Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

PyrActif Pyrenees Cycling Holiday Review

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Sometimes you decide at the last minute to take one of those holidays that you wonder why you put off for so long…

For me, it was cycling through the French Pyrenees as part of an organized group.

I had heard of these brilliant trips people took to the Pyrenees and other Tour de France mountains, but always thought that it would be too difficult to put together and schedule. Luckily a series of events early this summer opened up my availability and increased my motivation to take some time out and explore outside of the UK on a bike.

During my selection process, I was looking for a place where I could do what I call ‘headquarter’ cycling. There are many companies that will take you from point A to point B over several days, but I was afraid of committing to this kind of format because if you’re feeling tired one day, then it is one day you are not moving in the direction you need to move to as a group. Rather, I much preferred having a place I knew I could relax in after a hard day’s riding and not worry about taking the day off the next day if I felt overly tired.

The company that I found that met all of the criteria of cost, convenience, quality, and locale was Pyractif. I had no idea what to expect, but either way I figured that as long as I was able to ride my bike it wouldn’t be that bad, so I decided to suspend my judgment and just go with the flow. I did review some of the alternative businesses that were near Pyractif, but they either didn’t return phone calls (very annoying), had weird booking requirements, or were too expensive for what they offered.

Check 1 for Pyractif: responsive, reasonably priced, and flexible..

Before going there, I needed to find a way to take my bike down (although I could have rented one, I just wanted to ride my new bike). I found out that SBR here in London will rent you a bike box for 50 Pound per week. Not a great option, but not bad considering I didn’t want to buy one and have it take up valuable space in my apartment (I may buy one now though, as I’d like to take more trips!).

A little bit about Pyractif first…

Located near Luchon and situated in arguably the best part of the Pyrenees for ‘headquarter’ cycling, Pyractif HQ is a quaint, authentic, and rustic French farmhouse operated by a very cool and friendly English couple (Chris and Helen Balfour). The Farmhouse has three floors, a bike shed, and an outdoor area. The farmhouse is located on a minor high-road, so whilst there is some traffic, the location still felt pretty private. The first floor of the farmhouse has a lounge area with all the bike p0rn(magazines going back to the 80s!!!  Alu frames galore) a guy can muster reading, the kitchen area where the best food I’ve tasted is made, the dining area where all the guests gather round for dinner victory stories and breakfast soreness complain sessions, a guest room for a couple, and the area where Chris and Helen live. This floor is also patrolled by a cat known as Mr(s) Bigelsworth who will either take to liking you or scurry out of your way with a look on her eyes that says “I will put a mouse on your pillow tonight”. I was thankfully on Mr Bigelsworth’s good side throughout my entire stay there.

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The second floor is the area where I stayed. My room, which I shared with my friend had two comfortable beds and a private bathroom facing the roadside. There were 4 other guest rooms of varying size on the 2nd floor  and a social area with an independent kitchen where we would usually serve up snacks after a hard ride but preceding dinner. A great little hangout spot. If you go, I highly recommend you stock up with stuff to eat for your post rides otherwise you will starve.. the daily calorie burn is pretty high and will get you pretty hungry. Before I forget, Pyractif stocks recovery and electrolyte powders if you want to buy it from them rather than bring your own. Quite handy to know for my next time as opposed to bringing my own tub of dodgy looking electrolyte drink powder through customs. As for the third floor.. I have no idea what was up there, it is blocked off by a locked door. I think we heard loud ghost-like footsteps up there one night…

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The bike shed is a pretty sweet little area Chris has to rack up on cool bike kit and gives him an excuse to give Helen on why he needs to buy cool stuff (for the customers). Helen and Chris have all the essential hardware to get you going in a pinch (mostly Shimano friendly stuff) and racks to put up your bike up for the night. They also have some pretty decent bikes and spares in damn fine shape for rentals should you not want to bring your own bike. The shed is locked at night for everyone’s safety. The farmhouse also has an outside area which has a the clothes lines (to dry your clothes, Pyractif does have a laundry service should you need it), a dining/ seating area, and a hot tub.

As for my experience:

Once I arrived in France, Chris Balfour was waiting for my friend and I at the airport. We got in the Pyractif van and our bikes went in tow. The hour and half ride back to Pyractif HQ felt like an eternity as both my friend and I were anxious to get out and explore the French countryside. Once we arrived, we met everyone else in the week’s group and quickly learned that it was quite the international bunch. We hit it off immediately.

My week at Pyractif went by really fast… I am glad I chose an HQ based vacation vs. a trip one as after three days of cycling, I HAD to take a day off to recuperate. We covered some amazing routes, some led by Chris and some led by my trusty Garmin EDGE 705 Sat Nav. The weather was mostly sunny throughout our entire stay with just a few days of overcast weather. We did some amazing climbs and did some great touring around the French countryside. One day, for example, we went to a castle (whose name I can’t recall) to have beers post-ride and watch a local festival; it couldn’t have been any more out of a magazine cover if I would have wanted it to be. Other days we had some pretty relaxed coffee breaks in nearby French villages and chatted with the locals. The highlight of my trip, of course, was climbing the Tourmalet (it took me 1:43 from the base, in case you’re curious), but in fact, every day ended with the culinary highlight of Helen and Chris’s great cooking and the comfort of my own bed.

I can’t recommend Pyractif enough.. as a matter of fact, I’m voting with my feet and going again this year.

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Comments

2 Responses to “PyrActif Pyrenees Cycling Holiday Review”
  1. Antonio says:

    We went with Pyractif as an experienced group of riders who regularly take these types of trips on the French and Italian Alsps.
    Unfortunately myself and my group of 15 people have to report a very, very different experience…It all seemed on the web and on the chats over the phone with Chris as described above…However, for myself and my group nothing more remote in terms of the service (or lack of service) we consistently got from Chris.
    Chris would not bother carrying water quantity in the empty SAG van, nor would he care to ensure the wellbeing of riders throughout the ride….in fact he would not get out of the van but for seldom moments when we thought he wanted to stretch. It almost felt that we were an inconvenience to him!!
    While his wife and business parnter, Helen, is quite delightful, the group feared Chris and I have to honestly say that we have seldom seen people so unfit to run a service business as the one they run.

  2. Chris says:

    Antonio,

    At Pyractif we pride ourselves in striving to provide the highest level of service on our trips. And we take some encouragement from the fact that hundreds of clients make return visits to enjoy the Pyrenees with us, year after year. We seek to create a fun, homely and relaxed atmosphere for riders of all types to accomplish their personal riding goals. It’s been heartening to receive ‘thank you’ e-mails from several members of your group since you visited, all of whom stressed what a great trip they’d had.

    Whilst we try hard to balance the needs of groups as a whole and the preferences of individual riders participating in trips, we recognise that this can sometimes be a fine balance. We are therefore extremely sorry and disappointed to hear now that you were not satisfied with your experience. It’s always the case that if we receive requests to alter how a trip is running during the event, then we will take all practicable steps to respond to rider feedback.

    If there is anything we can do to personally address your concerns or if you would like to provide us with any direct feedback that would help us, please feel free to get in touch.

    Best Regards,

    Chris and Helen

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