Monday, October 13, 2014

The treno tour - Part 2

Part Two: Switzerland
The Swiss leg of the trip starts in Basel. We catch the #30 free bus from the train station to the Steinenschanze Stadthotel, Steinengraben 69, 4051 Basel, Tel: +41 61 272 53 53.
We take a walk round town taking in the bookshops and stationery shops, then a tram ride. I spotted a lovely Puch roadster bicycle mit Fichtel und Sachs dreigang. There are many Sturmey Archer survivors en Suisse, which has a strong cycling culture. I read that there are 250,000 e-bikes in Switzerland. Back at the hotel it is time for happy hour, help yourself to a couple of generous glasses of wine with snacks on the house. Recommended.
We take breakfast next morning at the train station, apricot croissants, and coffee, then ride the train to Luzern, via Olten, arriving for early check-in at Waldstaetterhof Hotel, Zentralstrasse 4 6003 Luzern, Tel: +41 (0)41 227 12 71. Comfortable and conveniently close to the station.
After multiple Duralex sightings in France, I found a Bodum shop in Luzern. Bodum are celebrating 70 years and I scored a free commemorative catalogue. Roesti lunch at Restaurant Fritschi, Sternenplatz 5, Lucerne 6004, Tel: +41 41 410 16 15. Afternoon stroll uphill to the Museggmauer (old town wall) which does not seem to be on the tourist beat. Supper at Dean & David Luzern, Morgartenstrasse 4, Lucerne 6003. Close to our hotel. Yogurt afters from Migros.
Next day we catch the steamboat "Stadt Luzern" to Fluelen, a three-hour boat cruise on Lake Lucerne, lunching in the first-class cabin. We change onto the Wilhelm Tell Express Train. Winding though the Reuss Valley, climbing through the St. Gotthard range and through the Gotthard railway tunnel to Bellinzona, where we change trains for Lugano.
We check in to the Continental Parkhotel Lugano, Via Basel, 28 - CH-6900 Lugano, which is near the station. Next day we need to do some washing, so we roam around in the rain to find Lavanderia Il Girasole, via Giuseppe Bagutti 8, Tel: 076 503 79 64. I bought a bargain bin cycling jacket or gilet, reduced from 139 Sfr to 63 Sfr, in an outlet store. Avoided remaindered Lance Armstrong gear. Outlet Sport by Balmelli, Via Maderno 16, Lugano, Tel: 091 922 67 77. Lunch outdoors at the Birreria al Forte, via al Forte, where we managed to eat a whole meal without being panhandled. There is also no graffiti in this part of town, although the Italian-part of Switzerland is far from free of it. We ride the funicular which connects the town centre with the station above.
Next day we catch the big red bus from Lugano station, past Gandria and into Italy. Empty factories indicate a hurting economy. The bus is the first leg on the Bernina Express, to Tirano in Italy, where we board the train for St Moritz. Lunch in Tirano is spoiled by a grumpy waiter who objected to us trying to order coffee! The Bernina train is the highest adhesion railway (no rack and pinion) in Europe, with a maximum gradient of 7%. We see some adventurous types out on mountain bikes as we came along in the train. We arrive in St Moritz and take a taxi to Hotel Soldanella, Via Somplaz 17, CH-7500 St. Moritz. Supper at an outdoor pub, where a tuneless geezer was singing to backing tapes, improvising the words to covers, he would have been at home in Morecambe.
On our free day in St Moritz we stroll in the town, then by the lake to Bad St Moritz where I purchase a Bodum Bistro coffee mug, 4.90 Sfr reduced to 2.40 Sfr at the Co-op. Lunch back in town outdoors at Le Lapin Bleu at the Steffani Hotel, spendy but a real treat at Sfr 75 for two. We retreat under an awning as it starts to rain. Next day we board the Glacier Express to Zermatt via Chur, Andermatt and Brig. A snafu with our tickets means we leave an hour late at 09:02, after one more coffee in the station buffet at St Moritz. This is the train that derailed spectacularly a few weeks later. A stop in Chur enables us to photograph the train. Chur is allegedly home to the first cathedral north of the Alps. We follow the Rhine River into the mountains and pass by Disentis, home to religious dissenters. Thanks to Luther Protestantism took hold early in these parts.
After a huge roast lunch on the train we arrive at car-free Zermatt. We walk to Garni Sarazena Hotel, Bahnhofplatz 14, 3920 Zermatt.
Next morning a herd of goats comes down the high street, cowbells clanking, and we follow them out onto the pasture, where paragliders are landing. We then walk on to the English church, where many who perished climbing the mountains hereabouts are buried. Edward Whymper, the Englishman first to climb the Matterhorn, said:

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

After a visit to the Matterhorn Museum we take lunch outdoors in chilly weather at Walliserkanne, Bahnhofstrasse 1, 3920 Zermatt, Tel:+41 27 966 46 10. Chef's menu, 3 courses, 22 Sfr.
On departure next morning we retrace our steps to Brig, changing trains for Andermatt, then again for the steep descent to Göschenen, where we rush across the platform for the southbound train. We change at Chiasso, where our Swiss rail pass runs out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The treno tour - Part 1

For our summer tour this year we decided on a train trip in France, Switzerland and Italy. Starting in Paris, finishing in Venice.
Part One: France
We arrive on Air Transat at Paris CDG early morning for five nights in France. A Concorde aircraft is on display. This dated airport relies on a coach transfer to the terminal.
We were quickly on our way on the RER train to Chatelet-Les Halles, in the centre of the city, for transfer to St Germain en Laye to the west. As advised we waited for our destination to appear on the indicator panel on the platform. It never did, so we finally boarded a train to Le Vésinet-Le Pecq, one stop down the line, where a shuttle bus was waiting. A veritable herd of railway employees were supervising at the bus stop.
After a quick breakfast of coffee and croissants in St Germain and consulting with the tourist office, we caught the #4 bus to Chambourcy. A short walk from the bus stop to the Campanile Hotel, Routes de Mantes, RN13, 6 Allee de Pomone, 78100 St Germain en Laye, Tel: +33 1 34 51 59 59, for early check-in, cheap and cheerful. After shopping at Lidl we are watching the Tour de France on TV, and crashing out. Reading an obit for Johnny Winter in the bar in the evening.
First morning in Chambourcy we walk into the old village and on to the modern shopping centre. I finally hit Duralex paydirt - the hotel in Chambourcy has the glasses in the bar, and they are for sale in Carrefour, first time I have seen them for sale in France.
After lunch we walk on to the Desert de Retz, a folly garden outside Chambourcy, for a guided tour lasting about 1½ hours. As we start to walk back we are offered a lift to the hotel, by an English-speaking couple. Supper at Maotai, 78 route de Mantes, 78240 Chambourcy, Tel: 33 (0) 1 30 06 09 75. Trip Advisor: “Desperately needs a restaurant make over. Food is very tasty and well priced but dining room, printed menus and service are in need of critical up-grades." 3 of 5 stars. Reviewed 23 July 2014.
Next day fellow-researcher Emmanuel Tilloy picks us up for a splendid lunch at Chesnay and a tour of the gardens at Versailles. We are discussing the history of the coalfields in the Crowsnest Pass. On this holiday I am reprising many places visited when a youngster, for example staying in the Paris hotel that I stayed in in 1960, Lugano, Venice etc.
So next morning we take the bus to St Germain and RER train to Auber, for early check-in at the Hôtel Saint Petersbourg, 33-35 rue Caumartin 75009 PARIS, Tel: + 33 1 42 66 60 38. Comfortable but the wifi isn't working at this three-star hotel. We haven't been on the street ten minutes, near the Opera, before a woman, who looks like a witch, tries to work the 'gold ring' trick on us.
Next day we walk to the Parc Monceau, a folly garden, notable for being the site of the first parachute jump. Bought a dozen cheap coffee spoons, in a hardware store, as found in French cafes, after years of searching.
On departure we are waiting for the crowded RER train to leave for Gare de Lyon but it fails to leave the station. We scramble onto the metro, changing at Pyramid. Fare dodgers jumping the barriers are a feature of the Paris transit system. Also avoid young ladies with clipboards, working in pairs, who intend to rob you. Paris is living up to its reputation as a 'scam city.'
With some relief we board the TGV Lyria train 9211, bound for Dijon, Mulhouse, Basel and Zurich. A splendid lunch is served before we reach our destination in Basel.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Ancient spanners aid Sachs comeback


After a lengthy search I finally managed to acquire a pair of period Fichtel & Sachs bicycle spanners at a most acceptable price. Even got a sprocket snap-ring thrown in!
For Raleigh equivalent see PunchBuggy Passim.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The joy of Sachs


Took out the Supercycle Traveller for proper test run, five miles round the neighbourhood. What fun! There is a buzz to be had from putting an old bicycle back on the road, especially when it features the iconic Sachs three-speed gear. This particular bike is an unlovely specimen from Canadian Tire which just happens to feature this gem - a bit like fitting a Volkswagen with a Porsche gearbox. Ideally the Sachs needs stripping and regreasing but for now it will have to make do with a few squirts of oil down the hollow rear axle.
I gave the bike another thorough clean, including 'flossing' with a length of woolen yarn. I coated the Swallow tyres, pre Schwalbe from 1977, with Meguiar's Hot Shine Tire Spray:
"Water resistant polymers combined with patent antizonant technology keeps your tires looking blacker longer while preventing cracking, browning and premature aging. Gives tires deep, black wet look for weeks."
I would add saves old tyres from giving up the ghost.

Technical description: Supercycle Traveller folding bicycle, circa 1977, distributed by Canadian Tire Corporation, Toronto. The bike features a maple leaf sticker. The frame is chromoly steel almost identical to the Austrian-made Auto-Mini, but with proper butted bottom bracket. 44-tooth chainwheel, 18-tooth sprocket. No-name pedals with reflectors. 3-speed Sachs Torpedo Dreigang gears with coaster brake and Torpedo shifter. 36-spoke wheels by Sun Metal Products Inc. Shimano 535 front hub. Pletscher rat-trap type rack (made in Switzerland) and stand. Mattress-type sprung saddle.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Supercycle spindle switch


The improvised front brake on the Supercycle Traveller was frankly dangerous. The 90mm spindle was too short, having only a few turns of thread exposed at the back. The locknut could not be secured.
These bikes were originally supplied with only a rear coaster brake, which might be OK cruising on the boardwalk but marginal on any sustained descent. I managed to source a 100mm spindle from an old Weinmann 730 brake and now the bike can be used with confidence. Having two brakes has more than doubled the stopping power. It is now suitable for use round the neighbourhood.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bicycle Design


This rather uninspiring headline is in fact the name of a book - Bicycle Design, an illustrated history by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing. If you want to know about the history of the development of the bicycle this is the book for you. The authors make a good case for the bicycle originating from 1817, with the bicentennial coming up in 2017.
Which leads me to the picture of my latest restoration. Hadland and Lessing say on Page 226: "Coaster brakes became popular in North America (where they had been invented) and in Germany, whereas rim brakes were preferred in the United Kingdom and in France."
This Supercycle Traveller bicycle from Montreal is a mishmash of parts, but features the German Sachs dreigang (three-speed) gearbox with rear coaster brake, neatly illustrating the quote from the book. These bikes were supplied with rear brake only. I have fitted a front brake because I value my personal safety.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Nice work if you can get it

Finally the BBC catches up with events at Gad's Hill School in Higham, Kent. PunchBuggy published news of Headmaster David Craggs exaggerated claims and large salary back in November 2011. See PunchBuggy passim. Mr Craggs is allegedly a graduate of Newcastle University.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Before the Falls


The story of our Niagara Falls trip by Brompton bicycle was that, unlike elsewhere, we were plagued by punctures. We set off from Toronto just after nine o'clock on 30 June heading through High Park for the Lakeshore trail. The plan was to take two days and cover approximately 100 miles.
The party consisted of Chaplain Clive (Garneau sports bike) and Jack and I aboard the twin year-2000 Brompton 'L' type five-speeds. Jack had fitted an extended seat post, brought from the UK, and was squeezed aboard the short-wheelbase machine. As we reached Clarkson there was the first sign of trouble. Oddly Jack's rear tyre lost about half the normal pressure of 80 PSI - the tyre was neither flat nor inflated. We borrowed a compressor from a friendly resident and were on our way. Was there dirt in the valve? A pit stop at Tim Horton's and the party was much cheered.
At Fourth Line and Lakeshore, west of Oakville, the rear tyre went completely flat. There was no option but to strip the bike down and change it. At this point the dogbone wrench broke in half! Fortunately the Chaplain was able to borrow an adjustable wrench from a work crew building a house opposite. The teamwork to change the inner tube was a sight to behold, and after turning the air blue we were on our way.
We reached Burlington mid-afternoon in hot weather. A stop at the delightful Lakeshore Coffee House, 2007 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, ON, L7R 1A1, for ice cream set us up for the final leg of the day. We shortly entered the secret world beneath the Burlington Skyway in a resort area, taking the Lift Bridge across the Burlington Bay Canal. A fellow cyclist guided us across the Red Bridge which crosses the Queenie and connects Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail with the Red Hill Valley Trail. If this wasn't the shortest route to our hotel it was certainly the safest. We slightly overshot the Comfort Inn at 183 Centennial Parkway. A quick shower and we repaired to Jack Astor's, 75 Centennial Parkway North. The beer was cold and the service was attentive and appreciative. Better than expected.
I was up early and lingered over breakfast, chatting to the friendly staff at the hotel. We departed in good order, choosing a middle way to St Catharines, not on the Lakeshore with noisy traffic nor climbing the escarpment. We took King Street to Highway 8 which turns into 81, pausing at Tim Horton's, then through Beamsville, stopping at Schrier Family Farm for cherries. A pitstop at Vineland provided a delicious drinkable yogurt.
We reached St Catharines across the Welland Canal, but after lunch at Subway we lost the bike trail and some height, so we had to climb Taylor Road to reach Thorold Stone Road. Here Jack punctured again. No mystery this time with a nail through the face of the tyre. We walked to a cross roads where we found a Tim Horton's and a Canadian Tire. While Jack bought snacks and blagged some disposable gloves, I raided CT for an adjustable wrench and a valve tool. We put the old tube in the bike, with known good valve, hoping it would hold. A navigational snafu took us to the Niagara gorge and while backtracking the tyre gave out again. Jack walked about two miles to reach the Best Western Cairn Croft Hotel, 6400 Lundy's Lane, Niagara Falls.
We had lost Clive on the road but we were all reunited in Doc Magilligan's Irish pub and restaurant. We returned to Toronto next day by bus to Burlington, then train to Mimico.

Total: 100 miles approx.
Plus Points: Great scenery, achievable distances, comfy hotels, great 'bush' mechanics.
Downsides: Punctures, poor signposting, lack of detailed map.
Learning points: This was a wake-up call to take reliable tools and spares (including valve tool and two inner tubes). Our previous good fortune had led to complacency. Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres a future option.
Overall: Generally well organised, good company, health benefits.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Le Mans and beyond


We took a fresh approach to our Le Mans tour this year. Rather than riding from one of the channel ports all the way to the circuit, we took the train with the intention of cycling on day trips in the Sarthe and the Loir.
Day 1: Train from Lewes, via Eastbourne, Ashford, Lille, and Le Mans. This itinerary involved some tight connections but worked like a charm. There was even time for a quick tour of the old town in Lille, a bit hazardous over the cobbles on our Brompton bicycles. Coffee at a pavement cafe prior to departure. On arrival at Le Mans we took the tram to the circuit, then cycled via Guécélard to our digs at La Flèche, 29 miles. We were staying in a trailer on the Camping Municipale de la Route d'Or campsite by the river, close to the centre of La Flèche. Good value at Euro 57 per night for three. Restaurant Le Gargantua, 6 place Henri IV, 72200 La Flèche. Pizza starter followed by pasta for hungry cyclists outdoors.
Day 2: La Flèche to Marcé to visit the aircraft museum situated at Angers airport, 46 miles round trip. The museum is well worth a visit at this casual location. Home of the third plane of René Gasnier, first successful aviator in Angers. On the way back I was quickly tailed off on the climb out of Marcé, and settled into my own rhythm on the bike, without a map. Keeping the sun behind me I was much later surprised to find my companions coming up behind me. We covered 20 miles of undulating roads in two hours. Restaurant Ô Patio Gourmand, 44 rue Carnot, 72200 La Flèche in the evening.
Day 3: Exit La Flèche via the old derelict station, on a tarmac cycle path on the old railway line to Le Lude. This delightful run was covered at some speed, with Richard adopting the aero tuck of a time-triallist. We bought supplies and took a picnic outside the Mairie in Le Lude. We back-tracked on the path for a short distance before turning south west on the road to Baugé, with a pitstop in town for drinks, while Jack rounded up bicycle oil and batteries. Return to La Flèche via another bike path, this time dressed in fine gravel, shady on a hot afternoon. 45 miles. Comptoir du Boeuf, 1 place Henri IV, 72200 La Flèche. Less than satisfactory restaurant, the food did not match the service or location.
Day 4: La Flèche to Guécélard, 34 miles. This trip started with a brutal climb on the D12 out of town with a sharp left at the top onto rural roads. Three Course traditional lunch in Noyen, 11.5 Euros. Good night at Club Motorsport in Guécélard. Live music by “The Wobblers.” Much beer drunk.
Day 5: Guécélard to La Flèche. We went bushwhacking back to our digs, west of the main road, reaching La Flèche in 26 miles. Tired. We watched the Le Mans race on the TV.
Day 6: Exploring La Flèche taking in a flea market, the lakes, then out of town on the bike path to Luché Pringé, with a picnic by the Loir. 29 miles in all. Back in time to catch the end of the Le Mans race, another Audi demonstration run. Rated by Richard as "the best meal in La Flèche" - Restaurant La bisquine - 11 rue Henri IV - 72220 La Flèche.
Day 7: La Flèche to Le Mans. We tracked east successfully avoiding a steep climb, via St Jean de-la-Motte. Stopped at some ancient standing stones, La Mère et La Fille, in the woods. We bought lunch at Cérans Foulletourte, crossing the main road and pausing at La Suze sur Sarthe. We took the bike route into Le Mans, following the river with marginal surfaces, at 43 miles. A stretch of canal put us on final approach. The Ibis Budget hotel was adequate but the check-in arrangements were chaotic. A bar in town gouged us at Euro 6 for a small beer. Dinner at La Tagliatella, 9 Boulevard René Levasseur, suitable. Assorted low-lifes were dealing outside and a bin-diving lady opposite was rescuing trash from the Galeries Lafayette.
Day 8: On our last day the SNCF were on strike. We therefore diverted via Paris, riding our bikes from Paris Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord and changing our tickets for Ashford, completed by Eurostar rapidly and with a minimum of fuss.

Total: 252 miles.
Plus Points: Collaborative cycling (peleton), suitable distances, cycle paths, day-trips meant less luggage, reliable Brompton bikes, isotonic drinks, fruit, La Flèche a good base, good- value digs, Eurostar flexibility. (Personally I was fitter, better-prepared and therefore I performed better.)
Downsides: SNCF on strike.
Learning points: Take less luggage, more-suitable clothing (again).
Overall: Well organised, good company, health benefits, roll on 2015.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Waffling warmist a dim bulb

The return to the political stage of Toronto's ex-Mayor David Miller cannot go unremarked. Now a sinecurist with the World Wildlife Fund, a job with no known success criteria, you wonder whether he is coming unhinged. Promoting the wacky WWF Earth Hour, where we all are supposed to turn the lights off and blunder about in the dark, he says: "Climate change is overwhelming. It's literally causing problems at a global scale, and sometimes it's hard as an individual to think what you could do to help."
Stop talking nonsense comes to mind. In the photograph accompanying the story in the Toronto metro newspaper I notice Miller is wearing a scarf to keep warm. You couldn't make this stuff up!
His timing is unfortunate. Toronto is yet to recover from one of the harshest winters since records began but that does not stop Miller blathering on about the evils of global warming. He also cannot resist interfering in the politics of his old bailiwick by promoting his transit agenda based on streetcars and light rail. Using the royal "we" he says: "We have the best rapid transit plan - all the engineering has been done - we just need to build." As a 'has been' his plans have no more validity than yours or mine.
Anybody who actually rides on the TTC in the rush hour will know that the streetcars are worse than cattle trucks. I used to think that the TTC was just badly managed. I now know that it is rotten from top to bottom. Perhaps David Miller could do us all a favour and report the TTC to the WWF for cruelty to the poor passengers.
Here is an abridged version of some of David Miller's achievements:
* The hero of the G20 summit (more arrests in a day than any other in Canadian history).
* Provoking a five-week garbage strike, and then losing to his union chums.
* Burnishing his crisis-management skills by remaining absent after the Sunrise propane explosion.
* Paying $35 million not to build the bridge to the island airport.
* Failing to spot a $47m liability for the Pan-Am games.
* Presiding over a disgraceful regime at Municipal Licensing Services to the detriment of small business.
* Turning a blind eye when Adam Giambrone was caught with his hand in the till.
* Spending much of his time on foreign "jollies" while the city stagnated.
I must say I've missed David Miller's pronouncements, as comical in their own way as our very own dear Rob Ford.