Jul 26 2007

Norway photos

Published by under Norway 2007

Norway cycle tour 2007

A cycle tour from Cheltenham, UK to Lofoten, Norway, following the West coast of Norway.

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Aug 15 2007

Paris-Brest-Paris 2007

Less than a week left for Paris-Brest-Paris 2007!

For those who do not know, PBP is a non-competitive cycle race where you have up to 90h to complete 1200km from Paris to Brest and back. The race is over 100 years old and happens every 4 years. To enter the race you need to complete 4 rides in the months prior to PBP: 200, 300, 400 and 600km.

Over the last 12 months I had been hesitating to enter the race. Even after having qualified with the successful completion of the Bryan Chapman 600km (Chepstow to Bangor and back), it took me more than a month to decide to send my PBP entry form just a few days before the cut-off date.

Some people keep doing long rides after qualifying but I am too lazy for this so I went on a cycle touring holiday in Norway in June instead and just did the usual cycle commuting and the odd club run. I hope I won’t regret this next week!

I still wonder which bike I should use.
I did all the qualifiers on my geared titanium bike (Airborne Carpe Diem) but I am tempted to do PBP on fixed instead. I ride a fixie (a simple Fuji track) mostly for commuting and sometimes longer rides but I’ve never ridden it for more than 300km in one go. The appeal of riding fixed for me is mostly the simplicity of the bike, and for a long ride like PBP it’s important to have a reliable machine! I’ve also read that PBP is well-suited for fixed gears as there are no killer hills and it’s apparently mostly “rolling terrain”. I shall think about it more…

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Aug 16 2007

PBP profile with annotations

Here is a printer-friendly PBP profile with the 90h closing times for each controls.

PBP 2007 Profile
PBP 2007 Profile

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Aug 17 2007

Fixed PBP

I’ve finally decided, PBP will be on fixed! Hopefully the 70″ gear won’t be too hard on my knees…

Driving tomorrow to Paris. Expect an update at the end of next week if everything goes well (YES it will!)

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Sep 10 2007

PBP 2007 Ride Report

Happy and very tired
Happy and very tired

Quick summary of PBP 2007 on fixed: it went rather well: Finished in 85 hours with only an inflamated achilles tendon! The weather wasn’t great and a lot of people abandoned (30% instead of 15% in 2003) It would have been a bit easier on gears than fixed, especially for descending, but probably not that much. A 70″ gear was just about right for me.

Long summary:
Arrived at the Versailles campsite on Saturday night, got documents on Sunday morning and visited the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles in the afternoon. Tried to sleep as much as I could on Monday but some very noisy Germans next to my tent prevented that.

Started queueing in St Quentin at about 6pm and finally left with the 3rd wave of 90h starters at 22h10. The first 140k to Mortagne were quick and cheerful, I had been told about the long line of red lights streching to the horizon but that’s a sight which is hard to fully appreciate until you see it for yourself.

The first 450k to Loudeac went without a hitch, the weather was crap but not as bad as my personal worstest ride ever (Bryan Chapman 2006) so I was quite happy to carry on in these conditions. Got to Loudeac at 8:30pm Tuesday and left an hour later for my sleep control, Carhaix. I found this night stage to Carhaix to be the worst of the entire ride. I was mostly on my own, struggling on my 70″ fixed gear to climb what seemed like above 10% climbs, wet and tired. The road surface was quite awful too. It took me almost 6h to get to Carhaix at 3am. I slept 2h there and in the morning flipped the rear wheel over to switch to 66″, much more manageable for my legs not used to so much climbing on fixed (I did the SR on gears). My right achilles tendon was also starting to be slightly sore so I thought it would be prudent to ease off a bit on the high gear.

The stages to and from Brest were the best. Even had some sun between le Roc and Brest! Le Roc wasn’t as hard as I thought it would have been: it’s not steeper but just a bit longer than the hundreds of previous climbs. Perfect uphill for me on 66″ and even not too bad downhill. It was 11am Wednesday when I got to Brest and everyone there was quite happy to have made it half way. I stayed there for 1h, and headed my way back to Paris.

The rest of Wednesday between Brest and Loudeac was very pleasant, the excitement of coming back, a nice tailwind, it had even stopped raining! I was dreading the bit between Carhaix and Loudeac but it went very smoothly, probably a combination of smaller gear, tailwind and daylight! I got to Loudeac at 8:30pm and decided to carry on to Tinteniac which proved quite hard because it started to rain like hell at around midnight. The last 2h of this stage were the 2nd lowest point of the whole ride. It was hard to stay awake with the limited visibility and my crap light (I had a cheap battery light on this bike, which I ran most of the time in half-power mode to save batteries) and it was a relief to get to Tinteniac at 2am. A funny thing on this stage, there was a massive antenna on top of the hill before Tinteniac with a pulsating light on top. In the mist and rain it looked like a UFO and for 10min I thought I would meet some little green men at the control! There was only a lot of tired cyclists though, what a disappointment.

Slept a couple of hours in the Tinteniac cafeteria (the dormitories were full). I actually slept rather well here, thanks to ear plugs, an eye mask and an inflatable pillow!

Left on Thursday 6:30am for the last 350k, my achilles tendon was then very painful but thanks to some ibuprofen gel I managed to carry on to Mortagne without too much discomfort. I swapped the gear back to 70″ around Villaines to go a bit faster in descents as fast spinning was very painful for my tendon.

I arrived in Mortagne at 9pm Thursday. I could have carried on without sleeping but I thought that it would be better to finish in daylight around lunchtime, and there was no point to rush. So I had a very nice 3h sleep in the dormitory and set off for Dreux at 3:30am.

At around 5am, as I was at the front of a small group half-way between Mortagne and Dreux, my front wheel suddenly went under and I found myself hitting the road on my left thigh. The cyclists behind managed to avoid me, except one who rode over my rear wheel without crashing, good skills! I checked myself and the bike were both ok (no problem except a massive bruise on my thigh and a wheel slightly out of true) and went to see the reason of my crash: there was a massive oil patch on the road! It looked very deliberate (no car could have leaked that much oil) and I spent 5-10min there warning incoming riders and trying to phone the organisers to tell them about this (no signal unfortunately). Eventually I had to carry on but a few hundred meters later everyone had stopped in the middle of the road. Someone had found a steel wire streched across the road! We managed to call the organisers and everyone carried on to Dreux at low speed for the next 2 hours…

In Dreux I spoke with an official who was already aware of this incident and assured me that the police had been informed. I also went to see the medics to get some antisceptic on my thigh and there I met a guy who was looking for his son who had apparently fell on the oil much harder than me. I hope he didn’t have to abandon.

Eventually I left Dreux at around 8am. I didn’t care about my tendon now, it only had to hold for another 3h!

Finally arrived around 11am Friday in St Quentin after a few thousands red lights… Got my card stamped for a last time and went into zombie-mode for the rest of the day.

The high-points:
– The social aspect, everyone is very friendly: riders, controllers, local people (except the twats between Mortagne and Dreux!)
– Managing to avoid any kind of knee pain (the 4 and 600 qualifiers were a different story)
– My pedalling technique really improved in the second half of the ride. If I hadn’t had pain in the achilles tendon I could even have been much faster downhill.
– Finishing PBP on fixed. I remember a few years ago when even a 400 on gears was beyond my comprehension, I read in awe an article written by Phil Chadwick (63xc.com–Stories | Fixed Audax) about doing PBP on fixed and I thought that this was something I would never be able to do. I’m glad and still a bit surprised that I proved myself wrong!

The low-points:
– Rain and wind, although training in Wales was really good for dully accepting any kind of crap weather!
– Upset stomach. Like most people I had trouble eating for most of the ride. I even had to resort to buying these awful energy gels as I couldn’t eat anything solid on the bike. It took me 45min to very slowly go through a plate of pasta in Mortagne on the way back. I also had lots of tiny spots on my tongue. I wonder if all this wasn’t caused by the road grime accumulated on the bottles.
– The booby trapped road between Mortagne and Dreux.
– The slightly anti-climax end. Even the official website is still stuck in June… Still no word from the officials about how the ride went.

Update 6 months later: It took me about a month to get back to a normal sleep pattern but the tendinitis was still a problem 3 months later. I also had some numbness in my toes for about 3 months. It could have been worse as such nerve damage can sometimes be permanent! I never heard anything official about the oil and cable near Dreux but it seems that fortunately no one has been seriously injured by this stupid prank.

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Oct 01 2007

The big 2008 trip

Published by under World Tour 2008

2008 will be my big cycle trip across Eurasia. I’ve been thinking about this for a few years and I would have done it this year if not for PBP.

My rough plan is to leave around April 2008 at the latest, spend a month travelling through Germany and Eastern Europe (Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) and finally stop for a couple of months in Saint Petersburg to study Russian in a private school. 8 weeks of study with accomodation in a host family should cost less than £3000. It will be useful to improve my very basic Russian and also give a nice focus to the journey.

After Saint Petersburg I am thinking about cycling to Irkutsk near lake Baikal. It should be around late September by then, and just the time to cross Mongolia before it gets seriously cold. After crossing the Gobi desert I would then get into Northern China and from there probably head towards Beijing.

Mike Vermeulen has just recently finished a similar tour to Vladivostok: http://www.bikerussia.com/.

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Oct 17 2007

Inoculations for Russia and China

Published by under World Tour 2008

Today I saw a travel nurse in preparation for my 2008 trip to Russia and Asia.

I will get these recommended inoculations (descriptions from the official NHS travel website):

  • DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and polio)
  • Typhoid and hepatitis A
    Spread through contaminated food and water. Typhoid causes septicaemia and hepatitis A causes liver inflammation and jaundice. In risk areas you should be immunised if good hygiene is impossible.
  • Rabies
    Spread through bites or licks on broken skin from an infected animal. It is always fatal. Vaccination is advised for those going to risk areas that will be remote from a reliable source of vaccine. Even when pre-exposure vaccines have been received urgent medical advice should be sought after any animal bite.
  • Tickborne encephalitis
    Spread by tick bites. It is a serious infection of the brain and vaccination is advised for those in risk areas unable to avoid tick bites such as campers, forestry workers and ramblers.
  • Japanese B encephalitis
    Spread by mosquitoes. Risk is only in the very far east of Siberia close to the Chinese border. Advised if likely to be repeatedly exposed to mosquito bites, such as during prolonged stays (e.g. more than 4 weeks), or repeated visits to the infected area.

So far I got the DTP and Hepatitis A inoculations.

I’ll get the ones for Typhoid and Rabies closer to departure, probably around the end of January. I will also need to see a doctor for Japanese B and Tickborne encephalitis as these are not free on the NHS and need a specific prescription.

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Nov 02 2007

New Russian visa restrictions

Published by under World Tour 2008

It looks like the Russian government has recently introduced tougher visa restrictions:

Up until last month (October 2007) it was relatively easy to get a multi-entry 12 months business visa even for tourism purposes, no questions asked. That’s what most long distance cycle tourists opted for.

The new restrictions now impose the following:

  • A 12 months multi-entry business visa is only valid for 90 consecutive days and no more than a total of 180 days per year in the country.
  • Multi-entry visas can only be issued to people who have already been issued a Russian visa in the past.
  • Foreigners applying for a visa must do so in their own country, or any country where they are permanent resident or have the right to live for 90 days. In practice this should mean that EU citizens can apply anywhere in the EU.

Therefore it is now impossible to get any visa to travel any longer than 90 consecutive days in Russia.

3 months would be enough for me to cycle without too many detours from St Petersburg to the Mongolian border near Irkutsk (about 6-7000km). However I will need to change my plans about studying Russian in St Petersburg for 2 months…

You gotta love these Russian bureaucrats, although to be fair I don’t think the UK or French visa restrictions for Russian citizens are any more lenient. Restrictions on immigration are more popular than ever in any country… I find this rather hypocritical in a world where “global economy” is the rule.

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Jan 31 2008

New touring bike

Published by under World Tour 2008

A couple of weeks ago I received my new touring bike: a Thorn Nomad.

In the Cotswolds with the Thorn Nomad
In the Cotswolds with the Thorn Nomad

Compared to my previous touring bike (Cannondale T800) it’s heavy and slow but it feels much sturdier. The rear rack is guaranteed to 60kg (25kg only on the T800!) and the bike itself handles like a big lorry, which is A Good Thing when you carry a lot of stuff. It comes with a Rohloff hub gear for easy maintenance (provided the hub doesn’t fail!) and S&S couplings to split the frame in two for easier transportation. I also added a Schmidt dynamo hub to use with this German Dynalader AA/USB charger to recharge batteries when cycling!

Update 02/2008: the Dynalader charger doesn’t work properly. I found a possibly better solution with a product called TuneCharger. Unfortunately it requires a bit of soldering and things can get rather hot when going downhill… I’ll give another update after more testing.

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Mar 25 2008

The routes to China

Published by under World Tour 2008

There are 3 main routes from Europe to China:

  • Northern route (Russia and Mongolia)
  • Central Asia route (Russia and Kazakhstan, possibly Kyrgyzstan)
  • Southern route (Middle East and India)

Continue Reading »

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Mar 25 2008

Visas and a departure date

Published by under World Tour 2008

I’ve applied for 2 visas:

  • Russia: 1 month – entry date: 15th of May
  • Kazakhstan: 3 months – entry date: 5th of June

I used a French visa agency to make things simpler. So far my applications seem to be going smoothly and I hope to receive the visas (and my passport!) by the 10th of April.

I am moving back to France from the UK in early April and I should leave for the trip around the 15th.

I have a 12 months sabbatical from work. It shouldn’t take more than 6 months to cycle to China (especially with the visa time limits) so I would have enough time to cycle back through India and the Middle East, or maybe I’ll take a plane further West…

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Apr 18 2008

D-2

D-2

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Apr 19 2008

I have set up a twitter accoun…

Published by under Sent by SMS

I have set up a twitter account (frogonabike) to post via SMS. I’ve also written a short WordPress plugin to convert my current GPS location to a Google map link. (Show on Google Maps)

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Apr 19 2008

Last update before departure

Published by under World Tour 2008

I am now pretty much ready to leave in 48 hours (Monday the 21st)

I received my visas for Russia and Kazakhstan last week, so now it’s a race against the clock to get to Russia early enough to have the time to get to the Kazakh border before the Russian visa expires on the 15th of June. I’ve planned a fairly direct route (See map) through Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the South of Ukraine: about 3000km altogether from my parents in NE France to the Russian border in Crimea. If I cycle at least 100km each day, I’ll be in Russia before the end of May and in Kazakhstan around mid-June.

I’ve heard very bad news about obtaining a visa for China: the Chinese government has just tightened its visa regulations following the recent anti-Chinese protests around the world. More information is available on the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum, but in short they are now even tougher than Russia: 30 days maximum stay; need to show proof of airline tickets and booked accommodation; need to apply in a country where you have right of residency; etc…

With these limitations it’ll be virtually impossible for tourists to cycle all the way to China, especially when entering through the West border as this is an area forbidden to foreigners anyway (this rule wasn’t strictly enforced until now). I am not sure what I will do once in Kazakhstan, I may actually have to fly from Almaty to avoid China altogether. I won’t get there until August anyway so I have 4 more months to think about it…

Regarding my preparations, I wish I’d have a few more weeks to research all the places I’m going through and also re-think some of the stuff I’m taking with me: my bike fully loaded is 70kg, and with all the cakes I’ve eaten recently I’m also 10kg overweight so the total weight is about 155kg. No way I’m leaving the laptop at home though!

A very overloaded bike
A very overloaded bike

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Apr 19 2008

How to send me SMS texts for free

Published by under World Tour 2008

I’ve created an account called frogonabike on twitter to be able to send and receive SMS updates on the road.

I’ll still have to pay from 29 to 49 pence (outside Europe) to send texts but I can receive them for free wherever I am, and with twitter you can also send me texts for free.

You’ll need to create a new account on twitter.com (you can ignore the “invite” screen after signing up) and then to send me a direct message, just type in the “What are you doing?” form:

d frogonabike YOUR MESSAGE

and twitter should tell you that it has sent a direct message to frogonabike.

To send more texts, just prepend all your messages with “d frogonabike”

Unfortunately I can’t guarantee a direct reply by SMS but I’ll try to keep in touch by email!

Update: I just realised that twitter won’t send SMS updates from accounts that I am not “following”. So if you send me a twitter message and I’m not following you already, I won’t get it until I can connect on the net and update my twitter account.

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Apr 22 2008

Departure

Published by under World Tour 2008

Departure, bike and cyclist both overloaded
Departure, bike and cyclist both overloaded
The hardest bit
The hardest bit

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Apr 25 2008

In Rothenburg

Published by under World Tour 2008

Arrived in Rothenburg this evening. Staying in a B&B and will quickly visit by day tomorrow morning. Found some free wifi in the street and I am typing this on my mobile so no pictures for now. (Show on Google Maps)

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Apr 27 2008

Went through Nurenberg today, …

Published by under Sent by SMS

Went through Nurenberg today, the rally place is now mostly a stadium. Great weather. Will be in CZ tomorrow. (Show on Google Maps)

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Apr 28 2008

Very hilly in the Czech Republ…

Published by under Sent by SMS

Very hilly in the Czech Republic! I miss the German cycle lanes between cities. Great weather this past week. (Show on Google Maps)

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Apr 30 2008

Strong headwind all day except…

Published by under Sent by SMS

Strong headwind all day except during the 12% climbs. I’d rather climb all day! Not many shops, no bakery, no cake! (Show on Google Maps)

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