reblog from – Strada Bianche – the white road

beautiful – one my list of things to do

Tuscany, it’s driving an open-topped sports car, preferably a red Alfa Spider, along a cypress lined road, it’s the perfect gear-shift round the corner under an ochre evening sky, it’s a beautiful girl by your side, head-scarf fluttering in the breeze, motoring towards a hilltop village where you stop for a couple of glasses of red wine to watch the sun set over rolling fields of vineyards and olive groves. Somewhere in the distance a dog barks. Something might happen later. Sometimes.

Sometimes Tuscany is clattering a road bike down a bumpy gravel road, under a steel bluegrey sky of wind and rain, scrabbling for traction on loose stone whilst trying not to puncture on the holes and ditches, getting covered in a cold thin layer of beige mud, grinding towards a hilltop village where you stop for a warming coffee. It’s a crunchy gear-shift with a grit laden chain. Somewhere in the distance a mechanic cries. You’ll need a good bath later.

I’m riding with RPM90 on one of their Tuscany Weekend breaks that happen in the Spring and Autumn, riding the Strada Bianche, the white gravel roads made infamous by the 190km one day classic race, stages in the Giro D’Italia and L’Eroica. The trip is based in Radda in Chianti, a hill-top town stuck between Florence and Siena which is just about as Tuscany as you can get, and as the name might suggest right in the heart of Chianti country for the double Latin whammy. The moment we arrive there’s the immediate chance to get stuck into the wine as the usual post flight chore of building the bike out of its box is taken care of by the RPM90 staff, thanks guys, so we’re free to use that annoying re-assembly time walking around the town, eating a light snack and sampling the local liquid, all better uses of filling time to supper. Dump your bag in your room before nipping out and you’ll find a welcome pack waiting on your bed; an RPM90 musette with an RPM90 casquette and t-shirt inside, a Lezyne patch kit, some Chapeau chamois cream and a sachet of Après recovery drink. Nice touch.

The first proper day of the weekend is an 85km ride to warm our legs up to the Tuscan hills and maybe sample a cheeky little Strada Bianche at the end. After a quick descent out of town there’s a steady climb that gives us a chance to see the landscape unfold to both sides as we ride up into views, it’s not a bad way to start the morning, all holidays should start something like this really, especially if they’re followed by the descent which is fast and swoopy with corners so perfect you’d think the engineer was a cyclist.

We chase a couple of scarily svelte Italian roadies up the next hill, all spindle and mahogany it’s obvious that they could drop us any time as they’re just spinning and chatting, but it’s the thrill of the chase and all that and both parties are aware of this, luckily for egos we turn left into the small town of Torre for a quick stop-and-go coffee before things get too heated and we get our legs handed to us on a piatto.

Next up for the day is  an 8km climb that has some quite punchy bits in it according to RPM90 and ride leader Nick, which is guiding speak for “steep”, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a tough gradient as it is, with enough sharp pitches to be a decent challenge, thankfully there’s the odd flatter section to catch the breath as it twines through the trees, past a stall selling mushrooms picked from the woods we’ve been cycling up through. We pause at the top to regroup and it’s not a problem waiting as light splashes through the trees, the temperature is that perfect intermediate cool but warm and it’s that kind of thick quiet you never seem to get in the UK. I could sit here all day but there’s a descent and a lunch to do. We don’t exactly fall off the hill as the road has flat spots and short rises which taken at pace make the thighs throb convincingly but there’s always the excuse to slow down a bit and take in the view. There may have been stops to take “Bike on Holiday” photographs.

The roads here are a cyclist’s dream, you may have guessed that, the kind that car advertisers use to lie about the freedom and joy gifted by the miles of empty tarmac that you’ll get via their latest model, the roads that RPM90 choose are those ones, with peaceful smooth tarmac and vistas that are used to sell you olive oil based butter substitute spreads that evolve with each corner and rise. At the bottom the café to the left is closed, and the alternate café to the right is also shut, so Plan C is put in place and we cruise up the valley for 15kms or so and have lunch in the town there, Gaiole-in-Chianti, where L’Eroica started just a week ago it so happens. The sun is out, it’s an empty road, even for an obviously main one between towns, so it makes for chatting miles, workers are picking grapes in the fields, it’s a pleasantly undulating bit of tarmac, it’s the middle of Friday and everyone back at home will be thinking about their end-of-week lunchtime pint and how long it is till clocking off time. We’re thinking of a lunchtime beer outside with maybe a tricolore salad.

After the meal the group which is of a variable ability splits into two, with long and short options back to the hotel. I pick the longer version with Nick and Alun up the short sharp hill that’s just a little too harsh post prandial but worth it because it takes us towards the first bit of Strada Bianche of the weekend. It’s an easy little amuse-bouche for what’s to come; it’s well graded and swells up and down gradual gradients, but unfamiliarity breeds a little bit of approaching gingerly so no hero cards are played.

We could head straight back the couple of miles to the hotel where this dirt road hits tarmac but there’s still enough afternoon left and Nick suggests an extra loop to earn supper, it’s got some more challenging hills in it and some Strada Bianche that’s a lot more involving. Of course we agree and swoop down another perfect tarmac hill straight into a real nasty piece of work of a climb that never levels off when you thought or hoped it might and is steep enough to make easing back from the lung burn an impossibility. And that sharp right hand corner with the cypresses on the left casting strobing shadows on the sun silvered road, I’m sure we did that twice.

Once over the summit fully out of swear words with yet another picturesque view to the right of the rippled hills of Tuscany, I’m beginning to think this place only does fantastic views, we freewheel down to a sweeping left turn to take us towards more white road, a lot more interesting this time with a variety of puncture-happy obstacles to deal with; larger stones and rocks, gullies, corrugated dirt, thick gravel, sets of rocks and vertical sections, it’s something you’d be happy to point a fat tyred moutainbike down, not a pair of 25mms.

It demands attention and respect and unsurprisingly one of us gets a puncture, my saddle-bag gets scared and jettisons itself and all its contents onto the dirt, and there is a lot of holding on and gritted teeth. It’s highly inappropriate terrain for a road bike, and it’s brilliant. We hit tarmac, which all of a sudden seems impeccably smooth and there’s just a few magically curved corners to negotiate in the poetic Tuscan evening light before heading for home which is a long drag up, a long perfectly curling descent, and then another long drag up, timed perfectly so you hit empty rolling the last 100 metres through town.

Shower, head straight out for beer, pizza and wine. As first days go, 120 kilometres of over-exuberance will do nicely, I could have gone for a post-ride massage as part of the RPM90 experience, I should have done, but we had to rush out for a meal in the next town. Two of the three nights are spent in the restaurant of the rather opulent four star Relais Vignale hotel you’re staying in where you’ll get an exquisite and filling multi course Italian meal, certainly enough for a starving cyclist, don’t worry, but tonight we’re going into Castellina for pizza. It’s nothing like Pizza Hut.

Saturday is the Big Day, 130km and almost 2,000 metres of climbing, with the route taking a lot of the L’Eroica course and some long sections of Strada Bianche. The weather has come down and there’s a hush at the breakfast table that always precedes a day that everyone knows might be a bit hard, various bailing-out options are discussed and another plate of all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast is downed in preparation for the onslaught. And just one more coffee.

It’s going to be a day of constant clothing changes, luckily the RPM90 van follows our mini-peloton which can save us the burden of carrying stuff, and at random stops the doors are flung wide for water top-ups, food, the depositing and retrieval of kit as and when the weather changes its mood, and for pro-level changing of punctures. RPM90 James is doing the driving today and he’s worked as a soigneur and mechanic in the Tour of Britain (read all about it here) so he knows what he’s doing.

We do some undulating riding to warm the legs up on this boring grey damp morning, riding a tempo group down the blustery valley to Pianella before climbing up to the first bit of off-road for the day. It may seem counterintuitive but the best thing to do on approaching Strada Bianche is to actually speed up before you hit it, and then hit it hard so you hover over the top of the bumps, just like riding pavé, instead of getting bogged down with sluggishness. The first section we ride is smooth and slightly downhill so when I look down at my computer we’re doing 30mph. This promotes internal chuckling.

The following miles are a Morse code of tarmac and white road through similarly alternating drizzle and sunshine while the weather flits angry overhead. As we ride along a busy bit of road that cuts straight along a ridge towards Isole d’Arbia, the sky has bruised considerably and the wind is doing that gusting preceding rain thing which clatters down right on cue as we turn off right and hit a lengthy section of Strada Bianche, nicely topping up the thin layer of surface water. Within seconds our legs are covered in light biscuit coloured spray that slowly weeps it’s way up to knee level and the bikes are less than perfect in a couple of minutes. The white road is shiny with rain and looks like it might be dangerously greasy with the friction-free properties of damp chalk but thankfully there’s tons of grip, erm, apart from the loose gravelly bits.

Riding Strada Bianche is all about knowing when to let the bike do its own thing and when to grab it by the scruff of the bars and let it know who’s boss. Sometimes you’ve got to lay off the brakes into a corner and let the bike drift a bit before it finds it’s traction. Sometimes you’ve got to muscle the front end down and tell the bike that you want to be there, now. Sometimes it’s all about being light and floaty on the pedals, sometimes it’s about raw angry power. Well, that’s the theory, just try and make the bike smile. Mostly.

This section of Strada Bianche goes on a bit and is characterized by both the terrain and the weather, climbs are done in miserable mizzle, descents in sideways hail and the next climb in blinding sunshine. There’s a brief respite of tarmac through Radi before the white road resumes, slightly uphill and with the effort of riding sticky gravel and endless undulations really beginning to sting the legs now. It’s easy to forget that whilst this might be some sort of cycling grail these are just roads to the locals so as well as family cars bouncing down them we see old ladies on shopping bikes merrily scooting along and all sorts of other cyclists, just getting about. There’s one last hill that’s a proper wall which sees most walking, it would be an challenge on a proper off-road bike, and a real test of determination over grip and aching thighs on an ineptly tyred road bike.

We regroup somewhat shell-shocked and cruise somewhat relieved into Lupompesi for lunch. The Bosco della Spina Country Resort is really rather posh, the sort of place that politely requires a shirt at the very least so we feel a little awkward turning up in our disgusting damp clingy mucky state but they have been forewarned of our condition and have slipped bin-bags over the chairs. This is Italy, they understand cyclists, they understand food, they also understand cyclists and food, it’s not a problem. We leave empty plates and mud all over the place.

The day has changed completely during our break and it’s bright and sunny now, the road is a mirror of sun on wet and there’s the weird feeling of riding a totally shagged bike on smooth pristine roads. Dry chain, graunchy gears, creaky cables, rumbly bearings, our bikes have aged a good ten years in the last two hours. Light gritty mud dries on legs and crusts on lycra, socks are ruined. It’s perversely marvelous. We twist and wiggle skirting around the hill pedaling soft miles which helps to keep lunch down and we eventually turn directly into the fantastic view to confront more white road.

There is more Strada Bianche, there’s more tarmac, you could stop on any corner and spend an entire day taking photos, or just sitting and soaking all the pretty in. Well, until we spend a seemingly inordinate amount of time on a rolling road that despite its twists and turns has a permanent headwind; and even with each of us taking a turn to drop our shoulder into the wind does a very good job of rinsing the legs of energy. So it’s a good thing that we fortuitously meet up with the RPM90 van that is refueling the slower group on their shorter route and we grab the opportunity to throw random food items into our mouths before pushing on again.

By now I’m deep into that “Just Keep Pedaling” mode where you don’t know where you are, where you are going, uncertain of how far there is to go and how many hills are in the way. I can only remember the Strada Bianche bits, because they’re still fun, and they seem to be the perfect way to see this stunning countryside, taking you deep into the silent places that the metalled roads just don’t. We coax our complaining bikes onwards, grinding up long steady drags and hanging on down rough descents trying to ignore the sandpaper sound of brakes on rims, I know I must be getting tired because I’m flopping down the hills like a catering bag of gnocchi. More than usual.

The final task of the day is the climb home, the eternal problem with staying in a hill-top town, we paw back up the road we rode down first thing this morning which seems like a long long time ago now. As with any group of three cyclists with one hill to go the unspoken battle commences and our legs creak in time with our distressed bikes in one final duel. It’s a slow, silent and friendly war of attrition all the way to the hotel where the final ramping up of the road to reach the top of the town is too much for all but the one more belligerent rider. It’s been a while since I’ve been broken that much by a ride but the mental and physical effort of surviving wet Strada Bianche and a seemingly perpetual conveyor-belt of rolling hills chipping away at legs is an exhausting combination, a hard 135 kilometres done. We stagger faint round the little local supermarket looking for any kind of familiar food that will see us through till suppertime, it’s an ugly sight involving biscuits and crisps. We maw these whilst the ever busy James cleans the crap off our bikes and makes them work again. What a fantastic day.

The last day is a simple nip down to Siena for coffees, I say nip I mean a 50 mile round trip, so not exactly just down the road, there’s worse places than a World Heritage Site to pedal for an espresso fix though. The day is sunny but with a fresh end-of-season air, still warm enough for a gilets off at the top of the first climb, which is a nice thing for this time of year. We meander along the contour of the range of hills that Radda sits on although the trend is generally down, through Castellina the picturesque village with the massive silo, probably the only non-pretty thing for 50 miles, and it’s friendly pedalling for legs that might be a bit worn from the previous two days. The descent into Siena is straight, steep fast and fun and we weave through the thick tourists in the narrow paved city streets to get to the famous town square of the Piazza del Campo where the even more famous Palio horse race is held, for one of those coffees that you’re paying for the view and people watching for.

The general theme for the return journey is up and again we split into two with quick and long routes home, there’s just three of us going long, one of whom is James who has been allowed out of the van and out on his bike for the day so it’s fun for a while to try and keep up with his excited legs. We retrace some of the Strada Bianche we’ve done before but legs are especially weary from being happily ripped apart for two days in succession and they decide instead to kick back and enjoy the view on this beautiful day in this beautiful place. Yes, that excuse. The last climb is ticked off in that particular kind of happy weariness that should always conclude a weekend away and the sprint for the Radda In Chianti sign for the final time is more of a slight raising in speed than anything else, before a buckling of the knees and a heavy sitting back down on the saddle.

We’re sat in the van on the way home, piloted back to the airport along twisty cypress lined roads, long shadows stretch from an ochre evening sky, a cyclist snoozes by your side, head lolling in the corners, to the left the low sun sets over rolling fields of vineyards and olive groves. Somewhere in the distance a dog barks. It could be a romantic moment. It would be better on a bike.

Surly long haul trucker

Owners might be the best salespeople when it comes to bikes … Certainly speak about the virtues of the Surly LHT and our friend Tom Morton who is crossing Scotland on one later in the year (we are filming a small doccie on this) is a fan.

Other people like the one below give an eloquent appraisal of the good (and very occasionally weaker) points of the bike. This one is so well written I thought I would repost it here.

Deciding which touring bike to purchase is no small undertaking. When you’re going to be spending so much time and money on a bike, it’s important to get it right.

Over the past two years, my partner and I have used our trusty Long Haul Truckers to carry us up and over the hills of Wales, along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, across the Peaks and the Pennines of England, and – in our most extensive trip yet – around New Zealand’s beautiful South Island.

But before we did all that, we spent hours poring through internet forums, blogs and reviews in our quest for the ultimate touring machine. We also talked to friends who have been cycling touring and were a wealth of knowledge. A few of them had the Surly Crosscheck or the Long Haul Trucker and rated them highly.

We looked at the Dawes, the Thorns and the Koga-Miyatas among the many touring bikes on offer. But it was the Long Haul Trucker that kept popping up as the touring bicycle to have: a steel frame with all the braze-ons that you would ever need for v-brakes, racks, bottle cages and even spare spokes.

We already had a Surly in our stable, the Steamroller, which had done a good service as a fixed city commuter. The Surly 4130 CroMoly steel gives a comfortable and reliable ride, the paint job was smart, and we knew that we couldn’t go wrong with a Surly.

At Brixton Cycles in London we had a chance to see the Long Haul Trucker in the flesh. Beautiful, aren’t they? We had a great chat with the staff there, who are real Surly enthusiasts. After some discussion, we found the right sizes for the two of us: quite comically I settled for the towering 58cm 2009 model in green, and my partner went for the diminutive burgundy 46cm, of which, happily for our wallet, Brixton had one left over from 2008 at a reduced price. We came away from the shop buzzing with ideas about how we’d build the bikes ourselves, to our exact specifications and needs. New additions to the stable were soon to be born!

surly lht in wales fully loaded touring bicycle

The Build & The Ride

All the Surly bikes we’ve come across (the Steamroller, Crosscheck and now the Long Haul Trucker) are certainly not on the light side. But they are built to last – sturdy and rock solid. The relaxed angles and the longer wheelbase make the Long Haul Trucker a simply brilliant ride.

Over the years, we’ve each tried many other kinds of bicycle, from custom-made titanium racing bikes to aluminum hard-tail mountain bikes. Admittedly, we’ve never tried a different model of touring bike, but the Long Haul Trucker has made such an impression that we feel we’ll never need to. Simply put, they are probably the most comfortable bicycles we have ever ridden.

The Surly Long Haul Trucker is not built for speed, but for carrying you and the kitchen sink. It really does handle and feel most at ease when you have loaded it up. This is, I’m sure, a common principle of all good touring bicycles.

We’re ashamed to admit that our other bicycles have more or less been put out to grass since we got the Long Haul Truckers. We have a couple of fixed and road bikes along with a MTB commuter. But, over the last two years, they have just been gathering dust, since the Long Haul Truckers are so comfortable and a joy to ride. While the titanium road
bike is a flighty thoroughbred, the Long Haul Trucker is a sturdy and reliable cart horse.

We’ve even used our Long Haul Truckers as commuting bikes in London. They are slow and heavy but always get you there in comfort and with a smile on your face. It is no racer, but let’s face it, you’re not going to do a sprint finish when touring. Need to take lots of luggage, extra water and a stock pile of food when away from civilization? The Surly doesn’t complain. It just takes the load and keeps on going. You can almost hear it say “More luggage? Bring it on!”

Even at low speeds and fully loaded it handles very well. Nor is going up steep hills a problem. In the fastnesses of Wales and the Pennines we managed a few serious lumps – even a 25% incline – fully loaded, with the front wheel firmly planted on the ground.

I’m told I sound like a broken record when telling people about this bike, but it’s honestly the best way to describe it: It’s like riding a four-wheeled sofa. Heavy, but comfy as anything.

loaded touring bike by surly

The Build & The Cost

We got hold of our two Surly frames at our local bike shop in London, Brixton Cycles. The 46cm was £50 cheaper than the 56cm, which set us back £350 since it was an older model (2008 rather than 2009). There are no substantial differences between the two frames aside from different lugs on the dropouts, and the colour: the 2008 frame was
only available in a rather fetching burgundy. Otherwise, they’re exactly the same. The 2010 model seems to differ from the 2009 frame in colour alone, and if there are further differences, they must be subtle as they’re not immediately noticeable. And, from discussions with other Long Haul Trucker riders, the ride quality doesn’t differ from model to model.

When it came to selecting the correct size, there were a few different schools of thought to consider. We took the advice of the bike shop to go for a smaller size than usual in a touring frame. The 60cm, and maybe even 62cm frame would certainly have fit me, but our man Barney at the local bike shop advised me to go for the 58cm in order to have
greater control over my steed when fully loaded, especially when getting on and off. I do have a rather long seat post and a raised stem. I didn’t even need to cut the fork down. What matters is that I feel comfortable on the bike, and so I’m absolutely sure I made the right sizing and set-up choices. Even my partner took the size down from her normal size, 46cm, and she just loves riding her Surly Long Haul Trucker.

If you prefer an off-the-peg bike, you can get the Surly Long Haul Trucker built up from Surly for just over £890. We decided that we wanted to build our tourers from scratch, as we had particular ideas about our preferred components. For example, I don’t get on with drop handlebars or downtube shifters, and my partner prefers shallow drops and women-specific saddles. I also looked forward to the process of sourcing the parts and building up our new steeds. And then there was the practical benefit of helping me understand the bikes inside and out, and be prepared for any potential mechanical breakdowns while out on tour.

I built up our Long Haul Truckers with XT groupsets, 44, 32, 22 chainrings and a 11-34 cassette which gives us plenty of low gears for going up the steepest of hills. I chose the Hollowtech II bottom bracket, which I admit I was a little worried about at start (new-fangled technology!), but they are running just fine.

My bike has butterfly/traveller handlebars, which I’m still playing around with to find exactly the right set up. I’m almost there. The wheels, 700c, I bought second hand from a friend who’d built them up himself with a HOPE XC rear hub and SON dynohub on Mavic A319 36 hole rims.

The smaller Surly was set up with women-specific shallow drop Bontrager handlebars and Ultegra STI shifters which work great with v-brakes when you use travel agents. The wheels, 26”, were built with HOPE front and rear hubs on Mavic A319 36 hole rims, by our very good friend and wheel builder.

Both bikes run Marathon Plus 35mm tyres which are pretty much bombproof, which is much needed for touring and commuting in London. Admittedly the tyres are slightly on the slow side (see a theme emerging here?), but it’s not speed we care too much about. Rather, it’s durability and longevity that are important. The Marathon Plus ticks these boxes. As for the racks, we chose Turbus Cargo and Ergo racks because we’d heard good things about them and I was lucky enough to get them on discount through my work.

It’s a bit hard to state the total cost of the bikes. To be honest, we got rather carried away when building our new toys and didn’t keep a close eye on the budget. Plus, we did have some of the parts stored up already along with several great offers we managed to pick up online and through my work. The bike building project began in January 2009
and the first bike was fully built by June of the same year. If you have time to spare, gradually picking up bits and pieces through online offers can save you quite a bit of money. For example, we picked up my partner’s Ultegra shifters for half price, and got the Hollowtech II crankset for over £100 less than the street price.

But I’m pretty sure if you go into a shop and order what we have, you are going over the £2000 mark for each of these bicycles. That said, I’m sure that the off-the-peg Surly would be a great ride still and a great starter tourer to build up when you can afford to upgrade.

largest long haul trucker touring bicycle pictures

The Small Things

The paint job is good quality. I have used my Surly heavily over the last two years and of course there are a few scratches, but the paint job is still sound. I had read that the paint job on the burgundy coloured Surly wasn’t the best. But, we have not had any problems with ours. There was a rather big scratch inflicted by the journey to New Zealand but no paint job would have survived that.

The smaller 46cm frame is rather compact so you can only have one 750ml bottle in the three cages. The one on the seat tube can just about hold a 750ml bottle, and it’s a bit of a faff to get the bottle out and in. The one on the underside of the down tube can only take a small bottle as there is no room for it because of the front wheel.

Since the Long Haul Truckers are on the heavy side, you will be a bit pushed keeping your packed up bicycle within your luggage allowance when flying. We try to add a little bit extra into the box, such as your sleeping bags and tent. But with the Long Haul Truckers you don’t have many extra kgs to play with.

The standard sized bike box you can pick up from your local bicycle shop, is a tight fit for the 58cm frame. Even with front rack and mudguards off your Surly will be bigger than the box. I had to take the forks off as well in order to get it all into the box. The 46cm frame, however, fit nice and snug into a standard cardboard bike box.

My very first ride on the Surly Long Haul Trucker was quite an epic one: a ride called the Dunwich Dynamo, a 110’ish mile long ride over night from London to a beach north east of London. Around one thousand people take part every year in the summer. It was pretty much thrown together in the morning before the ride, a quick spin in the carpark
to see if it worked, loaded it up and off we went.

After around 40-50 miles my shoulders started to hurt. I then raised the stem one spacer and the pain started to go away. And that was it for the rest of the ride. It was just so comfortable. When I got back onto the bike after a quick swim and breakfast it was not painful.

When people see the Surly they are really interested and only tell you good things about it, either from their own experience or from what they have read or heard. I recall that at 4am on the Dunwich Dynamo, I was passing two ladies on a hill, and we all were rather tired at this point. One of them asked me, “Is that the Long Haul Trucker, with the
long wheel base?” This made me smile, gave me a boost and made me rather proud that I had picked such a well thought of and famous bicycle.

The only thing that has broken on the Surly is the rear wheel which was second hand. After nearly 10,000 miles in total, the rim cracked. I think it handled it responsibilities very well since I’m not the smallest of people and do carry a lot in my panniers, including a heavy tool kit, while commuting in London. And we did ride on some rather rough gravel roads in New Zealand. Otherwise they just roll along taking in whatever you throw at them.

female touring bicycle - the surly long haul trucker touring bike

The Surly Long Haul Trucker: In Summary

You’re not going to win any races riding a Long Haul Trucker. But it does exactly what it says on the tin. It carries you long distances, with all your worldly possessions (well, almost) in comfort and style. It just gets better the more you load it up.

I’m now coming up to 8,500 miles on mine and when it’s clean it still looks like a new bicycle. In the meanwhile, our other bikes look out jealously from under the washing draped over them; they’re just glorified laundry hangers these days. We were warned that once we’d joined the Long Haul Trucker club we’d have trouble weaning ourselves off… and it’s true!

I know for sure that these lovely, dependable Surly Long Haul Truckers will be in our stable for many years to come. It’s testament to the comfort and quality of the bikes that we really can’t think of anything that we want to change about them. We might just top up the paint job when it’s needed. In the meantime, there’s a lot of world left to explore, so we’ll just keep on Long Haul Trucking.

best touring bicycle for rain and foul weather - long haul trucker

Multi One Design championship – the real Formula One of sailing

just the look of this prom gives me goosebumps ….. 70 foot try doing battle around the world. The sailing world has a lot to thank the French for – they really pioneer the best while the AC crowd bicker. This Volvo Ocean Race and the match race championship get me going.

The Krys Ocean Race will be first international event of the new MOD 70 circuit . The race will leave New York July 7th, 2012. The European Tour will follow in September 2012

The Boats involved

This latest generation of absolutely identical trimarans aims to combine modernity and performance, safety, reliability and cost control.
Measuring over 10 feet in length (21.20 metres instead of 18.28 metres), the MOD 70s are less beamy than their ORMA ancestors, the latter reaching 18 metres.
Seven specific features, which favour safety and reliability, whilst guaranteeing performance, can be noted:



  • 1) Smaller sail area (5%) providing more safety when ocean sailing 2
  • 2) Longer central hull (10 ft) to minimise pitchpoling 3
  • 3) Raised beam clearance to reduce wave impacts 4
  • 4) Possibility to lift the centre hull rudder
  • 5) Curved foils for more performance and safety 6
  • 6) Shorter monolithic canting mast (+/- 8%) positioned further aft in the hull 7
  • 7) Low temperature cured carbon fibre & foam sandwich construction


  • • VPLP Design Office(Fr): Designers, architects office
  • • NORTH SAILS (USA/Fr): Sails, 3DL, unique one-design sail wardrobe


  • • CDK Technologies (Fr): Project manager yard, assembly
  • • Decision (Sui): Boatyard, construction of the beams
  • • Multiplast (Fr): Boatyard, construction of the floats
  • • Lorima (Fr): Construction of the masts and booms

The revival of the oceanic multihull: 

The 1980s represented the advent of the multihull with a number of fabulous projects, though all too often they were overambitious. From that point, all the protagonists were keen to redefine a framework with strict dimensions: it was the birth of the 60 foot multihulls; a class measurement which would then form a unity within a class known as ORMA (Ocean Racing Multihulls association), which was governed according to an open class measurement.
After 15 years of adventures offshore and following the Route du Rhum 2006, the ORMA class ended up undergoing massive change: changes of status, an evolution in the Board of Directors, the nomination of a new President, Patrick Chapuis, and an Executive chairman, Franck David.
It was at the start of the Vendée Globe 2008 that Stève Ravussin and Franck David, who has accompanied the former in his various sailing projects since 1999, presented the Multi One Design project to Marco Simeoni. Its ethos centred on completely identical oceanic multihulls.

The concept of everyone racing on an equal footing on the ocean planet appealed to the Swiss company director. Indeed the latter didn’t think twice about investing in and working on the idea, initially refining the overall concept by bringing an international and eco-friendly dimension to it! Marco Simeoni signed an order for five MOD70s, which was the starting point for “The Multi One Design Story…”.

Not the best first Audax to do – 400 ouch

A great video by Damon Peacock

This PBP qualifier was organised by Steve and Denise Carroll. It took in a large proportion of the roads of the remote Scottish county of Sutherland. The weather was superb if a little windy.