Recently over dinner with friends I was asked what drives me and why I ride. The person in question was clearly motivated by something different, but as valid, to me that’s what makes cycling so great. Their goal was to improve as a cyclist, driven by data and self-analysis, striving to make themselves faster which in turn makes them a better cyclist. Training, pedal stroke and efficiency, cadence and Strava data, all contribute to making them a better cyclist. Right?
I think I speak for both Ian and I when I say we both just love to ride our bikes, sure we both have Strava accounts and power meters and we’re now both “Wahooligans” but it’s the being outside, exploring, meeting people and going places that motivates us. Cake and coffee are the reward, not the amount of kudos when you upload the ride. Whether riding with guests, friends or solo it’s just about having a good time, every now and then, maybe putting the hurt on or racing up a climb, leaving the house at sunrise…. just to check out the sunrise.
It took me a while and still I’m not sure I even satisfied my interrogator. I don’t think they understood my reasons for riding and you know what it doesn’t matter. I ride on my own a lot and I enjoy it. I ride as slow or fast as my mood takes me. It helps clear my head and focus, I can empty my legs, lungs and head, I get to see places people often race through, heads down and starring at their Garmin data and I love it. A ride is rarely prescribed, I never worry about getting lost or #unlost (GRBCC) I can go out and turn round after 30 km or stay out all day, ride to get an ice cream or break myself on my favourite climbs, talk rubbish with friends or encourage guests and new cyclists, so long as I’m on my bike and the sun’s out I’m happy.
Now more then ever I’ll often park up somewhere, stop, take a deep breath and soak up my surroundings. That’s why I ride.
Images courtesy Nick Frendo & Ian S Walton http://www.themusette.cc/
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.
You missed out. Those of you who didn’t make it onto our collaboration tour, the collaboration with our friends at La Fábrica Girona, you missed out. There will be another chance or two in 2017, but you missed out on the inaugural collab.
We had a great week. As ever in Girona. Just with the added embrace of Amber, Christian and the La Fab team, at close quarters, over dinner, coffee roasting, sending Christian off on his retirement tour to Japan and generally chewing the fat on and off the bike.
The riding and coffee, of course, were was rather fine too.
So, you missed out. There’s plenty happening in Girona in 2017. We are there, front and centre, all year, every year, choose a trip and come explore the centre of European cycling culture.
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.
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.
Catalunya, we ride it all day… Go for an all day ride in your home.
August. It was hot, windy and humid. There were coffee, cowbells and beers. A steamy Saturday with spicy girls and boys on fixies, and in the crowd. That’s Red Hook Crit in Barcelona. It never fails to deliver. Oh, and the racing is frenzied and gripping.
We’re winding down our regular season of trips as October ends and we’re already starting to look towards our preliminary 2017 core calendar. A nice moment to get lost in the sauna of August and the red hot fun of RHC-BCN#4. David Trimble and his team cram all the fun of ‘Six Days’ events into a seaside, sinkist August Saturday.
We like people who take risks as you know. Calculated risks, seeking to improve on an existing way of life, or existing product. Look at our friends at La Fabrica Girona, Amber and Christian who didn’t just use Girona as a pro season base, they moved to Girona and made it home, and their future.
Look at the Meo’s of Rocket Espresso who left behind New Zealand, moved to Italy and established Rocket as the go to home espresso machine. Especially for cyclists!
And our friend Luigi Bergamo of Q36.5 Absolutely Equipment in Bolzano. He has worked, or rather led, one of the leading technological cycling kit manufacturers for many a year. Yet he felt he could do it better. Felt he wanted to do it better, independently. And so he moved back to his home, and his original cycling club’s home, in Bolzano and gave birth to Q36.5.
We visited the studio, or laboratory, in Bolzano on the end of our Dolomites trip recently. Nick had met Luigi before, whilst I had only spoken on email. He was as nice as Nick had said and I imagined from emails. Friendly, affable, generous (dinner was great, best pizza I have had) and knowledgeable and passionate beyond belief about cycling clothing, his products and brand.
The focus of Q36.5 (Q – quaerere; Italian for research. 36.5 – the temperature of a healthy body) is technical perfection in cycling clothing. To maintain that healthy core body temperature, whatever the weather and exertion, throughout the ride. They still have some cool designs, but it’s not a case of pretty first, then whatever fabrics after. Performance leads, and good looking design is then applied. The devil is in the detail, the research and the collaboration with the best Italian fabric producers.
Details like the use of silver thread to help distribute heat through it’s high conductivity and chase that stable temperature. And collaborating, for example, with an Italian brand, world famous for manufacturing the finest handbags, to fine tune their wallet (Smart Protector). All the little things add up to the best kit we have used.
But we knew that. We haven’t made a secret of our thoughts on that. Visiting the lab only added to that thought, but also made me realise that Luigi is not too different from the sort of people we are drawn to. He was as happy to talk about our dreams and about his happiness at being back in Bolzano. The orange details scattered through his collection are from the orange of his original Bolzano cycling kit, which is framed and hangs on the lab wall. As happy to talk about coffee and pizza and our trip to the Dolomites. And, that priceless value, happy to give us time, not rush, and just talk, as friends. Again, it was us who had to peel away, reluctantly, after a lazy afternoon – and dinner, well fed with that pizza.
We use Q36.5 for many reasons. It’s the best. But also, Luigi is a damn fine guy, who does things with passion, the right way.
On the way to the Dolomites cycling trip in July (our long read here) we made the most of our time in Italy by visiting Rocket Espresso, on the edge of Milan. Our hosts, Nicky and Andrew Meo – the driving forces and owners of Rocket – opened their factory doors, showed us around and took us for lunch. If Nick and I didn’t have the Dolomites on the horizon, we may never have left.
One of the things I admire in people is risk taking, a leap of faith in life. Think of those who we look at and say, “you’re so lucky!” and often behind that vision is a big decision, a sacrifice, that leap of faith. Nicky and Andrew left a financially comfortable and successful food and coffee business based lifestyle behind in New Zealand and chose a new path; followed their hearts and dreams of oft said ideas to change their lives, and upped and moved to Italy.
In New Zealand, their story was the successful Wellington restaurant, Pravda and roasting house, The Immigrant’s Son and – in as much as there is in such a line of work – a good guarantee of success and income. But restaurant life compromises family life, and there were those dreamlike thoughts of going to Italy. The stars perhaps aligned, right timing, an opportunity, the right connections but then they still had to do it. And so, in 2007, plans were made to take over (with friend and colleague Jeff Kennedy) the struggling Italian firm ECM – parent company of Rocket – and moved the family across the globe.
Condensing 9 years does an injustice to the hard work ironing out operational issues, filling long standing back orders from ECM, aligning and an invaluable partnering with Daniele Berenburch (the son of ECM co-founder), bringing in a bit of Kiwi cultural approaches and re-marketing, re-naming and modernising the whole brand. But therein, plus more, is the overnight success. A 9 year overnight success.
That Kiwi culture has brought open plan offices and open door policies and a new world coffee culture. Melding that with the traditional Italian manufacturing excellence and pride and its own long coffee history of repute has been part of the change and challenge at Rocket.
That crisp clean, bright and relaxed, open plan office area lie within Rocket’s understated factory – from the outside, just another of Milan’s understated factories. On into the Rocket factory itself, even when we were there in a quiet period, there is a gentle hum of organised activity; again, a bright and relaxed environment. I guess that management adage about setting an example from the top rings true. Organised, yet relaxed. And above the factory space is an in house R&D area – itself developing and growing – and a maintenance area; these keep aim to keep them ahead of the game and on top of the existing products.
Most who know of Rocket, know they are tied closely to cycling. My friend Christian Meier, of La Fabrica Girona and Espresso Mafia (see our special October trip), through whom I was introduced to Andrew, is the Spanish dealer for Rocket and it seems the majority of the pro peloton has a Rocket…well, you are faster with a Rocket in your kitchen #fact. Andrew still races his bike, and son – Felix – races in the younger ranks. Indeed Rocket supports various youth riders around the world. I am not sure who is the stronger cyclist of the two, though, Andrew, a self confessed jack of all trades, is probably losing the Italian language race though. Dealing with overseas clients largely (Rocket is a predominantly export firm; Germany, UK and Australasia strong markets), he has a ready made excuse. Nicky is perhaps better, while Felix, practically fluent, is at the head of this New Zealand escape group. Together, clearly, a formidable team.
I am all for taking risks and chasing a change of direction. It’s nice to know that, when I save up for a Rocket, I will know it’s a machine built on dreams, on a risk and on a philosophy of doing things the right way. Life is worth taking risks, Rocket Espresso is a success story as proof.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…).
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…
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.
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!
All images supplied by Nick Frendo and Ian Walton