In quest of the perfect moment

Ultralight bike touring in France: in quest of the perfect moment

March 18, 2015

I was planning to catch a train back home from Aix, but the weather was finally good, I felt great after riding 583km in 3 days, and I had time. So I decided to ride back to Switzerland… just because I could.

The plan for the day was simple: head north towards the Col de la Croix Haute and see how far I could get.

Time to head north on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

Time to head north

I had my first break just before Manosque at km54, along the Canal du Midi where I took this picture of my bike.

The Scott Addict in ultralight bike touring mode on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

The Scott Addict in ultralight bike touring mode

For this early season adventure I rode my usual road bike. The frame is a Scott Addict that I have had since last year. I find it a great compromise between weight, comfort and stiffness. It also seems very well fitted to my climber’s figure: I am 186cm and 65kg. In spite of all the efforts of Lillie to fatten me up, I kept my elite racing weight – lucky me.

Part of this bike rode the Tour de France: back in 2010, I put my hands on a Scott Foil used by Kanstantin Siutsou in that year’s Tour in support of Mark Cavendish. I later changed the frame to an Addict and got another set of wheels, but kept the Di2 group (with a compact chainset). It has been my faithful companion for the last 5 years and I enjoy its accuracy and effortless shifting.

Chris dug into his large bag collection to lend me some for this trip: a rear Topeak TrunkBag mounted on a BeamRack, where I could fit most of the minimalist stuff I was carrying. As an ultralight bike touring rookie, I was a bit concerned with mounting the rack and the bag on the seatpost, but I had no problem and the setup did not move at all during the trip.

I also had a handlebar bag for the cycling clothing I was using during the day (wind jacket, warmers) and a top tube bag for wallet, phone and (lots of) food. For purist roadies, the top tube bag is a big no no, that the good folks at Global Cycling Network put on par with wearing underpants under cycling shorts.

I used to agree but after testing it, I am a convert. When you are riding 8hrs+ a day, having your phone and your food available in a top tube bag is much, much more convenient than carrying them in bulging jersey pockets. Believe me.

Another big style mistake frowned upon by the roadies fashion police: MTB pedals and shoes. I know. But again, practicality wins over style. MTB shoes are much more convenient when walking in supermarkets, climbing on road bankings to take pictures, and all the non-riding activities that happen when you spend 12 hours a day in lycra. And you can also use them as your, err… ‘normal’ shoes when going out for dinner or for breakfast. Although Chris told me that my white shoes were a bit flashy and he had gone for black ones for that reason. I call that ‘experience’.

I will make many changes before the Transcontinental Race, but this setup did work well. I don’t know how much it weighed in total (I am not a techie), but it felt surprisingly ‘normal’ all along. There is something special about riding fast and being self-sufficient – credit card style, that is.

#bikelunch day 4 on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

#bikelunch day 4

I had lunch at km 109, and took advantage of the break to strip off my leg warmers for the first time this year. You know that feeling: your are ashamed of showing off your white legs, but it is so good.

Fashion police warning: MTB shoes and white legs shall not be tolerated on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

Fashion police warning: MTB shoes and white legs shall not be tolerated

I got back on the bike and kept riding towards the Col de la Croix Haute. Rather than a proper col, it is a slow, 75km drag along the Buëch river with a 700m altitude gain.

On the way to the Col de la Croix Haute on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

On the way to the Col de la Croix Haute

Around km 150, I had a perfect moment: It was sunny, there was no wind, and the temperature was divine. I was riding on a small départmentale road that I had found on my Michelin map, which I later found was part of a local bike route. It could not get any better than that.

A perfect moment on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

A perfect moment

No wonder this départementale is part of an official bike route on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

No wonder this départementale is part of an official bike route

Shortly after in Serres, I sat down with my map and my iPhone to figure out where I would stay that night. Very few hotels were open in the area at this time of the year, and it turned out my only choice was an auberge in Clelles after the top of the col, 55km away. It was 4.15pm and I knew I could make it before dark – just.

From there the ride turned into a slow individual time trial up the Col de la Croix Haute: it was definitely not about staying at my threshold; the focus was to keep moving and be consistent. By day 4, all pains were gone: ass, neck, back, legs. I was not fast, but I felt strong. I was peeing less often. In short, my body was getting used to massive rides and it felt just amazing. Like I could do it day in, day out. This was a good thing, because this is just what I will have to do to finish the Transcontinental Race: 300km a day, 14 days in a row.

Top of Col de la Croix Haute - finally on my 5 day ultralight bike touring adventure in France

Top of Col de la Croix Haute – finally

By the time I made it to the col I was empty but I just had another 17km left, mostly downhill, to get to my hotel and make it a 211km day. Then it was the usual routine: shower, wash my shorts, eat a giant dinner, crash into bed.

Day 1 Ultralight bike touring: learning the art of not sprinting

Day 2 Wind, the invisible hill

Day 3 A Day in the man cave

Day 5 The Red Dude

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