I had been thinking of cycle touring for a while. As a keen walker and backpacker, I have lightweight kit for all seasons and I’d hiked in remote places like Greenland and North Sweden for extended periods.
I can cover a longer distance per day when cycling, although on roads and paths, I don’t fancy bikepacking; yet I can still remain “in the environment”, with time to stop, admire the view, or look at a building – my definition of slow travelling.
I got rid of my road bike many years ago (a Holdsworth tourer, ironically). Like all things, bikes and their technology have moved on and now the touring bike choice is overwhelming. Eventually, I opted for a British-designed touring bike, a Thorn Nomad. Not a sleek, carbon-framed, road bike, but a go round-the-world, steel-framed, tourer. Reliability was my main requirement; I don’t know where the touring bug may take me!
I opted for a 14-speed Rohloff hub instead of derailleur gears (some Rohloffs are going strong after covering 150,000 km), a dynamo front hub for lighting (LED, of course) with the option of adding a USB charging port in the future. Schwalbe Marathon tyres should give many thousands of puncture-free kilometres! Front and rear pannier racks and a Brooks saddle completed the touring specification.
As a custom bike, I had a colour choice for my Nomad – can you see where this is going? I chose a very bright green.
Train to Bristol
After a few local rides round Torbay, I wanted to do a shakedown trip over a few days to prepare for a longer tour in June, when I plan on visiting the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Getting the train to Bristol and cycling back home to Brixham over 4 days seemed ideal.
After many revisions of my equipment list, campsites and route, I packed the rear panniers. I’ve never trusted any rucksack (or pannier, despite the guarantee) to be waterproof. Everything I want to stay dry goes into dry bags. Everything else goes into stuff sacks. This keeps me organised too. I use a “rack pack” (a waterproof pack that fits on the rear rack) for things that I know could be wet like my tent and waterproofs. I have a bag on the handlebar for my valuables and nibbles on the way.
Each pannier weighed around 11 kg and the rack pack around 10 kg. This did include food and fuel for 4 days riding / 3 nights camping, but even so I suspected this was too much.
Bike fully loaded, I cycled to Paignton station early Friday morning to catch the 7:48 to Bristol Temple Meads.
My tour had begun!
I arrived at Paignton station with lots of time to spare. My first challenge was to get my unwieldy bike into the station itself. One of the double entrance doors was closed and bolted, despite this I got the bike through the open door with a shove and headed to the platform.
The train staff were helpful and escorted me to the end of the train, which had a luggage area and a bike rack. There was no way I could get the bike into the train fully-loaded, so I removed the rack pack and panniers. The train manager assured me bikes did not move (much) as I secured my bike to the rack using the well-worn webbing and its years-old velcro (or should that be “hook and loop”). I used two straps to make sure.
Train journeys are wonderful, with a chance to relax and look at the countryside as it speeds past. There is time to have a think or read, or just do nothing. I was especially interested in the weather, as the forecast seemed to change daily in the days leading up to Friday. In the middle of the week, the forecast was for Bristol to be sunny, calm and dry, but cold; by Friday Bristol was overcast and showery, with a gusty and cold Easterly wind.
After a couple of hours, I was on platform 5, one of the central platforms of Bristol Temple Meads station. ‘Central’ is significant. I was not on the platform next to the station barriers and the exit. Now, I had to negotiate a path through crowds of people while pushing my loaded bike to the lift. It could have been worse, at least there was a lift! Good practice for June when I will be doing the same at Paddington and Liverpool Street stations in London.
People are interesting. They see you pushing a laden bike but only take collision avoidance at the very last second, adding a look of disdain for good measure. The lift from platform 5 to the subway (sadly, Star Trek-style lifts that go anywhere have yet to make it to the real-world) was generally a good experience, made especially so as the bike fitted into the lift. A couple watched me manoeuvre the bike into the lift before entering it themselves, I decided they were fellow tourists as, unlike everyone else, they were not hurrying. Wedging the front tyre into the corner of the lift made the bike quite stable so I could have a few seconds rest as we descended to the subway level.
The instant the lift doors opened, a young woman dragging a small wheeled case rushed into the lift. She quickly stopped rushing as there was a bike in the way. She stood and looked at me, I looked at her. Casually, but in a friendly way, I remarked, “We (as in me, my bike and the other couple in the lift) need to get out, please”. “Oh, right”, trolley woman replied with a look of disdain and moved aside. We all left the lift, I was definitely not rushing while pushing the bike in reverse. I headed towards the melee of the subway; trolley woman re-entered the lift. As the doors closed, I briefly wondered if I glimpsed a look of disdain. By now, I was past caring.
Mobile phone owners are the nemesis of those of us that have to push heavily-laden touring bikes. They expect everyone will move out of their way. The trouble is, rapid evasive action when pushing a heavy bike is either exciting (bike falls onto baby buggy or elderly person) or impossible. So with one hand on the front brake lever, I slowly moved against the flow of people who, it seemed, were all heading to the platform 5 lift I had just left. Many were head down on their phones. There were a few wearing headphones, too. Total sensory deprivation and completely missing my looks of disdain.
Eventually, and with no major injuries, I arrived at the lift nearest the exit. I had this lift to myself and soon escaped the subway, ascending to platform 1. Shortly afterwards, I negotiated the ticket barrier and left Bristol Temple Meads station to start my tour.
It was raining.