RAID Pyrenees - The Prelude: Two men, old bikes and balls (of the bearing type)

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

Read on for some musings from a middle-aged man's traverse of the Pyrenees by bike.

The Beginning

I guess it's fair to say I'd reached a certain point in my life where I needed to do something big. I needed a challenge to restore lost feelings of grandeur and superiority and it had to involve me poncing about on a 49-year old steel randonneur - nothing else was going to cut it.

Living within striking distance of the Pyrenean mountain range, it seemed too obvious not to plan a 'raid', a solo traverse of the mountains by bike - west to east and I set about planning the adventure to kick off just after our last cycling tour of the year in September.

Like most things that require a good amount of careful planning and preparation time, I spent very little time haphazardly researching the route, prepping my bike, my kit and myself. My neighbour, keen mountain biker and Jedi Master, Mike, either felt a shift in the Force or somehow got wind that an epic ride was on the cards and whilst we sat casually chatting at a weekly village food night - he was suddenly told by his wife that he would be doing it with me!

I was quite pleased to have some company for the trip, whilst planning the start and finish got a whole lot less complicated as he could arrange for a family friend to drop us 4.5hrs away on the west coast at Hendaye and pick us up on the Med 7 days later. Sweet!

Planning something like this is quite easy with online mapping, Strava and the wealth of info dotting around the net. Actually completing the crossing itself was becoming less so and more of a question about our physical and mental health: Mike was going to traverse the Pyrenees on a 25-year old Townsend mountain bike (pink no less and with bald tyres) and me on an almost vintage René Herse - both weighing around 13.5kg each and both easily capable of posing all sorts of maintenance and safety concerns along the way.

The old rusty bike

Mike spent some time in the run up to trip replacing worn rims, putting the bald tyres back on and playing around with his gearing whilst I spent my time changing out brake blocks, perished Wolber tyres and fitting aftermarket bottle cages.

Time to get serious...

With a few weeks to go the route was almost finished, we'd met over beers a couple of times to talk about kit, plan B's and drink more beers but It was now real. Though I can't speak for MIke, I was dreaming and thinking about it everyday in some way or other. Luckily though we had a week-long cycling tour to run (with some really great folks) and some days filming for the Revisited series of A New Life in the Sun - which distracted me from obsessing too much about the trip! That said, I was only now starting to think about training and I decided that instead of bringing the trusty Colnago out for each day of the tour, I'd lug the hefty weight of the steel randonneur about for a week - along with everyone's spare kit, flasks of coffee, water, and saddle bags in an att