Category Archives: Cycling

What To Pack For A Cycling Holiday

By Victoria Sharpe

Comfort will make your cycling holiday all the more enjoyable – and to maintain it you’ll need the right clothing and kit. Here are some tips to help you make sure you’ve got what you need.

Taking Your Own Bike

The question of whether to take your own bike is a balance of cost and comfort. It will cost more to transport the bike, especially if you’re travelling by plane, but knowing that your bike perfectly fits you offers great comfort if you’re going to be undertaking long rides, or even spending full days in the saddle. It’s also worth remembering that if you decide to hire a bike it’s not going to be cost free by any means. It will probably be cheaper than transporting your own bike, and almost certainly easier – but if you’re spending a week or more in the saddle is it really worth sacrificing comfort?

Taking the Right Kit

It goes without saying that padded shorts are an absolute necessity. If you can, pay more for good quality ones – your body (and backside!) will thank you by the end of your trip. It’s a good idea to either take a couple of pairs or, if space is at a premium, one pair and some travel wash to rinse them out each evening. If you’re going in winter though don’t do this, as they won’t be dry by the next morning. Still on leg wear, pack some tights to go over your shorts (or tights with padded shorts built in to save space). Perhaps a less obvious point, but certainly an important one, is that if you know it’s going to be a trip with, shall we say, ‘ad hoc’ toilet breaks don’t choose bibbed tights, as you’ll have to strip off completely each time!

For the top half, it really depends what time of year you’re travelling – either long or short sleeved tops depending on the weather in whichever style and fabric you normally wear. Comfort is what you’re looking for primarily, and choosing familiar kit that you know you like will be better than a load of new kit that needs wearing in. Your cycle top should have a back that is long enough to cover your lower back so as to avoid wind chill and/or sunburn while cycling.  Many people choose cycling jerseys with useful pockets in the back to store water bottles, energy gels, keys and the like, so consider whether this is something you’re going to need.

If you do need to invest in a few key pieces, check out e-outdoor.co.uk They have a great range of outdoor wear for all climates.

Dont Forget the Helmet!

If you’re going on a pre-organised cycling holiday, you’ll probably be provided with a helmet that will do the job if necessary – and will most likely be adjustable so there’s no issue with comfort. If you’re organising your own trip then make sure to take your own – it could save your life.

Two Alberti Of Vicenza

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An interesting coincidence last night. On the left of the photo is Alberto, my weekday lodger who is originally from near Vicenza in northern Italy. On the right is Alberto ( you can see where this is going…), my latest visiting Warm Showers touring cyclist who is from Vicenza in northern Italy! Most of the chat was in Italian albeit with only modest contributions from me, my receptive skills being significantly better than my productive ones. I concentrated on the cooking instead! Cycling Alberto is on an autumn tour which started back in Italy before heading over the Alps in the direction of Paris. From the French capital he followed the route of the Avenue Verte linking Paris and London via Dieppe and Newhaven. After a few days in London – he was impressed with the cycling atmosphere – Alberto continued his journey along cycling route 4 in the direction of Reading (and seemed to encounter the same route finding issues as me when I cycled in the opposite direction in August at the start of my journey to Scotland) where I met him after work yesterday evening. Today, storm permitting, he will continue his journey to Oxford then to Cambridge before returning to London and a flight back to Italy. He is due back at work in Vicenza (where he works as a cycling mechanic in a bike shop) at the start of November. Should I refer to the two Albertos as the two Alberti?

Which European Cities Have The Best Cycling Infrastructure?

By Victoria Sharpe

No matter how careful we might be when cycling, or how confident we might feel, the fact is that sharing the roads with motorised traffic reduces the quality of a ride. It feels more dangerous, it can be awkward to navigate, and there are exhaust fumes everywhere. Fortunately, many European cities have excellent infrastructure that means cyclists rarely have to share the road with cars, making them ideal destinations for a cycling adventure. Let’s look at the top three choices.

  1. Seville, Spain

Ten years ago, Seville wouldn’t even have been on this list, but thanks to some fast-tracked planning and significant public demand, it now boasts some of the most cycle-friendly routes in the world. It really goes to show that it is possible to revolutionise infrastructure without already having some form of cycle lanes win widespread use. In just a few short years, cycling went from having a 0.5% share of traffic, to an impressive 7%, and while not the same take-up as some other cities, it’s still on the rise.

  1. Copenhagen, Denmark

Denmark in general has excellent cycle routes, but the capital Copenhagen is by far the best. The model is one which a great many other cities look to when planning their own, and with good reason. Cyclists in the city boast a share of traffic around 35-40%. New constructions are underway to further improve this, but the authorities seem to have taken their foot off the pedal in recent years. It used to be the case that they were aiming to have bikes constitute 50% of traffic, but more and more infrastructure for motorised traffic is making this aim a long way off. Visit while you can, because there may be better options in just a few years.

  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Netherlands is undoubtedly the world’s most bike-friendly country, with lanes stretching for many miles and between cities. The capital Amsterdam is therefore unsurprisingly the best in the world – it really is a cyclist’s dream. The infrastructure isn’t perhaps as organised as in Copenhagen, but the general atmosphere and attitude is unrivalled. Everything is extremely relaxed, and while enthusiasts in other countries might pick premium bikes with serious riding gear, the locals stick with very basic bikes that frequently have only a few gears, a basket on the front and no brakes. Cyclists dominate the city centre, making it feel generally very safe.

“Up There With The Best Cycle Touring Books That I Have Read”

About a month ago I summarised the reviews that had so far been posted to Amazon for Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie. Here’s an update as to what people have been saying in October;

med_cover3“I am approximately two thirds of the way through this and really enjoying it.” (I hope that ‘Peter’ didn’t change mind at the end!)

“Just as down to earth, amusing, informative and inspiring to the ordinary aspirational, long-distance cyclist as the first [book].”

“Brilliant.”

“Great, relaxed, easy read.”

“I found it hard to put down… Humorous, informative, fun and full of tips if you fancy taking your bike by its handlebars and cycling off into the sunset.”

“Highly Recommended… I have to say that this book is even better [than the first]. Andrew’s books are up there with the best cycle touring books that I have read, (and I’ve read quite a few recently).”

The full reviews can all be read on the Amazon website. No reviews yet on Apple or Kobo as the book only appeared on their platforms in the last few days but I look forward to reading what you think in due course. To everyone who has been kind enough to write a review, your support is very much appreciated. Thank-you!

And finally… if you are looking for a special Christmas gift (sorry to mention the C word but John Lewis have been flogging trees for weeks!):

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Cycling The Camino De Santiago… In The ‘Wrong’ Direction

imageNot that I have done this yet, but it is part of next year’s plan to cycle along the Eurovelo 3 from Santiago de Compostela to Trondheim (and beyond, along the Eurovelo 1 to North Cape). Yesterday’s trip to London (see previous post / video) allowed me a quick visit to Stanford’s where I picked up a copy of the Michelin ‘zoom’ map which not only comes in a walking / cycling-friendly booklet format but is also printed on a scale of 1:150,000. I have never cycled with such paper mapping detail at my fingertips and I am already quite excited about the prospect of doing so! But stop! Let’s not get too carried away; I still know very little about the route other than the fact that it starts (in Spain) at St. Jean-Pied-de-Port (which by the sounds of it is actually in France – it is, I’ve just checked – ignore the previous bracketed info.) and finishes in Santiago de Compostela, the fabled resting place for the bones of St. James himself (although I’m sure his many bones are scattered across Europe in multiple numbers…). I digress. Back to the cycling. Mmm… That’s a relevant point to begin with. Is the route cyclable?image

My initial assumptions were that it wasn’t but when I looked at the Eurovelo map of Europe and compared it to the route of the Camino, I was pleased to see that the suggested paths for walkers and cyclists were more or less identical through Leon, Burgos and Pamplona. It was a promising start. Perhaps my main concern should not be with route-finding but with trying to avoid knocking over all the pilgrims travelling on foot and heading in the opposite direction. A quick Internet search comes up with a useful site listing ’50 quirky bike rides’ of which ‘Cycling the Camino de Santiago’ is just one. Written by a chap called Rob Ainsley, it looks as though it is the online support for a book of the same name. There is even a podcast and an accompanying article in the CTC’s Cycle magazine. Give me a few minutes whilst I listen and read…

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 14.50.29Interesting stuff. I particularly liked the podcast – very professional and engaging, despite the bagpipes (but he does warn you about that a very start…). Some points to ponder; he explains that he completed the route on a mountain bike – see the picture – and looking at some of the other pictures accompanying the article, you can see why as the tracks do look a little rough to say the least. That said, in the CTC magazine, he does point out that if he were to do the trip again, he would ‘take a tourer‘ explaining that the route for walkers does follow the road for much of its length and for any parts which are too much of a challenge, the tarmac road option is never far away. A mixture of the two is suggested. As for accommodation, it sounds as though cycling in April – my plan is to set off on Saturday 18th April from Santiago de Compostela – is about the perfect time to do so as the crowds in the summer pack out the hostels. Ainsley does mention that some ‘hard line refuges are said to turn away cyclists...’ and I do wonder if they take even greater exception to cyclists who are completing the journey from west to east. Then again, how would they know? The stamps in the map book? Perhaps I shall just not ask for them. Away from the cycling, the following are listed as the 20 tourist highlights of the trip;

  • Roncesvalles’s awesome historic monastery-refuge
  • Pamplona’s bull-running culture
  • Ridgetop views west of it
  • Eunate’s odd church
  • Puente de la Reina’s historic bridge
  • Cirauqui’s original Roman road surface and bridge
  • Free wine fountain at Irache
  • Parkland outside Logroño
  • Storks in sandstone cliffs at Najera
  • Hens in the church at Santa Domingo de la Calzada
  • Burgos centre
  • View from ridge overlooking Hornillos
  • Romanesque church at Fromista
  • Ancient bridge at Hospital de Orbega
  • Maragatos villages
  • Abandoned mountaintop village of Foncebadón and downhill after
  • Mountaintop village of O Cebreiro with ancient thatched huts
  • Descent after it to moved-and-rebuilt reservoir town of Porto Marin
  • Farming villages around Ligonde
  • Arriving at Santiago de Compostela

…albeit for me in reverse of course. Any additional thoughts? Please let me know.

UPDATE: This post has resulted in much chat on Facebook – here is the link.

Dusk At The Meridian

You can see that I’ve got the video bug. This one has nothing to do with cycling or travel but it’s pretty…

Cycling Europe, The Film… Well, The Video…

Danny MacAskill’s latest epic production – watch it here on YouTube – has got me thinking about using more video on this website. It wasn’t so much the video itself (which is just sublime) as the ‘making of’ documentary that I stumbled upon last night while looking for the ‘Extra Slice‘ thing of The Great British Bake Off on the BBC iPlayer. I haven’t watched that yet but I did watch the Danny MacAskill film (which includes ‘The Ridge’ in full at the end – worth watching on your big screen TV if it has the iPlayer hooked up to do so). Here is the link to the ‘making of’ film; at the time of writing this you only have another 29 days to watch it. The film clearly demonstrates how far things have come in video production. The crew was relatively small, the equipment very lightweight, the quality stupendous and the result was, as you can see, cinematic. Now before you get too excited, I’m not aiming at reaching the levels of production or indeed content to which Danny and his team have manage to climb, but it is an example of just how things have progressed since the days of the videotape camcorder.

My experience of using video is limited. I do have a YouTube channel myself of course which is woefully under-managed and simply hosts the various oddities that I have filmed over the years. These range from me cycling along a Via Verde in Spain (complete with squeaky brakes at the end) to me cycling home from work in a speeded up 4 minutes to the music of Superman. Should you be so inclined, here is the complete showreel:

You didn’t watch them all did you? I hope not. Anyway, back to the present day and video blogging. I’m not keen on the word ‘blogging’ by the way as it seems to denigrate the quality of what I write here; I’m not quite sure how I feel about the word ‘vlogging’ but I’ll use it for the time being. WordPress, the hosts of CyclingEurope.org have a video upgrade option that costs $60 per year although there is a free trial for two weeks which I have just activated. This allows video posts to be uploaded directly to this website without going first via either YouTube or Vimeo. I’m not yet sure whether this is a great advantage or indeed whether it is worth paying $60 for the privilege. I have two weeks to make up my mind. It’s reassuring, however, to see that it is simple to do and I have just made and uploaded the following film, a time lapse tour of my flat (which, as you know, is up for sale so if you are interested, get in touch!):

So, the logistics of uploading are sorted. I was even able to do so relatively easily from my phone and the 4G connection on the iPhone 6 made it a quick job. What about the filming equipment? Well, this will take a little more experimentation. With my iPhone, my mini iPad and my Canon SX500IS camera I have five, yes five! cameras at my disposal. Thirty years ago the featured football game on Match of The Day was probably recorded with only five cameras all of which were of poor quality compared to the ones I can almost slide into my pockets. Obviously it would be a little tricky for me to film a football match with four of the cameras being part of just two of the gadgets but you get my drift. All of the cameras produce stunning quality images and all but the front camera on the iPad are capable of doing so in HD. Stabilisation software is also built into the Cannon as well as the iPhone. Should I add to this little collection through the purchase of the upcoming GoPro Hero 4? Here’s the publicity film for the Hero 4 Silver, the cheaper of the two new models available. It’s the kind of film that will have you running down to John Lewis more quickly than you can say ‘sod it, I’ll put it on the credit card‘…

…but don’t bother to do that just yet as it’s not yet available in stores! It no doubt will be well before Christmas.

So, I have the online necessities set up and I have some good kit. What about software to edit? Well, I need to do a little bit of research here and much practice should I choose to invest in something to turn my clips into short films. The Apple Mac has iMovie which is very effective at creating fun videos like this one which was a trailer for the film of my walking trip to Slovakia with two friends during Easter 2013. Funnily enough the full length film has yet to hit the cinemas (or, come to think of it, be made…):

But for more ‘serious’ attempts at travel film-making, perhaps I need something a little less gimmicky. Any suggestions? Ideally a piece of software or an Apple app that works well on the mini iPad.

Of course having the means to upload onto the Internet, the hardware and the software comes to nothing if you haven’t got the skill to make engaging content in the first place but with my photographic track record – many examples of which are available to see on this website as well as Flickr and Instagram – and my previous small time forays into the art of video, I reckon I have a good chance of creating something of quality. And what better backdrop than a three month stay in Spain followed by a three month cycle across Europe (see previous post) to put everything into practice… Thoughts welcome.