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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.

Nick

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.

©️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.

 

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.

We want to be able to support friends of Sommet. Sommetiers. Those who make beautiful things, have great spaces and give great services; in the right way. It’s not all about us, not always about cycling, but always about those who share a desire to follow their passion and work with their passions, in the right way.

Meet Sommetier Dan Pullen and (n+1), Brighton

Sommet will be supporting Dan and a mates in the Trafalgar Way Sportive, from Cornwall to London, later in the year – a 480km, 6,700m ride, which they managed in 22 hours last year – 17 actual ride hours. With Sommet to help out, hopefully we will see that already incredible effort bettered…it’ll certainly be a great journey.

Who and what are Dan and (n+1)

(n+1) is a café, workshop, shop and cycle hire centre located in Brighton’s Cycle Hub right in the drop off zone of Brighton train station. A place where you can get speciality coffee, your bike serviced and stored for free and where you can ask any question, however ‘silly’ it may seem. They also support local events and run regular rides. It is run by Dan.

Dan Pullen is a “a husband, father to a beautiful 3 year old girl and a mad keen cyclist “ who has rather a penchant for endurance events. He has just completed the bonkers Everesting challenge; you basically find a hill/mountain and ride it enough times to accumulate the same metres climbed as the famous Everest. Sound nuts? Yep.

We’ll come back to Dan’s Everesting later.

It’s a cliché somewhat to say a business is about someone’s passion. But when that person is someone who went to do a winter season in snowboarding one year and didn’t come back for 12 years because he got hooked and met his wife, Jenny, there in his last year, it’s fair to say it’s not fluff. (n+1) café and workshop is founded on Dan’s passion for cycling and service, small batch coffee and only products he really cares about and is proud to stock and use.

A ski racer as a kid he stumbled into snowboarding in his teens then when he and his wife returned to the UK to “grow up a bit”, he set up a lawn care business and since has gone through running various businesses from the lawns to restaurants and bars and now, (n+1).

(n+1) sort of fell into Dan’s hands, by now the mad keen cyclist of many a year. What (n+1) offers is more that the sum of it’s parts written down; free bike storage in Brighton’s Cycle Hub, bike service, puncture repair while you wait, great coffee, hand picked bits and pieces and kit for sale, bike hire at great prices, regular organised rides and more. Whether you are just a commuter at the train station and want a coffee – small batch, roasted in house! – or need a bike to hire for a day out in Brighton, or if you are regular rider who needs to drop off your bike for a service on the way to work and pick it up on the way home from the free storage. And have a coffee.

The heart and soul of the place is Dan and his small team. A self-confessed control freak, he keeps it small so he knows the team have the same passion as he does. He has a hand in most sales and in all choices of what is sold in (n+1). Take Zappi clothing. A fantastic brand of race clothing, that puts all it’s profits back into it’s youth racing team. That’s the ethos of (n+1) too. It’s a business, but because of its ideals and outlook, it’s about doing it in the right way; the best quality while giving back to the community.

There are regular Thursday evening rides to support the local riders, but also in September, (n+1) and Zappi clothing are jointly running the Brighton Gran Fondo – 224km and 3,189m of climbing, though there are shorter options to look after all appetites. Not quite Everesting, but nonetheless enough of a challenge for anyone, and quite possibly a little more varied scenery than Everesting.

Everesting

So, how about that Everesting then, Dan, why? It seems it was a seed planted from reading something, sometime ago. Being a bit of an ultra endurance freak, the more such events he did, the more this kept cropping up and the more it appealed. A challenge of self-discovery that the ultra endurance events can provide. Where? On a hill in the Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey. A 6% climb on a 4.4km lap meant 314km hitting 9,000m! A huge amount of planning beforehand with friends and Dorking CC and during the day, visits from friends and family with cold Red Bull and Mars Bars on the way.

Onwards and upward then. (n+1) has the Gran Fondo to look forward to, and it’s regular day to day support of the local cycling community. For Dan, on the agenda is the Trafalgar Way, the Cingles de Ventoux in August with a few mates – having never climbed any iconic climbs it’s about due – Mallorca 312 next year, perhaps Haute Route and Race Across America (crowd fund pending…perhaps…). We need to get Dan and (n+1) on some more European icons with Sommet, so go and support (n+1) !

The foot of the mountain. Piemonte. Where the vast range of the Alps begins to yield to the rolling hills of vineyards, the great lakes and quiet rural villages.

Yet the mountains haven’t quite let go their grip. Still, there crops up a spike or two, like the 18km Mottarone to 1,500m with ramps that are enough for any Giro.

This Custom Fully Sported Cycling Tripjourney we took our American friends on took in several lakes; Maggiore, Mergozzo, Orta, Viverone and Candia. Between and around these lakes we visited towns and villages of Stresa, Bella, Piverone and Viverone, Oropa Sanctuary and little old Milan.  We saw fancy restaurants and local cafes, mixing with the dandies and the signore e signori on market day, getting a flavour of Italy.

Una settimana grande. Great company with our friends. Saw much we loved. Found even more places we want to explore further. And learned a lot about Italy and ourselves along the journey.

Thanks Italy and more importantly, thanks to our friends who came along for the journey. A pleasure.

Just whet the appetite for getting back on the road again; Lands End to John O’Groats next week and the Dolomites in July (still space on this one…just saying…).

Cycling tour in Girona. I’ll keep it brief. It was a fabulous, eventful, challenging, steep roads, long, fast, exhilarating, educational, friendship re-affirming, adventurous, caffeine filled, coffee bean roasting, culture nourished, hugs laden cops and robbers trip.

A Sommet Cycling holiday!

We loved Girona before. We are now infatuated with it, is riding and it’s the people; our friends.

Until next time! Thanks friends…

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!

 

 

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!