Finally after nearly a year in France we took a proper vacation (although some of you have noted that, at least from the looks of this blog, my life here IS a vacation…), and I’m happy to report that it was Barcelona – a city only 4 hours away by train and one we’ve been meaning to visit for a long while.
Tip #1 – Don’t think that just because you are in ‘bike friendly Europe’ you can take your bikes on any old train. The ‘tourista’ train that goes to Barcelona from here has very little storage space, and definitely nothing remotely like a place for bikes. So first we had to bag the bikes (a small hassle I detest), then we needed to find a way to put them on the train without blocking doors, aisles, etc. – another hassle. Then there was the BOB trailer I thought would be a good idea to buy and try out on this trip! It wasn’t…at least for the 1st four hours.
Tip #2 – Bring ID. Things were pretty good after stowing our transportation away, until the border. Another of my ‘good’ ideas was to bring along our passports but leave behind our residence cards for France. Little did I realize that the passports have no sign of our residence in France (hence the name on the card maybe..?). All they have is our original visas that say when we arrived in Europe (last June) and how long we are ‘legal’ (3 months). Meaning we look like we’ve overstayed our visa by about 6 months! The French border guy was quite cool about the whole situation, and after some mild chastising, allowed us to leave his country. It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever had to worry about passport control in Europe, and I’ve crossed a few borders in my time, but almost never by train…so:
Tip #3 – Travel by bicycle, especially if you are illegal!
Here are a few pictures of our first two days in Barcelona, before the ride.
The Columbus monument near the port. He’s pointing west, towards the New World. We didn’t follow his directions…been there, done that.
We didn’t take any pictures of these, but Barcelona had a surprisingly large number of cycling paths along the main roads. On our way in from the train station, and again on our way out of the city, we were nearly always on them. There’s also a convenient bike rental system, with hundreds of stations around the city, I think. From a cyclist’s view though it’s not the best place to live. It’s a sprawling city, and it took us an hour to really get out when we left. Not much fun for those who want to cycle along open roads. For commuters though, it’s excellent I’d say.
Here’s the BOB at our first stretch break outside Barcelona.
BOB Review – I had seen these trailers plenty of times when cycling around Europe and took advantage of buying a dog (picked up from the shelter after this trip) to find the justification for getting a trailer! It’s certainly more cumbersome that panniers when riding, and backing up is a trick you can only do if you have a degree in physics! Otherwise, you don’t feel much difference on flat terrain. It rolls pretty well and the weight is all behind you and low to the ground, so I’m assuming it’s better for the bike, i.e. most of the weight is on the trailer. I guess this fact leads to the conclusion that you can carry more weight overall if necessary. I didn’t do this, but I suppose I could load up the bike with panniers and have a bunch of stuff in the trailer and, at least in theory, be able to pull a real big load. Since we were staying in hotels and eating at restaurants (or gas stations…) I carried everything we had on the BOB, with not too much suffering.
I have to say though that I think I could feel the difference on the hills. I guess it was because of the extra tire and the way the weight was distributed over a longer area. But whatever the reason, it was a struggle getting up very steep hills, although not impossible by any means. On the downhills it was great, and I had it up to 45 kph without any trouble. Braking however has to be done gently I think. There’s no brake on the trailer itself so the bike’s brakes are working overtime a little on steep descents. I found myself checking my brakes a lot more than usual as a result…probably a good habit to get into anyway.
For packing and unpacking it was much, much better that panniers. When you arrive at a hotel or campsite you have only one bag to carry to wherever you need to go, saving at least one trip, plus generally looking a little cooler than the ‘bag lady look’ you get with multiple panniers. The bag that comes with the BOB is waterproof (verified on more than one day of our ride), and if you are lucky enough to get one with fasteners that work (I’m going to try to bring mine back this week), easy enough to open and close.
Will I use the BOB again? Hell yes, it cost nearly 400 euros!
Back to the ride. It wasn’t much to be honest. We followed the N11 out of Barcelona and almost all the way to Lloret de Mar, a very big resort town about 70 km away. The road was busy with cars and trucks, but had a shoulder/cycling lane for most of the way, so not too stressful. Don’t worry. Check back later…it gets better!