In a nutshell, the principle is to gather a group of cyclists, with a passion for vintage bicycles, and riding, and ride together through three countries, in a single day, in a matching historical cycling outfit.
The ride covers c.130kms and 1,900m total elevation, with one long, steep climb of 400m close to the start, at Gempen, near Basel in Switzerland. The ride begins in Leymen, France in Alsace (Haut Rhin), proceeds east into Switzerland into the canton of Solothurn, swings north through canton Basel, across the Rhine into Germany (Baden-Württemburg), before crossing the Rhine again back into Alsace, and looping south back to Leymen.
For my part, I had never done such a long group ride before, or put so many kms on any of my old bikes, nor indeed strained them with any heavy climbs, so I was unsure as to whether it would be possible without mishap. But to spoil the plot early on…. It is entirely possible, and everyone of the 50 or so riders finished with beaming smiles and nothing worse than a few punctures.
I had intended to complete the ride with my 70s Mercier (which has not yet featured on the blog), but the combination of heavy forecast rain, weak Mafac brakes, steep descents, tubular tyres and a high proportion of unsurfaced gravel track on the route pushed me to make a last minute switch to my more modern (yet still “vintage”) bike, the Fuji Del Rey (1983).
The weather forecast up to a week before the ride was for constant rain and thunderstorms all day, and the forecast worsened the closer the day came. The night before the ride, after some last minute preparations to the Fuji, I could hear the rain lashing down and could only imagine what it might be like to ride 130kms in constant rain, with or without a rain jacket, in 15°C… (especially after being used to riding for the last 3 years in Singapore between 28-32°C!).
Weather-wise, the day went like this: Got up fairly early (rain), drove to Basel (in the rain), got out of the car (rain stopped…), sun shone more or less all day, finished the ride, drank a beer, said goodbyes, got in the car (rain restarted immediately…). The timing of the weather was so freakishly perfect, literally to the minute, that I’m not sure who bribed the clouds but am eternally grateful!
While the Fuji had better brakes, better derailleurs, better shifters, better tyres, and a generally more modern, comfortable and planted feel than the Mercier, it also happens to have much higher gearing (to which I hadn’t previously paid any attention… not sure if the freewheel/cassette is original). As a result, the ride up to Gempen was a punishing slog, and I’m not entirely sure how I did it. But I did!
This gearing would also explain why I had previously struggled to make much progress with the Fuji in the Alps. I am pleased to now blame my “corncob” freewheel for my poor climbing (instead of my weak thigh muscles 😁), and from now on will pay more attention to counting teeth…
The Fuji was one of the least glamorous bikes present on the day, and there was a fantastic display of bicycles from 1953 onwards. Italian, French, Austrian, German, Swiss and British bikes were all ridden, mostly steel, but some nice early lugged aluminium frames too (e.g. Alan).
The best thing for me was to see such beautiful bikes being ridden. Properly ridden. Not just on roads, but through mud, over tree roots and gravel, through puddles, pot-holes and up big hills, even though most of them have tubular tyres.
It is a real pleasure to see such museum pieces being used, not kept for show like china dolls, by people who appreciate their beauty, engineering and historical significance, but aren’t afraid to get them muddy, risk a crash or a failed and difficult-to-replace component.
The TD3 is organised by a great team of guys, mostly based in the Basel area, and has now run for 7 years or so. Flash provides friendly tech support, and takes some great photos, in his fantastic red VW combi van. Many of the pics in this post are his, and you can see much more interesting information about Hetchins bikes on his great website. There are a number of pitstops around the route for food/coffee/fruit/granola bars etc., and the event manages to be casual, yet very well organised in a seemingly effortless manner (which no doubt hides significant preparations by Stefan and his team 💪).
The ride is open to all, subject to application, and using a pre ’85 bike with matching outfit, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Many of the participants travelled from far afield to join the ride, e.g. from Berlin, or Austria, so while the number of participants is relatively small, it’s a dedicated and friendly group.
Check out the TD3 website for application opening for the TD3 15. I hope to meet you there.
With a nicer bike than mine!