I went for another bike ride

May 12th, 2014

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I went for an 86 mile bike ride with my brother in the Massif Central this weekend.

My wonderful wife gave me a present of ‘an adventure’ for my birthday; she’d organised for my brother to come over from England and bought me a guide book to the Massif Central as a suggestion for where we could go. I did a (tiny) bit of research and opted to base ourselves at Condat, cycling north up to Super-Besse (a 2008 Tour de France stage mountain finish) on day 1 and then east into the empty hills on day 2.

Day 1
40 miles. 4 hours.

We arrived at our campsite around 1pm, and, after chatting to the guy who runs it for ages, we set up our tents, had most of our lunch, then set off around 1:50pm.

It was sunny and warm. The plan was to ride 18 miles to Super-Besse, climbing from 700m to 1,350m, then take some tiny lanes round the back for 20 miles all the way back down.

The climb up was long and relentless, but actually really nice; hard physical exercise in pleasant weather in beautiful mountain surroundings is a joy. We stopped along the way to finish our lunch.

Eventually we arrived at the foot of the climb to Super-Besse. After about 100 metres I had to get off and walk as, due to the gearing on my bike, I simply could not move forwards up the steep slope. My brother managed to ride the whole thing, partly due to having more suitable gearing, partly due to being fitter, younger, and more good looking.

The town at the top was pretty gloomy to be honest, and the weather had become cold and windy.

From then on it remained cold and windy and we stayed high for a long time. We had hoped to glide effortlessly back downhill and to our campsite but the reality was miles and miles of hilly climbs up cols.

The countryside was very pretty though, so it was worth the struggle.

Finally we arrived at the downhill. Unfortunately I’d discovered that my brakes were nowhere near good enough to stop me when going down steep hills so I had to keep jabbing them on whenever I reached speeds of around 25mph. It was exhilarating though!

Day 2
46 miles. 8 hours. 

Day 2 began a bit like day 1; the weather was sunny although slightly less warm, and we spent the first couple of hours climbing. This time however the road was a little twisting lane along the side of a steep-sided valley with a beautiful river running beneath us, the sort of mountain cycling we’d hoped for.

We made the most of it, stopping every now and then to watch a kite swooping overhead or to try to identify a wild flower. It was lovely. Progress was therefore slow and after a few hours we’d barely covered 10 miles, but it didn’t matter, it was fun. We sat by the roadside overlooking some big hills and had our lunch, then continued up.

Pretty soon afterwards the rain started, and with it came the wind. We were high up and it was bleak, the unimpeded strong wind whipping the cold rain into our faces like tiny pieces of ice. Then the rain turned into actual tiny pieces of ice – hail – and that really hurt. The timing was pretty bad because we’d hit the toughest part of the ride, but there was no turning back. We were soaked through, freezing cold, but oddly having a great time. Even when we had to pedal as hard as we could downhill into the wind just to move forwards at 4mph we found the challenge rewarding; it was pretty much as horrendous as it could be but we were slowly eating away at the miles.

We rode slowly over loads of cols, passing through seemingly deserted tiny villages. Most of the time was spent going uphill, and even when we went downhill it was slow and painful with the bastard wind pushing us backwards and pelting us with rain and hail.

After literally hours of this we finally made it down off the high hills and out of the clouds and, even though we were shivering and exhausted, our final 5 miles descent back into Condat was magical; the sun was out and was drying the wet roads, creating curtains of steam that we whooshed through as we freewheeled round the swooping bends of the mountain road.

Lessons learnt
Negative…
– I definitely need better gears and better brakes; going up was hard and going down was hard.
– When heading into the mountains always take warm clothing even if the forecast’s good; I only had fingerless mittens and my summer bike shoes were sodden.

Positive…
– Cycling in the Massif Central is awesome!!!

Your comments

Vanessa May 12th, 2014 at 20:33

I know the place. Been there but not on bike though. Sounds like a great adventure and super memories to treasure as brothers.

Emma May 29th, 2014 at 18:55

Wow, what a lovely present! And, more importantly, what an impressive beard! X