We bought our Santos double travel tandem in the summer of 2012. Our plan was to travel as far as possible with it, starting at home in Belgium and riding to all the points of the compass.
Our first trip was to be to Venice. We planned the journey using 2 established and published routes: Reitsma’s route and the Benjaminse routes. I mixed them a bit to get what I thought was the best route for us and mapped everything out on my GPS using OpenMTB maps (I took the Velomap version of Europe and it served us extremely well)
I will publish my GPS tracks at the bottom of this article as a download for anyone interested in using them.
Our route took us from Belgium briefly into Germany then through Luxembourg, France, Switzerland and finally to Italy. I had spent quite a lot of time researching the first leg and came back (as always) to the initial choice of using the Ravel in Belgium.
This was our first real long distance ride so we didn’t really know how far we would ride per day especially with our luggage. We had tried to keep our luggage to a minimum but we had a tent and sleeping bags etc. All up we had 26kg pack, 22kg bike and 135kg for us two. 185kg with a couple of bottles. That means gravity has a big influence, not only going up, but also descending.
Through the Lorraine and Alsace we were pretty flat and enjoyed great weather, 23-27°C with mostly sun and some cloud. We made good progress and easily stuck to my estimated 120km/day.
That is more than I would do now, after this ride, as it is a bit too much to do 15 days in a row. I wanted to get to the Alps as fast as possible as I didn’t know how hard it would be to get over to Italy. In fact we came out of Switzerland with an average of 106km/day so we were much faster in the Alps than I could have dreamed of.
Our first night was in Ettelbrück in the camping so we could test out tent, a ForceTen Nitro Lite 200+ This is a perfect tent for bikers: light (2kg) and plenty of space in the entrance to put your bags and bits and pieces. It is really easy and quick to pitch as well. It is pretty long, and in Italy on Lago d’Isero we had to pitch it on a diagonal because it was too long for the lot (the lot was minuscule, but we had a chair, something which was missing from our pack!)
After Ettelbrück we went through the old town of Luxembourg and into France. France had no sign to tell us it was the border, but it was plain to see form the houses that we had arrived. Lorraine is wide open spaces, huge fields and relatively flat. We ended up at a campsite below Thionville, still in sight of the nuclear power station.
Campsites in France don’t seem to have restaurants attached so we had to walk ‘just down the road’ 3km to get a meal in the evening. I have now bought a small Primus Easy Fuel duo gas stove so we will be able to cook some spaghetti or something instead of always going to a restaurant.
We had a few problems in France because our data on campsites was outdated (our own fault) and ended up riding 140km on one day because the first campsite was abandoned and the second was closed for renovation (in August!! how crazy is that?) Apart form that we had a great time in France with the French being far friendlier and more helpful than I can remember. Truly a traveller friendly country.
Having travelled down the length of the Alsace we entered the Jura and crossed over into Switzerland where we decided to get an hotel and ‘get spoilt’. Of course Switzerland is the most expensive country on our route but we felt we deserved a bit of pampering.
We had a bit of a laugh on the way as we passed Moron! Switzerland has, as you might expect, excellent roads and an extremely tight network of cycle paths so riding here was a real pleasure.
We overnighted with our first Warmshowers host which was a great experience. For those who don’t know Warmshowers it is like couch surfing for cyclists and is a great way to travel. Our hosts were super and lived in a converted barn. He was a carpenter so everything was wood and fitted perfectly.
Now we had to climb. We had no idea how this part would go as it was our first trip in the mountains wit our tandem. We went over Bern and Thun with 90km and just over 1000m ascent, it went really well as the climb was light at first getting harder as we neared Frutigen, our destination for the night. Camping in Frutigen before taking the train through the mountains to Goppenstein and the descent (600m) to the Rhone valley.
From the Rhone valley we just had the Simplon Pass to cross and we would be in Italy. You can take the train through this mountain and I would recommend you to do that if you are following our route. I like climbing but there are too many tunnels to make the climb enjoyable, we constantly felt we would get squashed by a bus! This was my ‘bad day’ I found the climb really hard, I had no energy that day and Ria had to put a lot more effort in to get us to the top than was fair. Ronny was up there about 2 hours before us! Anyway we made it with an average speed of 7km/h so you could have walked faster! It was roasting hot at the start with 40°C (Shade temperature was probably around 33°C) and there is no water on the way either. There is a train connection which goes under this pass and I would recommend anyone else to use this rather than riding the pass.
Once in Italy we slowed our pace a little to take more time to visit places and enjoy the glorious weather. We crossed Lago Maggiori by ferry popped back into Switzerland briefly and across the bottom of Lake Lugano, Lago Como, Lago di Alserio, where we went all over the place to find a place to stay.
We travelled 85km but actually advanced only about 60km as we had to go a long way backwards due to poor local instructions (It was more likely our poor understanding of the instructions, but still..)
To be finished some time……