Another French tour booked through Tour de Vines, operated by French Cycling Holidays and lead by the wonderful guides, Susan and David. We were collected from our Hotel in Tours and taken along with several other riders to our first nights' hotel in Azay-le-Rideau where we were joined by the rest of the riders. A lovely hotel which set the...
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Alsace and the Vosges Tour - Provided by French Cycling Holidays *****
We joined our third French Cycling Holidays tour once again lead by Susan and David with the addition of two support guys, Martin and Chris, due to the size of our tour group. Usually FCH would have groups of no more than 8 or 9 guests supported by two guides/drivers who would take it in turn to ride with the group or drive the support van. Special circumstances saw an extended family group of 13 joining the tour to celebrate a family connection to touring with FCH. As a result we had 17 in the tour group with two support vehicles driven by Chris and Martin, while Susan and David rode with the group.
Mary and I made our way to Strasbourg where we were collected by David and driven to our hotel in Ottrott where we met the members of our touring group plus Martin and Chris. FCH supplies bicycles for the ride and our 17 bikes consisted of four Trek hybrid models, eleven Velo Ville e city bikes and two Specialized Turbo Creo SL E5 Comp e road bikes. The latter were supplied for Mary and I with an additional charge after FCH let us know that they were available. They were both models one below our own Creo Experts with aluminium frames and paddle gears and they were the best rental bikes we have ridden in Europe!
It was a week long tour with bike fittings on the first day followed by a familiarisation ride to a near by village for lunch before heading up to a convent at the top of a nearby mountain to get our legs working. We took pedals, seats and a stem adjuster for Mary. The latter was not fitted till later in the week when it became apparent that handlebar adjustments made by FCH were not enough for Mary's neck and back. Once fitted Mary's Creo was a delight to ride too.
Over the week we rode to Ribeauville for one night, Colmar for two nights, Ensisheim for one night and Mulhouse for our last night, all in the French Alsace region. The daily rides varied between 50km and 100km with the ride from Ensisheim to Mulhouse via a 23km and 1200m climb of La Grand Ballon being a highlight. Of the 14 riders with e bikes, all but myself were on their last bar of e support as we arrived at the hotel. Notwithstanding discussions elsewhere in this website of factors that can vary distances that can be achieved on e bikes, I finished with two bars of e support even though Mary and I rode the same route, used turbo and sport settings pretty much the same and i weigh about 40% more than Mary.
The hotels we stayed in were excellent, the nightly meals and accompanying wines were often Michelin standard and lunches were picnics with fresh ingredients each day purchased by one of the crew in between delivering our luggage to our rooms on days when we changed hotels. On our last morning we were driven to the Mulhouse rail station for the next leg of our European holiday.
Overall it was another brilliant FCH bike tour and as usual they have set the bar very high for future tours. The challenge for next time will be sourcing our preferred bikes. Susan advised that at present FCH is limited to sourcing Creos for the Alsace tour as their supplier is the only one carrying them and only in this region. However, twelve months ago we were being told that we would be on Giant e road bikes as Specialized Creos were not available. Hopefully by 2024 availability will have changed elsewhere too?
RACV Resorts Ride- provided by All Trails ****
All Trails offered a ten day ride through Victoria with a rest day between each tranche of five day's riding and they kindly offered us the opportunity to join the group for the first five days riding from Mulwala on the banks of the Murray River to Creswick near Ballarat. The ride commenced with a gathering of the 27 riders and three crew at the Southern Cross Railway station in Melbourne at 6:30am and was followed by a rail trip to Benalla before being bused to Mulwala where we had lunch and our ride to to our first Royal Automobile Club of Victoria resort at Cobram, 55 kms along the Murray.
Over the next four nights we travelled to Shepparton, Mitchellstown vineyard, Kyneton and into the five star RACV Goldfields Resort outside Creswick. In total I rode 383kms, climbed in excess of 2500 metres, overcame two climbs at 13% and 14% which had even our best riders walking and dealt with initial gentle tail winds that became wet and strong head winds over the last two days.
The accommodation ranged from a van and cabin park run by the RACV in Cobram, to motels in Shepparton and Kyneton, a luxury hotel in the vineyard and ending in the luxury RACV resort with golf course located outside Creswick. All breakfasts were provided, while lunches were mostly always provided, and dinners were provided in Mitchellstown and Creswick. We managed to find interesting dining options in Shepparton and Kyneton which was great considering that the nights we were there most restaurants were closed.
We opted to ride our e road bikes with 38mm gravel tyres as we understood that heavy rains had impacted the roads and in some cases resulted in temporary blue gravel replacements. This slowed us down compared to the road bikes with thin tyres on the unaffected bitumen, but we certainly appreciated our tyres when we rode on blue gravel and dirt roads or bitumen roads with lots of pot holes. We Also appreciated our choice of riding modes as the ride became steeper and the head winds stronger. Half way through our second last day we opted to stay in the Sports Mode and as a result we found ourselves slowly but surely catching the riders we normally only saw at the start and finish of sections and we rode into our Kyneton Motel with only three riders in front of us. I was having problems with my battery and I arrived with only 10% of my battery capacity left. Mary on the other hand arrived with 65% of her capacity left. It got even better for me on the last day when I rode from Kyneton to Creswick over the two big climbs plus rolling climbs into strong headwinds mostly in sports mode and arrived at Creswick with almost 20% battery capacity left. Mary ,along with many other riders, chose to get in the sag wagon at Daylesford as the conditions got worse so her battery was still quite strong.
The ride over, the All Trails crew transferred us to the Creswick railway station the next morning and by 10am we were back in Melbourne ready to join our children and grandchildren to watch the F1.
Lake Garda Bike Hotel *****
We arrived at the Garda Bike Hotel beside a major Italian lake called Lake Garda and my right knee was only just beginning to settle down after strain put on it by the weight and configuration of my bike and barge e bike. We had signed up for four days of joining guided rides using Pinarello Nytro e road bikes. We brought our pedals and seats with us and it took the mechanics about 20 minutes to set us up. Mary's bike had a Garmin out front bracket which was great but I was glad I brought my Garmin temporary bracket which worked really well.
The Bike Hotel usually offers three rides each day, a classic (40-70 kms), an Enthusiastic (about 90 kms) and an Epic (around 125kms). The actual rides change every day but if you stay long enough you will see the same rides offered, but perhaps with a different guide. When I say guide, it's not like you would expect on a cycle tour. The Bike Hotel Guides seem to approach each ride with the desire of completing it as soon as possible, especially the last 20-30 kms! Average speeds I experienced for the last parts of my rides were around 28-32 kms and pauses were rare and usually for photos.
Our Pinarello Nytros were very good bikes, although Mary and I agreed that our Specialized Creos are better. Possibly due to the cost of purchasing Nytros and wanting to keep them affordable to rent, the Hotel had provided Nytros with Shram gearing, but no electronic gears like Shimano Di2. They also have big and small front chain rings and it was sometimes difficult to work out what gear we were in. This in turn caused each of us to drop a chain once. Easy to fix, but annoying. Nytros don't have range extenders and the main batteries had to be carefully used to ensue we had sufficient power to complete our rides. This was particularly the case with Monte Baldo with a climb of 21 kms and where spare batteries were retrieved from the supporting van to ensure we could get to the top and then back to the hotel.
Besides range, we also noticed that the three modes - green (eco), blue (sport) and pink (turbo) operate differently to our Creo system. Provided I stayed in green it provided excellent support - for example at the end of my last ride of just on 90 kms with a steady 5km climb in the middle, I had only used the green mode and I had used only about 60% of my battery power. Using blue for steeper climbs and then reverting to green, it was like hitting a barrier we switched back. It was as if I had turned the power off for a few seconds and then the lesser support kicked in. This was even more noticeable going from pink to blue and while pink certainly made it easier to deal with gradients over 10%, we didn't experience the initial surge in power that we had found with our Creos in similar circumstances while climbing in Tasmania earlier this year.
It is possible, however, that the differences in performance were the result of how the bikes were set up. The Creo's Mission Control App allows you to dictate how much support you get from each mode and after watching some You Tube stories on optimising each mode, we had changed the factory settings so that we removed the mode cross over set up and made sure that as you change up, you get the boost you are expecting. As a result, eith the Creo, if and when you go up or down a mode you notice the difference, but at the same time it's a smooth change.
Communications with the Hotel's mechanics and guides (and it seemed most guides were also mechanics) was one of the weak points of our time at the Hotel. From bike setup, to bike use and through to our rides we felt that the communication levels were pretty ordinary. Of course everyone was Italian and English was their second language. This may explains why when they did communicate it sometimes took an effort on everyone's part to get messages across. But we were offered only rudimentary advice about the ins and outs of riding the Nytros - essentially just an explanation of the modes.
This came to a head for us while climbing the first 16kms of Monte Baldo with gradients ranging from 5% to 12%. Working on the premise that we should ride the same way we would on our Creos we were moving between blue and pink as gradients changed. Then our guide appeared, saw we we in pink and chastised us for being so. At that point he advised that if we continued doing do our batteries would be empty after an hour of riding. We knew we each had a spare battery in the support van, but if he was right we would have used both by the first major stop at 16kms. So we changed to climbing using green till gradients got too steep and then we switched to blue. This way I arrived at the 16km mark with two bars left, while Mary had four. They swapped my battery then, while Mary's was changed after the second, shorter but steeper climb. So steep that we used pink for about 500m.
As I weigh about 33% more than Mary we assumed that the power consumption differences were probably weight related.
This has been a bit long winded, but an aim of this site is to hopefully fill in gaps never covered in bike or tour reviews. We had a great week of cycling, the Nytros were certainly great to ride, especially as we learned more about how to best operate them, the hotel services are fabulous including providing late lunches if you ride and washing your cycling gear overnight which makes it so easy to ride. The hotel staff were great and the guides were very good, but gave us the impression that our decision to ride e road bikes labeled us as non-serious riders. As a result we felt that notwithstanding how we rode each day, we didn't receive the accolades or feedback that the other riders we rode with received. Paranoid perhaps, but when Scott arrived, unpacked his road bike and immediately was approached by one of the owner/guides who had spent the whole week smiling at us but did not engage with us. Hopefully, the hotel will attract more riders like us and the guides will come to understand that us mature riders by using ebikes are able to join in the rides and do the climbs without falling way behind and yet still make a big effort!
Belgium: Bike and Barge tour from Amsterdam to Brugge *****
In late August we finished our riding experience having joined the Magnifique IV Bike and Barge Tour from Amsterdam to Brugge. This was a seven day, six night tour that allowed the Magnifique to work its way along canals and rivers in the Netherlands and Belgium while we either watched on as passengers or participated in daily rides. We were joined by two Italian friends who were being initiated into the wonderful world of bike and barging. They both have city e bikes at home, so all four of us opted to rent the barge's city e bikes (see photo) to help with the daily rides which ranged from about 32 to 57 kms.
The week was fabulous - we were aboard a self proclaimed Luxury River Cruiser and it showed. Our above deck suite was spacious and very well appointed. Two single beds pushed together in the main cabin with a coffee table and two soft chairs plus wardrobe with a safe in it. The bathroom was big for a barge and the shower was the equal of any experienced in top notch hotels. We had 33 passengers, five crew and two guides on board and everyone had a great week.
Our Italian friends enjoyed the experience although one doesn't speak English. It was disappointing that we only had one other Italian speaker on board resulting in lots of quiet moments for our friend. We have discussed this and the four of us agreed that for a week long adventure it's important to know the likely makeup of the touring group so that you don't find yourself feeling isolated. We had experienced this on a tour several years ago when we were two of just four English speakers on a German speaking barge and it made for a difficult week.
The rides each day, after day one when it rained and Mary dropped the heavy ebike on the side of the road and cut her leg below her knee, were delightful. A bonus on our last day of riding was that the four of us were set up by the guides to use Ride with GPS on my iPhone to ride the last day on our own for the 33 kms into Brugge. This worked really well.
Usually each riding day started with us being divided into two groups to keep the rides manageable. Still, riding with a group of about 15 can be very tiring at times with daily average speeds around 16 kph. As at least half the participants had ebikes, it was surprising that average speeds weren't higher until you considered that some of the riders had opted for regular bikes rather than ebikes notwithstanding they were hopeless riders. The promotion material urges people to opt for ebikes if they can't maintain a daily average speed of 15+ kph, which is still slow, but at least feels a good pace.
I twice acted as group sweep, once to a group containing some very slow riders. My job was to stay behind the group and let the guide know that everyone was still behind. With the slow riders we got down to an average of 11kph, the gap between us and the rest of the group blew out to about a km and yes we got to a major multi direction junction and had no clue which way the group had gone. To make matters worse the walkie talkie I was given to communicate with the group leader didn't work. She had accidentally changed the station and when I pressed the required buttons there was nobody there. So a final day on our own averaging about 22 kph was delightful and threw into question whether unguided touring might be a better option provided you have the right support such as Ride with GPS? It's a wonderful visual and audio guide, but it eats phone batteries. My phone started at 100% and was almost dead by the 25 km mark. Luckily we had our charging block with us and were able to recharge the phone as we rode.
And what were our learnings from the week? First and foremost, bike and barging is a wonderful way of combining my two passions, exploring new places and riding bikes. Second and most importantly, really check out the implications of the equipment you will be riding if you are hiring your bike. In years past bike and barging in various forms has introduced us to riding with cleats, showed us the wonderful benefits of the Di2 electronic gear system and made it clear that to keep up with younger, fitter riders we would need e road bikes. This time round we opted for the offered e city bikes so that we could ride the same equipment as our friends. Perhaps if the route had involved more climbing they would have been great, but the four of agreed that manual bikes would have been more challenging and removed the down side of these bikes.
They weigh in at around 30 kgs and are very difficult to manoeuvre whether on and off the bike. I have a weak right knee and it took three days of taking anti inflammatory tablets once the ride was over before my knee pain disappeared. Not being allowed to fit my clip on pedals (understandable given how stiff and heavy the bikes were and the likeliness of novice riders around you just stopping without warning) meant that each time we restarted the heavy bike really applied pressure to my right knee. On top of this, their weight meant that turning, manoeuvring, coasting and stopping were all major exercises that at times made riding on crowded bike paths or through heavily populated city centres very difficult.
There are riding tour operators who offer e bikes that are lighter and very easy to ride, whether they be e road bikes or e hybrid bikes. If we all stop hiring heavy e bikes, the tour operators will have to rethink their tour equipment. I noticed that Trek Travel is now including good quality trek hybrids on their tours and are offering Domane e Touring bikes at additional cost on selected tours. I'll certainly be exploring this option for future tours around the world.
Any questions don't hesitate to send me an email using our contact us tab and I'll try to answer them promptly.
Australia - Tour of the #East Coast of Tasmania. *****
With the Australian COVID lockdowns on the east coast drawing to a conclusion Mary and I took the post omicron plunge and headed to Tasmania this month to join the AllTrails tour from Launceston to Hobart! A ten day tour with eight days of riding and two rest days at Freycinet and Port Arthur. By driving to Melbourne and catching the Spirit of Tasmania we were able to take our Specialized Turbo Creo SL E road bikes and they made the tour so very enjoyable.
Over the eight days of riding I rode in excess of 670 kms and climbed more than 8,000m. Mary's figures were slightly less as she had a hammie strain half way through a day's riding and later I joined one really long ride with steep climb just to see how I would go.
The tour was superb, with the tour crew - Rick and Lou - providing great support, while the 12 riders soon established a great level of camaraderie and support. In addition breakfasts were generally excellent and occasionally superb, while the provided meals (most lunches and dinners) were also of a very high standard, culminating in great meals in Port Arthur and Hobart. Accommodation was as advertised, 3 or 4 star hotels or equivalent with our accommodation in Richmond being a little quirky, but still pretty good.
Our bikes each weigh 12 kgs without the 1kg battery range extenders and we looked at our pre-tour stats and decided that we wouldn't take the extenders as our main batteries should be capable of providing adequate support for even the longest days. We had our bikes in our room on all but one night and were able to recharge them from the room power points without any issue. At our Richmond accommodation all bikes had to stay outside and so our bikes chargers were attached to a power board which was in turn attached to mains power in the establishment via an extension cord. We don't know how it happened (but could guess) but the charging stopped with just 1% power added to each of our bikes. The bike were locked down with a tarpaulin and a locked cable and we only discovered the failure to charge as the bikes were uncovered prior to our ride the next morning.
We had finished the day before with 60% and 58% charge left on our bikes respectively after a 60km ride and we were facing another 80 kms + ride with lots of climbing. It was a great test for the bikes, particularly as we faced over 1100m of steep climbing. I'm pleased to report that even though we used the sports and turbo modes as needed (to beat the 'fast' riders up climbs or to counter strong head winds) we arrived in Port Arthur with out any issues. However we had tested the batteries with my bike in the 'red' literally with less than 10% charge left, while lightweight Mary still had just over 10% left.
One of our riders, Derek, rode a Zoomo Sport e-bike which essentially is an Australian developed urban e-bike which weighs about 28kgs and has a battery life of about 6 hours which apparently will allow the rider to get about 80kms riding up to 25kph depending on the terrain. At the end of the tour I asked Derek, who seemed to ride consistently between 10 and 25 kph, at what point each day did he replace his battery with his spare. His answer was that he had not had to use his spare, but he rode at slow speeds and often turned the emode off and relied on his legs alone. This process kept him within sight of his partner who was on a regular Trek road bike, usually at the rear of the ride, and left him with lots of e-power for the big climbs.
So, did we enjoy the riding experience and would we do it again? The answer is a hearty yes! We really worked the sport and turbo functions hard and they came up trumps. On the day that I rode 119 kms with one big climb and about the last 40 kms into a strong headwind, I only used less than 40% of my charge. Possibly because the bike is so well balanced that riding on the flat or rolling roads, even with a headwind saw me averaging 28kph over the first 40kms and close to 25kph over the whole ride. It's a fabulous bike and I look forward to trying it soon in other difficult conditions.
Australia - Slow Ocean Road Tour, Victoria *****
Our first cycle tour since COVID began was a six day tour organised by AllTrails along the Great Ocean Road which follows the Victorian coast between South Australia and Port Phillip Bay. We were collected in Melbourne early on a Tuesday morning (luggage and our bikes) and bused to a location about 40km west of Port Campbell. Six days later we finished the riding element in Mornside before being bused back into Melbourne to end the tour. in between we had been provided with six lunches, five breakfasts and five dinners, all of which were excellent. We were to fend for ourselves for dinner in Apollo Bay but we all ended up eating in the same pub, such was the camraderie. Richard our tour leader, strongly supported by Lou our bus driver and general fantastic all round helper, looked after us fabulously. The tour was a mix of rides which averaged about 40kms a day and involved bus tranfers when the distances got too long or we were mixing our activities. besides riiding the Great Ocean Road, we had a great time riding e fat tyre MTBs aroung Cape Otway, stopped and admired many view points along the coast, visited an animal reserve, visited the Cape Otway Lighthouse, visited Timboon for lunch on our way to the start of the ride and travelled by ferry from Queenscliffe to Sorrento. Dinners were excellent and ranged from a bbq dinner cooked for us by Richard and Lou at our Otway caravan park (we had a delightful solar power eco-hutwhich was spacious and well appointed) to an amazing dinner at the 360Q Restauant in Queenscliffe to celebrate the end of the tour. Accommodation ranged from motels to cabins to bnb’s and all was excellent. All up a fabulous way to recommence cycle touring after the COVID interuption. We now look forward to joining AllTrails for another tour later in 2021!
Our first sea based bike and barge tour was a delight. We booked through Saddle Skedaddle, an English company and it was operated by a company called Island Hopping. We joined our boat called the Melody in the Croatian port of Trogir and were quickly settled into our twin cabin on the upper deck. The Melody was a good sized...
Another Road Bikes Tours Italy adventure, this time from Sienna to Assisi. Due to trains from Rome not directly linking with Sienna on weekends, we departed from our train in Florence and were collected by Luca and his cousin Richi who had taken over from Michalia as driver and mechanic. We met the other five riders who were joining us...
We booked this French tour through an Australian company called Tour de Vines and it was operated by French Cycling Holidays. Our guides/mechanics/drivers were Susan and David and they did a fabulous job. We were collected from our hotel in Brive on the Sunday morning and a week later we were back at the same hotel to collect half our...