TWIN WORLD TOUR PART 1

At the moment, we are somewhere in the south eastern part of Finland near a city named Lappeenrenta. I am sitting on a pier in one of those remote summer houses that Finns love so much. In my right hand, a beer, behind me, the wooden sauna smokes like a paper mill. In front of me, the lake dotted with dozens of island cottages. I am waiting for the sunset that will come around midnight. Emmanuelle is rowing with some friends on a small boat, maybe trying to catch some fish.

Contributed by Stéphane and Manue

Trapped in the day to day working routine

Everything is peaceful for that first well deserved holiday break within our AZUB Twin World Tour. But let’s get a step back to see how we got here.

Dear reader, that story started a year ago in April 2012, in the French city of Rouen, Normandy (For the atmosphere, I would say without taking much risks that it was a cloudy rainy boring day like every day in Normandy and if we had a chimney, a strong fire would have been there). Emmanuelle and I were discussing the fact that we were reaching 26 years of age and that we were already trapped in the day to day working routine. Starting a world tour can be the result of months of reflection for some people. In our case, the decision was taken in a few hours. Enough of that routine, we would hit the road by May 2013 on a tandem bike (we don’t really remember the details of how it came up, but let’s say that only the result is important). That being said, the rest followed quickly. We bought a world map, started a countries wishlist, counted our money, got a regular tandem bike and started to plan secretly every day after work what would later become the AZUB Twin World Tour.

You read regular tandem? Well, yes. At the beginning, our tour was not planned to be as fancy as it is today. We were not at all aware of the recumbent bike world (in fact, we were not introduced to cyclotourism at all in general). We bought a Lapierre, a regular tandem mountain bike and start training in May every weekend.

We read about recumbent bikes

A few weeks later, I started to feel pain in my right hip. A wrong setup of the bike brought me some stress fractures on the pelvis bone. The following 6 months were spent trying to learn  to walk normally again. The world bike conquest was a bit forgotten during this lapse, and the regular tandem idea had to be definitely thrown away.

As we are a bit stubborn, we still had the world tour idea in a corner of our heads. It was only in December 2012 that we read about recumbent bikes. After investigations, we even discovered on the web what is now often called by the people we encounter the “badass machinery” alias: the AZUB Twin. Christophe from ROULCOUCHE, a French dealer, had one for trial just near Paris. He was first doubtful about us trying the “Twin” without training on any recumbent bike. After trying an AZUB Bufo for a while, we started with the AZUB Twin. The first 15 min were a bit epic. But rather quickly we were able to start, turn and stop without frightening Christophe too much who was standing by, advising us the best he could. The first meeting with that bike was pretty good.

A few weeks later, we rented his AZUB Twin for a weekend in the countryside. 100km of cold, slippery, windy, rainy, snowy, icy conditions later, we were completely convinced that it was the perfect match for our world tour. And after two months of riding ours, we are still convinced of that!

We started over to plan our world tour for real: get rid of our jobs, apartment, car, furniture, city bikes, order all the necessary gear for that journey, schedule the main milestones, start a budget, order the AZUB Twin and start to spread the news that we were off for a while to ride the world. Preparation is really part of the journey, and many times, we wondered if we were right to throw ourselves in that crazy adventure.

Adapt smoothly to our nomad life

As in 2013, spring was non-existent, we actually did not regret to delay our departure a bit to the end of May. And even then we had nights camping below 0°C. But our state of mind is strong, we are really excited to start our adventurous life. Those first days in our own country were definitely a good idea as we could not really train in advance. We got to adapt smoothly to our nomad life; finding every night a place to stay, camping grounds or get invited by locals. Little by little we got used to people’s curiosity about this epic bike and liked explaining our mission. As we could have forecasted it, the west part of France was quite rainy but we are tough.

After heavy rains, the Loire river is out of its bed and the part of EuroVélo 6 that we planned to ride is under water! The Twin does not have  the submarine option yet.

We enjoy offering trial sessions to people welcoming us. As here, with Manue’s family.

Stephane takes good care of the Twin, here cleaning the frame and greasing the chain.

We are getting used to setting up the tent every day, we are now done in a few minutes and feel like at home as soon as the tent is ready.

Even though we planned to follow the coast to have mainly flat land, we have encountered some severe hills in the north of France that challenged our brand new leg muscles!

In the streets of Brugges when visiting the centre. We tried to park the Twin as discreetly as possible among the bunch of bikes around but anyway, the Twin is huge!

Pleasant to ride

After 3 weeks in France, we crossed the Flemish Belgium border. And then we discovered a whole new world, made for cycling. Flat sunny land with cycle roads along canals, so pleasant to ride, except for the wind that we had in our faces for a few days. The Belgian geography is also optimal: we ride the countryside for 50km and we reach a nice medieval city. Brugges, Ghent, Antwerp share a nice medieval and touristic atmosphere and nice beers, pubs, waffle and fries street stands.

Manue enjoys the central square to train in driving the Twin, she is usually at the back. She is doing all right!

View of Ghent from the castle donjon. This medieval city crossed by rivers and canals is really nice to visit.

As we cross Belgium, we have to pass many rivers and canals, bridges but also many boats. We love it!

Arriving in Antwerp, we cross the Schelde river with the pedestrian and cycling tunnel.

Countryside

Very soon, we are out of Belgium and its medieval cities and reaching Holland and its windmills, flat land and windy coast. It is also a place very nice to ride and our training goes on gently. In just 2 days we reach Amsterdam and spend a nice weekend wandering around. Then we cross huge dams, up to 30km long. We enjoy the view: sea on both sides, boats, birds… Safely riding on cycling paths. After that, we cross the countryside for a few days to get to the German border.

Taking a nice break just after entering the Netherlands, after the huge harbour at Antwerp. Wind turbines along the river. The wind blows in our faces but crossing a new boundary gives us power.

Riding along a dam dotted with wind turbines, the wind coming from the side. We love hugging the coast.

Arrived in Leiden, next to Amsterdam, to a friend’s place. She tried and instantly loved the Twin!

Visiting Amsterdam, Stephane is blown away by the big boat anchored inside the city!

On the road again, after just 2 days of rest in Leiden, we never get enough of boats, coast and pictures with beacons. Inland, when we cannot see the sea, we enjoy as much the canals and their many boats!

We are getting good at spotting nice places to stay the night. The best camping place ever along a canal on which so many big barges sail all night long carrying big containers, cereals …

We get lost

As we get closer to the German border, the weather turns apocalyptical and we cycle in pouring rain. Our first day on German land is not the best, we get lost and waste time. Back on track, we got hit by a huge pick up, throwing us on the asphalt, breaking different parts of the Twin. We spend 3 days in a hotel in Oldenburg to recover and list the repairs needed. The rear rim is replaced, we need to replace two of our three carriers, the back seat handlebars are completely destroyed. Manue needs also a check-up at the hospital, her hips are severely bruised and walking is painful. In the end, the X-rays said Manue was all right, we received in a very short time the much needed parts from AZUB and we find a very nice place to stay for few more days via CouchSurfing. So after one month sharp on the road, we get one week of forced rest. When we are ready to hit the road again (softly this time!), it is still rainy and the temperature has dropped to an autumnal level. Never mind, we really want to be back on the Twin. We head toward Bremen, then Hamburg where we are surprised to discover a pretty nice city and find a wild couch surfing occasion. Then we hit Lubeck, a very beautiful medieval city before taking a boat to Malmö, Sweden.

Bremen in the rain. Seems like a pretty city though. We should have taken time to visit but the one week stop in Oldenburg made us crave riding!

Trial of the Twin with our Bremen host.

German best invention (after Ortlieb bags…): currywurst!!

Not easy to fit the Twin on board  a small boat to cross the Elbe river and get to Hamburg.

Meeting a huge ship that made Stephane happy for hours!

Sightseeing while getting lost in Hamburg, an unexpectedly beautiful city.

Among poppies in a wheat field, the sun is back!

Lübeck, another very nice medieval town, our last stop in Germany.

Getting on board a huge boat that takes us to Sweden.

Enjoying sun rays leaving Lübeck to Malmö.

Sweden coast

As we arrive on Swedish coast, we ride through Malmö to join our couchsurfer’s place. This place is really nice, we have to stop one more day to visit. We’ve just taken the hard decision of skipping Denmark to stay more or less on schedule, the frustration is high. After having spent a day in the city of Malmö, its churches and museums, we take the direction to the south coast.

Sweden is sunny, someone told us it was the best summer in the last 20 years, how lucky we are! We take nice stops by the sea and buy strawberries as often as we can, they are so good! Sweden is very wild and beautiful, we hop to Öland island, cross it from south to north and get back onto the continent. In a few days with a lot of ferries, wild camping and pine forests, we get to Stockholm. We planned on resting a few days while visiting the city. In the end, we camp outside the centre and have so much to see that we are exhausted! Then we cross a part of the sea and get to the Aland islands, the gate to Finland.

One of our first stops for a lunch break in a small harbour on the south Swedish coast.

Sunset over the sea, approximately 11 pm.

Manue is cooking meatballs for dinner while the Twin is resting.

Sunrise at 4:30am, the colours are amazing. We do not sleep so much in Sweden!

Stephane and the Twin at the end of the world!

Manue and the Twin at a lunch break on the island of Öland.

Another lunch break in a pine forest this time.

Meeting by chance an AZUB Tricon rider on his way from Finland to Germany, we exchange advice about the next few days both ways!

Finland

Finland is our last fully European country. First we stop on Aland Islands and then take another huge ferry to Turku and then ride the south coast until we reach Helsinki, a small but very nice capital where we are nicely hosted as couch surfers and attend a couch surfing meeting and meet so many new friends. Riding out of Helsinki, the front tyre got punctured and we had to fix it. It is the first breakage on the Twin, and it is repaired fast, we do not even delay our day trip to Porvoo. Finland is as sunny as Sweden, the main difference is that it is completely impossible to understand any written Finnish,  signs or grocery stores. I know it seems crazy but fortunately, everything is translated in Swedish so we can understand!

Just before entering Russia, we stop for a 10-day break at a friends house and enjoy the pure Finnish tradition: sauna and lake, we also take time to learn how to say beer in Finnish: OLUT! After one month of continuous cycling, we really enjoy this ”do nothing” time!

Somewhere between Stockholm and Aland Islands, huge ships sail around tiny islands. The archipelago is really impressive.

Waiting for the ferry to take us to Turku. The temperature has dropped and the wind has picked up.

Visiting Helsinki, at the sea fortress island of Suomenlina. We loved this calm and preserved island in front of the living city centre.

Twin trial session with our Helsinki host, in front of the cathedral. Tourists were suddenly not looking at the cathedral any more!

Nice marina in Porvoo. We have been recommended this place and it is indeed  worth it!

Time for a nice haircut!

Is it easy to ride an AZUB Twin?

YES ! Don’t be afraid. After 15 minutes of hectic starts and turns, you start to understand how it works. You would probably need a few days to feel completely safe and relax and a few weeks/months to achieve the grail of a “6 meter wide only U-turn” (requires above seat steering). It is stable, and we can ride almost on any surface from a Swedish motorway to forest paths even when fully loaded.

Is it easy to travel with such a big bike like the AZUB Twin?

I would say definitely easier than by normal bikes! Surprised? Then imagine what would be your feeling when seeing such a bike in a city street or on the road? We see smiles all  day long that leave us energized. With billions of people, we get to discuss our bikes, our journey and eventually  what has to be done, to be seen in the area. We get invited to stay at strangers places easily. All that definitely surpasses by far the little disagreement about the size of the tandem. And you would be surprised how easy it is to fit the AZUB Twin in some tiny space (in a bus, a boat or even a flat …).

And now, the AZUB Twin seeker question ? – What options do you think are mandatory for such a tour?

The White Brothers front fork. It is expensive, that is right. But then, in addition to  comfort, it can bring the captain, it is also a huge safety feature! Just imagine riding a 200kg tandem downhill on a sandy road at 35km/h and suddenly, you get a hole as wide as the Twin in front of you. Well, the fork absorbs the shock like any small bumps, and off you go to 45km/h with a screaming stoker.

Contributed by Stéphane and Manue

 ROUTE

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