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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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Get ‘Swytchin’

Convert your own beloved bike with a new ‘Swytch’ conversion kit.  Swytch have designed this from scratch and have miniaturized the front hub motor – its about half the size and weight of a regular electric motor hub.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when you remove the battery pack from the handlebars,your bike is ‘Swytched’ back to riding and feeling like your regular bike!

The kit includes a front wheel and handlebar battery pack with the controls in. It even has a light! This normally costs £550, but I can match the pre-order price Swytch has them for which is £350, and best of all I have them in stock! (You have to wait a number of weeks if you order from Swytch)

3 Swytch bikes to test ride of hire for the day

Easy to remove battery and control pack with light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ex display Elite Turbo Trainers

I have 3 Ex-display Elite turbo tainers for sale in the shop.  They have been assembled and used in the shop very infrequently for people to try out, so they are essentially as new apart from light scuffs on their supporting legs. Pictures of the trainers below

Elite Direto –  Smart trainer – Now 550:00

Elite Qubo digital Smart B+ – Now 250:00

Elite Volano Smart B+ – Now 285:00

 

Elite Direto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elite Qubo (cente) and Elite Volano (foreground)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ex-hire Ebikes

There are 2 superb ex-hire Ebikes for sale, their main plus points are excellent motors and they fit a wide range of heights.

The first bike, pictured below, is a Bristol Bikes S’Park, in a medium large size. Its Unisex so suits both men and women. With disc brakes it stops quickly, and the brake pads last an age compared to rim brakes, plus your not going to wear your wheel rims out braking – really important on a heavy Ebike!

Its on sale for 1150:00. Its been used for 6 weeks and has less than 100 miles on the clock.

The S’Park got an amazing review from Ebiketips – read it here

The second bike, pictured below, is an Adventure road sport ladies Ebike. Its a really lovely bike in an eye catching blue colour. Its biggest plus point is it has a Shimano Steps Ebike motor system, one of the 2 market leading systems (the other is Bosch).  Its range is also a big plus, 60 miles on one charge (hills, wind and weight dependent of course!)

Its on sale for 1550, the RRP is 2250 so its a bargain, and its done less than 250 miles.  Its a medium but again like the first bike fits a wide range of riders, from short to tall.

Here is a link to the Adventure website with a bit more information about the bike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ex hire bike sale

Its the time of year again as the summer is not far off ending that our ex hire hybrids are for sale.  They are 2018 Ridgeback Speed bikes, fully serviced and ready to go to new homes.

Please call by to try there are a range of sizes.

They are 399.99 new and they are on sale for 299.99, NOW REDUCED TO 250:00 AS AUTUMN APPROACHES with a free 6 week service and a 1 month guarantee against any part failure, with free labour to repair should a part break.

Check the detailed specification of the bike HERE

 

 

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Continental tyre / tube offer

A crazy August offer,  great quality Continental tyres fitted for free, with a free new inner tube installed at the same time!  The tyres are superb quality the top of the range Contact Plus @34.95 for hybrids / touring bikes / cyclocross commuters, or the Grand Prix GT folding tyre @34.95  for ultimate bombproof riding with grippy Black Chilli  rubber in a light and fast tyre.