‘Sup y’all, it’s everybody’s favourite Randonneurs back on the scene. First of all, it still seems almost appropriate to wish all of you a happy New Year – have fun, be healthy and I hope that whatever 2013 has in store for you proves to be good and enjoyable. After this very memorable summer, the last days of 2012 proved to be just as thrilling for the Randonneurs. Read on to learn more:
It was just shortly after Christmas and our two heroes were still quite well-fed when they decided to go on a hunt for the most distinguished prey that calls the streets of Berlin its home: the Döner (as those in the know call their kebap).
After dozens of borders crossed and hundreds of kilometres cycled, this was a task that required courage and stamina as well as culinary expertise. The Randonneurs’ newest feat would be remembered as the Half a Döner Tour.
The idea was simple, and it was born on a late ride in the dark. Arriving tired and hungry at a kebap house in a remote part of this town, they found themselves lacking the money to treat themselves to a full Döner each. Knowing they both needed nourishment for the way home, they decided to have the Döner cut in half and shared it like brothers.
And as they chewed away, they said to another: why not visit the most famous Döner restaurants of all of Berlin’s numerous districts and put their fame to the test?
So what’s it all about?
In case you didn’t listen: the idea is to visit each district’s purportedly best Döner shack and share one. The rules are (luckily enough) simple.
Everyone loves a Döner’s versatility, so we decided to take turns at configuring them. So at each restaruant, we try a different combination of sauces, vegetables and bread to make things more interesting.
Now you will agree that the sauce is a Döner’s heart and soul, but it does most certainly not stop there. Bread is darned important and it gets increasingly difficult to find a Döner hut that uses good bread. Meat quality is crucial, as I learned the hard way after eating a bad Döner in Spain and spending a week battling the salmonellae somewhere between bedroom and bathroom. Not fun. And finally, the vegetables play a role, too. They are our friendly little helpers and have all the vitamins and such.
There’s a rating for each of the Döner’s elements, and they are pretty straightforward. So a meat rating of 1 or even 0 will most likely have you end up vomiting (be it from the taste or the food poisoning) while a full 7 is almost impossible to achieve (but it can be achieved, as we will see).
But we all know that eating is not the only thing to do at a Döner restaurant. We found that it was vitally important to thoroughly examine the sanitary qualities of each and every place. We also found that this part of the Döner experience would need an especially highly objective categorization, so we came up with a highly sophisticated rating system. We give you a percentage of just how good going to the toilet is for your spiritual well-being in every particular restaruant. You wouldn’t believe what we saw (if you do, you have a really twisted imagination, my friend). Low percentage = hold it until you are safe again. OK, you might have guessed as much.
So, on a surprisingly dry day sometime in late December, we wrapped ourselves in plastic (they said it would rain), hopped on our bikes and sharpened our toothpicks.
Here’s what we saw:
Fabled Imren Grill 2 is well-known among residents of the Gesundbrunnen area. The local population is mainly of Turkish origin, many claim that Döner was invented in Berlin and kebap restaurants are almost exclusively run by Turks around here. This said, just following the most basic rules of logic one can expect Imren Grill 2 to be an excellent choice for top grade Döner, and one would indeed assume so rightly.
Our heroes started the day with an especially delicious breakfast:
Self-made Lahmacun (flatbread garnished with spicy tomato sauce and mincemeat and baked to exquisite crispyness in a stone oven) adorned with yogurt sauce (chili and herbs) and then stuffed with first grade meat, fresh lettuce and vegetables.
Jay already was a frequent customer at Imren Grill 2, so let us see what Ben had to say about his share of the meal: “Something’s different about this one … this might be the best meat I’ve ever had in a Döner!”. That’s right, Imren Grill 2 serves deliciously tender and mild meat marinated to perfection. The vegetables are mixed with a generous dash of parsley to top off the taste. The fact that there are lemon juice bottles on each table speaks a language of its own – experts will agree that no Döner is complete without a hint of lemon.
The restaurant sponsors an Ayran fountain, which might conjure a peculiar image with those not acquainted with this refreshing, salty yogurt drink but, again, is a sign of the excellence that customers can find at Imren Grill 2.
Some of you might wonder if this rapporteur might be a tad biased. Well, he certainly is, but really, you should go and judge for yourself.
For now, let us see what verdict the Randonneurs’ taste buds have reached:
Ayran fountain count: 1
What a good way to start a day. On we went…
It was just a short ride to get to our next destination, and almost getting run over by a fat guy in a small car with a White Pride bumper sticker on it did not make it too pleasant. Rot in hell, you bastard. The street is for everyone.
Would it have only been for the area, the ride would have been most pleasant: we went to Prenzlauer Berg, a former hipster quarter turned family friendly residential area.
Meraba Neuland Döner is what you would expect in a neighbourhood such as this – something between a coffee shop and a Döner restaurant. We sat down and looked out the huge glass window while our Döner was being prepared.
While Prenzlauer Berg quickly became one of the most exciting places in Berlin after the Wall came down, it has certainly changed a lot. A lot of the students that moved there because of the ridiculously cheap rents still live in this area, and they have transformed it as they started to earn money, got married and had children.
So nowadays, one will find organic food markets where music halls used to be, and the once low living costs have risen drastically. Meraba Neuland Döner is no exception, and the first thing one notices upon purchasing a Döner here are the extravagant prices.
The second thing, however, one notices, is that the meat is produced organically and that they actually serve four kinds of yogurt sauce instead of the usual three here. Extra flavour translates to extra high sauce rating, of course.
There are more things to notice, for example the “Dönermann” hand puppet that is being advertised on one of the walls, but they are hardly worth mentioning.
The eating experience at Meraba Neuland Döner is, first of all, marked by a noticeable silence. There is hardly a sound, no radio is playing and people order their food with a soft and low voice.
The food is, as one would expect, excellent, even though the meat is not quite as perfetly seasoned as it is at Imren Grill 2. It is topped off nicely by the fresh and juicy vegetables, and the good and crunchy bread gives its contents an excellent shelter. I have already told you about the sauces, and they deserve a full ranking not only for their diversity, but also for their remarkable taste.
At a place like this, I was especially curious to examine the toilet, and I was surprised. I had to fumble around in a dark corner for a while before finding the light switch, and the actual bathroom seemed to come straight out of a horror movie. It was perfectly clean, but its looks nevertheless gave me the creeps:
It is a single, white-tiled room, just a little too big to be just a bathroom. For some reason, there is a heating pipe coming straight out of the floor ending in mid-air. In the corner, there is a dreadful duck toilet brush holder that only a mentally deranged person could have thought up. Just the place to enter, have the door fall shut behind you and wake up on the floor with several of your vital organs missing with that duck staring at you.
All in all, still a place I would recommend. Let us turn to the numbers:
Average noise level: 18 dB(A)
By the way, the heating pipe is not for floor heating. I enquired.
It’s been several days since we made it back home. After a (rather foreseeable) collision with a big sledge hammer that had “back to reality” written all over it, I find it is time to give everyone a quick rundown of the randonnée. So get ready for some juicy statistics and some cheesy afterthoughts…
Itinerary: Manchester – Doncaster – Hull – Rotterdam Europoort – Den Haag – Driel – Münster – Eilshausen – Obershagen – Stendal – Berlin
Total distance covered: 1140 km
Duration: 9 days. Or, 222 hours and 36 minutes, to be precise.
As most of you will be aware of, that’s roughly 126,7 km per day. For me, that means 197332 crank revolutions over the entire course of the randonnée. And before anybody complains, I have taken the liberty to add a hundred revolutions for that very frightening moment on our journey to Münster when I was zipping downhill with 59 km/h and lost contact with the left pedal. Which brings us to my favourite section:
Top 5 mishaps and accidents:
I like this part of the final overview since I doubt I will be able to recall much more than five instances of misfortune. Let’s see:
1. That very frightening moment on our journey to Münster when I was zipping downhill with 59 km/h and lost contact with the left pedal. Don’t wanna imagine what could have happened then and there.
2. Ben running into me when I did an emergency stop at some crossing just before Doesburg.
3. Two punctures, one at the very end of our first day and one while riding along the Mittellandkanal.
4. One broken spoke.
5. One broken front rack. It was instantly repaired (and enhanced, I daresay) with some duct tape and a bungee cord. It now features full suspension and makes an excellent MacBook Air™ carrier.
And that’s all! See what I mean? Really, we were very lucky. None of the minor defects and nuisances we had to deal with on our tour led to any serious accident, and when Ben crashed into me he was able to control his fall perfectly thanks to years of martial arts training. There were some near death experiences though, mostly when (probably mentally challenged) drivers overtook us at an arm’s length or honked at us just because they are haters. But what can you do … I’d rather continue with another section I like:
What we learned on the way:
The finding I am most impressed with is that almost everybody likes touring cyclists and will try to help them whenever they can. I am overwhelmed with the hospitality of the people that offered us a place to stay overnight, but as a general rule, we could expect people to be very supportive and helpful – be it by giving us a special discount or by doing their very best to help us when we were lost. Thanks for restoring my faith in humanity!
In a technical sense, I learned that one can travel in Western Europe with minimal gear and equipment. I could have easily left half of what I carried back home, and I think we were already travelling very lightly. Also, with just a little ingenuity, a few drybags and some bungee cords, one can turn any bike into a tourer, as was demonstrated by Ben and his infinite configurations of strapping his luggage to his bike. Although it deserves mention that when following this minimalist approach, it is vital to carry high quality equipment. I was utterly impressed with the jacket Ben let me use for the tour. Not only was it as waterproof as a hardshell, but also breathable and comfy as a softshell. I could have left the latter at home without ever missing it, really.
Speaking of high quality equipment, we managed to finish our journey without cycling maps (the one we had for the UK was nigh useless so I’m not counting it) but I wouldn’t do it again. I cannot count the times we had to stop and try to figure out the next few steps using our phones. We lost so much time looking for cyclable roads or getting lost searching for that next sign indicating the cycling route to our next destination. It is safe to say that the constant stops were our major (and almost sole) source for frustration throughout the trip. So I learned my lesson and vow to never disembark on a similar trip without proper maps or even a GPS system again!
Last but not least, shorter and more flexible stages would have made the whole trip even more relaxing. With most stages being longer than 130 km, I was not able to update this journal en route, as our avid followers will have noticed with disappointment. That is one thing that I hope will work a lot better on future trips. À propos…
Plans for the future:
After spending almost two weeks of splendid companionship and camaradie, I think it is clear that this randonnée has not been the last. There are no precise plans as of yet, but ideas include a trip through Eastern Europe, surely with bicycles more suited to rough and harsh surfaces, and maybe a lot more self-sustained than this trip.
In any case, I will keep this site as a sort of cycling diary so there will be more information as I keep pedaling.
Itinerary: Doncaster – Thorne – Gunness – Barton upon Humber – Kingston upon Hull
Distance covered: 85 km
Average speed: 24,9 km/h
Today’s events made up for everything that happened to us yesterday. It might just be a coincidence, but since it’s my birthday maybe some higher power actually listened to the pleas of mercy that I kept repeating to myself yesterday.
First of all, the weather was brilliant. It was sunny and warm, yet not too hot. Also, the landscape was as I had expected it to be, which is green, dotted with little red brick cottages and most of all, flat. While we had to resort to walking our bikes in some places yesterday, today Ben and I were zipping through the countryside at more than 30 km/h for most of the time, shouting and cheering with joy every time we came to a particularly enjoyable stretch of road or when the music we listened to got especially good.
After waking up at the Campanile, we decided to start as early as possible to make sure we would make it to the ferry on time. Our intention grew stronger when we found out that we had to cover more than 80 kilometres instead of the 60-somthing we had expected. Apparently, I need to work on my conversion skills from miles to kilometres. While Ben was trying to dry his shoes with the hairdrier, I went to get the bikes, only to find out that the receptionist had carried them to the conference room upon learning that the bathroom were we had stored them could not be locked. I thanked him for taking such good care of the bikes and when I told him of our journey, he assured me that the terrain ahead would be a lot flatter. What good news! Ben and I went to a local bike store called Don Valley Cycles where the crew did not only provide us with air and spare parts, but also with a detailed description of the route to follow towards Hull. Their recommendation was to stay south of Humber River instead of following the TPT, and we cannot thank them enough for convincing us to abandon the Trail. After making sure we knew where to go, we embarked on what would be a blissful day of cycling. At this point, I feel I need to set something straight. Luckily enough, when I said that we made the worst choice of bikes possible for this tour, I was entirely wrong. Today, we were able to utilize the full potential of our vehicles and I was as glad as ever to ride the Nishiki.
During the first few hours, we stopped only briefly to indulge in a chocolate muffin or to relax in the warm sunshine, and continuously postponed the “real” breakfast to some point in the future even though we had cancelled dinner last night. But quick as we were, we passed village after village without really feeling the need to stop. It was just after Gunness that I started to feel an oncoming weakness, and I knew that my body needed some fuel urgently as my vision grew unsteady from the lack of sugar. We stopped at the first place we stumbled upon, which was the Flixborough Inn in a small town of the same name, and we could not have made a better choice. What we found was a genuine British pub where meals are huge and hearty – just what we needed to regain strength. We refilled our water supply, refreshed our memory of the route to take and off we went, with a full and heavy stomach but a smile on our face. The waiter at the Inn had told us that we would be able to see the Humber Bridge right after leaving Coleby, and he was right. It felt great to see drawing closer and closer what we presumed was the end of today’s journey as we sped on. We crossed the bridge and followed the road until we came to a town square and sat down, convinced that we had come to the town centre of Hull two hours before we had to be at the ferry. We decided to get some drinks and food and take it easy before going to the docks. Little did we know that more than five miles and a myriad of roundabouts still separated us from the actual ending point, the ferry terminal. It can only be called a matter of luck that Ben asked a local woman for the fastest way to the terminal right after our first banana. While initially the poor woman appeared a little confused when she told Ben that it was perhaps ten miles away, it soon became clear that we were the ones whose ideas were off when she pointed out that we had not arrived at Hull, but at Hessle, and that the Bridge did not end at Hull as we had imagined. We jumped on our bikes with a curse and fought our way through the heavy traffic that lined the road towards the ferry terminals at Hull. When we finally made it to the terminal, we were not only exhausted, but also trapped amidst a group of weird scooter aficionados that apparently were on their way to some sort of scooter event in Belgium. Looking at the small motorcycles painted in bight pastel colors and their drivers buried in absurdly exaggerated protective gear, we smiled at each other, knowing that we would never trade our bikes for one of theirs.
One part of conversation deserves special mention. As I was musing about how cool it is to cross Europe on a bike with only to small bags attached to it, Ben looked intrigued and asked: “Has anyone ever done that?”
Laughing at ourselves, we cycled onboard, took two bottles of cool cider to the outside deck, sat down and enjoyed a magnificient sunset as we waved England goodbye.
Our heartfelt thanks go to: Samuel of the Campanile in Doncaster – the people at Don Valley Cycles of Doncaster – the staff at the Flixborough Inn and their wonderful food.
Oh my god. What a day. Let’s start with the stats …
Itinerary: Manchester – Stockport – somewhere in the Peak District – Penistone – Doncaster
Distance covered: 100km (not counting our tour to downtown Manchester before the trip and the km the cycle computer did not count because the little device was soaked from the pouring rain)
Average speed: 5 km/h when pushing the bikes uphill, 40+ km/h when going downhill and sometimes something in between
That might give you a faint idea of the ordeal we went through today. It all started out pretty nicely, with a little sightseeing tour through Manchester. After a successful trip to the bike store and the purchase of The Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner, we felt safe and prepared. We discovered that our trip through Britain runs along the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) so we decided to stick to that trail instead of sniffing car exhaust for miles on end. Little did we know about the horrors that awaited us.
Lost in Stockport
We started at around 2 pm with a loud and jolly cheer. Our first destination was Stockport, where the TPT was to be found, according to the scarce information on the official web page of the Trail, which also promised abundant signage. The latter proved to be an overly optimistic description, and at some point the signs in Stockport led us in circles. Luckily enough, we ran into a very talkative elderly gentleman on a bike who was able to give us directions. He also warned us that the way through the Pennines would be “severe”, making a gesture with his hand that made me think of the steepest passes in the Alps. We smiled, thinking that he was exaggerating. Unfortunately for us, he wasn’t too far off.
Thirty kilometres of Cyclocross
In the beginning, the TPT was as friendly as we had dared imagine it, a well-cared for gravel road with the occasional slope. But then we learned the hard way that the Trans Pennine Trail actually went through the Pennines so we realised we would have to deal with them somehow. And boy, why didn’t anybody tell us somebody put a portion of the bloody Swiss Alps right in the middle of England? While the first few climbs sparked a pleasant sense of challenge, soon four words started to materialise themselves in our minds: Worst Bike Choice Ever. While the Nishiki is reasonably light, the transmission is way too hard for the kind of climbs we were facing. And, my bike being a fixie, the downhill part was just as bad as the climb. As if matters had not been severe enough, the path became poorer by the kilometer. And to top things off, every time the TPT crosses a road, someone put up a wooden fence with a number of obstacles, making it necessary to get off the bike and carry it. Four hours after leaving Manchester, we were pushing our bikes up a hillside amidst sheep that began to seek shelter from the beginning rain. We decided to abandon the wretched path in favour of the national road. That proved to be the best idea of the whole day.
Now it is 11 pm and we have finally arrived at our hotel room in Doncaster and all I can say is that it feels like we barely made it. At some point the rain started to get serious and most of us was drenched to the bone. Even though our dinner consisted in a free cookie and a cup of black tea, there is no force in the universe that could make us go out and get food.
Tomorrow we will continue towards the coast so there is hope the terrain ahead will be a lot flatter than it has been so far. And after that? On to the Netherlands, blessed land at or below sea level.
Our heartfelt thanks go to: The staff at the Jet gas station of Penistone – the pizza guy at Best Pizza in Doncaster who provided us with much-needed calories at a reduced price when we had to fix a flat in the rain.
Howdy folks … I have finally made it to England! Due to a particularly pleasant detour, I first travelled from Berlin to Switzerland by train, having to change a whopping nine times. Trip time totalled about 16 hrs. Transportation wise, it did not get a whole lot better after that – the airport authority at Geneva did not like the way I had wrapped my bike in cardboard and refused to take it through their x-ray machine because apparently it was a little too big. As a result, I had to haul the box (weighing in at 30 kgs) through most of Terminal 1 to the other large luggage station where I was told they could help me repack the bike. I want to thank the guy at the large baggage desk who gave me hand in opening up the package, disassembling the bike as much as possible and wrapping everything up again in a matter of just minutes … without him I am quite certain I would have missed my flight. The next challenge consisted in crossing the border into the UK. The immigration officer kindly let me know that there was a problem with my ID and after going into some back room for a while told me that apparently I had reported it stolen at some point (which I had totally forgot) and that she had to send it back to Germany. She was kind enough to let me enter her country and to provide me with a photocopy of my documentation so I am positive I will be able to cross the North Sea into the Netherlands in a couple of days.
But it was well worth all the trouble! When I finally stepped out of airport shuttle bus only to see a grinning Ben donning his most fancy cycling cap, I was overtaken by sheer joy as we bromantically shared the task of carrying the bike carton to his place. We spent the next few hours preparing our steeds for the way, having to do some rather extensive tweaking as both our bikes operate at minimum tire clearance. The results are, as always, aesthetically convincing and functionally doubtful. With one little exception… I finally managed to wrap the Nishiki’s handlebar with the brown tape I bought and I am not entirely convinced, to say the least. The shade of brown is way too light and it has a weird leopardskin pattern which adds a 70’s soft porn casting couch look to the bike. Normally I would shellac the hell outta it to make it look nicer but for now I just hope that it will quickly get a lot darker with use.
After weeks of heavy rain, the weather has gotten a little better so hopefully we will not have to use oxygen tanks to breathe in the rain. The last few challenges we are facing before starting our journey include getting decent bike maps for Britain, finding a camera solution and a place to sleep for tonight. Let’s see if we tackle these tasks before departure or on the road.
I have been silent for the last few weeks, but not without reason. After a splendid month of April, some higher power apparently decided my life was lacking in challenge. Due to a rather unfortunate chain of events I found myself with numerous injuries, most notably a royally fucked up foot, right at the beginning of May. Add to this an un unusual amount of petty, but annoying issues and stress from other sources and you will find yourself REALLY hating not to able to jump on a bike and go for a ride to ease the mind.
Well, even though I had to learn the hard way that I am not entirely invulnerable, I can still rely on my body’s tremendous regenerative powers. Yesterday, I finally managed to slip my bloated left foot into my left cycling shoe and to hop onto the Nishiki to see if riding was at all possible. It was indeed, and the results were zero complications and instant pleasure. I suppose this picture says it way better than I ever could:
It is not mine, so here’s where I found it. There’s some more neat stuff there from other artists as well.
Yesterday’s test ride was especially exciting for two reasons; first, because for a minute there I had been worried about the randonnée as an endeavour. Secondly, because there was so much new stuff to try out. While I was immobilized, I managed to keep working on the Nishiki. The promised Tourney centerpull brakes are now in place and fully functional, and with Goodridge cables and salmon KoolStop pads their stopping power is quite awesome. I would take this sweet rig offroad anytime.
Other than that, I got myself a used Brooks Flyer which I had to tie because it was a little out of shape. It is noticeably harder on my butt than the B17 I have been using so far, but I have applied a generous amount of Proofide so I hope I will survive the traditional Whitsuntide ride from Berlin to Prerow next week without too many problems. Expect some photos when I have replaced the bar tape.
Things are coming together rather nicely lately so I thought it’s time for the first ever update. The randonnée will take place in the first two weeks of June so I will be spending my birthday in the saddle. How fitting.
Other than that, my weapon of choice is nearing completion. The frame is a Nishiki Custom Sport and was built in Japan in the 70s. I converted it into a fixed gear bike but used as many of the original parts as possible for a number of reasons that can roughly be outlined as being broke. The wheelset I had to replace, of course, but I was lucky enough to get a nice one from German bike manufacturer Veloheld at a very modest price. It came with a 17t cog which resulted in an excruciating transmission of 3.1:1 in conjunction with the original 53t Sugino chainwheel. I absolutely wanted that chainwheel since it comes with a stylish bashguard so I replaced the cog with a 20t one from Surly, thus lowering the transimission to a much more knee-friendly 2.65:1. As a nice side effect, this allowed me to slide the wheel into a position where chain tension is perfect and the wheel does not rub on the fenders.
The next step in the Nishiki’s metamorphosis will be replacing the brakes with Shimano Tourney centerpull brakes (the front one sporting a stylish front rack, estimated maximum load about 2lb.). I’m not too sure whether I should get a rear rack like this one or use a large saddle bag.
Meanwhile, I just enjoy the ride: