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The Stuff Edition

I love stuff. Cool stuff, functional stuff, shiny stuff and nerdy left field stuff but mainly bike related stuff.

While I love stuff, every bit of it is carefully considered. I don’t want the same stuff that everyone else has, I don’t want to fit in. Every purchase or partnership is painstakingly researched using all available channels, the web, reviews and social media. What I desire and what I find cool the next person may not, but I’m happy knowing that I didn’t follow the herd and I did my homework.

Desire and lust plays a massive part in my purchases, but function is, I hate to say it, more important. [joke] Often I’ll point out I get paid to ride my bike, that makes me a professional cyclists doesn’t it? [/joke] 20 to 30 hours a week makes you a pretty good guinea pig and will soon show and faults or flaws in a product. The way my kit fits, it’s durability and ability to keep me comfortable in sometimes extreme conditions is critical. GPS units that actually work and don’t die mid ride, easy to use as I’m a simple man and scared of tech; a technotard apparently. Shoes that fit, whether I’m in a UK winter or 40 degree Catalan heat and the same goes for helmets, glasses and so on. Groupsets and wheels that I can get spares for and easily repair all over Europe.

My bikes, this is where the lust takes over from the function…ish. Custom, hand made but subtle. Those that know, really know. Tailored for me and my needs, my riding style and weight. My riding is varied, a crit bike’s no good for days on end in the mountains but sometimes I want to go out and tear it up with mates. I feel with Independent Fabrications attention to detail and frame building skills we achieved the right balance and the paint team nailed the finish.

I know the names of the people who built my bike, the man who makes my kit, Luigi at  Q36.5, the team behind my GPS at Wahoo Fitness, Steve and Marc from Veloforte and now Johannes the owner of Evers Cycling Shoes have all been added to my list of suppliers, supporters and most importantly, friends. I bought into these brands because of the people behind them and the quality of what they produce. Tried, tested and built on experience, passion and attention to detail. They bought into us at Sommet because we share those same values and I hope our guests, clients and friends feel the same about Sommet and what we do for them.

I am an unashamed magpie and I do love shiny stuff, but there is way more to it than that.

Nick

Images courtesy of Ian Walton, Bobby Whitaker and me

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Why I ride – My Escapism

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/

 

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Strade Bianche in Catalunya’s Penedès Wine Region

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.

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Girona; La Fabrica and Sommet Collaboration Tour

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.

 

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d2d – Full days of riding

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.

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Gravel de Fer, Catalunya, Spain, France

Canigó or Canigou is a mountain, just, in the South of France. To Catalan’s and Catalan culture it has a powerful sense of their being.

We have ridden in the shadow of her many times, it’s one of Fred and I’s favourite places to go riding. Often we have ridden from inside Catalan Spain into France – and former Catalunya way back when – then back into Catalunya again. Those road rides have been some of the best.

In early October we joined with Caminade bikes for a mixed terrain ride, starting under lights in the pitch black, that would finally take us up Canigó/Canigou, through 150+km and almost 4,000m; most of it rideable, most of it simply amazing.

We criss-crossed some roads we knew well. We found some new roads we will revisit. We did lots of trails we have to do again. It’s just one of the ways we recce new spots to ride as well.

A rural gîte in a rural French village set us up in the days before; a bit of a recce ride, a bit of bike prep, light charging and a little yoga. Pre-dawn to post-dusk epic ride in stunning country meeting new friends.

Thanks Caminade, cracking day out; great barbecue at the end too…We’ll be back soon.

Featuring Caminade, Vinyet (yogi/yogui), Fred ( business builder and 22 Bikes "model") and Stanley - my Frankenbike; the best type of gravel bike.
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Rocket Espresso

 

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.

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Sommet Cycling in the Dolomites

A long read diary of a recent Sommet Fully Supported Custom journey. This will be on our 2017 calendar, get in while you can. Contact us for more information

Calcium magnesium carbonate. CaMg(CO3)2. 

This is the foundation of dreams. Dreams in the high mountains for all those who love a challenge, beauty and cultural complexity. Cycling paradise. An epic cycling holiday.

The Italian Dolomites are a geographical region of carbonate rocks shared between the provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol and Trentino. The region has been politically and culturally pulled and pushed over the centuries, never more so than in the 20th century with battle lines drawn and families and friendships within towns tested to, and beyond, limits in the highest stakes game of all. War.

Far away from the Alps of Stelvio and Gavia, we spent eight days cycling in, and getting to know, the Italian Dolomites and some of the people. There are more passes to cycle than you can shake a ski pole at but to simply go and ride Monte Grappa, Passos Sella Campolongo, Giau, Pordoi, Rolle, Valles, Falzarego, Valparola, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and the many others we rode would be to miss out on finding out a little about the stuff that make up the culture of the Dolomites.

Thus, rather than chasing from point to point, we stayed in two distinct locations. Feltre and Corvara. And from these we cycled a plenty (about  1,000km and 17,000m for those who like to tot up numbers) – ticking off all those passes and more – in the three provinces of the Dolomites, but immersed ourselves somewhat in the culture. In Italian style, we prepared for the trip by caffeine doping just outside Milan at our friends place, Rocket Espresso…more on that in another post soon.

Feltre welcomed us with blazing sunshine and temperatures around the thirties. A far cry from the history making ascent which was on our first ride. An arrival day loop taking in Croce d’Aune. The scene of Tullio Campagnolo’s, cycling history changing mechanical, when on November, 11, 1927, he couldn’t change out his wheel in a race due to frozen hands and fingers on wing nuts. There must be a better solution he thought. There was and we all benefit from it today. The quick release. Only one of us was riding Campagnolo, myself. It felt appropriate that my Campag front mech, once again, disagreed with my Rotor chainset and threw the chain just as I changed down at the very bottom of Croce d’Aune. Tullio, perhaps, doesn’t like Rotor…the others rode off.

Don’t be fooled by Feltre’s location which on the map seems to be away from the big mountains. The bigger tests. Oh no, we followed up Campag’s history with somewhat grander history of the great Monte Grappa, approaching via the brutal Monte Tomba. Grappa has too much blood on her slopes from both World Wars and a monument at the summit is a stark reminder of the waste of life we have seen too often. We simply had to ride the beast, in beautiful conditions, tasting cheese on the way up, focaccias on the way down and wonderful views all around, with small lakes and vertiginous drop offs, donkeys, hairpins and what a descent. How times have changed, how lucky we are!

With the Dolomites you often think you have topped it all. They are so awe inspiring. Then the next climb, or descent in this case, you get wowed by a road that has been cut into a wall, is technical enough to keep you awake but fun enough to fly down and the loop we stuck on the end of this big Grappa day, after some coffee and strudel, was just that. With the sun descending as gently as we did rapidly towards home, we had gone from amazing, to yells of joy and it was only day two

Another big day ahead the next day. Up to 2,000m twice this time for some of the group. Some took the option to take a shorter, still big, day and peeled off after the incredible lakeside early coffee and strudel stop (again). Blazing sunshine again. That was, until it wasn’t. Pretty soon it was golf ball size rain drops and lightning and thunder only a couple of seconds apart. This was approaching Passo Rolle and Valles and thus the wrong side of the valley to home. There is always a bailout option, for safety and comfort with us. But not today; we voted for a(nother) coffee pause and strudel and hoped for a break in the storm. 40 minutes or so later, a glimpse of blueish sky. The kind the UK sees. Grey. Pay up and off up the mountain up double figure gradients, all the while wondering if the thunder was  closer or farther away. Up and over the both very tough Passo Rolle and Valles and down the other side without a hitch, but the chill on the descent got the better of us and another stop was called. Super thick hot chocolate and a wonderfully courteous host of the bar who brought out blankets for us to warm under. It got us defrosted enough to get home on a cracking power descent to fly home.

We left Feltre with yet more tragic history and more wonderful hospitality. And the sun was back. A rolling ride out around the markets and vineyards to the engineering marvel of Passo San Boldo; built with blood and sweat of women, children and donkeys early last century. On the way stopping in on Roberta’s vineyard outlooking restaurant, with her pride in “the best bread in the world!” and her adoration for my home town of Barcelona was such a contrast to the massive riding of Grappa, Rolle and of what was to come in Corvara. Oh, and fresh pasta lunch atop San Boldo.

Corvara. This is, perhaps, what most people think of when you mention the Dolomites mountains. The beauty of having four days in Feltre and four in Corvara, is the variety of riding; tough and big mountains as well as some rolling hills, leading into 4 days of massive mountains with nary a valley to ride. Either up. Or down. Corvara is the heart of the famous Sella Ronda, starting point for Falzarego, Valparola and the Queen ride for us over to the fairy tale like, brutally steep, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and back over Passo Giau.

We were welcomed to Corvara, with clockwork precision that one expects from this part of Italy, with the biggest crack of thunder of the week as we pulled up outside the wonderful Posta Zirm hotel. And even bigger rain drops than on Passo Rolle.

The change in culture is noticeable as soon as one arrives. Ladino language spoken and on signs, preserving the language and the culture, more Germanic influences and when you speak to people with a family history here – as we did for the whole stay, with the generational family owners of our hotel – you learn of the flux of the cultures that have and go on here; from Italian, Ladino, German, Austrian and within and beyond families and friends within villages, especially in tough times of the last century. Again, how lucky we are, to simply enjoy these mountains.

So, the riding. It rained. Heavily. Thunder storms rang strong. Day one in Corvara we trimmed to only have three passes, mainly for safety, but typically it was beautiful sunshine that afternoon. Surely a good omen of the next day.

Indeed, bright sunshine at breakfast. And the first climb up Falzarego. Sadly, or perhaps not for that epic sense and for some nice photography, the heavens opened and the tough Passo Fedaia was made tougher by the rain, the sheep allowing an excuse for a respite. It stopped for lunch in the restaurant up top, then started again for the descent and for Pordoi and Campolongo. Typical.

Fair to say, the epic was put into the trip on this ride. Shooting from the van and huddled in the gutters in the rain, while prepping hot coffee as well was a joy. We all got wet – the riders far more than the support – but that epic we won’t forget. (Shooting while driving and chasing these fast riders, on mountain descents, in the wet…not recommended, but some nice results and a bit of fun).

But finally. That was the last of it. No more rain. And not too hot. Perfect to assault 150km or so to Tre Cime di Lavaredo via Cortina d’Ampezzo and back over Passo Giau and Campolongo again. Cortina is ok in comparison to Corvara, but then we love Corvara. But we wanted a coffee, so a quickie before off to the paradise of Tre Cime. An incredible, beautiful, brutally steep dead end climb. Formerly the border between Italy and Austria, now between the Italian provinces of Belluno and South Tyrol – yet more evidence of that fluxing history and why there is such a want to preserve the Ladino culture. Words, nor photographs do Tre Cime justice. You have to be there. Feel it. Maybe suffer up, it to really get it. It’s amazing.

And as before, when you think the Dolomites has thrown all it’s wow at you, you go back towards Corvara via Passo Giau. More rideable than Tre Cime, and thus you can soak up the theatre of dolomite rocks towering above you, almost like a giant natural amphitheatre. The road is the play, and you are simply a minor character in that days performance. It’s spectacular. Another long day, beautiful and long. The descent off the top, one of the best. Fast, a bit technical, but fast.

Seven hard amazing days done. Tired legs, tired bodies. How could we muster the energy to ride another 1,700m? Well it was only 50 odd km. And it was the Sella Ronda. Our closing day ride, knowing how stunning it would be, we had all the energy to spin out and enjoy one of the best 50km rides you can do.

The Dolomites are made up of more than CaMg(CO3)2. It’s the history and the people who have lived that history and create it today. To the Dolomites and the people of the areas; grazie, giulan, thank you! We will be back in 2017 with more friends to be wowed.

If you are interested in our 2017 Dolomites trip, drop us a line now. We are building our 2017 calendar and this trip is definitely in there!. domestique@sommet.cc

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Cycling Britain. LEJOG.

Four friends set themselves a challenge of cycling Britain. From Lands End to John O’Groats. They chose twelve days, for various reasons. Along the way, birthdays were celebrated, rain was battled in true British summer fashion, but natural beauty, a sense of accomplishment and the joy of riding with friends were constant companions.

We were delighted to support Alastair, Mark, Dan and James from toe to tip, cycling Britain.

Here are a few snippets of the ride. The guys will be enjoying a full set of personal images from their journey. All part of the Sommet Journey.

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Sommet Cycling Tour in Piemonte – A Sommet Fully Supported Production

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…).