Hanmer Springs New Zealand – a place of rest, relaxation and recovery for over 150 years

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After the hustle and bustle of Sydney we set off for the South Island of New Zealand for a complete change of pace. Before heading to my wife’s home town in the far south of the country we decided to … Continue reading

The Blue Mountains of New South Wales – beautiful Australian landscapes

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This gallery contains 9 photos.

As we almost reached the end of the Australian leg of our journey we spent two days in the wonderful Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Running right down the Eastern coast of the Australian continent is a range of … Continue reading

Sydney’s Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park – the backdrop to three outstanding bike rides

Bike at West Head Lookout Sydney Welcome to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park

As soon as we arrived at my in-laws house in the northern suburbs of Sydney I was looking at the map working out where to get in a ride or two, especially as I had a very nice road bike on loan. My expectation was encouraged by knowing that the landscape is really interesting and the amazing weather forecast was promising around twenty degrees and mostly dry weather every day. You cannot do better than that for a winter holiday and I certainly wanted to get some kilometres in because the weather prospects for New Zealand were much less promising.

The map was extremely enticing. To the north of my start point in Beecroft is the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park and it had some brilliant looking roads running up to the coastal inlets that define this area. However I was less clear about the actual topography or the road quality and to get there it seemed I had some busy highways to navigate so I was a little hesitant before my first attempt.

I can report now that over a week I found three outstanding rides which offered the low traffic volumes, spectacular views and exciting riding that I was looking for. The numerous cyclists I saw on each route confirmed that I must have dropped on to some real local favourites.

Hills on the West Head Road Sydney

My health warning is that while the scenic roads were brilliant the access was much less so. I was exposed to more high speed traffic and unpleasant riding conditions than I am happy with. This may explain why many locals seemed likely to have driven out to the National Park before riding. It was also my first exposures to the fact that any  in suburban Sydney are a very distinctive group with a completely different perspective on what constitutes a good bike ride to anywhere else I have been. However that will be a later post, for now let’s concentrate on the positive.

Bobbin Head reserve Sydney Bike ride

My first ride was about an hour and a half through a feature on the map called the Galston Gap. The attraction on the map was an area of green adjoining the National Park called the Berowa Valley Regional Park with a very wiggly road running across it which could only be hairpin bends – oh yes please!  The ride up to Hornsby was a bit of an induction, it involved a very nervy crossing of the multi-lane Pennant Hills Road and then a road that can only be called a roller coaster, there wasn’t a flat bit on it. I was puffing like a steam train by the time I even thought about the Galston Road.

However I was then rewarded by a 4 km descent and a 3km climb on quieter roads through a wooded valley which cheered me enormously.

The next ride was my longest and by far the most spectacular. I was quite sure that I wanted to ride the road right through the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park out to the great looking headland at West Head but I decided to Google a bit to see if a dead end road like that would be worth it. I was very pleasantly surprised when almost top of the Google ranking was a very positive 2010 description of the ride on the excellent “Richard Tulloch’s Life on the Road” blog which I follow.

West Head Road

Richard and his son went by car but I was determined to make a half day ride of it so I wanted to ride out. My sister-in-law assured me that the long link via the Mona Vale Road was a popular cyclists’ route because “there are always cyclists on it” so I decided that it was all quite possible.

I can say now that I am incredibly pleased that I made the effort, the West Head Road is a spectacular triumph of a cycling road on a quiet sunny week day in winter. I saw perhaps a dozen cars, far more cyclists, the road surface was spectacularly smooth and rolled up down and around the contours for about 20km in each direction.As I approached its north end and the head itself the peninsula narrowed offering great views over the sea inlets on either side and then ended in the West Head lookout itself.

West Head Lookout bike ride

I enjoyed a very pleasant twenty minutes or so just taking in the views and taking pictures before I retraced my steps. This really is an amazing route, not to be ignored just because it is a dead end. It is one of the highlights of my Sydney trip.

Mona Vale Road cycle path SydneyI could say I am really pleased about the other 45km of the ride through the suburbs. I am pleased for my fitness and because I was out on the bike. However in all honesty it was really hard riding on many of those roads because the hills are ferocious and the traffic is really busy. There’s no escape from the noise and the fumes anywhere. Mona Vale Road may suit Sydney’s head case cyclists, but it isn’t for me if I could avoid it. I kept hoping that I would discover the secret back roads that the local riders use for scenic cycle touring but in that part of the city the back roads don’t seem connect because of the steep sided valleys so bikes are using the same corridors as the cars and freight.

That explains why my final offering for the “three great rides” was a car assist, after a lunch at the beach I got dropped off to complete the third leg of my valleys’ triple. This time it was back into Ku-Ring-Gai Chase for the Bobbin Head ride. I started at St. Ives and had a fantastic long descent of about 3km down to the sea at Bobbin Head, right at the heart of the national park. This secluded inlet is only home to an exclusive set of moorings on the water and a visitor area on shore, otherwise it is a silent green haven with steep sided valleys cutting it off like walls on all sides. It was almost deserted apart from a few fishermen and occasional passing cyclists.

Bobbin Head bike ride Sydney

This ride is apparently popular for local clubs because it isn’t just a dead end, it climbs up to Hornsby on a similar long shallow climb which conveniently has been spray painted with 500 metre intervals all the way up.  (3km I can report).

Bobbin Head Road Sydney

Again I just thrashed the final 25 minutes from Hornsby and rode the final kilometre into Beecroft on the pavement to avoid the trucks but it wasn’t enough to diminish the pleasure of the overall ride.

Conclusions?

There is probably a way of combining these rides into a spectacular set of touring and training routes that would be one of the most outstanding cycle routes you could imagine anywhere. (I have put them all together in this Google Map) Unfortunately from my perspective the horrible access roads currently make them rather exclusive to serious cyclists who feel comfortable on busy roads or those who drive out to the national park.

three great rides in Sydney

As a set of shorter rides each can be exceptional, especially the West Head ride which is a superb ride by any definition. Possibly the ferries that link some of the beaches could be the “missing link”, as could access by mountain bike which opens up a lot of tracks and trails, I didn’t quite work that out in the time I had. If I lived there maybe I would work it out.

However that doesn’t stop me saying that I am really glad I did these three rides, the chance to ride in the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park was a cycling high spot on this holiday.

West Head view point

Melbourne provides all the ingredients for a great bike ride – good company, great route, brilliant weather.

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This gallery contains 18 photos.

One thing was absent for seven days during my recent trip to in Melbourne. Cycling. Catching up with family and friends is always special. We explored some lovely settings. We consumed large quantities of excellent food and drink. But my … Continue reading

Flat tyre frustration cannot diminish the beauty of Gippsland

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This gallery contains 7 photos.

Another of my short gallery posts from Australia, this time leaving Melbourne to visit Fish Creek, two hours south-east from central Melbourne in the farming region of South Gippsland. This could so easily have been a cycling post. Having arrived … Continue reading

Wet, steamy, green, welcoming. It must be the 2014 Taipei cycling experience

Photo Kevin Mayne

I managed to get out for three decent bike rides on this year’s visit to Taipei, however it was a very different experience to last year. The defining factor this year was water. The downpours which hit us on almost every day could certainly have killed off my enthusiasm, but instead provided a backdrop to this year’s explorations. In the previous two years I didn’t get up into the forested hills that sweep down into the city on all sides and are the product of all that rain. They go up over 1000 metres from sea level within the city boundaries and apparently cover almost half the land area which must make it one of the hilliest and greenest capital cities in the world.

Through this year’s rides I became more aware of how this landscape links with the city and how much the residents value green space and plants which burst into life in the warmth and humidity of the island. And my very final stop on the trip was the steamiest of all – the hot springs district of Beitou which deserves not only a comment as a ride destination but will get a small post of its own to follow this one.

tern social 2014

Not all things are publishable however. Our friends from Tern Bicycles put on their Thursday social ride again this year. It was social. It was a ride. As ever their bikes are comfortable and smart with some nice features. But it hammered down with rain. I have a lot of photos that look rather too much like this, and very few that look like the one below,

Tern social Taipei

Their Facebook page has a much better selection, but you get the story. But good company and a bike ride are always highlights in the Idonotdespair world, so I enjoyed it and as ever the clothes dried out. Eventually.Thanks to the Tern team.

My two other excursions were better for sharing and learning about Taipei.

Monday Youbike Bimble

Youbikes of TaipeiA brief gap in the showers before the Taipei Cycle Show allowed me to grab a Youbike and set off from my hotel. Last year I experienced the city and the riverside cycle paths so my ambition this time was to try and get into the hills I could see from my window.

Xinyi district is mostly known to travellers as the administrative centre, shopping and property hot spot of Taipei, focussed around the City Hall and Taipei 101, for several years the world’s tallest building and an icon of Taipei. The area has modern malls, offices and busy roads. There are cycle lanes and Youbikes too, which is handy.

Taipei 101 and cycle paths

Xinyi district TaipeiBut within just a very short distance by bike the very new developments end and disappear into a maze of residential alleys and back streets which rear up into the steep slopes and verdant forest of the hills. Out of curiosity I heaved myself up some of these steep ramps to the bemusement of the residents who were clearly not used to seeing tourists round here. There are also a number of waymarked and well signed walking trails that were leading up to the mountain tops which showed a considerable local demand for enjoying these green spaces. The Fuyang Eco Park was busy with walkers and joggers, plus it gave me the backdrop to my lovely moment with a Grandfather teaching his granddaughter to ride (see earlier post)

What immediately caught my eye is the way the buildings seem to just merge into the hills, only stopping at the steepest of overhangs.

Houses on hills Taipei

Taipei hillside houses

Plants and houses Taipei

And not only is the greenery outside, there is clearly a passion for plants with every balcony and doorway having a range of healthy looking plants in pots. Where there was a flat spot these would often be flourishing vegetable patches or in the middle class gardens there were beautiful flashes of colour from decorative foliage and flowers.

Gardens of Taipei Taipei Gardens

It is such mixture in a small area. Small industrial plots, temples, shacks, apartment blocks and expensive villas catering for all levels of society. Given a different bike and a stronger constitution I might have climbed more of the side streets, but a three hour bimble around the different areas was full of variety.

The traffic was also well behaved too, the streets are narrow and busy which has a traffic calming effect which I appreciated.

Cycling Taipei alleys

 

 

Saturday touring ride.

My second memorable ride was on Saturday, the day we left. We were invited out by our new friends at Formosa Lohas Cycling Association www.flca.tw to come and see how they organise their touring rides. The club is relatively new but is making strong progress with a mix of promotional activities for cycling, especially based on cycle touring, events and cycling education for children. As my regular readers know I am very fond of cycling clubs and within minutes of chatting to Development Director Demi Huang and her colleagues it was immediately clear that we were kindred spirits, chatting away about rides, routes and advocacy for ages.

Formosa Lohas Cycling Association and ECF

Demi offered us a ride with some of the club’s experienced Tour Guides and we suggested a half day starting in Taipei so that we could also pack our bags and prepare for departure. To be honest, the omens were not good because the rain just bucketed down all morning, but at least it wasn’t cold so Bernhard and I were up for the ride.

Cycle route map TaipeiGathering point for a small but hardy group was down on the riverside cycle path where we were kitted out with two nice sporty looking machines with straight bars. Guide James explained our route, a loop of about 20km around the river banks, then up to “Hell Valley” and the Beitou Springs area. The convenient planning board shows that we were to go out into the teeth of the rainstorm and then take a more sheltered line up to Beitou.

The opening kilometres were certainly exposed because our route was not down at water level like other sections of the path that I rode last year. This section sits right up on top of the typhoon defences and looked down on the homes and businesses behind the wall. The views were expansive, but decidedly murky. Clearly Bernhard was at home, this could almost be a Dutch dyke path.

Riverside cycle route Taipei

Beyond the walls were mud flats and reed beds that are now popular for bird watching. It was hard to imagine our hosts description of the rivers as the centre for trade with waterside wharves everywhere. Today it is a world closed off from the city.

Once round the confluence of the two rivers we had the wind behind and swept towards a very impressive suspension style bridge. We were struck by the cycle ramps, huge cycle lanes and segregated sections for bikes, scooters and cars.

Taipei cycle path and bridges Suspension bridge Taipei Bikes bridge and clouds Taipei

The view from the bridge was interesting too, it gave an impression of how committed the local authorities are to high quality facilities along these river paths. We could see a fun mountain bike park already completed and under construction a water filled park being landscaped to fit the land space between typhoon defence and river. Clever use of buffer land which will also improve flooding resilience. Now if only other countries were that sensible.

mountain bike track in Taipei New riverside park in Taipei

Rice paddy field and vegetable garden TaipeiThe benefits of local guides were apparent when we swung away from the river bank and headed north through a series of embankments and small roads. Our guides called this “our secret route” and it was a treasure. Almost vehicle free but taking us through something like a garden zone of rice fields and market gardens cutting right into the heart of the city. Several people I have talked to spontaneously started talking about the Taiwanese love of fresh fruit and vegetables and the expertise of their farmers, certainly the quality of the fruit and veg at meal times is outstanding. We were rewarded with herons and cranes foraging in the rice fields as we passed, oblivious to our presence.

Paddy fields with white birds Taipei

It was almost a shock to pop out of the quiet lanes into urban hustle but we had been brought almost to the heart of Beitou by our guides. A gentle climb took us up to a range of sights in this popular visitor area.

The true finish of our ride was the thermal valley itself, which was a mass of steam and smells of sulphur where the hot water gushes up from the volcanic rock at a temperature of almost 90 degrees. All around us streams carried away hot water to be piped into the hotels and bath houses which have been a feature of the area since Japanese occupation from 1895-1945. The main bath house, now a museum, was built in 1913.

Beitou Thermal valley

Our day finished with steaming hot baths in a hot springs hotel and a delicious meal with our guides, but more of that in my next post.

For now let me just say that once again the friendliness and hospitality of our Taiwanese hosts was unbeatable. The Formosa Lohas guides were knowledgeable and courteous cycling guides and I am absolutely sure that one of their multi-day rides around Taiwan would be a great holiday. James was clearly an experienced leader and Bike Lin (yes that is his name) is the author of two well-regarded tour guides about cycling in Taiwan so I am not surprised they are getting more and more enquiries from around the world. They are going to be popular and welcomed members of the ECF cycling family too.

In summary – another week in Taipei which turned out to be far more than rooms full of bikes on show. Increasingly the international travel media is saying that cycling in Taipei is one of the country’s visitor highlights. I am not going to disagree.

Learning to ride your bike at the park with Grandad. A rite of passage the world over

Day 1 of my annual trip to Taipei needs a bike ride to reorient myself and clear the jet lag. But of all the sights, smells and sounds of the ride my memory is captured by a little girl and her grandad, grabbing the space at the side of a small park to go through the rite of passage we have all shared.

Guided by a caring hand.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

Getting up after the fall.

Photo Kevin Mayne

And then she goes.

Photo Kevin Mayne

It is a truth the world over.  You never forget your first bike ride. She didn’t stop smiling, and neither have I since. In this busy city it was a quiet moment of joy to be shared.

A different Stockholm

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin Mayne

Photo Kevin Mayne

Regular readers may remember me writing about a number of work trips to Stockholm, it has provided me with some nice posts and is turning into a favourite city. (Click the Stockholm tab at the bottom of the post to see more.)

However last week I enjoyed a different Stockholm.

Three main differences.

  • Reason: We were on holiday! Proper tourists, taking in the sights beyond my fixation with cycle paths.
  • Location: A new location for me, staying in bohemian Söndermalm, the southern island of central Stockholm
  • Season: Shock to the system, first proper snow of the winter for Stockholm, and for us. Minus 7 degrees C in the evenings.

Over the next few days I will add a few extra stories of the trip, and some cycling notes might just sneak in, but here’s an opening highlight or two.

First let’s get the weather thing out of the way. There are two choices when you want to take a few days holiday in January. Either you have to spend a lot of money heading off to look for somewhere warm, or you have to embrace the fact that it is winter and enjoy what the season offers.

Our choice of Stockholm was exactly that, we wanted somewhere that could offer a proper winter break. The plan almost came unstuck because Europe’s relatively mild winter so far has left much of Scandinavia cloudy but snow free so far.

However we watched the forecast for the last two weeks and suddenly the temperatures dropped swiftly and over the weekend light snow was due to fall. And as if to order it did, leaving a light coating in the first day and then regular flurries through the next five days.temperature Stockholm Gondola

Gamla Stan

Stockholm cosy cafe

Between the cold spells were some beautiful spells of sunshine that lit up the buildings and waterside. And after dark there were still many Christmas lights so the city was shining bright against the snow and the cafes and restaurants offered a cosy warm glow which invited us in for coffee, cake and hot chocolate during the day and hearty Swedish food at night.

Some spots I had been to before looked quite different under the snow, especially the open squares but on a more touristy trip I found some interesting new places to enjoy. I suspect I got a different view because we walked everywhere, on previous occasions I had cycled a lot and that takes you away from the pedestrian hot spots. For example Stockholm City Hall sounds just like the boring seat of bureaucracy, but its position and interior architecture make it one of the top visits of the city.

Photo Kevin Mayne

It is also one of the three buildings in the city most associated with the Nobel awards along with the Concert Hall and the Swedish Academy, neither of which I had seen before.

Stockholm Concert Hall The Swedish Academy Stockholm

In contrast to the grander buildings of the city centre Söndermalm is a bustling residential neighbourhood full of art and craft shops, galleries and some fabulous cafes and bakeries. Sondermalm streets Stockholm

Our hotel was the Rival on Mariatorget (the Maria Square) which was a lovely spot in the snow day and night.Mariatorget Stockholm

Mariatorget Square Stockholm

And above it was maze of tiny roads and alleys that led up to the Mariaberget (Maria Magdalene parish) and Monteliusvägen, a panoramic footpath that runs around the top of the steep cliffs that overlook the lake, the old town and the city centre of Stockholm.

Mariaberget street scene

Some of the apartments up there are the most desirable in Stockholm. Photo by Kevin Mayne

We went up there at night and got a brilliant view over the city which was a special addition to my experiences of Stockholm.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Coming next:

  • The Rival Hotel
  • The Winter Cruise
  • Stockholm’s cyclists coping with the snow

Snowy Stockholm mornings and bicycles

Stockholm Gamla Stan

We are in a snowy Stockholm, enjoying our first proper sub-zero temperatures of the year, snow and comforting Swedish food.

Lots more storytelling to come, not least wondering how the hardy Stockholm cyclists are coping with the first snows of the year.

Very cautiously seems to be the answer!

Photo by Kevin Mayne

 

Charming Ravensburg, Germany

Ravensberg Blaserturm

Ravensberg leather house

One of the pleasures of this year’s Eurobike was further discovery of Ravensberg, the town we stay at in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. 

I stayed there last year and found it was charming town with an attractive car free town centre and a lively bustle of restaurants and bars. However because we only use the town as a dormitory I didn’t realise that there was much more to it than the streets between the station and the main central Marienplatz.

This time we stayed in the delightful Hotel Obertor which is actually built into the city walls and the Obertor (upper tower) itself. A few morning photos don’t quite do it justice but it is a great location.

Ravensberg Obertor and Obertor Hotel

And just beside it was another tower, known unusually as the Mehlsack or “flour sack”. Great name, especially as it had a much more imposing name of the White Tower at St Michael when it was built but locals nicknamed it because of its shape and colour and the name stuck.

The Flour sack Ravensberg

Apparently the town almost completely avoided war damage because it was of little strategic importance which is why it is so well preserved. Another time I must try to have enough time to do it justice and I recommend it you might do the same. Good restaurants and hotels too.

For more about the cycling in the area too see last years’s post here

Ravensburg morning Germany Allgau Ravensburg weigh tower

Not despairing at Eurobike 2013 – the cycling industry’s family gathering

Eurobike Bike ShowLuggage bound for Eurobike

This year’s reflections from the world’s biggest bike show. No, not the Tour de France or the streets of Copenhagen where cycling itself is on show. This is the biggest show of bikes, bits and all the associated services that go with them in the world and it attracts an enormous range of visitors and companies to Friedrichshafen in southern Germany. (Keeping the rough rule that my professional work stays distinct from the blogging my work at the show can be seen over at ECF’s news pages here.)

Eurobike display BH

I have to be honest, am not someone who can get excessively excited by the promised benefits of a new carbon weave or the relative merits of some enormously expensive braking system over another. There are many cycling bloggers and journalists whose raison d’etre is bikes and bits so I have to leave judgement on the merits of the products to them. This year I was even so busy I didn’t even get a single test ride which was a little bit frustrating.


My “Do not despair” thoughts are all about people and atmosphere with the occasional showstopper moment thrown in. I do like bikes as art or design and to be fair to our industry colleagues there are plenty of occasions when the exhibits have some “wow factor”, but to me that is aesthetic as much as technical. (Not all bike show exhibits are eye catching for the right reasons – remember this moment of madness from earlier in the year?)

It is essentially a trade show, business to business, so its primary target is manufacturers, bike shop owners and their wholesalers who come to sort out what bikes they will be selling in 2014, what the components will be and where the trends are. On the Saturday it also opens its doors to around 20,000 cyclists, mainly from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

The overwhelming impression you get from Eurobike is just how big the bike industry is when you see it on a global scale. This year Eurobike had 1400 companies, 2000 journalists and 45,000 trade visitors putting well out ahead of the other two main shows at Taipei and Interbike in the US.

It is also home base for Europe’s biggest cycling market Germany so there is a lot of focus on how cycling in Germany is going in any given year. As my regular readers know I am very excited about how cycling in Germany is growing, I think their cities and cycle touring have a formula for success that is bringing results.

Eurobike opening 2013Now it is very clear that this importance has the highest level of political endorsement in Germany because the star of Eurobike this year wasn’t a piece of technology or even one of the celebrity riders like Tour de France breakthrough star Markus Kittel. They were all swamped by the appearance of “Angie”.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. With respect to our French, British and Italian friends she is almost certainly the most powerful politician in Europe and in Germany she has superstar status. Various coincidences of the German election campaigning season meant that Eurobike fitted her schedule but the overwhelming mood of the show was that this was a breakthrough moment for cycling in Germany. Nearly 18 months ago I wrote about President Ma of Taiwan coming to open the bike show at Taipei and declaring himself to be Taiwan’s number 1 cyclist.

At the time I was able to reflect that this couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world, it was entirely due to the business clout of the Taiwanese bike industry.

How wrong I was, and how pleased I am about it too because it is a real coup for cycling in Europe, not just in Germany. I was very pleased to get a place in the room for the opening because it was a bit of a superstar moment for us policy wonks too.

Angela Merkel at Eurobike

Angie herself was somewhat of a surprise package as well. One of our journalist colleagues said she “stole the show”. I think I have only every seen this rather sour-faced, serious woman who is set on bashing her own and other people’s economies into shape. So when she got up on stage, smiled a bit, relaxed and told a few modest local jokes she had the whole room in her hands. It even worked through the rather overwrought translator who was breathlessly trying to keep up through our earpieces in a horrible monotone.

She did apologise for not being a cyclist, explaining that when she was 15 the Russian soldiers in the forests around her home stole her bicycle, but apparently that wasn’t the reason she had a political reputation for not liking the Russians!

As well as the political clout the other stars of a business event are of course the business leaders, however their presence is much more low-key. It isn’t the impression I get from reading about other industries like cars or IT where the CEOs are put on a pedestal. No Steve Jobs moments at Eurobike, Here you are quite likely to bump into the CEO of the world’s biggest bike company casting a paternal eye over his company’s display (Tony Lo of Giant) and the others are out and about on the floor.

Tony Lo Giant at Eurobike

Product wise the E-bikes remain the place where the biggest buzz is happening, especially in Germany. Bernhard Lange, President of the German manufacturers’ association ZIV was even able to tell Angela Merkel that cycling has delivered her target of 1 million electric vehicles on Germany’s streets although the ferocious political leverage that the car industry has here meant that she quickly had to tell him that they hadn’t meant that.

One of my favourites was actually British, the GoCycle is a very stylish folding E-bike which I am actually hoping to test in Brussels in the next few weeks.

As I whizzed around the booths there is always room for some stylish carbon and huge arrays of mountain bikes but fortunately right in front of our booth was the Eurobike award winners’ section so I was able to sneak over and take a look at some trend setters.

Among them my first look at a Surly fat bike which was a pretty eye-catching. I have seen increasing mentions in US blogs about them and in the winter of last year I could almost have done with one in Belgium.

Surly at Eurobike

Surley Fat Bike

Eurobike Award WinnerVery, very stylish cloth coated saddle from Brooks. Since the company was saved by Selle Royal I think they have done a great job bringing Italian creativity to this most traditional of British icons. It is cotton set on vulcanised rubber – pretty much unique.

Eurobike award winnerHäse’s recumbent cargo bikes were very popular in the bike tryout area and were a distinctive sight all over the expo..

Unfortunately the scale of Eurobike does provide the other overwhelming impressions of Friedrichshafen show and an almost permanent talking point amongst the attendees. Once inside the Messe (exhibition centre) it is busy, but well run and efficient. Outside is chaos. There are not enough hotels so people stay up to 30km away, but this in turn means they largely need to drive to get to the show. Some of the veterans have booked the same hotel for about 15 years to keep a place and other experts from the mountain bike festival scene enjoy the camp site instead. However most just drive – on Thursday the queues to the West were over 20km long.

It would be nice to think we could all ride in on the great network of cycle paths or get the plentiful shuttle buses but even the cycling advocacy world knows that getting your way in and out from the countryside in good shape to stand and meet people all day isn’t practical for everyone. Many try to avoid driving, including me. However even with a relatively straightforward journey I managed to mess up one day and required 3 stages of public transport to get back to my hotel at 10.30 pm. Instead of rich Swabian cookery I had a burger from a well-known fast food brand at Friedrichshafen station which really did not sit very well. Not my finest hour.

However bad it gets it seems Eurobike is an addictive draw for the global bike industry and it looks likely to remain the key show of the year. Increasingly it is growing on me. I genuinely believe we have a very special business, I like the personalities of that community, even the most battle hardened CEOs of stock market listed industrial conglomerate seems to smile more when engaged in the bike world. But at Eurobike they are also surrounded by thousands of company owners for whom running a bike company is a multi-generational passion which has been passed on for as much as 100 years. From bike shops to giant companies like SRAM and Shimano we still see the founders intimately involved in many companies, still bringing the energy they had when they started out.

It never feels like that when I work in any other sector, long may it continue.

Kevin Mayne, Tony Lo, Patrick Seidler, Jeroen Snijders Blok, Stan Day, Ton Van Klooster, Tony Grimaldi, Frank Bohle, Manfred Neun

Lakeside landscapes and villages – Upper Austria’s Attersee

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This gallery contains 13 photos.

I am sure many bloggers and travel writers hit the same problem as me. I have been home weeks from a trip and published several items about the holiday, especially the cycling and the food. However I keep coming back … Continue reading

Can you identify Wallonia’s most famous citizen? Come to Dinant

Wallonia Belgium

There is a cruel and extremely patronising saying in English “bet you can’t name five famous Belgians” which is a rude way of decrying the impact this country has had on the world.

However when tested sadly most of us can’t. Especially when we discover detective Hercule Poirot doesn’t count because he is fictional and cyclists are banned from rattling off anyone other than Eddie Merckx on the grounds that nobody outside our world has heard of Rik Van Looy.

Hergé, Rene Magritte?

A recent trip to Dinant in Wallonia threw up a name who deservedly needs to be on any list of people who have made an impact on the world far beyond their shores.

Where would my “Music to ride Bike By” be without Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, Pink Floyd’s “Us and them” and the Clarence Clemen’s solo on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “Jungleland”?

What links these seemingly disparate pieces of music? The saxophone. Invention of Alolphe Sax from Dinant in 1846 which makes him by far this region’s most famous son. Best saxophone solos ever? That’s a topic that keeps lots of lists going on the blogosphere.

Dinant itself should be an attractive place in the valley of the Meuse south of Wallonia’s capital Namur but it has a slightly down-at-heel atmosphere which reflects the economic reality of southern Belgium. Things are fairly tough in a region that once depended on coal, steel and shipping down the river which still acts as a freight route. Tourism is doing its best and the riverside is being gentrified to complement the Notre Dame Church and the imposing Citadel which overlooks the town. Belgium

Dinant Citadelle Belgium

The dark grey stone doesn’t help the scene, it looks slightly overcast even on a bright day. By far the most colourful scene in the town was the bridge named after Charles de Gaulle because the future French president picked up a war wound here during the first World War.

Dinant Saxophones

Here Sax was being celebrated with a colourful display of 28 painted saxophones, each painted to represent a country of the EU and the EU itself.

Dinant saxophones  Pont Charles de GaulleIt is nice to go somewhere else this year where you just end up smiling and humming to yourself, it gives Dinant that something special, and I would much rather be in a place that should burst into a chorus of “Jungleland” than the “Sound of Music”.

Web site Famousbelgians.net agrees, they have Sax at number 2 after Eddie Merckx in their role of honour. That is almost perfect for Idonotdespair –cycling followed by music. Bring it on boys.