Last weekend, we travelled north of Amsterdam to visit steel touring bike maker Vittorio Bicycles and their annual bike touring fair.
Here’s a short video with the highlights of the day, including a look at the new Marathon Mondial touring tires, the favourite things that bike tourists Saskia & Jan-Willem take on tour and an amazing bike built for an expedition over a frozen river in Russia!
*Sorry for the video quality. It isn’t great because we were testing the video function on a new camera. As we learned, it doesn’t focus very well!
In summer 2011, Dutch cyclists Blanche & Douwe spent a month cycling through Georgia, in eastern Europe.
They experienced amazing hospitality, breathtaking landscapes (with plenty of places to wild camp!) and delicious food.
Blanche made a video about their trip, and we love the story that it tells. Below the video you’ll find extra tips from Blanche & Douwe, to help in planning your own bike trip in Georgia.
1. What were your cycling highlights of Georgia – the places you’d tell other cyclists that they should absolutely visit?
The Svaneti stretch between Mestia and Lentekhi via Usghuli was amazing cycling. Imagine very rough off-road roads that take you through small mountain villages, beautiful nature and alongside glaciers.
We also loved the route from the Vardzia monastry towards Tbilisi: green hills with many birds, flat grasslands, rustic villages with a kind of cowboy-like attitude, and flat grasslands with lovely wild camping spots at the lakes.
The region of Tusheti was nice, but next time we’ll go walking around Omalo as the hills are too steep for bicycles that are loaded down with luggage.
2. What time of year do you think is best to visit?
We visited in July but it was too hot and humid for comfort, and we were glad to leave before the worst of the heat in August. June would be a great month as the snow has disappeared and heat is not yet that fierce. Watch out for landslides though!
3. Are there any resources you can recommend, for cyclists planning a trip around Georgia?
In this latest edition of the TravellingTwo podcast, we interview Amaya Williams. She’s been cycling the world with her husband Eric since 2006.
We also talk a little bit about our next big adventure – and it’s not directly related to bike touring, but don’t worry… we’re still planning plenty more touring fun in the future.
In addition to the podcast, you’ll find a video at the bottom of this post. It combines photos of Eric & Amaya’s journey, with the interview. Let us know if you like this, and we’ll try to do this with more future podcasts.
We spent last week testing the Gekko fx, the “nimble foldable touring trike”, if you believe the manufacturer’s hype.
Why a trike? Because we could rent one for a reasonable price from Maia Ligfietspunt (curiosity is a pretty good reason) and because the idea of having a bike that doubles as a chair in the evening when camping really appealed to us!
Why the Gekko fx? We could have rented any number of other trikes (an IceTrike, for example, or a Kettwiesel) but since we live in a top-floor apartment and we often take trains with our bikes, a trike that folds quickly and can be stored compactly is obviously appealing. Apparently, you can fold the Gekko fx in just 10 seconds (more on that later).
Unfortunately, the Gekko fx didn’t live up to our expectations. If you don’t want to read any further, the short answer is that we won’t be buying one. You can skip ahead to our complaints, or keep reading to find out first what we DID like.
1. Very comfortable - We instantly felt at ease in the seat and the positioning was natural. A quick release on the back of the seat makes adjusting the angle quick and painless.
2. No charge on the train (in the Netherlands) - Instead of the usual €6 bike fee, our trike was treated as a normal folding bike, even though it’s twice the folded size of a Brompton.
3. Amazing cornering - This trike handles beautifully. You can accelerate into corners with an ease and speed that we never feel on our normal touring bikes. Fun!
4. Surprisingly visible - Almost the first thing people do when they find out you’re riding a trike is warn you to be careful of cars but we found the Gekko fx was so different that every car driver was looking straight at us. We always easily made eye contact at intersections, and we didn’t feel vulnerable, despite being much lower to the ground than on a normal bike.
5. Adaptable to diversions and construction – We deliberately didn’t avoid things like construction areas and barriers while testing the trike but we were always able to work our way around obstacles without much trouble. We never had to get off the trike, just to go around something.
As you already know, however, not everything about our Gekko fx test was good. Here are the things we were less thrilled with.
1. It’s not THAT easy to fold - After some practice, Andrew could fold the Gekko fx in about 30 seconds. However, this required quite a bit of arm strength. Friedel’s time was longer and less elegant (maybe she would have improved with more practice). If you’re a reasonably strong guy, you’ll manage this just fine. If you can’t lift and flip 16kg of bicycle, you’ll struggle a bit more.
2. Awkward going up and down stairs - We hoped that a folded trike would be almost as portable as a folding bicycle but we found the Gekko fx awkward to lug up a set of stairs. Mostly, we did it together, so that neither one of us would throw our back out. It may fold, but it’s no Brompton. Our normal touring bikes weigh about the same as the trike (16kg) but we can carry our touring bikes up the stairs without any problems.
3. Only Small Bags Please – For the price (about €2,300), we ideally wanted this trike to be set up for at least light touring. That is to say that we wanted to put 2 large Ortlieb bags on the rack but even our small Ortlieb panniers were a tight squeeze on the derailleur side of the trike. To really tour with the Gekko fx, we’d have to fit a higher rack or buy special bags designed for recumbents, and that’s an extra expense on top of an already high retail price that we’re not sure we want to pay.
1. Difficult to Roll – When the trike is folded, there are some small wheels that theoretically allow you to roll it a short distance, such as along a train platform. We didn’t find this easy at all. The trike nipped at our heels and was unstable even going over a small bump in the surface. Going from one end of a platform to another is not an experience we want to repeat, and if there’s no lift, you’re going to have to lug it up and down stairs (see our point above).
2. It fell apart! – This was the real clincher for us. Maybe we should put it higher up in the review, but in the tradition of saving the best (or the worst) for last, here’s our story of disaster. While riding down a small side street, the wheel began wobbling erratically and we lost all control of the trike. Mercifully, we were going slowly and no cars were around at the time. When we managed to stop, we spotted the problem immediately.
The strut that connects the steering controls to the wheel is held together with a simple bolt, and that little bolt came loose. When it did, we lost control. Thank goodness we weren’t going down a hill or turning into traffic at the time! When we returned the trike, we found out that this had happened before and despite the owner’s best attempt to secure that bolt, it kept on coming loose.
Our personal opinion is that this is probably a design flaw – or at least a ‘feature’ of the design that would keep us from buying this particular trike. We prefer our steering to be put together more solidly, and not reliant on a single bolt. We know all too easily how those bolts can come loose, but on standard touring bikes the damage is normally limited to mudguards and luggage racks – not crucial operating parts.
So, Gekko fx, we’re sorry to say you’re not the trike for us. We’d still like to try more trikes but we’re looking for something more robust.