If you’re at the stage of planning an end-to-end cycle ride you may appreciate some hints and tips from someone who’s already been through the planning process and completed the ride.
1. Choose your own route.
This is your trip and most likely, you’ll only do it once. So read up on it first, make informed choices about where you want to go and design the trip to suit you. There isn’t an ‘official’ end-to-end route so spend lots of time reading up on others’ route choices and make a mental note of the route you’d like to take. I found the CTC Forum invaluable as well as other blogs.
2. Decide what ‘style’ of trip you want to have.
Will it be what I would call a road cyclist’s trip (100 miles a day over 10 days with minimal time for anything but riding) or a more leisurely cycle tourist’s trip with lower daily mileages and time to explore and relax on the way ? Ours was a bit of a hybrid since we wanted to camp most of the time but have the luxury of a bed and shower every third day or so. We took 14 days (actually 13 with a very short final day planned around train times); this equated to 75 miles a day on average and long days (8am to 6pm including breaks).
My advice would be to only camp if you have time to enjoy the camping experience. In reality, this means cycling during the summer (June-August), cycling around 50-60 miles a day and taking 18 to 20 days over the end-to-end trip. But remember that if you don’t need a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stove and as much food then you will probably be able to fit everything into one pannier (see ‘pack light’ below).
Finally, our experience was that some youth hostels were already fully booked 8 months in advance and so I recommend choosing your route early and booking accommodation as soon as you can.
3. Pack light.
It stands to reason that the more weight you’re carrying will require more effort to pedal those 1,000 or so miles. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that once you’re moving in a bike weight doesn’t matter. You will need to push every last gram up every last hill from Land’s End to John O’Groats; it’s called gravity. Do you really need two sets of spare clothes or shoes ? Is now a good time to ditch your old, heavy sleeping bag for an ultralightweight version ? Do you routinely ask how heavy every item if clothing or equipment is once you’ve ascertained that it has the function you need ? I weighed my panniers when I returned and found that their combined weight (panniers and all contents, excluding the tent) came to 9.4kg, with my handlebar bag weighing 3.1kg all in.
4. Eat little and often.
At least, this is the advice I would give for someone with a slim build like me. I started out by thinking that I needed to eat like a horse given all the energy I was using up. But I realised after the third day that I was not able to digest my food properly so altered my eating strategy completely. I then started listening to my body much more. If my body craved fresh orange that was a good clue that I needed vitamin C. If I felt like soup and sandwiches then that was exactly what I had. I also read that you should eat and drink what you would normally. I like my coffee and generally don’t eat a big breakfast so after the first few days I ditched the regime of porridge for coffee and caramel wafers, filling up on yet more coffee and a more substantial (second) breakfast at about 10am when I’d actually worked up an appetite.
5. Make an early start.
If possible, try to get one third if the miles done by 10am. While it was a struggle to get up some mornings it was a great feeling to have already have cycled 25 or 30 miles by second breakfast, and over half the miles by lunchtime. We generally got to our destination by 6 – 6.30pm; any later made for a much ‘shorter’ and less relaxing evening (and you need all the recovery time you can get ).
6. For navigation use laminated extracts of a road atlas, Viewranger and Google Maps rather than cue cards.
We didn’t have a GPS, and didn’t particularly want to be tied to looking at a screen all the time, so we chose other navigation options. Cue cards were too detailed for built-up areas (where you would need to stop at every other street to check directions ) and not detailed enough for rural areas. I’d recommend laminating sections of a road atlas for high level navigation (eg to check the villages and road turnings en route) and use Viewranger maps (saved to your smart phone’s memory, and using its built-in GPS) to check your precise location. Google Maps was useful for navigating through built-up areas too, but relies on a good phone signal to download maps to your phone’s memory in the first place. We used Followmee so that family could track our progress back home. Although it’s not the slickest app it worked well, updating our whereabouts every 30 minutes.
7. Take an external, back-up charger to keep your electronic devices charged up.
Take every chance you can (eg at cafés) to ask if you can plug your phone/iPad in to charge up. If you have more than one device make sure you have a plug and charging lead for each device (or a double charger). There’s nothing worse than having two devices needing charged and only time/opportunity to charge one up at a time. If you’re not blogging or tweeting along the way this might not be an issue, but it was vital for my blogging.
8. Take flexible clothing layers.
A breathable/wind proof top is really useful as a top layer in cooler conditions over a thin cycling shirt. A waterproof/windproof top layer will soon become sweaty and sticky if you’re working hard (this includes Goretex). Thin, flexible layers are much more useful than single layers to save you overheating or freezing. I often used arm warmers first thing the removed these once I warmed up.
Secondly, I’m always amazed when I see cyclists in dark clothing. Black, blue and green don’t aren’t very visible to drivers and safety is absolutely paramount. So, buy fluorescent or bright (eg red, yellow) clothes so that you can be seen. With end-to-enders killed on the roads every year, why on earth would you compromise personal safety ? (Note: for some reason, it’s road cyclists who seem to shun flourescent or bright clothing in my experience).
My final clothing tip is to take waterproof mitts. During prolonged showers gloves quickly got wet, and winter gloves absorbed so much moisture that they took ages to dry out again. Lightweight waterproof mitts can easily be worn over fingerless cycling mitts and will save your hands getting cold and wet (we experienced hail, rain and temperatures down to 9 degrees in late May).
9. Only take the basics in terms of bike tools.
There are plenty of bike shops en route where you can get an expert opinion and help from a skilled mechanic, even in the far north of Scotland. We fortunately didn’t need to do any emergency roadside maintenance but got chains cleaned, brakes checked and axle bearings replaced by bike mechanics in Cheddar, Prestwick and Bonar Bridge. Whenever we were in need of bike maintenance we found good bike shops easily.
10. Arrange to meet or visit people on the way.
It can provide a real morale boost if you can meet up with friends, relatives or social media contacts en route. Often, they can give invaluable local knowledge on route options, treat you to a meal or a bed for the night. This gave some variety to the daily routine and meeting up with people on the way really added to the enjoyment.
This article forms part of my Online Guide to Cycling End-to-End:
- Why cycle LEJOG ?
- Planning a LEJOG cycle ride
- Route planning and route options
- What to take – Cycling gear
- What to take – Camping and other gear
- Accommodation options
- Getting into training
- Nutrition and hydration
- Getting to/from Land’s End and John O’Groats