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Retrospective: The Isle of Wight Randonnee

This blog is new. I did a lot of cycling before I started the blog, and I thought it’d be good, once in a while, to look back through the archives and do a few posts about cycle tours and events I’ve done. So here comes the first one.

The Isle of Wight Randonnee

The Randonnee is a bit of a famous event and takes place in the Isle of Wight every early May bank holiday. It’s definitely more audax than sportive and attracts a really diverse crowd of cyclists for either a 100km or 50km ride round the island. This was the first year that I’d done the randonnee; it had been on my to-do list for ages.

It’s a free to enter event and the guys at the Wayfarer Cycle Touring Club do a great job organising an extremely well run event. 

We chose to make a weekend of it, and having the family in tow with all their kit in the car, meant that taking my Brompton was the logical choice. I also hoped that it would make the event a bit different. I’d toured on my Brompton before, doing the Coasts and Castles route the previous year, but this would be the first time I’d attempted a route that would be best described as ‘a bit lumpy’. I knew that a few people did the event on Brompton’s, but being in the minority did appeal to me.

We also chose to camp, knowing that it would be a little cold overnight in early May, but hopefully fun nevertheless. So, with our car full of family, blankets, camping equipment and more blankets, we set off.

And off we go...
And off we go…

Event Preparation

We stayed at Kite Hill Farm campsite which also, handily, was one of the starting points for the ride. The 100km route meant that each cyclist had to get their card stamped at 6 checkpoints, which were situated around the ‘Round the Island’ route. The event broadly follows the well known route; the exception this year being a detour because the Wootton – East Cowes chain ferry wasn’t operating. This in fact made the route a little longer than 100km 🙂

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Camping in early May – brrrr…

Kite Hill Farm is handily placed close to the ferry terminal, and having got the ferry from Southampton and driven the short distance, we pitched the tent and settled in. There were lots of other cyclists there already and the campsite filled up with more throughout the evening. Soon it was time for food, then bed, hoping to stay warm enough. Fortunately we did just.

The Ride

I awoke early. Well the kids awoke early and then I awoke, would be more precise, but that meant plenty of time to get kit ready.

I was riding my standard Brompton, an S6L with lowered gearing. I’d come to appreciate that lowered gearing as the ride progressed. It was also an ideal ride to try out my new Mini O bag.

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Ready to go. Tackling the route on a Brompton was OK.

So, with bike ready and kit ready, I set off to collect my card and start my ride. The weather was excellent, not too hot, and with minimal wind. I got chatting to a number of different cyclist as I went, with many wondering if I was actually doing the full 100km, given the bike I was riding. I explained a few times how I’d ridden from Newcastle to Edinburgh the year before, and assured them I’d be ok.

One great thing about the Radonnee is the legendary refreshment stops. At Bembridge and Yarmouth, the local PTA’s organise a huge spread of homemade food and excellent homemade cakes, all at really good prices, with profits going to the local schools. Just in case I couldn’t wait until the feeding stations then I did also take a few essentials with me.

Proper riding food :)
Proper riding food 🙂

The ride itself was really enjoyable. The route takes mostly minor roads, is really well signposted, and is suitably challenging, especially in the south east of the island on the military road. There’s some proper hills to climb and it was great to get a few cheers from spectators as I rode up on the Brompton. I met a few other Brompton riders as I went round but we were definitely in the minority. Chapeau to those I saw doing the full 100km on 3 speed Brompton’s, those hills must have been tough! The bike performed well, I felt I had all the gears I needed and I had no mechanical’s at all, not even a puncture.

The only thing I forgot was to start my Garmin. So consequently, when I returned to Kite HIll and got my last stamp I had no idea how long the ride had actually taken or how far I had gone. Still, this ride was not about times, it was about enjoying cycling, and enjoying the excellent scenery of the Isle of Wight. I also got a nice certificate, and bought an Isle of Wight Randonnee badge, which was a bonus.

Finished!
Finished!

Overall it was a great event. I’m definitely coming back next year and I’d recommend it to everyone who can make it to the Isle of Wight. The atmosphere. organisation and cakes are first class.

Kit

I took my standard S6L 2013 Brompton. It has the 12% lowered gearing which I appreciated on the hills. I carried water by fixing a clip on bottle holder to the stem. The bike also has SPD pedals.

I carried my riding kit (tools, food, clothes) in a Mini O bag. This worked well, being just the right size for me to be able to stuff everything in, but still remaining pretty aerodynamic. Not cheap but worth it I reckon.

Riding food was provided by Mr Kipling, and the Bembridge and Yarmouth PTA’s. The home cooked food and cakes were much better.

 

Mont Ventoux by Brompton – Kit and Planning

The Bikes

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We rode standard S6L Brompton’s, with -12% lowered gearing (the standard swap to the 44 tooth front chainring).

Both bikes had SPD’s and front carrier blocks fitted.

Kit

I split my kit between an S-bag (for the heavy stuff) and a Carradice Longflap Camper bag, which held my sleeping bag and bed roll. This was attached to the seat post via a Carradice SQR block. As a luggage system it worked extremely well, being stable and also easy to attach and detach.

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Alastair used two C bag’s, with one fitted to the saddle loops via the method described in the seven league boots blog. This worked ok although to be perfect it could have done with more spacing between the bag and the seatpost, in order to stop the bag hitting one’s legs.

For traveling on the trains, I used an Ikea Dimpa bag and Alastair used a specific Carradice folding bike bag. Both folded up small, enabling them to be transported with us on the bikes.

We took an old Eurohike tent, which was ok, but a specific backpacking tent would have been better since the poles were too long for any of our bags. Sleeping bags, sleeping mats, etc were standard hiking items.

We didn’t take cooking gear, and only a minimum of food, since we weren’t going too far from civilisation. Clothes were mostly merino wool to avoid the need for regular washing 🙂

Camera’s

As mentioned in my previous post, as well as a Nexus 5 smartphone, I also took an Autographer wearable camera. I was very impressed with it – the quality of the shots was good and it meant that there was no need to think about what to shoot when climbing up Mont Ventoux.

The Autographer mounted to the bike
The Autographer mounted to the bike

I got some great, adhoc, shots at the top which I wouldn’t have even thought about taking with a conventional camera. These were great after the event; reminding us of people we met and conversations that we had. The battery lasted for most of the day as well.

Planning

Most of the routes were planned using Google maps and then copied into Strava routes. These could then be used either on our smartphones, or downloaded to my Garmin Edge 200. This was used for most navigation.

We traveled by Eurostar to/ from Paris and from Paris to/from Avignon via TGV. The trains were very comfortable and on time. It’s worth noting that in the summer it is possible to get a Eurostar direct from London to Avignon but it only runs on Saturdays.

Mont Ventoux by Brompton – Stage 4

Bromptoux Day 4
Stage Distance: 40 miles (approx)
Stage Start: 8:00am

After the previous day’s exertions, we weren’t in too much of a hurry to leave. But we remembered the near perfect cycling weather from the morning before, coupled with the very hot conditions when we rode from Avignon. So it was another early start.

We quickly packed down the tent, loaded up the bikes and rode out of Villes Sur Auzon. Our stay had been brief but successful. With Mont Ventoux behind us, both figuratively and literally, we cycled towards Avignon.

The ride to Avignon passed without incident. It was gently downhill and we made excellent time, getting into Avignon before 10am. We even managed to avoid riding on the ring road, which made for a far more pleasant experience. Soon we were in the historic centre, taking in the sights of the famous bridge and town walls.

The bridge at Avignon
The bridge at Avignon

Avignon

Purely by change the Avignon performing arts festival was also happening. It is like a French equivalent of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, and the streets were full of people, enjoying street performances and queuing for tickets for shows. Co-incidentally, when we rode the Coast and Castles route last year, we finished in Edinburgh when the festival was on. Again , purely by chance.

Essential cycling equipment
Essential cycling equipment

While sitting in a cafe we met another English cycle tourist, Louise, who was cycling from the UK to Morocco. She’d had a hard time through Northern France, with bad weather, and was enjoying both the summer sun and the festival. It was great to catch-up with someone also on a tour, albeit somewhat longer than ours.

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In Avignon

After wandering around for a while we chanced upon a great park up above the castle. The views were fantastic, including views of Mont Ventoux. It seemed strange to think that, only yesterday, we cycled to the top of the mountain we could see.

We've been there!
We’ve been there!

Unfortunately, due to the festival, we had a hotel a fair way out of the centre. The, proudly 1 star, hotelf1 was functional. It had beds. That was about it, the toilets and showers being shared on each floor made for a different, part camping, part hotel, experience. We dumped our stuff quickly and went back into town.

In the evening we had an excellent time, watching street performances and enjoying some great food and drink. The town was heaving with people and the atmosphere was excellent.

Going Home

The following morning it was time to go home. We caught the 8:57am train from Avignon to Paris, cycled across Paris again, then caught the Eurostar home to London, arriving at 15:30. Getting from the south of France to home in six and a half hours isn’t bad 🙂

Time to go home :)
Time to go home 🙂
Packed up
Packed up

Reflecting on the trip, it was a pretty manic few days. We cycled a total of about 100 miles, cycled up a 1912m mountain, went 45mph on a Brompton, and all in 4 days. Excellent fun.

 

Mont Ventoux By Brompton – Queen Stage

Bromptoux Day 3
Stage Distance: 40 miles (approx)
Stage Start: 6:45am

The Provence-ial sun woke us early. I’m sure we would have woken early anyway. It was time to get out there and climb a mountain. After a lengthy French breakfast of coffee and croissants a hastily scoffed breakfast of half a banana malt loaf and some water, we clipped our bottles on, filled our pockets with food, and set off.

Getting ready
Getting ready

I had the Autographer wearable camera fixed on the front of my bike and it was snapping away silently as we rode through the early morning air towards Bedoin, where the traditional, and hardest, climb up Ventoux starts from. People were just starting work in the vineyards. It was perfect cycling weather, clear skies, sun just rising and not too hot. We’d made the right decision to leave early.

A good decision to leave early
A good decision to leave early

Getting into Bedoin we started to see more and more cyclists. My Garmin directed us to the base of the climb. It was time to stop, say one last good luck, and then start the climb. We’d each climb at our own rate so wouldn’t see each other until the top.

The Climb

The climb up Mont Ventoux starts quite gently. I shifted into second gear and started riding, passing a few other cyclists. The evidence of the previous year’s Tour de France was visible on the road, fading gently in the sun.

Last years Tour de France was still visible on the road
Last years Tour de France was still visible on the road

Slowly but surely the climb started to steepen. I shifted into first gear. This was it, no more gears left. All in. The road entered the woods and the temperature dropped a bit. Normally, when the Tour de France comes through it’s later in the day and the woods trap the heat in. This time they were playing in my favour.

The road just kept climbing. Sometimes steeper, sometimes shallowing out a bit. Hairpin bends caused it to get steeper still, especially since I could not cut onto the other side of the road like the pro riders can and make the right handers shallower.

Still climbing
Still climbing

I passed more cyclists as I climbed, saying Bonjour as I did. One group of two French cyclists summed up what I was doing pretty well, the first saying Bonjour, the second merely ‘Wow’. My legs were still feeling good; as long as I remembered to keep eating the figs rolls (cycling food of champions) and drinking, then the climb should be OK.

Two cyclists about to be surprised by a guy on a Brompton
Two cyclists about to be surprised by a guy on a Brompton

Eventually I climbed above the tree line and into the moonscape that Mont Ventoux is so famous for. Reaching Chalet Reynard I had a decision to make. Originally I had intended to ride to Chalet Reynard, stop and let the legs recover, then continue. But my legs were still feeling good. I pressed on, maybe I’d be able to do the whole climb in one go.

After Chalet Reynard the road suddenly steepened and the protection from the trees was gone. It got a bit hotter. But the summit became visible too, the buildings shimmering in the distance as I continued to climb. The legs were beginning to hurt a bit now, it was time to grind out the last of the climb, head down and legs turning. I was starting to catch a cyclist in front and this gave me a good target.

Still a a way to go
Still a a way to go
Moonscape
Moonscape
Almost there!
Almost there!

As the moonscape got whiter so the summit got closer. I was nearly there. Past the Simpson memorial, turn the corner and up the final ramp. I’d done it – Mont Ventoux had been conquered! I’d climbed the 21.4km’s in one go, in 1 hour 59 minutes and 13 seconds.

The Summit

I took a picture of myself at the summit, did a few stretches and then took in the amazing view. The weather was great, the sky was clear, and you could see for miles.

At the summit
At the summit
The climb
The climb
Hairpins
Hairpins
Enjoying the view
Enjoying the view
Iconic
Iconic
1911m :)
1911m 🙂
At the top
At the top

There were a lot of other cyclists and their families at the top and we got chatting to some of them. Most people could not believe that we had cycled up on Bromptons. One lady asked where the motor was. I just pointed to my legs 🙂 A few people took photo’s of us, to prove to their friends that they had seen a couple of crazy English guys on folding bikes at the summit.

This guy wanted photo evidence
This guy wanted photo evidence

We bought a few souvenirs, took lots more photo’s, and then prepared ourselves for the descent.

Coming Down

When we started planning the Mont Ventoux adventure it was the descent that concerned me more than the ascent. Tales of overheating rims and blown tubes filled my mind. Small wheels and long descents do not mix very well.

We started the descent, stopping to pay our respects and take a few photos at the Simpson memorial.

At the Simpson memorial
At the Simpson memorial
The iconic view from the Simpson memorial
The iconic view from the Simpson memorial

Then it was brakes off and down the mountain, stopping only once at Chalet Reynard to let the rims cool down. The looks on peoples faces as we descended were great; a mixture of surprise and astonishment mostly, as they climbed and we shot past. The fastest speed I got up to was 45mph, quite fast enough on a Brompton. Probably too fast, some might argue.

It didn’t take long to get to the bottom. We turned off before Bedoin and continued on to Villes Sur Auzon. It was time for a shower and a long, celebratory French lunch.

It's good for recovery. Honest.
It’s good for recovery. Honest.

Recovery was then a few beers while watching the day’s stage of the Tour de France. I’d now got a new respect for the guys racing. It took them half the time it took me, to get up Ventoux last year.

Vital Stats

The profile of the climb
The profile of the climb
Speed
Speed Up
ventoux down speed
Speed down 🙂
The route
The route

 

Mont Ventoux by Brompton – Stage 1

Bromptoux Day 2
Stage Distance: 40 miles (approx)
Stage Start: 6:40am

I awoke early. It wasn’t the bed that was the problem, it was pretty comfortable and quiet. I’d not slept brilliantly; there were too many things swimming around in my head. What if we missed a train? What if the bike broke? What if Mont Ventoux was closed for some reason? The last dream I remember having centred around getting a puncture then looking at the wheel, only to discover that the rim seemed to be made of tin foil.

Clearly it was time for a coffee and then time to get on the road. We loaded up the Brompton’s and set off.

We made good time to St Pancras, a pretty easy ride. Even the traffic lights seemed in our favour, being mostly green all the way. Checking in for the Eurostar was simple. I’d opted to bag my bike in an Ikea Dimpa bag which worked well, even when the security staff insisted that the Brompton’s needed to be placed in the small plastic tray’s to go through the scanners. Somehow we balanced them.

The Eurostar left on time and we made good time to Paris.

Across Paris

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Gare de Lyon – Paris crossed 🙂

Disembarking at Paris Gare du Nord, we faced the first bit of navigation of the trip, getting across Paris to Gare de Lyon, in order to catch the TGV to Avignon. The route was planned in my Garmin, and fortunately was easy to follow, once we;d found our way out of the station. Paris has more cycle paths than London, and the drivers was pretty good too.

Paris Route

It was hot. Very hot. The ride to Gare de Lyon was short, about 15 minutes, but we arrived sweating even so. Time to pack the bikes back up, load them into the TGV, remember to ‘composter’ our billets, and then we were off. It was a double decker train, and the view from the top deck was pretty good as we sped through France.

Avignon to Villes Sur Auzon

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Loading up at Avignon TGV. The ride was about to get hot…

We got to Avignon on time and unfolded our bikes on the platform. If we thought it was hot in Paris then it was hotter here. We’d arrived at 3:30, pretty much the hottest part of the day, and not we had 30 miles to ride to the campsite.

campsite route

Getting out of Avignon on a bike, particularly from the TGV station, is not easy or fun. We ended up riding the first 300 metres on the hard shoulder of the dual carriageway ring-road, simply because there did not appear to be another way to go. The next 3 miles were on random shared paths, bits of cycle path, and occasionally pavements. There didn’t seem another option. Finally we escaped from Avignon’s grip, and settled into the route; a nice mix of D roads and small farm tracks through the countryside of Provence.

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And there it is, Mont Ventoux!

Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, there it was. In the distance the Beast of Provence reared up, complete with what looked like it’s own weather system on the top. It would not leave our sight for the rest of the ride. Closer and closer we got, and yet it was still in the distance.

We’d under estimated the heat and the ride distance. Although it was nothing when compared with the mountain itself, we were also climbing. We were getting tired, running out of water, and in need of a shower. Fortunately, just as things were beginning to get a little desperate (well ok, things were getting irritating, and hot), we reached the village of Villes Sur Auzon and our campsite. Success.

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At last, the campsite. Lesson learnt, don’t under-estimate the heat of a summer in Provence.

Next steps were booking in, eating ice cream, pitching the tent and then straight into the pool for a very well needed dip and a cool down. We ate at the campsite (despite the waitress asking us repeatedly whether we had a booking, despite the restaurant area being practically empty), then had an early night.

Ok, so maybe just a little wine :)
Ok, so maybe just a little wine 🙂

Tomorrow Ventoux. It would be hot. We needed to leave early.

Recording Bromptoux

I’m taking a Nexus 5 with me for navigation and to take photo’s but I now have a bonus, and novel way, of catching some other photos as I go.

The guys at OMG Life have lent me an Autographer, wearable camera. It’s a great piece of kit. You can either wear it round your neck or clipped to your shirt, or leave in the corner of the room minding it’s own business. It takes images automatically,  using  very clever algorithms, and data from a number of sensors, in order  to decide when is the best time to take an picture. You can then stitch these into a timeline and re-live your experiences, without the need to think about taking photo’s all the time. Clever stuff.

I may try wearing it for some of the trip, but I’ll definitely have it attached to the bike when we go up Mont Ventoux. I’ve fabricated a bike mount so that it can be fixed to the handlebars, capturing my view as I climb, and climb, and climb…

Thanks to OMG for lending it to me.

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Autographer camera attached to homemade mount.

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Homemade mount.

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Brompton Touring – Test Run

Loaded Brompton

I packed everything I’d need for Bromptoux into my bags at the weekend and had a quick test ride to make sure it’s all ok. Seems to be – I have all the heavy stuff in an S-bag on the front, with my sleeping bag and roll mat, plus some lighter stuff, in a Carradice Longflap Camper which is attached to the seatpost using an SQR block. Given that I only weigh 65kg and the maximum rider weight of a Brompton is 100kg then I figure a couple of extra kg hanging from the saddle won’t cause any problems. I’ll probably try and put the tent poles into the S-bag as well for the real trip.

The Brompton is a standard S6L with lowered gearing. Hopefully lowered enough 🙂

Bromptoux

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At the beginning of the year I had an idea. I wanted to cycle up Mont Ventoux. The Beast of Provence. The scene of Chris Froome’s winning move in the 2013 Tour de France.

Once a decision is made then the rest is easy. Organise the right bike, organise the right kit, plan when to go, and book tickets. Simple. Too simple some might argue. Of course.

Getting There

Getting to Mont Ventoux is relatively simple, especially if you don’t have a bike with you. You could drive, which takes about 10 hours. You could fly. Or you could get the train. I like train travel. Train’s rattle along at a decent pace, you get to look out of the window at the world going by, and you can get up and walk about if you want. Decision made, train it is.

The nearest station to Mont Ventoux is Avignon which handily is served by TGV from Paris, and even Eurostar in the summer. Getting to Paris is easy, that’s definitely Eurostar.

Complications

Now for the complication’s – booking bikes onto Eurostar is a pain. Especially when the Tour de France is on. All the bike spaces were booked month’s ahead, and sending the bike on ahead would mean a delay in Paris. Taking a full sized bike on a TGV isn’t easy either, it needs to be packed up in a bike bag, and hauling a bike bag across Paris, then finding somewhere to leave it in the South of France is a pain.

The Solution is Brompton Shaped

I’ve had a Brompton for a year now. I love it, it’s easy to ride, quick, not too heavy and really versatile. I use mine every day to commute to the office, multi-modal, combining it with a train into London. I rode it round the Isle of Wight in May, so I know it can climb (hills at least). So now a change to the plan forms – “Cycle Up Mont Ventoux” is now “Cycle Up Mont Ventoux On a Brompton”.

I know it’s possible – one person at least has already done it.

Or Bromptoux as my friend is now calling it. He’s coming with me. Also on a Brompton 🙂