I used the Festive 500, as many do, as a bit of an incentive to get out a bit more on the bike. I honestly wasn’t bothered if I completed the 500, but using that 500km target as a way to frame a set of rides was handy.

Just a bloody good excuse to go and explore. I fancied aiming for  about half to be off road – either mixed terrain ride on both the gravel Frankenbike (Stanley) and the road bike, or full off road on the Stanley – and as many new trails or roads as possible. Turned out that over half were new and almost half was dirt.

The centrepiece of the week’s riding was to be my Dawn 2 Dusk mixed terrain ride, exploring the Penedès wine region of Catalunya, alone on my own schedule, enjoying getting a little lost then unlost. A genuine mix of gravel (70% ish) and tiny paved vineyard roads connecting villages, wine makers and not a few cafes, castles, dams, streams and national parks and reserves.

The night before, charging the lights and pre-cooking a nice lasagne for the next day’s 5am breakfast got the sense of fun going early. I rigged the bike up with some Challenge Strada Bianca tyres, a road light and an offload light (I wasn’t sure how much darkness I might face, with no return time planned, apart from after dark) for what turned out to be a 10+ hour voyage of mini-discovery. In a place I know very well (my partner is from here and I ride with a wine merchant who lives here – and who did 20,000km last year!) I kicked up dust from coffee to local delicacy, via cava next to historic monasteries and further proved to myself that my ethos of, as often as possible, taking a different turn than taken on the usual ride and I will find hidden treasures, no matter how well the area is known. A journeyride from my doorstep.

We haven’t advertised a Penedès trip, we should. It’s a joy, on and off road. It’s like the famous Tuscan riding, less well known, less trodden path. I can’t recommend the Penedés highly enough, if you fancy a secret Strade Bianche drop us a line; I’ve plenty more exploring to do in this paradise.

A while ago I had the idea to ride all day. So I came up with Dawn 2 Dusk.

The reason I figured this ride would work was because of the way I go about riding; that it’s not about getting somewhere faster, or doing efforts, or the most direct route. It’s about the journey.

The other reasons I knew it would work is because I would have a trusty, keen, companion along when I shared the idea to Fred, and also that my girlfriend, Vinyet, would be as excited about the me doing it as I was – and not just to get me out of the house for a day.

The ‘rules‘? Summer d2d, road (with a good chunk of gravel), winter d2d, gravel (no doubt with a little road). Set off before sunrise with lights, and return when lights are once again needed. Have a loose route idea, but the essence was to explore – to get a little lost so we could get unlost – and stop as many times as wanted or needed; for sunrise picnics, to check in on the sleeping families at home, for a nip of bootleg rum from the hip flask, to test cafes, have menus, swim in the mediterranean sea and chat to locals. All of which, and more, we did.

©️Fred Johnsson

Last year’s were beautiful. Both road and gravel d2d’s shared similar paths, north from Barcelona’s heart, up towards the Pyrenees and back. The road took us into the stunning Montseny mountains – a paradise in which I lived for a year previously – before coffee in Girona and then onto the coast and that swim before lunch on the Med. It also had a fair bit of gravel exploring in it too, as often happens.

Gravel took us up the same general direction, but along the La Serralada de Marina then Montenegro i el Corredor ridges, with views of the Med most of the way out bound. Both finished back in the heart of our beautiful Barcelona. Both returning exhausted, exhilarated, a little wiser about the place we live, all by virtue of exploring on the bike.

The d2d’s have been done on weekdays. It’s become a barometer of life’s balance. Can we take a day in the week to make this happen? If not, why is our balance that way inclined, does it need to be revisited? These experiences and mini-adventures are priceless. Time to look at d2d winter 2017 soon… It’s about the journey.

Photos by theMUSETTE.cc, Fred and Vinyet.

Catalunya, we ride it all day…  Go for an all day ride in your home.

The Honor Race. A brevet style cycling event with five or six checkpoints (I wasn’t counting, though we thought we had missed the last one) leading teams to wend their way through the beautiful vineyards of the Penedès, half an hour south of Barcelona.

Run by On Y Va Sports Culture, a mob driven as we are to enjoy all there is to be enjoyed on a bike and share that with as many people as possible. Through events like The Honor Race, the cycle journals and diaries and now their cycle cafe in the heart of Barcelona.

We jumped on board The Honor Race as soon as Ferran (Señor On Y Va) and I spoke about it. The brevet style leaving some creativity in route creation open to us, which could only mean fun, a bit of risk and a bit of adventure. Definitely not a race, an event to share laughs, share part of your created route and share a bottle of Cava or two at the end.


The Penedès makes for great terrain, and most importantly for our idea, great gravel options. And mud. Thanks to that rare thing here, rain the few days before and on the morning. We were four boys riding – all wanting dirt – with two wonderful girls in support. That ratio changed from 4:2 to 3:3 to 2:3 as the day went on. Dirt, as much as realistically possible, chopping a few k’s here and there off the likely road route (On Y Va, wisely, published a route of about 135km on the road for those who just wanted to ride) to try and get us to the finish before all the Cava was gone. With the checkpoints announced a couple of days before the event, I got on the job of creating a route that was as dirty as possible, while cutting those corners. Then Fred sanity checked it and we were good to go. In theory, about 30km off that road route. Most bits we knew, within reason, but there were a few bits that were a leap of faith; and they were at the highest and furthest points from home. Of course.

©Vinyet Noguera      

Raining as we left home. Drizzling by the time we arrived was an improvement (which would become the standard, warm, toasty sun in short time). Warm, happy, Honor Race crew, the friendliest fellow riders I have come across, great coffee from Cafe de Fincas and fresh croissants and juices as we mingled at Blancher winery, before the staggered start (start times, not due to breakfast Cava) made everything just dandy. Refreshingly the girls riding to boys riding ratio was rather good; more yin to the yang, at an event already tailored to be fun, only helped the vibe; the event was just bubbling like a fine Cava; nicely balanced, not too much ego.

And off we went. It was quite eventful for us – we expected as much with such a route. Perhaps sooner and more so than we thought though. A puncture before we started – tubeless sealant all over before a pedal turned – then a broken rear derailleur after 9km; the heavy mud reducing us to the 3:3 balance as Jordi jumped off the broken bike and into the trusty support van.

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

Checkpoint 2, a quick catch up with other riders, a bit of dis-robing, then another puncture immediately after leaving the village  – during which repair saw Fred blow up an inner tube with the CO2 inflator, me waste a second CO2 canister (I swear, Fred, the PDW Ninja Pump/CO2 adapter hybrid was set to ‘closed’…but it being open is the only reason it could have fizzed it’s way into the air…oh dear), before we finally got there with the third attempt and had a freshly inflated Challenge Grifo.

©Vinyet Noguera      ©theMUSETTE

On to Checkpoint 3. The furthest point, but before the really hilly stuff and the leaps of faith into the couple of dirty, rocky, shortcuts we weren’t sure about. With looming family commitments, we were reduced to our final equilibrium; 2:3 as Rafa (only Rafa with an f in our team) reluctantly had to bail, so he could make a prior family commitment. Chapeau for still coming along. Over a fresh, warm bocadillo de tortilla francesa and coffee, thanks again to the support team, we relaxed in the sun, making plans to return as a four and complete it all together another day. Told you it wasn’t a race.

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

©Vinyet Noguera      ©Vinyet Noguera

The short cuts worked. They were damned steep, quite rocky as feared (I love my WTB 40mm Nanos!), technical, but lopped off kilometres. Brilliant. Sadly we couldn’t avoid the heavy road slog up to Font Rubi checkpoint (still love the Nanos here, just my legs didn’t like Font Rubi…).

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

Then it was all downhill all the way. More or less. Rockier than expected made 10 of the 25km downhill to the finish quite the test when we had been ready to roll on home. The rest were  fabulous vineyards tracks to fly down to finish with a smile. Fred even had time to throw in a pirouette within 10km and plant himself on his back. At least the bike was fine, the Sommet kit stood up to the fall, though his bruise wouldn’t help his long haul flight to the States the next day I don’ think. Just quietly, I was cooked; half of Fred’s cream cheese and quince sandwich en route got me over the line I reckon. One of those, could have kept going, but was really quite glad to see the Blancher winery and smell the barbecue…

      ©Vinyet Noguera

©Vinyet Noguera      ©Vinyet Noguera

Last but not least. Thanks. to our Sommet support. My missus, Vinyet (Catalan for little vineyard…) and Yolanda, Jordi’s good lady. They followed us in the trusty old van from the start, to every checkpoint, to the finish. And to the joining Jordi after his rear mech exploded, was such a shame for him and us, but together they added to our fuel stocks, the fun and Vinyet snapping many of the images here. It just made an already cracking day that much better.

  ©Vinyet Noguera

 

This debut event was outstanding fun. Well done On Y Va; you were all faultless. The most fun I have had in an organise one day event, punto. Friends (in our team, fellow riders and On Y Va crew), bikes and Cava. Exito! On Y Va!

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.