St Antonin Noble Velo Blog

Hunt Race Season Aero Wide Wheels: Long Term Test

  • Posted on February 19, 2018
  • Posted in Reviews

It’s wonderful running a cycling business but there are some downsides.  One is that we’ve sunk all our money into this venture, which makes things difficult when I need new cycling gear.  What’s worse is that I tend to buy quite high-end stuff but then keep it for a long time which makes replacement expensive.  That was a bit of a problem when my wheels expired in summer 2016 because buying the lastest high performance carbon wheels wasn’t an option.  Enter the remarkable Hunt Race Season Aero Wide.

Hunt Race Season Aero

Another of my quirks is that I’m a researcher by nature and have pretty strongly held ideas about what works for me in terms of cycling gear so I started by drawing up a checklist.

  • Light.  I don’t weigh much, never break stuff and am not a great climber, so lightness is important to me.
  • Not Aero.  I no longer race so don’t feel that I ride fast enough for aerodynamics to matter much.  It’s not that I’m against aero, it’s just I don’t want the weight penalty of deep rims.
  • Wide rims.  I’m totally sold on bigger tyres.  They roll better, grip better and offer more comfort.  The sciencey stuff backs up my experiences, so I want wide rims to get the best from fatter tyres.
  • Tubeless.  I’d never tried them, but who doesn’t like fewer punctures?
  • Straight Pull spokes – the J bend in traditional spokes is a weak spot, so better not to have them.
  • Rider weight limit.  If wheels don’t have a rider weight limit, they’re too beefy for me.
  • Campag Cassette.  I run Campag and have a wildly expensive Ti cassette I don’t want to replace.
  • Cheap.  I’m a great believer in Keith Bontrager’s well know adage, Light Strong Cheap: Pick 2  As I wanted all three, I was expecting problems.
  • Customer service.  We’ve all had trouble with hopeless after sales service and I don’t want to go there if I can help it.

Reading reviews, the Hunt Race Season Aero came up quickly, winning “best buy” endlessly in wheel review shoot-outs.  There were also good deals at the time on Campag Shamals, but they were heavier and with narrow rims.  The Hunts ticked almost all my boxes, but are aero which was a surprise.   At a shade over 1400g, where was the weight penalty for the deep (ish) rims?  The alu construction was lighter than most carbon rims too (not the super high end stuff obviously) and wouldn’t suffer from carbon braking issues.  So were the rims so light that the braking surface would be toast after a season?  The reviews were glowing, but they were new wheels so no-one had put serious miles in on a pair.  In the end I decided to risk it – any purchase like this is a bit of a leap into the unknown and they seemed head and shoulders above anything else I could afford.  The icing on the cake was that Hunt can supply with tubeless tyres already fitted.  What’s more the tyres were a good deal, and the Schwalbe Ones were what I’d have chosen anyway.  The wheels weren’t available immediately, I had to wait for the next shipment to come from China.  Inconvenient but reassuring to know the wheels are in demand.

First Look

The wheels arrived at St Antonin Noble Velo HQ well packed and with free delivery.  They were a bit late arriving because of production issues at the factory in China, but Hunt kept me informed so no problem there.  Out of the box I was impressed.  Somehow they look really well made, certainly better than you’d expect for the price  Everything’s nicely machined, well designed and faultlessly finished.  Two spare straight-pull spokes were supplied which is a very nice touch and especially welcome when these spokes aren’t widely available.  As well as being stronger, the straight pull spokes interface nicely with the hubs; it’s neatly and effectively done.  With the cassette fitted and the tyres pumped up I fitted them to my bike, a vintage Merlin Extralight Ti.  Boutique skewers in my experience are usually terrible and I end up replacing them with something more mainstream, but the Hunts are faultless.  They have a nice positive action, no excess metal and inspire confidence.  I had to slacken off the brake cables to accommodate the wide rims and then I was good to go.

The Ride

The Hunt Race Season Aero Wide replaced an absurdly light pair of American Classics which suffered quite badly from flex, so it wasn’t surprising that they felt a lot faster and more rigid.  It was immediately obvious that they’re a great match for my frame; the rigidity of the wheels works very well with the silky smooth ride of my skinny tubed Ti beauty.  I’m not sure I’d have been quite so impressed with the Hunts on a more rigid frame – but more on that later.  They’re a little heavier than the wheels they replaced but I didn’t notice the extra 150g.  They spin up easily and climb well, I think the efficient power transfer more than makes up for the tiny weight penalty, and in any case, for most buyers, these wheels will be lighter than whatever they’re replacing.  There’s no flex at all; I was getting no brake rub, even with the pads set close to the rim.  A more powerful, heavier rider might get them to flex a little, but at the weight it’s hard to fault them.

This part of France is quite hilly, so technical descents are a regular feature of my riding.  I’m also within easy reach of the Pyrenees, so properly big descents are also on the menu for me.  The Hunts performed superbly, feeling really planted on the road with none of the alarming noodling my old wheels were prone to.  Grip seemed better too, but it’s hard to separate the performance of the tyres from that of the wheels.  The wide rims will help with this though.  Braking was of course absolutely fine.  They’re alu rims with a machined brake surface, so no surprises there.

The Hunts have fairly deep rims and a low bladed spoke count, so they earn their aero name tag.  I wasn’t interested in aero wheels, but having spent my hard earned on them, I was interested to know if there was any benefit at the speed I ride.  They “felt” faster on the flat, in headwinds and on descents, but feeling faster and being faster are not the same thing at all.  That question was answered riding in company.  On gentle descents where I’d have to pedal to keep up with my ride buddies, I was now able to freewheel and watch them pedal to keep up with me.

Aesthetics.

Hunt have done absolutely the right thing with these wheels aesthetically.  They’re black and understated with unobtrusive white logos and some engraving.  It means they’ll look the business on most bikes, and mine was no exception.  The black contrasts nicely with my bare metal frame and matches the carbon detailing on my Record groupset.  The rim depth doesn’t look out of place on my skinny tubed 1999 Merlin, but would also look fine on anything modern.  Unless you’ve got a very particular colour scheme in mind, the Hunts pass the aesthetic test with flying colours.

I feel pretty guilty saying this because there’s really nothing wrong with these wheels at all, but I feel like I ought to make some criticism.  Hunt aren’t alone with this, but there’s just too much information engraved into the aluminium.  I don’t need to know that the bearings have sub micron tolerances, the ERTRO size of the rim or that they’re tubeless ready.  Just “Hunt Race Season Aero Wide” please! Oh and the hubs create a rather odd optical illusion.  The rear has “Hunt” on both sides of the barrel, whereas the front only has it on one side.  It makes the rear hub look as though it’s revolving twice as fast as the front!

If you’ve never ridden wide rims before, it is slightly odd looking down and seeing so much metal, but you soon get used to that and it’s the nature of the beast.

It’s customary to write about the noise of the freewheel.  It’s fine.  It’s not attention grabbing like a Chris King or noisy like a Royce or Hope.  I’d rather it was quieter I suppose, but it’s really not an issue.

Tubeless

It’s a shame to buy these wheels and not run tubeless – it’s what they’re designed for after all.  I’d never fitted tubeless before, so Hunt’s great deal on supplying the wheels with Tubeless tyres already fitted swung it for me.  I ordered 23mm Schwalbe Ones because although bigger tyres are recommended, the clearance on my frame is very tight so I didn’t want to risk 25s.  As it turns out 25s do fit, just, but they’re only usable because of the lack of flex in the wheels.  Aside from puncture protection and lower rolling resistance which everyone’s going to appreciate, greater comfort is important with these wheels because they are so rigid.  With the 25s I’m now using, I’d be happy with the Hunts on a more rigid frame than my Merlin, although if they’d fit, I’d run 28s.

18 months on.

This is what’s missing from all the reviews I read before buying these Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels, how to they stack up in the long term.  I ride very regularly, and these wheels get used for most of the year because the roads are usually dry in winter here.  I do have a winter bike but it rarely emerges from the shed outside of December and January.  Most of my riding is hilly, sometimes mountainous so the the wheels aren’t having an easy life.  I’m also prone to doing a bit of gravel riding on the Merlin.  Nothing too extreme, but the Hunts are fine with it.

In practical terms there’s nothing really to say.  They’re still performing as well as they did when I bought them.  The finish has held up well and there’s not much wear on the braking surfaces.  They just work and carry on working!

I get why Hunt call them “Race Season”: they’re light, aero and you could certainly race on them, but for me they’re my everyday wheels and they cope fine with that.  I’d have no hesitation using them as winter wheels too.

Customer Service

I’ve spoken to Hunt more than I expected.  I rang them before I ordered the wheels because I was unsure about tyre size – and they couldn’t have been more helpful.  What’s more the person who picked up the phone could answer my questions – it really felt like dealing with a small family firm where customers matter.  Then there was the production delay which was annoying but unavoidable.  There was no nonsense from Hunt, they just kept me in the picture.  I like that.

I had quite a bit of trouble with the tubeless system.  There was a safety recall on the rim tapes (which was the fault of the tape manufacturer rather than Hunt).  Hunt sent replacement tapes and replacement tubeless fluid, and were happy to talk me through the process of fitting tubeless tyres.  However the tape manufacturer’s fix didn’t solve the problem and I had a tyre blow out on a ride.  No problem fitting a tube to get myself home, but it was a hassle I could have done without.  Hunt took the issue very seriously and once again sent everything I needed to sort it out.  They offered to take the wheels back so that they could do the work for me, but I reckoned posting the wheels would be more hassle than swapping the rim tapes myself.  They sent me a great winter top to say sorry which was a nice touch.

The tubeless issues were annoying but to be fair to Hunt the problem was not evident when the rim tapes were new and in any case were caused by the tape manufacturers.  I can’t fault the way Hunt stepped up and sorted the problem out; it makes me confident that they’ll look after me in the future if I need it.

To Sum Up

I love these Hunt Race Season Aero Wides.  They ride as though they cost vastly more than their budget price, they look good and they last well.  Any criticism of them seems unreasonable at the price point.  Yes, you can get better, lighter, more aero wheels but to improve on these you’ll need deep pockets.  When I bought them I was expecting to be cursing that I didn’t have a bigger budget, but I don’t feel like my bike needs a wheel upgrade – I can see me riding them until I wear out the braking surface.  If Hunt had made a shallow rimmed climbers wheel I’d probably have bought those instead, but to my surprise I appreciate the aerodynamics and I think that would have been a mistake.  Are these wheels an exception to Keith Bontrager’s rule?  I think they are.

Hunt Race Season Aero

Disclaimer

I have no connection at all to Hunt and paid for these Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels myself at RRP.  Hunt don’t know I’m reviewing them (although I am going to tell them now it’s done!).  In the spirit of writing a long term review, the pics are what the wheels (and bike) look like having covered a lot of miles, complete with dirt, tatty bar tape and a frayed gear cable!

 

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Self guided cycling holidays. Why do people love them?

  • Posted on February 14, 2018
  • Posted in Uncategorized

When we started St Antonin Noble Velo we were expecting to do a mixture of guided and self guided cycling, but it turns out that most of our customers opt for self guided, and it’s actually quite rare that I take people out riding.  For us, that’s fine, we’re just happy to have customers, but it did get me thinking about why that is.

self guided cycling holiday

In some way it’s obvious.  We get a lot of business from couples who want to spend a week or so riding through lovely French countryside at their own pace on quiet roads.  It would be a bit weird to do that with some guy they’ve never met before (wonderful though he is!).  Also guided rides have to include the cost of the guide which is fine when you’re a group, but works out very expensive if there are only two of you.  Then there’s photography.  It’s much easier to stop for pictures if you’re not part of a group – you can please yourself and in these parts there’s no shortage of fantastic photo opportunities.

I sometimes talk about this to other people who run cycling holidays and it seems that our location plays a part.  We picked this location because the cycling is superb.  One of the reasons the cycling is so good around here is that no-one’s heard of it which makes the roads quiet.  I really notice the increased traffic when I ride in other, better known parts of France, and you don’t have to travel far from our base for that to happen.  But it seems that groups almost always book a holiday in a place they’ve heard of, whereas couples are more likely to want to try somewhere new.  I have no idea why that is, but it does seem to be true.

It also works because of technology.  Self guided in the past always meant stopping every five minutes to look at a map or written instructions and probably getting lost.  These days bike GPS units make self guided cycling a breeze.  They give you turn-by-turn instructions just like a car GPS and beep at you if you go off course.  They mean you’re getting my local knowledge without having to put up with my company!  Of course we back it up with a rescue service and book a restaurant for you for lunch (including explaining your dietary requirements which is great if your French is dodgy).  I’ve written more about GPS for cyclists over at FreewheelingFrance.

Pic courtesy of Lyn Eyb at FreewheelingFrance

So there you are, my thoughts on self-guided cycling holidays and why I think people love them…

 

 

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A Vegan Cycling Holiday? Is that really a thing?

  • Posted on January 31, 2018
  • Posted in Uncategorized

This year we’ve decided to try something very niche, a vegan cycling holiday.  As far as we can tell we’re the only people in France, maybe in Europe offering this.  I’ll be posting details soon, but I thought I’d write a blog post about it first.

I’ve been a vegetarian for longer than I’m going to admit to, and I was a bit apprehensive about living in France because of it.  On holiday it was never a problem because I speak fluent French, and if by the time I got home I’d eaten too many omelettes and pizzas, well, that wasn’t the end of the world.  Living here is different though.  I can’t live on Omelettes and pizzas forever and I imagined never being able to eat at friends houses.  Would I crack and start eating fish?  Natalie said I’m way too stubborn for that, and of course, she was right, I’ve stuck to being veggie.

vegan cycling holiday

We moved here to run cycling holidays and that’s been going well, but it was always my project, so right from the start Natalie’s got stuck into her dream of running a food business.  Her first venture was a stall in the market selling cakes to try to bring some money in while we were renovating the house.  It was a lot of work and didn’t produce that much money, but we got to know everyone in town and it forced Natalie to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops you need for a food business.

Fast forward a year or two and we’d realised there was quite a good market for vegetarian accommodation, so we started advertising our b&b as vegetarian.  That meant Natalie could sell evening meals to guests, and our encyclopaedic knowledge of veggie friendly eateries in the area also turned out to be quite a draw.  She also really enjoyed it.  We did our best to say nothing on the cycling side about the whole vegetarian thing, but it turned out to be such a rare combination that people found us anyway and soon most of our cycling bookings were vegetarian.

At about that time Natalie started to become aware of the popularity of veganism in France.  It was as though the nation had bypassed vegetarianism completely and gone straight to veganism.  It seemed really odd in such a meat based food culture, but the more we thought about it, the more sense it made.  The French are typically very interested in what they put on their plates.  When we had our cake stall, no money would change hands without an in-depth discussion about what was in the cakes and what the recipe was.  Vegans of course are also very interested in what they eat, so there’s an obvious fit there.  We also noticed that French cuisine had become, well, rather unadventurous.  Not everywhere of course, there’s a lot of good food to be had here, but too often the menus are the same as they were thirty years ago and more and more of the food, especially desserts are bought in.  Put simply, people are bored, and veganism offers an entirely new way of eating.

Our activities on social media, especially instagram showed the same.  Vegancyclist is an active hashtag there, but vegetariancyclist is not.  Even Vegan Cycling Holiday exists!  And it’s not just cyclists either, all sorts of top level sportspeople seem to be embracing veganism.

So all of this got Natalie thinking about vegan cooking and it wasn’t long before the most amazing dishes started coming out of her kitchen.  We started to get vegan guests in the b&b and ran a couple of vegan gourmet weekends.  For us, even though a lot of what we eat has always been vegan, Natalie’s explorations opened our eyes to what we’d been missing and our diets became almost exclusively vegan.  For Natalie it really chimed with why we came here in the first place.  We wanted to follow our passions, which for me was cycling, but for her was being creative in the kitchen  To her surprise, vegan cooking was really hitting the spot.  This winter, Natalie’s started running an almost entirely vegan weekly pop-up cafe in a local arts space, and finds that most weeks she’s having to turn people away.

So it seems a logical next step to try running a vegan cycling holiday.  The problem though is lunch – cyclists by and large don’t want to ride to big towns, and getting a good vegan meal in rural France isn’t easy (although terrible vegan food is easy to come by!).  After a lot of conversations with French chefs, and a quite a lot of eating out, we’ve found enough places.  Very few are actually vegetarian or vegan restaurants, but such is the interest in vegan food in France that the more adventurous chefs are starting to embrace it.  I’ve been impressed by the quality.  Without a doubt, the best is Thierry at Restaurant Les Sens.  He moved down here from Paris for a quiet life and now runs the best restaurant in the region.  Typically there’s nothing about veganism on his web site, but he makes some of the best vegan food I’ve ever tasted, although he does need plenty of notice.

So there you are, that’s why we’re going to be running what we think is the first vegan cycling holiday in France, maybe in Europe.

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Giordana Nano Shell Review

  • Posted on April 26, 2017
  • Posted in Reviews

Unless you live in a hot desert, every cyclists needs a wind/waterproof to take on rides.  It’s there to deal with unexpected rain, cold or big descents.  Unlike most cycling gear though it will (hopefully) spend most of it’s time in your pocket not on your back. I’ve never found an entirely satisfactory solution to this, but the Giordana Nano Shell (link) comes close, very close.

Giordana Nano ShellGiordana Nano ShellGiordana Nano Shell

The first thing you notice about the Giordana Nano Shell is how compact it is.  You stow it inside a tiny flap at the bottom of the jacket, which makes a soft ball about the size of a kiwi fruit.  Weight is negligible, so there’s no problem at all stowing this away unnoticed in a pocket or maybe with your spare tube.  Since this is where it’ll mostly spend its time, this is important.  The next thing is how flimsy it seems.  Of course to make it this light and this compact, the material is incredibly thin; more on that later.

Wearing it feels surprisingly good.  Once you’ve overcome the fear of tearing such thin material (it isn’t anywhere near as flimsy as it appears – I’ve had no problems yet).  It’s close fitting with elastic across the back which makes it feel a little like a normal lycra top.  It has the classic cut all “racy” cycling clothing has – low at the back, high at the front, perfect for drop bars, and I guess fine for everyone else too.  The material is so thin whatever you’re wearing underneath is clearly visible, which I think looks good.  Well, I suppose it depends what you’re wearing underneath…

On the bike, it’s obvious immediately that the breathability is very good.  There’s none of the boil-in-the-bag effect I’ve had from featherweight waterproofs in the past – it just keeps the cold air out as it should and feels comfortable.  On big descents it’s does its job, but its here the only problem I’ve noticed becomes obvious.  It’s noisy.  Giordana have doe their best to reduce flap with a close cut and judicious use of elastic, but it isn’t entirely effective and is annoying.  In Giordana’s defence I imagine this is unavoidable when using a fabric as lightweight as this one, and as such, is a price worth paying for the otherwise superb performance of this garment.  The other thing I should mention is that it only flaps on my right shoulder, which I broke years ago (nasty crash in a road race), leaving it very wonky.  Maybe with symmetrical shoulders the problem would go away.

Giordana say that the Nano isn’t completely waterproof because it doesn’t have taped seams.  I guess it’s made that way to keep the weight and bulk down.  I’ve ridden in moderate rain wearing it, and haven’t noticed any difference between this and more substantial “waterproof” tops.  With water dribbling down my neck and spraying up from the road I’m not sure anything could keep you truly dry – the Nano keeps the wind off which in the wet keeps you warm which is all I want it to do.

This isn’t a cheap garment, but then performance costs.  I think it’s worth the money, but that’s up to you to make a judgement on.  It does seem easy to find them at discounted rates; I paid much less than RRP for mine.

So in summary then the Giordana Nano Shell is a superb windproof to stuff into your pocket for rides where you might get cold, do a big descent or rain is possible.  It’s insanely light and compact, yet breathable and comfortable to wear.  The only downside is noise on fast descents.  Recommended.

Disclaimer: I bought this top with my own money and have had no contact at all with Giordana.  This review is simply my opinion based on several months of wearing the Nano.

Giordana Nano ShellAveyron Gorge

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Aveyron Gorge

A loop down the Aveyron Gorge

  • Posted on April 19, 2017
  • Posted in Rides

Part of what I want to do with this blog is give a flavour of some of the rides you can do from here.  This ride is popular because it takes in some of the best scenery this part of France has to offer, is really varied and doesn’t have too much climbing.  It also means you get to see the best of the Aveyron Gorge.

It starts, as all rides here do, with a quick clatter over the cobbles of the old town but within a minute or two you’re on the Aveyron bridge with great views in both directions and the cliffs of the Rocs d’Anglars towering overhead.  We turn right down the gorge on what passes for a main road in this neck of the woods on a flat road running alongside the tranquil Aveyron river.  This road was a railway until the early 1960s, which is obvious as you pass the old station, so it makes for a great warm-up because there are no hills at all, and thanks to a quirk of the region, rarely any wind.  The awe-inspiring cliffs of the Cirque de Bone quickly close in and a choice presents itself.  I usually can’t resist swinging left onto the old Aveyron gorge road, even though it adds climbing and distance.  The railway had to miss this section of gorge out and tunnels through a cliff face instead, but the old road follows this impressive meander where the cliffs rise sheer from the side of the road and ancient oaks line the river.  There’s also a very mellow café, but even I can usually manage to resist a stop so early into the ride.  The road then climbs up the gorge wall, eventually inching its way along a sheer drop on a ledge carved from the rock.  Then there’s the descent back to the main road which passes a sleepy medieval village (complete with legendary restaurant) and a short flight of hairpins.

Aveyron Gorge

We’re back on the main road where the miles tick past easily, but there’s always something to look at.  There are the melting cliffs beloved of rock climbers and rare bird life, a couple more tunnels and before long the impressive ruins of Penne chateau perched on a cliff high above the road.  The village itself is a little way off the road but a worthwhile detour.  While Penne attracts tourists, it’s mainly a place to live, and the medieval buildings reflect that.  Some are beautifully restored, some distinctly shabby and some in ruins.  You might even see Derek Jacobi wandering the narrow streets; he’s lived in Penne for many years.

Aveyron GorgeAveyron Gorge

A few km further down the valley is Penne’s more image conscious twin, Bruniquel.  Like Penne it has a chateau high on a cliff overlooking the river surrounded by a medieval village.  Unlike Penne every building has been restored, and it only really comes to life in summer when the tourists arrive.  It’s a tourist draw for good reason though; the narrow streets are endlessly beautiful and it’s hard to imagine a nicer coffee stop.  Well, it would be nicer if it wasn’t at the top of a hill I suppose.

Aveyron GorgeAveyron Gorge

We now turn off the Aveyron gorge road and head up the Vere valley.  It’s much greener and less wild than the Aveyron gorge, with gentler hills and intensely green fields all around.  For the energetic, the hilltop bastide town of Puycelci is off to the left up a dead-end road, but for the rest it’s an easy spin up the valley, through picturesque Larroque to the gentle climb up to the lunch stop at Castelnau de Montmiral.  Were Castenau almost anywhere else in the world it would be a huge tourist draw with its perfectly preserved medieval square and surrounding streets, but here in Southwest France it’s a sleepy place where not much ever happens.  It’s a great venue for a leisurely al-fresco lunch though, and it’s nice to start the afternoon with a descent…

 

Aveyron GorgeAveyron Gorge

 

Aveyron GorgeAveyron Gorge

Castelnau is at the northern fringes of the Gaillac wine producing region.  Almost unknown outside the region, it’s France’s oldest appellation, and also, arguably, its most diverse.  There’s no single identifiable Gaillac style and several unique grape varieties are used.  There are several really superb vineyards on the route which are worth a stop – my favourites are Mas Pignou and Emmeille, but it’s always worth trying others – there are hidden gems around every corner.

Aveyron GorgeAveyron Gorge

The only significant climb of the day takes us up through the vineyards to the forested hills above St Antonin.  The gradient is gentle and the views fantastic, so it’s nothing to be worried about!  We pass through the somewhat scruffy village of Vaour, a local stronghold of the Knights Templar in centuries past, but now known for one of the biggest arts festivals in the area.  For the rest of the year it’s very quiet, but look carefully and you’ll see people hard at work building eco-friendly houses which is a rare thing in rural France.

 

Aveyron GorgeAveyron Gorge

The grand finale of the ride is the descent back down into the Aveyron gorge into St Antonin.  It’s not especially steep but it’s fast.  Don’t forget to take in the views though, and it’s worth stopping at the top to really appreciate it.  If you have any energy left, there’s a short (uphill) detour to an even better viewpoint from the top of the cliffs.

Aveyron GorgeAveyron Gorge

The route is 80km with 1000m of climbing.  Missing out the Cirque de Bone and Castelnau halves the climbing.

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Meet our Bike Hire partner, Simon at Velo du Lot

  • Posted on April 12, 2017
  • Posted in Partners

When we set up St Antonin Noble Velo, we realised early on that we’d need really high quality bike hire, but also that we didn’t want to run a bike hire company.  Lots of our customers told us that bringing their own bike was a hassle, cost money and there’s the ever present risk of damage.  We believe in concentrating on what we’re good at and getting specialists in to deal with the rest.  Peter isn’t too keen on fixing bikes – he’s more about the riding, so finding a good hire company was the way to go for us.

That’s easier said than done outside the well known cycling areas.  You can hire a cheap mountain bike from pretty much anywhere in France, but high quality road bikes are harder to find.  We couldn’t believe it when we stumbled across Simon at Velo du Lot, who had exactly the quality we were looking for, is close enough to deliver, and what’s more is a really nice guy.

Simon’s quite a recent convert to cycling after seeing Mark Cavendish win the stage into Brive in the 2012 Tour de France, with Bradley Wiggins in yellow.  He started, as so many do, by dusting the cobwebs off his old mountain bike, but quickly graduated to a versatile Cyclocross bike, followed by a very flash Di2 equipped Giant Defy.  He was quickly hooked, splitting his riding between Cahors where they have a holiday home and Derbyshire where they live.

Simon and his wife Giselle have a long history in this area, having bought a second home near Cahors 13 years ago, which they love so much they’ve been looking for an excuse to spend more time there ever since.  In 2014 they read an article in “France” magazine about a couple who’d set up a bike hire business in the Tarn, and thought it could be just what they were looking for.  Simon’s engineering background means he’s a natural with a spanner, so for him tinkering with bikes all summer long in the south of France is heaven!  Giselle got into cycling too, so it’s become a real family passion.

Bike Hire

They looked into franchising deals, but after talking to the super-helpful relaxbiketours decided to go it alone, which turned out to be the right decision.  With a fantastic local support network from their years in the area, they were able to set everything up and even managed to deal with the nightmarish French bureaucracy we all struggle with.  The business turned out to be a really good niche, with rentals increasing every year.  Their gamble of buying really high end bikes (Pinarello Dogmas for example!) and maintaining them perfectly paid off – it turned out to be what people, including our customers, were looking for.

Bike hire for cycling holiday cyclotouristes

Simon also realised that people didn’t want to spend a big chunk of the holidays collecting and returning their hire bike, so he delivers and also offers “place to place” rentals for people doing longer tours.

For us, working with Simon is perfect.  He concentrates on getting the bike hire right, leaving us to get on with looking after our customers.

Bike Hire

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Hairpin

A Quick Blast Down The Aveyron

  • Posted on March 17, 2017
  • Posted in Rides

My own riding is often very different from the routes I give our customers.  They have all day to ride, so I usually sort out routes which follow quiet valley roads, so that they can do a long ride without insane amounts of climbing.  I rarely have time to do that, but I still want a decent work-out, so I tend to do routes much closer to home which are as hilly as possible.  That always means climbing out of the Aveyron gorge.

The weather has been wonderful all week with temperatures in the afternoon in the mid-20s, no wind and perfect blue skies, so I’ve made time to get out every day, even if it’s only an hour.

Today’s ride was especially good.  It started with a fast flat warm-up down the valley road, then across the Aveyron to the ferociously hilly old road.

Then the ruins of the Chateau de Penne came into sight, silhouetted against the bright sun.

The main work-out was the steep climb out of the gorge.  I never send customers this way because it’s stupidly steep, but it gets the heart and lungs working, and it’s soon done.  The views, of course are great.

Then I’m up on the austere limestone plateau through scrubby oak forest, a quick stop at the Monument d’Ornano, erected in memory of the resistance in the area who risked life and limb during the war to collect British air drops.

There’s a gravel section here, but it’s smooth enough to ride on a road bike and it guarantees no traffic.  It’s another feature of my own riding customers never see.  I am thinking about developing gravel routes though – watch this space.

The finalé, as so often, is the swoop back down into the gorge and the cobbles of the old town.  A cup of tea       and I’m back on social media…

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Spring street scene

Spring in St Antonin and a new blog

  • Posted on March 14, 2017
  • Posted in Uncategorized

Now the web site’s been up for a while, I thought it was time to experiment with writing a blog.   Well, more accurately my web guy said google will love me for it…  Still I like writing and there’s always something to say about what we’re up to here in St Antonin.

St Antonin Noble Velo is very much my baby, and this is my chance to tell you a bit about what it’s like riding a bike around here, what we’re about, and I hope, tempt you into paying us a visit.

It’s spring now in St Antonin, which always arrives suddenly and dramatically.  Winter doesn’t last long here, but it’s still wonderful to see the greenery coming back and there’s been a riot of cherry blossom over the last week or so.  It’s been in the low 20s most afternoons for a few days, so my pasty white legs have been bared for the first time this season; they should look like cyclists legs again by April.  March is a great time to ride in the south of France, especially if you live in the UK where spring is usually wet and cold.  The roads are always quiet in these parts, but right now it feels like the car was never invented!  And I can’t get enough of the spring flowers – they’re everywhere.

Natalie and I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, but we didn’t get very far because of all the photo opportunities.  It was a bit hazy for distance shots, but Natalie took some beautiful pics of all the blossom.  She only took up photography when we realised we needed images for our web sites, but it turns out she’s quite a natural.  I can’t take pictures like she can.

This facebook group has loads more pictures of St Antonin

Saint Antonin in springtime

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