Warning! This clog contains graphic descriptions of cycles and cycling, which some readers may find upsetting. So, if you are allergic to that sort of stuff, look away now!
I promise it will be short and the only time it will appear.
First, you should meet my other half.
Now 15 years old, in mountain bike years she is even older than I am, but, like me, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore! Unlike me, though, she has a flexible frame. By slackening a couple of bolts and winding a screw, her bottom bracket can be lifted and her wheel-base shortened.
Such posture control is a great asset when riding the rough stuff around the Drôme. She also has front and rear suspension to make up for the deficiencies in the lumbar region of her rider. The tyres are cross-overs, between full mountain-bike and gravel track tyres with added Kevlar liners to deter punctures. She is built like a tank, weighs only slightly less, and she came with a lifetime guarantee – it was never clear whether hers or mine. I am not sure why she is called Jekyll and I very much hope she has not read the book…….
What’s it like to cycle round these parts? The key to it is the geography and geology.
The Drôme Provençale lies between the Mountains of the Ardèche; the high plateau of the Vercors; the Alps themselves, and their foothills. So it is pretty much surrounded by mountains.
Looking NE towards the Vercors
Taulignan, the village where we are based, lies at the foot of the southern slopes of forested, lower mountains, rising to around 800 metres. Behind them is “La Lance” at 1,338 m. You can get an idea from this picture taken from a local tourist information board.
From the ground, the northern heights look like this.
The ridges in the foreground are of lavender, which has finished flowering and been pruned back.
To the south of the village lies the Enclave des Papes, mostly rolling country, until the mountains return with Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail. Looking SSE towards Mont Ventoux in the distance.
So, from Taulignan, anywhere North is UP and everywhere else is pretty much UP then down then UP again, most of the time.
Geologically there is a mix of limestone, marl and sandstone. Where the softer marl has weathered away from the limestone there are deep ravines cutting back into the mountains, called locally “serres”. In other parts there are un-eroded limestone pavements – great to ride over until you meet an unexpected edge.
On the paths and in the stream beds the limestone weathers and breaks down into jagged rocks and stone chips. Fairly lethal to tyres and to body parts if you fall off.
The sandstone in the geo-mix erodes to weird and wonderful shapes. The inhabitants have used it to build into, under and on top of, for centuries.
What all this geological stuff adds up to, is seriously technical mountain bike riding if you are really off-road. It is difficult to get traction on the stony tracks going uphill and difficult to get steerage going downhill; it’s easy to trap a wheel in a fissure in the limestone; it’s very easy to catch a pedal against solid rock; if you come off, the landing will be in thorny scrub if you are lucky and un-yielding if you are not. So, although it is very exciting, it’s not the stuff 300 miles are going to be made of!
I shall be riding mostly in the up-and-down country to the south, on tracks, minor roads & bridle-ways. The Jekyll is ideally suited for this, being able to switch happily from tarmac, to gravel track, to river-bed as the planned navigation demands, or the un-planned necessitates. Speaking of navigation, I have the excellent French equivalent of our OS maps on my iPhone attached to the handlebars and it looks like this:
All very fine till you come across ‘helpful’ directions in the middle of the scrub looking like this!
Enough of scene-setting! The next clog will be for real.
With Gallic disregard for the rules I’ve started riding 4 days early. Well, everything has been early this summer, so why not September? Anyway, I’m sure you’re tired of waiting for some action. Me too!
We have to leave France by the middle of the month so – let’s get on and do it!
Click on ‘Follow Blog via email’ to keep up with the clogs as we, bike & I, head out only a day or two early, to ride ‘September 300’ for Cancer Research UK.
To donate to Cancer Research UK, please click on “My Cancer Research Page” at the top of this post. It will take you to a secure Cancer Research donation page and will allow you to say if Gift Aid can be claimed on your donation.