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On And Off The Road

Think of cycling and camping and my mind turns to bike panniers and little tents. Odd, really, as I’ve enjoyed some great holidays pedalling off from a cosy tented base camp that would have bent the frame if it could have been loaded onto a bicycle.

Some of those breaks have been self-contained, albeit in a car, and others with the pre-pitched tents of a holiday company in Brittany, Denmark, Italy and Austria.

Cycling hasn’t always been linked with camping. Walking holidays, family beach hols and canal trips have all featured bicycles. Sometimes taken with us, often hired.

A moment’s inattention led to a sorry end.

One memorable trip along the Canal du Midi in southern France saw a friend catch the handlebar of one of our carelessly-stowed hire bikes against a bridge wall as we cruised underneath it, neatly halving the bike’s length. When we went to arrange a replacement, he asked, “Do you have any folding bikes?”

“Non.”

“Hmmm. Well, you’ve got one now!”

Other experiences of hire bikes leads me to urge potential hirers to go for a spin for a few minutes rather than give the machine a cursory glance before just pedalling off and risking dodgy wheels and faulty brakes. Plus, insist on a simple tool kit and puncture repair outfit.

A deep porch or extension on a family tent is useful shelter for bike maintenance as well as for cooking.

On hire bikes in Denmark, the saddle on my wife’s bike kept rising to the vertical. With no tools to tighten it up, it was, literally, a pain.

Spotting a little general store, I dived in hoping to find something suitable to tackle the problem. Using the universal language of the desperate, I managed to mime the situation to the little old lady behind the counter.

Taking me gently by the hand, she led me from the shop, past my puzzled-looking wife, and down a nearby alley. Unlocking a shed door, she revealed a bike workshop , covered in a thick layer of dust. I worked out that her husband had died thirty years previously.

At her urging, I picked a couple of spanners and had the saddle pinched up tight in seconds as she looked on smiling. With profuse thanks, I handed the tools back.

She hugged me, kissed my wife and gave me one of the spanners to keep as a souvenir. I have it still.

Pure magic.

Even, or especially,  on a conventional beach holiday, hiring bikes is a great way to explore and engage.
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