This is the last instalment of Frazer Goodwin’s guest posts, in which he recounts his adventurous 1 400km ride from Belgium to Sweden, and his return to Belgium. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read Part first, then read Part 2.
This summer I managed to cycle from Brussels to my in-laws’ place north of Gothenburg in Sweden, covering more than 1 400 Kilometres in just nine days. After this epic ride I spent a week of relaxing island life with boating, evening walks and taking gentle rides around the island. I posted the details of the ride to social media and had a Facebook friend from Brussels simply comment “Nuts!”. But after a week I was ready to ride back to Brussels. I had planned a shorter and more direct route than my ride out to Sweden, with a ferry from Gothenburg to Kiel and then five days riding almost straight back home, but disaster struck at the end of the first day. As I entered Gothenburg there was an almighty crunch and intermittent screeching and vibration from my front wheel. I changed the front disk brake pads and re-aligned the calliper in case that was the source of the problem. It wasn’t. I made it to a bike shop in Gothenburg and they confirmed my worst fears: the front hub had failed and needed replacing/rebuilding. Not being able to help I left the shop so as to catch my awaiting ferry to Kiel.
There I thought about buying a complete new wheel and posting the damaged one home. But no where could help with zero stock immediately available. I then made the decision to get back from Kiel by train. This in itself proved a challenge as both the highspeed ICE and intercity trains in Germany have limited bike spaces that need to be pre-booked and, unsurprisingly in August, all spaces were taken. There were also replacement bus services that didn’t take bikes on many of the local trains in eastern Belgium after the damage of the floods earlier in the summer. Plus, a strike by German railway workers disrupting many services. I managed to get from Kiel to Cologne with local trains changing in Hamburg, Breman, Osnabruck, and Munster. On route I booked a hotel next to the train station in Cologne. The following morning the ticket office in Cologne station found me a route that was still running – the German staff wasn’t on strike and the Belgian trains weren’t replaced by a bus. Changing trains in Aachen, Welkenraedt, and Leuven I made it home to the station at the edge of Brussels that’s next to my house.
Once home I tried to rebuild my front wheel. At first I thought I’d just need to replace the bearings and ordered some new ones from Hunt. But it then transpired that the steel case of the bearings had bonded onto the aluminium axle sleeve when the bearing collapsed. Hunt kindly sent through a replacement inner sleeve, only for me to then discover that the outer steel bearing casing had also bonded onto the aluminium hub shell. An entirely new hub was required.
I now have a lovely Hunt Aero front wheel in working order, but I won’t be using it for bikepacking, only for road riding. A big lesson I’ve learned from my trip is that you shouldn’t test the limits of your kit, instead get kit that is more than up to the task you’re planning. Applying this lesson I’ve just bought some Roval Wheels for next years adventure which are rated to 125Kg for the maximum system weight (compared to 100Kg for the Hunt Aero 34s). I’ve only ridden them a few times at the moment – but they are an absolute delight on the gravel tracks through the local woods.
I’ve also looked at the route I can take next year – again with my in-laws Sommar stuga as the destination. I’ve really enjoyed the coastal riding up the Netherlands so next year I plan to extend this coastal route and ride up the east Jutland cost of Denmark and then cross to Sweden via the ferry from Fredrikshavn to Gothenburg. On the way back I’ll take the ferry from Helsingborg to get to Helsingor in Denmark and then traverse the main Danish islands to the Fehmarn belt crossing into Germany. This route is longer than I had for this year – both outbound and return legs with an extra day’s riding each way. But it also will not have any night ferry crossings, limiting the ferry crossings to shorter routes with more sailings. The route at present also hasn’t any hotel/hostel stays as I envisage it to be a camp site to campsite route. My experiences with campsites facilities, including charging points for electronics, are that they are more than adequate.
How did I feel at home now the trip I’ve been planning for such a long time is over? Well, satisfied and unsatisfied at the same time. Satisfied I managed to bike all the way to the in-laws “sommar stuga”, a ride that has given me a wealth of memories and the warm glow of self satisfaction from a challenge completed. But also unsatisfied in the way that the return journey wasn’t possible. But that in turn means I have a renewed desire – an itch that still needs scratching if you will. A need to get out on my bike once again on a multi-day ride and add to those memories. I know I won’t regret it!