Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Introduction and Preparation

(NOTE: This Blog was written retrospectively in 2016)

@Suukii and I had often fancied doing a long passage as a cycle ride, and an obvious choice seemed to be the LEJOG - Lands End to John O'Groats. A problem with this was that we love sending our summer holidays in France. However in 2011 we had been fortunate to get a sabbatical semester from February to September based in Montpelier, and we felt that if there was any summer we would be prepared to miss going to France it would be 2012.

LEJOG is around 1000 miles so a quick calculation shows that if you want to do travel to Lands End (1 day) and get back from John O'Groats (a weekend on the train), then you are going to need to do just short of 100 miles a day in order to do it in two weeks.  Our normal Sunday bike rides had been between 20 and 40 miles, and given that we needed to carry a lot more for this trip, we knew that we needed to allocate three weeks, which would allow us a few rest days on route, and reduce the mileage to something we thought a couple of reasonably fit near 60 year olds could manage, day after day. (We averaged 65 miles a day and had 3 rest days)

Throughout the Spring and early summer of 2012 we made a point of taking evening bike rides to Winchester or Romsey for pub suppers, and  we did a number of weekend training runs out and back from Southampton, staying overnight in bed and breakfasts, getting initially to Swanage (43 miles each way) and finally to Melkesham (67 miles each way).  One objective of these training runs was to make sure that we had everything we needed on our packing list, and nothing more.  For this reason we carried everything on our list for these training runs, even if we knew we would not need them for a quick weekend. Another objective was to make sure that we had suitable technology for navigation. (see below for the outcome). And of course the final objective was to get fit.

@Suuki had for sometime been needing a new tourer more designed for her shape, and used the opportunity to order a new hand-built Roberts (one of the last he made before retiring).  I decided to continue using my Dawes Galaxy with the upright handlebars conversion. The Roberts took some time to arrive, so Su ended up doing some of the earlier training on her Brompton.

On a practice run to Swanage.

We needed to plan a route in advance as we were intending to use hotels and B&Bs, and know that we would need to book to ensure a room in places with little accommodation. And also we needed to decide dates in order to reserve trains.

We found a book that promised quieter more scenic routes rather than the busier, faster routes and we were able to download the GPX's in advance of publication of the book, so we could get on with the planning.  In the end our route was pretty much as suggested by Mitchell, but taking a larger number of overnight stops, including a few small detours to get to these stops, and also taking a much shorter and quieter route through Runcorn.

Nick Mitchell's Book gave us the basic route

We booked hotels/B&Bs for all the remote places or popular holiday resorts in advance, and left booking the others to do last minute. (This would have worked fine, except we did not understand that Ludlow in the middle of the Welsh Borders, is a very popular place - especially at weekends, and three days in advance we were unable to book any accommodation of any kind, so in the event we had to change the route slightly in order to stay the night in Leominster, which is not popular at all!

One of the most critical bookings was the train to get back from Thurso to Inverness.  Its a small train, and only runs every couple of hours, and only has 3 or 4 bike places.  We were on the phone to Scotrail the day the tickets became available and were able to book the train we wanted, and then the sleeper from Inverness to London. 

Technology - hardware
I had an iPhone 4. I mounted it on the handlebars with something like this picture, bought for under £10 from Amazon (note that the retaining cords across are pretty essential - all the reviews I read said that phones fall out of mounts, and indeed it happened to me once when I went over a cattle grid without the cords across - I was luckily saved by the fact that the phone stayed on its charging cable :).  

I used a 7000mAhr backup battery from Technet (about £24) which was enough to easily keep my iPhone fully charged all day while always on and running GPS software.  I kept the battery in my front bag - and of course charged it in my room every night via USB,

Technology - Software

The requirements
  1. The issue here is that ideally you want  maps that are stored in your phone, not on the Internet, because on a ride like this you will often be in places where you do not have internet access. Its true that a number of apps say they will cache those parts of the map that you will want for a route, but  my tests of such software were not satisfactory - too often they seemed to zap the cache and you were left navigating on a blank screen.
  2. You need to be able to import and export GPX routes.
  3. You also need software that will allow you to build routes or edit them.
  4. You need to be able to ask the software to suggest suitable bike routes
  5. Of course you need the software to show you where you are on the map at all times
  6. You need the software to keep a record of the route and times you eventually took. 
In 2012 I was unable to find any one piece of software that would do all these things but I found a combination that worked satisfactorily.

For the maps I used Outdoors Great Britain - which is free, but allows you to buy all the Ordinance  Survey 1:50K maps of the UK. E.g. I bought the South West for £10, and I think I needed to buy 6 regions to make sure I had all of the bits we were going into.  These system allows you to store the maps on your machine, and you can store routes on their website, and download them to your phone as needed.  It shows the GPX route as a line on your map and you can easily follow the line. You can create routes using this software and you can edit existing ones.  It did not keep a record of your actual track, nor did it have any way of suggesting routes.
Outdoors Great Britain

For suggesting routes I used (and still use) Bike Hub.  With this app you say where you want to start and end, and it suggests a route (Fastest? Quietest? Shortest? Balanced?). I always use Balanced, and it finds me routes that are excellent and that I would never have been able to see from the map. Bike Hub has a number of options for using the software to ride with, but I find the screen layout rather limiting, and the caching of maps I found unreliable. So instead, I export the route as a GPX and them upload it to the Outdoors web site, ready to download when needed.

Bike Hub

There is just one problem here - uploading to the Outdoors website cannot be done from an IOS device - you need to be on a PC - I consider this to be a real drawback.

For keeping a record of my route I use cyclometer.  I simply turn it on at the start then ignore it till I deliberately stop for a break or at the end.  It keeps all the statistics for the ride.

Cyclometer Ride Stats


NOTE from 2016

Since this ride I now use:
  • An iPhone 5 - which is rapidly coming to the end of its life. @suukii has an iPhone6, which is better.
  • Quad Lock to keep my phone on the handlebars: expensive but very good and I have a "Poncho" to keep it dry in wet weather - although this means you cannot continue to charge.
  • The EasyAcc 10000mAmpHr Battery.  More charge for the same weight. My old battery died after 5 years of good use.
  • I still use Bike Hub and Cyclometer, but I now use  iPhiGenie ( See my notes here) for mapping.  This is a French application, and it uses Open Cycle Map very well (in addition to the proper French equivalent of the Ordinance Survey maps).  It relies upon caching, but I found this to be completely reliable and I was able to cache and reliably keep all the maps O need for a 1200km route)

The whole Route

The final route we selected had rest days at Chepstow, Carlisle and Inverness.

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