Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Cycling In Provence: Getting There

The alarm went off at 4:15am on Friday, 3rd June. Having prepared the bikes well in advance and then packed up everything but our toothbrushes the night before, we were out the door in time to catch the 05:13 train to London St. Pancras. Admittedly, I did not feel awake yet, even though I had downed a cup of coffee and then experienced the thrill of freewheeling a loaded Brompton down the 'black run' of Cutenhoe Road. 

Brompton? Yes, we were off to France for a week's cycling holiday on folding bicycles: me on Lucy my 3-speed Brompton and Adam on his heavily-modified early-1980s era Bickerton

All packed up ready to board the Eurostar service from London to Avignon.

We arrived in Avignon around 2.30pm local time. The temperature was 26C (82F) with a light breeze. The heat of the sun on my skin felt wonderful. 

We re-assembled our bicycles and luggage on the platform without incident. 

Setting off from the train station, we were a little confused, not helped by the fact that Adam had plotted a route on his GPS in advance... from Avignon Sud station rather than Avignor TGV! We circled the entire station and car parking areas before getting our bearings north towards the town centre. 

Our route took us through fairly industrial areas. We could have been 'anywhere', really.

Google StreetView

Approaching a main road - but look! There's a cycle path.
Photo: Google StreetView

The cycle path is that, yep you guessed it, footpath on the right.
The quality was right up there with crappy UK-style "cycling infrastructure".
Photo: Google StreetView

Okay - there were some nice bits.
Except that the channel of water on the right was full of litter.
Photo: Google StreetView

More "cycling infrastructure": the narrow lane on the right,
where I've positioned the Google" directional arrow.
Photo: Google StreetView

Straight ahead through the gate to enter the old city
Photo: Google StreetView

The route into town was not at all picturesque. But then we passed through an arch in an expense of old stone wall (as shown in the Google screen shot above) and found the inner city. 

eastbound on Boulevard Raspail

Our accommodation was right in the centre of the old city, in a charming rustic pensione-style house dating from 1526.  

Maison d'Hôtes Avignon La Banasterie
The rooms were arranged over 3 storeys around a tiny central courtyard, with access via a network of stairs and balconies.

Our room was beautifully furnished -- and, crucially, wonderfully cool. The secret to 'climate control' in this kind of climate is to build with walls at least 3 feet thick!

The only room with a bath (rather than a shower), the whole of our travels.
I'm glad I enjoyed this one!

We quickly unpacked and freshened up and set off to explore the old city of Avignon. 

Here, I have a confession. I did not do any research or advance reading for this trip. We decided in February that our summer holiday would be in Provence. At that time, I quickly selected two cities that would, along with Avignon (our Eurostar terminus), form the points of a triangle. We would have three days of cycling from one point to the next, with two or three days based in each point to be able to sightsee and cycle around without luggage. I booked accommodation in those three points, then my attention and time was wrapped up in preparing for my final law exam on 1st June. I gave the trip very little further thought until virtually the day of departure (other than making sure my bike set up looked feasible).

Meanwhile, Adam had fun researching places of interest and refining our route. Occasionally he showed me something he had found and asked if I wanted to do it/go there. My input each time was made on the basis of gut instinct (influenced on my mood at the time!), each decision taking about the amount of time it takes to flip a coin. 

So.... the trip revealed how ignorant I was about the region. Yes, of course I've "heard of" Avignon, but I knew very little. And yet... with so few expectations or pre-conceived ideas and -- after months of being chained to books -- I was in the mood not only for reset and relaxation (more about that later) but also discoveries and surprises. Of which there are many. 

Setting the scene for Avignon -- with apologies to readers already familiar with this rather famous city! -- it's ancient! It is an UNESCO World Heritage site and was the seat of Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1309 to 1377 and remained under the rule of Rome for another 400 years, not becoming part of France until 1791 (after the French Revolution). I have only been to Italy once but I have traveled throughout France a fair bit and my impression of Avignon, which I cannot pinpoint as being due to any particular thing such as architecture, is that the city does not feel 100% French. Its situation in a sweeping huge curve of the Rhone River goes someway to creating that separate, cut-off, independent feel. 

Our walking tour on the evening of our arrival was not extensive. The only site really on our "Must See" list was the Pont (Bridge) d'Avignon. But there were of course lots of lovely things to notice on our wanderings to and from the Pont. 

Pont d'Avignon, also known as le pont Saint Bénezet

view of the Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace) from the bridge

In search of dinner, we detoured through the main square of the old city en route back to our B&B.

And I couldn't resist a brief twirl on the carousel.

the spire of Curch of St. Pierre, on Rue Corderie around the corner from our B&B

the small delightful square behind the Curch of St. Pierre, at the bottom of Rue Banesterie

We were back in our room by 8pm. After perusing my new Michelin map and making a plan for our meals the next day, it was lights out by 8.30pm. 

Given my weeks of revision and having been up since 4.15am, it was no surprise that I was out like a light immediately. A good night's sleep would set me up beautifully for this lovely holiday. 

But it was not to be (the good night's sleep, that is). 

My mobile phone rang at 9.45pm. It was one of the B&B's co-owners -- not the one who had greeted us on arrival. She asked where we were and what time we expected to arrive! 

The misunderstanding was soon sorted but unfortunately being awoken from a deep sleep so sharply triggered an instant migraine.... which resulted in a lost night's sleep and lasted for two full days. 


Our route from Avignon TGV station into the town centre (as actually travelled, not planned!)

Evening walk

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Cycling In Provence

We have just returned from 8 days in Provence. We took our folding bicycles (Brompton for me, Bickerton for Adam) since Eurostar is still imposing prohibitive restrictions on travelling with full-size bicycles. As it happens, though, touring with small-wheeled bicycles worked out very well for us. 

I will do fuller write-ups on our travels each day as I sort through 1,500+ (!!) photographs, but here are a few highlights: 


It is of course a stereotype that French food is wonderful, but that reputation is well earned. We ate like kings every day. After the first 4-5 days, we began telling ourselves "must not eat so much today" but it was really hard to resist when the menus were so enticing. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Brompton Touring Mods - Part II

A few weeks ago, I set up Lucy the Brompton with everything I believed would be needed to transform her from a multi-modal commuter into a "Short(ish) Distance Touring Bicycle That Folds". 

Trying out the kit revealed a few further changes were necessary, notably a support for the Carradice saddlebag. I have an original Bagman Sport support frame but for convenience for the kind of trip we are making (including being required to take all the luggage off, fold the bike and put it into a bag while on the EuroStar trains), I decided to try the SQR system which fits to the seat post rather than to metal loops on the back of the saddle -- which isn't an option for me anyway having ditched my VeloOrange leather saddle in favour of the Selle SMP Dynamic I prefer for distances longer than a commute. 

I fitted the Carradice SQR today and I think it's a winner. The system was easy to fit and will keep my Carradice Barley saddlebag away from the backs of my legs as I pedal. The metal frame also has a nylon web handle attached to the top, which will come in handy when the bag is off the bike. 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

REPORT: Bespoked The UK Handmade Bike Show 2016 (Bristol)

I really enjoyed attending the Bespoked show in 2014 when it was held in London. When I heard it was returning to Bristol in 2015, I pretty much assumed I wouldn't ever be able to attend again, or at least not easily. But at some point late last year, I made the decision to try to go this year so I put a reminder into my calendar for January to book tickets and a hotel, then another reminder 12 weeks before the event to buy advance train tickets. 

And so Adam and I made a 3-day weekend out of it and attended the show on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. 

I apologise for the quality of these photos. I made the monumental mistake of not double-checking that I had a memory card in my camera before leaving home and then discovered the battery was dead and of course I'd not checked whether the spares were in its case. All these photos were taken on Adam's and my mobile phones, which were not always up to the job.

Links to exhibitors' websites are included where possible - just click on their names. 


The event was held this year in the Engine Shed next to Bristol Temple Mead train station. This venue could not be more of a contrast from the Lee Valley Velodrome where the 2014 show was held! The Engine Shed is beautiful and historic... and a much more intimate space. 


Yes, the venue was small (by comparison with the velodrome) but it was, as the saying goes, perfectly formed... and jam packed with stunning bicycles everywhere you looked. So let's dive right in and have a look. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Summer? A Taste And A Test

After a prolonged cool and damp spring, this past week has brought Proper Summertime Temperatures, i.e. 20C degrees! That's 70 in Fahrenheit. (Normal service resumes tomorrow: cool and unsettled with thunderstorms, which means showers, including hail I have no doubt.)

Today is the climax of our mini-heatwave, with temps of up to 27C expected.  This presented me with an unexpected (and very welcome) opportunity to set up my Brompton according to the plan I had devised (on paper) for our South of France trip next month. In addition to prepping the bike, I have also kitted myself out according to plan, anticipating similar temperatures in the Avignon area. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

It'll Be Worth The Wait....

Just a quick note to say, yes, I went to the Bespoked show in Bristol last weekend. A full report with an insensible number of photos is in the works but we've had a death in the family early this week which has, as you can imagine, pushed blogging down my list of priorities. 

Do check back in a few days. Meanwhile, here's one of my favourites from the show:  

2008 custom build by Darrell McCulloch of Llewellyn Bicycles in Perth, Australia. Ridden regularly in the UK and looks as good as new. 

Monday, 28 March 2016

RE-BLOG: London Cycle Infrastructure Safari next Saturday, 2nd April 2016

from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website: 

London cycle infrastructure safari, with Ranty Highwayman - 2nd April

Superhighway Embankment London

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will be joining the Ranty Highwayman on a cross-London Infrastructure Safari, on Saturday 2nd April.

The ride will start at Tower Gateway, where the eastern end of east-west Superhighway meets CS3, at the junction with Royal Mint Street - location here. Meet at 11am!

The ride will take in the east-west Superhighway itself, the north-south Superhighway, and Superhighway 5 at Vauxhall. The ride will finish with a look at Vauxhall Walk, and a visit to a pub. More details on the Ranty Highwayman's facebook page.

The full trip is expected to be around 10-15 miles - with regular stops to examine the new infrastructure, as we go, and for lunch and coffee.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Operation Body Swap: RESULT

Yes, it's done! And yes, it is a complete success. 

Lorelei is the London Town Bike, on the road the whole of this past winter. She's a pleasure to ride and completely reliable, having needed not so much as a brake cable adjustment in the past five months. 

Petra is the Modern Retro Road Bike, on the road for the past two weeks and just a dream to ride. 

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Review: SHOWER'S PASS Rogue Hoodie

In my search for a new waterproof jacket this winter, I had a look at the current offerings from Showers Pass. While in the end I went with a Craft 'cycling specific' waterproof jacket, I also bought a second jacket intended for more general purpose use off the bike but also suitable for casual cycling: Shower Pass's Rogue Hoodie.

The Showers Pass website describes the Rogue Hoodie thusly: 

A street wise, bike friendly, and fiercely weather resistant technical hoodie, the Rogue Hoodie is like your favorite sweatshirt, in a flattering women's cut. The Rogue features a 3-layer waterproof softshell Artex material: the cozy fleece lined fabric wicks sweat away from skin, while the outer fabric and waterproof membrane keep wind and light rain at bay (seams are not sealed). 

An employee favorite here at Showers Pass, we wear the Rogue for fall and winter bike commuting, hiking, camping, on the slopes and around town – over a T-shirt when it’s 50 degrees, or layer up a few wool baselayers for colder conditions. Bike friendly features include a slightly dropped tail to protect against tire spray, longer sleeves with wrist gaiters, reflective accents, and a large back pocket with light loop.

The reference to Artex material meant little to me. ((Isn't Artex a material for covering walls?) My expectations to be honest were fairly vague and low:  basically a sweatshirt type jacket with some kind of weatherproofing. Not truly waterproof and certainly not breathable enough for 'spirited' prolonged riding, but cosier than your usual cycling waterproof jacket (most of which aren't designed to deal with chill as well as wet). 

I've got to say, this jacket has confounded and exceeded expectations in every way. I'll deal with specific features shortly but firstly I want to try and categorise this jacket, as I've never worn anything quite like it before. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

#Errandonnee 2016 Challenge: Ride 12 (Sunday London Ride)

Errandonnee #12
Date: Sunday, 6 March 2016
Errand:  Sunday London Ride
Category:   Social Call/Ride
Destination:  Hyde Park Corner, London, to Fatboys, Trinity Buoy Wharf, London 
Distance: 37.3km (23.4km on ride itself + 13.9km getting to it and back home again)
What I learned/observations:

The day dawned (or, more accurately, the darkness gradually lifted on an extremely foggy morning) and we were out the door by 7.30am to catch a train to London to join friends for the long-running Sunday London Ride. We were shocked when our calculations suggested that we haven't been on one in three years!

We decided to use the new East-West Cycle "Superhighway" aka Crossrail for Bikes to make our way from Blackfriars towards Parliament Square. I am disappointed to find that this brand new, not yet finished, cycling "superhighway" is woefully inadequate. I don't know when the plans were drawn up but bi-directional provision within the width of one car lane is simply not good enough. After years of dangerous over-capacity, the Tavistock route has been upgraded to one full-width lane in each direction -- and that's not a so-called "superhighway"!

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