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Tour in Southern France June 2019

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Tour in Southern France June 2019

Old 07-12-19, 04:29 AM
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WPH
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Tour in Southern France June 2019

So I went on a trip to France in June this year.

This is a general write-up covering some logistics, gear, on-ground itinerary, overall thoughts and impressions.

The trip this year was my fourth in Europe after tours in 2000 (with my brother), 2004 and 2008. In my experience France is a great place for bike touring. The towns are not too far apart, or too overwhelming. The roads are mostly good. It is a big country and the scenery and natural environment is rich and varied. The people are friendly and respect bike riders.

I will start first with the gear. Since my last trip in 2008 the ultralight and bikepacking movements have burst into my consciousness. It has been a slow journey for me, but in the end I embraced much of these approaches to an extent. The results were, on the whole, good.

I bought my old touring bike in 2000. It is a Thorn Club Tour with Reynolds 531ST frame, very solid wheels, 8sp Shimano with bar-end shifters, cantilevers and a triple. The whole lot, with pedals, mudguards, and 3 empty bottles, weighs over 13kg. Though a slug, the bike has always been comfortable and reliable and I have appreciated the 'classic tourer' identity.

This time round I wanted something much lighter. For the platform I chose a 2007 Giant OCR0, which I bought second-hand for $100. I retained the frame, fork, headset, brake calipers, and BB. I added Ritchey stem, bars, seatpost and seat, some light-ish Alex wheels from the parts bin, 12-32T 10 speed cassette, 30-40-50T Tiagra triple (Hollowtech II & 172.5mm), bar-end shifters, some cheap Wiggle clip-on mudguards, and 25c Hutchinson rubber. The whole lot, with 2 empty bottles, weighs under 9kg. The alloy frame is certainly tough enough for touring. The carbon fork comes in an aero profile, but with extra bags etc I was confident it would be comfortable enough.

The bike itself was fine, and proves you can comfortably do a multi-week tour on a road machine. The OCR frames came with extra clearance for fat tires or mudguards (choose 1), and also long-reach caliper brakes. I kept the original Giant units (prolly made by Tektro), and upgraded the pads to Ultegra. On a couple of occasions the bike felt a bit under-braked compared to the XTR cantilevers on the old Thorn. An airline busted the rear derailleur in transit from Perth to Toulouse, I ended up buying a B-Twin (Decathlon house brand) replacement, which never really worked as well as the old Deore long-cage with with I started. In the end I locked out the small cog and ran my bar-end shifters on friction mode, and it was fine. The 30x32T smallest gear was just small enough to grind up the Col de la Lombarde. Quality triples in Hollowtech or similar are disappearing. The Shimano models use a triplizer middle ring and the BCD for the small ring is 94mm. In the old days triples came with a 74mm BCD for the smallest ring, allowing one to fit a 26T granny ring. But all those old square-taper cranksets weighed a tonne (or maybe more)! Changing the Tiagra front derailleur across the Tiagra rings using the bar-end shifter was sweet.

Next, I had to look at the luggage itself. My old Wilderness Equipment panniers are made from canvas, with plywood backing boards. The four panniers would weigh 4k altogether. This does not include front lowrider and standard rear Blackburn alloy racks. The advantage of this system is that I had lots of space. The disadvantage of this system is that I had lots of space. Empty space tends to act like a vacuum, and get filled up with stuff and things acquired along the tour. I decided to go with bikepacking bags. I bought Blackburn seatpack, handlebar pack and fork cages, and Topeak frame bag and toptube bag. I think this cut my total carrying space by over one third, but it also more than halved the weight in luggage.

Putting the new bags on the bike was interesting. The framebag fit the OCR frame but was too deep to fit bottles in the cages. I bought Giant side-loading cages to simplify access to the bottles. These bottle cages also have 'high holes' (the mounting holes sit high in the base plate) so the cages sit lower in the frame. Then I went with TACX 500ml bottles. These were nice but had to be done up extremely tight so they wouldn't leak a lot when taking a drink. The framebag took my tools, toiletries, electronics and bits and pieces. The toptube bag took sunglasses, gilet and arm warmers, and some food if I could squeeze it in.

The OCR carbon forks are not drilled for low-rider style racks, but they do have a mudguard eyelet behind the axle tabs. I used zipties to attach the bottle cages - one through the mudguard eyelet, and three around the fork blade for each cage. This proved to be a simple and reliable solution on my tour. I used Sea to Summit 4l rolltop mid-weight bags for my clothes - one on each fork leg. One bag had cycling kit, the other had normal clothes. They weighed about the same and were the same size when closed. I gather true ultralight tourists don't take many clothes - just one set of cycling kit. I always take three pairs of bike shorts, three jerseys, and LOTS of pairs of socks. I take a pair of presentable trousers (lightweight synthetic) and a couple of proper smart t-shirts, and a pair of normal/tennis shorts (all lightweight synthetic), plus cotton boxers for sleeping in.

The seatpack and handlebar pack were routine.

The Blackburn seatpack comes with a totally waterproof rolltop bag. Into this I packed my tent, my down jacket, a cooking pot, and my wet-weather overshoes. I did add an extra strap through tabs at the back of the Ritchey Streem seat which looped around the tail of the seatpack to keep the whole thing from sagging and waggling - not that these were terrible problems.

The Blackburn handlebar pack comes with a waterproof rolltop bag with openings at the two ends. This was too big and clumsy for my needs (drop bars, not flat bars on this bike). I bought a cheap 10l silnylon rolltop bag from Amazon and put my sleeping mat, my microfibre towel and my sleeping bag in it, then strapped this into the handlebar pack harness. I added some light shock cord through some of the loops on the harness and was able to secure a plastic bag with a map (and sometimes my phone) easy to see at the handlebars.

For me, the amount of space in the luggage system was a limitation, but it is hard to know where extra carrying capacity could be added without resorting to racks and panniers. On the other hand, the lightness and compactness of the bikepacking gear was a real plus. It really is much easier to manouvre a bikepacking rig through a train station. Everything was sufficiently secure when the bike was in motion, and all the important bits were waterproof.

Once again I gather true ultralight tourists camp with a tarp and a groundsheet. I always stay at campsites in France, so value the privacy of a tent, and I knew I had to camp in Italy at the end, so mosquito protection was essential. I needed a new tent for this trip. I researched the options for many months. I would have loved a Henry Squires TarpTent or similar, but couldn't afford it.

In the end I chose the Nature Hike Cloud Up 2 tent. This cost less than $200 delivered to Australia from China. It is fairly small for a 2-person tent, but spacious for one person. It weighs 1.5kg (without the included floor protection mat), which is 700g less than my old 2-person tent, which was only very slightly bigger. The new tent did not leak in heavy or persistent rain. It did not accumulate too much internal condensation. It was quick and easy to set up each evening. The tent inner is freestanding, so I could set this up, and turn it upside down to dry the floor off when I went to my shower. I am happy with the quality. There are no manufacturing flaws and all the sewing is very neat. The design is perfectly suitable for summer camping. For such a cheap tent, the Nature Hike is a winner for cycle touring for one person or an adult and child

In the past I had taken very nice Mountain Designs sleeping bags on my trips to Europe. But really they were overkill for summer conditions. This time I decided to try a 'sleeping system'. First I bought a lightweight down jacket with a hood - this is lighter and more compact than a 200-weight fleece, but is probably about just as warm. My new jacket allegedly comes with 'water resistant down', so I figured the risk of not being able to get warm if the jacket got a bit wet was fairly low. Next I ordered an Aegis Max sleeping bag from Amazon - this has still not arrived a month later - rated to 5C for $135 delivered. In the end I had to purchase a Kathmandu Comet sleeping bag from the local store - we are members of their loyalty program so the pain was not so bad. I ended up with a 'large' size, which was excellent, I am 5'11". Most nights in the tent the sleeping bag was enough, on two nights I added the down jacket and was comfortable and cosy. I guess on the colder nights it dropped below 5C. The new sleeping system cost $400 and saved about 1.4kg compared to my old sleeping bag and a fleece.

I have been a Thermarest man for many years. A while back I bought a new sleeping mat, and Exped Synmat UL7M, and used for the first time on the trip. First of all it nearly half the weight of my old Thermarest mat at 480 g, and takes up 1/3 of the space when packed. Secondly, it is extremely comfortable. It is not very wide, but wide enough. It is not very thick, but thick enough. The top (yellow) side has a very nice feel, certainly soft enough to sleep on directly, and I used the sleeping bag as a quilt most warm nights. The mat takes about 20 big breaths to inflate - not too shabby. Overall, a great product and a real step forward in packability and comfort for me. Next time I would consider taking a silk mat cover as well (easier to clean/wash than the mat itself).

Simple camp cooking is easy in France because the supermarkets and grocery stores there are quite good, and always stock the cycle tourists staples of pasta + sauce, and muesli. I bought a new cheap lightweight titanium gas stove from Amazon, and packed a 1.5l Trangia cooking pot. But I never used them. Instead I ate out every night because I felt too tired too bother cooking, and because I didn't really have the space to carry much food on the bike. I did eat a lot of muesli though!

The last major gear upgrade was a new jacket. My old Mountain Designs GoreTex touring jacket is still perfectly serviceable, but is heavy and bulky compared to new products in the marketplace. I bought a new Endura Helium jacket, which weighs half as much as the old jacket, and at a pinch could be jammed into a jersey pocket. IN addition, the new jacket has a more racy cut, so not as much fabric flapping around in the wind on descents. Thankfully I was only rained on three times in the three weeks I was away. Each time the jacket did what it had to and kept me dry. It breathed well - probably better than the heavier GoreTex version. It may not be as durable as a proper GoreTex jacket, but it was not as expensive either (about $150 on special)!

Overall, I was happy with most of my gear choices.

Next post: logistics.
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Old 07-12-19, 08:37 AM
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djb
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Good write up and descriptions of changes

But, no photos and you might be a big fibber!
;-)

And yes, I love bike touring in France for all the same reasons.
I'm more inclined to wider tires than 25s, 28s are my minimum, but at least in France the road quality is generally pretty good.
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Old 07-12-19, 11:30 AM
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I also did a tour in France in June, from Bordeaux to Roscoff (Brittany) over 13 days along the EuroVélo 1 but I wrote it up with photos over on CrazyGuyOnABike. Don't think the forum format lends itself to tour journalism.
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