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Solo trip around brittany (from roscoff) - advice for newbie

snakeeatersnakeeater Posts: 113
edited August 2012 in Tour & expedition
I'm trying to plan a spur of the moment cycling break for myself (away from the wife and kids - permission has been granted!) before I start a new job. I've got around 10 days for myself and I decided to do what I always fancied but never got round to doing. So, in my haste I have booked a ferry crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff and am now trying to organise everything else that goes with a small tour such as this. I've never done any touring before, but have been an avid road racer for a couple of decades so the fitness is not a problem per se. The problem is mainly my growing lack of self confidence (hence why I am determined to do this trip) and ability to just do something off my own back while I have time away from the family.

I've got a checklist of stuff which I need to have done before the trip e.g. buying equipment, trial run on putting up the tent etc. I haven't pre-booked any accommodation at campsites or planned a loosely based route yet. So, I have a few questions which I am hoping some of you can answer...

I have a winter hack bike with mudguards and rear blackburn rack and some crossover tyres, but the rest of the equipment on the bike has been hand downs from my race bikes. As a result, my gearing is 39/53 x 12-25 non compact c/set. I've got a mini pump plus one of those gadget pumps that take reloadable cannisters of compressed air (4 cannisters in all). I've got front and rear bike lights (front light to be used as a torch at campsites - its a USE Toro make). I've just purchased some altura panniers, shimano touring shoes, spd pedals, baggy shorts, padded liner shorts. What else do I need to buy for the bike with the above taken into account?

Non bike equipment I have are:
Small Trangia unit for cooking - need to buy the brulee fuel for it - should I do this in uk or when I get to france?
2/3 man Vango tent - do I need to buy a ground sheet?
Photocopies of Michelin roadmap France pages (Brittany/Finistere area) and sealable freezer bags to keep them dry. Are there better maps out there worth buying?
Swiss Army knife
Some dry packet food ready meal items e.g. pasta 'n' sauce etc.
A few t-shirts, undies, socks, long trousers, fleece, waterproof. As well as actual cycling apparel.

With the above do I need anything else? Am I still taking too much stuff? Im trying to work out the clothing - the daytime stuff is easy enough as its just cycling kit, but I need a change of clothes for the afternoon eves don't I - what works best?

Do I need to pre-book the campsites or can I comfortably find campsites without the need to pre-book?

The loose route I looked at doing was start from roscoff and head to Huelgoat in one day. Then head west towards Douarnenez for a day or two and then slowly head back to roscoff. Is this too little/too much coverage to cover in 10 days? What about camping - can I easily find municiple sites or would I also be able to easily book in private sites if its just me and a tent? Obviously august is peak season so I'm a bit wary of not being able to pitch up anywhere.

Sorry for the questions - must sound quite stupid, but I just want to make sure I cover the basics. Anything after that I think I can deal with as and when needed :-)



  • dylanfernleydylanfernley Posts: 409
    you won't have a problem on any municipal sites, they can always squeeze a lone cyclist in, dried food is not really needed, all villages have shops, small super u's etc where you can get good fresh food every day, follow your nose in brittany, great place for cycling, your gearing will be fine, just make sure you eat and drink local produce, the cider is mighty good there, there will be plenty of festivals about --get in there !!!

    a gem of a place is a small town called skaer- near quimper-- spent a week based there, very hard to escape--- am jealous of you already-- have a good time!
  • igaiga Posts: 155
    A 2/3 man tent might be quite heavy and bulky, a one man tent can be picked up cheaply. A road map might not be detailed enough, try planning your route on (they have a cycling option) or pick up the individual map for your area from here:
    Trangia's are great, but not the lightest or smallest option and the fuel can be messy. Perhaps a small propane/butane (campingaz stype) stove.
    Sleeping bag & camping mat?
    Multitool for the bike?
    As above poster said, don't bother taking food (except perhaps for your first evening meal) buy/eat on route.
    Spare inner tubes and ditch the Co2 inflator?
    Don't over pack clothes, cycling gear can be worn off the bike (and you aren't going in full lycra!) - a pair of long trousers and a fleece?
    Try packing all your gear and going for a test ride, go home, un pack and ditch half of it!

    P.S. I'm very jealous!
    FCN 7
    Aravis Audax, Moulton TSR
  • andymillerandymiller Posts: 2,856
    Some things to bear in mind:

    - britanny is relatively flat, but some of the descents down to the small coastal villages can be a bit steep. I was told that the Tour de France had staged a king of the mountains stage there - and I don't think the guy was having me on. The best thing to do is study the map and look for the altitude figures and gradient markings on the roads you plan to climb - or look at the IGN topographic maps online at

    - the Michelin maps highlight scenic roads in green - I've always found these worth following (so take the original map or a colour photocopy). IGN do more detailed maps (ie 1:100,000).. There may also be signed tourist itineraries;

    - when I was in Britanny (but further east) I came across two D roads where bikes were banned. I'd be very wary of anything marked as a dual carriage way on the map.

    - if you go in September you shouldn't have any trouble finding a place. I wouldn't get hung up on the municipal vs private sites- there are plenty of decent good-value private sites do don't rule them out. When I was in Britanny one of the most expensive sites I stayed at was a camping municipal and the cheapest a small private site.
  • snakeeatersnakeeater Posts: 113
    Some great info - thanks everyone!

    The tour de france did go there in 2011 as I remember watching it on tv and they did have a KOM on one or two stages - Muur de Bretagne being one of the stage finishes.

    Guess its a good idea to try out the fully loaded bike for a test run first - I will get it all packed before the weekend and do it then.

    I was actually thinking of going full lycra - but you've brought me to my senses :wink:
    Yes the trangia is a bit arkward to make compact unless you're good at sheet metalwork remoulding :lol:.
    Some good links posted so I will take a look and will probably buy a more detailed map.
    I've seen skaer on the map so I will try and make the effort to visit. Thanks for the heads up!
  • snakeeatersnakeeater Posts: 113
    Another quick question if anyone can answer....

    Do I need to take a bike lock around with me even if I'm not going to be staying in the cities of Brittany? I was thinking of taking a lightweight lock for overnight security of some sorts while taking the front wheel in the tent with me overnights.

    Also, with camping cooking gear do you take much in the way of washing kit e.g. fairy liquid, tea towel etc? Just seems I'm going over the top a bit :-/
  • always good to have a lightweight lock-- those long thin wire ones are great you can lock round objects-- just precautionary, i have never slept with a front wheel-- each to their own!

    I do take a small(100ml) bottle of washup liquid, as its convienient, a tea towel wraps up my cutlery, i do wear lycra as its best for the job, a few hours in the saddle its the best, easily washed, and weighs sweet f a --

    You should be able to pack all your essentials into two large rear panniers, with tent on the top of the rack, its a personal thing but i don't like to carry unnecessary weight/items -- a good light weight stove-- primus do a good three legged folding one that is well up to the job, gas is easy to get anywhere in france

    You will learn loads from your first forray and guarantee you will be itching to go again soon as you get back---cycle camping really does open up a lot of possibilities-- have a great time-- and come back and tell all about it
  • Oh just personal thing but i use shimano spd sandals-- great on and off the bike-- if it rains no issue-- climate this time of year is fine-- a pair of socks can be used as back up-- not saying go and buy some but for touring they are ideal-- i have used them with overshoes in the winter-- no problems !
  • mercia_manmercia_man Posts: 1,388
    I just take one spare inner tube and puncture repair kit. There's plenty of cycle shops in France if you need to buy another tube. No need for CO2 inflator if you have a decent pump.

    I think the best cooking system for France is to buy a Camping Gaz stove as you can buy gas cylinders at supermarkets and hardware/DIY stores easily. You can get the older pierced cylinder stoves or the newer screw-on type with a plastic collar which pack down smaller as you can separate stove from cylinder and store the stove inside your billy (if you leave off the windshield that comes with it). British-style screw on gas stoves are not so convenient as it's much more difficult to buy cylinders to fit.

    Buy food fresh each day from village shops and makets. Much better than dried or packet stuff.

    I've never booked sites and always got in. Municipal sites are generally cheap and clean with excellent facilities. Private sites are often just as cheap and good. But I have found in Brittany and other coastal areas of France that some private sites charge a fortune if they're next to the sea.

    I use a lightweight cable lock to secure my bike overnight next to the tent. I don't bother to take a wheel inside the tent with me. You would hear someone trying to steal your bike at night, I'm sure. The only thing I've had stolen in more than 20 years of French cycle touring was my computer head - nicked when I let my bike outside a museum which was packed with school parties. Kids, eh?

    For maps I buy a Michelin road atlas 1:200,000 scale which is detailed and great for cycling. I tear out the pages I'll need for each trip. Or you can buy Michelin maps cheaper in France tha in UK. They're in 1:175,000 scale. Last time I bought one it had an orange cover and was called a Local map. My info may be out of date, but it looks like you have the whole of Brittany covered on maps 308 and 309.

    As for clothes, I wear lycra for riding. Two cycle tops, two bibshorts, two pairs of cycling socks, arm warmers, cycle mitts, gilet and waterproof jacket. Comfy and dries quickly after washing. For evenings I have two wicking T-shirts (can also be used as base layers under cycle shirt if it's a bit chilly), a lightweight fleece or merino top and some lightweight nylon trousers with zip off legs so they can be used as shorts. I don't bother with undies. I wear stiff carbon-soled SPD shoes for riding and ultra-light Croc copies ( a fiver from Tesco) for padding around campsites.

    My wife and I went to Brittany for our first foreign cycle tour in 1987 and loved it.
  • MichaelWMichaelW Posts: 2,226
    I managed in France quite well despite my v poor schoolboy French. No booking ahead, just municipal or commercial sites in the Rough Guide or from local tourist info.
    I didnt take cooking stuff. I think you only need this is your finances are pretty tight or you are heading to the wilds, the local food is OK. On my cooking trips I take a Trangia but collect a lot of other stuff, scouring cloth, wooden spoon, spork, tupperware, salt, pepper, spices and you have to carry carb staples (rice, pasta, couscous) in larger quantities than you really want. (couscous is the best fuel/water/time, Aldi do some nice flavoured versions).
    If you decide to cook, carry at least one meal in case you arrive late.
    If you go non-cooking, then take the makings of a cold meal for the same reason.

    Your tent sounds big. I used a Gelhert Solo, it is a bit tiny but you appreciate it on the bike, it can survive heavy downpours and it is cheap. You dont need a groundsheet, but a 3/4 length self-inflating mat is useful.
    You need a towel, the microfleece camping ones are good. Mine is XL but too big.

    My off-bike clothing includes some black "boxing" style shorts which I can also wear over lycra if I feel that way, a couple of wickingT shirts, long polycotton trousers, a fleece sweater. You can tour with 1 set of footwear, but sandals or flip flops are handy.

    A removable bar bag is useful for valuables and as a map-holder. A small unpadded duffel style backpack is good for extra shopping, esp if your panniers are packed solid.
  • JamesBJamesB Posts: 1,184
    Not cycle camped in Brittany but have ridden a fair bit out and around of gites on several week holidays and it is lovely, good road surface sand plenty country lanes. Muur de Bretagne is nice as is Josselin. Plus all the southern coastal areas, Morbibhan, Carnac, Quimper,Auray, St Anne d`Auray for basselica.

    Whilst I had the Brittany maps found it easier (and more fun) with a Garmin 705 and EU City Navigator as it shows all roads (plus a few farm tracks too :) ) and I put in routes at home. Previously trips I had used maps and soemtimes it was quite time consuming and difficult on the 1:250k to determine the minor roads. You can also make up routes on way eg just out in `find place` select a known town / village and see how it goes :) (and watch for farm tracks !)

    Whatever you do have a great time though :)
  • mercia_manmercia_man Posts: 1,388
    Here's a tip for washing stuff, snakeeater. Lush do really good round hard shampoos - expensive but they smell nice and last a long time. If you buy two or three, you get a free metal container for it. I've used Lush shampoos not just for washing my hair and rest of body but also for washing clothes, as shaving foam and for washing up dirty cooking equipment.

    I never bother with proper washing up liquid. I wipe out my billy with bread to soak up the juice and then use one of those foam pan scrubbers to clean and one of those papery dish cloth things to wipe dry. Most sites have hot water for washing to dissolve any greae.

    For washing clothes, Lush shampoo is OK. But for longer trips I tend to decant some Stergene handwashing liquid into a plastic container. I've also used a bar of old fashioned yellow Sunlight soap.

    Don't forget some string or nylon cord to use a a washing line and around half a dozen pegs.
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