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Chemical engineer working in the field of bulk chemicals for e.g. plastics and energy, specifically energy efficiency and renewables.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Details of the bicycle trip.

  • Bicycle: Trek 1.5 racing bike, standard setup, 7L handlebar bag, lights and armadillo armoured tyres.
  • Trailer: Extra wheel trailer with 2 60 L Crosso dry panniers
  • Trip: Alkmaar to Strasbourg via Arnhem mostly following the Rhine. Detours included Frankfurt and Heidelberg.
  • Plan: Loose plan. Hostels were preferred but I had a tent in emergency but I never had to use it. Was aiming for a 12 day trip but ending up spending 16 days. From Strasbourg, I got a train to Paris and met up with friends for a few days and then we drove back.
At the end of September, my contract with the company expired. I did not renew with them and instead decided to move on. In this process I also decided to take some time out as I still had some money coming in from side projects. Thus I fixed my sights on cycling down the Rhine taking about 3 weeks in total for the holiday. I had never toured by bicycle before. I have extensive road bike experience and from my younger days (I am 27), downhill mountain bike experience. However something like this was completely new for me.

The first step was to decide what setup I was going to use. I had a Trek 1.5 racing bike but I did consider buying a new bike specifically a touring bike completely setup for touring. The two bikes I was considering were from Koga and from the Cannondale touring range. The latter was discontinued and the former seemed to my mind to be over the top for the time I would spend. Thus I decided to stay with the racing bike. The next step was to work out whether I would go ultra-light or carry gear. I decided that the time of year warranted gear. Options for carrying gear on the racing bike were limited so I decided to buy a trailer. I choose the extra wheel trailer over the bob yak as it allowed me to buy the complete package. With the Crosso dry panniers, the trailer cost approx €300 + delivery from Poland.

The next step was to pick my route. I decided to go down the Rhine along the Rhineradweg. I choose this as it is a pretty flat route (according to bikemap.net) and should have a pretty good surface for many parts. Further in the case of any emergencies, the area is well populated and has many bike stores and train stations. I planned to stay in hostels but I carried a tent just in case. I had my stops laid out until Cologne. After this point I would work on the fly. The distances I was going to do until that point were on average 100km per day. I would at Cologne assess the setup and the distances. I would aim to start early (06:00-08:00) and finish early (no later than 15:00). 

Trip details
The first few days were pretty uneventful. I had travelled to my 1st step Utrecht before but I had a beautiful day of sun. Arnhem my next stop, was new and the landscape started to change from the flat, open plains to forest areas with some slight inclines. Getting across the border proved to be difficult as when I left the hostel, there was essentially a thunderstorm occurring. Further calamity would occur as the side of the Rhine I would choose was closed to cyclists just as I crossed the border. There were no boat crossings in the vicinity so I had to detour. The storm lasted all day and I stopped around 14:00 to assess my situation. I had cycled 70km and due to the detour had a similar distance to go. I also had picked up an injury on my Achilles so I decided to get the train the rest of the way to Duisburg where I stayed with friends. The next day having strapped up my ankle and finding that all my gear was dry, I continued to Cologne where I would have 2 days to spend.

At Cologne I opened all my bags and emptied then. I did find a small amount of moisture but this was more due to having hastily packed semi-wet clothes into the waterproof bags rather than water ingress during the storm. I let the bags dry out and enjoyed the jewel on the Rhine including its impressive Dom, a praetorian excavation, a museum depicting the Nazi rise to power in Cologne and other various sights.
After Cologne I decided to reduce my travel distance per day. I was now aiming at travelling approximately 40-60km per day. Below Cologne, the Rheinradweg is incredible beautiful and easy to follow especially on the right side of the river as you look south. Indeed this is the recommended side to travel as it stays truer to the Rhine. With the weather holding dry and temperatures around zero to twelve degrees, conditions were perfect for taking in the breath taking scenery. In particular the hostel in Oberwessel was located on top of a hill beside an old and renovated castle. Other sights included Lorelei , the pretty Koblenz and uncounted castles among a long list of others.

At Mainz I could not find accommodation and tried to get to Frankfurt. On paper, it is easy as you simply follow a river branch off the Rhine. On that weekend, a cargo vessel full of chemicals sank and so that track was closed. I made a detour which became pretty ardours as it took me through vineyards. There was no direct bike track for a long way and thus I ended up doubling my distance. However I finally made it to Frankfurt. Frankfurt has a spectacular skyline (unusual for us Europeans) but it is a pretty soulless place filled with flashy bars and restaurants that lack substance and depth. Sachsenhausen, the old part of the city does provide some more substance.
Form Frankfurt I stopped in Worms which is noted for the Diet of Worms and has a nice old town. From there I travelled to Mannheim (which is a weird city with a chessboard layout and no street names) and continued on to Heidelberg. Here I delighted in the castle and the philosopher’s way which cumulates in the ruins of an old monastery as well as the Thingstätte amphitheatre. Heidelberg is a beautiful town. Afterwards I headed to the quaint but under construction town of Karlsruhe. A large remodelling of the towns metro and tram system makes it appear ugly but the people are very friendly. My final stop was Strasbourg which is a historic and beautiful French town. This was a fitting end to the trip.

Impression: Route
The route is highly recommended. It is visually impressive and contains many distractions to get you away from the cycling. For the most part the surface is paved though there are several sojourns across forested areas without paving. Sign posts are pretty regular but the golden rule is always to keep near the Rhine. Once you go too far away, you are on your own. If you accomplish this, the route is flat and contains no climbs. However if you do feel adventurous, most of the castles are located on top of the hills along the Rhine and 10% gradients need to be overcome to get to these by bike.

Impression: Gear
The handling of the bike and the trailer held up extremely well even under difficult conditions such as forest trails. The racing bike is obviously not the best for these trails but the trailer added extra stability. Under normal conditions the trailer lowers the centre of the gravity so there is more manoeuvrability which helps avoid bumps. The panniers proved to be large and water proof even under thunderous conditions. One thing is that the bike with the trailer attached is difficult to take up and down stairs. Cycling with the trailer does take a bit of getting used to but after 100km, I was completely at ease.

I would make some improvements. A rear mudguard for the back on the racing bike would be an idea. A kickstand would also be very useful. For the trailer, a long carry strap would be useful. Also a socket for a light would also be appreciated.

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