Author Archives: Jace
A brief look at the Col d’Agnes in the French Pyrenees.
High in the French Pyrenees, situated between the Col de Latrape and the Port de Lers, lies the beautiful Col d’Agnes. At 1570 meters high, the col typically ranks as a Category 1 climb when used in the Tour de France and is rightfully challenging. The eastern approach is notably more tame with the beginning starting off along a pleasant river valley. In contrast, the western side hits your hardest shortly out of Aulus-les Bains.
The Col d’Agnes is generally open from May through November.
Start in Aulus-les Bains
Distance: 10.1 km
Average Grade: 8.1%
Max Grade: 11%
Start in Massat
Distance: 17.6 km
Average Grade: 5.3%
Max Grade: 8%
Main post image: “Col d’Agnés” by bebb83 – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Col_d%27Agn%C3%A9s.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Col_d%27Agn%C3%A9s.jpg
Small is the Next BIG Thing.
It seems like everything is getter bigger nowadays. What happened to great things in small packages? What happened to quality over quantity? When did something being big, mean that it was better? Why are mobile phones starting to look like tablets? How am I supposed to fit that into my jersey pocket? Why would I want to? I tend to think that there are many things that are better in small packages. Cycling tours are one of those things, which is why In Situ is proud to offer small group bike tours.
Besides offering our guests the possibility to ride over some of the most challenging routes in Europe, we make sure to keep our cycling tour groups small. How small? Our regular trips are never more than 10 guests. Yes, that is small. Why? We believe smaller groups allow us to provide a more personalized experience. The quality of our service is a cornerstone of our business.
With small groups, we’re able to stay at small, family-run inns and not large, chain hotels. Perhaps our hotel has only ten rooms, each decorated with a personal touch. The whole family might be in charge of running the inn: from serving up breakfast to letting you feast on dinner, from organizing your afternoon massage to pouring you a glass during our evening wine tasting. You feel connected. You feel like you’ve been welcomed into someone’s home. When is the last time you felt that in a chain hotel?
With small groups, we dine in authentic, local establishments; ordering off of the menu, as you would with a group of friends. Our meals aren’t buffet pasta feasts that load you with carbs. Small group meals mean that the restaurant isn’t overrun with the equivalent of a tour bus full of cyclists. Ever wonder why your meal options on those other big, group cycling tours are limited? Quite simply, the restaurant kitchen can’t accommodate all 30 of you ordering à la carte, all at the same time. Do you want a better dining experience? Go small.
With small groups, you can experience the routes without feeling like you’re part of a bike race. Ride together or separate, you decide (our GPS units, let you ride at your own pace). Ask yourself, how much do you see of the countryside while sitting in a double pace line with 30 people for 50 kilometers? More likely than not, you’ll remember the back of the rider in front of you more than you’ll remember the little villages you just passed through. Smaller groups allow you to take in your surroundings better. Sure you’re riding in Europe to conquer some of the famous cols, but you might only be here once in your life, you might as well take a look around. A small group gives you more space on the road.
With small groups, the overall experience is more relaxed. Gather after breakfast, geared up to ride. Your bike is waiting for you by the snack table. Don’t worry, there’s no rush to grab goodies for your jersey pockets. You’re not competing with 30 other people for the bananas and trying to rush to get to a “start” line. With a small group bike tour, the tone is mellow and laid back. Ask yourself what you think it would look like with a few dozen riders instead of just ten?
With small groups, you have a great guest to bike tour leader ratio. A typical set up for a bike tour is to have two leaders: one driving the support van while the other rides a bike with the guests. If your trip has 26 guests on it, that’s a ratio of 13 guests per leader. With In Situ’s bike tours, the ratio is never more than 5 guests per leader and sometimes just 3 or 4 guests per leader (i.e. on a 7 or 8 person trip). Other companies will tell you that they have even 3 or more leaders on their trips, but guess what? Their trips are also a lot bigger. That same 26 guests trip with 3 leaders on it, is still a ratio of more that 8 guests per leader. Once again, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Small group bike tours give you more personalized service.
In Situ was founded with one of the core principles being small groups. We not only believe this to be a better solution, we know it. We think others are finally realizing it too. Every year, other bike tour companies are talking more and more about the “small” trips that they now offer. But buyer beware: the term “small” is a relative term. Ask them what small means to them and they might just say, “26 guests”. Well, I guess that seems “small” when you compare yourself to a sightseeing tour bus.
Small (group bike tours), is the next BIG thing. Remember where you heard it first.
Parisian women are known for their impeccable style and taste. For as long as we can remember, the French have always been forefront on the fashion scene and have been keeping us absolutely green with envy over their effortless style. Turns out a lot more thought goes into their outfits – that effortlessness doesn’t come out of thin air!
The quintessential Parisian style is definitely sourced back to the French New Wave film scene of the 1950s and 1960s. Some pivotal actresses that changed the way we think about fashion include Anna Karina, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Jane Birkin. With their crisp white t-shirts and skinny black pants, these women perfected cat eye liner and the nude lip. Their iconic looks have truly become timeless as we see their style emulated all over the world to date.
I have pulled together the essentials to turn you into a Parisian ingénue in no time at all!
Neutrals + Black
Parisian girls always stock their day to day wardrobe with clean neutrals like white blouses, creamy cardigans and stone-hued leathers. And of course, she always grounds her outfits with a strong black piece like pants or a leather jacket.
Keeping it simple and comfortable for lots of walking, black flats are an absolute must-have. Pointy, ballerina or square – these classic shoes are excellent for packing and travel.
Parisian wannabe, Audrey Hepburn was never without a pair of skinny black pants. Cropped at the ankle, these pants go with everything.
Another timeless piece, the classic khaki trench coat is an essential for travel. Wear it casual or dress it up for a night out, you’ll be looking sharp no matter what.
And If You Must, Stripes…
Everyone thinks of striped tees when they think of Parisian fashion which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To avoid looking like you are going to a French theme party, stick with subtle stripes like pinstripe jeans or a black + white tote. You can break out the red + white stripe boatneck occasionally, of course!
Support Vehicle YES, Shuttles NO
You might look at that title and wonder what’s the difference? On cycling tours, there can be a BIG difference between a Support Vehicle (aka SAG Wagon) and a Shuttle. Simply put:
- A Support Vehicle is available to you on the route to help you with gear, nutrition, and a ride if you need it.
- A Shuttle is a required element of the day’s route, i.e you need to “shuttle” to get to and/or from the ride.
At In Situ we provide you with a support vehicle, but we never require that you shuttle. We figured that if you came on a cycling tour, you came to ride and not sit in a vehicle. Out on the route every day a support vehicle will join you. It carries your extra personal gear (i.e. rain jacket, warm layers, etc.), food, bike parts, spare wheels and other goodies to help you out with your ride. It’s also there in case you want to call it a day. If you’re done riding, of course you can hop in the support vehicle and get a ride back to the hotel. But do you have to? Of course not. It’s your vacation after all, so it’s your choice. It’s a support vehicle, not a required shuttle.
Don’t try to be all things to all people. With so many bike tour operators in the marketplace, how can one stand out from the crowd? Do one thing and do it well.
At In Situ, we offer challenging bike tours in Europe. We don’t offer hiking, walking, multi-sport or camping trips. We don’t offer easy-riding, “sightseeing by bike” trips. We don’t offer city tours on “fat” bikes. We don’t offer trips suited for everybody that rides a bike. We do: offer bike tours for people who love the challenge of a good, hard bike ride.
Does that mean that there is nothing else to do on our bike tours besides riding? Of course not. It just means that our focus is on the quality of the ride, first and foremost. Your ride will not be muddled up with constant stops at museums or wine tastings. There is plenty of time for those activities when you’re done riding for the day. Our leaders are also cyclists, just like you, so they understand the importance to getting in your daily ride, before savoring all the fun things to do in the trip region.
Because we understand the importance of a good ride, we realize that the size of the group you’re riding with is important too. You’ve probably been there before: on your weekend morning, at the meeting spot, waiting for your weekly group ride to get everything together before you roll out. Or perhaps later in the ride, you have to wait up for for others while you’re at a bathroom break. Not on our trips. Our small groups mean we’re nimble. Nimble means you ride more and ride better. It’s that simple.
We challenge you. We inspire you. We show you some of the best cycling routes Europe has to offer. We do one thing and we do it well.
You’ve made the decision to travel to Europe on a bike tour. Tackling the famous routes of the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia has always been your dream. You’re super excited and begin to plan your trip, but one major question still remains: should you bring your own bike or use a rental? There are pros and cons to each, so here are the things to consider:
Bringing Your Own Bike
- Nothing fits like your own bike. If you’re serious about cycling, you’ve probably taken the time to get your bike dialed in just the way you like it. The saddle height, reach, and all the other measurements are perfect.
- For a monumental effort, nothing short of your own bike will do. You’re taking the time to go to Europe, so you’ll want the dependability that your own bike brings. You know how it climbs and descends, corners and sprints; great things to feel confident about if you’re on world class routes.
- You’ll have it available for when you’re not on the bike tour. If your bike tour is a week long, but you’ve got a few days before and after it to explore, having your own bike available can add to the enjoyment of exploring other areas while you’re traveling.
- Packing your bike. If you’re going to bring it, you obviously will have to pack it. This requires a case or box and the time it takes to securely put it all together. Additionally, a poorly packed bike is at a greater risk of damage in transit.
- Flying with your bike. As air travel is increasingly complicated, the number of airlines that allow your bike to fly for free is quickly dwindling. So there is the additional cost of your bike’s transport to consider, as well as potential baggage delays.
- Traveling with your bike case. Some thought should be given as to how you’ll get around when you’re not on the bike tour. If you’re renting a car, having a case is not such a big deal. In Europe you can rent a small, but spacious car like the Peugeot Partner or Renault Kangoo and easily fit in a couple of cases, plus the bikes out of the cases. If you plan to travel by train, definitely give yourself plenty of time to get your bike case on and off the trains and try to limit any short connections at the stations. Moving quickly to catch your next train with a bike case is not much fun.
Renting a Bike
- You don’t have to think about a bike case when traveling with your bike (airplanes, trains, etc.)
- Simple. You show up at your bike tour and your rental bike is available for you.
- No worrying. There’s no risk that your personal bike is damaged or delayed en route to the bike tour.
- Something new. Renting allows you to try out a bike that you may never have ridden. It might even be an upgrade from what you ride at home.
- The fit. Despite requesting your size, sending your measurements, bringing your saddle and pedals, etc., a rental bike might not fit as well as what you’re used to.
- The feel. It’s one thing to ride a rental for a few hours or a day, but what about for a whole week? Things that don’t quite fit or feel right may be tolerable for short periods, but not so much over longer timeframes. You may not feel as comfortable or confident on technical descents and monumental climbs as you would on your own bike.
- Limited options. Bicycles are a little bit like clothes, when they fit right, they are at their best. What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. So your rental might be great for some people, but not so great for you. Unlike a clothing store, there may not be another brand for you to try out for your trip.
- Cost. Some companies include bike rental as part of their trip price and for others it is extra. If it’s included in the price, do all models cost the same? That top-of-the-line, full carbon racing machine on their homepage might cost you more than their normal rental. Be sure to weigh the costs before deciding.
Photo Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/justinwdavis/4235326042/. (no changes) License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en
Choosing a bike tour vacation can be a daunting task, no matter what type of tour you’re looking for. There are numerous bike tour companies in the market to take you to regions all over the world. So how are you to decide? What things should you consider? Since In Situ offers challenging bike tours in Europe, I’ll offer you some tips on how to choose a bike tour, if you’re a serious cyclist.
Tip 1: Ask for specifics about each day’s ride
This can’t be overstated. Ask a lot of questions about the daily rides to make sure that the bike tour company’s routes work with what you’re looking for in a vacation. When looking at a company’s itinerary online or in their catalogue, it might look obvious in print, but the reality of the actual trip may be different. Large companies that cater to a varied clientele, might say they have one, two or three riding options each day, but how does the day actual play out? Are the day’s routes truly designed with a cyclist in mind, so that you can easily ride everything you want to? Will you be expected to stop part way into your ride for a wine tasting or museum visit? What do the majority of the typical guests do on a daily basis? How many hours are you typically out on the route? Don’t just look at the distances in the catalogue and assume your average speed to determine the riding time. Ask the company what time of day they typically finish their rides. You’ll be surprised that many companies take all day to ride just 50-60 miles. That’s because the days include sightseeing en route.
Tip 2: Ask the bike tour company how they do their directions
In other words, how do you find your way on the route every day? There are a few main ways companies handle this: 1. They give you a map and/or printed directions that goes in a map case attached to your handlebars. You then must navigate for yourself (i.e. read the map while riding). 2. They ask that you ride as a group, meaning that you must wait up at intersections or keep up with the group on the hills. Larger companies that navigate this way, may split you up into fast, medium and slower riders. 3. A bike GPS unit is provided to you, pre-loaded with the directions. This enables you to ride freely, either with others or solo, depending on what you’d like to do. The GPS unit prompts you at intersections and turns, so that there is no need to read a map while riding.
Tip 3: Ask the bike tour company about shuttles to and from the daily ride
This is perhaps the most difficult thing to figure out from just looking at the trip catalogue. You’ll see that there are daily routes with distances, elevations, options, etc., but what you might not be able to tell is whether or not you need to take a vehicle to get to the ride in the morning or if one is needed to get to the hotel at the end of the day. Many of the larger companies that try to offer trips to all level of riders, design their trips with shuttles being an integral part of their routes. Ask before you sign up. Driving to or from your ride while on vacation is not a whole lot of fun. Riding right from the doorstep of your hotel is much better.
Tip 4: Find out how many people will be on your trip
This can be a matter of personal preference, but realistically consider how the group size will effect your overall experience. Don’t just rely on the company saying they run “small” group trips. That could mean they have as many as 30 people on a trip. So ask specifics in terms of group size. The size of your group plays a role in many things that you do: What type of lodging and restaurants can accommodate your group? How long will it take to gather as a group pre-ride? What is the support staff to rider ratio? Will you have to wait for others while riding or can you ride at your own pace?
Tip 5: Ask about the typical guest
Who will likely be the other guests on your trip? Are they also avid cyclists? What type of clientele does the company cater to? What are their riding abilities? What are the average ages? Do people ride a lot or a little? Do they ride a bike at home or is this trip a once a year type of thing?
Tip 6: Look at the bike tour company’s entire set of trip offerings
What kind of company is offering the tour? What are their core competencies? Do they offer just cycling trips or do they also offer hiking, kayaking, multi-sport trips, etc.? Of their offerings, how focused are they on trips for serious cyclists? Do they offer a majority of easy biking trips instead? Examine their selection of trips carefully. Some companies tend to try to offer something for every type of rider, novice to advanced, which is fine if everyone’s needs are truly met. But ask yourself if you think they are truly focused on the type of trip that you’re looking for. If the majority of the company’s trips focus on easy riding, how challenging will their “epic” trips really be?
We sometimes get asked if we’re celebrating Oktoberfest. Well, maybe, but just because you’re anywhere in Germany in October, doesn’t mean that you’ll be there for the world famous Oktoberfest. So here are a few quick facts about Oktoberfest in Germany:
Most of Oktoberfest takes place in September, not October. Yes, that’s right, despite its name, the festival takes place primarily in the month of September. The original event took place in October, but for numerous reasons, it was moved to earlier in the calendar. Some of these reasons are weather (it can be cold in October in Germany) and to coincide with German Reunification Day (on Oct. 3). In 2013, Oktoberfest runs from September 21 to October 6.
Oktoberfest is a celebration in Munich, not all of Germany. There is sometimes a misconception abroad that Oktoberfest is a national event. In reality, it traditionally takes place only in Munich. The original event was in 1810 and centered around marriage festivities of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese. The meadow which now is the focal point of the modern Oktoberfest is named Theresienwiese (Therese’s Meadow) in the princess’ honor.
It’s more than just about beer. Yes, beer is focus and enjoying the festivities from within a beer tent is a highlight for many visitors. But in an effort to keep the event family friendly and appeal to more people than just drunken crowds, there are carnival booths, amusement park rides and other kid friendly activities.
I was in search for a new turbo trainer for this winter and ultimately decided on the Elite Qubo Home Trainer. Here’s my review and thoughts on it so far.
Let me first say that this review and my thoughts are in no way affiliated with Elite, nor In Situ. This is my own, personal home trainer and my thoughts about it. Neither Elite nor In Situ paid for or sponsored for the trainer’s purchase or review. I just thought that readers might like some ideas if they themselves are searching for a new bike trainer too.
After several years of foregoing the use of a home trainer, preferring instead to venture out on the roads and trails, no matter what the weather, I started to realize that maybe the quality of my workouts was suffering. I held on to the noble notion that it builds character to weather the elements while riding one’s bike. But in honesty, I know that I would often ride easier or shorter than I probably should have been for training purposes, especially if the roads were snowy or icy. With this recent winter being a bit more serious than usual, I decided it was time to get a new stationary trainer. (I had a old Blackburn Trakstand years ago, but it was long since gone).
I also thought about getting a set of rollers, since this was the “gold standard” that so many people seemed to tout, back when I was first getting into cycling. But the trainer vs. rollers debate is a whole different discussion. For the sake of the post, I’ll just say that I chose to go with a trainer for several reasons.
So for me, the choice of a trainer came down to one main factor: was it quiet? My previous Blackburn sounded like a plane was about to take off every time I was on it. That combined with the required fan and the television volume, made for quite the racket! This time out I was going to hopefully change all of that. After googling multiple different variations of “quiet home bike stationary trainer”, I quickly started to notice that the Elite Qubo Fluid Trainer was mentioned often. A few more clicks and a few more comparisons and I had made my mind up. The Elite was the trainer for me.
Here are my thoughts on it from first taking it out of the box, setting it up to its performance.
Set-up: It does require some! Not much, but some. You don’t just pull it out of the box and you’re good to go. A few web reviewers complained that it was not easy to set up. I disagree. It’s not difficult, but it does take several minutes (e.g. 20-30 minutes), including some minor adjustments you might have to make to ensure it’s ready to go for the first use. Pay particular attention to the diameter of resistance unit roller! It comes in two different sizes/diameters and you’ll mount the resistance unit into different holes on the trainer base depending on what resistance unit you purchased. The instructions clearly walk you through this, but take a second to double check before installing. You’ll also have to adjust the side to side position of the resistance unit, so that you rear tire sits in the middle of the drum while in use. Lastly, you’ll play around with trainer’s clamp, to make sure it sufficiently grabs your rear axle, while not being too tight or too loose. You’re also given several plastic feet that can go under the trainer to level it out, if you need it. I didn’t need them.
Initial impressions after set up, but before the first use: Set-up was straight-forward, although I definitely needed to follow the instructions. It wasn’t intuitive. When centering the the resistance unit at the rear, I needed to move it all the way over to the left so that my tire was centered on it. That seems strange to me, but it doesn’t affect the performance at all. I’m wondering though if there are any bikes out there that one wouldn’t be able to center because I don’t think of my road bike as being particularly unique, yet I need the extreme left mounting position for it to sit correctly in the trainer.
Build quality: The resistance unit seems of very high quality. The trainer frame itself seems a bit lower quality with parts being made out of high density plastic and not metal. The vertical arms are metal, but the base is plastic. Even so, the trainer feels solid and is very stable when in use.
Performance: In a word, fantastic! Compared to other trainers I’ve used this is just simply great. There are no resistance adjustments on the trainer and there is no remote resistance control. All of the resistance is automatic from within the trainer itself. This is apparently done by calculating the weight and speed of the rider and adjusting accordingly. If you need more or less resistance, simply change gears, just like on the road. Super simple. The feel while on the trainer is also super smooth, with no slippage. While it does feel a little harder than actually riding on the road, there is more than enough range to spin as a warm up and to push harder gears too. For most of my use of the trainer so far, I haven’t really felt the need to use the big ring. There is more than enough resistance for me in the little chainring and smaller cogs.
Noise Level: So this was my main concern with a new trainer. All I can say is that this trainer is unbelievably quiet. I can’t even really hear it over the sound of the bike chain and pedaling. That’s quiet! As with most trainers, there is still vibration in the floor, but it is not very much. I should also note that I’m also using a trainer specific rear tire to cut down on noise and wear. I didn’t always use to do this in the past, but I’ve heard quite a few comments how this can help with the noise as well. I’ve not tried this same trainer with a normal tire to see if it’s any louder.
Unique notes: The trainer does not come with a front wheel riser, so you’ll either make do with fabricating your own (i.e. the phonebook) or you can buy one from Elite or another manufacturer. I use a thick magazine and it works just fine. It does however come with its own rear quick release skewer to ensure a good fit while your bike is on the trainer.
Summary: I like the Elite Qubo Fluid Trainer very much. Besides a few little quirks with the setup, it performs very well. And in terms of it being quiet, it’s fantastic.