September is 'back to school' month. The nights start to draw in, the gloves have come out for the morning cycle commute and summer holidays suddenly feel like distant memories. But it's not all doom and gloom! September is also a good time for fresh starts and we'll be embracing this 'give it a go' attitude with a series of 'beginner's guides' over the next few weeks.
Over the summer our Community Manager Kate went on her first cycle tour and it was amazing. She shares her tips for other first-timers.
Have you been inspired by Frances’ blog? Your jaw has dropped at the thought of cycling all the way from London to Mongolia and your appetite has been whet for your own two-wheeled adventure but you’re just not sure where to even begin? I was feeling just that when, for the last week of August this year, I decided to have my first foray into the world of cycle touring and pedal from London to Paris with my twin, Tom.
We had a week to get there, and some family and friends that we wanted to visit along the way, so we went the 'long way' and cycled to Portsmouth before jumping on the ferry across to Caen, training to Avranches and then cycling up to St Malo before turning around and heading back to Paris.
Our forte is going on holiday without much planning. Apart from the ferry, the first couple of nights, and a rough route we left everything else to pan out however it panned out.
Until about May of this year, I had never cycled more than about 35 miles in a single day. Never! My longest ride to that point had been 35 miles down the Mekong river in Cambodia and I was fully spent at the end of it. But I had longer rides in my sights, so I signed up to join the Beeline team for the Dunwich Dynamo and started getting the miles in. I did a couple of rides around Richmond Park, one out to Box Hill, one to Henley and a smattering of shorter rides in between.
Plenty of miles in my legs and Dunwich Dynamo complete, I decided that the time was ripe for a a two-wheeled trip across the Channel. I got Tom to agree to come along, booked the ferries, and set about accumulating the gear I thought I might need:
- 2 x padded cycling shorts (if I had learned anything from the DD it was that these are essential)
- panniers and a pannier rack (I went for Ortlieb)
- a second bottle cage and bottle (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!)
- an Allen key set (I've just discovered how useful these are)
- snacks (the supermarket had a deal on Nature Valley so I bought A LOT of those)
- some lights (I've always avoided cycling in the dark but you never know what could happen!)
- 700c 28mm Panaracer Tour Guard tyres. My bike had previously had much narrower tyres and I wanted to turn it into a tourer (and hopefully avoid some punctures)
We planned a rough route of around 440 miles (roughly 70 miles a day) and we set off.
What a ride! The August weather was largely kind to us, the countryside was beautiful and we had plenty of small roads and farm tracks to keep us mainly off of big busy hard shoulders. We had highs and lows but an overwhelmingly positive glow that stayed with us for weeks after.
- the South Downs. They are beautiful and the roads are small and empty. One of our best laughs of the trip came when we were pedalling so slowly up a very steep hill that Tom fell off. Hilarious
- cycling to Mont St Michel. We skirted the coast for miles, catching a glimpse of one of France's most iconic monuments every few minutes
- watching the fireworks on the beach in Dinard. We were lucky enough to happen to be there for the celebratory summer display
- Alençon to Saint Remy sur Avre. A beautiful day with hills and small villages and rolling countryside as far as the eye could see!
- some truly delicious meals. France's cuisine is famous for good reason and spending the day burning calories means you can devour a lot of it each evening. We also stopped for one exceptionally good McFlurry at McDonald's. Did you know that they top French McFlurries with *warm* chocolate sauce?
- reaching Portsmouth after 10pm with only one set of lights between us. Our first failure had definitely been setting off around lunchtime and not realising just how hilly the South Downs would be. Our second was that Tom didn't bring lights. D'oh!
- missing lunch twice! One thing to note about France is that lunch must be eaten between 12 and 2. Arrive at a restaurant at 1.59 and you’re good to go. Arrive at 2.01 and you are too late
- Tom getting a puncture, which wouldn’t have been a big deal if his puncture repair kit hadn’t fallen out of his bag on the first day. Cue a spontaneous spot of hitchhiking...
- getting so stuck in some mud that I had to take my wheel off! At least I now know how to do it
- a trip down the hard shoulder of a motorway and through a pond - we’re looking at you Google Maps!
- a crash for Tom. He got out of it with just a few cuts, a broken helmet, and some very impressive bruises. Safety first, people!
1. Take a puncture repair kit and keep it somewhere safe. It could be a big help!
2. Set off early each day: every adventure will be full of twists and turns and these are more fun when it's light
3. Plan for some rest days. They will be glorious
4. Pack light! We didn't camp so didn't need anything for that but, apart from your padded cycling shorts and some changes of top you really won't need much else
If you are thinking of a tour, go for it! There is something so wonderful about travelling at the pace of a bicycle and so blissful about flopping into bed at the end of a long day in the saddle. And, of course, there is such a huge sense of achievement at reaching your destination on your own steam. Cycle touring is also definitely not to be confined to just summer months. As long as you set your daily distances right you can get where you need to go in the light and you will have a great time.
Tune in again next week for the next in our Beginner's Guide series: how to get in to cycle commuting.