This is why I cycle: Brian

Over the last few months, we’ve wanted to hear more from our members and supporters as to why they ride.

Here’s my story.

St Laurent de la Plaine (Pays de Loire) – La Drova (Valencia) bike tour

A glorious late summer tour from my in-laws’ house near Angers to my friend’s home near Valencia. 1200 Kilometres over 12 stages, due south from the Loire through the Vendee and onto the Atlantic coast at Royan, and a ferry across the Gironde to Medoc. Then on Velodyssey bike tracks through the pine forests of this coastal region to Bayonne. Then south through the Basque country before climbing to the border with Spain and through Roncesvalles, an historic and welcome rest place for pilgrims toiling to Compostela. 

After the French leg of 5 stages, it’s a few days of delightful gorges and irrigated valleys until the landscape changes again for the high plain. I learnt to stock up with food and water in the small towns and sparsely populated villages of Navarre and Aragon as this is strength sapping country with harsh winds and searing temperatures. I had three or four days of this and was happy to catch a train over a half day’s ride to cheat the wind and restore my legs. Then it’s a relief some days later to start once again to descend towards the western Mediterranean coast, and a refreshing dip in Martin’s and Sue’s pool. 

Since retiring I’ve got used to the freedom of touring once or twice a year like this. Usually camping, sometimes on my own, but always getting the great sense of connection with the landscape that being on a bike gives you. I’d missed my fix during the pandemic but after a few miles once again found my rhythm. Undeniably it’s slower these days, but the satisfaction of making your own way, and discovering new places and people is unbeatable. 

En passant:

  1. For the first time I was navigating mainly on a GPS device – a Wahoo Elemnt – with uploaded routes from Komoot. This worked extremely well, was brilliant at negotiating towns, and saved time stopping to read a map. It made only two mistakes in 12 days, when the surface was pretty near impossible to cycle. 
  2. Camping in France is easier than Spain. This was probably because my route through Spain was well away from tourist areas, and camp sites were rare. Some were also shut, so I stayed instead at hotels and hostels, which were excellent and good value. By contrast, French campsites were excellent, plentiful, and the municipal sites superb value.  
  3. Food in France was easier to manage, with bakeries, cafes, and restaurants all pretty much available with little advance planning. In Spain however, the main meal seems to be taken during the day and lasts for several hours, with dinner then not being served until after 9pm. I found it easier to buy and prepare my own supplies, as I could then eat when I needed. 
  4. Note to self: – pack a better spares and puncture kit. I had an uncomfortable 30 minutes cycling along a rough track with a repaired but still soft tyre having had an impact puncture. I definitely need a better pump, patches that actually stick, and three spare tubes. 
  5. I love my bike. It had never been heavier with camping gear and five days worth of food when I set off, but it never let me down. Shout out to Mark from Ladywell Cycles for setting up and servicing the bike to such a high standard. You really don’t want a mechanical on a remote rural camino in Aragon. 
  6. People are friendly and hospitable – several hotel and restaurant staff went out of their way to feed me, even when kitchens were closed. A Sikh from Kashmir gifted me a bocadillo for the road as I was leaving his hotel. A Lebanese bar owner in the Vendee told me about his children being educated in a Quaker school in Beirut, and then having to learn English to study for their bacalaureat in the Vendee. The owner of a beautifully refurbished water mill in Monreal del Campo sat me down with a tostada and cerveza to help me recover from that day’s head wind. 
  7. Go slow. Especially on long climbs, or head winds. Change gear before you need to. You might lose 30 minutes over the day, but the legs will be better tomorrow. Never, ever, attempt to ride hard into a headwind, there will only be one winner. As a result I’d finish a stage tired but not exhausted. 

ItineraryDistance (km)Ascent (m)
St Laurent de la Plaine – Magne135500
Magne – Gurp130500
Gurp – Sanguinet120500
Sanguinet – Capbreton130500
Capbreton – St Jean Pied de Port80750
St Jean Pied de Port – Sanguesa951500
Sanguesa – Gallur     95500
Gallur – Calatayud   951500
Calatayud – Monreal del Campo75600
Monreal del Campo – Torrebaga40100
Torrebaga – Losa del Obispo851200
Losa del Obispo – La Drova110750

Now….when’s the next tour?