James Schumacher

James is the son of radical economist E.F. Schumacher, Practical Action's founder. With his sister Nicola, James is embarking upon a gruelling 1,000 mile bike ride across some of Europe’s toughest terrain to mark his father’s centenary and raise awareness for the charity he founded in 1966. They will set off from Bremen in Germany on 26th August. The pair will cycle west to Duisburg then follow the Rhine south to Switzerland before crossing the French Alps to Nice. The final leg will include a climb of the famous 2,645m Col du Galibier, the highest point on this year's Tour de France, before finishing in Nice, France on 19th September.

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Posts by James

  • My 1,400 mile charity cycle challenge

    September 21st, 2011

    After 23 days, over 1,400 miles and 60,000ft plus of climbs yesterday I finally made it to Nice and the Med!

    I took on this grueling bike-ride across some of Europe’s toughest terrain to mark my father’s (E F Schumacher) centenary and to raise awareness of the charity he founded – Practical Action.

    You can follow my journey here:

    Day 3 La Clusaz to Areches (58kms)

    By the time we reached the summit of the Col des Aravis the road had started to dry out and the sky had cleared offering us superb views across to Mont Blanc. After a brief stop we descended to Giettaz before climbing the 1650m Col des Saisies. After a fast descent to Beaufort and a much needed stop at the local patisserie for a re-fuel we took on the final climb of the day, a 7km ascent to the scenic village of Areches. Here we enjoyed sampling the delicious local Beaufort cheese at the quaint auberge where we stopped for the night, before an evening meal on the balcony under the stars.

    Chapel - Col des Aravis

    Church and bicycle - Beaufort


    Day 4 Areches to Val d’Isere (73kms)

    A tough day began with a 7.5 km climb immediately after breakfast to the summit of the Col du Pre (1703m) where we stopped for coffee at a cafe with stunning views across to a reservoir below and the high Alps. After a short descent to the barrage we were presented with yet another climb, the Cormet de Roseland (1967m) before a fantastic, winding 20km descent to Bourg St Maurice. The sun was beating down now and the relentless 32km climb to Val d’Isere after lunch was a real test of endurance.

    Day 5 Val d’Isere to Valloire (107kms)

    We were becoming accustomed to climbs straight after breakfast and today was no different, this time the Col de l’Iseran at 2762m. The 17km, 900m climb was a long slog but we were again rewarded with sun, blue skies and stunning views at the rugged, windswept summit.


    A fast 20km descent to Bessans was followed by a short climb up to Aussois for lunch. Just in case you were wondering who were the mad couple who decided to do this ride for their honeymoon, here they are – Travis and Tina from San Francisco..!

    We were now keenly anticipating the first really famous Tour de France climbs of the trip, the Col du Telegraphe followed by the Galibier and we didn’t have to wait long. After a short ride down the valley we were confronted with this sign:


    the only way is up..

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Just over an hour later and I had reached the summit and a well-earned beer. In hindsight this probably wasn’t what my body wanted at that point and unsurprisingly, after a short descent to our hotel in Valloire I felt completely wiped out for the rest of the evening…

    the reception at the summit of the Telegraphe


    Day 6 The Col du Galibier & Col d’Izoard (106kms)

    There was a palpable sense excitement in the air at breakfast in anticipation of the day ahead with the famed Galibier the first obstacle in our way. If the prospect of the giant 17km climb up this imposing 2646m Col  wasn’t enough to make me feel small on cycling out of the village we came across this assembly of Giants which certainly did:

    Amongst the Giants in Valloire

    The Galibier itself was a marathon as expected with a particularly tough last few kilometers. The views on the way up and particularly up top were almost enough to make all the effort seem worthwhile though:


    looking back at the way we came


    Looking down on the summit of the famous Col du Galibier...


    The 38km descent was exhilarating and I never realised 65kmh could feel so fast!

    they could at least have got my name right..


    I had climbed the fearsome Galibier and it could only get easier from here on it. It took just a few hours before I realised I was most mistaken! In my thrall at the names Col du Telegraphe and Galibier I had failed to realise that just because a Col didn’t appear as frequently in cycling’s Blue Riband event it did not detract from it’s difficulty. And so it proved with the 23km afternoon climb up the Col d’Izoard (2,360m) which proved at least as challenging in the energy-sapping, dry afternoon heat. The roads were quieter now and the climb up above Briancon and through the pine forests was stunning:


    The views from the top were equally breathtaking:


    the Izouard was so hard






    After gaining all that height it was rather demoralising to lose it almost immediately with a 30km descent to the lively town of Guillestre 1,300m below…


    Day 7  Guillestre to Auron (97kms)

    It was after consulting the itinerary on arrival at the hotel that it finally dawned on me that such had been the attention I had given the previous day’s itinerary I had failed to recognise that the next day’s ride was even tougher. Whereas the previous day we had climbed 2,774m in total, today we were due to climb just under 3,000m, including going over the highest paved road in the Alps! The first challenge was the Col de Vars and again we were greeted with clear blue skies and sunshine


    20 kms later and we had re-gained most of the ground we had lost the previous afternoon and were back up to 2,108m. Needless to say we then descended nearly 1,000m down to Jausiers – a far from ideal preparation for the monster 23km and 1,600m climb back up to the 2,802m Col de la Bonette.

    After stopping for lunch at a picturesque spot we braced ourselves for the challenge ahead. It was an imposing climb with endless switchbacks and unrelenting heat, but two hours or so later I had made it to the top. It was the most satisfying climb of my life as I sprinted up the final 2 kms even recording 30kmh as the road plateaued below before the final sharp bend to the top. The exhileration was overwhelming and it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life as I clambered up the scree slope to the summit to survey the view:

    atop the Cime de Bonnette


    After an incredible 26km descent we were back down at 1,144m in St Etienne de Tinee. A really hard day finished with an unexpected and vicious 6.5km, 500m clamber up to Auron but with adrenalin still coarsing through my veins, nothing was stopping me now.


    Day 8 Auron to Nice (128kms)

    If I thought the final day would be an easy, if long, descent to the mediterranean I was again proved wrong. We set off earlier than usual at 8am and the first 50kms certainly flew by averaging well over 30kmh as we made rapid headway down the valley.

    the descent to St Sauveur-sur-Tinee

    It was shortly after stopping for a mid-morning coffee stop that I had a reality check. Instead of following the main route down the valley into Nice the itinerary took us into the hills and into a beautiful, remote valley.

    a beautiful valley south of Utelle

    It’s allure was tempered however by the fact that we were staring at a near 15% climb for several kilometers under the now familiar unrelenting sun.  It was a real struggle at times just to keep the pedals rotating such was the gradient but eventually we entered a tunnel that signalled the top and a welcome stop for lunch in Utelle.

    The afternoon’s ride to Nice was, despite a few more undulations, relatively straightforward as we eagerly anticipated our first views of the sea as we rounded each bend. Perhaps it was the incoming cloud that shrouded our view but we had to wait until we hit the very centre of Nice before it finally came into view 100m ahead!

    our first view of the Med..


    Finally, after more than 3 weeks and 1,400 miles I had made it!!


    Let the celebrations begin…!

    Mike and Eileen crack open the champagne...

    Thank you very much to everyone for your support and interest and if you were waiting to see whether I would complete the challenge before sponsoring me please don’t hold off any longer! We’re currently around £100 short of our £5,000 fundraising target so any help you can give to get us there would be hugely appreciated!

    Just visit www.justgiving.com/pedalling4pop to show your support.

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  • On the road to the High Alps…

    La Clusaz, France, La Clusaz
    September 12th, 2011

    Two days into the Alpine section of the climb and I’m happy to report I’m hanging in there – I’ve scaled the first 1000m to the ski resort town of La Clusaz!

    I’ve joined a group of fellow cyclists for this last leg of the journey and crucially it is fully supported meaning we can concentrate on the cycling without having to worry about panniers. As soon as I set off with from Geneva airport I knew that was the best decision I had made. Carrying around 14 kilos on my makeshift panniers over huge Alpine passes would have been ridiculously difficult and potentially dangerous on the many fast descents we will be encountering. The difference is huge and on setting off from Geneva I actually thought there was something wrong with the bike!

    Our group is a good mix of people and include a couple from San Fransisco on honeymoon!! They clearly love cycling and I think it’s great to see, so different from the norm. Somehow I’m not sure my wife would have fancied the idea though…!

    So far we’ve ascended around 2000m and yesterday’s ride from Thonon-les-Bains finished with a steady 30km climb to La Clusaz where we stay overnight. Straight after breakfast this morning we will encounter the Col des Aravis (1486m) before the Col des Saises later in the day. Last night there was a big thunderstorm, with rain bucketting down but it looks to have cleared this morning which is a relief.

    Now it’s time to get my climbing shoes on…

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  • The last 8 days…!

    Geneva, Switzerland, Geneva
    September 10th, 2011

    Well, I’ve made it to Geneva and am now well over half way now which is great. Just the small matter of the Alps to come…!!  So what’s been happening over the last week or so?
    After saying farewell to Nicola in Mainz I carried on down the Rhine, through Worms to Mannheim. Conscious of a couple of very long stages ahead I had hoped to continue on to Speyer but it turned out the hostel there was full.

    Friday’s leg to Baden-Baden started early. Awoken at 6am by an early riser in the dormitory it was my earliest start of the trip and a beautiful morning.

    After cycling through a lovely wood south of Manheim I veered away from the Rhine to Hockenheim, home of the German Grand Prix. Seeing as the cycle path went right past the circuit I thought it would be rude not to pay a visit to Michael’s spiritual home.


    After a brief stop to see some racing that happened to be going on I continued on south and back to the Rhine.

    Soon after midday I came across a fellow cyclist, baseball cap turned backwards with huge quantities of gear. I exchanged greetings as I passed and we got talking.

    Gerd with bike!

    He was a really friendly guy by the name of Gerd Muller (!!), who’d just retired at 60 and in celebration was on the homeward leg of a 1800km tour of Germany…! We shared lunch and cycled most of the afternoon before exchanging email addresses and going our seperate ways south of Karlsruhe. By the time I reached the youth hostel (inevitably it was at the very top of one of larger hills in Baden-Baden!) I had been in the saddle over 13 hours it was gone 9pm and I had cycled the best part of 150kms.

    If I thought the following day could only be easier it was soon clear that I was very wrong. I set off early on a glorious sunny morning and within a few miles was reminded that that the Schwartzwald is a rather hilly part of the world.

    the glorious, but rather hilly, Black Forest

    After climbing over the first pass of the day at close to 1,000m I knew I was in for a really long and arduous day. By early afternoon as temperatures climbed into the 30’s things got exremely hard going. After stopping 5 times on a seemingly endless 4km climb with a 12% gradient I started having grave doubts as to how on earth I would get to Freiburg-im-Breisgau.


    the Road to Zell...


    After several more smaller climbs I eventually laboured into Freiburg at gone 9pm after another 12 hour day in the saddle. A glance at a temperature guage in town read 26%C – having covered over 90 miles for the second consecutive day  it was the toughest day’s cycling I’d ever experienced.

    The 51 mile leg from Freiburg to Basle looked fairly straight forward on paper but was spoiled by the worst weather of the trip so far. From around lunchtime it had started raining steadily and by the time I had crossed the border into Switzerland it was tipping it down.

    Getting drenched at the Swiss border in Basle

    After taking shelter at Basle central station for some respite and to get my bearings it soon became clear that the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. By the time I had reached the youth hostel me and most of my gear were completely soaked, but I had made it to Switzerland in one piece…

    Monday’s Basle to Solothurn leg was another pleasant day’s ride spoiled by more unanticipated moutains – next time I’ll spend a bit longer planning the itinerary!  A climb over the 900m Passwang across the Jura Alps was the “highlight” of another hard day in the saddle.

    The Jura Alps

    My cousin Martina joined me for Tuesday’s ride to Fribourg and it was nice to just concentrate on pedalling without worrying about navigation.

    my cousin Martina

    After another beautiful sunny day mainly following cycle paths we had made it Fribourg after pedalling around 54 miles.

    Wednesday’s ride to Lausanne was yet another that I had assumed would be relatively flat – there’s a theme emerging here…! After cursing Fribourg’s undulations at least the ride down to Lac Leman and Vevey was long, fast and great fun. Unfortunately the part astride the lake to Lausanne was not the pleasant amble I was expecting with a persistent head wind hampering my progress.

    My cousin Kurt and his wife Claire joined me on a gorgeous sunny day for the final leg of part one of the journey to Geneva.

    Kurt & Claire

    It was again good to have company and despite a few short, sharp climbs up into the vineyards above the lake there was nothing too strenuous.

    Lac Leman and vineyards

    My recently fitted speedometer/mileometer/cadence reckoner has confirmed what I already suspected – I seriously underestimated the daily mileages to the tune of around 25%, so instead of cycling around 760 miles from Bremen to Geneva it was much more like 960. At least the estimated remaining 440 miles is probably much nearer the mark, it being on the official itinerary.

    My only niggling worry was a look at the the total anticipated ascent over the next 8 days – just 15,460 meters or 50,700 ft. Wish me luck….!!

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