Posts Tagged ‘cycle tourism’

Courtesy of Pousada Paiol guest house at Atibaia www.

Photo courtesy of Pousada Paiol guest house near Atibaia (www.

The ride to Amparo, as I said before, was… eventful. The rainstorm on the Saturday was great fun (though admittedly, had there been no hard shoulder to ride along on the main road, I might not be saying this), and after it finished, we were able to dry off a little at a restaurant in the town of Mairipora – about half way to Atibaia, where we would stay the night. We ended up not having much to eat as while we ordered a light lunch, we decided to give up after an hour waiting as we needed to push ahead – annoying at the time, but actually it turned out okay as we were doing good with the energy block bars and we did not end up riding with heavy stomachs.

The rest of the journey up until Atibaia was smooth. While the rain stopped, it still remained cool, which was great for riding up and down the hills; not too much traffic and on the whole good progress along the roads. We were able to get to the entrance of Atibaia by around 6.30pm – around an hour and a half before it would get dark. From Atibaia, we had, however, an additional 12km to ride to get to the guest house where we would stay (Pousada Paiol). Now, there were two ways to get to the guest house; one going largely along the highway and the other, going through the town. I had programmed the route through the town into the GPS. We thought, once we got to the highway exit, maybe it would be better going along the highway, but as the route wasn’t programmed into it, I didn’t want to risk it – we weren’t sure what the roads would be like going through the town, but at least we wouldn’t get lost…

Asphalt road into earth track...

Asphalt road into earth track…

With hindsight, I really should have looked at the satellite views of the roads beforehand – you can clearly see how the surface of road we went over changed in the screenshot – though as it turned out, we would have faced similar conditions eventually had we gone the other way. At least we would have been prepared, psychologically, however..!

Final stretch to guest house

Final stretch to guest house

At first it was fine, but then going through Atibaia commercial centre wasn’t pleasant with lots of traffic and lots of drivers not accustomed to sharing lanes with cyclists. Getting through this we then had a good few hundred metres being shaken around riding over cobblestones. Onto the asphalt after this and then suddenly my back wheel starts making a noise. I get off and can’t see what it is, and see that it can’t turn backwards and it was slightly tight trying to turn it forward. After a while I realize that the screws securing the baggage rack to the bottom of the frame by the wheel had been shaken out and that the top of the rack had fallen down so it was resting on top of the actual wheel (it was pretty hot to touch because of the friction!). It was getting dark as well and we still had a good eight or nine kilometres to go. We had no spare screws so I had to work out how to balance the rack above the gears so it didn’t keep falling on top of the wheel. It worked for a while… until the road turned into an earth and rock track with lots of  bumps and holes to go over and around. Every couple of minutes or so the rack would be coming off and landing on the wheel again. Oh, and Natalia was getting a sore knee (with the shaking from the road her seat had come down a little bit, we realized in the morning). With the darkness coming down, all we wanted to do was to get to the guest house, have some food and rest, and work out whether we would be able to continue to Amparo in the morning or not.

Chalets at Posuada Paiol (photo courtesy of the Pousada  -

Chalets at Posuada Paiol (photo courtesy of the Pousada –

The road continued with intermittent stretches over rough earth and then good asphalt, though night settled in and the lights came on. Getting to our destination was top priority as being out at night in that place wasn’t particularly agreeable. As we got closer to the marker on the GPS, I checked the name of the guest house to make sure we wouldn’t miss it, though with everything that had been going wrong, this was worrying me – would we actually find it…?! And we were quite in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, as we got closer, we saw a sign with the name of the place, telling us to keep going. The baggage rack stayed up and balanced and we were able to slowly but surely get there by 8.30pm – just half an hour before dinner ended. Can’t say I have been much happier to have found a guest house than how I felt then, and the place was well worth the suffering to get to…!

São Paulo - Atibaia

<— First article regarding route planning

Two of the other online route planning tools we have used are Bike Route Toaster and Ride with GPS. Both are better than Garmin Connect from the point of view of showing the total elevation of your journey. The former is completely free, while the latter is free to use so you can plan your journey, but if you want to upload routes to your Garmin, you have to pay a subscription.

Starting with Ride with GPS, and this is the tool I have been using most until now (though that might change as in comment to my previous post, Charles ( suggested using Strava… which looks interesting though doesn’t look to be any good for actually planning routes – just for analyzing the ones you have taken). I have used Ride with GPS to plot out initial drafts of the entire 360 Extremes route through from São Paulo to the top of the Americas (345 days, including days off… so quite a lot of individual routes there!). Everything is all there saved, though it would be nice to be able to organize things in folders or something to make it easier to find everything. The planner isn’t really good for cycle paths, though it does let you draw from point to point when there are no roads to follow, so it won’t take you all around the sun to meet the moon. And one thing that I really do like about it is that you can see the grade of the climbs as well, so you get a better idea about how steep the climbs you face really are – not something that appears in the other tools – and oh, yes, you can also use Street View to gain an idea of the roads (wherever Google have gone, that is).

On the left, the data from the GPS after the activity; on the right, the data from the planned activity.
Spot the difference (aside from distance as started 15km from start, after flat roads/gentle downhills)

Like Garmin Connect, you can download data about your daily activities from your GPS to the software, and it can keep track of everything. It can be buggy, however, sometimes and it can be easier just clearing a route and starting again rather than trying to sort out something that when wrong with the route/waypoints. Also, while it shows you the total climbs/descents over the course of a ride, it tends to exaggerate these by a good few hundred metres – the route from São Paulo to Atibaia is shown as +2131m / -2142m, when the Edge 800 altimeter works it out as around +/- 1,300m. Which is right… well Bike Route Toaster seems to support the Edge.

So being careful with the elevation planning, I would give this 7/10 on the whole though 8/10 for just the route planning – better than Garmin Connect simply because even an exaggerated idea of the total elevation is better than none.

Bike Route ToasterBike Route Toaster is great and easy for quick planning and is completely free. It gives you elevation data, allows you to create course points and warnings, and allows you to work with the “Virtual Partner” on the rides – though we haven’t used this much yet as we generally go at our own steady pace – the importance for us is not speed, rather building our endurance. The elevation data seems more accurate than the Ride with GPS – and is considerably closer to the readings that the GPS gives, so I would trust this much more for getting the most accurate information in planning your ride. It can be slightly buggy and you can’t save routes on to the server, so it is harder to organize and make adjustments to a sequence of different routes as part of a longer journey. Uploading them to your Garmin does saves the routes you create, however. It hasn’t got all the activity analysis features as the others, and also it isn’t the best looking of interfaces in the world, with tacky adverts appearing here and there… but what do you expect? It is free, after all.

6/10 as a general grade because of the lack of features, though 9/10 for just the route planning. Higher than Ride with GPS because you don’t have to pay to be able to upload the route to your Garmin.

Garmin Edge 800

Another new acquisition is something that is already useful for training and will be very useful for the cycle tour of the UK and the entire journey: a Garmin Edge 800 GPS unit. We have just the unit with the bike mount – you can get it with heart and cadence monitors for it to provide a good overview of your training developments, though we will get that later. For now, just the GPS unit itself is good.

Garmin statsThe unit is touch screen, shows the map of where you are (precise city navigator maps are available for download from the Garmin website), and it is incredible as to actually how precise the location is: the unit records your journey can you can review it on the computer when you get back home – when you do, you can see even when you just headed back a metre or so to check something…

It took a while to detect the satellites when we first set it up, but after that, it has been quick. Hopefully when we are in the UK it will have no problems in picking up the different satellites up there. You can plan your route using the Garmin software, though there is other better software that you can use online – but I will talk about them in a bit (though the main problem is that in planning the course through being able to see the elevation profile – incredibly important for working out how hard a ride is going to be – distance is far less important!).

Uploading routes is straightforward enough, then you just find your route and you’re ready to go, with the route and cues showing nice and clearly on your screen. If you don’t have a route, you can start the timer and record a new one following the path you take – very simple to do.

At the end of it all, looking at the journey you have taken back on your computer, (opposed to when you are planning) you can see the elevation profile (with total elevation gain/loss) of where you have been and all sorts of nice information about the route – total time; total time peddling / total stops; average speed / temperature / pace… and as you do the same courses over time, it is great to be able to compare everything, as all is tracked. It will also show the number of calories it calculates that you burn during your training session – how accurate this is, however, is another question as many reviewers commented that the best algorithms for calculating this have been patented by other companies…

Plenty of other Garmin units out there, though definitely would recommend this if you can afford to fork out a bit more. Here in São Paulo, Casa de Pedra sells the unit along with other Garmin models – check them out on their online store.

Also, you should be able to check out the last route we cycled using the GPS at this link… São Paulo – Atibaia – 25 Nov 2012.

Garmin charts

Atibaia map

So, the final long distance bike ride, a week before the 100km challenge to Santos, was the 115km journey to Sorocaba. While Santos is on the coast, down from São Paulo, Sorocaba is west of São Paulo, and the main route we took was the highway Raposo Tavares, through some pretty high hills, via the town of São Roque.

It was a tough ride.

At the beginning, it was straightforward enough – along the smelly cycle way by the River Pinheiros, but north this time instead of south like the Paranapiacaba ride, onto the nice and busy BR-116 interstate route that was thankfully not too busy and not too long a stretch so we didn’t have any near misses with mad bus drivers, and then at the town of Embu, off on to side roads to the city of Cotia (where one of my team at work lives – she wasn’t able to come out and cheer for us though, in spite of a message telling her to watch out of the lycra-clad fitness freaks coming her way)… a good discussion between the best ways to get on to Raposo (the good old argument between the people who knew the area and those relying on GPS… there’s only ever going to be one winner, and thankfully we did choose to trust our colleagues on the ride!)… and then yes, Raposo, one of the busiest and more dangerous highways coming out of São Paulo, which has only very few hardshoulder areas for cyclists to go along, meaning we were much more vulnerable than when we went on the Rodoanel.

The surface of the highway was decent, which definitely helped, but it just seemed that the various up-hills never ended. I managed to make them all, including a long steep, climbing section that reached a gradiant of 17% or so just outside of São Roque (after 62km), though it was pretty exhausting. Natalia hadn’t really had experience with such hills and her knee was getting a bit sore (I think her saddle had been pushed a bit lower, which didn’t help), so she walked a couple of them, but she still did reasonably well especially as we were among the first group for a long time before Natalia got separated from us – still a bit of tension there going down-hills, but no problem. I stopped to the side of the highway and waited for her to join, and we latched on to a group of three others who had fallen a bit behind the first lot due to a puncture.

Getting into São Roque at around 2pm or so, many of the first peloton were having lunch, but we just fed ourselves on the dried fruit and water we had – we didn’t want to eat too much because of the fear of our stomachs adding extra weight to carry up the hills. It was a wise choice as immediate outside the town there were some more long steadily climbing roads which we took our time getting up. Imagining doing that with heavy stomachs was not a particularly nice thought.

At least the steep climbs up were compensated by a couple of rather nice hills down – the asphalt was clingy in some parts meaning that even on the descent we had to peddle to keep going, but on other parts it was nice and smooth, and I managed to get up to 65kmph without even ducking to decrease my wind resistance, and just on a hybrid bike. Good fun, though I only did this when the road was straight and clear of traffic. We found out later that a member of the group behind us had suffered an accident, falling off when going downhill too fast – had to get taken to hospital and it looks like he will have to have some facial reconstruction surgery: a bad reminder of the risks we face and for us not to get too confident as cyclists are extremely vulnerable.

It was good getting to Sorocaba, though. A definite sense of achievement considering this was our first journey of over 100km in one day, and knowing that as we had managed this, we should be alright with the journey to Santos.

Loose stone roads… always nice (c) Paulo Filho

As I was saying, the fact that there were no accidents getting to Rio Grande da Serra doesn’t mean that the ride was easy. The long steady uphills took their tolls on our legs, though with Natalia, the downhills were also problematic as she is really not a fan of going downhill and she will be on the brake pretty much all the way down. Certainly understandable, especially given that she has not been riding seriously for very long and has only really just got used to the gears. Though at the same time, it can mean that she can become quite tense and that can make riding less enjoyable and actually could lead to increased chances of an accident. André joked that she would need at least three or four spare brake pads to take with her on the ride down to Santos. But it is important for her to go at a speed at which she is comfortable with, rather than speeding down hills and losing control through panicking as not used to going so fast.

Ben on wheels (C) Paulo Filho

A further issue we had was with punctures. I was lucky, suffering no punctures as we went across the fie kilometres of the loose rock track, but Natalia was a bit further back from me suffered. Twice. And she had no spare inner tube or a puncture repair kit at that time. Fortunately people who were with her did and were able to put a patch on the inner tube and refill the air, but it took a bit of time – I had reached the end of this track and was getting worried about her after waiting half an hour or so. So I cycled back a good couple of kilometres to see what had happened. No sign, so I went back to the end where André was waiting with a few others. A few more minutes and André went back. Eventually he reappeared with three others including Natalia with him – they had taken so long as one of the guys tried to put the wrong inner tube into Nat’s tyre, and only realised it didn’t fit properly after a few minutes… and also going over that road surface certainly wasn’t easy-going.

After this, more dust and loose rocks and stones on the road and with the buses passing us we were occasionally engulfed in clouds which choked us all and left us with very little visibility – we were all thankful when we got off this and on to the normal asphalt. Caught up with the rest of the group and had a bite to eat, and then off again, along a highway this time. Again the group split apart and I was among the first lot, though we stopped at a point where the group would divide into two – those who would go along a grit and rock trail and others who would take the highway to Rio Grande de Serra. We waited quite a while and it turned out that Natalia had suffered another puncture – the patch had come loose from the previous mend. Delayed us all a bit, but no worries.

We decided to take the highway to our final destination – We didn’t fancy getting any more punctures on the loose rocks. Paulo took the longer trail which looked like it would have been pretty good fun. The total distance we cycled was around 75km, so still quite a distance, and we were suitably tired. The people at the station would only let six cycles on any train at any time, and there were only trains every twenty minutes. Fortunately we were close to the front so didn’t have to wait too long to sit down.

Thanks Paulo for taking the photographs!