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