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Sunday, 5 August 2012


The night before the ride we stayed in Wheal Rodney Holiday Lodges which are near Marazion, just along the coast from Penzance and about 20 miles from Land’s End. Although not much to look at, indeed a bit drab from the outside, once inside we found the lodge comfortable and pretty spacious. Although we were only there for one night it’s the kind of place you could stay for a few days without going stir crazy as it has a separate living room/kitchen and bedroom. The lodge was self catering with a fairly well equipped kitchen and although there was a small shop on site we nipped 5 minutes down the road to the supermarket to stock up for the following day too.

The first night of the ride was spent in The Coach House in Hele, a few miles north of Exeter. This kind of bridges the gap between self catering and a B&B with a fridge and microwave in the room and comes stocked with various goods to make your own breakfast in the morning. At first I thought the buzzing of the fridge might be a bit intrusive but we both managed to get to sleep no problem. It’s the kind of place you need to speak to the owner to find but once we did we had no problem locating it - the owner was also very nice and let me bring the bike into the room.

For Monday night my accommodation was the Rose & Crown in Playley Green, Redmarley D’Abitot – about 10 miles north of Gloucester. The is a pub with a few rooms and the room I stayed in appeared to have been done up nicely quite recently. I was able to leave my bike in the bar and although I was slightly concerned about the local youths playing pool next to it the bike survived the night unscathed. The pub had a good selection of food and I enjoyed a good evening meal and a full cooked breakfast in the morning with the exception of beans which I am told someone had eaten the last of the day before! The only issue I had was the room heating being supplied by an electric heater as the central heating wasn’t on which would have made drying my clothes off a bit easier.

Tuesday I was back at home and although the accommodation was unfinished in places and generally untidy the food was first rate!

By Wednesday night I was in Gretna Green and stayed at the Kirkcroft Guest House with their secure bike storage. Despite the shower being a bit low powered – I was told that the water had gone off earlier in the day and there were problems with the water pressure – I had a very comfortable stay. Breakfast was lovely and there were a few options nearby for evening meals depending on what you fancied, I chose the Gretna Hall Hotel which had a decent choice of meals.

Thursday night I was in Callander and met Kerri at the Crags Hotel which seemed more like a pub with rooms upstairs. The hotel had a somewhat quirky interior and although the bed was very creaky it was pretty comfortable. Again the heating in the room wasn’t on so as I had arrived sodden after a day of constant rain I had a bath to warm up and we resorted to use of the hair dryer to dry the gear I needed for the next day. I was able to leave my bike in the garage out back which although wasn’t locked itself I managed to secure my bike inside. Although the hotel does food we ventured out for our evening meal since there is plenty of choice in Callander and the breakfast in the morning was good.

Friday night was spent in Clunebeg Lodge near Drumnadrochit. Arriving quite late Kerri had been to the local shop for supplies and we enjoyed an evening meal of pot noodles and pies! With electric heaters drying my clothes wasn’t easy although the owner kindly offered use of his tumble dryer and also locked up my bike for me. Breakfast again was very good as I enjoyed another 3 course meal of cereal, cooked breakfast and toast although I had to politely turn down the offer of another rack of toast as I was pretty stuffed by that point!

Saturday night we stayed in the gorgeous Caithness History B&B for a bit of luxury at the end of the ride. The B&B itself is a bit out on its own although there are takeaways in the relatively nearby Castletown, we headed to Thurso straight from the end of the ride in John O’Groats for fish and chips and to draw out some money as the B&B didn’t have card facilities. Both the building and the room itself were stunning and although I didn’t have any more cycling ahead of me I used the long drive home as a good excuse for another good three course breakfast.

Accessories & Nutrition

The most important accessory I used on the ride was my Garmin 500 GPS cycle computer. This enabled me to plot my route and follow the directions that the computer gave me whilst also recording the usual stats such as distance, speed, heart rate etc. It has been great for both getting out on routes I wouldn’t normally use and also logging all my rides by uploading them to sites on the internet. It’s also been frustrating though when the thing goes wrong like it did on the second day of my LEJoG meaning I could only see the next course point and was unable to see how far I’d been or how long I’d got left. It’s also crashed at other times and I’ve ended up losing stats on parts of my ride which, while not particularly important, is still quite annoying. I think it struggles when you are following a long route with lots of directions in it. I’m told that upgrading the firmware should sort this problem although I have heard that this can actually make matters worse!

The ride was the first time I properly used energy and recovery drinks, normally I would just add some sugar to cordial and use that as an energy drink but this would have been impractical to carry in my luggage. I chose to use SIS Go (mainly as it worked out the cheapest of the brands!) during the ride which seemed to keep me going ok although it’s hard to say how much of a difference it would have made. After the ride I uses SIS Rego Night which, whilst tasting pretty disgusting, seemed to work well and leave my legs feeling much fresher in the morning than when I had been doing long back to back training rides without them. Learning to down the drink in one is advisable!

In terms of food I ate whatever was going. On the move I ate Soreen (comes in nice pocket shaped loaves!), home made flapjack, cereal bars and caramel shortcake. It’s hard to eat as much as you need to so I supplemented these with High 5 Energy Gels which are great when you need an instant energy hit but are relatively expensive for what they are. Off the bike on most days I had a three course breakfast of cereal, full English breakfast followed by toast and jam which set me up for the day nicely. During the day I would stop once or twice and take on either some sandwiches on wholemeal bread (I learned to avoid white bread pretty quickly) and/or pasta and at night I would have a large meal followed by desert if I had any room left in my stomach. According to my Garmin I was burning between 3,000 and 5,000 calories a day (although I’m not sure how accurate that is?) so I made every effort to eat as much as possible!


Apologies to those who were on tenterhooks awaiting the reviews I had promised (I'm sure there are many of you!), I had written the drafts but forgot about them and never got around to posting them up. So here they are at long last:

Shorts are a personal choice and I found the DHB Aeron Race quite comfortable which I purchased a few months back when I needed some new shorts. Therefore I didn’t have any hesitation in going for a top of the range pair of DHB Aeron Pro’s to use on the majority of the ride with the Race’s acting as a backup. The Pro’s have a thicker pad than the Race’s and are also made of a better quality of lycra and they were pretty comfortable for the duration of the ride. The only thing I would say is that I think I come between two sizes with the mediums being too big and the smalls being ever so slightly too small.

I combined the shorts with B’Twin thermal leg warmers on the colder days and Craft lycra leg warmers on the slightly warmer days, both did their job fine although the B’Twin’s have now seen better days! I also purchased some neoprene B’Twin overshoes which kept the worst of the weather out but couldn’t keep heavy rain for more than a couple of hours even when combined with some Polaris Neolite overshoes underneath! I think all overshoes struggle in heavy rain though. The gloves I used for wet weather were Altura Cresta which again struggled in heavy rain – if anyone knows any truly waterproof gloves and overshoes let me know!

When it wasn’t raining I wore Madison windproof gloves which I found probably the most comfortable of the lot and on the third day it was warm enough to bring out the Polaris mitts which are old faithful I’ve had for years and were comfortable but are now falling to bits!

In terms of tops I had various long sleeve base layers including a Crane one from Aldi which is surprisingly good being made from a  light material but still being fairly warm, a DHB one which is warm but lets some of the wind through and one from Prostar which is lightweight and good for when it’s just a bit too cold for short sleeves. I also used a Gore Windstopper short sleeve base layer which does exactly what it says on the tin.

I also ended up taking my B’Twin Membrane Jacket which I didn’t think I’d be needing in May but was a godsend on colder days. It’s an incredibly warm jacket – really anything approaching double digits in Celsius it’s too warm for –  great at stopping wind and fairly water resistant too. It’s also one of the few long sleeve garments that I’ve found long enough in the sleeve in a size small. The only criticism I have of it is that the 3 rear pockets are so tight as to be practically unusable so I have been combining it with a short sleeve jersey for rear pocket storage. For times when it was really wet I donned my Polaris Neutron PBK Waterproof Jacket which is both packable and waterproof but the (cheap) PBK version I have comes in black which isn’t the most visible colour, although having said that it does have reflective elements. When it wasn’t wet I used an Altura gilet which was good for taking the edge off in the cold mornings and evenings and also good for chilly descents without getting you too warm.

My eyewear is a pair of Optilabs prescription sports glasses. These were fairly expensive but are a great alternative to using regular cycling glasses with inserts as you only have one pair of lenses to worry about. They are also reactions so are fine in pretty much all light conditions although I find they make overcast conditions a little gloomy – fine for seeing but not always great for your mood! The helmet I use is a Bell Ghisallo which is now an obsolete model but I found it suited my odd shaped head – big and long – well and has good adjustability.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Equipment Review

Given the number of miles I put in during training and the ride itself I thought it might be worthwhile to do a bit of a review of the bike/equipment I used.

I think the Genesis Equilibrium frame and fork were brilliantly suited to the task – yes, I had to get p-clips to attach the rack but once it was fitted it was fine. The ride quality and handling is the best of any frame I have ridden and I’m sure it helped me feel less fatigued than I would have done on another bike. The Dura Ace 7800 shifters combined with Ultegra 6600 mechs were a revelation in terms of the precision and smoothness of their gear shifting. The levers have a much lighter action than anything else I've used and once the gears set up back in February they didn’t need touching until the last couple of days of the LEJoG some 2,500 miles later. 

I wasn’t as pleased with the braking performance of the levers combined with Tektro R536 brakes though – I have fiddled around with the set-up and changed brake blocks but the stopping power has never been that good compared to the standard drop Shimano105 brakes I have on my other bike. I might look at changing the brakes for some Shimano R650’s and if that doesn’t solve the problem I guess it’s just down to the performance of long drop vs standard drop brakes. These were all linked with white Fibrax cables although it’s difficult to say whether these had any positive or negative effect.

The cassette I chose for the end to end was a Tiagra 4600 12-28 10 speed which was great as it gave me an extra low gear for lugging my panniers up hills. In terms of price to performance ratio I think the Tiagra cassettes are hard to beat. This was coupled with a KMC DX-10 chain which I purchased as it has a reusable link that enables easy removal and re-fitting and again was good value.

In full touring mode on day 1

The rack I used was a Tortec Ultralite combined with B’Twin City 9 litre panniers. The rack was a bit of a faff to fit due to needing p-clips as the Equilibrium doesn’t have eyelets but once fitted did the job fine. The panniers had plenty of room for what I needed to carry but aren’t the easiest to fit and remove due to lengthy Velcro fastenings. Also they're not waterproof meaning you have to pack things inside plastic bags and I'm sure the extra weight of sodden panniers didn't help when it was raining!

The chainset was Specialites TA Vega cranks and had a 48/34 Zephyr chainrings which I think is a good combination if you aren’t racing. This was coupled with a Campagnolo bottom bracket which works fine providing the crank bolts are adequately tightened – if not the crank arms can work loose as the chainset and bottom bracket are not strictly compatible due to slightly different tapers. Although this is a square taper set up which is now considered out-dated, with new systems seemingly  being introduced every year, it does mean it's simple to fit and you don't have to buy any new tools. I have Shimano M520 pedals fitted to the cranks which although are technically mountain bike pedals work well if you want to combine them with a shoe that is good for walking in.

The wheels were Ambrosio Evolution rims with an Ultegra front hub and a Tiagra rear hub of unknown mileage as they were off my brothers bike. These are good solidly built wheels that served me well throughout my training but unfortunately the rear rim developed a crack on the second to last day of the LEJoG – the rim was pretty worn and coming to the end of its life by this point and that combined with poor road surfaces meant the end of the road for the rim. The Continental Gatorskin 23mm tyres were again of unknown mileage and I only had two punctures throughout the 2,700 miles I rode them when the rear tyre started getting worn out. 

On the last day with R540 rear wheel and no panniers
My old Shimano WH-R540 rear wheel with a Bontrager Racelite Hardcase 23mm tyre stood in for the last day – for wheels with only 16 spokes they are pretty sturdy but obviously you have more of a problem if one of the spokes breaks compared to more conventional wheels. The Hardcase tyres are much less supple than the Gatorskins so the ride quality suffers as a result but I have never punctured with them and they seem extremely durable. As ever with tyres it's always a compromise but I think when (if?!) the Hardcase tyres wear out I will replace them with 25mm Gatorskins for a good balance between comfort and puncture protection. I am currently running another set of Ambrosio wheels - Evolution rims and Zenith hubs - that I picked up second hand as it worked out cheaper than getting new rims put on the old wheels.

The Madison Prime saddle is one of the comfiest I’ve ridden but then saddles are a very personal thing. I was glad to find one that wasn’t causing me too much discomfort over long rides though and will probably be getting another one to go on my race bike. The seatpost, handlebars and stem were Genesis branded and did the job fine whilst the bartape was from B’Twin and was well cushioned but a little slippery when wet. 

The SKS P35 mudguards are easy to fit if you have done it previously and do their job well with one exception – the rear mudguard is quite short to facilitate the easy removal of the rear wheel and comes without a mud flap. This is fine if you are riding on your own but it you are riding in a group it will soon annoy the rider behind you, I added a flap fashioned from EPDM to mine.

Post LEJoG with new wheels - stem lowered but steerer still to be cut!


Friday, 18 May 2012

LEJoG Reflections

Whilst I'm putting my feet up and letting my Achilles tendon recover I thought it would be an good time to have a look back and reflect on the ride.

Riding LEJoG was a great experience and you do get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that you have cycled from one end of the country to the other. There were times when I was thinking “why am I doing this?” but there were other times that more than made up for it. The first and last days were probably the most enjoyable, with the freshness and scenery of day one in Cornwall and Devon making for a great ride. I think the early start and lengthy breaks helped too. The final day was fantastic, again having great scenery combined with warm sunshine and a strong tailwind helping me on my way to John O’Groats.

The most difficult aspect of the ride was the mental side of it. When you have been out on the bike for 5 hours and you’re only halfway through the day it can get quite tough, especially knowing that you will be doing the same the next day and the day after and so on. In terms of training I think I was physically well prepared for the ride but it is very hard to prepare mentally for riding 900 miles over seven days – other than actually doing the same in training of course! This especially surfaces when you are faced with heavy rain and headwinds, it can quickly destroy your spirit and the fifth day, when it rained constantly, was particularly difficult.

I was surprised how well my body coped with the rigours of cycling such long distances each day. Whilst it was obviously tiring I didn’t really feel too fatigued at any point, I think keeping well fuelled and using recovery drinks at the end of the day to make sure I took on plenty of protein helped. The only real problem I had physically was the sore Achilles tendon that developed in my left leg at the end of the fourth day. Reading up on this it could be something to do with my position not being quite right but considering it only surfaced 500 miles into the ride, and I had no problems during 1,750 miles of training, my position can’t be too bad. It might be something to do with my shoes not being the stiffest but I’m inclined to think it’s probably down to an increased workload and maybe the tendon not being used to the extra load being put on it as my leg muscles developed.

Other than having to hobble around for the last week I am really glad I did the ride. I don’t think I could have done it without the help of Kerri who has pretty much driven the length of the country twice and also supported/put up with me throughout my training and a lot of the ride itself. Thanks also to those that offered help should anything bad occur although I am glad it was not needed. It was great to get messages of support through facebook and twitter which, along with the numerous donations to RoadPeace, really kept me going. The ride has raised over £800 so far which I am really pleased with. I am reluctant to say that I have raised the money because all I have done is ride my bike which I enjoy doing anyway, it’s the generosity of everyone else that will help RoadPeace. Thanks to all those who have donated, it really means a lot and I’m sure the money will be put to good use.

Overall I am really pleased with how the ride went. I wouldn’t necessarily rush back to do it again, maybe when I’m retired I’ll take a more leisurely tour around the country. Whilst it was good to have set places to get to each day I think it would also be nice to take it at a steadier pace and go where you please and, if the weather’s awful, be able to take the day off! I don’t have any more long distance challenges lined up (although part of me thinks it’d be a good idea to ride a 12 hour time trial!) and it will be good to go back to doing shorter rides again. 

My plan for the rest of the year is to do more high intensity riding to build upon the base I have developed over the last three months and see where it takes me. I will start off riding the club 10 mile time trials and probably try a couple of longer open time trials and maybe even a criterium or road race if I actually manage to develop a decent turn of pace. After that I’ve always fancied racing some hill climbs - in theory I have the build for it, I just need to knuckle down and do some focussed training and develop a bit of power! 

For those that are interested I will be doing a bit of a review of the equipment I used for the ride along with the clothing, accessories, nutrition and accommodation over the next few blogs - hopefully this might prove useful for those thinking about doing something similar. For the rest of you, thanks for reading!


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Day 7: Drumnadrochit - John O'Groats

We awoke to bright sunshine pouring through our window and I knew that today would be a great day for cycling. Following a hearty breakfast I went out to my bike to replace the brake blocks as I had noticed unusual braking performance on the previous evening and seen that the blocks were quite worn. Upon replacing the blocks it soon became apparent that this wasn't the main issue - a crack had developed in my rear wheel rim. The poor road and weather conditions had obviously taken their toll on the ageing wheel and although it was still ridable I was glad to have a spare in the car.

Start of the day with new rear wheel
New wheel fitted I set off on my way around 10am with 134 miles ahead of me I settled in for a long day in the saddle. I soon hit the first climb of the day and was missing the lower gearing I had on the old rear wheel as the gradients hit an indicated 26%. The steep section didn't last for too long though and I met another group of touring cyclists once the road started to level off who commented that i was doing it the easy way as I didn't have any panniers! I was certainly glad i wasn't carrying the loads that they were.

View over the Cromarty Firth
The roads on the initial part of the day were delightful and with the tail wind helping me on my way I was able to take it easy and admire the views.

I thought this was Scotland? Note tailwind though :)
Kerri and I had agreed to meet in Tain for lunch and I made good time and was able to enjoy a lunch of a bacon sandwich along with the lions share of a red velvet cake. We found a nice little park to eat in and it was really quite warm to sit and eat in sheltered from the wind.

Refuelling in Tain
After an ice cream in the sun I was back on my way and crossing the Dornoch Firth. This wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience as I headed North and the strong cross wind attacked me from the West. The road continued to head North until it passed Loch Fleet and turned North East and I could pick up a tail wind once more.

View from the A9 - great road
The A9 was a much more pleasant road than I had expected and I made good progress towards Helmsdale. Despite the lumpy terrain the wind powered me on and I completed 20 miles in under an hour. The gloss was taken off this slightly when another rider passed me on a time trial bike as if I was standing still, presumably on a record attempt!

A bit Alpine
Out of Helmsdale the road headed uphill quite steeply and I was soon regretting getting carried away on the flatter parts of the route. The road also turned North so the tail wind turned into a cross wind and I decided to stop and have a quick refuel to keep me gong. With hills to the left and the North Sea to the right the scenery was once again amazing and I soon picked up the tail wind again and got back into my rhythm.

And a bit Cornwall at times
With a couple of swift descents in valleys followed by steep climbs out of them the road took on something of a Cornish coastal feel, albeit the gradients were 13% rather than 30%! With these out of the way I took one last refuelling and refill stop for a pint of coke and some more water before heading over the moors to John O'Groats.

First view of the sea from the moor roads at the end of the ride
Intially I regretted choosing the smaller roads to the finish, rather than the A99, with gravel pasted road surfaces stretching out in a straight line as far as the eye could see. I was rewarded with traffic free cycling and the only company I had were small birds singing in the evening sun and lambs running to their mums for safety. Heading North once more the wind was no longer in my favour but the proximity of the finish spurred me on. Soon over one of the many small hills the moorland views gave way to one of the North Sea and I knew I was nearly at the end of my journey.

John O'Groats at last
Racing down towards the sea was really exhilarating and probably the best part of the whole week. Shortly before 8pm I arrived in John O'Groats to be greeted by Kerri and a bleak gathering of dilapidated buildings. The run down hotel and the closed stores were unable to dampen my mood as I was elated to have completed the ride. Following the obligatory photo's in front of anything that said John O'Groats on it we headed off to find somewhere still serving food and celebrated with a fish supper followed by a drink or two.

Happy to be finished on what was a great day

Thanks to everyone for their support, especially the following
  • Kerri for driving the length of the country twice and being generally ace in supporting me throughout my training and the ride itself
  • Di & Malc for their motivational messages whose offer of support should anything bad happen was thankfully not needed 
  • Everyone at the Manchester Wheelers for their support, advice and company on my many training rides
  • Everyone who has tweeted me and messaged me on facebook with their support 
  • All those that helped me along the route with lovely accommodation and great food
  • Everyone who has made a donation to RoadPeace, it really means a lot


Friday, 11 May 2012

Day 6: Callander - Drumnadrochit

Looking at the forecast for the day it was clear it was going to be a day of two halves. The morning would be one of heavy and sometimes wintry showers before clearing up in the afternoon. After shedding my panniers now that Kerri was with me I put any thoughts of extending the journey to 8 days behind me and decided I would push on an complete it in 7 as originally planned. This thought was re-enforced upon seeing the forecast for the weekend with Saturday looking glorious and Sunday showing heavy rain all day.

Light drizzle at the start of the day

At the start of the day I was greeted by light showers and as the road started climbing I soon shed my waterproof layer as I warmed up. It soon became apparent that it would be another day of strong winds but knowing that the weather would brighten up and the winds would become cross- rather than head-winds once I reached Fort William and turned North East helped keep me going.

Heading up the first climb of the day
It was also great to cycle through such wonderful countryside and actually be able to see it after the rather bleak scenery and dreadful weather of the previous day. Snow-capped peaks, dramatic mountains and some fantastic feats of engineering made the day much more stimulating visually.

Pretty dry at this point
With Kerri having set off from Callendar a while after me she cuaght up with me after about 34 miles at which point the conditions were still ok. The light drizzle hadn't deteriorated into anything worse and the hills hadn't proved too taxing.

8 miles later, it's shelter in the car time
We had agreed to meet again at the Bridge of Orchy for lunch but shortly after Kerri drove on the heavens opened in earnest. Whilst I was climbing it wasn't so bad but I soon hit a descent and the heavy rain hit my face like ice and I was glad to meet Kerri again and have the chance to dry off a bit and warm up in the car.

Climbing into the Highlands
After a big tub of pasta and sitting out the worst of the rain I was back on my way climbing up into the highlands. The scenery was still amazing but the weather was really closing in and the headwind starting to make itself felt in my legs. The road itself wasn't too busy but any time a truck passed it the opposite direction the wind blast would almost stop you in your tracks and it was pretty demoralising.

I think this wins the biggest sign of the week award

Pushing on into Glen Coe the headwind wasn't letting up but I was certainly glad I no longer had my sodden panniers weighing me down as I passed another cyclist with a huge amount of luggage struggling into the wind. Approaching the summit of the road in Glen Coe the sun finally started to make an appearance and I was filled with hope for the remainder of the day.

Heading up Glen Coe
I was certainly glad the weather hadn't been any more wintry as I made my slow way down the descent towards Fort William. The stats would later back up what my legs were telling me that the headwind was really slowing my progress. According to my Garmin I averaged a measly 16.6mph on the way down Glen Coe and my heart rate indicated I was having to work hard just to achieve this!

View near the top of Glen Coe as the sun starts to come out
Once I reached the bottom I could relax knowing that the worst of the terrain and the weather was over. Upon reaching the flat and pushing on I really started to feel the pain in my Achilles again and, having left my medication with Kerri, I took the liberty of giving her a call and asking her to meet me a bit earlier than planned. Applying a bit of pain relieving gel and taking some pills as I consumed another pot of pasta I was concious of the need to press on as I still had 60 miles to go and it was getting on for 5pm.

Loch Leven
I had initially planned on taking the B8004 over the other side of the River Lochy but being short on time I decided to stick to the A82 as the traffic wasn't too bad anyway. There were still one or two small climbs along the way but with a cross wind it was quite so hard going as earlier in the day.

Looking back towards Fort William
It was in the Great Glen that I first really started to reap the rewards for the effort I'd put in during the week. As the sun started to set over the mountains and reflect off the lochs it was really a wonderful place to cycle. I didn't have too much time to sit up and take in the views though as I wanted to get to our accommodation before it got dark. Even the sometimes dreadful road surfaces and the occasional racing Friday evening traffic couldn't dampen my spirits.

The Great Glen
I arrived in Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness in the gathering gloom, tired but elated knowing that tomorrow would be the last day and I could begin to relax knowing that I would complete the ride. The weather forecast only boosted my spirits further showing a bright sunny day with a west south westerly wind set to assist me on my way.