Your Average Cycling Speed and Why it Matters | Ride and Seek

What is Your Average Cycling Speed and Why it Matters

Given how general the title to this blog is, we imagine that various kinds of cycling enthusiasts will find their way here (or we at least hope you will). While Ride and Seek provides truly epic cycling trips all around the world, we hope many of our cycling guides will be useful to casual cyclists as well as some of our regular guests who come on our tours. Today we’d like to talk about average cycling speed and why it matters. This is a casual discussion of the topic, but we hope to offer some useful advice and insight. If anything we say inspires you to travel with us, take a look at our Epic Cycling Tours and please get in touch if you have any questions.

An Introduction to Average Cycling Speeds

If you’re a cycling veteran, you likely already know your average cycling speed. Depending on your goals, it’s also highly likely that you’re trying to increase this number. In road cycling, we often cover vast distances, so top speed isn’t nearly as relevant as your average cycling speed. We’re cycling dozens of miles each day, understanding your average speed can help you judge what kind of distance you’ve capable of covering, which in turn allows you to plan larger cycling trips, cycling from accommodation to accommodation.

Working out your Average Cycling Speed

At its simplest, you can simply take the overall distance of your journey and divide it by the time it takes you to complete it. This is your average cycling speed. It gets a lot more complicated, however, when you consider relief, traffic, obstacles, and anything else that slows you down. Your average cycling speed in the ups and downs of a mountain range will likely be significantly lower than your average speed on a flat route. And, as very few routes are ever perfectly flat, it’s hard to fully define your absolute average cycling speed. This gives us all plenty of wiggle room when judging ourselves as cyclists as we can make all kinds of excuses as to why our time was a little lower than expected…

The Average Cycling Speed of Beginner Cyclists

While some people’s mileage may vary, most agree that the average cycling speed of beginner cyclists ranges between 10 and 15mph (16 to 24kph). If you arrive at cycling completely fresh, it’s likely to be at the lower end of this range, but if you have previously been an avid jogger or you are especially fit, then you may be at the top end of this range. However, given the unique physical challenges of cycling, it’s unlikely you’ll be much above 15mph at the beginning, but that’s okay. It’s completely normal.

The Average Cycling Speed of Professional Cyclists

Professional cyclists are on a completely different level, reaching average speeds of between 25 to 28mph (40 to 45kph) on flat roads. No one can get to these speeds overnight; it takes years of training to achieve. So, while it’s good to aspire towards these top speeds on some abstract level, if you never plan to race professionally you shouldn’t make the pros’ average speeds the metric with which to judge your success as a cyclist. Aim for something in between and be happy with any gains you make.

How to Increase your Average Cycling Speed

Lastly, we’d like to look at several simple things you can do to increase your average cycling speed. Of course, working on your cardiovascular fitness and improving your overall stamina is part of this, but there are other smaller tweaks that you might find useful. We’d like to outline some of our favourite tips and tricks for improving your average cycling speed below.

Take Advantage of Downhill Stretches

This may seem obvious, but a common difference between a beginner cyclist and a veteran is how quickly they speed down hills. Beginners may be a little wary of the higher speeds, so they may choose to pedal less or to occasionally use their brakes to regulate their speed, while an experienced cyclist will know how fast they can go while maintaining full control. Heading downhill should often be seen as the opportunity to make up some of the time you lost climbing up to that height earlier on the route.

Riding as a Group

Riding as a group can significantly increase your average cycling speed for two main reasons. The first is that cycling in a group spurs you on, giving you enthusiasm and energy you simply wouldn’t have on your own. Ride and Seek has run group cycling tours all around Europe and beyond for years and our guests often say that being with the guides and the rest of the group gives them energy they never knew they had.

The other benefit to cycling in a group is that you can take advantage of the drafting effect, reducing wind resistance for those behind the leaders. Drafting can reduce the effort required by up to 40%, so it’s not a small, ignorable factor when trying to increase your average speed. Often groups will rotate who is at the front to conserve people’s energy, keeping the entire party moving much faster and for longer than any of them could manage on their own.

Your Cycling Cadence

This topic deserves a blog all to itself as there is a lot to say about cadence. Put simply, your cadence is how quickly you pedal. Pedalling faster can actually be easier, as there is often less resistance as long as you’re in the right gear and are moving at the right speed. It’s a complex topic that we won’t cover in depth today; but it’s worth noting that you should aim for a cadence of between 80 and 90rpm to get the most speed without exhausting yourself too much.

There is so much to discuss on this topic, such as using your bike’s gears efficiently, reducing wind resistance, factoring in tailwinds, and much much more. When we get a little more time, perhaps we can come back to this guide and add to it. Ultimately, understanding your own average speed matters because it lets you plan longer trips with a greater degree of accuracy, deciding on how long each day’s ride will be.

If you have any questions about our cycling tours, please feel free to get in touch. At the time of writing this, we are looking ahead to our first epic cycling trip in Australia and our first cycling trip in New Zealand. Click on these links if you’d like a little more inspiration. And please subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of the page if you’d like even more cycling inspiration!



The Top 5 Cycling Trips in Australia | Ride and Seek

The Top 5 Cycling Trips in Australia

Australian cycling does not get the praise and acclaim it deserves. Some of you reading this probably know exactly how great Australia is for cycling trips, but we think you’re probably in the minority of people reading this. Europe often steals the limelight, with its rich and varied landscapes, its deep history and innumerous cultures. But Australia has so much more to offer cyclists than many realise, and it’s important to take it on its own merit, without merely comparing it to Europe. So that’s what we’d like to do today: let’s look at our top 5 cycling trips in Australia. If we inspire you to start planning your next epic adventure, check out our entire collection of epic cycling tour experiences, and please get in touch if you have any questions.
Disclaimer: Before we get started, it’s important to clarify that any list of the top cycling trips in X destination can only ever be subjective. Anyone who thinks their opinion is 100% ‘correct’ is rarely worth listening to. We’d love to know some of the incredible cycling trips in Australia we’ve missed here, so please feel free to leave a reply at the bottom.

5) Cycling Around Ballarat

There’s a reason why Ballarat has been the host city of the Road National Championships more than anywhere else; the city is the home of Australian cycling and it would be a huge oversight for it not to make this list. That said, there are too many ways and routes to cycle around Ballarat to possibly summarise or do justice to here. It’s perhaps not immediately clear why this city and the surrounding area in the Central Highlands of Victoria is so great for cyclists, but it really is — just give it a minute to make an impression on you. Head out on your bike in any direction you like and you’ll discover the gorgeous landscapes and smooth surfaces that make this corner of Australia so great for cyclists. The roads are mostly flat, but they are occasionally interrupted by a decent-sized hill — just enough to get a real sweat going before rolling down the other side. It’s difficult to do justice to the roads and routes around Ballarat; as with all cycling, everyone agrees that much of what makes it so good simply can’t be transposed to words — you simply have to get out and experience it for yourself!

4) Rottnest Island

If you ignore the slightly unappealing name for a few seconds, you’ll have time to notice how incredible Rottnest Island is for cycling. This island just off the shore of Perth has some of the most beautiful coastline in Australia. The roads are fairly smooth and flat, and any hills that are there are gentle and rolling. The best part is that the roads of Rottnest are closed to all vehicles except the island’s buses. This means that it’s a paradise for cyclists! You can cycle the entire island in just a few hours, so the paradise is short lived. It won’t satisfy anyone in search of an epic adventure, but it is absolutely worth it if you’re looking for a short and satisfying cycling day trip in Australia.

3) Cycling Flinders Ranges

The only practical way to cycle Flinders Ranges is with a decent mountain bike. This fact alone can put off dedicated road cyclists, but we reckon this is a shame as the cycling routes through the largest mountain range in South Australia are some of the best in the country. Not only will you cycle past some of the wildest and most striking outback in the country, you’ll probably do so without seeing any vehicles on the road. So few cars go this way that it’s basically a playground for cyclists. That said, Flinders Ranges is so remote that it’s also common to cycle throughout most of the roads and still not bump into a single soul. If you’re seeking out true tranquil isolation on your next bike tour, Finders Ranges should be a very serious contender.

2) Cycling the Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road in Victoria has arguably become Australia’s top driving route. The high cliffs and rugged coastline make for some of the most scenic and photogenic experiences, and while the Great Ocean Road is clearly a brilliant drive, it’s even better by bike, with no glass or walls between you and the open sea air as you look out over the crashing waves, ancient lighthouses, and the charming wildness of Great Otway National Park. While much of the roads on this route are smooth and easy, there is one part (the Otway Range) that proves very challenging. This will be a bonus for some people and perhaps a deterrent for others. On average, most cyclists seem to take around 4–5 days to cycle the Great Ocean Road. Our advice is to take it slow and to stop at the many beauty spots along the way.

1) Sydney to Hobart

It’s no conspiracy that we’ve chosen our own Australia tour first. After all, we created this experience over many months of careful planning. Ride and Seek has deep roots in Australia and creating a memorable cycling tour there had been long overdue for us. It was also incredibly rewarding to look at this vast country on the map, reflect on our own journeys there, and to start drawing out what we believe to be the best possible path. Starting in Sydney, we cycle the length of the Great Dividing Range from the Pacific Ocean to the Southern Ocean, making our way gradually to Melbourne and then across to Tasmania. There, we traverse this unique island landscape from Devonport to Hobart. There is a lot more to say about this 26-day trip, but we hope at least a few readers are interested. Check out our Sydney to Hobart Tour if you’d like to know more.

That’s all we have time for with this small glance into Europe’s truly epic collection of cycling tours. Over our many years as a cycling tour company, we’ve found that Europe’s reputation as a cycling destination precedes it, but everyone who embarks on any one of our European Cycling Tours is surprised by sights and experiences that simply can’t be summarised in a blog or travel book. If anything in this guide has inspired you to take your next big European cycling adventure with Ride and Seek, please feel free to get in touch to ask any questions. And if you’d like regular inspiration, please sign-up to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.



Top 5 Bike Tours in Europe | Ride and Seek

Top 5 Bike Tours in Europe

Europe’s varied landscapes, vibrant cultures, and rich tapestry of history are part of what make it the most popular continent in the world for cycling tours. And it’s also Europe’s surfaces that draw cyclists from all over the world — from the ancient roads built by the Romans to the modern cycling paths built into many of Europe’s cycling-centric cities and countryside. While the team at Ride and Seek are extremely excited about our first two Southern Hemisphere tours — our Maori Bike Tour of New Zealand and our Strzelecki Bike Tour of Australia — we have to acknowledge that the majority of our cycling tours are in Europe for a reason, and we’d like to look at our five top bike tours in Europe. If anything in this blog inspires any questions, please feel free to reach out.

5) Three Islands Bike Tour

This Three Islands Bike Tour visits three of the Mediterranean’s most special islands: Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily. A cycling tour in any of these enigmatic locations would be special in its own right, but when you put them all together you create a truly transcendent journey. The grandeur of the mountains of northern Corsica contrast with its idyllic little fishing villages as you make your way from north to south. In Sardinia, you get a feel for this sun-baked island, home to the ancient Phoenicians, as you travel along the west coast until you reach Cagliari. In Sicily, you travel along the breathtaking southern coast, from Palermo to Siracusa.

4) Bike Tour from London to Rome

Our Bike Tour from London to Rome is aptly named ‘Caesar’ after Ancient Rome’s most prestigious leader. Spanning most of the breadth of the Roman Empire, this cycling tour takes 17 days to traverse through England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, San Marino, and Italy, from London in the north to Rome in the south. This bike tour is graded four on our espresso difficulty scale, so it isn’t for the fainthearted — but for those bold enough, this is one of the most iconic cycling routes in Europe.

3) Bike Tour Through Southern France

France is a country synonymous with epic and iconic cycling tours. This is why so many of our European cycling tours spend at least a little time here. However, our Cro Magnon Cycling Tour spends its entire 17 days in the south of France, taking a journey through prehistory, in the steps of early homo-sapiens: Cro-Magnon. Cycle the majestic Gorges d’Ardeche, traverse the Cevennes region, take the road less travelled through the Languedoc region… All this and more, on this iconic cycling tour.

2) Cycling Tour from Venice to Athens

This Venice to Athens Bike Tour offers a completely fresh and surprising alternative to most other European cycling tours. While France holds the top spot for many cycling tour enthusiasts, this is the road less cycled down through the East of Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Greece. This tour lasts 28 days and it follows in the footsteps of Marco Polo, Italy’s illustrious explorer. Take in the incomparable journey down the western coast of the Balkan Peninsula, visiting Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Durazzo, Valona, Delphi, Athens, and so many more places along the way.

1) Bike Tour from Paris to Saint Petersburg

In our number one slot, we have put our Paris to Saint Petersburg Cycling Tour, which is named after Napoleon. Following the famous conqueror’s path through Europe, this bike tour is as epic as they come, spanning 36 days, crossing seven countries, and two continents. Cycle through the oak-lined canals of Paris, along the verdant beauty of Champagne-Ardenne and Germany’s Rhineland. Pedal across Poland’s rural roads, lined with huge deciduous trees, and onwards to Lithuania, Estonia, and then, finally, to Russia. If you’d like to cycle across Europe, taking in the sights and staying in boutique accommodation along the way, then this Napoleon tour is the epic adventure you’d been waiting for.

That’s all we have time for with this small glance into Europe’s truly epic collection of cycling tours. Over our many years as a cycling tour company, we’ve found that Europe’s reputation as a cycling destination precedes it, but everyone who embarks on any one of our European Cycling Tours is surprised by sights and experiences that simply can’t be summarised in a blog or travel book. If anything in this guide has inspired you to take your next big European cycling adventure with Ride and Seek, please feel free to get in touch to ask any questions. And if you’d like regular inspiration, please sign-up to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.



Tour Specifics – APPALACHIANS


PREPARING FOR YOUR ADVENTURE

Appalachians – Maine to North Carolina



GENERAL TOUR INFORMATION


CLICK HERE FOR GENERAL DETAILS OF HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR UPCOMING CYCLING ADVENTURE




MEETING POINTS & TOUR SPECIFICS


STAGE 1 | BETHEL, ME to GETTYSBURG, PA

(Sunday 30th May – Saturday 12th June) 

For Stage 1 the official start point is at the Bethel Inn in Bethel, ME at 1400 on Sunday, May 30th.

From the airport, we can also pick you up from downtown Portland on the way to Bethel if you arrive earlier. Our recommended hotel in Portland is the Hampton Inn Portland Downtown – Waterfront . The travel time to Bethel is 90 minutes.

Bethel Inn
Bethel Inn MN

The nearest airport for the tour is in Portland, ME, and we have a pick up from there at 1200 on May 30th. We’ll meet you in the baggage claim area.

The stage end is in Gettysburg after breakfast on Saturday, June 12th. Our final hotel is the centrally located Inn at Cemetery Hill. We have a shuttle to the Dulles International Airport on the morning of the 12th. The journey time is around 90 minutes.


STAGE 2 | GETTYSBURG, PA to ASHEVILLE, NC

(Saturday 12th – Saturday 26th June) 

The meeting point for stage 2 is at the Inn at Cemetery Hill at 1500 on Saturday 12th June. We have a pickup from the Dulles International Airport at 1200 for those that fly in on the day. The journey time is around 90 minutes.

Please note that whilst we suggest bringing lights for the entire tour they are imperative on the Blue Ridge Parkway which has a series of tunnels that we need to pass through.

Inn at Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg PA

TOUR CONCLUSION | ASHVILLE, NC

(Saturday 26th June) 

The riding part of the tour ends in Cherokee, NC around lunchtime. From here we shuttle you back to the vibrant town of Asheville for our final night. The last hotel is Four Points by Sheraton in downtown Asheville. After breakfast on Saturday, June 26th we will have a shuttle to Asheville Airport which is around 30 minutes drive away.

Four Points by Sheraton, Asheville NC



Dalmatian Peka with a glass of Dingač

Setting up our Epic Adventures is very much a process that evolves over the course of time. Generally, it starts with a conversation about how cool it would be to follow in the footsteps of a particular historical figure to then poring over maps as to the feasibility of doing it on a bike! If the idea strikes a chord we then find ourselves conceptualizing a route and then trying to join the dots between places of interest along the way. Before we know it the trip specialists are searching out the road less travelled, visiting possible lodging options and searching out eateries that give a sense of the place we are visiting.

With our Marco Polo Cycling Tour the process was very much assisted by the fact our trip specialist Marcello had been running tours down the Dalmatian coast for many years and had studied in Venice over 2o years ago. The tour was very much a realisation of a personal dream to create a tour with Marco Polo at its core and we were more than happy to make it happen. However, there was still a need to test some of his recommendations before we added them to the roster. This was the case with a family-run restaurant in an abandoned village on the island of Hvar that Marcello thought would work well on the tour. It is fair to say Dylan didn’t object too strongly when asked to try it out when on a family holiday in Hvar!

The test run was a resounding success and everything about the experience fitted with our desire to sample local fare and get a sense of place through doing so. Our host and chef Berti took the time to introduce us to his family and explained how he ended up running a biodynamic restaurant specialising in ‘peka’ in an abandoned village on the island of Hvar. It was clear that this dining experience had all the ‘ingredients’ to be added to the list of culinary highlights across the tours we run and our visit there in September proved that to be the case. The meat and seafood peka dishes served up were sublime and so we thought we thought we’d give you more of an insight into what ‘peka’ actually was.

The peka is a traditional dish from the Dalmatian region of Croatia. It’s a relatively simple dish of meat and vegetables, placed in a large pot or pan with a metal lid called a cripnja, and cooked for several hours in the embers of a fire. Much of Croatian cuisine celebrates cooking over the fire, with its grills and skewers, and the peka is part of this great tradition. What appears a fairly rudimentary cooking method produces the most succulent results, and over the generations, the process has taken on its own ritual, with many older homes having a specific place where the peka is prepared. It is often served when there are guests in the house, and restaurants in the area will typically have several versions on the menu, with different choices of meat and fish.

The Peka recipe

– Light the fire at least an hour before starting to cook, and place the cooking pot near the fire to warm.
– Cut the meat or fish into large pieces and place in the pot. Lamb and veal are often used, as is fish and octopus.
– Cut the potatoes and any vegetables you wish to use into large pieces and nestle them in the pot along with the meat.
– Season with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little paprika.
– When you have plenty of embers in the fireplace move them to one side using your fireside shovel, and place the peka pan directly onto the hot stone, making sure the lid is securely fitted.
– Then shovel the embers over the top of the pot and cook until the potatoes are golden and the meat tender and juicy, which will take an hour for fish dishes, and longer for tougher cuts of meat.

The right amount of seasoning and perfect cooking time comes with experience, like so many things in life!

As is often the case the best accompaniment to a dish that is very much a part of its local culture, is a local wine. Here are a few of Croatia’s most fabulous reds and whites. We were very lucky to have our newly qualified sommelier Marcello on the tour to manage the wine kitty 🙂

Dingač is known as the ‘King of Croatian wines’. The Dingač region is on the Pelješac Peninsula in the Dalmatian region and was the first wine-producing area in Croatia to become a protected zone in 1965. The Plavac mali grape, that grows on its steep southern slopes, creates a wine that is dark red, full-bodied and generally strong, typically with an alcohol content of 15%.

Pošip is a robust white wine, golden in colour, and a great accompaniment to fish Peka, including the fabulous octopus peka. The grape is grown mostly on the island of Korčula, and also goes well with the light cheeses produced in the area.

Plavac mali is a ruby red, rich and velvety wine. Its excellent quality has made it one of Croatia’s most exported wines, and a popular choice to pair with game and meat dishes.

Faros is another a top-quality wine produced from the Plavac mali grape. The grapes used to create this dry red are grown on the island of Hvar, the variety having been originally cultivated in the area by the ancient Greeks.

Bogdanuša is a variety also grown almost exclusively on the island of Hvar, producing a dry greenish-yellow white wine. It has a fresh taste, with fans detecting the presence of the lavender that grows alongside it on the Stari Grad Plain.

Prošek is a sweet dessert wine produced in the south of Croatia, predominantly Dalmatia. Because of its production method that requires seven times more grapes than other wines, only a few hundred litres are made each year, making good quality versions more expensive. In Croatia it often makes an appearance on special occasions such as weddings and christenings, but don’t fall into the trap of confusing it with Italian Prosecco!



Our Lightened COV19 Terms & Conditions

Dear Ride and Seekers

With the COVID-19 -coronavirus still dominating the headlines I wanted to reach out to let you know our thoughts on the situation and attempt to assuage any concerns you have. Like you we have been watching closely to determine what impact the new virus means for our families, friends, and businesses.

From our perspective, we are committed to running any of the tours on the Tour Schedule in 2020 that we are permitted to, and our medical committee deems it safe to do so. At this point in time, we have given the green light to 3 tours in 2020 – Hannibal – Across the Alps, Marco Polo – Venice to Athens, and Strzelecki – Sydney to Melbourne. We decided to defer the iron Curtain and Conquest of the Moors Tours to 2021 under advice from the committee.

With regards to the tours due to run we appreciate that this is a dynamic situation that is changing daily though. After months of changing plans, we are not naive about the changing nature of this pandemic and are fully accepting that we might still need to cancel these tours. Indeed, our revised terms & conditions are geared to provide flexibility to change plans up until 14 days prior to departure this year and beyond.

In terms of proactive measures we have taken, the points below relate to tangible changes we have made to the tours. Our COVID19 ‘On Tour Health And Safety Protocol’ also provides more details about some of the specific measures we have in place and the references we have used to put it together.

  • Creating new route options for bypassing the most ‘at risk’ areas that the tours travel through if required.
  • Taking provisional hotel bookings along the ‘new’ routes until we can make a definitive call on the situation.
  • Putting in place clear protocols on tour to reduce the risk of contamination with a particular focus on snack and lunch stops.
  • Revisiting our risk assessment strategies in terms of dealing with illness on tour and the emergency procedures we have in place.
  • Researching the information available from health authorities about COVID-19 and keeping abreast of updates from governments, airlines, and insurance companies.

In regard to the tours that will run in 2020 and into 2021 we believe that offering increased booking and cancellation flexibility is key and we invite you to read our updated Terms and Conditions that designed to this end.

At this point, it feels like we need to take some time to see how the situation will play out, and hopefully, our revised terms provide both reassurance and a practical approach in this context.  My ‘glass half full’ side also believes that the upcoming tours will benefit from fewer crowds in the places we visit, as was found by our cyclists on the  Maori tour in New Zealand back in February.

For now, it is important to keep abreast of the information from our most trusted sources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-  https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ – and World Health Organisation are a good place t0 start – https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

I hope this position doesn’t come across as making light of this serious situation but rather offers a practical approach for both those who wanted to both postpone tours and those determined to be on the tours they are already booked on.

This situation is very much top of mind for all of us at Ride and Seek, as well as yourselves,  so I invite anyone who wishes to tee up a chat with me to send me an email to dylan@rideandseek.com. Please do not hesitate to reach out anytime.

Here’s hoping that this situation will calm down sooner rather than later and we can all go back to doing what we enjoy most and ride our bikes in amazing places!

Kindest regards to you all,

Dylan

Dylan Reynolds
Founder & Director at Ride and Seek
P  +33 66 696 3431 (Office GMT+1:00)
E  dylan@rideandseek.com
W  www.rideandseek.com

photo



Meet the inspiration behind our first Aussie Cycling Epic

Our Strzelecki Tour takes us across the Great Dividing Range from the Pacific to the Southern Ocean and takes in Australia’s most iconic climbs. But who exactly was Strzelecki?

Sir Paul Edmund de Strzelecki, to give him his full title, was a Polish-born explorer, scientist and nobleman. Prior to landing in Australia in 1839, he’d briefly served in the Prussian Army, and was an experienced explorer with several expeditions under his belt. He initially set sail from Liverpool, England to New York in 1834, where he began an epic geological trip in the Americas, which included discovering copper in Canada, and travelling the west coast from Chile to California. He visited Cuba, Tahiti and the South Sea Islands before eventually arriving in Sydney.

With an ambitious dream of conducting a geological survey of Australia, Strzelecki’s expeditions would see him cover over 7,000 miles in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. While studying the mineralogy of the country he was the first person to discover gold and silver near Hartley and Wellington, but Governor Gipps, in office at the time, asked him to keep his discovery a secret, to avoid a gold rush and to maintain discipline among the convict population. Strzelecki agreed, and in doing so apparently forfeited his own claim to a fortune.

His expedition led him through the Snowy Mountains, where he climbed the highest peak in Australia, naming it Mount Kosciuszko, after Polish leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Kosciuszko was a worthy namesake, considered a national hero not just in his native Poland, but also in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and the USA. He fought on the US side in the American Revolutionary War, and is honoured with statues in several US cities – to fight against the British and then have a mountain named after him in a British Colony is pretty impressive! If Strzelecki had marked his map with the local indigenous name of ‘Targangal’ however, Australians would have had a far easier time of spelling out their highest mountain for the last 160 years.

Strzelecki then travelled south through the area he named Gippsland, after the Governor. After passing the la Trobe River things took a turn for the worse and the party were forced to abandon the horses and minerals and make a dash for Melbourne. They reached it on the edge of starvation and exhaustion, but thankfully alive, in May 1840.

He was accompanied on his trip by James Macarthur and James Riley, and it was mainly thanks to their Aboriginal guides Charlie Tarra and Jackey that the group survived. Cycling trivia fans might be interested to note that James Riley was the great-grandfather of one of Australia’s greatest cyclists, Russell Mockridge. Mockridge won cycling medals around the world, and even beat the pros in Paris in 1952 – a ‘humiliation’ which caused organisers to ban amateurs for years. He competed in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, turned pro the following year, and was one of only 60 riders to finish the 1955 Tour de France, out of a starting line of 150.

Strzelecki then travelled Tasmania (or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then known) for two years, discovering coal while he was there, before returning to Australia. He eventually set sail back to England in 1843, managing to squeeze in further expeditions in China, the East Indies and Egypt on his way back. On his return he published his findings to great acclaim from the scientific community. His snappily-titled Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land won him praise from Charles Darwin himself, and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

He produced the first large geological map of New South Wales and Tasmania, which is still on public display at the Royal Geographical Society in London. He later became a British Citizen, and in 1869 was knighted, receiving the title of Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG), an honour specifically for services to the British Commonwealth, most notably his work done as a famine relief agent, which he refused to accept payment for and it has been estimated that the various works in which he was involved in during those horrible famine years saved 200,000 lives.



The Science Behind Making the Perfect Espresso

Espresso lowdown

The Espresso Grading

The Science

Espresso is approximately one ounce of a dark, smooth, heavy-bodied, aromatic, bittersweet coffee drink topped by a thick reddish-brown foam of tiny bubbles.  The foam, or crema, that captures the intense coffee flavours is as important as the liquid coffee underneath.

In more technical terms, espresso is a colloidal dispersion produced by emulsifying the insoluble oils in ground coffee. These oils don’t normally mix with water, but under the intense pressure (9 to 10 bars – 130-145psi) and heat generated by commercial espresso machines, these oils are extracted from ground coffee, formed into microscopic droplets, and suspended in liquid coffee concentrate. It is this emulsification of oils, which forms the crema, that distinguishes ‘espresso’ from strong coffee.

Crema markedly alters an espresso in terms of its mouthfeel, density, viscosity, wetting power, and foam-forming ability, making it the single most important indicator of espresso quality. If there is no crema, it means the oils have not been emulsified, and hence it is not an espresso.

Crema also captures the volatile vapours produced during the espresso extraction process. These aroma molecules, later released in the mouth as the espresso is consumed, find their way to the nasal cavity through the pharynx. They also attach themselves to the taste buds and slowly release volatile compounds until after the espresso is long gone. This accounts for an espresso’s aftertaste, an important quality indicator.

The remarkable thing about a properly made espresso is that maximum flavour is extracted from the ground coffee while much of the caffeine and excess acids are left behind. The high pressure of the extraction and the small volume of water that passes through the ground coffee is mostly responsible for this feat.

The information I found came from a website called josuma. If you’re interested in an even more detailed overview click here for A Crash Course in Coffee Science

How we grade our tours?

Espressos are synonymous with cycling and have been an integral part of pretty much every tour we’ve run. There is no better way of getting the group back together than a well-timed coffee stop and the guide teams take great pride in scouting out the best options when they are setting the tours up beforehand

On our Hannibal Tour for example we get to sample the respective delights of the espresso across 3 countries – Spain, France, and Italy. We’re a bit of a traditionalist in terms of our preference and will generally always lean towards the Italian option particularly in the morning when a cappuccino is hard to beat. That said we still appreciate the merits of the French and Spanish options.

It seemed only natural that our grading system for the tours should be based on the coffee. Indeed, it is titled the espresso grading system with the logic being the harder the tour the more espresso’s you’ll need. At the opposite end of the scale, we consider our easiest tours to be ‘cappuccino’ tours.

“Cappuccino”Ride and Seek Bike Tours Espresso Cup

Who am I? I’m relatively fit and am comfortable with steady hills that are less than 750m in length.
Distance: 30-50km (18-30miles)
Altitude gain: 200-500m
Time in the saddle: 1-3 hours
Terrain: Flat to undulating

“Due espressi”Ride and Seek Bike Tours Espresso Cup

Who am I? I ride my bike on a regular basis either for fitness, to commute, or just for fun. I enjoy an active lifestyle, as well as a physical challenge.
Distance: 50 -70km (30-45miles)
Altitude gain: 600-1000m
Time in saddle: 2-4 hours
Terrain: Undulating terrain, with hills up to 2 km in length.

“Tre espressi”Ride and Seek Bike Tours Espresso Cup

Who am I? Fitness is a central part of my life. I ride my bike on a weekly basis and am comfortable with rides of 2 hours or more at a relatively strong tempo. I like a physical challenge and like to get my heart pumping.
Distance: 70-115km (43-71 miles)
Altitude gain: 1000-2000m
Time in saddle: 3-5hours
Terrain: All terrain, with hills averaging 3-4km, but up to 10km in length.

“Quattro espressi”Ride and Seek Bike Tours Espresso Cup

Who am I? I ride my bike an average at least 160km per week and enjoy riding at a fast pace for an extended period of time. I love to push myself to my physical limits.
Distance: 100-160km (60-100miles)
Altitude gain: 1500-4000m
Time in saddle: 4-8hours
Terrain: Whatever is put in front of me!


Riding with us on Zwift in a virtual world!

If you have found your way to this page you have made a vital step in joining us for some rides on Zwift. Chris Small is leading the way on this and after 4 weeks in isolation at home in Florence is well versed in how it all works. So much so he’s been top of our Strava Club classification for the last four weeks and he’s not allowed to ride outside! The rest of our Zwift team pictured – Megan, Richie, and Dylan – are new to the platform and have spent the last couple of weeks getting familiarised so they can also lead the rides. The ride times will be posted via our Ride & Seek Strava Club and Epicurean newsletter so we invite you to sign up to both if you haven’t already. Most importantly though you’ll need to follow us – Rideandseekers Ride&Seek – on the Zwift companion app so we can invite you to our Meetups. In times like these, there is no better remedy to our problems than a nice pedal and a chat with some social distancing thrown into the mix! We look forward to riding with you in the virtual world!

Riding zwift with the team

What do I need to join the rides?

Essentials
  • A Bike!
  • Zwift account – free 7-day trial for new users and then a monthly subscription.
  • Zwift companion app – use this to follow Rideandseekers Ride&Seek so we can invite you to the rides.
  • A smart trainer, direct drive or wheel-on trainer.
  • Computer, Apple tv, iPad or smartphone to enter the Zwift virtual world – position that in front of the bike.
Optional
  • Discord app – download this and we can invite you to chat with the group during the rides.
  • Smartphone to send messages to the group via Zwift companion.
  • Heart rate monitor.
  • Cadence monitor.
  • A fan to keep you cool.
  • ANT connectivity – considered more stable than Bluetooth.
General advice
  • Once you have received your invite to ride with us (best to check for this on the Zwift companion app) accept the invite and sign in to Zwift 20 minutes before the ride time.
  • When you sign in and set up your sensors you will have a choice of worlds to enter. They can be found at the top of the Zwift page. Click on the one we are using for our ride and start to warm up. 3 minutes before the start time you will get prompted on the screen to go to the start of the ride. Click yes and join the fun.
  • Our friends at GCN have also put together their usual concise overview of how it all works that is GCN Zwift rides.
Ride options – we will have two options each week
  • The options will link to our espresso grading system with Option 1 aimed at all 2-4 espresso cup riders. Option 2, on the other hand, is better suited to 3 & 4 espresso cup riders.
  • Option 1: A  no-drop group ride which will keep us all together regardless of the speed you pedal at. If someone rides at 400 watts and the slowest rider is at 100 watts you simply stay together until someone stops peddling and the elastic band effect snaps.
  • Option 2: A normal group ride where we encourage people to ride together whilst lifting the pace around halfway and doing a mini race for the last 4/5 km (2.5/3 miles).

 

These 13 tips for beginner zwifters are worth a read as well. see you all on the virtual road soon!



Hannibal: The inspiration for our original Epic Adventure

In 218 BC Hannibal started his march with one hundred thousand soldiers and nearly forty elephants. On the Ride and Seek Hannibal cycle tour, our aim is to follow Hannibal’s path along the coast of Spain, through France, over the Alps, down to Rome. We consider the tour to be one of our best epic cycle tours on the roster.

In the Second Punic War against Rome, after Carthage’s defeat in the First, Hannibal’s aim was to teach the Romans a lesson and restore Carthage’s pride and power.  After showing his intentions and taking Saguntum an ally of Rome in a bloody 9-month siege, Rome sent ambassadors to Carthage who dramatically demanded Hannibal be delivered as a war criminal. The Roman diplomat clutched a fold in his toga and said: ‘Here we bring you war and peace. Take whichever you please!’ (Livy 21. 18). The Carthaginians opted for war, kicking off what Livy describes as “the most memorable war in history” (Livy 21. 1). The fall of Saguntum is considered the catalyst for the Second Punic War.

Of course, the background to the Second Punic War is more complicated and includes Rome’s harsh treatment of Carthage after winning the First. The terms of the peace treaty took Sicily from Carthage, effectively ending its eastern Mediterranean dominance. And what really angered Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar, and also Hannibal, would have been Rome’s arrogant seizure of Sardinia on top of that, which was outside the terms of the treaty, but Carthage was then too weak to do anything about it.

On our Hannibal tour, we cross Hannibal’s first major natural obstacle – the Rhone river.  Where exactly he crossed isn’t known, but Polybius says it was four days march north of the mouth of the river. This is difficult to judge due to changes in the coastline over 2000 years, but it was most likely somewhere north of Arles. Some scholars even put it further north than Avignon.

What we do know with more certainty is that his crossing was opposed by the Volcae – an aggressive local Gallic tribe. Hannibal’s strategy was to send his nephew Hanno with a detachment of troops north. He was to cross the river upstream and surprise the Volcae.

Hannibal bought up all the local boats, canoes and anything that would get his huge army and baggage train across the fast-flowing river. The Rhone is no longer a wild river – the only peril today seems to be massive transport barges which speed downstream. In Hannibal’s time, it would have been a dangerous obstacle and he seemed to be very diligent in his preparations.

Once Hanno had sent a smoke signal to notify his uncle he was in position, Hannibal embarked with his main force. When he landed on the opposite bank Hanno sprung his ambush. The Volcae’s raucous howling turned to panic as they were caught in a classic pincer movement. Luckily we don’t face the Volcae as we cross the Rhone and the locals give us a much warmer welcome these days.

Once Hannibal had set up his beachhead on the east bank of the Rhone he began the extensive operation of getting the rest of his troops across the river. Smaller boats crossed in the lee of larger vessels so they didn’t bear the full brunt of the current. The cavalry swam with their rides but the elephants needed more persuasion.

Polybius says that Hannibal built rafts, covered them with soil and urged a female elephant onto these floating islands and the rest of the herd followed. However, once the rafts were detached from the bank, the elephants panicked and were forced to make their own way across to the other side – Polybius believes the elephants walked across the bottom of the river using their trunks as snorkels!

Livy, our other main ancient source, writes that the elephants swam from the beginning following the lead male, who was driven to rage by his driver. This brave man then jumped into the river himself, with the elephant herd following the lead male who, in turn, was intent on catching the driver – who would have swum desperately fast to the other side!

Once Hannibal’s army was across the Rhone he sent three hundred of his crack Numidian cavalry to reconnoitre the surrounding areas. The Roman Consul Cornelius Scipio, who had just landed in Massilia (modern Marseille) did the same and sent some of his scouts north. Scipio was at the mouth of the Rhone and on his way to Spain to intercept Hannibal. It was a surprise to both cavalry forces when they met in a fierce but brief engagement. This was the first clash between Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War and the Romans had the better of the skirmish, losing fewer troops and forcing the Numidians to flee back to camp.

Once Hannibal learned of the proximity of the Roman army he had a decision to make: stay and fight or speed on to Italy. With so much to gain from making war in Italy, he chose the latter and headed north away from Scipio and towards the Alps. Scipio, realising his intention but unable to cut him off, headed back to Italy to prepare for war on Roman soil.

Hannibal and his army were closing in on their goal but had their greatest obstacle to come: the Alps. This was an enormous challenge for an army, let alone for cyclists like us!

Ride with us into history for some of the best epic cycling of your life!- Hannibal tour.

 



Top 10 memorable moments in 2019 according to our team


As we look forward to the start of our 2020 season, we are reflecting on a epic 2019 season. We all know those moments when travelling where some sort of magic happens. All seems right in the world, your every day worries far from your mind. You sit back and think there is no place you’d rather be. Whether it is a particularly special sunset, making a new friend from a foreign land or a particularly scrumptious meal. There are many moments like these that stay in our memories long after our tours are over.

So we asked our team what their best epic cyle tour magic tour moments were off the bike. A pretty tough ask considering what we pack in during a season but we have collated some of our favourites here:

1. Nouvelle cuisine with Lithuania’s best chef, Vilnius (Napoleon Tour)

“When we arrived at this beautiful restaurant we knew we would be treated to a special dinner. The chef is considered the best in Lithuania and joined us for each course to provide a description of each creation of our tasting menu. It added a special element to the meal and led to many of us photo documenting our culinary journey. The chef was even generous enough to share his secret seed bread recipe with me too!”” Colette Saunders

2. A private concert of true Sardinian folk songs, Sardinia (Three Islands Tour)

“With a perfect setting outside on the terrace of our Albergo diffuso hotel in Cabras Sardinia, I arranged a private concert with a “Canto a Tenore”, a group of Sardinian 4 singers performing traditional and ancestral songs using just their voices (or ‘A Cappella’).  For me, this singing group is special being friends of mine who also sang at my wedding. This type of singing is called the Cantu a tenore and is practised in groups of four in a close circle. For me it is a true taste of Sardinian culture and a powerful performance to witness.” Simone Scalas

3. History direct from a local in Berlin (Iron Curtain Tour)

“To commence the Iron Curtain tour we arranged for a bike tour around the city, led by Peter who recounted his stories of trying to escape East Berlin. He tried 3 times, the third attempt of which he succeeded. Providing this historical context is extremely important to us at Ride and Seek and the personal experiences of Peter had us hanging on his every word. ” Dylan Reynolds

4. Lunching like a king from Paris to St Petersberg (Napoleon Tour)

 “The Napoleon tour has many picnic’s, being a little more off the beaten path. For me the highlight of this tour was the superb picnic’s prepared with love by Colette. We pride ourselves on great picnics, but I think Colette’s really are something special.” Gabriel Donati

5. Exquisite dinner overlooking an archaeological marvel, Agrigento, Italy (3 Islands Tour)

“As part of the Three Islands tour, we visit the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily. The Valley of the Temples is an archaeological site with the remains of seven temples in the Doric style. Our sunset dinner at Villa Athena for me is magical, enjoying a Sicilian feast overlooking this extraordinary historical site. It’s a dinner that remains long in my tour memories.” Richie Mitchell

 

6. A spa with an extraordinary view, Japan (Samurai  Tour)

“One of the best things about cycle touring in Japan is the Onsen (spa) culture. Nothing soothes the muscles like a soak in the onsen after a long day in the saddle. It is even better when this is combined with a great view like our hotel near battleship rock on the Noto Peninsula.” Ben Weigl

7. Sunset dinner overlooking Lake Como, Italy (Caesar Tour)

“What an awesome way to start the tour. Our Caesar custom tour starting from Como took the funicular to Brunate for a sunset dinner and drinks. It was a beautiful evening, great food and wine and great company. It made for a truly memorable start to the tour.” Chris Small

8. A Catalan feast and memorable spot for a historical chat in Madremanya, Spain (Hannibal Tour)

“An outstanding tour memory for me is the family-run boutique hotel in Madremanya at the start of the Hannibal tour. Before an incredible tasting menu (off the scale delicious!), as the guests enjoyed a local wine, I weaved the story of Hannibal’s extraordinary exploits, and how he shook Rome’s foundations to the core.” Ben Kane

 

9. Spontaneous swimming on the Tatsukushi Coast, Japan (Samurai Tour)

“Arriving at a pretty beach on the Samurai tour, we grabbed our swimmers out of the van and dove in the surprisingly warm sea for a dip. Some of us paddled in our kit, some of us swam far out to sea. It was a moment of freedom and embracing simple pleasures. And to top it off, the stop was planned to have access to a shower and change facilities, followed by a beautiful morning tea of matcha cake, fresh cut-up fruits, energy bars, and hot tea and coffees.” Meg Reynolds

10. A superb slow food dinner in an Albanian Agriturismo (Marco Polo Tour)

“Scouting is usually a very busy time with not much time for sitting down to a proper meal. This year, Dylan and I scouted the Marco Polo tour and found a gem. We have always embraced the ‘Slow Food’ ethos so finding an agriturismo in Albania with a ‘slow food’ menu was both surprising and exciting. The Agriturismo hotel was once used to intern political prisoners but now provides employment for many in the local community. And the food was incredible. We can’t wait to take our guests back there in 2020 to eat and stay.” Marcello Usala

What were your favourite travel moments of 2019? Share your thoughts in the comments



Europe’s 6 Best Coastal Bike Rides | Ride and Seek

Europe’s 6 Best Coastal Bike Rides

There is no better feeling than grabbing your bike and hitting the open road on a journey that could last for days – taking in the scenery, getting to know the land and its people, exploring the world in a way that is different from your day-to-day life.

Of course there is usually the question of where to begin. What better way than to look at the map and decide to follow the coast? Europe has a lot of coast to explore however, so here are some of our picks for the best coastal bike rides in Europe!

The Atlantic Road

A country that truly understands the spirit of the sea – Norway is a great place to explore life on the coast. There are a number of stunning coastal rides throughout the country, but one of our favourites is the Atlantic Road up in Northwest, Fjord Norway. 

The Atlantic Road stretches 80km between Kristiansund and Bud and winds through a string of islands that are connected by 7 bridges. At times you will find yourself riding with the sea on both sides of you and you can truly feel at one with the elements. The journey isn’t considered especially challenging as there are no difficult inclines to contend with so this is a journey in which you can sit back and just enjoy the beauty around you.

The Crossroads of the Mediterranean

At the other end of the continent is another spectacular bike ride – a three island bike tour that takes you from Corsica to Sardinia and then on to Sicily. This journey takes in wildly different landscapes. In Corsica you can enjoy the contrast between its impressive mountainous north and the calm beaches and small fishing villages further south. Sardinia boasts striking cliffs and secret beach coves whilst Sicily is an island of fire and farmland – its volcanic soil making for fertile and rich landscapes.The three islands together will provide you with a real insight into the heart of the Mediterranean. Whilst they each have their own unique histories they also have a shared history which makes a Three Island Bike Tour a must, although a shorter journey can be arranged with Ride and Seek.

Puglia

Staying in southern Italy, one of the most stunning bikes rides you can do in Europe is through the gorgeous region of Puglia. Following the craggy coastline you can travel to, and explore, charming villages that are each wildly different from the others. Delve into the white walls of Ostuni, venture through the trulli of Alberobello and marvel at the dwellings carved into the rock faces of Matera. Not only will you discover a tangled and rich history here, but you will be blown away by the cuisine. Because, of course, no coastal bike ride is complete without some excellent seafood to help you regain your strength. Ride and Seek have prepared a bike tour that is as relaxing as it is fascinating.

The Istrian Peninsula

Another must, if you want to explore European coastlines, is to bike through the Istrian Peninsula. You can adventure down the beautiful east and west coasts of Croatia, travelling through antique villages and postcard perfect towns, as well as down through magnificent valleys that will have you meandering alongside rivers and through leafy forest… this is a rich landscape! 

The bountiful nature will also provide succour as the Istrian Peninsula is all about rich flavours, good wine from local vineyards, and full bodied olive oil from the Istrian olive groves. And the culture is as rich as the food, with a coastal tour taking you through not only medieval history but also taking you back to a time when the Roman Empire dominated the region.

EuroVelo 10 – The Baltic Sea Cycle Route

The EuroVelo 10 cycling route is a loop that takes you through nine countries and all the way around the Baltic Sea. This is a journey of a lifetime that will take you through a wealth of cultures, landscapes and adventures. You will get to experience Europe in a way that few can boast, moving from one fairy-tale setting to another. What’s ideal about the route is that you can pick any spot on it as your starting point and you can go as far as you like. It’s a journey you can always come back to and it is perfect for people that enjoy being immersed in nature, history and different cultures. 

The EuroVelo routes are all signposted so this is a route that can easily be self guided as long as you’re prepared.

Marco Polo Tour – Venice to Athens

One of the most ambitious cycling projects Ride and Seek has ever created is the Marco Polo Tour – a journey that follows in the footsteps of the famous explorer taking you from Venice all the way to Beijing! And if you are interested in the best coastal bike rides in Europe then the first leg of this journey is for you. 

Venice to Athens is an epic 29 day journey that winds through five countries, giving you a wonderful experience of life in the Balkan Peninsula. This journey is split into two stages: Venice to Dubrovnik – an island hopping journey down the Dalmation coast, and Dubrovnik to Athens – a challenging and charming ride through Montenegro, Albania, Corfu and Greece. It’s a ride like no other, and it takes its rightful place on our list of the 6 best coastal bike rides in Europe. 
So there you have it. A mix of journeys through varied landscapes and of varied difficulty, but all of them basking the glory of the sea. If any of our bike rides took your fancy, or if you are interested in creating the perfect cycling adventure just for you then don’t hesitate to get in touch. Ride and Seek is always ready to go on the next great journey!



The 5 Best Cycling Routes in the World | Ride and Seek

The 5 Best Cycling Routes in the World

Any list of the ‘best’ cycling routes in the world comes with a certain level of audacious confidence. To say these five routes beat out all others is to say that we have cycled every route worth cycling in the world and that we have enough authority to judge which is best. Of course, we haven’t cycled everywhere, but we are better qualified than most to judge as Ride and Seek has embarked on countless epic cycling trips all across the world. We have taken the roads less travelled and the roads most travelled, covering many thousands of miles of countryside, coastline, and cityscapes. When we created our Epic Cycling Tours, we created what we believe to be the best cycling routes in the world, and we’d like to share our top five with you today. If anything we write here inspires you and you’d like to know more, get in touch and please feel free to sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page if you’d like regular informative and inspirational cycling guides.

The Hannibal Route – Cycle from Barcelona to Rome

We’ve found our Hannibal tour from Barcelona to Rome to be a very easy experience to sell to cyclists. What cyclist with adventure in their heart doesn’t want to cycle through Spain, France, and Italy, following in the footsteps of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who famously brought the fight right to the doorstep of Rome? This 32-day epic cycle covers 2527km (1570mi) across some of the most iconic cycling routes in Europe. Put all of these routes together and you have one of Ride and Seek’s most popular epic cycles ever. Cycle Montseny National Park, the Pyrenees Mountain Range, the Alps (Ventoux, Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, Agnel and Izoard, among others), the Apennines, the postcard beauty of Tuscany and Umbria, finishing in Rome. This summary doesn’t begin to do justice to the full depth and beauty of this cycling route; find out more about our Hannibal Cycling Tour from Barcelona to Rome.

The Napoleon Route – Cycle from Paris to Saint Petersburg

Cycle for 36 days, covering 3702km (2300mi), from Paris to Saint Petersburg. We completely understand if the sheer scale of this cycling route intimidates some readers; it’s no trifling journey to take without adequate fitness and preparation. But that’s where our expert guides come in. Not only will we offer advice on what preparations you should make, we will take care of all the accommodations and travel logistics. All you need to do is get fit and bring as much enthusiasm as you can. And when you see the stunning landscapes, forests, and cityscapes, you won’t struggle to feel enthused! This epic route weaves through France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Russia. Read more about our Napoleon Cycling Tour from Paris to Saint Petersburg.

The Appalachian Bike Trail – Cycle from Maine to North Carolina

When people contemplate the great bike routes, they usually picture central Europe and the Mediterranean. And Europe has clout for a reason. But North America has some of the most epic cycling routes in the world and this Appalachian route is our favourite the continent has to offer.  This trail takes place throughout the Great Appalachian Valley, beginning in Maine and ending in North Carolina, and what a journey it is! Cycle from the rural charm and verdant farmland of New England, through some of the most important places in the US Civil War, and then you’ll enjoy epic vistas on some of the predictably hillier sections of the Appalachians. You will start in Maine, moving through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and then North Carolina. This is a 28-day odyssey through one of North America’s biggest mountain ranges, covering 2272km (1412mi), and we can promise that you’ll never see the same sight twice! Find out more about our Appalachian Bike Tour from Maine to North Carolina.

The Silk Road – From Venice to Athens

Marco Polo is one of history’s most famous explorers and we believe that this leg of his legendary silk road journey evokes part of the epic distance he travelled. Whereas many bike tours focus on France and Central Europe, this journey snakes southeast, along the breathtaking Dalmatian Coast, then past Montenegro and Albania before reaching Greece. Of course, these ancient roads have been modernised, but there is still a sense of their history as you cycle dozens of miles each day. The journey through Greece visits the island of Cofu, Ioannina, Meteroa, Makrakomi, and Delphi. This tour lasts just 12 days, making it shorter than the other adventures on this list, but it is still a truly epic journey, both in terms of distance as well as through history. Read more about our Marco Polo Venice to Athens Bike Tour.

Cro Magnon – 19-day Cycling Tour of France

While one of the tours above travels through part of France, it simply wouldn’t be right to make a list of the best cycling routes in the world without a trip that focused solely on the idyllic French countryside. Since the first Tour de France in 1903, the country has been better associated with cycling than any other nation. France is an ancient country, with a rich history to explore. However, we decided to go back even further than you might imagine, to the cro magnon cave art scattered throughout southern France. Connect with humanity’s distant past on this epic 19-day cycling tour from Chauvet to Perpignan, very much taking the long way, veering off the obvious paths. You will cycle 1244km (722mi) of idyllic French countryside, but you will also taste the incredible local cuisine and sample some of the best wines in the world. This is a true voyage of discovery, in every meaning of the word. Find out more about our Cro Magnon Cycling Tour of France.



Guest Testimonials from the Original Hannibal (2012)

Our First-Ever Hannibal Testimonials (2012)

Hannibal 2012 Pioneers – Josh, Stephen, James, Andy, Bob and Steve.

Josh Robinson (Stage 1 – Barcelona to Avignon)

What a journey it’s been so far. Some of us only have a few days to go. Some are going all the way to Rome in Hannibal’s footsteps. All of us are loving every minute, every hill, every vista, every descent, every espresso stop, and certainly every carb-packed dinner.

We’re all here because we want more than a bike ride – we want an adventure. We want to push things a bit. We enjoy not knowing what’s around the next corner. We like dropping ourselves into a new scene and seeing what happens. Fortune favours the brave.

The cycling, through some of the most beautiful landscape many of us have seen, is what gets us up in the morning. But it’s the people that get us through each day.  Whether its the perfectly-timed snack stops or the words of encouragement, friendly rivalry and good dose of humour from our fellow riders. It’s the people that keep the legs pumping and the wheels turning.  Up until a few days ago we were strangers. Now, thanks to a great journey, we’ve become friends.

With Ride & Seek you don’t just discover new places. And the learning doesn’t stop with Hannibal and his elephant-powered crusade. You find out something new about yourself and about other people too. Not bad for a bike ride!

The Epic 4! – Barcelona to Rome

Hannibal cycling tour
The Originals! From left – Dylan, Bob, Stephen, Jason, Terry and Sam

Jason Langer (one of the original 4!)

“It is a rare thing to experience something that changes your perspective on life permanently; even more rare when that something is a choice, and not a challenge that life has forced upon you.

In 2012, the Hannibal Tour, led by Dylan and Sam at Ride-and-Seek, did just that – it changed my perspective on life.  I started the tour with very high expectations – to see the best of Europe, to make friends, to challenge myself physically.  What it achieved was well beyond this.  The Hannibal Tour covered some of the most extraordinary landscape I will ever see, including times when I truly was on top of the world.  Meeting the physical challenge of 26 days of cycling – when I have never in my life before been a “cyclist” – has left me with an incredible belief that anything is possible in life.  I have made lifelong friends from across the globe.  On this tour, I felt more alive than I had since I was a kid.  We all laughed hard, ate and drank like kings, and at the top of the Alps I cried with joy.  And all this, from the seat of a bicycle.

Ride & Seek did a faultless job running the tour – from the hotels to the food, the support, the hire bikes and the incredible history of Hannibal along the way, I cannot imagine how it could have been executed any better.  They were both professional, dedicated, friendly and supportive.  Their experience shone through and is their greatest asset. I already have my next Ride-and-Seek tour planned, and it won’t be the last.”

Jason Langer rode the Hannibal Epic in 2012 and neither he nor we as guides quite knew what to expect as he only learned how to ride a bike 3 years before! We are often asked how hard the Hannibal tour is and whilst the espresso grading system provides clear parameters the subjectivity involved makes it hard to give a definitive answer. One thing for sure though is that we now have Jason to use as an example for all future riders who have doubts. With no experience of multi-day riding, Jason proved to be an inspiration to us all and seeing Jason get to the top of Col Agnel (2744m) was an amazing tour highlight.

Hannibal Cycling - Col Agnel
Jim looking back from the top of Col Agnel



Standard, Compact or Triple Crank?

As we expand our bike fleet we want to ensure we get the setups right. Our riders vary in experience and our tours vary in difficultly so getting the bikes just right is essential.

The big question which comes up is which crankset and which rear cassette.

So…cranks, ie what your pedals hang off – Standard (double) cranks are 52-39 (ie 52 teeth on the big chainwheel and 39 on the small inner chainwheel), compact cranks which are a more modern take and increasingly popular, are 50-34 and then there are triples 52-39-30 (there are now also semi-compact and all varieties but these will do for now!).

The bigger the number the heavier the gear, the smaller the easier – essential for hills especially somewhere like the Alps on our Hannibal expedition! These are hugely effected by the rear cassette (the sprockets on your back wheel) which can be anything from 11-21 to 11-34 (with a adjusted rear derailleur)

So for our riders what we are trying to do is ensure they have the greatest gear range available, especially when they get to the hills. Now you would assume that a triple will do this, and the truth is if you put the biggest cassette in conjunction with a triple it will. However a standard Specialized Comp Triple, a fantastic bike and the backbone of our fleet, which our riders have ridden and loved due to its range of gears comes with a 11-30 cassette. Therefore its lowest gear is obtained by being on the 30 on the crank and the 30 at the back, a 1 to 1 ratio which makes for a great granny gear, essential for long steep climbs.  A compact crank can actually achieve the same result. The easiest gear for these will be a 34 on the Crank and a 34 on the rear cassette, again 1 to 1 and exactly the same output as the triples easiest gear.

So you may have first been put off by the fact that we aren’t running triples but the truth is you will have exactly the same ‘easy’ gear for those testing days in the hills! You will also have a little less weight and smoother performance. This also increases the compatibility of our bikes as compacts are much more common than triples ensuring easier maintenance and repairs.

This is a table showing the ‘output’ required for each gear combination. You’ll note the 30-30 and the 34-34 are the same. Therefore easiest triple chainring equals easiest compact with a nice big rear cassette!



The Vietnam Tour Lowdown

The Vietnam Tour Lowdown

Meeting arrangements

The official meeting time for the tour is 6pm on Saturday March 15th in the lobby of the Hanoi Imperial hotel where we will spend the night before heading up into the mountains the following morning.

If you plan to arrive earlier we recommend, for the sake of convenience, that you book into this hotel – http://www.hanoiimperialhotel.com . We will inform the hotel that you are with the tour group if you book extra nights and they should then be able to coordinate the rooming allocations. Please note though that you should book a deluxe room category if they want to remain in the same room when the tour starts. There are presently some good deals to be found on the Agoda website.

If you are not able to get there before 6pm it isn’t a problem so long as you are ready to go the following morning. We plan to leave the hotel by 7am the following day. Simply let us know what time you are likely to arrive and we’ll organise things accordingly.

Our local partner in Vietnam is Grasshopper so in the event the hotel doesn’t know who Ride and Seek is they are probably working off a booking for Grasshopper.

Getting to the first hotel from the airport

If you wish to use our contacts to organise a transfer to the first hotel you need to have done this by March 12th. Cost of the transfer is $45 (one way) which should be paid directly to the driver. Payment in cash either in USD or VND (exchanged rate US$1. = VND21,000,000.) To book a transfer email Hoia at asia@grasshopperadventures.com.

If you prefer to do it independently Vinasun and Malinh are two companies that are considered reputable and can be found easily in the airport. The following blog provides a bit of an overview – http://www.vietnamonline.com/transport/taxi.html – on the taxi situation in Hanoi.

Passports

We are required to show everyones passports at every hotel. From experience the best way to do this is for us to collect in the passports at the start of the tour and keep hold of them until the end. This isn’t obligatory but it is generally the simplest way to manage things.

Getting money out

We usually wait until we get in country to get local currency from ATM’s that can be located in the airport and across the city. Bear in mind though that most have a limit of the equivalent of $100/$200 per transaction so you might need to make a couple of seperate withdrawals.

Guide tips

Just a reminder that whilst your Australian guides are not expecting tips – a beer should suffice! – it is customary to tip the local guides. The suggested tip is $40 from each participant for the support team as a whole so please take this into account when you withdraw money. Hand this in to Matt or Dylan at the end of the tour and we’ll make sure it gets divided up correctly.

Guide team

Matt and Dylan obviously!

The local allstars!

Lead local guide – Thang. Translates. Requests things for you. Plans the logistics. Orders the other staff around. Travels on the back of a motorbike ahead of the group, so he can point out any major hazards. Orders meals, deals with authorities, manages the money, sweet talks the hoteliers and restaurateurs.

Lead rider – Mr Neth (Chanmakara Hong). Rides like the wind.  If he has any remaining energy, he’ll help Ratha with the bikes. Neth is Cambodian and has represented his country. He’s a nice fella and can ride well.

Mechanic – Ratha. Doesn’t ride. Cleans bikes, fixes bikes.

Cook – Thiem.  Ensures that there is a good variety of vegetables and meats provided by working with the local restaurants who in many cases, have limited capacity. Probably doesn’t sleep enough, drinks like a fish and has a temper. Just like cooks everywhere.

Massage therapists. Two gents who are masters of their profession. They’ll obviously do the bulk of their work in the afternoons and evenings.

Drivers. They drive. Probably smoke and talk on the phone too much, but never when driving. If they do, please feel free to admonish them and dob them into Thang. No, in all seriousness, they love this and they’ll usually do their bit by helping to fill water bottles and joke around with the riders.

Hotel list

1. Hanoi | Hanoi Imperial Hotel | +84 4 3933 5555.

2. Tam Son | Hotel 567 | +84 21 9384 6129.

3. Meo Vac | Hoa Cuong Hotel | +84 21 9387 1888.

4. Bac Me | Huy Duong Hotel | +84 914 420 594.

5. Nghia Lo | Nghia Lo Hotel | +84 29 387 0106.

6. Than Uyen | Hoan Quan Hotel | +84 231 378 4163.

7. Sapa | Victoria Sapa Hotel | +84 20 387 1522.

General Tips

Don’t drink tap water. Always bottled water. Water we provide is OK.  In Ha Giang, don’t drink water in jugs on tables. Actually, it’s fine for the majority of cases, but it’s often just filtered, so it depends on the filter condition.

Ice. Only take it if it has a hole in the middle. This is drinking ice. In Ha Giang, you won’t encounter much drinking ice.

Soap and towels – All hotels will provide these but in Ha Giang there are few frills. Might be worth bringing your own towel and washing products.

Always wash hands. Be obsessive about it. We have never had a case of food poisoning, but there are always cases of viral gastro. We theorise that this is more to do with personal hygiene and the fact that bodies are under significant physical strain from the riding and general conditions.

If anyone is on antimalarials, they’ll probably be very sensitive to the sun, so they need to apply sunscreen more often.

Be careful with cash. A few of the dong notes are very similar in color and with all the zeros, they can be easily mixed up by foreigners. Notably 10,000 looks like 100,000 and 20,000 looks like 500,000. Be very clear on what you are handing to someone and count your change. It’s not such an issue in the provinces, but in Hanoi and Sapa, you need to be on your toes.

Don’t take mini cabs around Hanoi, stick with the Vinasun or Malinh cabs. The others tamper with meters and try all sorts of tricks.

It’s fair to bargain on anything you buy, unless it has the price marked. The Vietnamese love a bargain. Don’t think of it as a ripoff. It’s just a game and one they’ll play hard. Smile, laugh, joke and cut the price by 50%. If you end up at 75% of the original asking price, in most cases, you are doing well. If you do happen to be eating independently, ask for the price on food before you eat. In Hanoi only really.

Toilets – Along the ride route, there won’t be many toilets, so it’s just a matter of finding a large clump of bamboo. Good idea for ladies to take a sarong or something for this and good for everyone to take tissue with them. In many restaurants and roadside stops, the toilets if they do exist, don’t have tissue. In all cases, do not flush toilet tissue. There is a little bin next to the toilet where you put the tissue. 

In all cases, you will get further in negotiation or service requests by asking with a smile and not raising your voice. Even if the response is poor, maintain the smile and the calm voice and just push push push. If you get angry or pushy, the shutters go up and you have no hope of getting what you want.

There are a bunch of cultural taboos but many of these are forgiven by locals as they know foreigners are from someplace… foreign. Just try not to move things or point with your feet. Don’t point. Don’t pat anyone on the head and be ultra respectful of older people and you’ll get along well with all the locals.

When riding, bear in mind that everyone uses their horn. There is no aggression in this. It’s considered the most basic element of safe driving. It’s to warn people that you are coming. So a truck will come up behind you and give a toot, that just means I’m here, don’t move out. If there is repeated and urgent tooting, it means I’m coming, I don’t have enough space, you should get off the road!

Motorbikes are used to merging through each others paths, so they will tend to do the same with you. Riders need to be prepared for motorcyclists, sidling up to the pack and then trying to cut through the middle of it to get to the curb. They don’t mean to be rude, it’s just their way of driving. The riders need to be aware of this and it’s therefore not good practice to ride as a pack through towns. Leave about 3 meters between each rider or each pair of riders.

Trucks and all other vehicles like to cut corners, so never approach a bend or corner assuming that you have a clear run. Always ensure you have an exit point and for this reason, don’t ride two abreast into blind bends and corners.

Locals will sometimes come up alongside riders for a bit of a chat. It’s likely also that some young lads might side up to the ladies if they are in lycra for a bit of a perve. It’s worth keeping an eye on this and for one of the guys to be not too far off most of the time.

Route amendments

As is always the case with running a tour in remote Vietnam we are always at the mercy of the authorities with regards road repairs. Fortunately the monsoon season this year was relatively kind but there are still some significant road works on the route. Most of these we can can get around but on Day 5 there is a stretch which is basically unpassable. On this day we will have a shuttle in the morning before riding.

Visa information

Details about how to attain a visa in Australia via the consulate can be found here – http://www.vietnamembassy.org.au/Consular.htm.

Guest Survey

Before the tour starts we need some information off you in order to cover our insurance obligations as well as ensuring that we have the correct personal data for you. If you haven’t done so already could you fill out the following form – https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FT27ZNS

Weather

March is amongst the best months to travel in Vietnam; conditions are at their very best with dry, bright weather expected the along the entire length of the country. In the north where we are cycling you can expect plenty of sunshine and clear blue skies, and whilst temperatures start to rise it remains cool with little if any rainfall (avg temp: 19 °C).

At night temperatures will go down to around 15 degrees so pack accordingly and during the day we expect a few hot days. Since we are in the mountains though it is always best to come prepared and wind-breakers and arm/leg warmers are good insurance.

What to bring?

This is a section that we could spend an age on but I think that packing is such a subjective thing that it really isn’t worth it. What I will say is that the nature of the tour is such that you will want plenty of bike gear as it won’t be easy to get stuff washed and dried along the way. You’ll find a way to wash your kit but with changing hotels every day it is important that you bring a few spares – there’s nothing worse than soggy knicks!

In terms of evening wear there is nowhere that we go that has a dress code and casual wear is the order of the day. Warm weather clothing is an important consideration. As mentioned in the weather section March is not usually a month when temperatures drop below 15 degrees but even so it is a good idea to bring a wind-breaker and arm/leg warmers just in case.

With your bags your main luggage will be in the back of the van and not always readily available. Whilst it is possible to access these bags during the day we recommend that you also have a day pack that you can keep at the front of the van.

Ride and Seek kit

We have a limited supply of the Ride and Seek jerseys for you to buy for the not too princely sum of AU$80. The photo on the right is our 2014 tour jersey – let us know if you’d be interested and will dig around for your size. Another option is to get kit through our newest sponsor – Danny Shane. We are delighted to be associated with these guys and they are willing to extend a 10% discount to all of our guests. Check out their website to view their range – http://dannyshane.com. The image on the left is of one of guests wearing their kit on a recent tour in Europe.

 Training preparation

The grading for this tour makes it clear that this tour is a challenging endeavour and we hope that your training to date reflects this. That said we are also aware that not everyone has the luxury of being able to dedicate themselves to training for a bike tour and a few of you might be a little undercooked.

The important thing to remember though is that you still have time to get yourself well prepared for the tour ahead. Probably the most important thing is simply preparing your body for sitting on a bike for multiple hours and then doing it again the day after. It is important to get that saddle time in so that when you’re on the tour you don’t spend the first few days trying to avoid sitting down!

Also go looking for hills. We don’t want to scare you with the elevation profiles on this tour but this it will be hilly! Whilst it is unlikely that you will have anything that compares to longer climbs we’ll encounter in your backyard you can still get yourself prepared by doing hill repetitions. Whilst it is pretty tedious doing reps up the toughest hill in your neighbourhood this sort of training will really build up your power.

At the same time go a little easy. You don’t want to arrive on tour already overcooked so remember to taper off a little towards the start of the tour. It is important to arrive fresh with your energy levels conserved. Don’t think you can fit in all of your training the weekend before!

Note that when you are actually on the tour you will have access to the van which among other things acts as a sag wagon if you want to take a break. There is absolutely no shame in taking advantage of this and we’d prefer it if you did rather than smashing yourself on one day and being out of action for the next two. You’ll know what condition you’re in so don’t be shy in signalling that you want a lift.

In essence though the more prepared you are physically for this tour the more you will enjoy it. There is still plenty of time to get your fitness levels up before the tour start.

Of course if you’d like to put together a more scientific approach to your training remember that Matt is a cycle coach and would be happy to help – matt.p.lucas01@gmail.com

The Vietnam Adventure

We are really excited to be exploring the region of Ha Giang on road bikes. A lot of research has gone into making this happen and in collaboration with our partners we believe that we will be running the first road bike tour to this beguiling region.

As such though it is important to recognise that we really are off the beaten track and as such salubriousness will not be the order of the day. Aside from the start and end of the tour the accommodation will be basic – all be it with private facilities, the food simple fare and the road surfaces inconsistent at times.

The scouting trip has been completed and we were relieved to find that the harsh monsoon season has not wreaked the havoc we feared it might have. A couple of the roads have been adversely affected by heavy truck movements and there is some road works that we’ll have to get around. The result will be a couple of changes to the original itinerary but nothing too dramatic.

We look forward to running an awesome tour but please come prepared with an open mind to the adventures that await!

Bikes – General

Bike Build

Please don’t unpack your bike on arrival as it will be taken off you on Saturday evening and shuttled up to the start point. The mechanics will then build them up and they will be ready to ride when we get to the start point of the ride on Sunday afternoon. On arrival at the first hotel you will be issued with luggage tags for your bikes. Give the tags for your bike to Thang at the Saturday intro meeting and he will arrange for them to be loaded on to the shuttle that evening.

Transportation

The onus is on you to get your bike to the start point of the tour. Whether you choose to pack your bike in a hard or soft case is your prerogative – either way we will transport the case until the end of the tour and can assist in unpacking and packing your bike.

If you require a shuttle from the airport to the first hotel let us know and we’ll put you in contact with our local partner (note that there is an additional cost of US$45 for this).

Spares

Our mechanic will have all the necessary tools but we suggest that you bring your own spares along too – inner tubes, pump etc

Tyre choice

The road quality in Vietnam can vary a lot and there is also the added complication of impromptu road repairs to deal with. Our advice is to fit at least 25mm tyres to your bike and if you have sufficient clearance you could also consider the 28mm option.

We also recommend that you choose a tyre that has a reputation for being hardy against punctures.

Gear ratios

There will be hills! A 53/39 is workable on the front but in terms of back cassette we’d recommend that you make life easier for yourself with something like a 11/28. Other options would be to fit a compact chain set or if you really wanted to make life easier and love the idea of a granny gear a triple is always an option.

The Roads

These are a series of shots that were taken during the recent scouting trip. Closer to Sapa we will come across some lovely smooth bitumen but by and large the road surface is all a bit average – hence our suggestion that you bring wider profile tyres that are not prone to flats.

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And here is the really ugly and the bad on the ride. The image on the left is where we will take the shuttle on day 5 as they have dug up a large part of the road.  In Vietnam when they decide to do road works they don’t seem to do it in small stretches but rather dig up the whole road and then start the repairs. The image on the right on the other hand is the sort of surface we will find in patches. Not a  problem to ride over but at the same time not overly pleasant. On our Vietnam odyssey we encourage you to expect the unexpected. Our lead guide will be on a motorbike though to hopefully manage those expectations on our behalf.

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Food

The hotels at the start and end of the tour are the most sophisticated and will have a reasonable range of options. However, once we are in the region of Ha Giang the cuisine will become more ‘local’ with fewer frills. We will bring some supplies up from Hanoi to provide a bit more variety but as we really are off the beaten track the banana pancakes of more frequented parts of South East Asia will be conspicuous by their absence!

Accommodation summary

On this tour we start and end in 4 star hotels with all the usual amenities. Once on tour though we are fairly isolated and will stay in simple guest houses that with the exception of one all have private bathrooms. Below is a collage of some of the guest houses in Ha Giang.

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General hygiene

For food, if you like to eat out of stainless and shiny white kitchens, you should probably not look at where your dinner is being produced. I would say though, that we’ve never had a case of food poisoning on a tour anywhere and the same goes for our partners who have run countless tours in Vietnam. The most common issue is viral gastro, which can be picked up from so many environmental sources. We eat in local restaurants with high turnover of ingredients and not much reliance on refrigeration.

Gels & Hydrolytes

We will provide snacks on the road in the form of fruit and refreshments. However, if you would like to use gels and hydrolytes during the tour it is up to you to bring your own supplies.

Massages

The massage option clearly appealed and pretty much all of you have paid the supplement which will entitle you to a 45 minute massage each evening that will no doubt be greatly welcomed. If you haven’t taken up this option and would like to do so let us know ASAP.

Internet

Internet is available in Hanoi and Sapa and is reliable in both places. Ha Giang and Meo Vac, not so reliable.  3G SIM cards are prepaid and can be bought from various phone shops around the place. Vietnam has more phone shops than any other kind of business.  There are also dongles/USB modems available that you can slot SIM cards into. SIMs cost maybe $10, modems cost about $50.

Insurance

This is obviously an important one and is why we asked for your insurance details in the guest survey. Could we also ask that you provide next of kin details and the emergency contact number that your insurance company provides in the event of the need for an evacuation.

As is standard with bike tours we will get you to sign a risk waiver before the tour starts. A few people believe that these waivers are not worth the paper are written on but they are an important acknowledgement of the risks that are involved with going on bike tour. It is fundamental to us that we run a safe tour, but it is also important that all participants are aware of what is involved and have sufficient insurance cover in place.

What’s not included?

Bike hire, flights, visa fees, tips for Vietnamese support team (we suggest $40 from each participant), drinks other than water at meals, insurance, single supplement (price based on dual occupancy).

Facebook

A few of you are already ‘friends’ with us on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/RideandSeek – and if you use it we recommend that the rest of you join us too. It’s a great medium to post photos and news both in the lead up to and during the tour when we post almost daily. It is also a great way to engage friends and family.



Vietnam – a coffee drinkers paradise

Coffee snobs rejoice, for Vietnam is the home of a good brew. Not just good – great. Think about a puddle of sweet condensed milk resting in the bottom of your glass. Think about ice cubes on top, already melting in the morning sun. Think about the little metal filter atop your glass, and the drip, drip, drip of rich coffee, an aromatic brew that will be mixed with the milk and the ice to form the perfect cold drink for a hot morning in Vietnam. Your day has begun.



Could this be the true ‘King’ of Italian wines?

Brunello di Montalcino – Could this be the true ‘King’ of Italian wines?

The story of Brunello embodies man’s quest for perfection.  It begins with the discovery of a special grapevine on a steep Montalcino slope in 1842.  That vine’s subsequent propagation by its founder, Clemente Santi, resulted in the creation of the Brunello wine.

Today, Brunello is considered one of Italy’s greatest wines and a supreme example of Sangiovese at its best.  It has also become Italy’s most recognized premium wine, internationally.  With a total production of 750,000 cases (9L), 65% finds its way into the world’s finest restaurants and connoisseur wine cellars.  The United States has become the largest importer of Brunello, embracing 25% of the total production.  Brunello’s international prominence was recognized by the Wine Spectator when it was selected the “Top Wine of the Year” in 2006.

In Italy at least it is the Piemontese Barolo that has assumed the moniker of being the ‘King of Wines’. Having travelled extensively in both Piedmont and Tuscany though I would contend that whilst this title was first bestowed centuries ago, given the choice I would usually go for glass of Brunello over one of Barolo.

With stage 3 of the Hannibal tour passing right through the heart the area in which Brunello is produced we thought we should at least give a bit of background on this most elegant of wines.

Brunello di Montalcino: Fast Facts

Production: 750,000 cases (9L), Vintage 2008

Vineyard Acreage: 4,700 acres

Grape Variety: 100% Sangiovese Grosso, although over 30 clones are used throughout the DOCG

DOC: Established in 1966; DOCG: Awarded in 1980

Minimum Alcohol: 12.5%; Maximum Yield: 3.2 tons/acre

Aging Requirements – Normale: Minimum of 4 years from January 1 after the harvest, 2 years in oak, 4 months in bottle.

Aging Requirements – Riserva: Minimum of 5 years from January 1 after the harvest, 2 years in oak, 6 months in bottle.

Now, the rest of the story…

The Place:   The Montalcino zone takes its name from the town, which sits high on a hill as a fortified citadel with commanding expansive views in all directions.  The zone encompasses 8,000 acres of vines, 4700 of which are dedicated to Brunello.   The name, Montalcino derives from the Latin, “Mons Ilcinnus”, or mountain of holm oak.  These oak trees grace the commune’s logo.  Vineyards, while extensive, only cover 15% of the land, with forests, pastures, and fields of grain making up the rest.  Indeed, Montalcino is like an elevated island amidst a sea of undulating wheat fields and pastures.  The scenic beauty of the place won it a coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site award in 2004.

Don -Lying some 27 miles south of Siena and 27 miles east of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Montalcino enjoys a much warmer and drier climate than its Chianti Classico neighbor to the north, and Montepulciano to the east.  This, together with diverse soils (including rocky “galestro,” limestone, marl, clay, and sand) make for growing conditions which consistently ripen its finicky Sangiovese grapes earlier the either Chianti Classico or Montepulciano.  In Montalcino, harvest is normally completed by late September, usually before the arrival of the October rains.

The Montalcino Zone resembles a square formed by 3 perimeter rivers: the Ombrone on the north and west, the Asso on the east, and the Orcia on the south.  It rises from the perimeter to a crest at the Poggio Civitella (2168 ft), a short distance south of the town, Montacino.  There are presently four notable wine production areas.

  • Just southeast of the town, the highest vineyards in the zone are located on steep terrain at an elevation of 1,300-1,600 feet.  The site’s cool conditions favor slow ripening, producing wines that are more austerely structured, but are very age-worthy.  Biond Santi’s “Il Greppo” estate is located here.
  • Northeast of the town, on lower slopes, near Montosoli and Canalicchio, the terroir allows the wines to show fuller, riper qualities to complement their structure.
  • Don - Brunello MapFurther north, toward the perimeter of the zone and at slightly lower elevations, the soil contains mainly clay with deposits of marl and sandy limestone.  Areas such as Altesino and Catiglione del Bosco produce a more forward style of Brunello in this area.
  • Recent plantings in the southwest corner of the zone, near Sant’Angelo in Colle, Argiano, Pian della Mura, and Camigliano, have produced impressive wines with balance and structure.  Here, sandy clay soils are often mixed with limestone and “galestro” at the higher sites.  This area is closest to the sea and has a warmer microclimate.

The Grape: The name Brunello, meaning “the brown one,” came from the description of the Sangiovese Grosso grapes at harvest time – a dark colored, dusky brown berry.  Brunello was the local name given to this type of Sangiovese Grosso, originally identified in 1842 by Clemente Santi.  Today, the term is officially reserved for the name of the wine.  Sangiovese grown in Montalcino has comparatively thicker skins, compared with grapes grown in other regions, and excellent anthocyanins. Both of these factors contribute to Brunello’s deep tannic structure and rich hue.

Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted single grape variety.  It comprises 67% of the Tuscan vineyard acreage and is the main grape in 25 DOC(G)’s of Toscana. Sangiovese is an ancient grape, believed to have resulted from a spontaneous crossing during the Etruscan period.  Recent DNA evidence reflects its parentage as a crossing between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo.

However, there is significant diversity within the grape variety.  Sangiovese tends to be genetically unstable and very adaptable; thus, many clones exist.  Banfi Vineyards has documented over 600 versions of Sangiovese on their estate alone!  Currently, as a result of extensive clonal research trials, the best clones are being propagated.  Most estates are using multiple clones in order to add better balance and more complexity to their wines.

Don - SangioveseThe Wine:   Brunello di Montalcino projects an image of majesty and mystery that heightens its allure.  This aura was cultivated by the Biondi Santi family.  For 100 years, they were the only producers of the wine.  The Biondi Santi estate “Il Greppo,” where Brunello was born, has been called Italy’s first “grand cru”.

However, the wine remained somewhat of an Italian secret until the 1960’s, when word began to spread about the tastings of the extraordinary Biondi Santi vintages of 1888 and 1891.  Soon, the wine world turned its attention to this special place and its remarkable wine.  The Biondi Santi family, led by Franco and his son Jacopo, carry the flag and continue to produce age-worthy Brunello at the family estate.

A growers’ consortium was established in 1967, and has become one of Italy’s most effective with 98% of today’s 208 producers being members.  The consortium has guided a smooth growth in production, while advancing quality standards.

There is, however, growing internal controversy.  Some “modernist” producers would like to shorten the 4-year aging requirement prior to release of the wine.  Some also argue for the right to use small amounts of non-Sangiovese grapes.  These changes are opposed by the “traditionalist” producers who have successfully, thus far, resisted these changes; aside from agreeing to reduce the required time in oak from 4 years to two years.

The Future: The path to wine stardom for Brunello has been like a “shooting star.”  The influx of quality investment over the past 50 years continues and serves to accelerate and reinforce its meteoric rise to prominence.  There are no “industrial” producers among its wine estates.  Although there have been a few bumps in the road, the prospect for continued success is excellent.

As told by Donald P Kinnan