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Variety in the Pyrenees

Well, who would have thought that two areas of the Pyrenees could offer such distinctly different cycling, after all mountains are mountains aren’t they? Luckily we had the good fortune to stay in two different regions of the Pyrenees in October, starting off our trip in the Hautes Pyrenees and then finishing the second week in the Ariege further east. So we could put the theory that mountains are mountains, plain as, to the test.

I suppose we should have realised before leaving that the Hautes Pyrenees have the more ‘famous’ Tour de France climbs located there. Names like the Peyresourde and Tourmalet (although we didn’t sample the latter, more on why later). So if the area has the more famous climbs it must be the tougher area, right? Well not really, to throw a spoke in the works.

My general impression was that the Hautes Pyreenes, certainly around the town of Luchon where we stayed, had lots of tough climbs, some famous, some less so, but all have featured in the Tour at some point. Sure, you could cycle down the main valley road and do a short detour up the gentle Col de Ares at 5%, but it would not be a very exciting ride – cycling away from the mountains and then slogging back to base camp up the moan road.

We did some pretty stunning rides from Luchon. No warm up mind you, straight off uphill almost immediately every time, which felt sore! On our first day we cycled up the Peyresourde down to the valley on the other side, with a beautiful lake. Then up the Col D’Azet from the valley with stunning views at the top. This route had very open views of all the surrounding mountains as it is not overly forested, which is nice as you get a sense of the geography that surrounds you. The ride back conveniently skirted down and round the valley back to the Peyresourde, thereby missing a climb which was a relief. The gradients were generally 8%-9%, so quite tough. The changes in gradient were fairly gradual though so you could get into a rhythm, no lumps and bumps here.

On day 2 we tackled the Port de Bales. Funnily enough it was featured in a big write up in Cyclist magazines October issue which I bought in the airport! It made it sound tough, which it was. This road was quite different. Much wilder, less (read almost zero) traffic compared to the Peyresoude. It was also tougher to ride as the gradient changes were quite frequent meaning it was hard to keep a steady pace. But it did feel amazing being in the wilds of the Pyrenees, you’re generally climbing through pine forests, with occasional glimpse down the steep sided road to the river valley below. It’s only in the last 3kms that the forest gives way to grassy moors and you get the idea that you are on a big expanse of mountain! The climb is around 20 or so Kms so it’s long, and the gradient is tough again around 8%-9%.

On day 3 we thought it would be a laugh to ride into Spain and back. We were recommended to go that particular day by our hosts at the super freerangechalet, seeing as there would be no lorry traffic into Spain on the Sunday. The ride goes straight up out of Luchon, twisting back and forth on some gradual hairpins, nothing too dramatic. It is fairly steep though so quite a tough climb at around 9%. The view at the top only looks back down the valley to France, you have to descend about a kilometre to see down the stunning Val D’Arran with its steep sided valley that seems to go on a long way into the haze of the midday sun. The town at the bottom of the Col du Portillon is a typical Spanish holiday town, restaurants and bars lining the main road. We headed on down the valley for about 20 kms virtually all slightly downhill which was nice. Here we headed up the Col de Mente, which was super tough. Mainly because it seems to be very exposed to the midday sun beating down on its slopes! It’s also quite long and fairly steep.

On day 4 we decided to cycle, despite the gloomy and threatening weather. It was probably a mistake, should’ve had the day off. We cycled up to the Hospice de France and halfway up Superbagneres, to the Devils waterfall. Very impressive too. But we got soaked and it was pretty horrid, at altitude it get colder that much quicker. Hospice de France was super tough, but the half climb of superbagneres was fairly easy, just a challenge dodging the wind blown chestnuts on the road on the way downhill.

On day 5 we went for a great walk up the valley side, opposite Superbagneres, there were good views of the ski runs and the town spread out in the valley below. The following day we set off for our second base camp in Foix, 150kms distant, and with 2 cols to climb. The route to Foix took us downhill in the chilly 10 degree morning air, for a good 20kms, so this wasn’t that great a start. However the Col d’Ares was a very pleasant 5% and we gained a fair bit of height, annoyingly only to go downhill again to the start of the Col named Portet D’Aspet. It’s quite a tough climb at 8%-9%, and also in a narrow river valley with forests either side. Nice and cooling in the summer, but in the shaded parts and touch chilly! Never mind, the descent which is almost 30kms (!!) to St Girons was bathed in lovely warming sunshine, and the upper slopes on that side of the col were not forested or in such a narrow steep valley. From St Giron we followed a very nice road for a good 40km to Massat, quite a narrow and wooded river valley, but much warmer now it was afternoon. The gradient was easy, never rising above 3% or 4%, so we made good progress. We’ve been to Massat a few times, so for once we’re cycling in familiar territory. We hit the lower slopes of the Col de Port, really easy as 7% and after 10kms turned up the Mur de Peguere. This was pretty murderous, the first km was 17%-20%, so hard, we crawled up. The climb eased as you progressed to 8%-9% so still hard. It was over fairly quick being only 5kms or so in length. The best thing now was we had zero uphill left and 30kms all the way downhill at 7%-8% to Foix. A really fast exhilarating descent!

In Foix we did 3 days of riding, and it was a lot easier than the riding we did in Luchon. Perhaps that was a subconscious decision, as there are some big climbs in this area of the Ariege. I’d describe the rides here as scenery spotting rides, as we headed for some famous local landmarks. On day one we headed down the quieter road towards Andorra, our first climb as Montolieu. This is not somewhere we have been before. It’s a pretty little village with a very distinctive tower perching above the narrow rustic streets. Moss grows in the middle of the single track road here, it rweally is out of the way. We then headed to Les Cabannes, which is the town at the bottom of the climb to the famous Plateaux de Beille cross country ski resort. Here we headed up the other side of the valley to the road at the top known as the Route des Corniches. It’s a great climb of 7% with some nice switchbacks. We didn’t get to see the more spectacular bits of the Route des Corniches, but headed back to base on the busier, but still pleasant main road. The drivers in France have an all round courtesy and respect to cyclists, as our hosts explained, it’s more to do with insurance laws than being in the home nation of the Tour de France, where drivers are presumed at fault in any incident with a cycle.

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Foix cycling

We cycled 150kms over from Luchon to Vernajoul (in Foix) for a 2nd chapter of cycling in the Pyrenees. The ride over took in 2 challenging cols, and 2 easier ones. There were plenty of other minor climbs too, so still plenty of challenge.

The first climb was the Col de Ares, a beautiful col which gains height with not much effort as it’s always under 5%. The road the follows Le Ger river valley on quite a drag to the foot of the very challenging Portet de Aspet climb. The climb is about 7% average with steeper sections at about 10.5% over about 4 or so miles. It’s worth stopping near the bottom of the climb to see the fabulous memorial to Fabio Casertalli who crashed and died in the 1995 TdF whilst descending at high speed.

The route descends all the way to St Girons, exhilarating descending around 30kms non stop! The route then follows the steep sided, and slightly chilly gorge of the Arac river all the way to Massat. This is an alternative town situated right in the middle of a multitude of mountain passes. A peaceful rural vibe.

From here our route took us around halfway up the Col de Port, a moderate 7% climb that is on a lovely smooth road. We then headed up the dreaded Mur ‘wall’ de Peguere, which is very steep over the first km and a half at around 18% and then levels(!) to around 10% or so, still extremely tough. The whole climb is around 4.5kms. What is nice though is the reward of descending all the way to our destination, about 20kms, downhill at a good speed!

The final destination was cyclepyrenees.com where the hospitality is second to none. (I’m afraid they’re fully booked for 2020)

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Portillon and other cols

The weather looked fine so climbing out of France and into Spain seemed like an ok plan. It was also a Sunday, so apparently there would be no lorries using the mountain pass, the Col Portillon. Even better as it must be terrifying to be passed by slow moving juggernauts on narrow mountain roads.

View to France Col Portillon

This col is hemmed in by high valleys either side, and to me, it made it feel as you were never gaining height, with no appreciable views of upward progress, unlike the Col De Peyresourde which we climbed earlier in the week. It was a bit demoralising, the gradient was also tough at times, the steepest part being at nearly 14%, but mostly hovering around 8%. At least it was fairly shaded from the sun so you never got fully roasted. There’s no 360 degree spectacular view at the top, just a view of a short distance back down the valley.

The descent is a great reward though for making the effort to get there, some good switchbacks on a wide road, with huge pine trees making the scenery feel somewhat prehistoric. There are also really spectacular views down the Val D’Arran if you stop halfway down.

Val D’Arran Spain

The descent finishes at the valley floor in Spain at a small village called Bossost. It’s quite attractive with a tree lined avenue and a big river running alongside the main strip. It’s very touristy, lots of restaurants and bars. We were passed by a big peloton and their leader shouted ‘vamonos’ to us, a friendly bunch!

Bossost Spain

We took the road down the valley, skirting alongside the big river with its spring melt strewn boulder bed exposed as it was the end of summer. A good fast descent of around 20kms to Saint Beat, and then the last major col to climb the Col de Mente. The climb was very tough as it was very exposed to the sun, my computer read 29.9 degrees! The average gradient is just a shade over 9% and there are quite a few pitches which are steeper. So not easy. We were glad of the fantastic fountain at the top. The restaurant was packed, but our legs would not have taken kindly to a long stop.

Col de Mente fountain

The ride from this point was largely downwards, with the minor col de Ares to tackle. It’s a gentle climb of 5%-6% so never too tough, nice and shady too after a long hot slog up the Col de Mente. The last challenge was 20kms mostly alongside the main valley road back to Luchon. It wasn’t unpleasant, not too much traffic, just into a headwind which on a big main road always seems to amplify the difficulty level! Overall a great ride, but tough.

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Climbing Peyresoude

The Peyresoude is a tough climb over the col from the attractive town of Bagneres de Luchon for about 15kms, it’s about 7% average gradient, but most of it is more like 8% -9%, which is what my Garmin computer displayed as I climbed. You gain about 950m in altitude and the views are spectacular.

With about 300m of climbing still to come a set of 4 or 5 switchbacks come into view. They look really steep and quite off putting because of this! But when you actually climb them, they’re not that bad. It’s probably because the switchbacks are ‘squeezed’ into a small portion of the mountain pass at its steepest part , and this makes it look all the more dramatic.

View from Col De Azet

Our ride then descended down The Peyresoude to Genos a lovely little village next to a blue green lake, to the start of our next climb up the Col De Azet. As can be seen in the picture above the views of the mountains 360 degrees were spectacular, the fine weather helped.

We descended three quarters of the way down the Azet, stopping to fill up on water at a very picturesque water trough which a local sheepdog decided to take a bath in! From there we picked up a small level ‘route forestier’ through 3 tiny villages. The road was lined with mature natural and planted forests, with the odd sheep farm or three. This road descended to the main valley road back to start, our last ascent up the Col de Peyresourde.

Valley stop before final climb

The final climb of the Peyresourde was fairly painful, about 8%-9% with a flat section quarter of the way up! The relief at getting to the top was great, as by that point I’d certainly had enough of climbing by then. Getting out of the saddle more and more on the last climb was a sign my knees were asking for a bit of respite.

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Ex hire sale 2017

ALL BIKES SOLD NOW

There are some bargain ex-hire bikes from 2016 and 2017 to be had!

Scroll through the pictures, description, prices and sizes below each.DSC_0034Adventure Women’s Prima available in Medium and Large for £130

DSC_0035Men’s Adventure Prime available in Medium and Large for £130

DSC_0032Women’s Saracen Urban Response 2016 model in Medium and Large for £165

DSC_0033Men’s 2017 Urban Response in Medium and Large for £220

DSC_0037Ladies Adventure Prima Cafe Deluxe Medium 17″ for £220

DSC_0036Mens Adventure Double Shot cafe racer Medium and Large available for £220

 

 

 

 

 

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Kinesis GF-Ti for sale

For sale is my own Kinesis GF-Ti bike, well looked after and runs like new.

It makes a great all year round bike, mudguards are simple to remove come summer.

£1000 for full Shimano 105 10 speed (inc. 105 pedals) Other highlights are Hope Wheels on Velocity A23 rims, Pro carbon seatpost and  Pro carbon bars and stem.

Size is 51cms would suit anyone up to 5’7″, ask to try it out if in doubt.

Kinesis GF-Ti

 

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Ex-hire bike sale

ALL BIKES SOLD NOW

Now looking for some loving new homes for our hire bike fleet!

On sale now are our ex hire bikes, some have hardly been ridden.

(See full updated list of bikes at the end of this page as there are a mixture of hybrid, ladies, road and children’s bikes)

adventure_prima_cafe_deluxe
We have :

1 x mens medium sized 18 inch hybrid £230 (Was £413 new)

3x ladies hybrids one 15″, 17″ and one 19″ £130 (was £299 new)

1x mens classic steel framed 3 speed cafe racer medium £230 (was 449 new)

If you’re interested come by and try one out!

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Urban cool

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Clever Mike (left) and Studio 74 (right)

 

Been a little while since our last blog, so here’s a quick one about this years most popular bikes.

The Saracen Urban range has something for everyone who is looking for a hybrid – and for the most part, around here, a hybrid is a good choice of bike for either commuting or leisure.

These hybrids have more of a mountain bike style geometry to them, so they are more relaxed and upright than a road bike, and offer more agility and control for sharper corners, whilst the larger wheel size still means they are quicker than a smaller wheeled mountain bike.

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Studio 74, fitted out with rack, mudguards and secure D – lock for a customer

The Saracen Urban Studio 74 is the most popular of the range, and for good reason. It sits  second from the top in the Urban series at a reasonable price of £539. It features 3 x 9 Shimano gears in a wide range capable of making even Baths hills seem easy (or at least tackle-able for the new to cycling), hydraulic disc brakes, a lightweight alloy (rigid) fork and good quality tyres from the off. As with all the Urban series it can be fitted with full mudguards and a rack, so really is a good choice for a commuter.

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Clever Mike

Our own personal town bikes are the Clever Mike – the top end of the series. For £899 you get an 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub, so a bit of a luxury, but a handy low maintenance one! You also get Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, hardy kevlar tyres and high quality over sized handle bars.

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The top two models have been popular, but so have the lower end models – here’s a quick summary of each:

The Urban Esc has been our hire bike of choice for three years now . At £299 they are lightweight and come with good quality components including Shimano 3 x 7 easy shifting triggers and strong double walled wheels.

Next in the range is the Myth, which for £369 features an extra gear, lighter alloy fork and a suspension seatpost. At this price point there is also the Urban Cross 1, essentially the same bike but with a suspension fork.

For £459 and £539 there are two more Urban Cross bikes – the 2 and 3 respectively. These two have the added advantage of hydraulic disc brakes, whilst the 3 features 3 x 9 gears along with extra Shimano components.

Prices may vary depending on offers and availability

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Field testing in Wales – Tom

We recently took ourselves off for a trip to the Afan valley in Wales for a bit of field testing (well, holiday) where we tried out many items that we sell now or were consideration stocking.

 

The trip was a mountain biking based one from the various trail centres in the area, with the weather being well on the toasty side!56

 

Photos courtesy of www.bartthebikeman.wordpress.com

 

Tom’s reviews:

 

iXS protection

I’d never worn any protection for mountain biking but as we were tackling table tops and steep berms in the Afan bike park I thought it sensible to try some.  I have been wearing the iXS Carve knee pads and the Flow elbow guards.  The knee pads were pretty irritating to wear at first, until Becci pointed out the tiniest label under a velcro flap showing which was left and which was right!  From that point on the knee pads have been incredibly comfortable.  The extra length down the shin is a nice idea to protect from pedal strikes, it has prevented a couple of these so far! The elbow guards are very lightweight virtually all highly breathable mesh apart from protection on the elbow and down the back of the forearm.  Becci’s had a couple of crashes and the elbow pads have definitely saved her from more serious injury, whilst I slid on a large slab of rock and my knee pads prevented grazing etc.  So all in all they have been a hit, if not adding a bit of extra warmth in this mini heatwave but surprisingly not to an unpleasant level.  In the shop we have the slightly cheaper version of the knee and elbow pads these are the Hack elbow guards and the Slope Series Evo Knee pads, if the pricier ones are what you want they can be ordered in.  We’d certainly recommend trying these on as the mediums which the iXS size guide recommended for me are right on the cusp of just about too small for me!

iXS protection

Madison Zenith shorts

I had to buy some new shorts this year as my previous 4 year old shorts were pretty worn.  Luckily Madison have a new range of shorts out this year, and the Zenith shorts have been the first to come into the shop.  The material is really soft and whilst this seems a bit odd for a mountain bike short I can guarantee that having crashed and slid in them twice they are very hardwearing.  The nice thing about the soft material is it stretches when pedalling, under the thighs and above the backside. The short has four large pockets which can be left open as venting and a small water resistant pocket.  They come in bright blue which makes a change from boring black!

Colourful Zenith shorts

Madison Zenith and Flux tops

These two tops were great in this mini heatwave, very breathable and they did not get damp even when riding quite hard.  They felt great worn under a backpack, no bunching or riding up.  They are very well priced too at only £26.99 so they’re pretty much a bargain. They come in a range of bright colours with contrasting zips which is funky, but they both come in black if you’re more stealthy

Tru flo mini track pump

I needed a larger volume pump for inflating the mountain bike tyres, as my minipump would just take too long to inflate the tyre.  TheTruflo mini track pump seemed ideal as it has a ‘telescoping’ barrel, effectively doubling the stroke of the pump but keeping the whole package down to a manageable size for carrying in a backpack.  I have used the pump quite a lot, even to inflate a tubeless tyre onto a rim, and it has worked amazingly well.  One of the best features is the valve attachment.  The valve head presses on firstly and then you screw it on to the final bit of the valve to secure it in place.  Its easy to use and a bit quicker than the Lezyne equivalent it seems, also I’ve had no issues with the pump unscrewing the valve core – although recently I have discovered this tool which ‘sets tight’ valve cores in the valve stem by hand, a job which is impossible to achieve with finger power alone!

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Summer Bike Sale

We’ve a summer bike sale for 2 weeks up to Saturday the 30th June.  There is a 10% offer on all Lapierre and Kinesis 2012 bikes in stock and to pre order.  There is also 10% off accessories bought at the same time as the bike.  (Fitting charges apply) We offer free lifetime servicing with every bike sold.  There is a further deal of 15% off all clothing at the same time as purchasing the bike.  Please note prices on our website are for the full RRP.