Au Gîte

Benoisey gite and butterfly photo collage

So we didn’t actually camp every night of our holiday. We rolled it up in favour of a few nights of home comforts and a family reunion in Burgundy. Getting there involved a mad dash across Paris for connecting trains, which was such fun I think Tom might be a convert to city cycling. My family greeted us off the train on a fleet of bikes and we had a merry escort up the hill to the gite.

Bike family photo

View of Semur, Bourgogne France

We spent the days catching up over lazy breakfasts, enjoying the perfectly smooth roads, and visiting local villages. We welcomed in my 31st year with strawberry tarts, sorbet, and espresso. It feels a good start to the rest of the year.

Looking up through flags at church in Semur

Sorbet, espresso, and boulangerie photo collage

Church corridor

Tom sitting on wall near Notre Dame

On y va à vélo

French signpost to Rue de la Brearderie at sunset

Bryony cycling in the shade in Voie Vert, Normandie bike path

We have returned from a fortnight in France, riding through sleepy green lanes and over far, hay-baled fields. We gorged on buttery pastries, and creamy brie, daily baguettes and refreshing afternoon beers.

Touring bikes outside of Jumieges Marie

International Herald Tribune paper on a table at cafe

We stopped in plenty of towns, ordering grand cafes and hunting out English newspapers. We weren’t always able to get our coffee early, making the the first of the daily kilometres pretty tough. But we were spurred on by varied roads, several ferries, and persistently cheerful cries of hello from the many fellow riders about.

Dawes and Pinarello bikes together by hay bales

Campsite and wild flowers photo collage

Field with cows and sunset through the tree branches

We cycled 500k, poring over new sections of maps, and seeking out campsites with our rudimentary French. Our bikes got along famously as ever, valiantly carrying us over dusty tracks and through rainy winds.

Bryony jumping in front of Dawes and Pinarello bikes

Bryony and Tom cycling

We got along pretty famously too.

Sleep is Overrated

Or so I told myself after having very little of it this weekend. The evenings are the most inviting part of these hot days and this weekend the outdoor air was more tempting than a bed for the night. I spent Friday sleeping under the stars, and Saturday cycling through the night.

Mottistone Down Sunset

Bryony looking across at Purbeck

By sundown Friday we had hiked our sleeping bags and dinner up to the top of Mottistone Down, and watched the light fade. I haven’t slept outside without a tent since I was a teenager (and back then it was only an impromptu post-pub lie down). Sleeping outside is its own entertainment and, despite carrying my heavy book and torch up the hill, I was more than happy just watching the sky change, spotting the lights of boats out at sea, and listening to the changing sounds in the woods below us. We slept across the middle of what is by day a very busy path, but by night was a perfect quiet spot for two.

I woke up to the dawn on Saturday morning with a hankering for more summer nights of adventure. And so I made last-minute plans with my dad to ride the Dunwich Dynamo. That guy will never say no to an adventure.

Derek and Bryony at London Fields: Start of Dunwich Dynamo

This overnight ride takes hundreds of cyclists 120 miles from London to the Suffolk coast. From the moment we started cycling across central London we were swept along in an ever-growing number of bikes, all headed to London Fields for the start line. We prepared for the ride with a can of a stout and a fresh-faced ‘before’ picture.

Pub pit stop on Dunwich Dynamo

The group effect never wore off, as our critical mass took over the roads leading out of London, and on to the lanes of sleepy villages, people spilling out in to the road as they stopped at the pub for a quick pint or cup of coffee (much-derided by the landlords). This ride is a long way, so I left the boozing for people made of stronger stuff. I was on the sugary tea.

The roads were perfectly-sized for a group of bikes and we streamed along amongst flashing back lights, hi vis jackets, spinning spoke LEDs, and strings of fairy lights. The countryside might be dark, but there was no way you’d miss us. The just-rock-up-and-ride nature of the Dun Run creates a fabulous mix of machines and easy camaraderie. There’s nothing competitive about it; we’re all just trying to stay awake and make it to the beach. Which we did, after a few power-naps (on Dad’s part) and every last snack in my bar bag. By the morning light we piled into the tiny seaside hamlet of Dunwich, cheered on by a friendly welcome party, and availed ourselves of double breakfast- one at the beach cafe, the other at the pub. This ride is one for your diary- challenging, friendly, and a definite summer night adventure.

Bryony and Derek on the beach at the end of the Dunwich Dynamo

Ride Round The Block

Nothing beats coming home from a hectic day at work and heading straight back out the door for some fresh air time. A single hour outside sorts my head out, especially with all of this just round the corner.

Bryony cycling

Dinghies at Gurnard Sailing Club Isle of Wight

Whist I have an easy two-wheeled pootle, Tom runs hard and takes shortcuts across the fields.

Tom running

Tom running away down a lane

Tom running looking back

Give me two wheels, salty air, and this guy to share it with and I’m forever happy.

Looking out over the Solent at Cowes seafront

Whatever the Wheels

View from a bike's handlebars

There’s a whole lot of bikes out there on the roads. Take a look in your wing mirror, or in front of you at the traffic lights: you’re sure to see a two-wheeler. A ride through the city is a safari of different cycling animals. There’s the guy on his flash racer, trying to beat his Strava PB; the school kid on the pavement with a loose interpretation of riding in a straight line; the unruffled old lady, complete with handbag in basket and steady pace; or the bloke labouring on a fat-tyred mountain bike. And these are just the stereotypes.

With such visible differences in bikes and their riders, it’s easy to fall in to a ‘tribe’ mindset. You might ally yourself with one and scorn those with skinnier tyres, or surplus gears, or stuffed panniers. But really we’re all the same. However you categorise us, we are all minority road users and we need to stick together. We’re all trying to navigate busy roads that aren’t designed for us, trying to fit in with vehicles bigger, faster and beefier than ours.

Bike wheel

Sadly a cyclist was injured on Sunday’s Randonnee after a collision with a car. I don’t know the circumstances of the incident, but I know from experience that a bike is flimsy protection in any altercation with a car. And our fundamental incompatibility makes us unlikely to see eye to eye. It’s a rare sight to see the roads congested with two wheels, rather than four, and it was clear that for some drivers this was an unconscionable insult. You only had to observe the tight overtaking and hear the rev of engines to know that some drivers weren’t happy.

There were a lot of very patient drivers on Sunday, seemingly happy to share the road. But there is some heavy metal opposition out there. So we need to forget which tribe we’re in, and remember we’re all on bikes. Regardless of how fat our tyres, or how tight our shorts, we need to represent and explain our cause, and make sure we give car drivers no reason to resent us. I hope the gentleman who was hit is well, and I hope it doesn’t dissuade anyone else from getting on their bike.