You absolutely love the Sidi shoes. The pair must be 3-5 years old as the soles are starting to wear thin. You ride in them all the time, but recently you started thinking that they are not the best shoes for a proper tour. Just in the last 6 months several components of the shoes broke. The Sidi strap, made out of plastic, broke off first. Then the closing part, fell off. These are not big deal issues. In fact, all these parts are easy to replace when taking the bike on a day long ride. One returns home, orders a new part, and a few days later the part arrives. But when one is on a multi-day tour, the point is to move forward. On the road, less is more.
The operating principle for great touring shoes is KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID (KISS). One should minimize all possible breaking points such as fancy Velcros and other parts that can break. Shoelaces work extremely well and are easy to replace on the road, in any supermarket, should you manage to tear one. In addition, good ventilation is great and, probably just as important as being able to spend many hours clicked into the pedaled is being able to walk off the bike with the same shoes. Obviously, mountain bike shoes should be the preference for as touring shoes.
And with this, the search begins.
You return home one day earlier than originally planned from a bike tour in Northern Germany. BEST.DECISION.EVER. You did everything right, yet, during the morning of the second day, as you were rushing to make your destination, a hotel that was still 100km away, you realized that you are missing the whole point.
Originally, you wanted to see the Lüneburger Heath (Heide) which is a beautiful nature reserve somewhere north of Hanover and south of Hamburg. Plans were made to spend the weekend with the misses in Lübeck and then ride to the Heide and then ride back home.
The goal was to see the Heide. Collection kilometers was of course an added bonus, but this year, with SARS-CoV-2 grounding sensible air travel, you see the opportunity to explore your backyard. You spent most of your vacation time flying places so actually taking the opportunity to explore Germany seemed like a sensible thing to do. The pictures of the Heath looked amazing and it was within “cycling distance.”
How often do we embark on a project, dig deep into the details, identify all the trees, the roots, the leafs and forget that the goal was at the other end of the forest? It happens a lot. This was exactly the experience you were having on day 2. After 3 hours of riding off road, on mostly horse trails, getting lost numerous times (Garmin be damned), having experienced a pretty weird dehydration situation the previous day, and being cold non-stop, you figure a lunch break was in order. With that break also came the realization that you were only focusing on one Key Performance Indicator (KPI): Distance Left.
The goal of the tour was to see the Heide. And here you were in the middle of the Heide, yet, you were only looking at the 100km left to ride to get to the next hotel and was completely ignoring nature that was all around you.
In an instance you changed direction. You replanned a route through the Heide, with one click (albeit deep in the app) you cancel the hotel, you roughly get an idea of where the train lines were hiding, and you update the misses to the new plans.
Everybody wins (apart from the hotel….sorry). You enjoy the beauty of the Heath, you have time to take pictures, you greet other travelers, you smell the flowers.
Keeping your goal front and center is key to happiness and success. If the goal was to ride a lot of kilometers, you would have failed. But the goal was to visit a beautiful area and in that you totally succeeded.
2020 is just around the corner and the amount of awesome rides in Europe are growing.
Instead of keeping a local list, here is what arrived on my desk so far.
More to come.
It’s snowing lightly, but you don’t feel cold. Excitement and joy are everywhere you look. You’re on the old path that was used to deliver mail between Berlin and Hamburg. With you, two of your crew mates, smiling ear to ear as the mud flies everywhere and the bikes are getting progressively heavier by the sticky earth.
It’s Saturday in early February and winter is still not coming. Instead of temperatures well below freezing the weather is just cold, hoovering around the 2-4 degrees with loads of very grey days and the occasional beautiful sky. To balance a hellish week of 12-14 hours days on the computer, you plan a nice all-roads adventure starting from the central train station in Berlin and ending in the train station in the town of Brandenburg an Der Havel – some 90 km West. Riding West in the morning, in Northern Germany or maybe elsewhere, means that you’re riding against the wind, but since the ride will take you deep in the forest, you’re not too bothered.
As you leave the city and get into the woods, the asphalt turns to nicely dry and packed gravel. The wheels spin as fast here as they did the previous 10km leading to this forest highway. Soon, the so called Reichgravel turns into much rougher and very wild path, if you can call it a path given the amount of fallen trees criss crossing the way. Here you get the first flat tire which just, as the whole crew decide, does not make sense.
The three bikes are prime examples of the new bike segment baring the term Gravel Bikes. The term is silly so you prefer to think about your steed and those of your two mates as all-road bikes. When you finally get out of the mud and into the street, realising that the train you should be taking leaves in less than an hour and the distance to the train station is around 22km, all three bikes ride at 30km/h without a problem on the road. The same is true when you’re deep in the forest riding the forest paths that are somehow identified on the map as “forest roads”. The three bikes have zero problems traversing deep Brandenburg sand and are certainly complaining a lot less than the riders do when the path turns to puddle.
So we establish, these bikes can take on any kind of road. The three bikes are prime examples of how much fun can be had on two wheels. They also represent exactly the three options on the market. One of the bikes is the beautiful Open UP. This carbon bike is loaded with a SRAM 1×11 setup, hydraulic breaks, fairly light components and 2.1 inch WTB Nano tires on 650B DT Swiss rims. The next example is a locally made steel bike, from cicli bonanno, with roughly the same group set, but a more “rando” setup with generator hub, lights and plenty of space for full fenders. This one is also rocking a set of 650B hoops, with WTB Ranger 2.0 rubber. The last bike represents the versatility of titanium and is made by Seven. It was originally setup as 700c with 44mm Compass tires, but recently it has been converted to 650B with Terrene Elwood tires. Ironically, these tires look at beefy as the 2.1 inch WTBs since they are mounted on the very wide Velocity Blunt SS rims. This is also the non-tubeless wheel set which is the only one to get a flat tire, in the middle of the forest, so go figure. This steed is also setup with a full Campagnolo group with a rather traditional 50/34 cranks and 11-32 cassette.
All three steeds perform beautifully. The mud collected can always be washed off and the clothes thrown to the washer. There will be another weekend in 7 days where these road bikes, all rad, all fun, will take you on the next adventure. That’s what they are for.