Exploring the Tasman Peninsula on two wheels

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take my bike down onto the Tasman Peninsula for a ride along the coast and into the hills. It was one of those rare and perfect early winter evenings. Still mild enough to have the legs out, not a drop of wind and hardly a car to contend with.

It’s not often enough I get out on the road these days and this ride certainly reminded me of what I am missing out on!

During the summer  the roads down on the Peninsula are jammed full of tourist rental cars and badly driven camper vans, but outside of peak season you can almost have the place to yourself. It really is a little slice of island paradise. If it weren’t for the fading light I could have ridden for hours, but in the end I rolled back to the house with a shade over 51km on the Garmin, three Cat 4 Climbs, 28kph average, two Strava KOMS and one absolutely stunning sunset to finish off the ride. Some days life is just ohhh so sweet and it makes you thankful to be alive. #keepthosepedalsturning

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Cycling Vietnam: Same same, but different!

Same same, but different. It’s a saying the Vietnamese use to describe the way they do things, how they live, what they’re selling, almost anything. It boils down to how their way of life is essentially the same as Westerners, but actually very, very different!

Same same, but different: The Vietnamese way VS the Western way.

Such is my experience of cycling in Vietnam. I had booked the wife and I into a new hotel on the beach in Hoi An that boasted free bikes for guest use. So in essence a main course of romantic getaway with a cheeky side of cycling. On arrival and seeing the fleet I knew this was going to be a challenge. I may have been riding a bike, but it was going to be very different to what I was used to!

A quick photo opportunity and break from the heat by the river.

No carbon, drop bars or fancy electric derailleurs here, just a solid 30kg of steel single speed utility bike. Same same, but different! But hey, all miles are good miles, right?

If you’ve ever been to Vietnam you’ll know that it’s hot. I mean already 30 degrees Celsius by 8am hot. Most mornings I’d be out the hotel door before 6am for a pre-breakfast ride in order to beat the heat. Our hotel “bike boy” who’s job it was to note down your room number and pump up the tyres was usually still fast asleep next to the bikes, so I’d quietly wheel one down the ramp and slip away onto the crazy Vietnamese streets for a blast. I’d get an hour’s ride along the beach road or looping through the Ancient City, racing school kids on eBikes and dodging scooter traffic before returning drenched in sweat and re-racking the bike to the surprised expression of all the staff. What a way to build an appetite for a hearty Vietnamese breakfast!

Along with these morning solo jaunts I also did quite a few hours of extra wheel time with the wife sat on the rear rack. I covered many more miles exploring the ancient town and local roads, wife perched happily behind me. Most people at the hotel took the free shuttle bus  but I preferred to pedal everywhere. 

Mid-ride coffee stop. Drip filtered onto condensed milk!

The hotel staff were amazed that we only ever took one bike between us. I am more confident negotiating the sometimes crazy and seemingly rule-devoid Vietnamese traffic. Hauling an extra 50kg up any slight incline may have been hard work (read: good training) but using  the one bike as opposed to April on her own bike is actually faster and also made a few women we passed on the way a little envious.

Even when pedalling into town with April on the back, if I saw another bicycle up the road I’d instinctively give chase. I guess I just can’t shake my roadie attitude! Once I was cheekily drafting a scooter loaded with an entire family. The mother got a little annoyed and waved me off, so I promptly dug deep and overtook them. I can’t help it!

At the local cycling cafe for more ride fuel (same same, but different!)

On one of my early morning rides I decided to throw in a cheeky Vietnamese 10 mile time trial. After a short warm-up I stomped on the pedals. Forearms resting on the bars, hands gripping basket for extra aero points I panted away in the 35+ degree morning heat. I chased down kids riding to school on their eBikes and the occasional scooter. A couple of locals on a moped pulled up alongside me and cheered, yelling “faster, faster!” in their best broken English. I obliged by putting the hammer down, legs spinning madly on the single speed. “35k!” He shouted, then “40k!” Bring it!

Judging what I thought was half way I pulled a u-turn and accelerated that Titanic hunk of iron back up to speed. Back past the hotel and a little extra for good measure. Checking the stats afterwards I’d managed the 10-mile section at a 17.5mph average speed. Fairly respectable on the rusty shopper!

By day three I was getting sick of the poorly maintained fleet. From what I could garner from various staff, the bikes were sourced second hand from China. Add to that the hotel bike maintenance boys’ skills were limited to barely pumping up a tyre and it was safe to say that many of the bikes had seen much better days – some were actually unsafe with bolts missing, brakes not working, child seats hanging off!

Made this one my own personal bike, the “best” of the bunch.

Rusted chains, bent metal, under-inflated tyres, missing bolts, you name it. So with some borrowed tools I fettled away for a couple of hours until I was happy. The job was made much more enjoyable as I was surrounded by beautiful young Vietnamese women (hotel staff) totally enamoured by my pro-level handyman skills! Those pretty young girls kept telling April how lucky she was! And yes, I am still milking that one!

Who is this crazy hotel guest holding a wrench rather than a cocktail?

A few adjustments to stop cranks rubbing on chain guards, 50psi in the tyres, scrape the dry rust off the chain and lube up with motor oil, whatever I could manage with limited resources. I worked my way through around eight of their bikes, after my magic touch they were like a different fleet! Team Sky would have been proud. Sure they were still tanks, but at least they were safe, silent and slightly more efficient tanks. Marginal gains shopper bike style!

By the end of the trip I’d racked up a decent amount of cycling time, seen the sights, spent quality time with the wife, taught the “bike boys” some proper maintenance skills and made great friends with the lovely hotel staff. It may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect relaxing or romantic holiday – or perfect cycling holiday – but I loved my time in Hoi An and will treasure the time I spent there.

Same same, but different!

Tandem Travels!

In almost a polar opposite to my recent power training post, I also absolutely love riding tandem bikes. It’s simply what cycling is all about once you strip away the fast ride politics, the endless number crunching, the Strava files and training plans. Being on a tandem is about getting out there and having fun just enjoying the journey together.

10003662_737741379590434_191494495161767985_oTotally pro…

My wife isn’t a sporting cyclist so riding a tandem allows us to cover much, much more ground than if we were on a bike each. Probably five times as much at least. All with a smile on her face and as you know – happy wife happy life!

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The photo above was taken during a laid back ride through the vineyards and lakes of Hungary a couple of years back. Such a beautiful country. There’s nothing quite like exploring pastures new by bicycle. Plus she can take scenic photos, read maps or guidebooks, pass up glasses of wine, etc. All from the back seat! #winning 

Sometimes though the tandems on offer at the local cycle hire shop are not exactly high tech machines! This particular one below we hired in Slovenia. I had visions of it busting in half with any out-of-the saddle climbs! It did the job though and got us to Croatia and back – even though it was close to 40 degrees C that day. As you can see from the photo I am resting in the shade after some hard graft on one rickety looking contraption…

A hot day for a tandem ride on one strange looking machine.

Sometimes us tandem cyclists even travel in packs! One of my favourite tandem rides was the inaugural Woking CC Tandem Club Ride, where six of us tandem enthusiasts took to the quieter roads of Surrey and Berkshire in search of the finest tea and scones on the county. It was a fantastic day out on two wheels. Needless to say if I had a little more storage space (and Tassie wasn’t so lumpy) I’d buy a tandem tomorrow!

1781515_737741079590464_6114498468907289941_oWoking CC Tandem Club Ride – Outside the cafe stop in Windsor Great Park.

Aussie Christmas!

Just a quickie to wish  you all a wonderfully relaxing Christmas! :-) Extra kudos to anyone who is taking on the annual Rapha Festive 500 challenge. I am sitting that one out this year, instead I’ll be kicking back with old friends. I can tell you one thing though, the weather this Christmas is a fair whack different to last year! This is my first summer Christmas in over 10 years.

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Bike packing like a boss

So you’ve got a fancy road bike, you’ve racked up some training miles and now you want to go explore pastures new. Maybe even tick off a few epic Cols. Well unless you’re hiring out there, you’re going to need to pack your bike!

img_2732In my opinion there’s no substitute for a proper hard case bike box. Sure soft bags are lighter and usually slightly smaller, but if you want the best peace of mind for your (probably quite expensive) road bike then it’s GOT to be a hard case box. Nobody wants to arrive at their destination to find a snapped derailleur or worse, a crushed carbon fibre frame!

My favourite is the Bike Box Alan. It’s got plenty of padding, Velcro straps to hold everything in place, anti-crush pole plus loads of extra space for all your other gear such as helmet, clothes or nutrition. While not the cheapest and at a shade under 11kg not the lightest, in every other way the Bike Box Alan really is a cracker. Mine has protected my bike when flying across the globe and also when moving house.

img_2734Foam protective layer sits between frame and wheels. Note the anti-crush pole.

Yes, I bought a bright pink one! ;-) It’s taken some hard knocks along the way and there’s plenty of scratches to the outer case, but everything inside has always arrived in perfect order exactly how I packed it. You can’t ask more than that.

Exploring the Tassie tarmac

IMG_1627I’ve been cycling around my little area of Tasmania for a couple of weeks now and really enjoying it. It makes a change from the well trodden UK commute or my usual weekend loops.

The roads are much quieter here than in Surrey or Berkshire. I guess when the entire island has around half the population of Surrey it’s going to be quieter. The blacktop is in much better condition that I was expecting too. The lower traffic count helps as well as the lack of freezing winter damage that many pothole-strewn UK roads suffer from. In fact pothole avoidance has now been replaced by roadkill avoidance!

image1The KOMs come easier with a bit of motorised doping..

There’s some great climbs around here too. I’ve got a couple of good training ascents close by that I’m using to improve my climbing, something I need after being an average speed junkie for so long. I’ve taken average speed off my Garmin screen to get it out of my head and focus on enjoying the hills for a change.

There is of course the 10 mile long HC climb of Mount Wellington on the Hobart side of the bridge, but as there was snow on the top last week I may have to wait until after winter to attack that one.

wellington

I’m yet to find a weekend group ride in the local area, but I have a couple of leads on one that leaves from a point not far from here. I am also missing all those wonderful little cycling cafes dotted around the Surrey Hills back in England.

For all my Northern Hemisphere people out there, I hope you’re enjoying the start of your summer! #keepcycling

image2 (2)Quality post-ride recovery overlooking the bay!