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Sommet for the Weekend. Magnum Photos and Cycling.

 

Magnum Photos. That in itself would be enough for me to suggest a Sommet for the Weekend. Their catalogue of work is unparalleled and I have spent many, many hours (days, months…) studying, admiring and just enjoying it’s work over the years. In all fields, including, but well beyond cycling.

A couple of days ago, they posted this blog about their work;Featured Essays. Magnum Cycling around cycling. It has been curated to be published in a new book Magnum Cycling which is winging it’s way to me as a birthday gift to myself. 

Curated by a man who loves this type of photography, former editor of Rouleur, Guy Andrews, he has put together a wonderful collection of some outstanding images, from some of the best photographers to ever cradle a camera.

It must have been an arduous task to get down to only 200 or so images. Arduous, as the body of work is so large, but joyous, as the body of work is outstanding. If you like any of or all of; cycling, photography, true photojournalism, art, history, anthropology, travel and more, you will most likely enjoy this.

It’s incredible. That’s before I get my hands on the book.

Superb work Guy and Magnum!

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A Swiss Sommet Independent Cycling Adventure

Last year we ventured into Switzerland in seek of cycling adventure. What we found was more than we had dreamed of.

One of the best mountain climbs we have done, followed by one of the best climbs we have done. Then more… All in epic low rolling cloud, enveloping and caressing us up to and beyond 2,000m.

On cobbles.

It was another recce for a Sommet Independent Trip this year. Sommet Independent is one of our flagship, custom options, alongside our Fully Supported Cycling Trips; both tailor made, or bespoke if you like, handbuilt trips putting you and your dreams first from the minutes of first contact until long after the trip is finished. Both are all about you. Fully Supported is just that; we are there with you all the way, full personal, technical and vehicle support all trip long. Where Sommet Independent differs is that we deliver a trip for you which you then experience on your own. In your own company. Be that solo, or with friends, but completely free in your own space. All the details have been taken care of, no hassles of arranging airport shuttles, no worries about dodgy dowloaded GPX files taking you astray or up the wrong mountain; nor worries about hotel quality or being cycling friendly. We have got that all covered, and more, delivered to you ahead of your trip. You just go and ride.

I digress. Back to Switzerland. On awakening in our, lets say traditional, quaint, Swiss mountain hotel, with accompanying charm, it was one of those drizzly days where you might (well, I might in Barcelona) decide to pass on the ride for the day normally. But, this was the Gotthard Pass awaiting. A long, true mountain climb, which is largely all cobbled and has no access for traffic. That drizzle, in such circumstances, becomes that epic rolling cloud mentioned above. Warmers on, jacket ready, off we go.

The smooth tarmac initially out of the village at the bottom made us wonder if we were on the right road. Where are my cobbles? Cobbles to climb into the sky. Patience. An army truck or two later and a few more sweeping bends, crossing the motorway bypass – which allows for our traffic free progress – and then there it was, the end of the smooth and onto the cobble. Now, they aren’t Roubaix cobbles, but they are still cobbles. A little greasy too.

Soon after that barrier – CX dismount and vaulted (stumbled) over – which makes an already amazing climb a paradise. No cars beyond this point. Just the gentle chatter of the chain from the gentle cobbles, the beating of the heart and the heat of the breath fogging in front of the face while parting the clouds higher and higher. Other worldly. Like a throw back in time on these roads of yesteryear.

Sweeping bends and ancient bridges, hairpin bends and precipices beyond. The Gotthard has it all. I could have gone up and down all day. Popping out at the top though, we had another on the agenda. Descend into the valley for a short traverse to the Furka Pass. The descent off the Gotthard has an option of all smooth tarmac or half on cobbles then the rest on tarmac. Maybe the former was more sensible in the greasy conditions but, as mentioned, epic was the feeling of the day so cobbles it was.

Where the Gotthard shows Swiss engineering adeptness of a recently bygone era, the Furka is a more modern representation of just how to build a mountain road. Super smooth, super curvy, not a pothole or weather induced pimple in sight. Just velvet, sweeping and hairpinning (sic) up to beyond 2,000m again. What a climb. And what a descent.

Ever since that day, we have talked about going back. Weekly it gets mentioned, often several times a week. We are going back.

The point here, aside from a tale of exploring, is that with Sommet Independent, we are opening up these sufferings we have endured to discover the best bits of Europe for you to ride. And for you to go and ride them Sommet Independent or Fully Supported by us. We are giving you the choice and the opportunity to make the most of riding in Europe, and do it the way you want.

 

photography by theMUSETTE.cc except for a couple by Nick Frendo, where stated.

 

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Cycling Rituals. Pre-ride coffee.

I love the process of making both tea and coffee. The fact that you as an individual can affect what you make by following a process – for good or for bad. The creativity is in creating the process (through talking to experts – Christian!) and then playing with that yourself). Of course you need good raw materials too, but then it’s over to you. I am no expert myself, I just know what works for me. And what doesn’t after many a practice.

My coffee tastes drift during the day, and from day to day. So having a variety of makers suits me just fine. The oily potent flavours of the Moka, the full and clear big mug of a Clever coffee or the flexibility of the Aeropress to, kind of, be anywhere between those two depending on how you treat it. Saving up for the Rocket Espresso.

Typically, if I ride mid-day, a nice Aeropress to start on a crisp note. Then just before riding I want a big flavour, full of oils, so the Moka hits the spot. If I can’t get to one of my favourite cafes that is.

I’ve nurtured a method that works for me on the Moka, finally. For years I was making crap out of this beast. Not now. Read on if you fancy trying it.

  • Weigh about 7-8g of coffee on a 18-19 grind on the Baratza Encore (thanks Christian again!). I have an over spill espresso cup in which I store coffee which was slightly over weight and when that is full, it’s bonus coffee time.
  • Boil the water before popping it into the Bialetti Moka (thanks Doug) to try and avoid burning the coffee with the extra heating time on the hob from a cold water start.
  • Weigh into the Moka base to make about a 16:1 water to coffee ratio (about 120g here). I have a three cup Moka to I scale down this way to one cup, and it’s more accurate, for me.
  • Funnel into Moka, coffee into funnel, very light tamper (no Chris King tamper sadly, top of a spice jar…)
  • Screw on the top – holding the hot base with a cloth – tight enough to get a damn good seal.
  • Lid up
  • On a medium to high heat so it’s Goldilocks – just hot enough but not too hot.
  • Have a cool water bath ready and as soon as the coffee extracting losses it’s rich brown colour and there’s a hint of larger bubbles, whip it off, pop the lid down and pop the base into the cool water to stop the extraction before any coffee gets burnt.
  • Pour at your leisure, enjoy as you prefer. Without sugar – find a sweeter bean if you like a sweeter coffee. I am a milk guy, fresh, natural…good raw materials again…How to get a nice foamy milk, another time, my coffee is getting cold.It’s not a classic Moka method, but it works faultlessly for me, with most beans I use. Looks a lot, but in reality it’s about 3-4 minutes. Just like anything, once the process is perfected, it’s harder to screw up and easier to do even in a daze for the early morning rides when this becomes the first coffee of the day…

 

Sommet for the Weekend, For the Love of Mud. Cyclocross.

Mud. Cycling.

It’s been a week of mixed terrain for us. There was even half a day of rain in Barcelona so a little bit of the dust turn into a few patches of mud. Meanwhile, in Kent there was mud aplenty for the Gravel Battle Ride in preparation for La Resistance cycling event.

Anyway, the relevance of this is to turn the calendar on it’s head – though #crossiscoming is more #crossneverleaves for me – and share with you one of my favourite documentary films. For the Love of Mud by Benedict Campbell. It’s a cracking documentary about ‘cross. Beautifully shot (his stills are superb also), great content – from the origins, to the Worlds to The Three Peaks, which is personally close to my heart with it being close to home and my Pa having done it a few times. Epic. I’ve watched it quite a few times, if it were VHS it would be getting stretched and warped now. If you like bikes and mud, and who doesn’t, check it out.

I almost met the man himself once; well, I did, sort of. A view through a crowded Satan’s Coffee Corner cafe, in the heart of Barcelona last year when he was here for Rueda Barcelona (International Bike Film Festival), last year. Alas, our ships crossed in the night.

I digress. Just check out the documentary. It’s fab. Have a great weekend. #fortheloveofmud (#fortheloveofdust here) #mysommets

Screen grabs courtesy of Benedict Campbell from his sight For the Love of Mud. Thanks mate.

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La Resistance Gravel Battle Ride

Five months to go until the wonderful La Resistance cycling event and our collaborating trip in Annecy in the Alps. The mixed terrain high mountains adventure we can’t wait for.

Part of our DNA is to look for rides and cycling trips that are interesting, challenging, fun, refreshing. On all terrains. So as soon as we found out about La Resistance we jumped at the chance to be involved and we are now the official travel partner. We have put together a cracking long weekend escape to encompass the event and take advantage of Annecy for an extra couple of rides on top of that.

Anyway, this week eight hardy souls galloped through the lanes, fields and bridleways of Kent getting their legs, bikes and minds ready for September. There was, perchance, a little more mud on show than there will be in the Alps. But the essence of camaraderie and adventure in the dirt and on the connecting bits of road that was ever present. A grand day out and plenty of fun.

Imagine that, way up high in the fabulous Alps…

We had a ball. There’s another taster ride on the horizon in a couple of months, for which we hope to just about have our bikes cleaned up. And before long, it will be time for our long weekend escape trip over to Annecy to do the real thing, La Resistance. The journey has just begun…

Photography by Jim Clarkson, Ross Muir and Nick Frendo.

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High on Gravel

We have partnered with La Resistance to create an escape in the high mountains (the Alps) taking on mixed terrain for a whole new adventure. Find out more in our Trips area.

 

It’s not the first time we will go up and get high on gravel. High mountain cycling on gravel is done as oft as possible.

The peace and tranquility of only hearing your heart beat, your lungs gasp for air at 2,000m, mountain beasts chuntering as you pass and your’s and your fellow cyclists tyres’ crunching over gravel.

Gravel_08  Gravel_18

The very early morning start, from an inner city suburb, packing the car with your mates, the drive before the rush hour to leave that city madness behind and the munching on pre-made, foil wrapped haut-hearty-cuisine on the go.

   

The mountain water, the tiny villages, the technical twists and turns and the mid-ride lunch with a view.

   

Mixed terrain in the high mountains.

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3 Photographers and an Autodrome

It had drifted on the the wind for many a month. Finally we found a day free for the three cycling photographers to spend a day mixed terrain cycle adventuring from the city to the autodrome.

©ArriereDuPeloton

A Sommet custom cycling creation. The challenge and beauty of climbs, the smell of the vineyards on a gravel trail, the rocky trackstand trials section onto the eerie Autodromo de Terramar. A place where time seems to have stood still.

©HollisDuncan   ©theMUSETTE

 

A track built at the start of last century to host the Spanish F1 race, used for a year then left for nature to re-take what was built over her. Fits and starts of races between then and now, but not much. Still the roar of Bugattis and the like can almost be heard over the gentle breeze.

©theMUSETTE

3 photographers rode to an autodrome…

The three photographers – to whom great thanks are bestowed – are Tomás “Arriere du Peloton” Montes, Hollis Duncan and (me) Ian “theMUSETTE” Walton. More from them all in the future without doubt. Thanks again guys.

 

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Sommet for the Weekend. Gumwalls.

Cycling tyres means gumwalls. Love em. This time of year there are more about than normal – aside from Cross season where they are beautifully ubiquitous.

I’ll use creative license and include white walls as gumwalls which isn’t really correct, but…

Whether it is pure vanity, a nod to history and old style class or more suppleness in the manufacture I just like them. OK it’s mainly vanity.

I roll fabulously good Veloflex Masters, which look the business, feel amazing on the road and have survived many a gravel interruption on a road ride. I’d love some Dugasts for the gravel in particular or FMBs as used by the plenty this weekend, but I don’t have tubs. My mate has some Challenge Stradas and they look fantastic on his Independent Fabrication, but they are a bit more pricey than the Veloflex, which look and feel good enough anyway.

Some say that they are fine when clean, but impossible to keep thus. I keep my bike nit picky clean, and though gunwales may become tired and grime stained, that’s ok too. Sort a proper used, hard earned look. Though I have even bleached a set of old Veloflex tyres for that Dugast look, for a city run around. They are still holding together with no signs of disintegrating.

Then there’s cross and gravel; arguably they look even better here. Challenge Grifo’s are amazing. Sadly I moved onto black walls and WTB Nanos, because they are 40mm and as comfy as a sofa, I can run them with tubes at a decent pressure without fear of pinching. And they don’t cut on the very rocky trails here like the Grifo’s did. I still have a pair awaiting use. Maybe it’s time to go gum again there again.

Have a cracking weekend folks.

 

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Roubaix Retrospective

A true cycling heartland. An indulgence for a personal retrospective of Paris Roubaix visits. Spanning about 5 years and several rolls, of different types, of 35mm film through Rangefinder cameras, here are some happy memories from Northern France.

From an early visit on returning to living in Europe to a 40th birthday last year there is a personal narrative and hopefully an overall narrative of a cycling culture and passion that you can also enjoy.

From the obvious cobbles to the concrete velodrome. From the clambering school kids to the Mavic support mechanics looking for a home for the wheels they have changed throughout the day’s chaos.

And the moments of joy for a winner, moments of reflection for the defeated and the local neighbours reflecting on the excitement outside their kitchen windows.

It’s not just a race, it’s cycling. It’s a sport that allows us to see new places with a special perspective at just the right pace.

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Sommet Exploring from the door creating a Cycling Homage to Flanders

So you may know that the weekend past was de Ronde. This cycling period of Flanders then Roubaix for me surpasses anything Christmas or birthdays can throw at me.

I am not a racer, but some bike races are special and it’s a way to generate an idea and a route for some cycling exploration; an experience, a day out on the bike.

So I decided to let the Flanders fever help me create a new exploration from my door here in Barcelona. I put together a route with de Ronde in mind which allowed for a route I would likely never have ridden in it’s entirety. And I discovered a couple of new sections by virtue of needing to link up bits I knew I wanted in there.

The idea was basically to seek out as many short, sharp, brutally steep climbs as possible from home. Double figures, obligatory, bad surface preferred, sketchy descents a bonus. Find as many narrow, twisty, laneways as I could; ones that encourage you to ride far too fast for the distance the ride ahead holds. A few industrial link ups to make it feel right and to highlight the beauty of the genuinely pretty bits, of which there were many. Those industrial bits on there own have a certain allure on a Sunday morning dawn start; a desolate peacefulness… Chuck in some cobbles, a bit of dirt (due to only 4 or 5 stretches of cobbles it seemed ok to add some technical difficulty of dirt to compensate. And add to the fun).

5 hours of riding fun – plus half an hour or so of cafe pit stop – exhausted and back home, lunch had to be frites. A couple of fried eggs perhaps not very Flemish, but it’s all about taking the bits I love – the passion and culture of Flanders – and making it work in the best way to suit my needs; a great route with two lovers of Flanders – one being a real Flandrien – and some frites with the missus after.

That’s our idea here at Sommet too. Our trips – off the peg ones or the custom fully supported and the custom Sommet Independent trips . We are driven by cycling, riding and the culture that yields. For me, riding Flanders would be almost as intriguing in June as now. The race , de Ronde, is epic and I love it, but also it’s such a heartland it makes cycling there a real calling. In a similar way that pure environmental beauty draws us cyclists to other areas. To take people to wherever there callings are, or to build a trip for you and let you explore yourself from our guidance, is what we built Sommet for. For you, but for us to make your dreams and aspirations a reality.

On the weekend, I took one of my dreams and let it guide me to create a special route from my doorstep. Whatever your dreams on a bike, let us build it for you.

 

Thanks to Sommet Explorer, Sommetier and fellow pseudo Flandrien Fred and real Flandrien, Steven, for joining me on this local Sommet Explore. A great day as always.