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Posted January 11th, 2015

Have a week free this summer? Then you might want to check out the Alpa Adria Radweg, which runs 410km from the Austrian city of Salzburg to Grado in Italy, on the Adriatic coast.

Alpa Adria Bike Path

It’s just been named one of Europe’s top bike paths by the Fietsenwandelbeurs — a major, annual fair held in the Netherlands and focused on cycling and walking adventures.

The route is described as one that mostly leads cyclists over dedicated bike paths, and as one of the easiest routes over the Alps, thanks to an 8km long tunnel under the highest hills. The Austrian portion of is partially made up of the Tauernradweg and the Drau Radweg, while the Italian section follows an old railway line (rail trail).

The Italy Cycling Guide (itself a good resource) also highly praises the trail.

This is one of the very best of Italy’s long-distance cycleways with a high proportion on well-surfaced traffic-free cycleways. Centrepiece of the route is the cycleway on the old rail line between Pontebba and Chiusaforte, as it follows the river, criss-crossing it on a series of restored railway bridges. The cycleway takes you through a series of historic towns including Venzone and Udine, and on to Grado on the Adriatic coast via the World Heritage site at Aquileia.

Alpa Adria Bike PathThere’s a free information folder you can download, though at the moment it’s only in Italian and German.

German speakers can also buy a Bikeline guide to the path, and the official website offers a free download of the GPS track.

If you’re interested in more great bike paths through Europe, see last year’s list of nominees for Europe’s best bike path.

Posted January 4th, 2015

In May 2014, we spent 3 weeks cycling around Switzerland.

Since we were with Luke (2 years old), our pace was quite slow. We had no fixed destinations and rarely covered more than 40km a day, leaving plenty of time for playground stops, flower picking and other distractions.

Now, some 7 months later, we’ve finally found time to put together a little film of our trip: 15 Ways To Entertain A Toddler On A Bike Tour.

Posted November 27th, 2014

Last week, we stumbled across the website of Leah Bostwick. In the summer of 2013, she and a couple friends cycled 1,600km across Europe on bicycles that cost just $50 U.S.

As Leah writes on her site, The Vegetarian Traveller:

A wise man once said to me, ‘All you need to cycle is a bicycle and the desire to do it’.  He was right.  It may have been easier if we had trained, bought expensive bicycles, planned a route, or spent the night sleeping in comfy hotels, but we didn’t.  And we made it.  You can, too, if you want to.

On their budget adventure, they dumpster dived for food (and even found free beer!), and cooked on a Beer Can stove.

The-Beer-Can-Cookbook-Cover“Because my road buddies and I were always free camping in farmers’ fields, hiding in sand dunes, slipping into an overgrown thicket of trees, or submitting to a bus stop, my friends and I didn’t have the option to build a full-on fire. The beer can stove was our culinary saving grace.”

After the trip was over, Leah wrote the Beer Can Cookbook — a relatively short but nevertheless useful little guide to cooking cheap, hearty meals on the road with a stove you can make yourself. It includes about 20 recipes and tips for what to put in your bicycle pantry.

Get it from Amazon, or download a copy (PDF or Kindle) from her website. Don’t forget to drop Leah a couple bucks via Paypal to say thanks.

Oh, and there’s also this video that sums up their summer adventure. Take 5 minutes and enjoy the show.

Posted in Books, Food
Posted October 27th, 2014

For years now, our trusty tent for bike touring and camping has been Hilleberg’s Nallo 3GT but this summer we retired our Nallo 3GT in favour of something bigger: the Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 4 tent.

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Why the switch? The Nallo 3GT was simply too small for our growing family. We needed more space for the extra trailer and gear we’re carrying around. We also wanted a roomier porch, where mum and dad could hang out on rainy or cold evenings while Luke snoozed in the sleeping compartment.

Deciding that we wanted a new tent was easy. Figuring out which tent to buy proved a bit trickier.

We generally believe that investing in high-quality gear pays off, so at the start of our hunt we looked at reasonably expensive tents (eg. the Nallo 4GT, the Safir tipi tent and the MSR Papa Hubba). Ultimately, however, we decided that these tents were too expensive for what we needed.

Unlike in the past, we are not currently planning any long-distance, extreme bike trips. We don’t plan to take this tent through rain, snow, hail and sleet.

Instead, we’re aiming mainly at spring and summer touring through Europe, with perhaps a trip to South Korea or Japan next year. If the weather gets really bad, we’ll take a hotel and that means our tent doesn’t have to live up to expedition-quality standards.

The Quickhiker Ultralight 4 met all of our needs:

  • Affordable. It costs €269.95 in Europe.
  • Lightweight. The tent weighs 3.9kg (not including the groundsheet). That’s just 300g more than Hilleberg’s Nallo 4GT (which would have been a logical upgrade for us from the 3GT).
  • Roomy. It’s 15cm higher than the Nallo 3GT and nearly a meter wider.
  • Guaranteed. It comes with a 2-year guarantee.

So far, we’ve used it about 20 times. Are we pleased? Absolutely.

The space inside is as valuable as gold for our growing family. We can sit up easily anywhere in the tent (in our Hilleberg, we could only sit straight up in the middle of the tent) and we can fit our 3 sleeping mats side by side without being squeezed up against the walls of the tent.

There’s even room left over for toys, clothes and random treasures like sticks which Luke regularly picks up, and plenty of gear pockets to keep things organised inside the tent.

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The large back, mesh window of the tent is another favourite of ours. Since we’re doing more summer camping now, the nights can be warm and with this tent you can open up the back of the tent entirely for excellent airflow.

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Of course, as you’d expect with a relatively cheap tent, this one isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s missing a few thoughtful details that made our Hilleberg such a delight to camp in. The two main problems we have with the tent are:

  • No tensioners on the pole sleeves. This makes setting up the tent a bit of a struggle. It’s a tight fit to get the poles into the sleeves and seated in the grommets. We find it easiest to lay the tent on the ground, put the poles in while the tent is flat and then stake it out and erect it. Over the winter, we may try to add our own tensioners.
  • Door to the sleeping compartment can’t be totally closed off. Once inside the porch, there’s a second door that leads to the sleeping compartment. The top half of this door is made of mesh, so on cooler nights it’s impossible to entirely seal yourself in (in order to keep the temperature higher). That’s one reason why this is not a good 3-season tent.

Overall, however, we’re very pleased. When you consider the price, this tent is good value and perfectly suitable for summer bike tours. If you want a family tent without blowing the budget, we’d recommend this one.

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Posted August 26th, 2014

In our first six years of bike touring, we took a fairly traditional approach to packing and setting up our touring bikes.

Our basic set-up consisted of 2-4 panniers on each bike, a handlebar bag up front and a dry bag over the back rack.

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A baby changes everything, however, so when Luke came along in 2012 we had to re-think our packing strategy. As a baby, Luke could simply travel in his Chariot trailer (and we could still carry our panniers as we’d always done) but by the summer of 2014 we no longer had a baby. We had a toddler who was taking up increasingly more space.

Luke in Switzerland

Luke was now mostly sitting on the back of mum’s bike in a Yepp seat. This took up the space that Friedel would otherwise use for back panniers. Andrew, meanwhile, was loaded down with back bags and we still hadn’t gotten rid of the trailer (essential as Luke’s hideaway spot for naps and bad weather).

Andrew's bike touring setup

How could we pack everything we needed and still have enough room for a pint-sized passenger? We needed:

  • A way to carry more gear, including bulky items such as tents (which wouldn’t fit easily in front panniers).
  • A flexible solution that would be useful for biking around town as well as for touring.
  • Something that we could also carry on public transport.
  • The ability to easily use whatever we bought on a variety of bikes (we own 7 bikes in total).

It wasn’t long before the Dutch-made Cyclone IV Trailer from Radical Design caught our attention.

We’d heard good things about this trailer from friends (see Stijn’s review) so in April 2014 we took the plunge and bought one. We hooked it up behind Friedel’s bike, filled it with camping gear and took it to Switzerland for a 3-week test drive.

Friedel on bike with trailer

In a word, it was GREAT!

We’re not really the gushing type but let us gush, just for a moment: we have fallen head-over-heels in love with this trailer. It’s solidly built, easy to use and versatile. Best of all, it tows so easily behind the bike that you hardly know it’s there.

Our friend Stijn described his Cyclone trailer like this:

Unloaded, it’s hard to even tell I’m pulling a trailer at all. It functions perfectly and it’s built to last. Even better, it’s as much a duffle bag as it is a trailer and it converts from one into the other in under a minute.

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The trailer has now become a standard part of our touring setup, with over 1,000km of use so far.

We use it to carry everything we need for camping. The bag has a capacity of 100 litres and inside we are able to fit a tent (currently the Hilleberg Nallo 3GT), a tarp, three sleeping bags, three Thermarest NeoAir mats and two Helinox chairs. All of this packs in easily, while still leaving room for impressive quantities of food.

Big Storage Space
Most of the food that we purchase while cycling goes into the trailer. It’s so easy to just open the top flap and stick food on top of the other gear already inside. This is a bonus, but also one of the potential dangers of this trailer: it’s so big and so easy to tow, that you can be constantly tempted to carry more weight than you really need to.

A bottle of wine? Sure! An interesting rock that you found by the side of the road? Why not! We’re constantly reminding ourselves that just because we can carry something doesn’t mean we necessarily should.

Easy To Attach
Hooking up the trailer to the bike was a breeze. You simply pull back on a spring on the tow bar and clip it on to the hitch. This can be done with one hand and almost no effort.

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The well-thought-out wheels are another plus. They’re 16″ wheels (the same size as many folding bikes) and can be removed from the trailer by simply pushing the button at the centre of the hub.

Cyclone wheels

Once released, you can pack the wheels (and the trailer hitch) inside the main bag. This transforms your trailer into a duffle bag: perfect for plane, train or bus trips.

Alternatively, you can move the wheels to a second mounting point at the back of the trailer. This makes it a nifty trolley, which you can easily tow behind yourself while walking. We use it this way for our weekly grocery shopping.

In most reviews, we try to find some disadvantages to mention. It’s rare to find a ‘perfect’ product but in this case we’re really struggling to find anything we don’t like about the Cyclone trailer. It’s well built, well thought out and highly recommended.

One thing to be aware of is the price. The Cyclone sells for nearly €500. If you want a top-notch trailer for touring, then this one is worth every penny. If you want to save a little cash, you might consider the Burley Nomad trailer instead.