‘Vivi Stories’ is a series of inspiring tales, thoughts, tips and tricks from real people. From running marathons to cycling 500 miles across Europe, find out what drives people to get fit and what experiences have been the best. This time, we ask Matt Pastellas about his first ever cycling tour to Northern France, how he prepared and his tips.
Vivi: Hey Matt, great to have you on Vivi Stories. Let’s start with how you got into cycling, and why?
Matt: A combination of the cycle to work scheme and Vivi actually. I had contacted Chris, who I had known since college, for some advice on the best bike to get through the cycle to work programme. After sending over the options, he suggested the Specialized Allez Sport as the best entry level sports bike available on the scheme. During these chats, Chris asked if I fancied doing a week-long cycling tour of Northern France with himself and the Vivi team. So, within a week of getting the bike, I was on a ferry from Dover with the rest of the chaps!
Vivi: Why did you decide to go and do a cycling tour?
Matt: For me, it was a good opportunity to get away with friends, and do something active. I wanted a change from the pub lifestyle! I felt like I was at that stage in life where there is more than enough stag do’s for that.
Vivi: How often did you cycle beforehand, compared to now? And how was your training?
Matt: Prior to the cycling tour, I did one practice cycle around Central London with the team to get an understanding of their speed and so they could teach me how to use my gears. I probably hadn’t cycled in 5-6 years prior to that. Now I cycle 4-5 times a week, where possible to and from work, to the shops and to the gym. Now I live in Edinburgh, the only issue is navigating the cobbles! Despite doing very little training, I’m an active person and at the time had been attending the gym most days for almost 3 years, played cricket and 5-aside football so was relatively fit.
Vivi: What was your cycling tour best moment? What was your worst moment?
Matt: I’ll start with my worst moment because I’d say there was only really one bad moment. It was falling off the bike in slow-motion when at a roundabout because I’d forgotten to unclip my shoes! Obviously, all the boys laughed their heads off at the situation, whilst also telling me it was a right of passage for any new cyclist. So that made me feel better!
I have a number of best moments. Firstly, arriving in a small French town after our first day of hard cycling (110K) and having a well-earned beer and meaty crepe! Secondly, cycling through the most amazing French countryside on a hot summers days, before arriving at our own house for the evening, which had fantastic views. We cooked, had a few beers and sat outside for a team dinner. Thirdly, the general experience of cycling as our mode of transport and seeing French villages I wouldn’t have seen if driving, flying or on a train. We even managed to squeeze in a good night out in Lille!
Vivi: All things considered, would you do a cycling tour again?
Matt: 100% yes. Where to next?
Vivi: Any tips for those just starting out?
Matt: If eligible, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME! Most larger employers are signed up – check with your HR department. I managed to get my bike for MUCH cheaper than half price and was able to pay in monthly instalments of less than £20. It kickstarted my cycling.
Vivi: Moving on from the cycling tour, how would you describe your current fitness level now?
Matt: I’d say I’m a cross between Usain Bolt and Mo Farah… Seriously, I’m of average fitness. At the time of the cycling tour, I had recently finished the Hackney half marathon in 1 hour 40, and run pretty regularly still.
Vivi: To finish, tell us what you think is the best thing about cycling? And what is your best experience on a bike?
Matt: In the context of a cycling tour, the best thing is you get to see the most amazing countryside, small villages, rivers and lakes, whilst earning your beers/food for the evening. Outside of tours, for the last 2 years I’ve had long commutes in the car to work, so after I get in on a Friday, I have no interest in being near a car again until Monday. Having a bike allows me to get out of town just as quickly as the car because of traffic, whilst seeing different parts of Edinburgh (Scotland has relatively good cycle paths) that I wouldn’t otherwise know about.
My best experience on a bike is the tour of Northern France. Spending that long on the bike really made me feel comfortable using it, which increased my confidence to use it when returning home. In fact, I was comfortable enough to cycle to my work at the time, which was a journey from Walthamstow in London to Old Street each day, which is a very congested part of the city!
Check out our blog to see what happened on Matt’s cycle tour here, or see some highlights below.
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