Always looking to push the bar in terms of Fixed Gear road riding it was suggested, probably after a few to many post ride on a Tuesday night, that this year’s 400+ mile France tour should be done on our track bikes. With no one willing to back down from the challenge, this is exactly what we set about doing.
If you Google Fixed Gear Touring you quickly realize that there is not many people out there doing it. Now a normal person might assume this is because touring on a track bike is probably the stupidest thing you could do, but then we don’t like to think of ourselves as the norm!
The July event is where woman all over the world will be taking part in a 100miles/km ride promoted by Rapha. I couldn’t wait that long so I decided to get a group together and give it a whirl early. So I was setting myself up for my third 100miler though this time I would be on my fixed All City Big Block (my baby).
|Ben & Andy|
If you’re more interested in the tour then the bikes you can skip this bit.
I own three fixed gear bikes now and last October built up what is supposed to be my “best” bike (although I will always have a soft spot for my old dawes road conversion). I started with a Brother Cycles Swift track frame and built up with Halo Aerotrack and Aerorage rims laced to Miche Primato hubs with Shwalbe Durano Plus tyres, Miche Primato cranks and a halo sprocket with a gear ratio of 49×17. This was complimented with some cheaper range Tioga Alnine parts for the stem and seatpost. A Thompson seat clamp and the most comfortable saddle I have ever used, the Tioga Spyder Twin Tail. A set of BLB bullhorns, a campag centaur brake lever and a dirt harry gold finger brake lever completed the bike.
I don’t tend to drink much water on a ride less than 40 miles and on longer rides we tend to stop at a shop at some point anyway (I am trying to give myself the nickname “The Camel”) so I wasn’t put off with the lack of bottle cage mounts on this pure track frame. The toe overlap was slightly worrying but I haven’t fallen off yet (not because of toe overlap anyway) so I guessed this wouldn’t be a problem and I wasn’t wrong over the five day course. The bike held up fine over the bumpier sections of the ride and although I was initially thinking about changing the stock forks for some Columbus Tusks I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. The frame itself was really nice and stiff and I didn’t feel any flex on any of the climbs we did, no matter how long or steep. I did have some creaking in the stem/headset area after day 4 but I have since tightened and re-greased and no further problems. The bike in general got loads of attention thanks to its good looks and I’m glad I chose to take this one over my others.
For load carrying I used a rather miss matched 9L Carradice Barley saddlebag and accompanying Bagman2 QR Support minus the recommended support struts due to lack of braz-ons. This became somewhat of an ongoing issue as the all alloy construction began to bend and the one bolt holding it together kept working itself lose. Nothing a few zip-ties couldn’t fiz though.
One thing I might have added would be a Columbus Tusk fork over the stock one that comes with the frameset as I think the increased rake and curvier design may have helped with some of the bumpier roads but, as ever in France, bumpy roads where few and far between (usually on downhills) so overall I was pretty happy with the set up.
Andy took his recently built (courtesy of Bike U Like, Southsea) All City Big Block. This is a frameset aimed at street use as much as track racing and included a single bottle cage mount, a high bottom bracket to reduce any chance of pedal strike and has no toe overlap. It is an all steel affair and uses All City’s 612 ChroMoly. Keep a check for a full 1000 mile review coming soon.
His build consists of a 58cm 5th anniversary Big Block frameset with Halo hubs laced up on H+Son Archetype rims and wrapped up in a pair of 23mm Continental 4 seasons, Miche Primato cranks, Shimano XT clipless pedals, Halo cog, Thomson seatpost, Charge Scoop ti saddle, Leader Saber bars, BLB cnc brake lever and a slightly to short Miche front break.
After not getting his new frame bag in time for the trip Andy also used his Carradice, although the larger 19L Nelson was definitely overkill for this trip. His original steel Bagman QR Support had no issues and remained rock solid for the entire tour. Proving once again the steel is real!
Overall the setup worked great and despite having all the weight so high up it only became noticeable when standing on steep climbs.
Night 1 – Zut Alors!
We had decided to meet up for a quick beer at the The Ship & Castle to see off the wives and girlfriends and start the journey as we meant it to continue. How naive we were sipping on our Ales expecting to be on the Ferry within the hour. We waved off the ladies and cruised over to passport control to check in. Andy and I checked through fine, but the third passport (a European travel licence) seemed to be causing the trainee some problems, as it turned out it was 18 months out of date, panic started to kick in but Arunas was sure he had another passport at home.
We rang Ingrid and asked her to bring it down immediately. As we waited with our hearts going like we were climbing in the Pyrenees. She arrived with a shake of her head and told us the passport was out of date too. With the gate closing we had to board the ferry and left Arunas at the Port – Bad Times!
We couldn’t quite believe what was happening and to make matters worse this was the first year we had decided to split the gear, luckily for us Arunas only had the pump, tyre levers, oil and chain tool which left us with pretty much nothing of use.
We grabbed a couple of can’s of Stella (I know what your thinking, but it’s actually okay to drink Stella in international waters) and watched a very entertaining magic show provided by Mr Steel and his glamorous assistant. The week previously I had gone to watch Derren Brown and honestly there wasn’t much difference. We settled down for bed in the cabin, but not before noticing the bottle opener in the bathroom within easy reach of the toilet – stay classy France!
We awoke to the now familiar and annoying voice of the “wake up call ferry lady”, after checking both flip down beds and behind the shower curtain to confirm that Arunas was definitely not around we rolled off on to French soil and headed into Saint Malo to find a pump and some tools. If you have ever been to France or have read our earlier France write ups (Onwards to Gay Paree and Le Tour de Normandie) you will know finding any open shops on a Sunday is difficult, let alone a bike shop. After an hour and a half of gingerly cycling around Saint Malo, avoiding any bump or shiny object in the road, we met our saviour of the day.
After first being told ‘everywhere is closed, you will not find a pump’ and failing in our attempt to buy his pump off him our new friend led down a winding path to the only open shop in Saint Malo which we were told might have a Pompe. I went in and emerged triumphant – heartbeat slowing back down to its normal 60bpm.
After hiding the pump in the back of my jersey and trying to scare Andy we rejoiced for a few minutes before finally setting off to start the journey properly.
After a metaphorical bumpy start we then had a physically bumpy continuation and walked our bikes down a gravel path just outside of Saint Malo.
We criss-crossed a mountain bike race and long distance running event as we roamed further into the countryside before stopping for the first snack of the day and our staple French diet.
Another 30 or so miles and we arrived into our first big stop which was the town of Rennes, One of the bigger towns in Brittany. It’s a shame that it was a Sunday as the town centre was very quiet and most places were closed or closing.
We managed to find a Pizza place in the centre and quickly ordered some food and drink before the 14:30 closing time.
The town itself was pretty cool and would be worth a visit on a Saturday or busier day.
As we neared the end of day 1 we were still in low morale that Arunas hadn’t made it and we felt as if not much had happened. The weather was okay, but not sunny and the riding had been pretty easy and not the challenge we were looking for. Just as we felt like France had let us down it provided, as it always does, and Andy spotted what looked like an outdoor velodrome. As we went inside to have a look we found where all the towns people had been that afternoon and stumbled into their carnival.
Cheap Cider, food, belly dancing and clowns inside a velodrome at a carnival in france – standard!
The clowns were loving our bikes too!
After a few more miles of slightly boozey riding we arrived at le Manoir du Tertre our B&B for the night.
It was by far the nicest b&b we have stayed in in terms of size and grandeur. The three story manor was full of old furniture and ornate fireplaces and the hosts were really nice and interested in our trip. During a ‘simple’ family meal, consisting of just the five courses of food I couldn’t have been happier…that was until our host Amar starting telling us about the house itself.
After being slightly concerned last year about staying in a house that seemed a bit haunted it turned out this year we were staying in a house that famously was, it had belonged to a famous medium Madame Zaeppfel whose portrait still hangs on the wall, unless she is walking around the house talking to the guests it seems.
I couldn’t have been less happy to hear this and Amar elaborated on his story with pictures of her on medium magazines and a description of the house in 100 places to stay in Britanny.
The house itself also featured in a graphic novel based around spooky goings on.
After a great night chatting to our hosts and drinking a bottle of Amars friends homemade beer (1 of only 500 bottles made per year) we went to bed and were thankfully left to sleep in peace. For regular readers – yes this b&b was on top of a hill, a sure sign of its quality 😉
Day 2 – “The beach is pronounced Keeber ron, not quibber on”
We awoke on day two to beautiful sunshine. The kind of sunshine that starts out nice and pleasant, but is soon burning and dehydrating you on the longest day of the trip at 97 miles. This region of France is well known for its standing stones and the route was plotted to take in fields of standing stones in the Carnac region. Not too long into our ride we came across a wooded area housing some of the first stones we saw of the trip, we think you might have had to pay, but we only saw one other person chatting on his phone so we took some snaps and left.
Due to Andy’s iPod still being on English time and back tracking slightly to try and race around the velodrome from the previous day it wasn’t long before the mid-day heat started to get to us and we stopped at one of the nicest little bars of the tour.
We weren’t the only ones the heat was getting to and soon we were surrounded by lizards and apparently the start of mating season.
After a lunch stop at an open supermarket we pushed on through the heat and over some bridges towards Carnac and the standing stones.
Although not as large as Stonehenge the sheer number of stones at Carnac was still very impressive!
Very near the end of our journey we made it to Quiberon and the two beaches.
After about 90 miles in we were looking forward to the ice-cream van that was surely awaiting us. As it turns out all that was there was beach and an army base, anyone looking for a business venture definitely needs to get involved.
Pressing on along a cycle path for the majority of the last few dehydrated miles we made it to B&B number 2, le Clos Marine, which was attached to a rather nice looking creperie. The rooms were okay and there was a radiator we used to dry our sink-washed clothes, but after 97 miles the food was probably a bit low-calorie for our needs.
It was at this point that we realised just how hot it had been during the day and resolved to look for sun screen first thing the next day, whoops!
Day three started pretty hot and didn’t really get any less hot for the rest of the day, temperatures were just over 20 degree C and the sun burn from yesterday was feeling very fresh. First port of call today, after the sun cream, was a bike shop to get a new hat after the elastic went in yet another Cinelli cap.
A bit of air in the back wheel and a shop branded pearl izumi hat from the good people at Cycle Carrers, Lorient and we were underway yet again. Cycling through a particularly dusty region and fields of fresh rapeseed oil on the windiest day of the trip did nothing for my nose and I spent a lot of the day sneezing and dehydrated. Despite this we were still in France and there were some great views to be seen in the countryside.
After a few lunch time baguettes outside a church, another staple of touring in France, we headed into what would turn our to be a much tougher afternoon.
It was at this point the heat must have really started getting to me as I had a small crash going over another bridge, scratched forks and some ripped bartape were luckily the only injuries.
Shacking myself off we started climbing more and more hills, with a total elevation of 4,767 ft for the day, most of which was climbed during that afternoon. Unsurprisingly we were starting to get pretty knackered and soon in need of another beer stop.
With only seven miles to go Andy said what would become an in-joke for the rest of the trip “how many hills can there be in just 7 miles” – turns out, quite a lot!
Having conquered all the hills for that day we pulled into Love Landeillau, our accomodation for the evening and what would transpire to be the nicest stay of the entier trip!
The hosts Arian & Barry were great from the get go and couldn’t do enough to make us welcome.
Arian showed us to the pent house suite we would be staying in and it had everything we could have wanted for a mid-tour rest stop. Seating area and a television don’t seem like much, but after three days in the saddle I was pretty excited. With a fridge stocked with beer, cider and some rather dubious looking cartons of wine as we couldn’t have been happier! We did worry we might be being a bit cheeky hinting at using their washing machine, but we needn’t have been as our host were more than happy to wash and dry our clothing for us over night! – what more could we want. Barry prepared us a great meal with more beer and wine, a service only provided for those who have cycled or walked to the B&B and we were up until around midnight chatting about a whole range of topics.
In the morning they showed us around the grounds and the small cabin they have available to rent outside and chatted some more before we set off for day 4 of the trip in freshly washed and kiln dried clothes, thanks again guys 🙂
Day 4 – The best meal in France
We have both recently purchased new chains and over the 415 mile trip we had both had to tension our chains a couple times, during a particularly “in the middle of know where” faffing session we started to worry about what would happen if we over tightened our rear track nuts. In reality nothing would happen, we wouldn’t be able to ride, we wouldn’t find any replacements and we would be pretty much screwed, this led us to seek out a decathlon at the start of day 4, but track nuts are hard enough to find in the UK let alone in France, with no luck we took solace in the free entertainment decathlon had kindly prepared for us.
Day four had some of the biggest climbs of the trip and on the top of one particularly nasty hill we passed an old horse and cart travelling slowly up the gradient.
A few more big climbs and it was time for a beer stop, we passed a bar and did a u-turn only to hear someone shout “fixed-gear” at us from outside another shop. We wheeled over and met Jeff who it turned out used to be a bike courier in Montreal and who also has a track bike.
He chatted to us about riding fixed and his yearly touring adventures. Jeff had pretty much travelled everywhere and seemed pretty excited about meeting people touring fixed, we headed into the bar where he explained to the bartender and a smattering of locals about fixed riding and what we were doing – Andy tells me this was the most French he understood the whole trip! Unfortunately Jeff was working and couldn’t stay for a beer and although he was very sceptical about us making it to Saint Malo in good time by the next evening he wished us luck and went on his way. You can find out more about Jeff at his website www.brest-courrier-velo.com.
Pushing ever on through the usual array of small villages and rolling hills (and some helpful encouragement written on the walls) we neared the end of day 4, but not before stopping for – you guessed it! – a cool refreshing beer. Whilst enjoying the view, and taking a quick pic of a particularly nice church, Andy was approached by a friendly local determined to explain to him the history behind the church.
Not that I go in for stereotypes, but I don’t think this local Frenchmen could have been any more German in appearance if he had tried and after failing to get through to Andy in French he resorted to his native tongue.
Unfortunately for everyone involved neither myself nor Andy speak much French, German or, when asked Dutch – typical Brits! This didn’t seem to faze our new friend and after some further explanation he went home to his wife for some jambon and ouefs.
Night 4’s B&B (Pont Canon) was situated at the bottom of a hill. Although usually not a good sign this was also pretty nice and we had another big space to hang out in. After initially getting told off by Martine for not letting her know about Arunas being missing in action we settled down for a very small meal which was, according to Martine, “the best food in France” we reluctantly nodded agreement and finished our meal. After this Martine seemed to relax somewhat and so we broached the question that was playing on our minds “instead of leaving our bikes outside leant against a wall – non merci!, can we instead bring them up to the room (we promise not to do skids through the bedroom after another bottle of cidre)” As you can see from the pics below the bikes got to stay in some of the best accommodation they had had the whole trip.
Day 5 – The final Stretch (no ride date as Garmin Edge Touring failed to record it correctly)
Day 5 was tough going. Still hot and with a few minor niggles in my knee and Andy’s ankle, but very enjoyable with some lovely scenery to take in. Beer and food stops were also starting to become a bit more frequent which was fine with me!
Any sort of longer distance cycling tends to revolve around the food stops, or stations as Roadies call them, and on this day the best place we found was call T.B.O.F. This place basically had everything you could want in French cuisine, Chips with salt and vinegar, weird looking hot dogs, beer and local brand Brittany Cola called Breizh Cola, which is actually extreamely nice.
At the point we were equal parts happy and surprised that we had found some decent chips in a small town, but soon discovered, after some hydrating kronenbourg red, that T.B.O.F stood for “The best of Frites” and we were probably the only people in France that could have been surprised by such a truthfull outcome.
It didn’t seem too long after this until we could see Saint Malo in the distance.
Our final obstacle being a bridge that didn’t seem safe to ride on due to traffic, we hopped off the bikes and made our way across with the water rushing by below.
The phrase “so close yet so far” really resonated with us at this point and if I could I would have just stayed on that bridge.
Walking the bikes seemed to take forever as we manoeuvred around some local fishermen casting off of the bridge into the sea below, but we eventually made it to the other side only to be confronted by yet another hill and a very busy road with no shoulder to ride on.
We had a quick tactical meeting and decided not to go over the very busy, traffic strewn hill that went a few miles seemingly in the wrong direction, but instead decided to go all cyclo-cross and carry or push the bikes up through the woods on one of the footpaths, and so entered saint malo much the same way as we had left it a few days previous.
After locating another three story mansion, this time by the name of Villa Athanaze and a well needed shower we were directed by Gillian, our night 5 host, down to the harbour. En route we picked up some emergency supplies that we thought we might need if the restaurant situation failed us – which in France is very possible.
Carrying our bag of sweets, cider and all the fruit that Andy could get away with we made our way down to the harbour under a lovely (not romantic) setting sun. After passing three Creperies, all seemingly competing to put off two hungry cyclists, we came across a nice looking restaurant with some burgers on the menu. Me being an avid meat eater went for a lovely cheeseburger with coleslaw and some special burger sauce, Andy being a strict vegan went for a double burger without the cheese (I guess we do what we have to).
After this very filling, well deserved meal we headed to an awesome pub next door called Le Cancalais where we discovered a belgium/ French beer called Grimbergen Ambree, it was amazing and 6.5%, unfortunately this particular variety is only available to the French market, but we would recommend it if you can find it!
Very pleased with our trip and happy with our achievements we treated ourselves to one too many beers and started talking about future plans and how many more miles we were going to do on the next trip.
Day 6 – Ferry Trip
Day six was spent with an early rise followed by a longish wait at the ferry port.
We had a cabin on the way home which we put to good use and slept off the beer from the previous evening before slowly pulling back into Portsmouth for our homecoming gathering.
Fixed in France was great and didn’t feel any harder than previous years although our fitness levels have have definately come a long way. Even so, the lack of gears was worth it if only for the reactions and interest we got from the people we met along the way!
Au revoir France until the next time
Written by Ben Beeching