In September this year I had the absolute pleasure of riding Brother in the Wild in Bordeaux.
Brother Cycles, the talented frame and bike building duo based in London, have been running ‘Brother in the Wild’ overnighters for three years now, starting with the original UK edition in Dorset, adding Munich to the bill last year, and this year, for the first time, Berlin and Bordeaux.
I love any opportunity to go bike camping. Whether it’s a spontaneous overnight, weekend, or multi-day ordeal; count me in for a long day on the bike, a dip in the lake, and a campfire and tall can at the end of the day. For me, most trips of this nature are worked out amongst a small group of friends or with a partner, navigating by folding map with a semi-pre-planned route and maybe an offline Google Maps download on an old iPod. This would be my first ‘organised’ gathering, riding with a group of people I was largely meeting for the first time, with the exception of fellow Cloud 9iner, Billy Dye, talented mechanic and frame builder extraordinaire.
I was excited to hit up BITW Bordeaux with Cloud 9 for a few good reasons; this would be my first experience riding in the South of France, this was a primarily off-road venture, I would get to meet a new group of people who like cycling and camping, AND (though still an enjoyable part of cycle touring) I would be leaving the planning of this getaway to others, which was weird for me, but a nice change for once.
I have not yet mentioned the most exciting part; I would fortuitously be riding a 29er adventure Big Bro from Brother Cycles… more on that later!
For this French version of BITW, Brother paired up with the friendly and knowledgeable people at Musette Bike Café. The Musette guys are great. Musette is a quality bicycle repair shop, cranking out some sweet custom builds, and offering some of the best coffee around. I was definitely taken by the cycling community that I discovered in Bordeaux, and it soon became clear just how important Musette was as a hub and space for the local cycling scene there. They run regular social rides and gatherings and even have their own annual version of an overnighter called Rando Mollo. There were also a rad group of people on the BITW ride who were from a local bicycling club/collective based in Bordeaux called Burdigala Bicycle. I met more than a few passionate cyclists from different places in the world living there, who had moved there specifically for the cycling!
The weather on this particular weekend was peculiarly outstanding. It was mid way through September and it was about 30 degrees celsius and sunny during the day. The route proved to be diverse in terrain, and definitely gave all riders an exercise in bike handling and off-road manoeuvring. It was very easy to leave the urban landscape behind and cycle out of Bordeaux. In no time we were grinding up a technical single track MTB trail with fresh legs in a forest. Some tricky climbs and descents had many people’s feet on the ground. In good spirits I wondered what the rest of the day would hold with this challenging start. We would emerge now and again onto some country roads for some time, only to pop right back into dirt and gravel trails. These trails would open up into fields and expansive vineyards and farmlands. One moment we are bobbing about in another (very bumpy) vineyard, and then we dive down into unpredictable single track with local cyclists leading the way, riding like they were on home turf. It was really nice to have people who knew their way around the winding trails, save a few times when we all got a little lost (and brambled).
Though at times it felt like we were in the middle of beautiful nowhere, soon enough we would pass through a quiet French town for a cafe/beer stop. After a long day in the saddle, and one last unforgiving gravel climb before our final destination, we arrived at a ridiculously impressive countryside villa. A friendly British cyclist lived there, who apparently was found by Brother through Warm Showers once upon a time (#cyclistconnections). We used his idyllic property as a camp ground for the night, nestled under some trees with a breathtaking valley view. After a delicious group barbecue, ruminations about the day, and enough beer to satisfy the soul, we settled in for the night to rest up for day 2.
We woke up to a still and quiet morning, and some great camp coffee courtesy of Musette. With a leisurely pack-up and a bittersweet goodbye to our secret hideaway, we set off over some rolling hills for another day on the bike. Again we were treated to a wide range of terrain; rocky mtb sections, hiking trails with wooden foot bridges, back roads, loose gravel and some mean expanses of sand. We came across some wide open sections that looked like something straight out of a Mad Max film, cutting through some thick dry sand like maniacs and howling as we all tried our darnedest to stay vertical. Day 2 also included a much needed swim stop at Lac de Lamothe, which was gorgeous, and reminded me of the smaller lakes of central Ontario back home in Canada. We were rewarded by some impressively well-paved and maintained cycle paths near the end of the day back into Bordeaux. Hats off to the cycling infrastructure out there! I will report that most drivers were very aware and courteous on the roads as well.
We got back into the urban world, just as the sun was leaving us. We headed back to Musette for a chilled out evening, congratulating one another on two strong days of riding and enjoying some cold ones.
Bordeaux was super rad, and I’d definitely like to go back soon.
About the Big Bro…
I had the opportunity to test out the Big Bro on this weekender and I have to confess that it was the beginning of a love affair. The 29ers with 2.25s gave me the ability and confidence to roll over anything. As a complete noob to anything MTB, the rigid frame was a great base for a beginner, learning how to handle technical segments and put the bike where I wanted it. The rugged frame felt foolproof, and although on the heavier side, I still felt fresh on road segments. The Big Bro is definitely at home off-road. I took a chance and ran it single speed on this specific trip and oh boy was that fun. I built it up with some chillin' Jones handlebars that, as someone who was used to drops, I was honestly not expecting to like. I ended up really digging them. When it came to paved flats the Jones bars afforded me different positions for max comfort, and also a great place to carry unexpected cargo. Overall, the Big Bro was a sweet machine that carried me well through gravel, relentless thicc sand, rocky bits, and dirt trails.
Special thanks to Brother Cycles and Musette for this epic adventure!
Look out for Brother in the Wild UK in May 2020 (see you there).