Have you ever thought about what makes a really great day out on the bike? Me neither, but I’m going to start right now, so excuse the stream-of-consciousness writing as I ponder and type at the same time. Following are the ingredients that, if available to you, will surely make a pretty decent day out on the open road.
Riding the same old roads you always do might be pleasant, but there’s nothing like new surroundings to give you that wonderful feeling of exploration. Our ride last weekend, even though it was a familiar goal (Ol’ Baldy), began on the unexplored north side of the mountain. Here is part of the barren summit from where we parked the car.
The field in the foreground of the last photo is lavender, by the way. This area (to the north and east of Ventoux) is one of the largest lavender-growing areas in France and is really something to experience when in season (June and July). The smell in the air is indescribable, not to mention the wonderful sight of the patchwork of purple fields that fill the valleys.
OK, this one might not be for everyone, but if you’re a morning person, beginning your ride in the fresh coolness of the day, when most others are still in bed (and more importantly, NOT on the road), just feels right.
Choose your companion(s) carefully
I ride alone a lot, but sharing an epic ride, especially when there’s suffering involved, makes it more special. You’ve also got someone to share your war stories with and you might get more animated responses than the usual ‘hmm’ or ‘that’s nice, dear’. John, apart from being wide shouldered and strong (i.e. ideal to ‘wheel suck’ behind), is a good conversationalist, a morning person, and a car owner. In short, the perfect cycling companion.
It doesn’t hurt if your buddy has good hand-eye coordination either. John didn’t even flinch when I tossed him my camera for this Rapha-esque B&W shot.
John also doesn’t mind stopping in the middle of a long ride, as can be discerned from the next photo. We made a couple of strategic stops along the way to either fuel up or, um, empty out. I’m not sure this element is necessary for all great rides, but for long ones (nearly 100 km) like we did on Sunday, I’d say stopping to smell the roses might be something you want to add in.
Go to famous places in the off-season. This rule should apply to any type of travel and, of course, is not always practicable. France is the most visited country on earth and those visitors pretty much all come in July and August. The next photos might not have been possible a couple months ago, but on this day, much of our route looked like this – void of cars.
Throw an hors catégorie climb into your ride. I admit, not everyone will be able to do this, but I can and I know it always makes for a memorable ride.
Although this was my fifth ascent of Mt. Ventoux this year (I promise, this is really the last time I’ll blog about it till next spring!), it was the first time from the Sault side. Ventoux, for the uninitiated (or the uncaring), has three routes rising up its flanks. The first, Bédoin, is the one the Tour de France always uses and is also said to be the most difficult; the second, Malaucène, is the same length as Bédoin, and just as hard in my estimation; the last, forgotten road, leaves from Sault, already high up on a plateau, and is 5 km longer than the other two (26 km), but much, much easier, at least till you get to Chalet Reynard, where it meets the Bédoin road and you then have a pretty steep last 6 km to get to the summit.
Have amazing weather. Perhaps easier to achieve in the south of France than some other places, it certainly helps in making a day on two wheels enjoyable. This was October 16th and it still wasn’t really cold on the top of Ventoux – 1912 meters up.
This was without a doubt one of the best rides of the season for me. I’m sure I could add a few more ‘ingredients’ to the above, but whatever it was on Sunday, it was the perfect recipe. Any of you care to add to my list?