Here we are. 16 months after the project was born in our heads at the foot of the ramparts of Lübeck, in the north of Germany, we are about to leave for a year-long bicycle trip around Europe. To discover the project, and understand where it comes from, we propose a little trip in time, while waiting for the other trip, a little more spatial.
Starting out on a bicycle
We have always enjoyed cycling, but our first experience of travelling by bike is not so old. In All Saints’ Day 2020, we took advantage of a week’s holiday to start our first journey. As we had no equipment, Luc’s brother and sister, well equipped and experienced, lent us everything we needed. We set off from Grenoble with the aim of following the Isère river to Valence before descending the Rhône valley along the Via-Rhôna. We are lucky enough to start with the Roll’s Royce of travel bikes, as we have been lent 2 beautiful TX-randonneurs. We discover the joy of hills with a loaded bike, even if our route is mostly flat. We have fun, we enjoy and we bivouac. The second evening, while we pitched the tent at the edge of the Rhone, we turn on the TV on a telephone. While having a coffee at lunchtime, the bakery owner had warned us that “Macron was going to speak this evening”. And then, the sentence is passed, second confinement. Unfortunately, we had to go back to Montélimar station the next morning and our journey, which had started two days before, was already over.
Genesis of the project
6 months later, in the summer of 2021, we spend a weekend in Hamburg to meet halfway between Denmark and Paris, where we are each doing an internship. We visit Lübeck and, during a snack break, we wonder about our future. Our studies end in a year, and we are not particularly happy about the prospect of working straight away. The project of going on a long bike trip had been tempting us for some time, and we formally decide that the time has come to clarify all this. We think about it for 30 seconds and decide to go for a year, around Europe. Why Europe? Because Covid uncertainty is still present at the time and we want to do everything by bike, without taking a boat or a plane to reach a continent. Why one year? Because it sounds good.
Five minutes later, we are making a provisional budget with a wet finger. With the experience of organising scout camps, we take into account the material, food, administrative costs and so on. You then convert all this into hours of private tuition. You quickly realise that it is feasible. We have to admit that we have been unfairly lucky enough to be paid during our studies, while other students have to work to pay for them. All we could earn was extra.
In the evening in Hamburg, sitting on the banks of the Elbe, we thought about a provisional itinerary with the help of the Euro-bike network, which is a network of (sometimes fictitious) bike routes across the continent. In principle, we should be able to leave in autumn. The beginning of our journey will be cold. No problem, we’ll just ride along the south of Europe. To where? Turkey sounds good. And after that? I’ve heard that Norway is incredible to discover, we could go all the way to the North Cape, the northernmost point of Europe. If all goes well, we’ll be there by Polar Day. All that remains is to return to France. And so, on our way back to Paris, we bought two maps of Europe from Gilbert-Joseph and proudly displayed the following route in our living room.
Back in Paris, we start looking for 2 bikes. As we liked them during our too short trip to the Rhône river, we decide to buy 2 TX-Randonneurs. Unfortunately, because of the post-covid shortage on the bike market, they are nowhere to be found. We quickly realize that there is not much left available, and that the first restocking might be a bit late. By calling dozens of shops and spending hours reading bike comparisons and travellers’ returns, we finally managed to find 2 bikes in our size. A TX-800, from the German brand VSF-Fahrrad-Manufaktur for Maryam, and a Tour de Fer 20, from the English manufacturer Genesis for Luc. These are two excellent touring bikes, with steel frames, flat hangers, disc brakes and mountain bike transmissions. We each add a Brooks leather saddle* and a pair of semi-automatic pedals. We both really like our bikes. Since we are used to loading them well, and being in the upright position, we affectionately call them our “trucks”.
* For Maryam, we had to be inventive, and we thought it might help other women travellers. The Brooks women’s saddles are shorter, so the mounting rail offers less latitude for adjustment. So, even with a stop, the recoil wasn’t great enough. We had to find a seatpost with a high offset, which we finally got with the Vélo Orange – Grand Cru model.
A trip to Switzerland
All Saints’ Day 2021, it’s time to test the material. We hit the road again for a week-long trip through Switzerland, from Milan to Mulhouse. Even if it rains all week, we have a great time. We experience the ascents of passes under the snow (it’s nice), and the descents in the cold (it’s less nice, especially for the hands). We appreciate the welcome of the Swiss: given the ambient cold, we prefer not to bivouac. Every evening, we ring a doorbell at random. Every evening, we get a positive answer from the first request, for a warm night, with a shower and a meal. On the only day of good weather, we get an eyeful of the slopes of the Oberalp Pass.
Vadrouilles dans le Sud-Est
Once spring arrived, we landed in the South-East of France for our respective training courses. We took the opportunity to go cycling regularly over long weekends. These rides give us some stories that you can find here, for example an itinerary from the Rhône to the sea, through the Mont Ventoux and the Gorges du Verdon or a tour of the Baronnies of Provence. The more we ride, the more we enjoy riding. Our itineraries are progressively more uneven and we venture more and more often into steep terrain and rough paths, for example by doing a grand tour of the Écrins massif.
That’s it, the big departure is approaching. We’re currently working on the last details of the equipment and we think we’ll leave Grenoble around October 20th. We haven’t mapped out the whole route yet, but we know that the map above is just a rough idea. We plan to add a good dose of mountainous terrain as soon as possible. For the departure, we will first head towards Venice, riding as much as possible in the French and then in the Italian Alps, as long as the roads are not closed for the winter. For the rest, we’ll see. We don’t know yet how fast we’ll ride in the long run. We tend to swallow a lot of kilometres, but we also want to take the time to discover the regions we cross. We’re thinking of taking advantage of the Work-away network to stop from time to time and exchange food and lodging for a bit of agricultural work, for example.
If you want to follow our adventure, we plan to write articles on this blog, at a pace that we like (probably between one per month and one per week). To know when a new article is published, you can write your email address in the little box below this article (we promise not to sell your details!). We also plan to post some pictures on our instagram account, which you can follow if you feel like it!
See you soon, for more news!