Friday, 25 November 2016

#Coffeeneuring Challenge: The 2016 Edition

The 6th Annual Coffeeneuring Challenge: Yay, I finished! Autumn of last year is a complete blank for me so presumably I didn't even attempt this wonderfully traditional challenge, and I know I did not complete in 2014.  So I am quite surprised and pleased that I did succeed, on 7 separate occasions, in riding my bicycle at least 2 miles for the pleasure of a hot beverage. 

I have finally figured out why this is such a tough thing to do if I'm riding with Adam. It's all down to the "spirit" of the challenge. See, Adam does not drink hot drinks. But the problem is more than that. We are both "tourists" and love nothing more than spending the day together out on our bikes peering at everything. However, Adam is not a coffeeneur at heart. He does not see the point of stopping -- or 'interrupting' -- a perfectly good bike ride for something as trivial as having a drink.  Drinking is for hydration and drinking from his bottle on the bike while on the move is perfectly adequate and sound good sense to him. Stopping is inefficient. He does it for me but I have to pointedly and directly request it. Hints go right over his head. Yet, how many times have we ended a ride only for him to say "Oh no! You didn't get to log this as a coffeeneuring ride!"  If I didn't know him (and his honest heart) so well, I'd suspect Coffeeneuring Sabotage.  

So this year, knowing that one week of the 7-week challenge would see us in the Netherlands where we would be cycling together every day, I devised a strategy:  get him cold enough and/or present our plans each day as ambitious enough that some kind of proper sit-down stop would be not only (1) welcome, (2) sensible, (3) enjoyable (even for him), and/or, if push came to shove, in some way (4) absolutely necessary.

Fortunately, the weather during our Amsterdam sojourn was fully co-operative! 

But I am jumping ahead to the second part of my 2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge.  

Without further ado, here are my 7 rides in chronological order. 

Destination:  Chilterns Gateway Centre (National Trust), Whipsnade Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2GY, UK
Date: Sunday, 9th October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Plain Black Tea with Milk (score: average, say 3/5)
Total mileage: 23.8km
Bicycle: Riley the Enigma

Bike Friendliness: 

Quite good. There are bike racks but it is perfectly okay to keep your bike with you and lean it against a table or wall within your line of sight.  This is a popular stop for cycling clubs.

Other Observations:

This was a beautiful morning and it was nice to see so many families out early to enjoy the great outdoors. Lots of dog walkers and kite flyers. After enjoying my hot beverage, I freewheeled into Dunstable to visit Adam's daughter and her fiance in their new, first home.

Destination: Harpers, Half Moon Lane, Pepperstock, Slip End, Bedfordshire LU1 4LL, UK
Date: Saturday, 15th October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: again, only average - 3/5)
Total mileage: 7.1km
Bicycle: Petra the Puch Princess Road Bike

Bike Friendliness: 

What you make of it. The proprietors made an effort at the beginning, without considering what cyclists might want or need. This was discussed with them and they have made no move to improve the situation. More detailed comments below!

Other Observations:

Two years ago, I visited Harpers for the first time on a bicycle and noted the less-than-perfect parking arrangements. I have since spoken to the owners and explained that it would be far better to have a solid structure to which a bicycle can be secured with locks through both the frame and wheels. They understood the logic of that. But... nothing has changed. 

As noted during my 2014 coffeeneuring visit, I felt the venue could still work as a mid-ride stop for our local group rides, as bikes could be kept within sight nearer the building if we were prepared to not lock them at all. 

Nonetheless, I have never been 100% happy with this shop as a ride stop and on this visit I finally figured out why.  It is trying to appeal to an upmarket clientele and I don't feel they've got it right for anyone. The  food and produce available in the shop is wonderful: high quality, small production badges, most of it quite local. A shop like this is a good distribution outlet for small artisanal-type producers. But. But. Most of the clientele for the shop visit by car. The proprietors assume that will be the case. The entire premises are arranged to maximise access by car. The cafe is geared to being a quick pitstop after you shop and before you get in your car to go home. It looks and feels like a cafeteria, with counter-service. The decor is cold and sparse. 

Nothing here is welcoming. It's cold, not cosy. Nothing fosters a coffeeneuring spirit. Nothing encourages you to 'sit a spell', visit with a friend, read a book over your coffee. The moment I arrive, I can't wait to leave. So, no more coffeeneuring here. 

On the other hand... it was another beautiful autumnal day and on the way home I pulled over to take some 'beauty shots' of my bicycle and my badged-up Carradice saddlebag. And then two girls on horseback I had overtaken earlier came by and stopped for a chat. 

Destination: The Hub (Coffee Bar & Cyclist's Refuge), 22 High Street, Redbourn AL3 7LL, UK
Date: Saturday, 22nd October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Flat white (score: 4.5/5)
Total mileage: 19.8km
Bicycle: Bridget the Cross Check

Bike Friendliness:

Bike parking stands (of the kind we call 'Sheffield' and Americans seem to call "staple") right out front. Lots of space. 

Other Observations:

The Hub is -- surprise, surprise -- doggone perfect. It can get terribly busy and cramped inside but I don't think I'd want it to grow any bigger!

This ride was a Facebook group meet up with Joaquin. I'd really like to meet more coffeeneurs in the UK!  

Destination: Camden Market, Camden Market, Camden Lock Place, London NW1 8AF, UK
Date: Saturday, 29th October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Flat White (score: 3/5)
Total mileage: 18.6km
Bicycle: Petra the Puch Princess

Bike Friendliness: 

Not much to say. The cafe was inside the market and we used normal street parking stands to lock up our bikes. 

Other Observations: 

I had my brand new Panasonic digital camera with me and to be honest wasn't too impressed with what I was seeing in review mode after each shot. Thankfully, the photos look a lot better uploaded on the Internet! 

As for Camden Market itself, I am glad we arrived before it got insanely busy -- which it did. I am amazed by how many out-of-towners visit here. In fact, the whole market complex is a much bigger deal than I ever imagined. According to the website: 

"Camden Market has been ranked as London’s fourth-largest attraction with approximately 100,000 people visiting the stalls and shops each weekend. The market has approximately 280 stalls and 54 shops. The Camden area generates £1.2 billion from visitor spending and has 24,400 businesses, which is the second largest in London after Westminster. These businesses are responsible for about 275,000 jobs, providing almost two jobs for every resident in the borough."

Wow! We only saw the tip of the iceberg.

Amsterdam Museum, Kalverstraat 92, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date: Sunday, 13th November 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: 4/5)
Total mileage:
Bicycle: Lucy the Brompton

Bike Friendliness: 

This was our first occasion to need to lock up a bike somewhere in Amsterdam and was a real eye opener: there is very little parking infrastructure here (other than at train stations). Everyone just cruises up to their destination and leaves their bikes right where they stop. I suddenly learned the solution to that mystery "Why do Dutch bikes have 'cafe locks'?", followed almost immediately by the answer to that other perennial Dutch question "Why are so many bikes stolen in Holland?"


Other Observations:  

Researching average temperatures and rainfall stats for your chosen travel dates -- and developing OCD tendencies regarding checking weather forecasts -- may not help  you much. Average temps for November run about 10C (50F) with rainfall not too far off London's. Don't get complacent!  It was bl**dy cold the first few days. Just above freezing with persistent mist. We aimed to pack light but pack smart and I am pleased to say that, for the most part, it worked. But there were times that we were wearing everything we'd brought.

Het HERT, Cattenhagestraat 12, 1411 CT Naarden, Netherlands
Date: Monday, 14th November 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: 5/5)
Total mileage: 52.5km
Bicycle: Lucy the Brompton

Bike Friendliness: 

See Ride #5 about parking! However, the cycling infrastructure for actually cycling places is amazing! Time and space constraints prevent me from going into detail but our trips to The Netherlands have, so far, been the only sources of personal experience of cycling without fear of being hit from behind

Other Observations:

I've posted my 'ride report' for the day here. My #coffeeneuring specific observations were my realisation (as we pedaled across a fairly monotonous stretch of flatland on the shoulder of an admittedly-not-very-busy road) that my glasses were so raindrop-splattered I could barely see and I could hardly feel my toes, which meant... Adam would be quite receptive to the idea of stopping and getting indoors for a totally coffeeneuring-friendly stop! 

Destination: Brasserie De Smuiger, Lagedijk 7-9, 1544BA Zaandijk, Netherlands
Date: Wednesday, 16th November 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: 4.5/5)
Total mileage: 62.5km
Bicycle: Lucy the Brompton

Bike Friendliness: 

I know I am repeating myself here, but... there simply are no parking stands other than at train stations. I've stood outside supermarkets and hotels watching people on bicycles arrive and depart. I've yet to see anything provided (solid or otherwise) to lock up to. Metal railings are good, when you can get them. A lamp post will do in a pinch. But otherwise... it's that whole 'roll up and drop' approach. Cafe lock if you have a working one. 

Other Observations:

The sun came out! You have no idea how happy this made me.  

Also... I love polders

Windmills are pretty cool, too. 


I am very pleased to have successfully completed this year's challenge. More satisfying, however, is a feeling that I have finally figured out what this is all about for me personally and how to go out and ride my bike in the true coffeeneuring spirit. It's very difficult to do all 7 without Adam, so I'm also quite relieved to have worked out a strategy that lets me combine coffeeneuring with our usual touring-style of riding without putting unnatural pressure on him. 

I am struck by how the first 3 rides (all rural) were definitely "autumnal", then no. 4 in London was transitional, then the final 3 in the Netherlands were definitely "wintry"! All 7 days had a beauty of their own and I am grateful that I got on my bike and went for a ride on all of these days.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Notes From Amsterdam (Part II)

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

We are told it will rain off and on (mostly on) all day today. Oh, and windy. Gusts of wind. Those isobars are packed tight today, weaving and waving their lines towards us from the west. It's November though -- what else can you expect? We cycle north through the city, through Chinatown, pausing in Niewmarkt to remember our first visit here one extremely clement March. Then we roll straight onto a ferry over the River IJ and roll straight off the other side into pleasant suburbia (mostly land reclaimed in last 50 years to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding Amsterdam) and hence onto a wild natural Polder Oostzaan. Why this wilderness? Water management. (Everything is all about the water. Always.) Headwinds. Marshland birds. More herons than you can shake a stick at. (And at one point, somehow, we inadvertently literally did. Nerves of steel, those herons. Be still now, indeed.) I love polders. Musings on wide open skies... my mother spent her childhood in south Texas, loved wide open spaces... my father grew up homesteading in the Bitterroot ranges of northern Idaho and hated them... the two years in the 1970s we lived on the prairies, my father yearned for mountains. My sister-in-law from the prairies felt claustrophobic for years in western Oregon. Me, I'm comfortable with either. Both. I love the drama of Big Sky Country. And the Netherlands definitely qualifies. Look down at your feet, below sea level. Look up. The sky is the limit. Anyway. I like wild, empty polders! And the sun is peeking through. Lunchtime brings us to Zaanse Schans, a residential area of Zaandam that looks like a theme park but is the real deal and oddly enough not a 'protected' site (although it is listed on the European Route of Industrial Heritage). Tasty salads and coffee in a bistro run by a family with very American accents. The bikes sit unsecured outside the window. (Adam has left the key to his chain in the pocket of his other trousers!) Then back through Zaanse Schans and across the Wijdewormer to Neck then through the sprawling town of Purmerand and down long straight avenues to Edam. Edam is a "protected townscape" and very pretty, verging on twee. They really ought to pedestrianise the village centre though. A brief sit down and then... it's dark. Magic along the unlit Purmerdijk -- a night ride! Our little blinkies are next to useless. But there's no traffic, just the sound of the wind in the reeds and dry grasses bordering the canal. A few wiggles through industrial estates to make you think you're back in the UK (cycle here? inconceivable!) and then we are on a southbound train... Approximately 40 miles in total.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Notes From Amsterdam (Part I)


I wish I could have a video cam strapped to my head every time we leave the apartment. So many amazing everyday stories here. I have in fact taken very few photos. I'm just gobbling it all up with my eyes and (hopefully) brain. Not to mention, it's hard to take many photos when you have to take gloves off to do it. After a while, cold hands get faster and more efficient at slapping down the photo bug impulse.

Oh and.... autumn is so beautiful here. The backdrop to every scene is a blurry watercolour in every shade of grey, with great splashes of fallen leaves in vivid yellow, orange and gold. Add reflections from rivers, canals, lakes, marshes and puddles and it's like moving through a liquid painting.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Today it was just above freezing and pervasively damp. But there's no such as bad weather, just bad clothing... and some days that's even true. We cycled to the Novagraaf offices (a reccie for tomorrow) then through a beautiful forest, over the Amsterdam shipping canal, round Weesp (pretty but, well, nothing special as Dutch villages go - I can't believe I am saying that), then through a wonderful nature reserve where some kind of native but rare deer has recently been re-introduced, around through Naarden (which is beautiful and charming and unusual with its forts and starflake-shaped canal system), had a wonderful lunch at Het Hert (I walked in thinking "I want an omelette and a bowl of really hot soup" and that's exactly what I got), where we warmed up and dried off (or steamed gently by the radiator, if truth be told), then ventured out again only to find it was raining in earnest. Heigh ho, off we went to Muiden (or Muider, I'm not quite sure) where there is a huge, moody impressive castle dating back to 12?? called Muiderslot (I do have that part right) that is not open November-April but the village (whatever it's called) is the prettiest, most postcard-perfect place you'll ever see. We cycled along a pretty canal on a road closed to cars, then alongside a motorway, then along the Amsterdam shipping canal for a very long way (which brought back lovely memories of the Fridays' Lowlands Tour just over a year ago) and then a superb commute-hour route across the eastern part of the city to the Amstel. Which meant home. 33 miles in total. Hot shower, feet up, drink to hand... Life is good.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

An Oldie But Goodie: Raleigh RSW 16

Here's another Luton & Dunstable Cycling Forum Recycle Project story...

One Saturday afternoon last month, Adam disappeared into the depths of our shed looking for a longer seat post for Petra.  He began removing various bicycles and boxes of parts from the shed and laying them out on the lawn. My mind on Petra, I took little notice. I am so accustomed to seeing lots of 'junk' from the shed -- all of it donated, all of it received without inspection -- that it was several minutes before my eyes focused in any meaningful way, only for them to land on something that made me dash for my phone. 

I know nothing about Raleigh's RSW range but I knew instantly this was not another run-of-the-mill "let's see if we can transform a sow's ear into a silken purse" sort of refurbishment project. 

A few minutes later, I had uploaded a handful of photos to the Vintage Bicycles UK group on Facebook. And within 24 hours, this little beauty had a new home. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

(Not So Much) Cycling in Provence: Relaxing in Vaison-la-Romaine (Part 2)

One of the aspects of cyclo-touring that can make or break your enjoyment is getting your clothes washed and dried so you have the right kit at the right time. 

In case we thought we were the only cyclists staying in le Beffroi, spotting this from the street swiftly proved otherwise: 

Our own system was rather more discreet: 

Day 2 dawned hot and sunny yet again. Time to find out what this town is really famous for. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

(Not So Much) Cycling in Provence: Relaxing in Vaison-la-Romaine (Part 1)

In a slight departure from normal service, this post doesn't cover much in the way of cycling -- except for Adam's epic Sunday morning!

I awoke when I heard Adam's voice. What was this he was saying?  

"I'm going to do it."

Instantly, I knew what "it" was. We hadn't discussed it at all but, really, realistically, how can "it" not be on the mind of any cyclist visiting Provence? 

"It" being riding up Mount Ventoux. 

I was still living in a migraine fog. Adam, on the other hand, was pumped up and raring to go. He intended to ride over to the mountain, do the ascent and come back before the heat of midday. So we had an early breakfast -- one that, technically speaking, meant he was actually going to do this epic thing in a fasted state. 

Friday, 29 July 2016

Cycling In Provence: The Rhône Valley Outbound

Saturday -- the first 'proper' day of our holiday - dawned a little on the grey side. This was a blessing somewhat, as I had a migraine (triggered by a phone call that jolted me out of a deep sleep the previous evening). On my personal scale of 1 - 10 (with 10 being "shoot me now" and 5 being the threshold for "no longer able to pretend to function, must lie down in dark room"), this was running only about 3-4, so "bearable" but it certainly was casting a pall over my morning. 

Breakfast was disappointing in its lack of protein but the coffee ("American", our host said proudly) was strong and I drank two cups. 

Our bicycles had been stored in the garage overnight. It didn't take long to pack up and be on our way, with the plan being to find a grocery store on the way out of Avignon to supplement our meagre breakfast and buy provisions for a picnic lunch. 

First stop, however, was the chemists (pharmacy) around the corner from our B&B, where I bought extra-strength paracetamol + caffeine tablets to try and keep me going. 

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.

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. 

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