As we cycled towards Bordeaux, I was getting more than a little smug about the sturdiness of my bike compared with Clare’s back wheel and its multiple punctures. Diligent daily checks, a squirt of lube here, a top up of air there had kept ‘him’ in tip-top working order. But as we all know, pride comes before a fall and sure enough that smugness nearly led to a disaster.
For several hours, I’d noticed the back of my bike swinging about a bit as we bumped across the relatively rough paths of the Charente. The panniers looked normal and well secured but they just didn’t feel right. Another alarming wobble and it was time for a closer inspection.
I didn’t think it was possible for pannier rack bolts to work loose. There are four of them – two were gone for ever, one was just about to fall out and the last one was just about clinging on. One more pothole and the whole lot could have come crashing down, panniers and all, leaving us with a very long walk to the next town.
The same bolts on Clare’s bike were as tight as a new jam jar so I guess I’ve been riding my bike too hard! Fortunately Gorilla tape saved the day and the next morning I persuaded a reluctant bike shop owner to part with some new bolts. They’ll now be checked every day!
Are bikes female like cars or boats? We’ve come to think of them as having distinct personalities. Clare’s can be feisty and frisky, mine steady and solid. So perhaps Clare’s is female, mine is male. Those words are more often associated with horses and indeed, that’s how the bikes can sometimes feel – mounting them in the mornings, giving them rein when the road is smooth and flat, leading them to a shelter at night.
Made by British firm Ridgeback, they are ‘Panorama World’ touring bikes with strong steel cylindrical frames that look like the traditional racing bikes of our youth. We have made just two modifications: padded gel handlebar tape and two new saddles.
Clare has a classic ‘Brooks’ leather saddle which needed many hours of breaking in but now nicely moulds to the shape of her backside. At the last minute, I switched from a big gel filled saddle to a ‘Selle Anatomica’, also leather. It may look like an instrument of torture but is actually extremely comfortable, a bit like a hammock.
The bikes have given us some special experiences over the last few days. Watching herons, egrets and buzzards swoop across the silent salt marches; cruising the corniche into the seaside town of Royan; gazing across endless Medoc vineyards, each vine dripping with grapes ready for harvesting, either by huge machines or cut by hand.
We also enjoyed another special Chambres d’Hotes experience staying at Chateau Real in Saint Seurin. In wine regions a ‘Chateau’ refers to the vineyard and indeed generations of family winemakers gazed down from the walls as Patrick and Violaine welcomed us with delicious cake, seven varieties of homemade jam and tales of life in the Medoc.
As we’re slightly ahead of schedule we’ve been able to spend two days in Bordeaux, enjoying the delights of an Airbnb kitchen and washing machine. It was great to share a fun evening over dinner with Helen, Ian and their friends who were in town to support Bath Rugby for their match against Pau on Saturday.
Bordeaux was a pleasant surprise to us and is a great city for a mini-break. Beautiful buildings, many from the 18th century including the famous Place de la Bourse reflected in the Miroir d’Eau (which has water that is only 1 inch deep) and the Grand Theatre. We particularly enjoyed the new, high tech, multi sensory wine museum (Citi d’Vin) where amongst other things we learnt that Champagne only got going through English consumption. In the early days, the English imported still wine from the Champagne region and then added sugar to produce bubbles. The French poo-pooed the idea until they realised how lucrative it could be!
We’re now on our way to Toulouse and the promise of sunshine. Sometimes this journey feels like the travel of our forefathers. Forty to fifty miles a day on empty tracks, the next hilltop church spire rising in the distance, a welcoming inn with a secure space for our steeds at the end of the day.
Ancient travel? Bikes as horses? Perhaps with so much time to think, I’m going a little mad? True or not, I promise to look after ‘him’ better in future. No more loose bolts.