Friday, 1 July 2011

How well did the gear perform?

The bike
Only one word for it - impeccable. The Honda dealt with all the roads and conditions I met - from motorway and A-roads to winding mountain passes to city boulevards. The bike handled them all effortlessly. And over the 4,000 miles or so the engine never missed a beat. Economy was fine - I estimate over 65mpg. Perhaps the only down side was that as it is a naked bike, I had to put up with a fair bit of wind bashing at times.

The hostels
Choosing youth hostels proved to be an excellent solution to the accommodation issue. I came across a great variety of hostels - some of them in quite special places. Service was invariably helpful and the inclusion of breakfast in the already low price was a real bonus. And there's company to chat to in the evening at the end of a day's touring - often with folk who come from all over the world. A YHI card is needed to gain entry to the hostels; this was a requirement always in France - a little less so in Italy.

I was able to get around easily enough with maps. However, some of the hostels were tricky to find and I had to ask for a lot of help from bystanders at times. I speak reasonable French and enough Italian to ask for help and understand the responses, so it worked for me. However, for anyone without the necessary language skills, you might want to invest in a GPS.

Bike gear 
My backpacking experience paid off here. I completed the trip successfully with a tiny amount of gear which was stowed easily in a medium size backpack and tied to the rack of the Honda. My approach contrasted very strongly with almost everyone else I met touring on a bike. Most were togged out in specialist bike clothing and their bikes were fitted with panniers - aluminium ones seem to be the most popular material around this year. It's encouraging to know that one can tour without forking out a fortune to do so.

The cycle tops and quick-dry shorts & trousers worked well. I was able to wash them in the evening and have them ready for use the next day. Obviously, this works best in the warmer south than the cooler north. The bike rain-suit got a lot of use, as did the waterproof socks; both performed satisfactorily. The helmet was fine - I loved the drop-down dark visor feature. It was great in the south where the light is very bright. And the finger-less gloves were ideal. If I were to include one more thing, it would be a super thin fleece or pullover to cope with those cooler moments.

Mostly, I bought food in supermarkets or small groceries. This was easy and meant I could make simple but tasty meals. They tended to be salad-based with some cold meat or tinned fish added for protein with fruit for afters. I ate out when I felt the need; but some of the hostels - especially in Italy - prepare a cooked supper, so I got that when I could. One thing I did carry with me at all times was a bottle of mineral water. In the heat it's important to have a drink close by. In Italy - especially Rome - there are lots of (lovely cold) water fountains which means you can fill your bottle up for free.

All hostels offer free WiFi but only very few have computers for use by visitors. This made it a bit difficult to keep my blog up-to-date - or indeed, Skype the folk back home. However, on the other hand, it did effectively cut me off from email for extended periods - and that's not a bad thing when on holiday. It meant also that I couldn't turn to the web for help and information. I had to ask the people around me; this got me more involved with the folk I was cruising by - as well as improving my Italian no end.

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