Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Lake Balaton

Our second week in Hungary was in a rented house in Szigliget on the north western shore of Lake Balaton. Although we'd a hire car we decided to hire bikes too for around £20 each for 5 days. The bikes weren't up to much - heavy with mountain bike tyres, 21 gears and no suspension, but we only wanted them for short trips to the local beaches, towns and sights. Cycling is very popular here with whole families cycling, and good cycle paths away from or parallel to the roads. In fact there's a 200 km bike route that goes around the entire edge of the lake, most of which is on purpose built asphalt bike tracks. If I had my road bike and it was cooler I'd be tempted. It's pretty hot and sunny this week - 35C at midday, so we plan to cycle mostly in the mornings and evenings. However today (Tuesday) we cycled west to Keszthely which took most of the day, including stops at a palace, museum, restaurant and beach, and was a round trip of about 35 km, almost all on cycle paths. I managed to cycle over a 2 foot grey green snake, but it seemed to survive! Most of the other cyclists were day trippers on hybrid or mountain bikes, but there were a few road bikes and quite a few heavily laden bikes with front and rear panniers on camping trips presumably.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Hungary Cycling Tour Review

It was a well organised tour and a good mix of cycling and sight seeing. The hotels and food were good quality and value, the £700 trip cost included all costs except lunch and drinks (visits to pools etc included). The fact that the tour organisers let some of our belongings get stolen was a bit of a blunder, and it seems they weren't insured for this. The scenery by the lakes and rivers with quiet bike tracks was nice, but the flat fields of maize and sunflowers that we cycled through on straight roads were a bit monotonous. What motorised traffic we encountered was used to bikes. Our daily distance was only 30-50 km (3 or 4 hrs cycling) so if you were wanting something more challenging and can't cycle slowly, this is not the cycling holiday for you!
The People:
Tony the manager of Velo Touring (Budapest) is quite an amusing chap who tends to speak non-stop in a mixture of Hungarian, German and English to anyone he meets - only stopping to eat (which he does a lot!) He's a good driver although does spend quite a bit of time on his mobile.
Victor our guide is a nice chap who speaks good English and has a good knowledge of local history. He's also a good driver.
The cyclists just consisted of my wife and I and the German. He was quite a slow cyclist, who had his saddle low and tended to use low gears. So we had to stop every 15 mins for him to catch up, which was ok by us.
The Bikes:
The Merida Classic 200 bikes were ideal for the trip. Although I wasn't sure front suspension was a good idea at the start, there were enough bumps to make them a necessity. The 700 x 35 Kenda tyres with road grips were good. Wearing my "cargo shorts" rather than padded Lycra was good - cooler and handy pockets. I was a bit surprised the bikes weren't fitted with bottle cages, but they fitted one on mine. Nicky's was a ladies bike and didn't have the fittings for a cage, but at least we had the little panniers. Having a big bike trailer meant they could carry several spare bikes and transport us along the busy road sections to/from nice bike roads.

Hungary Day 5

The first ride was 10 km or so on a new bike track alongside a road and we encountered a hill! Nicky described the area as "like Norfolk except flatter". We went in to a huge water park which was absolutely packed, and pretty horrid, although we did manage to find a decent pool and spot to sunbathe for a while. We were told to leave our panniers on the bikes whilst we used the park, but it seem 2 of them (mine and Reiner's) were stolen when our organisers went into a supermarket, and left the locked bikes on the trailer. My bag had my £70 Endura Photon jacket in it and Reiner had his small camera. So we spent the next hour and a half reporting the loss in the local police station for our insurance claims. It was all quite annoying, particularly as it would only have taken 1 minute for us to stow the bags in the minibus.
We continued on bikes another 10 km or so in 32C sun - but at least my bike was a bit lighter! We stopped at Kaba at a small quiet pool and had a late lunch (hot dog & beer) then continued on the final 12 km of our ride at around 6 pm, by which time it was pleasantly cool.
Our last stop was at a pottery, where we saw a demonstration by the potter, and his display of pots. He had a photo of his great great grandfather taken in around 1850 also a potter (must have been just after photography was invented).

Hungary Day 4

We set off on bikes from Hotel Balmaz then joined a farm track, or "splotterway" as Tony the tour organiser called it (he mixes up English and German). We rode for around 22 km across the Puszta to Hortobagy, where we visited the visitor centre then had a horse drawn cart tour of a farm area. The tour was impressive with a show of stunts by herdsmen dressed in their deep blue coats. We then had a good lunch in a restaurant, and set off again on the normal roads for 20 km or so to Nadudvar. The temp was quite hot by then - maybe 28C. Ended the day with a swim in some thermal & normal swimming pools. We then drove to our hotel - a remote hunting lodge where we were the only guests. No wifi though.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Hungary Day 3

We started the day with a boat trip on Lake Tizsa and a walk on an island. We saw various birds including a kingfisher and some night herons. At about 12 we started today's bike ride along the edge of the lake. It was a quiet smooth surfaced road at the top of the 'dam' lined with poplars either side. Weather sunny and around 25C with gentle breeze. Stopped at a restaurant by the river and had catfish soup with sour cream. We then headed inland into the Puszta grassland area to a hotel near Hortobagy, with a selection of thermal pools. We rode around 25 km before lunch and 10-15 km after. Not a huge distance but a nice day with lots of variety.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Hungary Day 2

We drove to Kunhegyes and visited a Protestant church, then started our bike ride for an hour or two through fields of sunflowers and maize, stopping at a village for coffee. Lunch was at a beach resort on Lake Tisza. The restaurant was nice enough with a shady verandah, but the beach itself was tacky with slide, noisy banana boat rides etc. Had a quick paddle and ice cream then headed off along a single track road with plenty bikes but few cars on the top of a dam on the eastern shore of the lake. Lake Tisza was created to avoid flooding and is bounded on all side by dams, the area being flat. It has lots of trees, islands and wildlife within it, and is popular for camping, fishing and cycling. Most cyclists use hybrid or mountain bikes, and I've only seen 1 road bike so far. Village folk use basic single speed bikes, and I suspect for many this is their only means of transport.
We cycled about 28 km along the dam in mostly sunny warm weather 25C, although we did have a bit of rain at one point. Total days mileage 46 km.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Hungary Day 1

My wife and I had booked a 5 day guided cycling holiday of the Puszla plains and Lake Tisza and spa towns in eastern Hungary. More info here:
We met our guide and his Dad the driver at 8:45 then drove for about 2 hrs to our starting point, on a small road/path along the top of a river flood levee to the west of R. Tisza. Our bikes are Merida Classic 200s - hybrids with front suspension suitable for bumpy minor roads. The weather today was quite cool and cloudy with some sun. 24C max, compared with 38C max a few weeks ago!
We cycled for about an hour before lunch in a village of goulash, potatoes and beer. After lunch we cycled another 2 or 3 hours and crossed the river by ferry. It was a bit uncertain if the ferry would be running as the river depth is only 0.5m. Total distance 50 km. We're staying 2 nights in Berekfurdo in a nice hotel with its own thermal pool. The countryside is flat arable land with deciduous woodland, and villages where bicycles and horse drawn carts are popular transport. There's hardly any road traffic it's amazing. Here's some photos.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

USA Coast to Coast

Whilst waiting for our flight to Budapest this morning I got chatting to a young chap who had a "USA 2012 Tri 4 Life" t shirt on, as did about a dozen or so others. It turns out they're cycling across USA in 21 days as a relay team. He was saying they were mainly from 1 extended family (3 generations) and in the Merseyside Triathlon club. They plan to cycle 150 to 250 miles a day. I'm not sure I'd fancy it as the east must be flat and a bit monotonous, whilst the Rockys very steep. I'd quite fancy doing the west coast from LA to Seattle though.
Further info here:

More on Hungary tomorrow. We've met our Hungarian guide, his Dad is driving the minibus and the rest of the team are my wife, a German called Reiner and me. (4 others dropped out it seems).

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Rainy Ride

I went for a ride on my road bike this morning, planning to cycle to a cafe in Stewkley and back, but when I got there it was closed down. So I decided to cycle a further 7 miles to Winslow where there are 2 cafes but when I got there both were closed! I eventually found a garage with a coffee machine. On my way back there was a huge storm, but my Endura Photon jacket stored in my saddlebag (pictured) did the trick. I can't understand why more leisure road cyclists don't use bigger saddlebags to store such essentials. Many just get wet, which can't be much fun.
I got stuck behind 5 steamrollers as I was returning home to Tring, but sped past them on the straight. Total mileage 38. Weekly total only 54. I was suffering from an upset stomach earlier in the week, caused by a dodgy pint I think, so didn't cycle till yesterday.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Cycling Safety

Bradley Wiggins comments on cycle safety following the latest cycling fatality have prompted some discussions. I agree with him that helmets should be compulsory on roads (well maybe just A roads), lights used when dark, mobiles and iPods etc banned when cycling. I also think that cyclists should be encouraged to wear high vis or brightly coloured clothing and have loud bells or horns (if only to warn pedestrians). However the main issue is with drivers driving too fast and not being aware of cyclists. These days most drivers seem to drive over the speed limits and only slow down for speed cameras. Why are we in such a rush? I accept that some are late for meetings and work and frustrated by jams etc, but I think many just like driving fast, fuelled by too much caffeine and loud music. Somehow we need to encourage a more laid back approach, but I'm not sure how. Segregating bike traffic is a good way forward too, as long as the surfaces are as good as or better than roads, and you are not forced to give way to roads at junctions. Often cyclists seem to be relegated to share bumpy footpaths with pedestrians, then to cross dual carriageways at roundabouts etc.

Some argue that the wearing of cycle helmets should be down to the individual and being forced to wear one is an infringment of human rights. The same arguements were said about wearing seat belts I remember. However consider the costs of a severe head injury in terms of air ambulance, intensive care and recovery in terms of National Health costs for the public and trauma for the victim's family. The wearing of high-vis clothing and loud horns is a bit different as they can protect the cyclist by avoiding accidents, which will reduce harm and costs to both parties. I can't ever see high-vis/bright clothing as being compulsory though - and wouldn't want to, but it does annoy me when I see road cyclists kitted in plain black on a gloomy day.