Friday, August 04, 2006

Road men

I am not one to critise my fellow cyclists. Cycling is a broad church, but why do serious numbers of road bike riders insist on riding on the road next to a marked (painted) cycleway? I can understand the objection to riding on separate cycleways, as these can suddenly veer away from roads and cause halts while one crosses minor roads. If one is riding along a road with a painted strip for cyclists why ride outside of this?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tour de Luxembourg

We have been members of the LVI the Letzelbuergische Velo Initiativ (Luxembourg National Cycling Club) for several years. We’d promised ourselves that we’d go on one their tours and finally we remembered to register in time. We set off the day before the trip began and put our bikes on the bus that runs between Mannheim and Hahn airport. The driver was a bit nonplussed - though their website says bikes are allowed - so we slung them unceremoniously on their sides in one of the luggage spaces and they arrived in Hahn OK. This meant that we were quite high up at the beginning of our ride. Unfortunately, as it says in “Northern Wheel” bike ride accounts, Judith then punctured! No her tyre not her! We then had a good, though long 100 km day, enjoying the rolling hills of the Hunsr├╝ck, the hills that lie on the left of the Rhine north of Frankfurt. Again much was gentle along an old rail line, then a few wild plunges up followed by downs by which time we were getting hungry and tired. At last we reached a road which hairpinned most satisfyingly down to the Mosel valley - a high wheee....factor. Quick turn right, ride a short distance then wheel our bikes up onto a bridge closed to cars while being rebuilt (this always feels really good), right at the other end, 4 km ride into the village where we'd booked the night at a vineyard where we've stayed before. Cocktail to welcome us, shower and change and then a large easy meal at a nearby restaurant. Collapse of stout parties and an immensely satisfying sleep.
From there we took an easy train trip into Luxembourg next day. We went for a tour in Luxembourg with a group of eight folks. It involved visiting the North, South, West and East of the country (only 80 km by 80 km) and as we discovered underway, the highest and lowest points - OK not down to sea level but the highest point is certainly higher than Scafell. Quite strenuous, though we managed OK and were not last getting up the hills, but we found the lengths of days and the distances a bit more than we normally do. 90 -100 km and from 9 am to 7pm! This included coffee breaks, several shandy drinking stops AND a proper meal at lunchtime - we've a picture of the piles of spaghetti involved. However, we had no route finding concerns and the group was very knowledgeable about their country and the places and people encountered en route. This was our aim since Luxembourg was usually one of the places we drove through or round as quickly as possible to get to Britain. Gust, the leader and President of the organisation gave us a personal tour of Luxembourg city before we set off and we then cycled through the European quarter at the start of the tour. We can assure you that the buildings there are undistinguished, undoubtedly cost millions of taxpayers’ money but the bike paths are superb. We left there on Thursday, the evening before the National Day so everywhere was a sea of flags, as of course was Germany at the time with the footie taking place. By good fortune there were no footie fanatics in the group and our long days ensured that the matches were mostly over before we reached our hotels, though we did go so far as to wave at a group of flag waving Germany supporters driving round and hooting their horns after a match. Our chance to see the England Equador match on the station in Koblenz was foiled by the TV mast being struck by lightning, but to all events and purposes we didn't miss much! The storms also delayed our train, signals failure near Bochum so we sat on the platform and watched the lightning. It had evidently poured down in Mannheim but apart from a few spots and further distant lightning displays we got home OK, though we had to ride in the dark. Most of the ride was on cycleways, a lot was along river valleys and the rest on quiet roads. Gust described most of the route as flat hills, though there was one epic climb up over some part of the Ardennes, 4 of us walked part of the way and there were other shorter steep climbs of 0.5 km where we got off. Basically the landscape is a mix of hills and valleys and if you are lucky you can get up enough speed on the downhill sections to spin at least halfway up the next slope. Much of the area is thinly populated but we also went through pretty small towns, including Esch, centre of iron ore mining and former steel town - visited by the TdF this year. We left the group there and set off on a rather tortuous journey home with several changes and then a long wait for our train in Koblenz. We stayed in good hotels, rather fancy French cuisine being the norm in Luxembourg so there was plenty of choice in the eating department. On our last full day we coasted up and down an old rail line for most of the distance, including a long delightfully cool section through a tunnel - lighted, fortunately.

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