An Absolute Beginner, no practice, no experience, not even a regular cyclist! I must be crazy :)
Stephen Peel

Stephen Peel

Cycling Around the World

Southern France - Spain to Marseille in France

 

Day 69 - There was panic on the campsite

A streaker running from the shower block last night to an unknown location. He was hard to track due to his stealthy and nimble dodging :) Yes it was me.

Anyway, I had quite a short day today finishing my ride at 2.30 at a campsite just 15km from France. The headwind was the worst I have had yet, as I couldn’t get above 5th gear for many km’s, even on the flat.

But as always, I reached my destination. The campsite is nestled in the hills and although there is no bar or restaurant, I was greeted by a lovely English couple who were traveling in their camper van.

They popped over to me and asked if I needed anything from the supermarket in town while they were going, and I was given a nice cold can of beer. Really nice. So I enter Southern France in the morning and I’m looking forward to it. It will be a change from such a long time in Spain. I will then continue around the coastline until I reach Italy in a few weeks time.

Day 70 - And oh dear, oh dear oh dear, what a tough day

I seemed to do nothing but climb. My thighs are killing. They were hurting before today to be fair, but today finished them off. Now that said, it was also a very good day. The views were spectacular, I mean awesome. The road surfaces were great too. My camping neighbours, a lovely couple from the UK put a pack of beer and a massive bar of chocolate on my camp chair. I was getting showered at the time and it was a lovely surprise when I got back.

Again this morning offering me fruit and tea. And a bit later on last night another lovely couple invited me to a glass or 2 of wine with them. It really makes me happy when I meet people like that. And so today, I arrived at my campsite knackered! They gave me a great spot overlooking the sea and in a top spot for sunrises.

I’ve decided, that as it’s day 70, my thighs are really sore, an amazing view, and a bar on site, that I chill tomorrow and rest :) A day off from Cycling won’t hurt, and I did say I would in future make time for rest days.

So I’ve broken out the gear shed extension to the tent to throw all my bags in to give me some more comfort and space, and I’ve slightly inflated my orange air mattress and on top of that I’ve placed my thermarest mattress. Oh, and I have electricity too.

Day 71 - Is a day of rest and to catch up with uploads and editing

This morning I received a visit from a lovely couple, Emile and Trees Elling from Holland who said hello to me last night as I entered the campsite. They also have KOGA bikes and were very interested in my own. We had a really nice chat before they left the site to continue on their travels. They also gave me a lovely gift to spend on myself for a nice meal somewhere and to put some to JUMP Children's Charity. It was super nice of them.

I was in 2 minds whether or not to just continue on my travels this morning, as sitting still isn't something I do very well, especially when the weather is so nice and there is plenty I can see on my way, but no, I decided I really need to rest these legs for a day, and so have been doing some video and photo uploads while I have a good internet connection here. This image was taken from my YouTube video and is from yesterday, as I thought oh crap when I saw a bull in the road ahead. I've experience so many things up to now, and met so many wonderful people. I also believe it will continue.

Day 72 - And what is it with me and critters?

First I get the bovine evil eyes from that bull at the side of the road the other day, and today I get the equine evils from this beast in the road today! They have a look in their eyes like they want to pummel me into the ground, but also seem to sense that it will be the last thing they try to do :)) Ok I know :)

I wonder what creature will be at roadside tomorrow. Oh and remember that dead snake I found, I’m having it that it killed itself when it saw me coming up the track! Today I cycled 57km into a really strong wind, that at times made it really difficult to keep from ending up in the bushes, and it was a shame really because the road wasn’t very hilly and I could have made many more km’s. But 57 is enough anyway.

It’s 4.20 and I’ve just arrived at a campsite and waiting for reception to open so I can book in. It’s quite basic but has clean showers and plenty of people about.

Making a Molehill out of a Mountain

Not being a regular cyclist before setting out on my first ever cycle tour, I had concerns regarding hills. I had been surrounded by hills and mountains in the Snowdonia National Park near where I lived in North Wales, but I had never thought about cycling them. My view of a hill or mountain at the start of my tour was nothing more than a massive obstacle, a towering menace I needed to battle and conquer in order to continue on my adventure. It was something that would cause me pain and slow me down.

I made quite a big deal of hills in my mind, but it was then time to take to the road on my heavy fully loaded expedition bicycle. Panniers hanging off the front and rear wheels, a handlebar bag, a bag on the rack at the rear, and me. I cycled from my home and onto fairly bumpy but mostly easy roads. I say easy, but that’s looking back at the roads after what I have cycled through since then. It was the first time I had taken my bicycle out on the road fully loaded, and on the very first day I would cycle almost as far as I have ever cycled before in my life, I cycled only 24 miles.

I camped for the night, but awoke in agony with pains shooting through my right thigh. Thankfully the pain had gone by morning, but I could not help but wonder if I’m like this on relatively flat ground, what are my legs going to be like when I encounter my first real hills. Practice before I set out might have helped, but I just really wanted to experience this adventure as a complete novice in every respect. After all, it was only a little pain and I knew that my body and mind would adapt at some point.

On my way to Portsmouth I encountered rolling hills and bumpy landscapes, but then came the Chiltern Hills and South Downs in the South of England, and to me they were huge but I was ready. After cycling through France where my route produced little in the way of big hills and was mostly flat, especially along the Atlantic coast, I entered Spain and hills got a little bigger.

At San Sebastian my plan was to head to Bilbao and work my way around the larger hills and mountains as I headed for Madrid, but as I stood there on a bridge in the centre of San Sebastian, I looked at the hills and mountains towering in the distance in the direction of Madrid, and decided against Bilbao and headed straight into those Basque Country hills and mountains.

It wasn’t easy, but even though this landscape was higher than what I had been through by that point, it didn’t feel any harder. My body and mind were obviously adapting to cycling with a fully loaded bicycle. I would still stop to catch my breath and let my muscles relax from time to time on the really steep climbs if I needed to, and I might be wishing I had a few more granny gears, but I was now looking at hills very differently from when I first set out from Cheshire.

I see a huge hill or range in the distance now and I hardly give it a second thought. I know that I’m not going over the top, there will likely be a road going through. Big hills appear to get smaller the closer I get, because before I have reached the steepest parts, I’m already someway up due to the increase in altitude I have gained on the approach to the very steep parts.

I no longer have concerns regarding hills, or even mountain ranges such as the Sierra de Guadarrama that took me by surprise north of Madrid. More than that, I have grown to appreciate the beauty of hills and mountains, with the stunning views, wildlife and surrounding landscapes. Hills and mountains are still not my best friends, but at least we now have an understanding.

Day 73 - and that wind chills you to the bone!

I’m now at Valras-Plage, about 25km south of Agde. I managed 56km against some seriously strong headwinds. Apparently the winds arrive in sets, of sorts around here. I’m told by a person yesterday and one today, that there is usually 3 days of really strong winds between Montpellier and Perpignan, and then a period of calm.

This coastline here is world famous for wind and kite surfing, and I get it. I passed 3 cycle tourers going the other way, and they may as well have just put their feet on the handlebars :) that’s just me being jealous :)

As you can see by the image, I chose to stay in one of the sites caravans last night for not much more than they wanted for a pitch. If I had tried to set my tent up I might of won a kite surfing competition myself :) I’m at another campsite now and they really are getting few and far between. But hopefully I will keep finding the odd one, or some cheap hotels even.

Day 74 - I have arrived in Montpellier

I have arrived in Montpellier after hopefully the third and final day of that savage wind, but 80km done all the same, so that's OK.

Now just the other day as I entered France from Spain, I called into a little bike shop called Loc Evasion in Argelès-sur-Me, because that tapping has started to come back again from the Rohloff Speed Hub. I know hey!

I asked the shop owner if he could just put some thick grease on the visible part of the exterior bearing, without taking anything apart. He did so free of charge, and it has seemed to keep the noise away. Of course, this is not ideal and given that Rohloff pride themselves on the hubs being generally maintenance free other than oil changes, and brag about how much cleaner they are, try telling that to my right leg which gets all this new grease all over my calf.

This was a known issue by Rohloff, and yet fitted to my bike. So OK, a little grease every couple of thousand km's might not sound so bad if that's all the issue really is, and given the advantages it offers and how it has been good otherwise, but that's not the point, and it's not OK.

So where am I going with this you are wondering, well, I was also thinking at the time, that I have about 2000 km's to do to reach Naples (its hard to believe I have completed more than 3000 actual cycling km's already), then a wander over to the ferry port in Brindisi to catch my ferry to Greece, and the ferry is set to arrive on the 17th December.

But, after giving this some serious thought, my plan now is to still reach Naples of course, so don't panic :), but instead of then getting the ferry to Grease, I'm going to fly home for Christmas.

I was thinking that my landing in Grease so close to Christmas was crazy, as there won't be anything open other than based around the hotels which are all fully booked up or hugely expensive, no campsites open, and bloody cold too. It's not like I'm on the other side of the world, I'm just a short flight away and still in Europe.

So that's what it's looking like I'm going to do, then after the New-Year I will return, collect my bike, and carry on. I won't be able to do this sort of thing when I'm on the other side of the world, so I'm going to make the most of it.

But it wasn't just about me being on my lonesome so close to home at Christmas and missing my loved ones like crazy, and I am a father after all to 2 wonderfully amazing young women, but I'm also thinking about taking the back wheel of the bike off and bringing it back to get sorted once and for all while I'm on that short break, as the warranty will take care of that, and I just want to feel it won't then let me down once I get out of Europe.

Oh, and while at home at Christmas, I might attempt to write and publish a short PDF on Bicycle Touring - The Absolute Beginners Guide :)

Day 75 - Rohloff, and the Bulge

Firstly, yesterday I awoke to the sight of a huge bulge. I had no idea what caused it, as I know nothing about about these things and I've never seen anything like it. On top of that, it was Sunday and I had 80km's to cycle, and I can tell you it was painful, well not that painful, but certainly not pleasant.

Luckily I made it to my destination. The next morning I set myself just 50 km's, because I had no idea where I was going to get help from. Luckily the guys at Bump Cycles in La Grande-Motte managed to help me. If that bulge on the tyre had blown while I was riding it, it would likely have damaged the wheels rim, and thankfully that was not the case and a good tyre was fitted and I was on my way again. Nowhere was open on Sunday so I just had to pray.

Now about Rohloff and what I have learned today:

I spoke with my dealer in Leeds, and he had already contact them early this morning in response to the email he received from me which I sent yesterday to him. While I was talking with him, he received an email in return from Rohloff and read it to me. It basically said they knew about this issue some months ago, and that it is something to do with some contraption, not internal to the hub, or something like that, but non the less a vital component.

Anyway, they said are working on a new part that will fix this issue, and they hope to have it on their new hubs by the end of the year. Anyone fitted with the hub with the problems, are told to have the mechanism revealed, ideally through a good cycle shop, and a special grease applied when needed, and the grease is not to go on the belt.

Well too late for that, I had grease on my calf the moment I rode away from that crummy bicycle shop Ecovelo or Holland Bikes they seem to go under, in La Rochelle, a Rohloff dealer. I spoke with my dealer who has been extremely helpful in this, and I talked about just bringing the wheel back, and he want's me to really get the whole bike back if I can, as he wants to go over everything and try to remove the grease from the carbon belt.

We are working on a solution at this time, and in the meantime I will continue on towards Naples in Italy. We spoke about getting a Rohloff or KOGA dealer cycle shop if there is one on route, to box and send the bike back to my dealer in Leeds, and I would simply get a flight back with the rest of my gear until such time the hub has been replaced with the right one.

This is of course the best option, but whatever we end up doing, there is no way I am heading into Asia with a duff hub, I want it replacing and that's that. Can you imagine me trying to get assistance in some other parts of the world with this, I don't want to be worrying like that, it will spoil my adventure. The rest of the bike up to now I'm thrilled with. It's taken me to some amazing places on and off-road and carried me and all my gear.

And that's about it for today, other than I cycled through some lovely countryside today, especially in the Camargue Natural Regional Park where I photographed some Camargue wild horses. One of the oldest breeds of horse indigenous to the Camargue area, so that was great.

Day 76 - So many bicycle tourist in France & why I'm struggling to feel it

Firstly: Since starting out in August, I have as of today completed 3329 actual cycling km's (2068 miles). Just thought I'd tell you that's all :) As soon as I first entered France in August, I was amazed at just how many other people were on fully loaded bikes. 

It wasn't until I reached Spain and crossed from San Sebastian to Valencia via Madrid, that I got a good idea why. I don't recall seeing a single bicycle tourist as I crossed. I saw one on the north coast and maybe a handful between Valencia and up through the rest of the Spanish coast, but that was it.

France was difficult for me because I was just starting out, but it wasn't until Spain that I realised I had it pretty good in France. Loads of cycle paths, great roads, relatively flat on the route I took in comparison to Spain. And I haven't seen one public toilet in Spain :) maybe that's it. Since entering France, I am again on great cycle paths, and yes, I have already seen several public toilets. I have also already come across more cycle tourist than I did in the whole of Spain, just like this great lot in the picture today. It was a traffic jam!!

Why I'm struggling to feel it:

I'll be completely honest as always, I've been struggling to feel what I'm doing since I entered France again a few days ago and had to have more grease applied to the hub. It's really put a dampener on things for me. I do try hard to enjoy my day, but it's difficult because I know I have to return with the bike in the condition it's in, and not have a clue as to when it will get fixed and I can continue, and I'm now checking my phone and emails every few minutes, looking for messages from Rohloff or KOGA.

I really don't like the idea that I'm not in full control of how each of my days pans out, and like today, I found myself doing 86 km's almost constantly thinking about the bike. I can't help it. The things I really want to be thinking about are the lovely places I'm travelling through, the great people I'm meeting almost daily, and wondering what adventures await me tomorrow.

It's a real shame, and I'm thinking of new plans constantly. One thought was that instead of waiting for others to sort something out, I should just get to the next rent-a-car, throw the bike and all the gear in the back while I'm still in France, and bring the bike back, then pick it up again when it's all fixed and serviced and ready to roll again.

I could also just keep working my way around the coastline towards Naples, and wait for something to happen with regard to getting my bike back, or just try to get everything back from Naples if it makes it that far. But I know I am going to struggle to make the most of it, and will be almost mindlessly trying to cover distance instead of getting into each great place and enjoying it.

I will give it some thought overnight, as everything I have done I have done my own way. But whatever I choose to do, this is not the end of this incredible journey OK! I've only just begun, so don't get all upset and worried :))

Day 77 - After my email from Rohloff this morning, I'm going home!

Based on what I told them and how I my being personally told there was an issue that Rohloff were working on, I have been advised to stop my cycle at this point and return the bike to the dealer I purchased it from. I will be supported by services in the UK in order to get a satisfactory conclusion to this. It is a real shame it has come down to this, and I’m sorry you lot are not going to see me on the road until after this is sorted. 

I’m now in a car near Marseille with my bike heading for Calais. It’s not good, but it’s important that I get this matter dealt with. I have had no offer of assistance with getting the bike back from any of the companies, and not so much as a sorry from KOGA. I could have bought a different bike in each country I have to fly to for the price of this KOGA, I should have done that instead.

Some more images. How lucky am I to be at these location taking pictures

Day 80 - This will be my last post for a while

 Until I've got more firm information on the situation regarding my bike, which will hopefully be really soon. So thank you everyone for following and supporting my adventure. Well getting my bike home was an adventure in itself. You will remember my being advised on Day 77, to get bike back to the KOGA dealer in Leeds, so I hired a car in Marseille in Southern France to bring it back with.

The drive across to Calais was roughly 900km, and so I stopped a few times in truck stops and services and took a few little naps when I felt sleepy. On one stop in a car park with no services, I was messing around with the interior lights, when I noticed something moving in the bushes next to the passenger side. Like a scene from a Zombie movie, a sorry and weaselly looking middle aged man stumbled out. It was very dark out, but a nearby street light gave just enough illumination to make the guy out.

I watched him as he made his way in front of the car and slowly around to my door. He, then stood there looking in. I pushed him back as I opened the door and I said with a scowl on my face "what's up?". He moved backwards, and as I spoke English, the whole thing turned into a really sick very adult game of charades, as he acted out his sexual intentions!! I thought I was seeing things, I was shocked, and then I belted out a string of choice words and sent the weirdo on his way.

I then wondered if my switching on and off the lights in the car was some sort of Dogging signalling. For anyone not familiar with dogging, look it up because I'm not going to explain it here :). I was careful with my lights after that :) Well by lunchtime the next day I had reached Calais, then boarded the ferry to Dover which I had booked while driving to Calais, then I picked up another hire car from Dover's ferry port and got myself and the bike home, and actually made really good time considering the 1600km, 2 hire cars and 1 ferry.

I have arranged to drop the bike off with the dealer in Leeds on Monday. Now, on the chance that I end up with my money back, I'm looking to hear from you lot on other bike manufacturer options for my return to the tour shortly. I want to here about manufacturers that have provided great support and customer service, real help and assistance to cyclists who may have been thousands of miles away from home, and of course really great bikes.

I'm still wanting an Expedition specked bike. It has to be built strong and able to cope with all kinds of conditions, and I need to be able to source parts in far away places. The price can be anything up to £4000, but hopefully less. I will be steering clear of belts and internally geared hubs, and anything that could cause major issues while away, lesson learned.

I need to be able to take it apart and box it up with ease, bearing in mind I'm not a bike mechanic and have never so much as changed a bike chain. Now I'm not saying it's going to go that way, we will see how it all goes and I will keep you posted. I'm all good and really looking forward to getting back out there.
Bike Update – 23 Nov 2017

My dealer – Cyclesense and I, have been in constant contact with each other since my return with the bike, as well as with Rohloff, Gates Carbon Drive, and KOGA through telephone conversations and email, and the result is that my bike and I will be back on the road in Southern France in the New Year.

To best suit my needs, the carbon belt drive system is to be replaced with a chain drive system. The main Rohloff hub will remain, as it was exterior components with the issues not the main unit itself. The hub has been serviced and oil has been changed too, as it was due for an oil change in 1600km's anyway, and I now have a spare oil change kit.

Carrier, sprockets/cogs are to be replaced to accommodate a heavy duty chain. Sprockets/cogs will be 42 tooth front and 17 rear, to stay within the advised range for the Rohloff hub. Spare 42 tooth front and 17 tooth rear will also be provided, as well as other spares and removal tool, carrier and snap ring.

A Hebie Chainglider cover will enclose the chain to protect the chain and my clothing. Front and rear carbon belt sprockets/cogs will be provided in case I wish to return to the belt drive system at some point, maybe on my return from my tour. A new eccentric bottom bracket will be fitted, 2 new Schwalbe 50mm tyres and tubes, checks and service.

I am pleased that Cyclesense will be carrying out all the work on the bike at the shop and I’m looking forward to getting back out on it. I will of course now be spending Christmas with family and loved ones, and with a couple of party invites already lined up for over the next couple of weeks, its all good.

The date I will return to Marseille in Southern France is not set at this point, as I am now spending this time to work on visas and transportation I will require throughout 2018. By the time I arrive back in Southern France from the point a left from, I’m hoping the worst of the cold weather will be over, because I really hate the cold.

I had planned my whole world tour originally to get me clear of the coldest weather by just after this Christmas, heading into Southern Turkey and Cyprus, then getting ready for India, but as I am set back a bit, I’m now going to stay cosy and make the most of it until I’m ready.

“Obstacles are put in your way to see if what you want is really worth fighting for” it is said, but I say “sh#t happens” :)

Planned return to Marseille to continue my tour is March 1 2017 

I've barely scratched the surface. But its been amazing and I'm looking forward to more. I also love having a target as you can see :)