Saturday 15 February 2020

Bike Life with the Liv Thrive E+ E-bike

I have been testing out an E-bike, the Liv Thrive E+ Pro women's bike. It's a cute little runner which has served me well getting me from A to B, and C to D and beyond - basically as far as the battery life can go.

I used it during the Rapha Festive 500 on a ride around Central and East London, and it went very well. I have since used it on other routes and had just as much fun on it.

E-bikes are very much part of the range of bikes that people can have. At one point they were poo-pooed as being a cop-out, and not for real cyclists. I wasn't sure about E-bikes either.

But having spent time using this one, my opinion has changed. It is good to get out and about on a bicycle, especially in London where cycling is definitely the quickest way to get around in the city centre.

When just cycling in your local neighbourhood, cycling is also a convenient way to get around.

Having just a little bit of motor means not worrying about working up a sweat if you want to go somewhere looking neat. That's particularly useful where I live, in Crystal Palace, as any journey going towards Central London involves a significant hill.

The very first time I put the motor on it felt great. I was on a little slope - about 7% gradient, and it was like magic, the way the bike just revved on and pulled me along effortlessly. I almost wondered if I deserved this much assistance! I wondered if I should just go the whole hog and get a motorbike.

If you're not on form or tired and not in the mood to pedal it's great. Sometimes if I've had a hard training day and I didn't want to exert myself it is handy to have that assistance.

It was useful to ride the Thrive E+ Pro when travelling to a couple of local cross country running races I was competing in. I wanted to cycle to the venues without arriving at the start-line tired.

What's worth remembering too, is that E-bikes have various settings in terms of motor assistance. The Thrive E+ Pro has six settings, and a mid-setting that allows the bike to go to the optimum motor assistance depending on the terrain.

I tend to ride the Thrive E+ Pro on the lowest setting and move it to the next setting up if I reach a medium slope. If I am on a proper hill, like Anerley Hill, or Gipsy Hill near my home, I crank it up to the third or fourth power level. I have not yet used the top setting.

Having said all that, despite the bit of motor assistance when riding an E-bike, you still do get a work-out. After doing a 40-mile loop on the Thrive E+ Pro on Christmas Day I must say that I felt slightly tired, and ready for my Christmas dinner!

It's partly because I didn't use the motor constantly during my ride. On many of the flat sections I rode the Thrive E+ Pro like any non-assisted bicycle. Given that it weighs more than 18kg you work significantly harder than other bikes when the motor is off!

With a battery that weighs around 4kg and the internal motor, plus disc brakes, the Thrive E+ Pro is more than double the weight of my Boardman road bike!

Also, even when you apply a bit of motor you have to pedal to match the revs generated, which can mean that when I crank up the motor I can easily get drawn into pedalling fast to match the power. 

So for example, going up one of the steep hills up to Crystal Palace I cranked up the power to the third setting and ended up out of breath - not because of the steepness of the hill, but the fact that as the bike winched me up the 10% ramps of Gipsy Hill at more than 20km/hour I felt quite out of breath after having spun the pedals at 90 rpm. 

So, you can get a good work-out if you wish. Of course you can just leave the motor on the whole time and it can become a more sedentary ride. Having said that, it is not a completely passive ride.

The battery on the Thrive E+ Pro lasts for roughly 120km if ridden constantly on low power. I am not sure that I would do a ride with the motor constantly on, as I guess in my nature I always like to do a bit of work on a ride! But it's good to know that if I wanted to ride all the way to Brighton with motor assistance it would be be possible.

I am due to do more rides and will chart a few of my routes. Here are a few Strava routes I have done so far.

Central and East London loop

Ride to Denbies Vineyard near Dorking, Surrey

Ride to Alexandra Palace, North London

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500: Park Life Tour - Central and East London

Liv Avail Advanced Pro review published on Cyclist website

Reviewing the Liv Avail Advanced Pro

Bike Review: Canyon Roadlite WMN CF

Saturday 8 February 2020

Beautiful ride around Bergamo - for those who like cycling up hills!

After a day of riding around the flat roads in the Milan area I decided to tackle something a bit more challenging. It would have been rude not to ride around some of the beautiful hills in Italy!

Rossignoli bikes in Corso Garibaldi
I had the bike (a Cinelli Saetta hired from Biciclette Rossignoli), and in theory I had the legs, so why not go out for a ride.

So I cycled to Centrale Station in Milan and took the 55-minute journey to Bergamo.

Note that you can take your bike onto a regional train and hang it in a special compartment for bikes.

Trenord, the train company, has a policy that you buy a ticket for your bike for 3 euros 50, and it is valid for 24 hours from the time you stamp our ticket.

Trains carry bikes. Remember to by a ticket
On leaving my apartment near Porta Romana I was a little unsure as to whether I was doing the right thing going there. The air was full of mizzle and I figured that whatever it was doing on the flat lands of Milan, it would be worse in the hills further into Lombardy. So it was tempting to step back into my apartment and relax in front of the telly in the dry.

In the end, I willed myself along, deciding that at the worst case scenario I would just ride around the city of Bergamo - which is hilly enough - and then return to Milan and go shopping.

Surprisingly, when I emerged from the train station in Bergamo, the city was bathed in glorious sunshine - all very pleasant!

From the station I just needed to head straight on along the main Viale Papa Giovanni and Viale Roma, following the signs for the Muro di Bergamo/Citta Alta. I wasn't alone, as various other club riders were out on this Saturday morning. Very quickly my thighs began to feel the strain as the roads rose up in front of me. It was a slight shock to the system.

When it comes to uphill, they don't mess about in Bergamo. As someone who lives in Crystal Palace, a hilly part of London, I am used to climbing. So initially I felt at home - albeit in an ornate and touristic version of my neighbourhood.

However, the 8% gradient was unrelenting and continued for longer than what I was used to. Once on the citadel and the gateway into the old town I could heave a sigh and relax a little. But it wasn't over. The road continued up and up, and at moments the gradient went to around 16% as I was led further into the ancient town.

This area had quite a lot of local tourists and walkers who looked on in admiration at cyclists who had the guts to attempt this climb, and I must admit I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of them. So I tried my best to look graceful as I went up the hill, even though my quads were burning!

Quite a lot of cyclists overtook me. This was probably just their regular Saturday morning ride which they would do without breaking a sweat! The area was so pretty that I couldn't help but stop and take a photo - well at a point where I knew I could get back on the bike easily. Some of the riders passing me found it amusing that I would photograph an area that was just their bog-standard route.

Climbing through the upper old town of Bergamo
I wasn't that sure which way to go, but in fact all I needed to do was to follow the other riders! That took me towards the Val Brembo.

Being in Bergamo must be great if you're into hill running too, as I saw many of them as well. Many a fell runner must have originated from here. Eventually I reached the summit of the climb, after what must have been 6.4 km (4 miles).

Although it was sunny the temperature at this altitude (500m) had dropped and I needed to wrap up quite well for the twisty descent through Val Brembo. From there, I followed the signs towards Villa d'Alme, and then on to Costa Valle Imagna.

There was a bit of respite as I rode through the valley and along the lower slopes. This section was less picturesque as I passed out of town shopping centres and industrial estates. Also, like anywhere else in the world there was a fair amount of Saturday traffic.

Once past Almenno San Salvatore, things quietened down and I was treated to the typical hillside views of the area. Even though I was on my own I didn't feel alone. As I was starting the climb up to Valle Imagna there were a lot of cyclists around, and they all greeted me. Given it was almost lunchtime I suspect that many of them were completing their ride as I was just getting into the business end of my ride. One guy even expressed concern that my rucksack would be too heavy. Well there wasn't much I could do about that - short of him riding alongside me and carrying it! I replied that I was fine.

The climb up to the town of Costa Valle Imagna seemed interminable, as it twisted and turned around the hills. I took it easy, knowing that it wouldn't be beneficial to rush given my lack of fitness, and I wasn't trying to keep away from a broom wagon. I was slightly concerned at how much snow was on the hills and I wondered if I was going to arrive at the summit and suddenly hit snow-covered roads or arrive at a mini ski resort. There are a few in this area.

After around 5 km (3 miles) of climbing I realised I was very much on my own. Apart from Bedulita there were no villages, barely any cars passing by, and no cyclists overtaking me or passing in the opposite direction.

It was quite eerie being here on a Saturday afternoon with all this landscape to myself. The views over the Bergamo countryside were pretty spectacular with hills and woodland all around, then mountains in the distance. I just continued to grind my way up this steady 6% gradient going round countless hairpins.
On the way to the Costa Valle Imagna

When I have a long way to climb I tend not to keep track of anything because it makes the task seem onerous as the countdown always seems slow - probably because it is, given the speed of my cycling!

Instead, I prefer to let my mind wander onto other things like imaging what it must be like to live in this area, what past-times folks have, how their daily lives are, what I'm going to eat, who I'm going to visit later, will there be a place selling ice cream - that's the part that really incentivises me. Yes, I am happy to eat ice cream even in mid-winter!

Before I knew it I was just a couple of miles from Costa Valle Imagna, and I would be treated to a lovely descent - hopefully towards Lecco, on the edge of Lake Como.

The top of the ascent was marked, in typical style by a line chalked in the road that said GPM. The village, just a couple of hundred metres beyond the line. It was a fairly unassuming non descript town, rather than something picturesque like what its name might have given people to believe.

However, it will probably have been heaving with cycling fans during the month of May and October as these have been included in editions of the Tour of Lombardy and the Giro d'Italia. But today the most interesting thing I saw in the village was the local bus driver there with his bus, waiting in his depot chatting to other locals before the time came for him to start his service, maybe back to Bergamo.

He wasn't the only one returning to Bergamo. Sadly, I wasn't able to proceed further along to Lecco as time had run out, and my ride would not have gone downhill without me doing another climb full of switchbacks to Valcava and then a big drop through Torre de Busi and on to Lecco. It looked like it would have been a spectacular drop.

Sadly, time was tight as I had to be back in Bergamo to catch the 4pm train, so rather than continue further into the hills I doubled back to take the downhill run to where I started. Fortunately, there was still a choice of routes for this ride back to Bergamo and I was able to take the road through Roncola and Barlino. It was exhilarating having over  12km of downhill along twists and turns in the roads - something I hadn't experienced for over a year.

At times things got a bit sketchy on tight turns as the road surface was still wet from the melted snow. Also, at one point I had to stop and rest up as I even felt slightly dizzy from all the turns! But it was pure adrenaline.

My final run in to Bergamo was traffic-free, as a group of mountain bikers pointed me in the direction of  a network of cycle paths along the Quisa waterfall in a lovely woodland area near Paladina. This was quite a popular area with walkers, joggers and cyclists. My route was limited to just the hard-surfaced paths, but there were lots of other trails that would have been fun to do on a gravel bike. Note to oneself to return to this place on my next visit to Bergamo.

With Giovanna Rossignoli
Back in the city I breezed through the relatively quiet streets that took me straight back to the train station, and within an hour I was back in the heaving metropole of Milan. From there it was a quick ride from Stazione Centrale back to Biciclette Rossignoli where I returned the bike and had a nice chat with Giovanna, the manager.

The route on Strava can be found here

Related posts
Naviglio of Milan and suburban ride

Italian cycling tales from towns in the Giro d'Italia

First club run in Milan

Saturday 1 February 2020

Navigli of Milan and suburban bike ride

Darsena bassin, at the start of the Navigli
Ever since I left Milan a few years ago I have made a habit of returning there once a year. I didn't manage to get back last year, so I thought I would redress the balance as soon as possible.

What better time to do it than right before "Brexit Day", the day the United Kingdom officially left the European Union. Although we have to resign ourselves to this fate I am not particularly happy to see happening. So being away from the UK when it all kicked off would make me feel completely dissociated from what was going on, which for me, was no bad thing.

Hoping to get to Pavia

Once I had dropped off my bag in my flat near Porto Romana I caught up with my friend Ilaria, and then went to collect my hire bike from Biciclette Rossignoli in central Milan. Given that I would only be in Milan for a couple of days, and would be travelling to Courmayeur and Chamonix for skiing, hiring a bike was the practical option.

Furthermore, it can cost up to £90 to take a bike on a flight. Rossignoli were charging 90 euros for two days' bike hire. So the decision to hire was a no-brainer!

All set to start my afternoon ride
It was nice of them to have a bike ready for me at short notice, and after my quick trip over to Corso Garibaldi in the Brera I emerged with a carbon fibre Cinelli Saetta.

Friday's ride started with a quick trip along the Naviglio Pavese, with my intention of getting to Pavia - a place that I regularly used to go to and found really pretty.

It all seemed to be going well in the afternoon sunshine, until I got close to Binasco, not far from the start of the professional Milan - Sanremo bike race. The path, which is normally beautifully surfaced was closed off and undergoing works, so I made a detour along a quiet road through some fields and a nearby village, but things did not get better.

Not knowing where to pick up the Naviglio Pavese, I asked some local walkers, who pointed in the direction of a trail, saying "yes ride along that path and it will take you all the way to Pavia." What the man didn't tell me was that it was a dirt track, and I was on a road bike.

Normally, I wouldn't be so phased by a bit of off-road. After all, folks ride road bikes in Strade Bianche races on unmade roads. But this path was very rough, with massive ruts and stones, and it wasn't clear how long this would last for.

The Naviglio Pavese - how it should be (photo from a previous trip)

With a full schedule of things to do, today was not the day to have a frustrating ride, so I decided against going to Pavia, and instead opted to stay within the Milan area.

Sadly no Pavia, but a bit of Abbiategrasso

My ride then took me across some suburban roads to places like Noviglio, Rosate, and many places called Cascina something-or-other. The terrain was pretty unchallenging and in parts, slightly dull being surrounded by arable fields, but it made for very easy riding, and was a place where you could get in a good bit of chaingang riding. In fact there were a few groups out. Some of the roads in this area had a cycle path alongside them, which was quite handy given that the main carriageway had quite a lot trucks on their way to the nearby motorways.

Even though this area was a little non-descript it felt quite refreshing and peaceful to be there on this sunny, Friday afternoon. It was also made a change to just see how ordinary folks, away from the hurly burly chic of Central Milan, lived.

I passed one village called Gudo Visconti where it looked like the kids had knocked off from school early - or maybe it was the school holidays - and they were out dancing and having a barbecue - in January!

Eventually I reached the Naviglio Grande, which was the prettiest part of the ride. At least that canal towpath wasn't dug up, which was a relief. Nearby, at the end of the Naviglio Grande is the Roman suburban town of Abbiategrasso. This place used to be one of my regular training ride destinations when I was based in Milan. On one occasion during the summer I remember seeing people walking around the town dressed in flamboyant medieval costumes.

At first I thought it was just what folks normally wear out there, until someone told me they were holding Il Palio - a crazy barebacked horse race that is most associated with Siena! No one was dressed like that today; folks were just going about their normal business, which included enjoying a stroll or a ride along the Naviglio.

Home-run to Milano

Naviglio Grande at Gaggiano
Other places I passed along the way included the pretty suburbs of Gaggiano and Trezzano sul Naviglio, where a man, in typical Italian style shouted "Ciao" to me and attempted to strike up a conversation, asking me what I was doing and where I come from. I would have loved to stop but I was in a slight rush to get back home and get ready to meet my friend, Silvia. Italians do like to talk.

My ride back into central Milan was straightforward and quick as the road surface was smooth, perfectly flat, and mostly traffic-free. It was also a trip along memory lane, as I passed Corsico, a place where I would go for my early morning runs prior to going to work. There was also San Cristoforo church, which was on my cycle route to get to work; Porta Genova where there was a flea market and also a place for finding stolen bikes - probably including my Specialized road bike that was lifted by a scumbag while I lived there.

Naviglio Grande at Trezzano
The last part of the Naviglio is not so easy to ride as you are weaving around tourists and locals at the canal-side cafes having aperitivos. So it was better to get onto the road at this point and join the rush hour traffic, and bounce the bike over the cobbles and tramlines to reach my base at Porta Romana.

My cycle route on Strava

Related posts
My Tour of Lombardy: Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande

Giro dei Navigli - Naviglio Martesana