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THE 'CAMINO FRANCES'
The cycling pilgrim FAQ


Foreword
The BicycleTourer or M.T.B
Technical Specification
The Bicycle and Load Carrying
Clothing and Equipment
Transport to and from Spain
The Daily Routine
Maps, Guides and Routefinding
Tools and Spare Parts


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Foreword

In this necessarily a short FAQ as it is impossible to deal with the very wide spectrum of requirements for all cycling pilgrims. We have therefore covered a number of aspects of a cycle pilgrimage from the very elementary, (does not own a bike) - to the experienced rider who wishes to be guided on the particular conditions on the pilgrim routes. Inevitably the individual will have further questions that attach to particular concerns.

The Bicycle

Of the methods of transport recognized as appropriate for the true pilgrim by the Cathedral authorities at Santiago de Compostela, i.e. foot, horse or bicycle,rguably the bicycle provides a greater degree of flexibility, independence and freedom from time constraints than the other two. To visit say, Clavijo, the site of the famous battle, is an extra day for the walker but a comparatively short diversion on a bike. Given a reasonable spares kit and the ability to use it, coupled with the considerable numbers of cycle repairers on the route - then the likelihood of major mechanical problems is quite low. The much greater speed of the bicycle means that more time is available to study and enjoy all the notable sights en route.

Broadly speaking the pilgrim on a touring bike is confined to the road. On a mountain bike the pilgrim is free to follow in the footsteps of his forbears and travel on the Camino. In parts, the Camino is tough going even on a M.T.B., so a reasonable degree of fitness is required. Training rides on bridleways, with the kit you expect to carry on pilgrimage, is highly desirable. The difference between the behaviour and handeling,laden and unladen, over rough terrain is considerable. Acceleration is slower, which is not of great importance.but braking is much more sluggish which can be dangerous unless you are used to it. Some of the rough tracks through the Pyrenees and Navarre are not the places to get accustomed to a change in behaviour.

Whichever type of bicycle, the prudent pilgrim will seek to reduce weight as much as possible. Although the cycle carries weight quite well, the load still has to be carried up hills (plus at least three mountain ranges!). It should always be borne in mind that travel on the Camino in June, July and August will require a high intake of fluid. Water is a substantial addition to the overall load.

Technical Specification

Most pilgrims who contemplate riding to Santiago will possess a bicycle and providing it is a reasonable quality tourer or M.T.B., it will be adequate. Those without a bicycle or cycling experience need to do some research. Richard's) Bicycle Book (Pan) is a good starting point and perusal of the variety of cycling magazines will provide familiarity with current equipment and jargon. If you can find one, perhaps the best option is to find a sound dealer, preferably one who handles maintenance as well, and seek his advice.

There are two other sources of help and advice; the C.T.C., which has worthwhile benefits if you join, and the Confraternity. The latter has a number of cycling pilgrims in its ranks who will be happy to help.

Cost is a consideration. Both touring and M.T.B. cycles can be made to measure, with all fitments to your specification. This solution is (a) the best, (b) the most expensive and (c) relies either on complete faith in the builder or a very high standard of personal knowledge of what you want. The" off the peg" solution is a matter of taste and cost. Less weight means more money, but in the long term also means less effort. There is nearly always a weight penalty with an M.T.B. because it is designed not to break when subjected to great stress. In my own case I have a very modestly priced M.T.B. and recall one experience on the Camino which would have irretrievably smashed a touring bike. I simply rode on, both self and bike totally undamaged.

Before you set off always get your bike checked over very carefully. Better, do it yourself if you have the ability. Do not risk riding off without your steed in tip-top shape and that really means stripping it right down to ensure that bearings are as they should be and then repacked with grease, wheels in good shape (literally), chain not stretched, brakes and

gears carefully checked and so on.

The Bicycle and Load Carrying

Whether walking or cycling try to minimise weight. It has to be carried, which may seem a statement of the obvious, but the more weight the greater the energy output required to carry it. When travelling over long distances and mountainous terrain it can make a lot of difference to the pleasure of riding. Even if the purpose of your pilgrimage is penitential, there is no need to make carrying excess weight part of the penance. Never forget, with no apology for the repetition, that you have to carry water and emergency food, and water is heavy.

There are a wide variety of racks to support your panniers. Choose one of solid construction; they take a lot of punishment. The mountings and securing nuts must be checked daily.

Panniers come in a variety of styles and sizes. In any event prudence suggests that the pilgrim will contain his kit within the panniers in a dustbin liner or similar protection to ensure that rain and dust are excluded. An important consideration is the fixing of the pannier to the rack. If they simply hook on they will just as simply bounce off if you hit a pothole, so they should have a positive fixing that ensures that they are locked on. All the fixings should be regularly checked.

A bar bag can be useful for carrying valuables, camera etc., because they are easily detachable to carry around with you. They also usually have a fitting on top to carry a map. If you do not use a bar bag, a map holder is invaluable.

Front panniers or low loaders help to keep a good fore and aft balance, they also help to prevent the front wheel getting skittish on steep hills with a heavy rear load and a low gear.

Kevin Corrigan ,who made his pilgrimage on an M.T.B.,carried 24 lbs and felt that was as much as he would wish to carry. On my own pilgrimage the all up weight including panniers and the clothes I stood up in amounted to 23 lbs lOoz. In contrast John Hatfield carried 53lbs in his tourer. He believes that this is too heavy and may have contributed to broken spokes.

There are times when you need to support your bike, for example when opening a gate. A kick stand is useful on these occasions and perhaps the continental pattern nearer the back wheel is more stable than the usual domestic product which fixes under the bottom bracket.

Clothing and Equipment

In Spain, in the heat of summer, protection against the sun needs careful thought. Wear a long sleeved shirt, cover your legs unless very well tanned and ensure protection for the head and the back of the neck. For those with very sensitive skins there are a number of screening products on the market which you should be aware of. If in doubt, do not hesitate to consult your doctor.

The pre-pilgrimage training rides should tell you if your kit is adequate for you, because all pilgrims have slightly different requirements I have not discussed this much here.

Transport to and from Spain

It depends where you start from!

There are good air connections to Bilbao and Santiago. Most airlines carry your bicycle free and usually all you are asked to do is to partially deflate the tyres to counteract the effects of pressurisation. There is the possibility of getting a one way. fare only ticket on a pilgrim flight to Lourdes. It is then an easy ride to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Train travel is becoming progressively more difficult. You can no longer send your bike to the continent in advance because the ferry companies refuse to take them unaccompanied. If you travel to France with your bike make sure you go to Calais as bikes can no longer be forwarded from Boulogne. You may expect a three day wait for your bike to arrive. Always get in touch, prior to departure, with French Railways 179, Piccadilly, London W1V OBA (Tel:071 409 1652) to check the current position.

Brittany Ferries have a good service to Santander and P&O will have a regular service to Bilbao from April 28, 1993. Both lines carry bicycles free if accompanied by the owner.

In July and August there is a Fietsbus (Dutch for cycle bus) which operates a return service from Woerden,near Rotterdam, to Santander and Burgos. For a small surcharge you can travel one way. The company is called Fietsvakantiewinkel, Tel 010 31 3480 21844. They speak good English.

You may find it easier to convey your bicycle from England to Santiago than from Santiago to England! There is a train service from Santiago to Irun (the Franco-Spanish border). Unless it is a slow train (expreso), the rules say that you do not accompany your bike. In practice it may not be so. At Santiago station, buy your ticket in advance and take your bike to the luggage registration where it will be weighed and a 'facturada' issued. If it weighs less than 20kg it will be carried free and RENFE staff will handle it thereafter.Collect your bike at Irun and ride across the frontier to Hendaye. It will save you a fiver. From then on you will be in the hands of SNCF. Check before you go the most convenient forwarding point for your bike and allow time for it to get to the channel port.

Flying back, with the bike free as part of your luggage is very good, but more expensive. It is worth checking whether there are any spare seats on charter flights before booking scheduled ones.

There is also the returning Fietsbus from Burgos or the ferry companies. There remains the mediaeval option - ride home!

The Daily Routine

The daily distance covered is dependent on a lot of factors, not least of which is your personal fitness. It is sensible, at least for the first few days, to aim at a modest mileage. It gives you a chance to acclimatise. Using your Pilgrim Guide to Spain and taking advantage of the flexibility that your bike bestows on you, you should be able 10 plan your stops more advantageously than is possible for the walker. Do try, if at all possible, not to hurry. Your pilgrimage is not a race and a leisurely approach will put you more in tune with the country you are in. Fry to put in one or two rest days. Burgos and Leon are obvious possibilities. There is much to see. Whether the object of your pilgrimage is religious or cultural or some mixture of the two, taking time to appreciate all the aspects of your journey will pay the greatest long term dividends. The Pilgrim Guide will give you ample guidance on where to stay and where to eat.

There follows below a number of check lists. They are intended for guidance only, but they should, at least be helpful. if only as a check on your own lists of the kit that you need to take.

Maps, Guides and Routefinding

The best guide to current maps, guides and other publications is the Pilgrim Guide to Spain, published by the Confraternity of St. James and updated annually. It will also help with all of the general information you will need in respect of places to stay, food and drink and the sights to see. An invaluable feature for the cyclist are details of the cycle repairers en route (20 at the last count);

( Tyres come in a variety of sizes. See the C.T.C. Handbook if you want all the permutations. For the purposes of the pilgrim, if you have a 700c rim, You should have no difficulty in replacement. Similarly, if you have a M.T.B., the 26" tyre is universal in Western Europe. So, if you have these two sizes you should be alright in France or Spain, if not, carry spares.

(Useful for first aid on a split tyre. Glue the casing and then line the tyre with an old piece of car weight inner tubing.

Tools and Spare Parts

REMEMBER AT ALL TIMES WHEN YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY RIDING IT, YOUR BICYCLE SHOULD BESECURELY LOCKED UP.

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