David Rossi - Bike Tour Part 3
7 June, 2022
I've returned to Australia after spending the northern summer touring across Europe on the new Reid Granite 2.0; a huge challenge, a trip of a lifetime and an experience I'll never forget. You can read my earlier posts to see details of my preparations and an update from halfway.
I stayed every day of my Visa and over 90 days I covered almost 8000km, from the UK to Italy. Along the way I explored France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Italy. Each day was a new adventure and irrespective of the weather I would either ride to my next destination, or just take a rest day and explore whichever city I found myself in. It took a few weeks for me to be truly comfortable with the physical demands of long distance touring, but any niggling injuries faded (Achilles soreness being one) and my only health concern was reapplying sunscreen regularly and staying hydrated. Days on the bike I covered an average of 90km, usually hitting the road mid-morning after a hearty local breakfast, stopping for lunch at a cafe or supermarket and loading up with energy, then riding on through the afternoon, taking breaks whenever I felt the urge or just wanted to take a few photos.
I didn’t push the pedal hard since I knew I needed to be ready to do it all over again day after day (so most days my speed averaged around 20km/hr). Some nights I camped (often stealthily), when available I used the hosting networks CouchSurfing or WarmShowers, and for a few nights I booked a room on Airbnb. Digging into a big bowl of pasta or devouring a whole pizza washed down with a beer at the end of the day of riding was extremely satisfying. I was lucky to be hosted by some very generous and welcoming people all across Europe, a very heartwarming experience.
The days when the sun came out were fantastic, particularly in the shadows of the Alps. Following the Rhone river all the way from Lyon to Marseille, then the coast to Italy was spectacular. Cruising the Amalfi coast south of Naples, while one of the toughest days in terms of metres climbed (over 4000 vertical metres), was one of the best rides in my life.
One of the goals of my tour was to visit the birthplaces of my parents, and I'm very proud to say I achieved this. It was easy to find my mother’s old home in Northern England since I had an address. I spoke to the current owners, some neighbours, and visited her childhood school. Finding my father’s old home in the mountains of southern Italy was much more difficult, since my father only had vague memories of his home in Italy. With the help of my local host, we canvassed the small town asking everyone we could find. Eventually we tracked down the house my father's family left 60 years ago with relatives still living there!
The Reid Granite took each day in its stride, even with the extra weight of all my gear. I made a special effort to keep the right pressure in my tyres, my chain clean and lubricated, and adjusting my brake pads as they wore. I should've been proactive and had the bike serviced when I visited a huge bike store in Munich, instead I noticed a few days later that I had some cracks in my rear rim (breaking spokes or cracking rims were the most common mechanical failures of all the other bike tourers I met). After that I took it easy as I rode to the next town and with some local advice found a bike shop that replaced the wheel and gave the Granite a full service including new chain, brake pads, and rear cassette. Remember this was around the 4000km mark, a distance almost equivalent to a 10km each way daily commute for a whole year.
The Granite is a modern take on a touring bike, but you could call it a gravel or adventure bike. While some very experienced bike tourers that I met looked at it curiously, others envied it. Conventional wisdom for long distance touring is a steel frame, an upright position, and racks with panniers both front and back. The Granite has a great balance between strength and speed - a very versatile bike.
I used only rear panniers and a small handlebar bag, and for future shorter tours I'm looking forward to packing even lighter. The standard gear ratios took me up some long steep climbs, but for a less experienced cyclist or for tackling passes through mountains like the Alps smaller chainrings and/or a big cassette would be appreciated.
Some will scoff at the pedestrian Shimano Claris gearing, but correctly maintained it’s extremely reliable and durable. 8 speed might mean slightly bigger jumps in ratios, but consumables like chains and cassettes are delightfully affordable and widely available. The mechanical TRP Spyre disc brakes paired with 160mm rotors always pulled me up well, without feeling like I needed to wrench on the levers. They’re one of the few dual piston mechanical disc brakes available, very easy to adjust with a hex key, and a nice surprise on such a value focused bike. Through some kind of divine intervention I didn't get a single flat tyre, but I did change the stock Continental Cyclocross Speed to much tougher touring-specific Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres - while they dull acceleration and aren’t as grippy, they are well suited to road touring and supremely durable. At 32mm they smoothed poorly sealed roads (although I didn’t love riding cobblestones), and the Granite can happily take up to 40mm tyres for adventures including more dirt.
If you're thinking of making your next adventure on a bike, it doesn't have to be across Europe, it doesn't have to cover 100 or even 50km per day and you don't have to camp in a tent. You can leave your house for a day or two, or a week, take a credit card to pay for civilised accommodation, or any kind of adventure in between. The one thing I learnt day after day is that the hardest part was just getting started. Once I got rolling, everything else seemed to take care of itself.