Catherine Pringle, the protagonist in Peloton of Two, has been commissioned to write a series of confessional journalism articles and blog posts about her journey around France. In the blog extract below, she lists her essential elements for a perfect cycle journey by bicycle.
As she is writing the entry in Epernay, and drinking some of the local wine at the time, it’s not a complete surprise that Catherine defines the best kind of cycling as champagne cycle touring. This is easy writing for her, but she hesitates when it comes to the last item on her list, worrying that it reveals more than she wants to about her emotional state.
The five essentials of champagne cycle touring
by Catherine Pringle
Day 65, Sunday 21 August.
What are the five essential steps you have to take to get the best out of cycle touring? Based on my experience so far, for champagne cycle touring the following need to fall into place:
1. Pick the best possible route available. The route does matter. And today’s was a perfect combination. The first 30 kilometres from Troyes ran along the course of the Seine, before turning north across rolling country rich in vineyards and wheat fields. If you’re looking for champagne cycle touring, the departmental roads of Champagne are amongst the best.
2. Be mentally prepared. Do what you can to get into the most positive frame of mind. This is not an easy thing on a long tour, and it’s not entirely within your control. But, if you can, be relaxed and in a cheerful state.
3. Get into a good physical state. Travelling under your own steam relies on your body being in the best physical state you can achieve. Again, on a long tour this can be as fickle as your mental state. There doesn’t seem to be a logical set of rules for this – you can ride a hundred kilometres one day and be fit for more of the same again. Or, you can ride 30 easy riverside kilometres and be a wreck when your climb onto the saddle the next morning.
4. Get your bike and equipment in the best possible condition. When I started this journey, I didn’t know one end of a bicycle from another. It’s taken two months, but now I’m beginning to feel that I can tinker with the best of them. Don’t get me wrong, no one is ever going to come to me for help to overhaul the bearings on a rear hub. But with any real trouble I can hunt down and eliminate most of the annoying little rattles and pings that hitch a ride on a fully loaded bicycle.
5. Find someone to share it with. You can always ride alone, and for many people I’m sure this is the ideal. A bicycle, and the feeling of moving at your own pace through an interesting and challenging landscape, are perfect companions for the solo traveller. The sense of movement, the rhythm and cadence of the turning cranks, the little mechanical sounds from the cycle – all of these wrap you in a comfortable, pleasant bubble.
And that could well be enough for most of us. But for some, and I count myself among them, the missing dimension is a cycling partner to share it with. It’s risky riding with someone else – it could be a joyful experience or an utter trial. Sometimes the same partner might bring both emotions with them.
But I’ve been lucky enough to know a cycling partner who was ideal for me. We could talk as much as we wanted and not find it irritating. Or ride silently together for hours, happy with just our own thoughts and the knowledge that we had a companion within touching distance. A complete team, a match in fitness, emotion and style. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to know this feeling and will never forget it.
Champagne cycle touring, for me, has to mean being in a peloton of two.