Once appealing to just a niche and sport-categorised market, cycling vacations have now rolled into the mainstream, with families, friends and lovers exploring the great outdoors on two wheels together.
You don’t need to be a pro-cycler to peddle your way through glorious roads, as we found when we saddled-up with Café du Cycliste’s Remi Clermont. The premium cycling apparel brand was launched nearly a decade ago, “Back then, cycling was viewed as uncool by the masses, but fast forward to 2018 and we’re hearing hipster and cycling used in the same sentence!” recalls Remi. With 81 countries around the world serviced, he notes “sales within Asia have especially increased, with the biggest growth in Japan, Singapore and Indonesia.”
We meet Remi at the Café Du Cycliste concept store—part coffee shop, part cycle boutique—in Nice, perched on the coast of southeastern France. With his business partner, Andre Stewart, the duo founded Café Du Cycliste from their love of cycling and a desire to produce high-quality, technically advanced cycling apparel with a twist of classic French style. Nice, Côte d’Azur was an obvious choice to set up HQ, a location rich in cycle history thanks to the Tour De France and renowned pro cyclists spawning from within the region. For us regular folks, the French Rivera is ideal for exploring—you’ll find scenic spins along the Corniche next to the sparkling blue sea, routes into the mountains of the Alpes Maritimes, and an abundance of cycle clubs and facilities. Remi’s team loaned us an Officine Mattio handmade custom bicycle for our alternative vacation. Surprisingly light, it’s layered with three different types of carbon fibre to create the Lemma, with Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels and Fizik saddles.
Saddle up: What we wore
Aside from peddling through rocks on Pulau Ubin holding a selfie stick, our cycle resumé had been blank until now. Remi adjusted our rental to fit, ensuring optimum saddle height, that is, legs should be straight when standing. In terms of kit, he advises. “If there is one item that is vital for cycling, it’s the Bib shorts.” The shorts come with padded seat to ensure comfort during a long ride on a solid saddle and are effectively designed to handle heat. Constructed from two types of extra light, premium Lycra they ensure optimum compression and support. The perforated hem and side panels provided additional ventilation and temperature control while the elastic grippers create a constantly stable fit. In a nutshell, they’re cool, comfy and perfect for cycling. Next up, the jersey – naturally breathable, high wicking and odour resistant, with pockets for valuables that rest on your back during the ride. Accessory wise, we paired our kit up with Café Du Cycliste’s funky French striped, fast-drying cycling socks and a pair of mitts to keep palms cushioned yet ventilated. As for footwear, comfortable sneakers sufficed.
Finally, Remi fitted us with a helmet. His store works with two kinds, POC and Sweet Protection. Wherever you are, make sure your helmet fits correctly, clips and is breathable, because trust us, you’re going to sweat.
Before the ride: What we ate
It’s easy to forget how long you’re engaging in physical activity when on bike. At the gym, an hour creeps at a glacial pace, but when cycling, four hours can fly by, so you need to be well and truly fuelled up. We enjoyed a high-protein pre-ride meal at Le Méridien, La Terrasse (https://www.laterrasse-nice.com/), known for its fantastic view of the Promenade des Anglais. Lunch featured salmon and quinoa, and then a cheeky double-espresso back at Café Du Cycliste, which Remi encourages since ‘caffeine stimulates the system’. We were raring to go.
The ride: Safety, company and views
Cycling among traffic is daunting at first, but regions such as Nice are accustomed to cyclists and follow an undefined etiquette. “I’ve not had much problem with drivers here, or anywhere really. I even love riding in Morocco which is hectic. Overall, cycling is pretty safe, just as if you were driving, make sure to be alert and follow the road rules of the city you’re in.” says Remi.
It’s worth having a practice spin to learn your gears before hitting the busy streets, as Remi recommends. “Don’t fight the gears; work with them; you need easier peddling up hills so should reduce resistance, and of course for flat areas and downhill, you’ll need to increase it.”
“Cycling is a straightforward sport, so try to have fun too. I find it to be social. When I first started I would go with my dad, and today I even have business meetings on bike”. We might have been beginners but around 30 minutes into our ride we stopped stressing over the technicalities and began enjoying Remi’s company and the sunny sea views. Riding up to the Col d'Eze, between Nice and Monaco, we enjoyed pit stops with water breaks and photo shoots a handful of times. The whole experience was rather wonderful. Who would have thought!
Adventure: Getting lost
According to Remi, getting lost is a positive on cycle vacation. “I love the small roads, ones that no one knows about. Most people cycle the classic or tourist routes, but I prefer the unknown. Getting lost on your bike is a brilliant way to discover a new city or countryside.” Despite having explored the Côte d’Azur region for years, Remi did in fact get lost with us, falling into an alleyway which forced us to get off our bikes and carry them down steps to a secluded beach front. It probably was the highlight of our day.
After the ride: Treat yourself
It’s best to allow for some downtime after a gruelling ride, and after cycling uphill we were exhausted. “That was great for total beginners,” Remi assured, “Anyone with basic fitness levels can cycle really – and you kept up. Next time you’ll be able to go further, as it’s about building up your cycle volume gradually.”
One things for sure, you’ll be grateful for the padded Bib shorts, especially if you want to be able to walk for the rest of your trip. Our day ended with a well-deserved traditional Niçoise meal at L'Escalinada (http://escalinada.fr/) in Nice Old Town, a couple of bottles of French wine, and a lot of sunshine memories. Magnifique!
Cycle Trip Essentials: 5 things to pack before you peddle off
We advise to pack light as most items are available to rent or buy at your cycle destination. Important items to pre-order and pack include:
Ideal for active people; these light, alcohol-based sunscreens provide SPF 50, broad spectrum and up to four hours water resistance. They’re fine for acne-prone, oily skin or hairy areas of the body.
A bidon is a water bottle for cyclists. It fits tightly on your bike, with a membrane lid that can be opened or closed in one movement. When open, squeeze to get the exact amount you need to avoid spillage when hydrating on the move.
These 100% natural bitesize balls are full of slow releasing energy and clean protein for helping muscle recovery.
Pulling out your phone isn’t recommended when whizzing through streets. Lilienthal Berlin combines style with quality German engineering, and the classic L1 watch comes in silver with a clear white dial for easy viewing. It’s also smart enough to wear for business after reaching your destination.
Vision is key on the road, so bring a pair of activewear sunglasses. Ray-Ban have a range of comfy lightweight designs.