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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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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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The Honor Race. Team Sommet. A Cycling Adventure in Vineyards

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!

 

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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.