferry port, rail station  or if in France, one of the European Bike Express bus pick up points.

I’m sure there’s lots of experience of flying with bikes, so let me know which are the bike friendly airports in Europe that you have found – it would be good to build up a list.

Food for multi-day trips

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Being self-sufficient for a few days is one aspect of bikepacking that most of us enjoy as it enables us to explore more  remote areas.  The downside is that the more self-sufficient we are, the greater the weight and volume that we have to carry. Paradoxically as kit has become lighter and lighter, food becomes proportionally a greater part of the total weight so it can be tempting to cut down on food to save weight and bulk.  There are, of course, commercially produced dried foods, particularly for evening meals, some of which taste quite good as well .  But they are very expensive and only available from outdoor stores so difficult to pick up when on the road.

First the (over-simplified) nutritional science.  For slow burn endurance activity we need a mixture of carbohydrates and fats to provide energy plus protein to aid muscle recovery and rebuilding.  At a slower pace our bodies convert fat into the energy but as effort increases carbohydrates become more important as they are converted into energy faster – which is why we need to eat both types of foods.  In 8 hours of riding, depending on body size, we are going to need in excess of 4,000 kcals.  In order to achieve these levels of intake day after day we need to temporarily bypass some of than usual nutritional guidance.  Just eat lots of fresh food, especially vegetables and fruit, when you return to more populated areas.

So here are some suggestions for lightweight, high energy and low bulk food.

Energy density.  Look at foods in terms of their energy density so you get maximum calories for the weight- muesli, oats, peanut butter, cheese, dried fruit,  nuts and seeds, flap jacks, cereal bars, fruit malt loaf, oat cakes, chorizo sausage, dried ham, vegetable pate all pack a lot of long lasting calories for their weight. These types of food are fairly easy to find in the Europe and the UK.

Fat content.  Foods with the higher fat content will have more calories, and because fat takes longer to digest, will keep you feeling full longer.  Fat has more than twice the calories of the same weight of carbs or protein of the same weight. But don’t overdo it as fat can be difficult to digest.  Remember riding uphill after a full English?

Packability.  Carbohydrates particularly bread and pasta can take up lots of space.  Couscous  is low bulk and and also is very quick to cook so saves on fuel too. Precooked rice in foil packs also doesn’t take up much space and only need warming up.  Oat cakes or denser rye breads take up less space than bread.  All of the energy dense foods mentioned above give a high return of calories for the space they take in your pack.  Get rid of as much packaging as possible or use plastic bags to repackage foods to make them more easily stored.

Avoid. Instant foods such as packet soups and flavoured noodles – they may be light but they’re very low energy.  Also take it easy on the very refined carbohydrates- jam, chocolate, sugary breakfast cereals – as although they provide lots of calories your energy levels will peak and crash. However, honey or jam is fine with oatcakes or rye bread as it gives a good mix of fast and slow release carbs. Also avoid food that takes a long time to cook e.g. brown rice, pulses as you need lots of extra weight in fuel to cook them. I find it too easy to take a lot of sweet foods to eat during the day so a small plastic pot of Marmite helps add a savoury taste at times.

Finally, don’t just buy stuff because it has lots of calories or doesn’t take up to much space – you have to like eating it as well!

 

Midges – how to deal with the Scottish beastie

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Talk to any bikepacker, climber or hill walker about Scotland in the summer and it won’t be long before midges enter the conversation.  Tiny though they are, the sheer numbers of them that can swarm around you in seconds can quickly make an idyllic campsite an absolute torment.

Avoidance.  The main season for midges is from mid-May to mid-September, although in some years they can be around either earlier or later so avoid going to Scotland at this time if you can.  Midges are most prominent in the evening and early morning when there is little wind so avoid sheltered camping spots.  Also avoid boggy areas where midges tend to breed and congregate – often easier said than done given the nature of Scottish terrain. Smidge, the suppliers of one of the midge repellents, do publish a midge forecast https://www.smidgeup.com/midge-forecast/ but it’s probably best to view it as a rough indication of what it might be like.

Defend yourself.  The most effective repellents are   Smidge or those that contain DEET – spray onto your clothing as well as yourself.  http://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/equipment/travel-equipment/sun-insect-protection  Repellents don’t eliminate midges altogether but they do  keep them at bay although sometimes only hovering a short distance from your head.  A midge hood is an essential – one like this is lightweight and takes up virtually no space http://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/lifesystems-mosquito-and-midge-head-net-E7214005   Thin gloves and socks that don’t leave a gap around your ankles are also key parts of protection.

Don’t camp.  It’s always a shame not to camp in Scotland as there are some wonderful places to camp.  But if the midges get too much then you can always escape to hostels.  There are a growing number of independent as well as Scottish YHA hostels. https://www.syha.org.uk/ http://www.hostel-scotland.co.uk/

Don’t forget that time heals so no matter how bad your midge experience  your memories of Scotland always seem to blank out those midge torments!