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For the third week of September, NYC Velo (under the “NYC Velo Tours” banner) led a group of intrepid cyclists on a tour of the Southern French Alps. A photographic review of Days 1 & 2 was posted in November and a review of Days 3 & 4 was posted in December, while the photos below document Days 5 & 6. The ride on Day 5 started and ended in the town of Briancon, consisting of a loop that climbed the Col d’Izoard and followed the rivers Le Guil and La Durance. On Day 6, the last day in the saddle for this trip, the crew ascended the highest paved road in Europe, the Col de la Bonnette, before a long descent along (the river) La Tinee and a final 9k climb up to Valdeblore.
The gear supplied by Search and State (the S1-J Riding Jacket) and Grimpeur Bros Coffee (the Greenbelt and River Road Peaberry roasts) once again proved to be up to the task of protecting and caffeinating the crew.
The trip consisted of 6 (usually) long and (usually) difficult days in mountains (total riding elevation gain was just shy of 73,000 feet), but the food, drink, camaraderie, and warm welcome by all of our new French friends made the pain and fatigue disappear. NYC Velo has plans for similar trips in 2013, stay tuned!
If you’d like to learn more about this trip, or any of the upcoming adventures, stop by the shop or drop us an email at: Andrew@nycvelo.com.
beer, bike tour, coffee, custom, Grimpeur Bros Coffee, NAHBS, Road Biking, Search and State, shop rides, Tour de France, travel, Trips
Human error, it happens. It can lead to the tragic and terrible, though sometimes amazing things can happen.
In 1921, two trains collided head-on at the Bryn Athyn cut, a narrow section of railroad track that threads through a rocky outcrop about a mile East of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia. It was a disaster, reported to be one of the worst of it’s kind in American history and human error was decided to be the cause.
Bear with us here. You are here today, Alive, blessed to be able to go out and explore and reflect. Human error is just something I was thinking about while riding Lone Wolf Cycling’s “Crazy Train” event (race?) this past Sunday, January 6.
According to the promoting bike club, the inspiration for the ride was when club members intentionally took a wrong turn down some abandoned railroad tracks. What took place there 90 years ago inspired the name. The wrong turn down those abandoned tracks, the flyer reads,”inspired a ride about exploration and the experiences a bicycle can give you.”
It was such a hot (or cold) mess of a ride. Icy mud bogs, piles of rubble, abandoned railways , singletrack, suburban bike paths and roads, soft pretzels… someone’s driveway… it was almost unadulterated joy (almost); like… Little-Kid-Out-Getting-Away-
I couldn’t not think about human error because, I confess, I almost didn’t go. I felt a bit tired from the ‘cross racing season, maybe something like an old house with a few broken windows, and wasn’t relishing the idea of another pre-dawn wake-up, ride to meet someone with a car, pile into said car, and drive to a ride a couple hours away in potentially foul weather. As the day approached, some close cycling friends stoked the fire a bit (thank you) so Sunday morning I found myself riding almost everything a bike can be ridden over, under or through, in a winding, somewhat disorienting and thoroughly silly 40 miles.
And that’s when the amazing part happens; you drag yourself out – to some snowy place in this case – where it’s just possible something may have been lurking along the railroad tracks. You beat up on your friends and yourself a little bit, beat up on your bike, have some laughs, watch your buddies do some dumb stuff, and you do dumb stuff yourself.
At the end you are sore, muddied, rattle-brained and grinning ’cause you got away with it. You were given a chance to celebrate being alive and exploring, and you didn’t make the mistake of not riding your bike. You balanced something tragic with something brilliant.
It was a mess doing it, but it’s done.
crazy train, cx, Cyclocross, philly, Trips
For the third week of September, NYC Velo (under the “NYC Velo Tours” banner) led a group of intrepid cyclists on a tour of the Southern French Alps. A photographic review of Days 1 & 2 was posted here last month and the final 2 days will be posted after the new year, while the photos below document days 3 & 4. The ride on Day 3 started and ended in the town of Valbonnais and topped the Col d’Ornon and the famed Alpe d’Huez, finishing with a stretch at sunset along the Grand Lac de Laffrey. On Day 4, the crew tackled the Col du Glandon/Col de la Croix de Fer, the Col du Mollard, the Col du Telegraph and the Col du Galibier, ending up with over 18,000 feet of elevation gained for the day.
If you’d like to learn more about this trip, or any of the upcoming adventures, stop by the shop or drop us an email at: Andrew@nycvelo.com.
For the third week of September, NYC Velo (under the “NYC Velo Tours” banner) led a group of intrepid cyclists on a tour of the Southern French Alps. The priorities of the trip were as follows: ride, eat, drink, sleep. Setting that list to repeat 6 times yielded a week full of climbing (total elevation gain of 72,631 feet), descending, sun, scenery, and warm French hospitality. Along the way, we thoroughly tested our legs and our gear (see the recent BOTW feature), including the Search and State S1-J Riding Jacket, a variety of Grimpeur Bros Coffees, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration (USADA-legal we’re told), and Endura compression gear, reviews to follow.
The trip is best seen in photos, which are broken up into 3 News posts (Days 1&2, Days 3&4, and Days 5&6), with little more than captions to accompany the images. If you’d like to learn more about this trip, or any of the upcoming adventures, stop by the shop or drop us an email at: Andrew@nycvelo.com.Alps, bike tour, coffee, events, french alps, Grimpeur Bros Coffee, independent fabrication, NAHBS, Road Biking, Search and State, shop rides, skratch labs, Tour de France, Trips
This edition of the Bike of the Week feature details not one, but five bikes, making it the first 5x BOTW, FWIW. The bikes in question were all part of Fr2012, an NYC Velo Tours-sponsored weeklong attack on the Southern French Alps.
Ian’s bike is the carbon fiber Opal, from the venerable Spanish marque Orbea, which came his way when he was part of the CRCA Junior Racing Program (a program that he helped to re-launch). He’s now had the bike for a number of years, and it served him well as the French tarmac headed skyward. Ian’s Orbea is outfitted with a mix of Shimano Ultegra 6600 and Dura Ace 7700 parts, not the latest-and-greatest, but more than up to the task, even the bike-racer-friendly 130mm stem and flo-purple Knog light (and Helen’s Cycles water bottles).
Jack’s bike is a Cervelo R3, a white carbon beauty that, when paired with the latest Shimano Ultegra 6700 gear, helped him set the pace as the Fr2012 crew tackled the nearly 75,000 vertical feet of ascension over the 6 day trip. Jack’s brand-appropriate (ahem, Ian) water bottles did not slow down his Strava-insprired attack on the Alpe d’Huez, nor his sunset lead-out on the Galibier. Not surprisingly, the Easton EC90 Equipe carbon handlebars and Cane Creek Crosstop levers aided finish-line one-hande-wheelie victory salutes.
Troy’s custom titanium Eriksen cyclocross bike may seem like a fish out of water on a predominately paved bike trip, but its S&S Machine Co coupler system allows him to pack it neatly into a suitcase (and avoid the increasingly nasty airline bike-handling fees). Troy swapped the stock knobby tires for 23mm slicks on his White Industries-hubbed custom wheels, but kept the rest of the bike cyclocross-ready, including a Campy groupset and TRP cantilever brakes. Troy’s Eriksen also sports a rarely-seen Syncros Revolution crankset. Made of tubular steel, yet still lightweight and ultra-strong, these cranks were rare when they were available new 15 years ago, and almost never seen today.
Ian’s custom steel Independent Fabrication Crown Jewel road machine also uses S&S Couplers to facilitate air travel. Ian’s Somerville, Mass-made Indy Fab is painted in a champaign-like hue, suggesting a titanium composition to the casual observer, remaining understated, like the rider himself. His bike is set up with Shimano’s Dura Ace 7800 group and a pair of hand-laced wheels, perfect options for a week’s worth of Euro-riding.
Andrew’s Independent Fabrication Ti Crown Jewel rounds out the group’s equipment. The Ti CJ is, like Troy and Ian’s bikes, outfitted with S&S couplers, to many the best option for setting up a travel bike. Andrew’s bike uses 2010 model year SRAM Red parts and a set of NYC Velo’s signature wheels (custom Industry 9 20/24-hole hubs, Sapim CX-Ray spokes, Stan’s Notubes Alpha 340 rims, and Hutchinson Atom 700x23mm tubeless tires). The bike also utilized Chris King’s (the Pride of Portland) headset and bottom bracket, as well as Ritchey WCS handlebars, stem, and seatpost and a Fizik Antares saddle. Weighing in at around 16 pounds, it proved to be a fitting piece of equipment for a weeklong ride in cycling’s Promised Land.
Bike of the Week, independent fabrication, NAHBS, Road Biking, shop rides, Trips
For the second year in a row, I (Tom, NYC Velo Team) had the honor of riding for four days with a dozen French cyclists in a sort of tour that makes me could be more common in the United States.
Of course La France has its infrastructural advantages for cyclists: towns that are closer together, affordable and well run owner-operator restaurants and hotels in those towns, fierce regional pride in locally grown food and wine, and impeccably maintained, low-traffic’d roads (Hey, the 60%+ of GDP coming from the government has to go somewhere), and a density of mountainous terrain high enough to put together a different point-to-point or circuit route every 4-6 years.
However, it’s not just a question of infrastructure — it turns out that the French attitude towards cycling and life in general makes a big difference. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the French may also have a different understanding of companionship and why they ride. Accommodations along the route are always nice but rarely prestigious, and rooms are often shared by 3-4 people. In fact, everything for 16 hours a day is shared by 3-4 people: cans of Coke and Figalou (the tastier French version of Fig Newtons) on the road, lunch tables, waits for the train, beers after a quick shower, walks after dinner, and of course plenty of time on the bike.
This makes the whole trip — including round-trip train fare from Paris and 3 meals-per-day — lighten the wallet the same as one “luxury” dinner in New York City.
The ride, always 4 days long and surrounding the 14th of July (or Bastille Day, as it’s known to Americans) started about 15 years ago, among friends who all worked for L’Oreal. While the base of the group is the same and many of the same guys show up every year, over the years new participants have been added.
One of the newest additions (besides me) is Kurt Dienel who readers may remember as our host in the Hauts Alpes in September 2010. He asked me join the 2011 edition of the tour after having been himself invited by Gilles, one of his co-workers at l’Oreal.
You may also remember Yves — our host in the Bas Alpes in November 2011. While a longtime member of the team, he was absent this year due to an unavoidable conflict with a family vacation. However, his brother Yann and his father Jean were able to make it. Jean now drives one of the two support vehicles along with Robert, the father of Steph, the chef / patron of the group who flawlessly organizes the trip each year. Both Robert and Jean no longer cycle at this level and have taken their retirement, and may be the two most kind-spirited people in the world … or just reasonably typical French dad’s who get a kick out of hanging out with their sons for 4 days in the mountains. The rest of the group included two Francois’, two Hervé’s, another Yann, another Tom, Christian aka Kiki, Maxime, and Arnaud.
The 2012 edition — the route is different each year and focuses on a particularly mountainous region of the country — was entitled ‘Traversée du Massif Central’ and was another extraordinarily organized, incredibly fun time.
At just over 300 miles in length and 32,000 feet of elevation gain (see Strava rides Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4), it’s an impressive effort for a bunch of guys who generally ride only once a week. There is no questioning their love for the bike, while at the same time, many put in a maximum of 3,000 miles a year and still maintain a level of fitness that lets them crank out a trip impossible for casual cyclists. I’m betting that their secret is a combination of commitment to overall fitness and a sporting lifestyle (while cycling is important to them, most, if not everyone else swims, skis, kitesurfs, windsurfs, runs, etc.) as well as a regularity of training that I have a hard time achieving, especially during the wintertime.
To be honest, on first view, I was initially a bit skeptical about the route. You don’t hear many people in France talk about the Massif Central, which happen to be some of the oldest mountains in France, if not all of Europe: they were created 500 million (!) years ago. The principle reason that Massif is oft-ignored is that the area is sparsely populated and one of the poorer regions of the country. Beyond the volcanos, the winters are cold, agriculture is much harder here than elsewhere, and the climbs here are shorter (and often steeper) than the longer, slower rising climbs in the more popular Alpine region. Somewhat to the contrary, these shorter climbs often contain longer sections of steepness (we saw 10% average gradient for greater than 5k on more than one occasion.)
Throughout the day, the bunch naturally divides into smaller groups, which are sometimes based on pace, but more often based on who you want to talk to or ride next to. In fact, on the subject of pace, there is a certain appreciation of the guys who are in better shape during a particular year, and increasing the pace is never frowned upon unless it would explode the full group at a time when everyone was riding together. Here, competition is a far second to ‘passer des bons moments ensemble‘ and creating great memories. In other words, having a good time. Even if that good time means pushing the tempo sufficiently to put everyone that you’re currently riding with, including yourself, in the hurt bucket on a 3-5 mile climb with an average gradient of 10%. This may sound crazy to some readers, but the goal isn’t necessarily to make it to the top of the climb first, it’s to suffer, together.
However, suffering does not come without it’s immediate rewards: as usual, ‘on a bien bouffé’ (we ate well). Lunchtime is usually a two hour affair with entrée (appetizer) plat (main course), dessert, and coffee, and no day is complete without a 3-4 course dinner, that would make anyone who ever thought, just for a second, of becoming a vegetarian, cringe. This year, local delicacies included pink trout, beef and sausage from the Salers (the sausage is made with Salers veal so it’s extra lean), St. Nectaire and Cantal cheese, and the incomparable inimitable, ubiquitous Aligot: a richer than rich combination of potatoes, cheese, and more butter than I previously thought possible for a cyclist to consume at lunch (or dinner, for that matter) and get back on a bike.
As a peace offering and a thank you for my inclusion on this year’s roster, I presented each rider with a NYC special edition cycling cap aka casquette. The picture below is everyone on the crew sporting their new lids before we rolled out on le quatorze juillet. It turned out that the gift was more practical than imagined as the temperature hovered between 40-60 degrees every day and also included a not-insignificant amount of precipitation. All that rain is a distant memory now — my primary recollections being great moments, outstanding food, and of course, suffering with my friends.
beer, events, Road Biking, shop rides, Tour de France, Trips
Here’s a breakdown of the second half of our quick trip to France in November, 2011. Check out the first half here.
Interlude (Post Day 2 Ride in Grasse)
With all that great cycling at our (hotel) doorstep in Nice/Grasse, it was difficult to justify hopping in our Peugeot Expert to drive two hours in search of more miles. Could the riding get any better than what we’ve experienced in the first two days? The answer turned out to be yes.
The drive ended in the Mediterranean seaside town of La Ciotat, situated between Cannes and Marseilles, and home to the Guivarch family, our hosts for the next few days. Yves, Beatrice, and their children were more welcoming than we could have asked for and certainly did their part to make the trip a special one. When riding in France in November there’s little that melts the sharp edges of a long, 40 degree day in the saddle as well a good massage. Unfortunately, daily massages were not in the cards, though our gracious host offering comfy couches, a roaring fire, and glasses of Champagne upon our arrival in La Ciotat came pretty damn close. The cassoulet and red wine that followed topped off our fuel tanks and made it difficult to stay fully awake through the excellent cheese course.
La Ciotat Day 1
The night before, Yves had remarked that “it doesn’t rain in La Ciotat,” which is why it was surprising that we woke to grey skies, 30mph+ winds, and the occasional downpour. No matter, we only had four days in country and we were getting on the bikes no matter what. Post Nutella/baguette breakfast, the crew + Yves bundled up and hit the road. Yves asked whether we wanted to start “along the water” or “into the hills.” Nursing an injury or two and pretty tired from the day before we opted for the “water” route. This turned out to be a wise choice as very little is flat in this area of the country and not riding “in the hills” meant that our uphill stints were 1-5k instead of 10k+. Even though visibility wasn’t 100%, the rolling terrain provided stunning views of the calanques along the coast and the often-terraced vineyards of world renowned red-wine appellation of Bandol that made up the inland scenery of the Castellait.
It turns out that Yves picked an awesome route with scenery that continually changed from historic seaside towns like Sanary-sur-Mer to the beginnings of a pretty decent climb (you’ll note he said “start” along the water). While this wasn’t a Hors Categorie 12% climb of average gradient, it was reasonably steep and a notable contrast to the gentle rollers of Saint-Cyr and Ollioules. The landscape alongside the many switchbacks changed almost as quickly as the pitch of the road — from Mediterranean scrub to pine trees, and our uphill efforts were ultimately rewarded at the summit with a stunning, if foggy, view back to the sea.
A fast descent and some good old fashioned hammering in the flats got us back to La Ciotat by 1pm, leaving plenty of time for us to reflect on the morning’s efforts with a 3 hour lunch of freshly-caught grilled fish and the locally famous Brazoucade (Mussels, Shrimp, a ton of Roquefort cheese, aioli, and the occasional veggie… oh yeah and frites) in the Old Port neighborhood of La Ciotat. After feasting, we went out in search of the now obligatory mid-afternoon (outstanding) French pasty and (horrendous) Tabac coffee. The first bit of downtime on the trip, a tour of the Guivarch compound, a short hike out to the cliffs that mark the end of the continent, and another excellent host-provided family meal rounded out a noteworthy day.
La Ciotat Day 2
Yves had saved the best for last as the day’s ride would earn the right to be called the “Queen stage” of the trip. His incredibly outgoing and friendly nature was balanced by a tendency for understatement, especially when it comes to estimating and communicating gradient (this tendency could also just be an indication of how hard-core he is). On this day, he mentioned that it was “a bit uphill at the start” but I don’t think any of us were prepared for 1,500 feet of climbing in the first two and a half miles of the day. The good news was that our immediate discomfort was rewarded with some of the most incredible scenery we’ve ever seen on the bike.
And so it continued for the rest of the day along the Route de Cretes and beyond: calanques, gear busting climbs, harrowing descents with hairpin switchbacks sans guardrails (signed as high as 30% grade!), quaint seaside towns like Cassis … and we only scratched the surface of what the area has to offer. Words don’t do it justice, so we’ll end here and let the pictures do the talking.
A hearty thanks again to Yves and Beatrice for making us feel like La Ciotat was our home for 48 hours! Until next time….Europe, France, Road Biking, switchbacks, Trips
Just before last month’s Thanksgiving holiday, Ben, Ian, Andrew and I met up in Nice, France to scratch a late season road riding itch. Our goals were simple: exploit the warmth of Southern France in November while maximizing our 96 hours in the area by exploring a variety of terrain in a part of the country where the mountains meet the sea, maintain our base fitness with rides at a brisk yet conversational pace, and eat/drink as well as possible every day.
We are happy to report that we met or exceeded each of our goals, and in rereading the following notes from our four day foray into the Alps Maritime, one thing is clear: we only scratched the surface.
Prologue: Nice is a Mess
It’s shocking just how crowded it is in one of France’s most famed destinations.
In this area of the country, being close to the ocean is a huge priority so every square meter is covered by human construction, regardless of how steep the terrain is. Most impressively, many of the roads and buildings have existed for over 200 years, originating in a time when humans and their vehicles were much smaller. Streets are tiny, parking areas even smaller, and street-clogging traffic exists almost all day long, even in November. It’s tough to imagine this town in August (think Hamptons chic meets the human-on-human Jenga stack of Hong Kong).
The planned ride out of Nice was an easy 60k or so spin up Col de Braus followed by a descent into Sospel and a climb back out over the Col de Castillon, down to Menton and a relaxed spin-out along the Mediterranean sea back to Nice through Monaco.
It turns out that, given the logistical challenges of Nice (see prologue), our day would start at 1pm instead of the scheduled 11am departe. This meant that we would have to cut the planned route relatively short in order to be on our way home before the low autumn sun dipped fully below the peaks to the west — a daily event that begins no later than 4:30pm.
After negotiating the traffic and “rond points” (AKA roundabouts) and determining the difference between the D2204 (true departmental road) and the D2204B (autobon-like parkway) we were on our way to the first official summit of the day, the modest Col de Nice (412 M). While this first climb was a “nice” warm-up (sorry, couldn’t help it) it was the next ascent, the Col de Braus (1002M), that helps you understand why so many pro cyclists train here. The road to the top was pristine and well paved, with plenty of gradient variation, zero traffic, switchbacks galore, and outstanding scenery.
At the apex, we were surprised to find the ashes of Rene Vietto and his wife, as well as a monument to this one-time Maillot Jaune. Frankly, the name didn’t ring a bell with anyone in the group and this was by no means a major or “important” climb, so we were surprised upon our return to find out that he was quite a Tour de France folk hero.
At this point our legs wanted more uphill so we took a detour to try to reach what looked like some sort of abbey situated 500 meters or so higher than the Col de Braus, to the west. However, the pavement — or lack thereof — made the route decidedly sketchy and daylight was fading, so we aborted and descended to the car in search of some top Mediterranean grub (Nice’s Luna Rossa = Excellent).
After a late night/early AM bedbug scare (note: do your best to avoid the Hotel Normandie — while conveniently located close to the train station, 1 in every 6 mattresses is infected with some sort of bug — at least in our experience) we took advantage of one of the great luxuries of riding in France, the un-ending supply of morning pastries, and were on our way to Grasse.
Compared to the bustle of Nice, the outskirts of the town were nearly deserted. It probably doesn’t hurt that there is one direction to go as you head north from town, up, which was fine by us. It could be said that every ride should start like this: 4-6% average gradient with occasional false flats…for over two hours. On the way up the slope, a quick look over our left shoulders showed the outline of the ocean in the distance. Unfortunately the view was directly into the sun and not suitable for photos, so readers will have to take us at our word that there’s something surreal about riding at 3000 feet and seeing the sea. After summiting the Col du Pilon we descended for a few kms before getting our grimp on again, up to the top of the Col de Valferrie.
By the time we hit the Col de Valferrie it was past 1pm so our search for lunch began in earnest — it’s nearly impossible to find someone that will serve you a proper meal in France after 2pm, especially in rural towns where “les snack bars” and hypermarches (Walmart-like supermarkets) simply don’t exist.
The pickings were slim as this area of the Alps is stuck between the more famous Cols to the North and the seaside resort towns to the Southern. Despite our collective worry that we would encounter typical French lunch service (read 2+ hours), we pulled over at Le St. Louis in Seranon. We definitely lucked out on this day — not only was the pizza outstanding and the service light-speed by French standards (full meal in under an hour!), but Le St, Louis turned out to be pretty much the only thing open within 20-30 hilly kilometers.
With only 2 and a half hours left until darkness, and the temperature headed southward, we opted for a slightly shorter cutoff than planned and were rewarded with some gently rolling terrain followed by a killer descent towards the car with sublime late afternoon views of the low Southern Alps.
A note of caution for anyone wanting to replicate our adventure: When riding in this area, signs are regularly seen for “Verglas Frequent” (Black Ice Forms Often) with a picture of a sliding car. It’s easy to tune-out these placards because they’re everywhere — especially when the weather doesn’t feel particularly icy (say, over 50F). However, it’s a sneaky thing, that verglas, and as the altitude exceeds 1500 meters and the roadway heads to the shade, pay close attention. If the fringes of the road are white, we’ve confirmed that there’s a pretty good chance that one will encounter this oft-advertised verglas, leading to a quick meeting with the pavement and a long slide to the gutter.
Also, this day’s ride proved to be a stinky one, given the Nicoise habit of creating huge outdoor fires to burn their household rubbish, not to mention a perfume factory or two. Speaking of smell, several hours at a time of four un-showered dudes in a Peugeout can have some serious olfactory effects. In this case, the primary result was the affectionate anointment of our silver sled as “the stank box” — it’s definitely a good thing that Hertz doesn’t complete any sort of aromatic testing to evaluate rental vehicle damage upon return.
Alps, Europe, France, Road Biking, switchbacks, Trips
NYC Velo is proud to publish Chapter 2 of Keegan’s recent adventure, read on:
Yesterday, I set off to construct the frame bag that would be an integral piece of gear for this trip. I decided to make it myself for two reasons: (a) I had roughly $10 I could spend, so to purchase one new from the handful of small operations that would even sell me something like this would have set me back $150 or more and so was definitely out of the question (b) The second reason had little to do with anything other than my wanting to prove to myself yet again that, when given the right amount of thought, the proper tools and some elbow grease, I’m pretty much capable of doing whatever I put my mind to. There may have also been a small bit of egotism in there as well. I’m not as immune to such narcissistic pleasures as I would prefer, but I do know that all I had to do for a compliment was to roll in to the bike shop today and lean my bike by the door (as of course, everyone loves my newly refurbished bike as much as I do :p )
Anyway, most of the morning was spent scheming and brainstorming. How many zippers did I want? Should I make the dividers vertical or horizontal? How much velcro is too much? Will this material hold up to all the weight I’m planning on loading it with? After much deliberation, decisions were made and templates were finalized. Then, after reading and re-reading the user’s manual of this crazy, new fangled “sewing computer” I was generously given permission to use, there was some sewing, followed by some seam ripping, some cursing, and a bit more cutting and more sewing. When the dust finally settled I emerged victorious, with my slightly misshapen and handmade custom frame bag. And when I strapped it on, it even fit in my frame like it was meant to – I love it when that happens.
After spending $8.00 on the velcro and zipper for my bag and $7.00 for 2 tubes, replacement cables and patches, I was close to being set to go. At a grand total of $15.00 spent on the trip so far, I wasn’t doing too badly either. I was also fortunate enough to arrange for my mother to hand deliver a bunch of my cycling gear from home that would be necessary for the trip (she and I met up last week unexpectedly, after illness brought us both to my grandparent’s house on short notice). Among the items acquired were my helmet, a multi tool, bib shorts and a 3 weeks supply of Clif bars, shots and blocks. Without her, and a seemingly endless pile of tasty organic fuel, this trip would be costing a hell of a lot more. Thanks mom!
With a place to stash my gear taken care of, I can’t help but shift my focus back to my bicycle. Now that I’ve had a chance to take it out on a few long-ish rides, there are still a couple things prodding at the back of my mind that may need to be taken care of before I embark. The gearing, for one, is decidedly more aggressive than I’d prefer for touring. With a 53-40 up front and a 5 speed 12-26 freewheel, things could get pretty miserable in the mountains. The tires, which were pretty nice when they were new, are about a decade old and dry rotted. I thought they might get me through alright, but as I’ve ridden them, a few chunks have fallen off, and more than one sizeable cut has appeared in them. It might be worth the cost if I can find some cheap, or even used tires somewhere in town. I also noticed that my handlebars are ever so slightly bent. I’ll have to keep my eye on them, but I think I’ll keep them for the time being, as the new asymmetric shape favors my left arm, which no longer extends all the way after an unfortunate walking accident.
I have also decided on the first part of my route. I will jump on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, and follow it all the way to it’s terminus roughly 380 miles northeast in Shenandoah National park. I figure it’ll be a much nicer way to get through NC and VA than riding through the endless maze of big box stores and urban sprawl that comprises most of the US this day and age. Being a national scenic roadway, it will also provide me with a respite from commercial traffic. The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes hundreds of miles along the spine of the Appalachian mountains. It was started as a project by the CCC in the depths of the Great Depression. The idea was to connect the Great Smokies and Shenandoah national parks. Construction on the roadway took more than 50 years, and when it was completed, the National Park Service was left with 469 miles of smooth, two-lane mountain blacktop edged by grassy shoulders. No stop signs, no traffic lights. From the BRP’s terminus, I will continue northeast on Skyline drive, which is really just a winding 105 mile extension of the BRP through Shenandoah national park. Once I descend the ridge and exit the park, I will be left to meander the remaining 350-ish miles north and pick my way around the multitude of major metropolitan centers that litter the eastern seaboard.
I have decided to give myself 3 weeks to complete the trip, so I can take the time to relax and actually see the countryside I am travelling in, instead of just rushing through it.touring, Trips
This just in from our field correspondent, Tom (NYC Velo Cycling Team member, marathoner, Francophile/oenophile proprietor of Daily Wine Deals site Winehoarder.com):
I think that we can all agree that one of the best ways to see a city is by bike, and this is especially true in Paris.
While bikes are available for rental from shops, they are often expensive (20-40 euro per day) and difficult to rent (multiple pieces of identity and a French bank check for the value of the bike often required). Not to mention that carrying around a lock and finding a free place to park your bike is a pretty big hassle, at least compared to New York.
The logical option is Velib’, Paris’ bike sharing program.
The premise is simple: pickup a bike from any Velib’ station and return it at any other station. It’s free if your trip lasts 30 minutes or less and additional time is around 1 euro per half an hour.
The challenge, however, is that to rent a bike for a day, you have to have a Carte Bancaire (Credit Card) avec puce (with a RFID chip). I’ve done some pretty thorough research and unless you apply for a card while you’re in Europe, it seems your only option is FairFx though I’m pretty sure that you have to have a bank account in pound sterling, which is also pretty unlikely. However, you can use your American credit card to subscribe to 1 day / 7 day / 1 Month Velib rental online – but first you need to acquire a physical Velib’ card that you can swipe at the Velib’ terminals.
Getting a Velib’ Card
There are three different types of Velib’ cards: Classique, Express, and Passe NaviGo (technically the Passe Navigo isn’t a Velib’ card, but you can activate it to act like one.)
The Classique card is only available by Post — you can also sign up online and the card will show up by mail, but it will take 5 business days, so this option is only for advance planners who can receive mail in France.
Obtaining a Velib’ Express card will require you to go to one of the bureaux de Mairie de Paris (effectively, mayors offices) listed here or the Virgin Mega Store on the Champs Elysee. It’s not clear to me that any of these locations will approve you for a card if you don’t have proof of living in Paris, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Once you have your card (or even beforehand) you can pay for a daily, weekly, or monthly subscription with your US Credit Card online at the Velib site
You’ll need one card for each person who wants to borrow a bike — you can only have one bike “out” at a time per card.
UPDATE: It seems that you can buy 1 and 7 day passes online with any CC. However, we have not verified whether you will need to present your card at a kiosk to activate your ticket. If that’s the case, you’ll be SOL unless your CC has a chip. In all likelihood you will receive a 10 digit code to use with your secret PIN everytime you rent a bike, which while less than convenient, may be preferable to tracking down a Velib’ Express card.
(Note: ‘around’ July 2011 they will be rolling out a way to buy 1 and 7 day passes via smartphone. Stay tuned…)
Getting a Passe Navigo
Assuming you strike out getting a true Velib’ card, or even if you don’t, my preferred method of getting on a Velib’ bike is to get a Passe Navigo (the Paris Version of a MetroCard). This gives you the advantage of being able to subscribe to weekly or monthly unlimited subway in addition to the bike. Here’s a list of places that you can obtain your Passe Navigo. And the best part, is that the Passe Navigo itself is free!
Note, you have to furnish some sort of proof of living in Paris. I’ve found that a formal, handwritten letter from someone who lives here in France is often sufficient, though no guarantees. You *may* be able to obtain a passe Navigo “découverte” from the same locations, with a 5 Euro fee — note, with the passe découverte, because your personal information is not stored, in case your card is lost or stolen, they will not replace it.
Connecting your Passe Navigo with a Velib’ account
This is the easiest step of the process. Simply go to the Velib’ site and sign up. Note: The Velib’ site is one of the best organized sites I’ve found in France — with a well written English section — and you can even call customer support and ask to speak to someone in English if you really run into trouble!
Activating your new combined Passe Navigo/Velib’ card
Once you’ve connected your Passe Navigo to a Velib account, you need to formally activate the account at a Velib’ station. For that, you’ll need your numero d’abonnement (contract #), the activation code sent to you via email (it’s on the .pdf) and your 4 digit secret code that you set when signing up. The instructions are fairly simple to follow.
After this first activation, you’re on your way…
From now on, all you have to do is tap your card on the velib terminal next to the bike you want, wait for the green light and grab your ride!
I’d also recommend topping up your Navigo/Velib’ card with a bit of credit so that your rentals can exceed 30 or 45 mins (depending on which plan you signed up for). The kind folks at Velib’ will spot you the cash for your first foray outside of the time limit. But once your account is ‘debiteur’, you’ll have to top it up before renting another bike – which is nearly impossible to do from the streets of Paris (I’ve had trouble with the https:// pages before)
Other helpful tips:
Now where to Cycle?
Paris is actually quite a bike friendly city. There are a number of bike lines that are reasonably well signed, especially through some, but not all, complicated intersections / large roundabouts. Also note that bus lanes are *generally* reserved for cyclists as well. That said, you have to pay attention as there are four types of signage, which can often change quite quickly.
Or for the visually inclined, these images should help out:
Bus lane ok for cyclists
Bus lane (only) … not ok for cyclists
Bus lane really not ok for cyclists, created by the Mayor’s ofice (editor’s note: wouldn’t one type of sign be enough?)
Sort of Bus lane that’s ok for buses, taxis, and bikes (velos) but not cars! (interdit = forbidden, sauf = except)
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and ride!
NYC Velo helps cyclists of all types find their perfect ride.