I switched testing high-performance MTBs to riding a battered B'Twin shopping bike and rediscovered the sheer joy of simply cycling

Two B'Twin bikes leant on a beachside fence
(Image credit: GuyKesTV)

My wife Sarah always names her vehicles and her bike is called Beryl. In relative terms, Beryl is pretty fancy. She’s got a rear rack, a dynamo, a kickstand that’s too short to work. Most importantly for the eventual silliness we get up to, she’s got twist-grip gears and big springs under her saddle. My bike is from the same B’Twin step-through roadster gene pool, but very much the Cinderella of the situation. No gears, an insistently intrusive lump of a saddle seized at an awkward angle and a dynamo light with no dynamo to power it. For the sake of this feature, we’ll call her Belinda, but I may have called her other names a couple of times when wearing board shorts while riding over rough Spanish tracks turned my testicles into castanets.

Guy Kesteven riding a B'Twin roadster on a beach track

A tapas of boardies, rough tracks and an unforgiving ride may have played havoc with my delicate parts, but it didn't dampen my holiday romance with Belinda (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Within seconds of our host Cal (the Genghis Calm of the fantastic Spanish, surf-yurt camp we were holidaying at this week) handing over the two squeaky, rattly sisters and pointing us in the direction of the beach, I was in love. Gliding along, bolt upright, swept-back bars light in my hands as the front wheel skimmed over hard packs and sand traps. Communicated either by a cacophony of jangling bells and loose fenders, or the quiet potentially deadly snake hiss of sand.

Remembering the simple joy of jockeying a generally too-large single gear. Getting the power in early on even the slightest rise, so the struggle started later and wasn’t quite as crippling on the knees. Shifting weight to turn or skim rough sections just as I would on an enduro test bike, but from the comically upright but similar centred ‘Mary Poppins’ position of a rusty Decathlon shopping bike.

Over the week we were away, we pushed those two bikes up the steps past the hire car that stood gathering dust and set off on various adventures. Normally clattering happily down to the beach. Where we’d regularly fly past cars crawling terrified down the cratered track only to find there wasnt any parking left near the beach anyway. And yes, I did have an extra smile as I locked the B-Twin beauties up to the beachside rail like a cowboy hitches horses. Because I knew those traumatized drivers would see them half an hour later after finally finding somewhere to abandon their precious car in a bush.

Besting cars wasn’t the only sport to be had either. To the dismay of my knees, Sarah decided to exploit her gears and full-suspension saddle in trying to set a new time back up from the beach every day. Eventually spurring Beryl to a 15-minute gallop after her first 25-minute trot. We worked out the best lines through the fresh gravel, how to pump the whoops near the beach, and dared ourselves to take the blind ‘send’ faster each time. We said “Ola” to the deep brown cows and the rare Ibis who couldn’t be bothered to move for the two idiots on bikes. We ran over each other's hats if they blew off, we jousted with beach brollies. Basically, we behaved like a pair of kids and we laughed our arses off in the process.

Two bikes outside a spanish government building

If bicycles had been invented in Napoleon's time, maybe he would have been so stoked by cycling he wouldn't have launched the doomed Franco-Spanish invasion of Britain (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

While the beach and back was our daily commute, the B’Twin twins became our default choice for exploring too. We rode to the neighboring village for coffee. To the supermarket in the other direction to get ham and wine. We pedaled down the bike path and then pushed through sand dunes to Trafalgar Bay (yes, the one of Napoleonic sea battle fame). We even created our own Trafalgar soundtrack as we creaked and strained our our heavy, tall geared, sit-up and beg steeds up to the top of the nature reserve. Taking half an hour to weave and heave our way up through soft patches and random rocks right to the forestry lookout tower that looked tiny from the beach below. Theoretically for the view (which there wasn’t). Partially for the escape of rolling through beautiful coastal woodland where we didn’t see a soul. But really for no other reason than because we wanted to see if we could do it. On bikes probably worth a tenth of what I’d have said the bare minimum spend was to enjoy such an expedition. But as we summited the arduous ascent, the grins on our chops couldn’t have been bigger.

Apart from maybe as we ricocheted back down, kickstands and fenders clattering as we fought the steering and bounced from root to rock. Then tucked low over the roadster bars like 1920s TT racers to try and get enough speed to clean the little climb on the way home. In the same way I remember doing when I was six, and how my mum described descending Welsh passes on even more primitive bikes when she was a kid.

A smiling woman riding a shopping bike on dirt road

The B'Twin bikes on the empty dirt roads was a combination that reminded us how much unabashed fun cycling can be (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

And now I’m back home. With a workshop full of exotica I’m primarily paid to whinge about and find fault with just to prove a point. And I really miss the B’Twin sisters, but will always remember the lesson they taught us. That you don’t need tech, or high performance, you don’t even need comfort or gears. Bikes are just a fundamentally wonderful way to roll through life on, in a really present, joyful and freeing way, that seems to be becoming rarer every day.

For anyone wanting to experience the joy of the B’Twin twins themselves or take their own bikes to the stunning and unspoilt forests and beaches of southern Andalusia, then contact Marina and Cal at searetreat.co.uk – and yes, being on the Spanish Atlantic coast, they run surf camps too.

Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven has been working on Bike Perfect since its launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. He’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and he reviews MTBs over on YouTube.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg