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Training Preparation for Epic Bicycle Adventures with Kieran Ryan

Deciding to take part in a Ride and Seek tour is a commitment to high adventure; it is also a commitment to yourself, other group members and your friends and family. It will be a memorable adventure that will extend you in unexpected ways, giving you a real quality of life experience as well as a huge amount of fun.

Proper preparation will give you more enjoyment, and a  sense of achievement. Training is a big part of that preparation, but there are a few other things that are just as important. One of my friends on our recent trip to Vietnam put it well  ” I’m just being really selfish and spending time away from my family, doing what I want to do”  So tip number one is to negotiate with your stakeholders and be open about what the trip means for you, and importantly, the time commitments involved in training prior to the event. While we are talking about stakeholders, there is another consideration, safety, particularly when descending. I’m all in favour of enjoying the thrills of fast descents but you can have just as much fun at 80% of your maximum downhill speed as you can flat chat. Descents in Europe are not the same as ours. Roads are designed differently and it is easy to misjudge cornering speeds. Being a long way from home is also not the best place to let your downhill ego take control!

It’s worth thinking about the implications of being part of a group. Cycling can be a very solitary pastime but it is also a wonderful social activity. You will find that interactions you have with the group will add a great deal to your enjoyment. A bit of give and take, mutual support both on and off the bike spreads the happiness bugs and builds connections.

Science has rapidly advanced our understanding of training, however you can train “scientifically” for your tour and still get it wrong. We need to be discerning and do the sort of training that is appropriate for our event, and that is quite possibly very differernt to how you might train at present.

Each tour requires the abilty to ride consecutively for 100 – 160 km per day for 6 days before a rest. If you choose the Hannibal tour you will also need the ability to ride tall mountains. If Napoleon is for you, then being comfortable on longer rides with the possibility of headwinds is what you train for.

A couple of things may conspire to prevent you from doing the most appropriate training. One is the tyranny of Strava! Forget personal bests and being competitive with mates. Long and slow is the way to build the sort of endurance you need to flourish on these tours. One day of intensive work in your weekly or 10 day training cycle by all means, but no more. Most of us are time poor and we compensate by going harder. When I train for these events I plan back to back days on the weekend riding with slower mates.

Being comfortable on the bike for extended periods is very important. Proper bike fit, good quality nicks, stretching and core strengthening work all pay big dividends. Recent saddle design changes have led to great improvement in comfort, particularly for women.

Some dot points for successful training.

–  Rest. This is when your body adapts to the training load and adjusts to handle higher workloads. Increasing training load without increasing rest leads to poorer performance. Plan a 4 week cycle of gradually increasing distance then have a week with 50% less riding. Increase distance in the next 4 week cycle.

– How to ride tall mountains when there are none nearby to train on?  Find some long hills, about 3- 5 minutes of climbing. Climb in a very low gear, spinning as close to 100 rpm as you can. Descend, then repeat seated but using the biggest gear you can, cadence between 55 and 60. Gradually repeat the number of efforts. Every third effort, do it standing in a big gear.

– When you get to train in the mountains, start climbing in a relatively easy gear and spin. Towards the top, try and change to a harder gear and alternate standing and sitting. Break the climb into segments and focus on riding that segment well. Monitor and observe what is going on and focus. Match your breathing with pedal strokes. Relax the upper body and smile, it works!

– You may have to be creative when training for the Euopean summer during our winter.

– Remember to taper and not arrive at the start of your tour completely smashed. Also, don’t underestimate the effect of jetlag, it will affect your performance so arrive a couple of days prior to the event if you can.  Get an aisle seat on the flight and walk / stretch often.


Lynskey Performance Bikes on Tour

Classy, fast, comfortable and immediately likable to ride – The Lynskey Sportive is a great bicycle and our choice, after much consideration, for our fleet in Europe. Many companies go for cheaper replaceable fleet bikes, we chose the opposite. We wanted first and foremost a class machine which guests would dream about riding.  We also pride ourselves on attention to detail so having a great bike was essential to building the complete tour package.

Bike Radar rated the Sportive at 5 out of 5 stars which puts it in excellent company – up there with the Pinarello Dogma, Cervelo R5 and other top of the line productions from the best of the bike industry. Bike Radar call the Sportive “The logical and ultimate evolution of the sportive bike”. Click here to read the review. Our guests tend to agree and each year we have to say they are not for sale as otherwise we would have none left!

All our Sportives have Ultegra 11 speed groupsets, quality DT Swiss wheelsets with new tires at the beginning of every epic and we carry a selection of saddles to ensure comfort. Every bike is serviced regularly by our mechanics and only go out to guests in the best condition possible. We run all our bikes with compact cranks and 11-32 cassettes to ensure that climbing hills is always possible! This combination gives as good gear range as a triple crankset. We recommend if you have your bike fit measurements that you send these to us before the tour. Then when you arrive your bike will be setup just as you like it, ready to go. If you want to know how to measure your bike so we can get the same fit on your Lynskey rental then please get in touch and we will tell you how to measure your bike.

Lynskey Performance are based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, founded and currently operated by the Lynskey family, who began building titanium bicycles in 1984. The family originally founded the company Litespeed. After selling Litespeed they founded Lynskey Performance Cycles in 2006. They are pioneers in titanium bicycles and the cycling industry, and have designed many unique features in bike building including Helix tubing technology. Bikes with this amazing design are used by some of our guides.

On all our Epic Adventures you have the option of renting a Lynskey Sportive. On our Local Adventures these bikes are included in the cost.


Danny Shane on tour in Europe

Our partnership with DannyShane is a great one. We love the gear for its comfort, performance and unique designs. One further key thing for us when we went looking for a kit supplier was that we wanted eco-friendly materials. Having top end comfortable gear is essential for us. We want our guests and guides to be comfotable and pround to wear the gear. It is key for us that people love the kit they are given otherwise they just won’t wear it! On all our tours with DannyShane kits we are amazed how the gear comes out day in day out – people do a lot of washing each night so they can stay in their custom Danny Shane kits!

We began testing the gear in 2013 taking a batch on our tours in Europe and in Asia. We wore the gear hard…and it performed well! Guests were tempted by the designs and bought kits and comments were only positive – the most comfortable knicks ever worn was heard on many occasions from seasoned cyclists. Comfortable knicks and shorts are so essential for us on our epic tours, riding 4400km at 130km a day for 6 weeks – you need to be sure!!

 In 2015 we embraced the trademark DS plaid and designed a version in conjunction with DannyShane for each of tours. The Hannibal and Napoleon were plaids straight from the DS repertoire. The golden Bicycle Adventures and purple Caesar plaid (yet to be seen in public!) were in-house Ride and Seek designs so let us know what you think of them!

Technically, DannyShane jerseys are made from a proprietary fabric blend with 50% to 55% Bamboo White Ash (BWA). BWA is among the latest innovations in natural performance fibers. In addition to its aesthetic benefits, BWA is also an eco-friendly solution. The material offers natural breathability, rapid moisture wicking, odor resistance (essential on a 6 week epic!), anti-static qualities, durability, and a comfortable softness.

Cycling bibs require a degree of micro-compression that is not available in a bamboo blend fabric, so DannyShane went in search of the most environmentally-friendly material we could find that did not compromise bib performance. The result is an original design of DannyShane cycling bibs made from Italian fabric that is Bluesign® certified and a blend of Lycra (20%) and 100% recycled nylon (80%).

On all our Epic tours you will receive a jersey and knicks or shorts depending on your preference and we are sure you’ll love wearing the kits.


Bike Tour Navigation with Ride and Seek – Garmin GPS units and Map Sheets

At Ride and Seek we intend to stay ahead of the times with navigation and offer the best touring experience. So as standard all guests who ride with us get a Garmin GPS unit to use on tour. We will teach you how to use the units and although some guests are apprehensive at getting to know the technology, we promise you that you will come to love these little power packs! However don’t worry we don’t just leave you with the units and send you off down the road, there will also be guides on the bikes and in the van keeping an eye on you, and for those not keen on screens we do give out maps too!

Whether they be 1 week cruises around Provence or 6 week Epics from Paris to Moscow these GPS units are certainly the future of bike touring. They make bike touring so much more pleasurable as there is no need for long cue sheets or continual stops looking at maps. We use both the Edge 800 and Touring Plus models which provide turn by turn navigation. We also plot custom cues on our tours to give a little personal touch each day as they inform when you reach your day high or more importantly when it is time for coffee!

The reality on tour is that some people love the technology and others find it tough to adapt to so we also provide our guests with map sheets which along with a map have the details about the day – the ride description, hotels, coffee stops, lunch, a featured Strava segment for the day and the extra loop for the super riders who just want to stay on their bike!

The great thing about the Garmin GPS units is they can offer a lot of information about the ride you are on or just the essentials. We tend to reduce what can be seen to keep it simply to essential navigation. Then as guests grow with confidence we teach them about the options beyond, which include everything from the elevation and what the hill looks like ahead – which can be a great help or even a horror in the Alps – to the distance home, or to coffee or lunch or even just your speed or the weather!  For the experienced the 800s also have the ability to link up to your heart monitor or wireless ANT+ compatible devices (for example power monitors).  For those of you who have your own device, feel free to bring it and we can get it loaded with the course(s) you require.

Our relationship with Garmin has been an excellent. It began back in 2009 when they supported us for our BBC documentary ‘On Hannibal’s Trail’. Back then the Garmin 705 was the latest thing, no touch and a funny little dongle to control the unit! They were a little clunky! Luckily the Garmin 800s and beyond, what we use on all our tours, are touch screens. Watch Ben, head of technology for Ride and Seek in an excerpt from the documentary below. Garmin have also supported us when we have needed it most. This last touring season saw 25 of our Garmin GPS units stuck on the Russian border trying desperately get back to Barcelona for the start of the Hannibal tour. We contacted Gail at Garmin UK and told her the situation and instantly Garmin had units ready to express to Barcelona for us. We appreciated this hugely but luckily for all involved our Garmins (along with our van, trailer, bikes, tools and all other equipment!!) got through and got to Spain just in the nick of time!

VIDEO

If you are interested in learning a little more about the units check out our cheat sheet which we give to all the guests on our tours – it has the essentials on how to keep your Garmin happy and you on the right road!

Click here to download the Garmin Cheat Sheet for the Edge 800

Click here to download the Garmin Cheat Sheet for the Touring Plus


The ‘Assometer’ – Preparing for a Grand Tour

The epic tours, Hannibal, Napoleon and Caesar…..6 weeks straight on a bike this year from Paris to Moscow and a lot of running around in between. Last year I didn’t take my own bike with me and I ended up riding 5 different Ride and Seek hire bikes during the touring season. Lovely bikes (besides the guest’s bike who liked the look of our rentals more then his own..) but not one was my size and at the end of it my knees hurt, I had pins and needles down my right arm and I was riding poorly (I am hoping someone can fix this too!).

This year I swore things would be different and I’ll be right on at least on one account. I gave Paul, my Local Bike Shop, also a Specialized bike fit master a call. I’ve never had a bike fit so when Paul advised on preparing for the fit, in his thick Brummie accent, “shave your legs, have a hair cut” I thought I was going back to school (I did go to a Grammar school…)! Haircuts have never been my thing so I went the easier option and took out the razor (female special of course, much more comfortable I was advised) to my virgin legs and was surprised how easy it all came off. Sure, when I go to soccer I quickly whip on my shinnies, but besides that I am a fan. This only grew when Paul informed me (after commenting on the patches of hair I had missed) that it would save me 70 seconds over 40km, maybe only 50 for me with the tufts on the back of my knee and my shin blade slowing me down….

So in we went to the fit….

What I loved about it was it was thorough, relaxed and enjoyable. It wasn’t about fitting you to race as fast you can or put you in a position to ride a time trial, although I know if that is what you want, Paul would fit you to it. It was about genuinely fitting you to your style on the bike even if, like me, you aren’t really sure what that is.

We began with a coffee and a thorough run through of medical history – mine is a little mixed – a colleague from my previous days as an archaeologist once confidently told me I would have been dead by the time I was 30 if I was a caveman. This was due to my (and supposedly a lot of young cavemen’s) injury recidivism – the need the keep trying things/ doing things which hurt but not really learning from the pain!

From medical history to a physical examination – the assometer (measures your sit bones) was great for finding the right size saddle (mine was looking decided ill once I looked at it seriously – saddle that is, not ass) and the thorough examination from head to toe was surprising but made total sense as Paul explained how your whole body ties into being comfortable on the bike. From your neck flexibility looking down the road, to your ankles influencing your pedaling style every joint was tested for flexibility and movement – for example my hamstrings are great and flexible so I should be fairly good with most positions – from a time trial to sitting up high on a bike.  However counter to this my hip flexors are useless and always tight so there had to be a balance in how low I could perch over my handlebars and how my body would bend without stressing my hips. This was all about identify the individualities of your body and how they affect your riding position.

the ‘assometer’, it wasn’t as uncomfortable as it looks!

my saddle has seen better days, but the assometer didn’ show such serious swing to the left hand side!

Then ( 2 1/2 hours into the session) onto the bike….adjustments made to saddle, pedals, handlebars, stem, shifters, cleats, even down to spacers in my left shoe (my left foot sticks up a bit and is a bit different to my right, never previously known, but identified in the examination, now glaringly obvious every time I look down!). I sat on my bike, fixed to the trainer, Paul doing laps of me checking the knee extension, adjusting the handlebars, moving the saddle, taking videos of my pedal stroke, adjusting again….

on the road again and yep I can see the hairs on my knee too!

It was an amazing process…I’ve now ridden twice since and there is no doubt I am more comfortable, and feel stronger and more able to put power through the pedals.

Napoleon awaits, only 2 1/2 weeks to go, can I get fit in that period? Can anyone help me with that??

Curious about bike fitting? Email Paul at [email protected]

 

 


The Napoleon Adventure. Stage 1 – Paris to Worms

Stage 1 – Paris to Worms – French Champagne

A hut stands alone in a vineyard in the Champagne Region of France.

An Overview of Stage 1

We meet for the first stage of our Napoleonic odyssey in the City of Love and Light – Paris! Our warm up ride takes us around the Longchamp hippodrome with the locals then and down the Champs Elysees before a welcome aperitif in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. A stunning ride through the working innards of one of Europes premier cities, along oak-lined canals, is arguably one of the most beautiful city exits we have discovered; and so fabulously French! From here we head east into the beguiling Champagne Ardenne and Lorraine regions before crossing the border into Germany. With increased European integration the border is not marked but the cultural and scenic differences are immediately apparent as we traverse the famous Rhineland towards the university town of Worms; which provides a pleasant end, with many a toast of the region’s famous wines, to our first stage.

Day by Day

Day 1 Paris Warm up

Our warm ride gives us chance to interact with the locals from the word go. The focus for the bike fit and our first ride is the park around the Longchamp hippodrome. This is a popular circuit for the Parisian riding community to stretch their legs and so you can either ride with your guides or join a bunch that best suits the speed to want to ride at. After a few laps we will then meander our way back to the hotel as a group and ride around the Arc de Triomphe that serves as the symbolic start for our Napoleon expedition.

Day 2 Paris to Chateau Thierry

In recent years Paris has gained a reputation for being a bike friendly city. Today we will put that reputation to the test as we meander our way from the center of the city to its suburbs on predominantly purpose built bike paths. The ride won’t be a fast one as there will be a fair bit of stopping and starting and you’ll need to keep a close eye on the Garmin to watch out for the turns. To be able to ride a bike out of one of Europe’s largest cities is testament though to the progress that Paris has made in accommodating cyclists. Our destination is the picturesque town of Chateau Thierry.

Day 3 Chateau Thierry to Chalons en Champagne

Our ride today takes us into the heart of Champagne country and as such much of the riding we do rolls through vines of this most treasured of beverages. Our lunch spot in Ay gives us the ideal opportunity to toast the start of our tour with a glass of the local tipple. Our destination is one of those towns that is the perfect size for bike touring – large enough to provide all the amenities you require but also small enough for the traffic not to make it tough to get into in the first place. The cathedral in Chalons makes for an imposing entrance and the main square where our hotel is situated is the ideal place to enjoy an evening aperitif before dinner.

Day 4 Chalons en Champagne – Verdun

Leaving Chalons our ride today is rural in nature as we ride through the fields of agriculture that bear testament to the fertility of the heavy soils in this area.  Our destination – Verdun- holds an inauspicious place in history as a site of some of WW1’s bloodiest battles. In the context of our Napoleon ride and the huge numbers who lost their lives in that campaign this somehow just adds to the poignancy. After a relatively short day in the saddle you’ll have the chance to explore some of the major battle sites on a bus tour that gives you a chance to appreciate the scale of the carnage that occurred in the fields around the town.

Day 5 Verdun – Mettlach

We leave Verdun and our ride once more takes us through fields of produce and wind turbines. Today we leave France cross the border into Germany. Whilst the border is not marked the increasingly Germanic sounding village names prepare us for the shift from Gallic to Teutonic culture. Our destination is the quaint town of Mettlach that exemplifies the cultural shift that we will experience in just one day of riding.

Day 6 – Mettlach to Meisenheim

Welcome to Germany! Today we ride on east to the picturesque town of Mesienheim. Our ride takes us through spectacular pine forests and through a number of the perfectly manicured villages that seem to come straight from a postcard. For much of the day we stay in the valley but the final section takes us up on to a ridge which will warm the legs up. Getting off the main road and riding through this rural idyll makes it all worth it though.

Day 7 –Meisenheim to Worms

Distance wise a shorter day but we will experience more undulations than we have in previous days so it is not a ride to be taken too lightly. Our coffee stop is planned for Alzey which actually lays claim to hosting Napoleon. From here we continue to roll through the Rhineland on our way to the town of Worms and lunch on the banks of the Rhine.

The History

“Napoleon Bonaparte, born 15 August 1769 in Corsica. Educated at military school, he quickly rose through the ranks. At the age of 27 he was made commander of the French army in Italy, where he forced Austria and its allies to make peace. In 1798, Napoleon conquered Ottoman-ruled Egypt in an attempt to strike at British trade routes with India. He was stranded when his fleet was destroyed by the British at the Battle of the Nile.

Austria, Russia and Britain allied themselves against France. Napoleon returned to Paris where the government was in crisis. In a coup d’etat in November 1799, Napoleon became first consul. In 1802, he was made consul for life and two years later, emperor. He oversaw the centralisation of government, the creation of the Bank of France, the reinstatement of Roman Catholicism as the state religion and law reform with the Code Napoleon.

In 1800, he defeated the Austrians at Marengo. He then negotiated a general European peace which established French power on the continent. In 1803, Britain resumed war with France, later joined by Russia and Austria. In 1805 Britain inflicted a naval defeat on the French at Trafalgar causing Napoleon to abandon his plans to invade England. Napoleon turned on the Austro-Russian forces, defeating them at Austerlitz.  He gained new territory, including Prussian controlled lands which ostensibly gave him control of Europe. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, Holland and Westphalia created, and over the next five years, Napoleon’s relatives and loyalists were installed as leaders in Holland, Westphalia, Italy, Naples, Spain and Sweden.

In 1810, he had his childless marriage to Josephine de Beauharnais annulled and married the daughter of the Austrian emperor in the hope of having an heir. A son, Napoleon, was born a year later.

The Peninsular War began in 1808. Costly French defeats over the next five years drained French military resources. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 with the biggest army yet ever assembled resulted in a disastrous retreat.

The tide started to turn in favour of the allies and in March 1814, Paris fell. Napoleon went into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. In March 1815 he escaped and marched on the French capital. The Battle of Waterloo ended his brief second reign. The British imprisoned him on the remote Atlantic island of St Helena, where he died on 5 May 1821.”

What do we eat and drink?

We start our journey in the culinary capital of Paris, whose bistros in particular, are both as unique as they are characteristically French. From Paris, we ride into the Champagne Ardenne region, which is known as one of the cradles of French gastronomy; with the eponymous fizzy stuff and the delicious produce that comes from the forests of the region, it is easy to appreciate why this is the case. We then head for the luscious region of Lorraine, perhaps best known for its quiche. Interestingly though – and testament to it bordering Germany – the Quiche Lorraine actually has German origins. Stage one finishes well into Germany’s  interior, as we ride through the Rhineland on our way to Worms. Anyone for Rheinischer Sauerbraten (a marinated beef dish) and Wheat beer on the banks of the Rhine?

For more information on this stage and all the others check out http://www.rideandseek.com/epic/napoleon

 


Napoleon 2015- Scouting odyssey & 40th b’day to remember!

…At the start of our adventures the van odometer read 24800k….The engine lies still and I await the news of our final border control. My wits are severed and my brain is making bubbling noises like an overheating Volvo as I complete another set of nervous push-ups. Dylbags is being interrogated as to why we have entered Russia with only eight hours left on our visa…..The ferry is fully boarded, we are meters away and it may as well be on the other side of the Baltic! It is make,,, or shatter into a million pieces of nerve wrought cognitive dust…Head in the shed!!! Time: 20:35. 35 minutes after scheduled leaving time on an internationally bound ferry…1 hour 35 minutes after official boarding time closure! Odometer reading: an eerie 33333km!…

We wouldn’t have been in this mess if that Latvian numpty hadn’t meat headed his way through our van’s back window at 4am in a drunken brawl; consequently losing a day whilst trying to find a window replacement on a Sunday in Jacobpils…Yaaaakovvpiiilzzzz… Like Dyl had constantly stipulated; don’t rejoice until it is over! A frenetic month of chasing trails, coffee breaks, restaurants and hotels was almost at its zenith. Almost! And we had made the schoolboy error of celebrating the journey’s end. A pool table, a world cup semi and free flowing scotch were our ephemeral trophies of victory as we bumbled our way through a five am ruckus of Jacobpils cops and frumpy fighters. The real ending had just begun…

…. After a measly breakfast in the ‘boutique’ hotel, I wandered down to reception with the first instalment of bags to ask the concierge if she could print some docs for the border control. In doing so, I asked her if she had any information about the border crossing. Time 10:45 am….

The friendly staff member at the hotel informed me in the assured tones of an Estonian judge, that there was no chance of crossing the border at Narva, due to a sixteen hour wait!… sixteen hours?! What was she talking about! We had precisely seven hours and fifteen minutes until our boarding pass onto the Finnlandia express expired! I asked again what she meant and she flashed me the computer screen…chuchhaaa!!!!

I mounted the stairs in triplets and greeted Dylbags with a cursory…’we’re screwed m8!’ I informed him of the waiting time at the border; updated at 010 00 hours! I grabbed my bags and with panic already setting in flicked on the mission switch!

I railed the unsuspecting concierge with the a – z of border crossing possibilities! In short, our two options were: a) to drive four hours south to cross at a border control zone with a one hour wait; consequently making our outward bound journey five hours min, with a four hour return without stops or hiccups, or b) run the sixteen hour gauntlet and try our luck….We were duly informed that luck had nothing to do with it and that we would simply not be able to cross at Narva in much less than a day….What the bollox!!! We had come all the way from France, through German, Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian borders without seeing a single checkpoint…It is 2014! We had rejoiced the unity of the EU and open borders. It just didn’t make sense that we now had a insurmountable road block ahead! PUTIIIIIINO!!!!

After consultation with a disbelieving Dyl, it was decided that we should attempt the border crossing with nothing more than our wits about us and our desire to reach that ferry; which would, if we made it, salvage our sanity and our sobriety! It was exactly five weeks since setting foot in Europe. Five weeks, @ sixteen hours a day, seven days a week!

In seven hours’ time, we needed – no we had to – be sitting on that truck ferry to transport us sixty hours across the Baltic to Germany. If not, we would have to race the clock and the authorities to flee Russia before the termination of our Visas; which would come to pass in exactly thirteen hours!

Before hitting the crossing, we needed a stamped vehicle pass from the checking station three km south. Dyl suggested ‘bugger it, let’s just hit the border’…so we hit it indeed, only to have our anxious hope rebounded like a bouncy ball fired at a steel curtain! Sitting, motionless, in a queue of even less mobile vehicles!!!

After watching the seconds tick by, about 3600 of them- not that I was counting- during which Dyls and I were separated, the notion that we needed a ticket was reinforced by a seriarse looking control agent:(… Ushered to one side, the Estonian border grunters motioned me to get my vehicle the hell outa there and get a bloody ticket like everyone else! I looked back at the growing queue – the first of many I would see that day- scouted the horizon for Dylbags and then chose the only option available: to flee ticket-ward and hope to get that Willy Wonka prize….What were we thinking! What a waste of nearly four tonnes worth of invaluable seconds…

Without sight or sound of Dyls, I spun the grey ghost back into the Narva jam to execute ticket retrieval. After negotiating a no entry highway, at which I did a swift u turn amongst bleating horns, I discovered my destination to be a home-centeresque  DYS location! After many a donut, I managed to winkle the exit location of our ticket base and made a horn blowing entry through the blind corner…

There I was met with impenetrable Estonian and a further time penalty of 900 seconds (and a fifteen hundred meter jog in broken Nike crocs), while I scrounged information as to how to glean a ticket into Russia! Upon accruing said ticket for the huge sum of one Euro, thirty cents but with yet a two hour wait to get the ticket authenticated by a friggin stamp, I made the decision to leave the queue and return to the border crossing base and source Dyls….

After an interminable traffic jam, which cost another 600 seconds, I threw the ghost onto the curb and sprinted to his gruffness at the control gate. Unable to get the guards attention, I strode off under the booms to where I thought Dylbags was charming his way into Estonian folk lore as the man who beat the Narva crossing queue. Unluckily for me, I had wandered witlessly into the no man zone (literally, no man is allowed to set foot on that strip of tarmac without a vehicle beneath them!), which incurred a stern bullocking from not one, but two of the border control agents who threatened in thunder clapping Estonian (a visceral form of Germanic shout that can verily make the gonads curdle!) to throw me into one of their concrete cells for breaking customs protocol. Way to make friends at the border Hofo!

As I bounded back into the safety of tangible Estonia I found a remarkably composed Dyls awaiting my return; ‘you abandoned me’ came the ubiquitous Cambridge drawl! We wasted another few hundred seconds discovering that Dyl had followed my route to the ticket office in a taxi, only to learn that I had just left with the ticket…I confirmed this at the van but as I started to explain that the ticket was not yet validated, Dyl was already off to reconcile with our friendless border guard. I held my tongue and thought it was worth a try, validated or no. Almost making the same mistake I had by ducking under the boom, Dyl was met by  a very unhappy gate keeper who took one look at the stamp less ticket, glared at us with his belligerent Estonian jaw set and shouted at us for the last time to get a proper ticket f”#$king!!!

With sinking hearts, we returned to our conundrumous car park, where we joined the queue once more and waited… for about three seconds, before Dyl jumped out wigth a ‘screw this’ and accosted the octogenarian ticket office man with his pleading Dalmatian sad eyes….watching the angry Russtonians clocking this brazen flouting of their queue lines, I surreptitiously started the engine as fleeing, with or without the ticket, now became a sobering reality….

To my disbelief, Dyl suddenly bolted back to the van and leapt aboard as I spun the wheels back onto the runway….I got the stamp he shouted as I jammed the accelerator down; just as the communal realization dawned on the sun frazzled queuers that we had somehow tripped the system wire! ‘Sorry folks but this is a friggin emergency’!!!

As the adrenaline booted in and we roared off, we had the first of the many peaks we would experience that day. Little did we know of the troughs that would inevitably follow as we raced the clock back to the Russian border….

Somehow, the old man at the ticket office had decided that saving Dyl’s skin for his brave manoeuvre was within his boundaries of limitation. We thus scooted off, without the mandatory car check and without wasting a single second more on protocolic adherence! We had that ticket stamped and we fairly hooted all the way back into the Narva queue. Daring not another jump, we impatiently waited our turn at the first check point, chewing a doughnut hamburger (what the hell was that incidently!!) and basked in the happy light of our first stroke of luck and ensuing calculations that told us that reaching that ferry was still a possibility.

Basking quickly became frazzling in the firestorm! Somehow, we had managed to hit the very no-mans-land from which I had been earlier ejected just as the lunchtime cross over point kicked in! Initially taking this as a lucky thing – as we would not have to deal with my ejectors – our lucky thoughts quickly evaporated as the temps inside the van hit the high thirty’s and we watched the seconds tick listlessly away with the beads of sweat from our dripping brows! ‘Come on u customs asses!’

A further 1200 seconds had been scratched from our power pack when we finally hit the shade of the control shed. Unfortunately for us, the bloke in charge of our exit application just happened to be that generic school thug who only had one tone of voice, a barking shout, and who knew only one facial guise, that of the abattoir slaughterman! Perhaps he had overheard our ass call, for he certainly graced that title with his finest twatian performance!

…After the second round of shouting, I got back into the van and let Dylbags take the heat, for the barking bum-hole was getting to the already heated corners of my frontal lobe and I started to feel my judgement falter! Driving a hire van was now the variable which usurped the grains in our rapidly turning hour glass. The school yard bully cum control tormentor motioned us back onto the boiling tarmac, where we suffered lamentably like two bullocks awaiting the yolk of steel.

In disbelief, we watched our seconds dripping away at a flow unstoppable. It was like being in a warped universe, where time – which usually would stand still under such circumstances – went rushing by in waves….Unable to step from our van, we sweltered at almost forty degrees, coming up with any number of punishments for our fart-mouthed, dimwitted control freak, as he left us sitting there for an unbearable 2400 seconds!!!!! We now knew that there was only the slimmest chance that we would get to the ferry and that a plan B, would possibly be the end of us!

The time was 2:40 pm and we were forty meters closer to our St Petersburg ferry; in a van with no original docs and with less than ten hours left on our Russian visas! The punishment for outstaying a Russian invitation to their E-blockian country was anything from an internship in their gaols to 50 odd solid birch branch lashings for every hour overstayed!… ‘Just don’t think about it’ we grimacingly agreed!

…Suddenly, our persecutor was back. We had already decided that should we miss our ferry, we would come back to find this peanut and elicit to the power of ten, every birch stroke we suffered. Our emotions soared, however, as he delivered his final assessment (about bloody time d%$#brain)…we were going through!… we scooted through the second boom gate and into the real no-mans-land towards Russia.

Our bubble of contentment was burst at high altitude as we rounded the bend onto the bridge between the two countries with only another one hundred meters on our kilometerage!….There before us was the real sixteen hour queue!!!! We pulled up in dismay as it dawned on us that our little adventure was over…now we really were knackered!!! By the time we got to the end of this line, not only would our ferry be half way across the Baltic, but our Visas would have expired and we would be some X 00 lashings in arrears!

A couple of moments to reflect and capture this agony on camera was broken by a waning positivity from Dylbags, who searchingly suggested that I run to the end of the bridge and plead clemency from this ball breaking queue. Realising that he had taken the last hit and succeeded, I knew I had to give it a go! As I neared the check station, I put on my most lamentable expression, gleaned a tear thinking of far -away loved ones and literally begged the female customs agent (who looked measurably fiercer then her male comparatives) for help. I showed her the ferry ticket and gesticulated to my watch-less wrist that if we did not somehow beat this beasty line we would not make it to our ferry….her ‘as if I give a shit sternness’ made my resolve crumble!

She looked at me like my kindergarten teacher used to, before one of my countless infant’s school reprimands. As I groped her soul for some humanity, she suddenly cracked (she obviously couldn’t take my big snout seriously) and the fierce lines turned into smiley ones:) She lifted her telephone and barked something in Russian down the line then pointed back down the bridge and the two way single lane truck path….Autooooo here!!!!. I could not believe it. I looked back down the bridge line of unbroken vehicles and followed it back with my finger pointing to my feet and repeating here?!!! She nodded and I sprinted…..

As I flew back to the car, a deflated Dylbags read my body speak but did not believe….I shouted our often repeated jibe ‘GET IN THE CAR!!’ and pulled out into the no go truck lane…As I did, Dyl shouted his concerns ‘are u sure we can do this,?’ ‘who knows’ I replied ‘but it’s worth a try cause we’re bolloked either way if we don’t!’

But work it did! We hit the boom and it rose into the air! We sailed past a queue for the second time that day. I really felt for those poor folk in line but what could we do. Ethereal clemency had smiled upon two destitute gypsies and had granted us passage; the sprint was now on!!! Screaming our thankyous to the first friendly border control agent we had met, we floated into the Russian controls zone. Game back on!

From that point, we rode lady luck through the next double entry check. We encountered the same problems with the Russian security because of the van passport papers but perhaps because we already had stamps from the Estonians, we were let through the first. At the second, we were met by a lovely woman whose Cameronesque features were like a salve after her Estonian counterparts’ Shrekness; she even wished Dylbags a happy birthday when she realized it corresponded with the day! Perhaps this distracted her from noticing that we only had eight hours in which to enjoy her fine country, which would surely have led to inevitable questions of espionage and the consequential birch branching administrations!…

Our sudden turn in fortunes elicited exuberant sounds as we hooted through the last boom gate and into Russia!!!! We had less than two hours before our ferry exit expired, some two hundred and forty km to go on the faltering sat nav and eight hours to leave Russia if it all went pear shaped and we missed that friggin boat….well we thought we did! As it turned out, the sat Nav was wrong! It was a miserly one hundred and sixty km to P’burg!

As we hit the E 20 with Ms Russian Diaz’s b’day wishes ringing in our ears, positivity came flooding back! ‘We can make this Dyl’! No sooner were the words out of my mouth, than we rounded a corner to see a snarling line of trucks and cars which crawled into the distance…shute!!! It was a gut wrenching thirteen hundred seconds before we exited the other side, now with the heart rendering knowledge that we could only hope the ferry would somehow extend its entrance times, for we were now outside of the outer limits on our ticket itinerary!

The ensuing ride was a blur of trucks and cars in a constant state of flux. Dylbags became Mad Max in Thunder dome as he copied the Russian drivers in utilising every inconceivable gap to pass and burn our way back into ferry contention! The seconds burnt away furiously and we hit the fifty km to go mark, still believing that we might just make it. It was then that disaster struck… As Dyl reached for his bookfacephone, it became slow motion as he groan-growled ‘NOOO!!!….WE ARE SCREWED!!!!!! He didn’t even have to tell me what he had seen, for in his words I heard the sincerity of doom and knew what had happened….heading due east, the automatic time adjuster had just updated and we had lost an hour!!! Bloody unbelievable! After all the ups and downs of this mission, we were being tucked up by a bleeding time zone change, fifty kms shy of our destination….

I sank into my seat speechless! Plan B was now a reality….What did it mean! After five weeks of non- stop missioning, we would have to turn around, race the clock back to the Russian border. Hope to somehow get out before our visas expired at midnight and then face the huge expanse of continental Europe by car!!!! We would have to drive day and night to get back to Geneva where we had to leave the van and get on our respective journeys home. Even with the sixty hour ferry journey, we would still have to drive the remaining third of the distance, still needing to cover the entire length of Germany and into Switzerland, some twelve hundred kms; but at least our travel weary minds and bodies would have had three nights and two days of recoup…The thought of continuing our octane fuelled journey by car was simply…well, impossible!!! In the state we were now in, the ferry had become a beacon of hope and happiness and the thought that we had now lost that chance of our first rest day/s in a month was steadily gnawing away at our cerebral conditions!

The bubble of hope that had slowly grown as the kms from the border to St P were inexorably chewed had been suddenly exploded by a tele-communicational update! Dylan’s expression mirrored my growing despair and the next few hundred seconds in the van were in a silent bubble of depression.

That now growing bubble of anxiety transmogrified into a physical, driving force! Dyl started lane surfing like a dodgem rally-car driver and I started jabbering away to the canal ferry port controllers begging for them to hold our ferry! Fat frigging chance!

To top it all off, our sat nav (which had faithfully served our cause for twenty eight days and had extricated us from many a scouting pickle) refused to locate the ferry terminal as we sped into the huge entrails of St Petersburg. It was like a sign; a very bad sign that belted the final filaments of hope from our hearts. The tool we had relied on most this whole journey from Paris to St P, was no longer our satelliting saviour! The feeling was somewhat akin to losing your pump in the middle of the Andes in the rain and pitch black with rabid dog-ghost sounds and indigenous wraith screams wailing at your heels , but that’s another binary story!

Boris, the friendly -but unfortunately impotent to help- port manager, munched through the phone credit by giving me Alpha readings for a street name! Did it work! Yeah, right! It worked as much as the mobile number he gave me to call as the office was now closing!!!…We were finding this place alone, or not at all!

Our clocks now said: 19:30 and we were grinding our way through a constant traffic jungle! At one major intersection, Dyl swung wildly into an off route checking station manned by a pair of very unimpressed looking Russian policemen. After shouting every name we knew for boat and ferry and gesticulating madly, we again sped off following the hope that the sergeants waving arm was telling us to go straight! puchhhhaaa! Why had we not made more of an attempt to internalise some of the Cyrillic alphabet. Or at least the word FERRY!!! Juust because the lingo looked like Hewbrew spat out backwards and up-side-down, shouldn’t have meant that they couldn’t draw a bleedin’ boat!

As we flew perilously through the city traffic, it dawned on us that our boat of salvation really could be bloody anywhere. We hit a red light and I jumped out of the van and desperately accosted a family car with the ferry ticket and a please help look plastered to my face! The lovely guy motioned us to pull out of the flow of traffic and he answered our call with the fanciest bookface phone I have ever seen….He switched it through the languages until a french voice asked for our destination…In jumped Dyls with his equine Françoise and suddenly it was there! The ferry port was only seven km’s away!!!

Jump started back into a state of clear thinking, Dyl had turned on his int’l roaming data and we were suddenly away; back into the roaring traffic following a little blue dot that would take us to the ferry… too late we may have been, but at least we would have made it; albeit to wave goodbye with tears as we about-turned to flee the birch branch lashings!

That’s when it all became like a real time movie scene. Dyl had the wheel on a string and we sluiced through rush time St P. We followed that blue dot like hounds after a fox, as we reckoned that we still had ten minutes before the ferry would actually leave port! Being internationally bound we knew we were positively screwed, even if the ferry was still at anchor, but the visual sensation of at least seeing the pelagic harbour was now a physical necessity; and while we had not yet been arrested for our slalom city driving, a glimmer of hope remained.

Five hundred meters from our destination the anxiety began to grow at a rapid pace…It’s not bloodywell here!!! Sure enough we had reached our blue dotted prize but neither ferry, nor ports were in sight!!! We asked a man on a bike who then pointed to what merely looked like a gate entrance to a street. That familiar nauseous wave of depression was floating down upon our heads once more, when suddenly we saw them,,,Walkie talkies and flouro….could this actually be it?!

Dyl bounded to the gate and started engaging the woman keeper with wild flappings and thrustings of our ticket. And then we saw it,,, our names on a piece of paper…This was it! We had made it!!!! So we thought. The sight of our names had given us such a boost, yet there were still passport controls and the right canal to find. We hoped beyond hope that we could still do it but our ferry would surely now have been pulling out of dock!

I had not had such a wild ride in a van, since the preceding minutes! Without cars or roads -or road rules for that matter – to worry about, we fairly careered through the myriad of storage containers and into dead end alleys; sighting smoke stacks and boats but never anything that looked like our ferry! This was the most horrible, ball shrivelling sort of lost I had ever experienced and I could see by the grit of Dyl’s  jaw that he felt the same! When we hit the end of a wharf with only water beyond, the tears nearly started to trickle! After scores of thousands of laboriously spent seconds under the belt, it was almost too much! Dyl pulled a hand-breakey and we were off again….Then we saw it….A Finnlandia ferry somewhere over the pallets. In our frenzied haste, we had missed the RO RO entrance which actually said PO Po….now we had been tucked up by a flipping typo! The ensuing one hundred and eighty second diversion could have been the straw that broke the proverbial back!

…How long has he been in there?! Twenty minutes!!! What the blinkin’ ‘eck!!! I smash out another set and tried to keep my brain from snapping…What was the last thing the ginormous ranga customs cop dressed in camo gear said?! He was joking surely!!!!.. ‘ What in red box?…guns? Machine guns? Bazookas!…ha ha ha’ yes, he definitely chuckled….Did he? Where the hell was Dylbags?!

…He was sitting in the interrogation room explaining the van papers all over again. On top of which, our big friendly, joking camo-guard had suddenly turned stone wall and was pinging Dyl on every aspect of our journey, particularly that of the last eight hours in which we apparently entered Russia with a bogus vehicle only to flee out the same day! Twice, while the three consuls were discussing our case, Dyl made the error of standing up and walking to the adjoining room (where our validity was being razored) to offer pieces of un-delivered info that might have helped our cause….SIT DOWN!!! Was all he got. Somehow his nerve endings remained united and he sweated out the ordeal that would decide our fate, silent and immobile.

The ferry was still there! No cars, but the thing was still joined to the dock…’Surely, we can get on. Let us go u pricks’! I was winding myself up into a right state when suddenly Dyl reappeared FINALLY!! ‘Want the good news or the bad news?’…The good news became apparent when, without another word, he kicked the motor over and drove straight on, into the bowels of the waiting ferry!!! I couldn’t believe it, we were on!!!!’So what the hell is the bad news I screamed, unable to hide my joy and relief… we were on the boat!!!

‘Don’t celebrate yet m8!’ ‘But we’re on the ferry Dyl!’, I couldn’t give a sh”#$t about anything now! Lets go and celebrate your b’day! Yiihaaaa.’ ‘Hold on m8, yes we’re on the ferry but that friggin big cop just interrogated me for half an hour over the dodgy van docs, the fact that we have entered their country for an eight hour stay and now they have confiscated our passports and are checking out my visa links with China, India and Vietnam! That’s why!’ Holy s”#$te!

Was this ordeal never going to end?! I had been on some crazy last minute missions to exit zones before but never one that was so long or intense! As we packed our kit from the van and headed up stairs, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. But Dyl was having none of it! The thinky police were bunkered down in his melon with visions of international espionage and birch whippings whirling around in abandon! After an unforgettable 10 hour mind bollocking, I could understand why! Our nerve endings were like my twenty eight day stubble and I started to get a dose of the thinkies again. The roller coaster of a day just wouldn’t stop!

But our anxieties were short lived; allayed upon first meeting our friendly ship attendant and former Swedish paint ball champion, Hampus! In ten short seconds, he had banished our fears with the admission that he was now in charge of our passports, which would be returned to us upon reaching Deutschland! Apparently we had passed the wits test; and having kept them about us through the gruelling interrogation and passport confiscation, we were deemed harmless and allowed to continue our homeward voyage unfettered!

Without another word, we hit the sauna, food bar and Jacuzzi with a bottle of Prosecco and some huge sighs of release! We toasted the successful ending to a scouting mission that had produced what will inevitably be, one of the greatest epic bicycle adventures ever created; Paris to Moscow – four thousand, four hundred km’s of ooh la la! We could finally celebrate the joys, thrills and spills of creating Napoleon, 2015 and Dyl’s 40th b’day and celebrate we did!

When we emerged from our bubbly salutations, we hit the top deck to view the Baltic and savour our victory over what – for our combined empirical resonances- had seemed to be unassailable odds! Instead of the Baltic expanses, we instead found that our view consisted of the same cranes and pallets and storage containers as the deck from which we had left! Only we hadn’t left! With beer in hand I turned to one of the Russian truck drivers and asked why we still hadn’t left port….’Because this boat run on German time…we three hours behind Russian time man!’

What the !!!!  !”#$%&! 🙂

 

 

 


Standard, Compact or Triple Crank?

As we expand our bike fleet we want to ensure we get the setups right. Our riders vary in experience and our tours vary in difficultly so getting the bikes just right is essential.

The big question which comes up is which crankset and which rear cassette.

So…cranks, ie what your pedals hang off – Standard (double) cranks are 52-39 (ie 52 teeth on the big chainwheel and 39 on the small inner chainwheel), compact cranks which are a more modern take and increasingly popular, are 50-34 and then there are triples 52-39-30 (there are now also semi-compact and all varieties but these will do for now!).

The bigger the number the heavier the gear, the smaller the easier – essential for hills especially somewhere like the Alps on our Hannibal expedition! These are hugely effected by the rear cassette (the sprockets on your back wheel) which can be anything from 11-21 to 11-34 (with a adjusted rear derailleur)

So for our riders what we are trying to do is ensure they have the greatest gear range available, especially when they get to the hills. Now you would assume that a triple will do this, and the truth is if you put the biggest cassette in conjunction with a triple it will. However a standard Specialized Comp Triple, a fantastic bike and the backbone of our fleet, which our riders have ridden and loved due to its range of gears comes with a 11-30 cassette. Therefore its lowest gear is obtained by being on the 30 on the crank and the 30 at the back, a 1 to 1 ratio which makes for a great granny gear, essential for long steep climbs.  A compact crank can actually achieve the same result. The easiest gear for these will be a 34 on the Crank and a 34 on the rear cassette, again 1 to 1 and exactly the same output as the triples easiest gear.

So you may have first been put off by the fact that we aren’t running triples but the truth is you will have exactly the same ‘easy’ gear for those testing days in the hills! You will also have a little less weight and smoother performance. This also increases the compatibility of our bikes as compacts are much more common than triples ensuring easier maintenance and repairs.

This is a table showing the ‘output’ required for each gear combination. You’ll note the 30-30 and the 34-34 are the same. Therefore easiest triple chainring equals easiest compact with a nice big rear cassette!


The Vietnam Tour Lowdown

The Vietnam Tour Lowdown

Meeting arrangements

The official meeting time for the tour is 6pm on Saturday March 15th in the lobby of the Hanoi Imperial hotel where we will spend the night before heading up into the mountains the following morning.

If you plan to arrive earlier we recommend, for the sake of convenience, that you book into this hotel – http://www.hanoiimperialhotel.com . We will inform the hotel that you are with the tour group if you book extra nights and they should then be able to coordinate the rooming allocations. Please note though that you should book a deluxe room category if they want to remain in the same room when the tour starts. There are presently some good deals to be found on the Agoda website.

If you are not able to get there before 6pm it isn’t a problem so long as you are ready to go the following morning. We plan to leave the hotel by 7am the following day. Simply let us know what time you are likely to arrive and we’ll organise things accordingly.

Our local partner in Vietnam is Grasshopper so in the event the hotel doesn’t know who Ride and Seek is they are probably working off a booking for Grasshopper.

Getting to the first hotel from the airport

If you wish to use our contacts to organise a transfer to the first hotel you need to have done this by March 12th. Cost of the transfer is $45 (one way) which should be paid directly to the driver. Payment in cash either in USD or VND (exchanged rate US$1. = VND21,000,000.) To book a transfer email Hoia at [email protected]ventures.com.

If you prefer to do it independently Vinasun and Malinh are two companies that are considered reputable and can be found easily in the airport. The following blog provides a bit of an overview – http://www.vietnamonline.com/transport/taxi.html – on the taxi situation in Hanoi.

Passports

We are required to show everyones passports at every hotel. From experience the best way to do this is for us to collect in the passports at the start of the tour and keep hold of them until the end. This isn’t obligatory but it is generally the simplest way to manage things.

Getting money out

We usually wait until we get in country to get local currency from ATM’s that can be located in the airport and across the city. Bear in mind though that most have a limit of the equivalent of $100/$200 per transaction so you might need to make a couple of seperate withdrawals.

Guide tips

Just a reminder that whilst your Australian guides are not expecting tips – a beer should suffice! – it is customary to tip the local guides. The suggested tip is $40 from each participant for the support team as a whole so please take this into account when you withdraw money. Hand this in to Matt or Dylan at the end of the tour and we’ll make sure it gets divided up correctly.

Guide team

Matt and Dylan obviously!

The local allstars!

Lead local guide – Thang. Translates. Requests things for you. Plans the logistics. Orders the other staff around. Travels on the back of a motorbike ahead of the group, so he can point out any major hazards. Orders meals, deals with authorities, manages the money, sweet talks the hoteliers and restaurateurs.

Lead rider – Mr Neth (Chanmakara Hong). Rides like the wind.  If he has any remaining energy, he’ll help Ratha with the bikes. Neth is Cambodian and has represented his country. He’s a nice fella and can ride well.

Mechanic – Ratha. Doesn’t ride. Cleans bikes, fixes bikes.

Cook – Thiem.  Ensures that there is a good variety of vegetables and meats provided by working with the local restaurants who in many cases, have limited capacity. Probably doesn’t sleep enough, drinks like a fish and has a temper. Just like cooks everywhere.

Massage therapists. Two gents who are masters of their profession. They’ll obviously do the bulk of their work in the afternoons and evenings.

Drivers. They drive. Probably smoke and talk on the phone too much, but never when driving. If they do, please feel free to admonish them and dob them into Thang. No, in all seriousness, they love this and they’ll usually do their bit by helping to fill water bottles and joke around with the riders.

Hotel list

1. Hanoi | Hanoi Imperial Hotel | +84 4 3933 5555.

2. Tam Son | Hotel 567 | +84 21 9384 6129.

3. Meo Vac | Hoa Cuong Hotel | +84 21 9387 1888.

4. Bac Me | Huy Duong Hotel | +84 914 420 594.

5. Nghia Lo | Nghia Lo Hotel | +84 29 387 0106.

6. Than Uyen | Hoan Quan Hotel | +84 231 378 4163.

7. Sapa | Victoria Sapa Hotel | +84 20 387 1522.

General Tips

Don’t drink tap water. Always bottled water. Water we provide is OK.  In Ha Giang, don’t drink water in jugs on tables. Actually, it’s fine for the majority of cases, but it’s often just filtered, so it depends on the filter condition.

Ice. Only take it if it has a hole in the middle. This is drinking ice. In Ha Giang, you won’t encounter much drinking ice.

Soap and towels – All hotels will provide these but in Ha Giang there are few frills. Might be worth bringing your own towel and washing products.

Always wash hands. Be obsessive about it. We have never had a case of food poisoning, but there are always cases of viral gastro. We theorise that this is more to do with personal hygiene and the fact that bodies are under significant physical strain from the riding and general conditions.

If anyone is on antimalarials, they’ll probably be very sensitive to the sun, so they need to apply sunscreen more often.

Be careful with cash. A few of the dong notes are very similar in color and with all the zeros, they can be easily mixed up by foreigners. Notably 10,000 looks like 100,000 and 20,000 looks like 500,000. Be very clear on what you are handing to someone and count your change. It’s not such an issue in the provinces, but in Hanoi and Sapa, you need to be on your toes.

Don’t take mini cabs around Hanoi, stick with the Vinasun or Malinh cabs. The others tamper with meters and try all sorts of tricks.

It’s fair to bargain on anything you buy, unless it has the price marked. The Vietnamese love a bargain. Don’t think of it as a ripoff. It’s just a game and one they’ll play hard. Smile, laugh, joke and cut the price by 50%. If you end up at 75% of the original asking price, in most cases, you are doing well. If you do happen to be eating independently, ask for the price on food before you eat. In Hanoi only really.

Toilets – Along the ride route, there won’t be many toilets, so it’s just a matter of finding a large clump of bamboo. Good idea for ladies to take a sarong or something for this and good for everyone to take tissue with them. In many restaurants and roadside stops, the toilets if they do exist, don’t have tissue. In all cases, do not flush toilet tissue. There is a little bin next to the toilet where you put the tissue. 

In all cases, you will get further in negotiation or service requests by asking with a smile and not raising your voice. Even if the response is poor, maintain the smile and the calm voice and just push push push. If you get angry or pushy, the shutters go up and you have no hope of getting what you want.

There are a bunch of cultural taboos but many of these are forgiven by locals as they know foreigners are from someplace… foreign. Just try not to move things or point with your feet. Don’t point. Don’t pat anyone on the head and be ultra respectful of older people and you’ll get along well with all the locals.

When riding, bear in mind that everyone uses their horn. There is no aggression in this. It’s considered the most basic element of safe driving. It’s to warn people that you are coming. So a truck will come up behind you and give a toot, that just means I’m here, don’t move out. If there is repeated and urgent tooting, it means I’m coming, I don’t have enough space, you should get off the road!

Motorbikes are used to merging through each others paths, so they will tend to do the same with you. Riders need to be prepared for motorcyclists, sidling up to the pack and then trying to cut through the middle of it to get to the curb. They don’t mean to be rude, it’s just their way of driving. The riders need to be aware of this and it’s therefore not good practice to ride as a pack through towns. Leave about 3 meters between each rider or each pair of riders.

Trucks and all other vehicles like to cut corners, so never approach a bend or corner assuming that you have a clear run. Always ensure you have an exit point and for this reason, don’t ride two abreast into blind bends and corners.

Locals will sometimes come up alongside riders for a bit of a chat. It’s likely also that some young lads might side up to the ladies if they are in lycra for a bit of a perve. It’s worth keeping an eye on this and for one of the guys to be not too far off most of the time.

Route amendments

As is always the case with running a tour in remote Vietnam we are always at the mercy of the authorities with regards road repairs. Fortunately the monsoon season this year was relatively kind but there are still some significant road works on the route. Most of these we can can get around but on Day 5 there is a stretch which is basically unpassable. On this day we will have a shuttle in the morning before riding.

Visa information

Details about how to attain a visa in Australia via the consulate can be found here – http://www.vietnamembassy.org.au/Consular.htm.

Guest Survey

Before the tour starts we need some information off you in order to cover our insurance obligations as well as ensuring that we have the correct personal data for you. If you haven’t done so already could you fill out the following form – https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FT27ZNS

Weather

March is amongst the best months to travel in Vietnam; conditions are at their very best with dry, bright weather expected the along the entire length of the country. In the north where we are cycling you can expect plenty of sunshine and clear blue skies, and whilst temperatures start to rise it remains cool with little if any rainfall (avg temp: 19 °C).

At night temperatures will go down to around 15 degrees so pack accordingly and during the day we expect a few hot days. Since we are in the mountains though it is always best to come prepared and wind-breakers and arm/leg warmers are good insurance.

What to bring?

This is a section that we could spend an age on but I think that packing is such a subjective thing that it really isn’t worth it. What I will say is that the nature of the tour is such that you will want plenty of bike gear as it won’t be easy to get stuff washed and dried along the way. You’ll find a way to wash your kit but with changing hotels every day it is important that you bring a few spares – there’s nothing worse than soggy knicks!

In terms of evening wear there is nowhere that we go that has a dress code and casual wear is the order of the day. Warm weather clothing is an important consideration. As mentioned in the weather section March is not usually a month when temperatures drop below 15 degrees but even so it is a good idea to bring a wind-breaker and arm/leg warmers just in case.

With your bags your main luggage will be in the back of the van and not always readily available. Whilst it is possible to access these bags during the day we recommend that you also have a day pack that you can keep at the front of the van.

Ride and Seek kit

We have a limited supply of the Ride and Seek jerseys for you to buy for the not too princely sum of AU$80. The photo on the right is our 2014 tour jersey – let us know if you’d be interested and will dig around for your size. Another option is to get kit through our newest sponsor – Danny Shane. We are delighted to be associated with these guys and they are willing to extend a 10% discount to all of our guests. Check out their website to view their range – http://dannyshane.com. The image on the left is of one of guests wearing their kit on a recent tour in Europe.

 Training preparation

The grading for this tour makes it clear that this tour is a challenging endeavour and we hope that your training to date reflects this. That said we are also aware that not everyone has the luxury of being able to dedicate themselves to training for a bike tour and a few of you might be a little undercooked.

The important thing to remember though is that you still have time to get yourself well prepared for the tour ahead. Probably the most important thing is simply preparing your body for sitting on a bike for multiple hours and then doing it again the day after. It is important to get that saddle time in so that when you’re on the tour you don’t spend the first few days trying to avoid sitting down!

Also go looking for hills. We don’t want to scare you with the elevation profiles on this tour but this it will be hilly! Whilst it is unlikely that you will have anything that compares to longer climbs we’ll encounter in your backyard you can still get yourself prepared by doing hill repetitions. Whilst it is pretty tedious doing reps up the toughest hill in your neighbourhood this sort of training will really build up your power.

At the same time go a little easy. You don’t want to arrive on tour already overcooked so remember to taper off a little towards the start of the tour. It is important to arrive fresh with your energy levels conserved. Don’t think you can fit in all of your training the weekend before!

Note that when you are actually on the tour you will have access to the van which among other things acts as a sag wagon if you want to take a break. There is absolutely no shame in taking advantage of this and we’d prefer it if you did rather than smashing yourself on one day and being out of action for the next two. You’ll know what condition you’re in so don’t be shy in signalling that you want a lift.

In essence though the more prepared you are physically for this tour the more you will enjoy it. There is still plenty of time to get your fitness levels up before the tour start.

Of course if you’d like to put together a more scientific approach to your training remember that Matt is a cycle coach and would be happy to help – [email protected]

The Vietnam Adventure

We are really excited to be exploring the region of Ha Giang on road bikes. A lot of research has gone into making this happen and in collaboration with our partners we believe that we will be running the first road bike tour to this beguiling region.

As such though it is important to recognise that we really are off the beaten track and as such salubriousness will not be the order of the day. Aside from the start and end of the tour the accommodation will be basic – all be it with private facilities, the food simple fare and the road surfaces inconsistent at times.

The scouting trip has been completed and we were relieved to find that the harsh monsoon season has not wreaked the havoc we feared it might have. A couple of the roads have been adversely affected by heavy truck movements and there is some road works that we’ll have to get around. The result will be a couple of changes to the original itinerary but nothing too dramatic.

We look forward to running an awesome tour but please come prepared with an open mind to the adventures that await!

Bikes – General

Bike Build

Please don’t unpack your bike on arrival as it will be taken off you on Saturday evening and shuttled up to the start point. The mechanics will then build them up and they will be ready to ride when we get to the start point of the ride on Sunday afternoon. On arrival at the first hotel you will be issued with luggage tags for your bikes. Give the tags for your bike to Thang at the Saturday intro meeting and he will arrange for them to be loaded on to the shuttle that evening.

Transportation

The onus is on you to get your bike to the start point of the tour. Whether you choose to pack your bike in a hard or soft case is your prerogative – either way we will transport the case until the end of the tour and can assist in unpacking and packing your bike.

If you require a shuttle from the airport to the first hotel let us know and we’ll put you in contact with our local partner (note that there is an additional cost of US$45 for this).

Spares

Our mechanic will have all the necessary tools but we suggest that you bring your own spares along too – inner tubes, pump etc

Tyre choice

The road quality in Vietnam can vary a lot and there is also the added complication of impromptu road repairs to deal with. Our advice is to fit at least 25mm tyres to your bike and if you have sufficient clearance you could also consider the 28mm option.

We also recommend that you choose a tyre that has a reputation for being hardy against punctures.

Gear ratios

There will be hills! A 53/39 is workable on the front but in terms of back cassette we’d recommend that you make life easier for yourself with something like a 11/28. Other options would be to fit a compact chain set or if you really wanted to make life easier and love the idea of a granny gear a triple is always an option.

The Roads

These are a series of shots that were taken during the recent scouting trip. Closer to Sapa we will come across some lovely smooth bitumen but by and large the road surface is all a bit average – hence our suggestion that you bring wider profile tyres that are not prone to flats.

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And here is the really ugly and the bad on the ride. The image on the left is where we will take the shuttle on day 5 as they have dug up a large part of the road.  In Vietnam when they decide to do road works they don’t seem to do it in small stretches but rather dig up the whole road and then start the repairs. The image on the right on the other hand is the sort of surface we will find in patches. Not a  problem to ride over but at the same time not overly pleasant. On our Vietnam odyssey we encourage you to expect the unexpected. Our lead guide will be on a motorbike though to hopefully manage those expectations on our behalf.

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Food

The hotels at the start and end of the tour are the most sophisticated and will have a reasonable range of options. However, once we are in the region of Ha Giang the cuisine will become more ‘local’ with fewer frills. We will bring some supplies up from Hanoi to provide a bit more variety but as we really are off the beaten track the banana pancakes of more frequented parts of South East Asia will be conspicuous by their absence!

Accommodation summary

On this tour we start and end in 4 star hotels with all the usual amenities. Once on tour though we are fairly isolated and will stay in simple guest houses that with the exception of one all have private bathrooms. Below is a collage of some of the guest houses in Ha Giang.

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General hygiene

For food, if you like to eat out of stainless and shiny white kitchens, you should probably not look at where your dinner is being produced. I would say though, that we’ve never had a case of food poisoning on a tour anywhere and the same goes for our partners who have run countless tours in Vietnam. The most common issue is viral gastro, which can be picked up from so many environmental sources. We eat in local restaurants with high turnover of ingredients and not much reliance on refrigeration.

Gels & Hydrolytes

We will provide snacks on the road in the form of fruit and refreshments. However, if you would like to use gels and hydrolytes during the tour it is up to you to bring your own supplies.

Massages

The massage option clearly appealed and pretty much all of you have paid the supplement which will entitle you to a 45 minute massage each evening that will no doubt be greatly welcomed. If you haven’t taken up this option and would like to do so let us know ASAP.

Internet

Internet is available in Hanoi and Sapa and is reliable in both places. Ha Giang and Meo Vac, not so reliable.  3G SIM cards are prepaid and can be bought from various phone shops around the place. Vietnam has more phone shops than any other kind of business.  There are also dongles/USB modems available that you can slot SIM cards into. SIMs cost maybe $10, modems cost about $50.

Insurance

This is obviously an important one and is why we asked for your insurance details in the guest survey. Could we also ask that you provide next of kin details and the emergency contact number that your insurance company provides in the event of the need for an evacuation.

As is standard with bike tours we will get you to sign a risk waiver before the tour starts. A few people believe that these waivers are not worth the paper are written on but they are an important acknowledgement of the risks that are involved with going on bike tour. It is fundamental to us that we run a safe tour, but it is also important that all participants are aware of what is involved and have sufficient insurance cover in place.

What’s not included?

Bike hire, flights, visa fees, tips for Vietnamese support team (we suggest $40 from each participant), drinks other than water at meals, insurance, single supplement (price based on dual occupancy).

Facebook

A few of you are already ‘friends’ with us on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/RideandSeek – and if you use it we recommend that the rest of you join us too. It’s a great medium to post photos and news both in the lead up to and during the tour when we post almost daily. It is also a great way to engage friends and family.