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Originally uploaded by Andrew Birkett

Training for lejog might be hard work, but having a reason to eat an entire cherry cake – 1500 calories – does somewhat make up for it. Being bored on a train with a bag of food is dangerous.

Long way down

I’m on the train, 1.5 hours into the 12 journey to Penzance. I was glad to see the train already sitting waiting, which avoided any time pressure when getting the bike onto the train. The weather is all blue skies and sun as I this morning, but the forecast is predicting strong winds from the east this week. East? That’s not in the plan. Still, one thing I’ve learned from Frank recently is that the forecast is always wrong! So hopefully it will be sunny and still all week long.
Had i bit of a last minute panic last night booking a B&B for Monday night. Had to phone four before I got a place.

Gear list

Since I’m up early today and have a couple of hours before I get on the train, here’s my final gear list. It’s about 10kg total, and fits nicely into my two panniers.

The bike: Courier Nexus, 44t/22t gearing, SJS mudguards, aero bars, 2 bottle cages, rear pannier rack, 2 ‘front’ Ortleib panniers. Front + rear lights + mountings
Bike bits: Small chain lock, GPS and bar mount.
Entertainment: Kindle ebook + charger, iPod + headphones + charger, mobile phone + charger
Misc: 2 x AA batteries (for gps), 2 x AAA batteries (for rear light), some random nuts and bolts, string for clothes line,
Rain gear: Waterproof trousers + jacket + shoe covers, rain gloves, waterproof sealskinz socks
Sun gear: suncream, lip balm, sunglasses
Clothes: 1x cycling shorts, 2xtop, 2xsocks, summer gloves, cycling shoes, helmet, hiviz reflective vest
Evening: light trousers, light fleece, pants, socks, tshirt
Extra: warm leggings, thermal base layer, beanie.

Tools: 6 * cable ties, 2 * spare inners,
– 3x tyre levers,
– puncture kit, pump
– 6 * spare spokes
– spoke key
– tyre boot
– duct tape
– allen key multitool
– 15mm spanner (rear wheel)
– jewellers screwdribver
– 8mm spanner
– cone wrench
– spare chain link
– chain oil
– spare brake cable
– 20t sprocket
– nitrile gloves
– cloth
Road map (pages)
Written direction
B&B phone numbers, map/location
– Inhalers
– Travel towel
– Shower gel/shampoo/conditioner
– Toothpaste/brush
– Razor/shaving gel
– sudocream
– first aid kit
– spork
– Hairbrush
– Earplugs
– Ibuprofen

GPS download

Tonight, I’ve been transferring the planned route onto my GPS.  It’s a fairly old device with limited memory, so I’ve had to make some compromises.  It can only store 20 “routes” consisting of 50 points.  Having studied the maps, I decided that navigation in Scotland was pretty darn straightforward, whereas navigation through England was much harder (no bias here!).  So I decided to spend all my GPS points on the first 7 days, using three ‘routes’ per day to pack in maximum detail.

I designed the routes on mapmyride.com, which allows you to download them as GPX files – however these typically use about 300 points per day.

Next, I used gpsbabel’s “simplify” filter to get each day down to 150 points, and another filter to convert the “track” files which mapmyride provide into “route” files. Finally, I needed to split each day into three separate 50-point routes. I briefly entertained the notion of using xslt, before seeing sense and doing it in about two minutes using emacs keyboard macros.

So now I’m tooled up with high-res tech, ready to navigate across the country using relativistically-corrected satellite quad-lateration.

Here is my planned route, with links to maps showing each day’s travels:

d1  (Mon) Lands End to Wadebridge [64miles]
d2  (Tue) Wadebridge to Great Torrington [57miles]
d3  (Wed) Great Torrington to Bridgewater [68miles]
d4  (Thu) Bridgewater to Tintern [72miles]
d5  (Fri) Tintern to Much Wenlock [81miles]
d6  (Sat) Much Wenlock to Leigh [83miles]
d7  (Sun) Leigh to Sedbergh [77miles]
d8  (Mon) Sedbergh to Longtown [62miles]
d9  (Tue) Longtown to Auchinleck [73miles]
d10 (Wed) Auchinleck to Tarbet [63miles]
d11 (Thu) Tarbet to Ft William [73miles]
d12 (Fri) Ft William to Inverness [61miles]
d13 (Sat) Inverness to Brora [56miles]
d14 (Sun) Brora to John o’Groats [63miles]

T minus 5

Five days left until I get the train down to Penzance to start the ride.  I broke the cardinal rule by futzing with my bike just before starting the ride.  I added SKS mudguards, and replaced the sprockets (42/22t) and chain.  Mudguards should make any rainy day less bad – although I’ve ridden through countless winters without them.  The new spockets and chain make everything much smoother, and make life noticably easier (at least going up Craigleith hill on my one test ride).  I don’t like making big changes without a decent shake-down period.  But I have two rides to work to do, and I’ve been doing all the work using only the tools I’m taking with me.  This leads me to add a couple of extra tools – an 8mm spanner (because the mudguards have many nuts on them) plus a tiny jewelers screwdriver (to lever off the snapring on the rear sprocket).

I have spent a lot of time with a road atlas and highlighter pen this week.  I originally mapped out my route on mapmyride.com so that I can have a version on my GPS unit.  But I also want paper maps in case the GPS dies – and also because the GPS really only shows a line going across a mostly blank screen without much context.

I’m initially following the CTC recommended route, along tiny country lanes – although I wonder if I’ll get bored with unsignposted roads after a while.  Certainly, as I get to north England I’m going to start doing my own route.  From Lancaster, I’ll follow the A6 up and over Shap.  It’s apparently a fairly quiet road nowadays (since the M6 replaced it) but the ascent up and over Shap is legendary, and I want to collect that one.  Later on, I’m going to do the east side of Loch Ness – another seriously steep ascent, but it means I avoid the main road on the west coast.

Dang, I just want to get on and do me some cycling.  I’ve kinda enjoyed the preparation phase up to a point – doing a solo unsupported LEJOG ride requires a fair amount of planning.  But now I’ve crossed a line and I don’t really want to ‘do’ anything LEJOG related unless it’s actually doing the ride itself.  I’ve been ready to go for weeks now.

Route planning

For the last few evenings, I’ve been plotting my LEJOG route on t’internet.  I’ve used the CTC B&B route for England/Wales, and then my own way through Scotland.  I’ve aimed to keep the first few days a bit shorter, since they are hilly, but that makes for some longer days later on.  Anyhow, here’s the rough plan:

Day 1 (Mon) [64m] Lands End – Wadebridge
Day 2 (Tue) [57m] Wadebridge – Great Torrington
Day 3 (Wed) [68m] Great Torrington – Bridgewater
Day 4 (Thu) [72m] Bridgewater – Tintern
Day 5 (Fri) [81m] Tintern – Much Wenlock
Day 6 (Sat) [83m] Much Wenlock – Leigh
Day 7 (Sun) [77m] Leigh – Sedbergh

Day 8 (Mon) [62m] Sedbergh – Longtown
Day 9 (Tue) [75m] Longtown – Auchinleck
Day 10 (Wed) [67m] Auchinleck – Tarbet
Day 11 (Thu) [70m] Tarbet – Ft William
Day 12 (Fri) [64m] Ft William – Inverness
Day 13 (Sat) [56m] Inverness – Brora
Day 14 (Sun) [63m] Brora – John o’Groats


More high-geekery, this time related to tyres.  By way of explanation, once I’ve finished the ride I’ll turn this blog into a set of ‘real’ web pages and hence I’m dumping random technical content here too.

When I bought my Courier Nexus bicycle from Edinburgh Bicycle Coop, it came with a set of tyres composed largely of soft cheese.  The web says they were probably ‘Continental Sport Contact’.  They barely survived a few weeks of the ‘ned diamonds’ (broken glass) on my work commute, whereas the tyres I had on my previous bike (Schwalbe Marathons) had lasted ages without problem.  So I switched them over to the Nexus and they’ve lasted 1.5 years so far.  Awesomely reliable tyres, and I’d totally recommend them.

So, coming up towards LEJOG I thought it might be a plan to put on a fresh set of tyres (as some kind of puncture insurance).  But now that’s a whole new world of tech and numbers to grok.  Once again, I’ll use the tyres I bought as an example – they were Schwalbe Marathon 40-559 26×1.5 HS 368 kevlar guard 50EPI with reflex side walls.  Which all translates to:

  • Schwalbethe company who make them.
  • Marathon – their range which is designed for long life (rather than saving weight)
  • 40-559 – the ETRTO (European Tyre & Rim Technical Organizations) standard designation for a tyre which has width 40mm and inner diameter of 559mm.  All very precise and well defined (ish).
  • 26×1.5″ – the classic albeit fuzzy way of giving the size.  26″ is the tyre outer diameter and 1.5″ is the width.
  • HS368 is a particular tread pattern which Schwalbe do.  You can find the same HS368 tread pattern on 28″ tyres too, so they’d also be HS368’s.
  • Kevlar guard – underneath the rubber tread, there’s a layer of kevlar material – the same stuff they use in bullet-proof vests.  This is insurance against punctures.
  • 50EPI describes the weave of the tyre carcass – the inside bit that looks kinda like canvas.  EPI is ‘ends per inch’, a measure of the density of the weave.  There’s a tradeoff between strength, weight, puncture protection etc.  Everyday tyres seem to be around 50, whereas race tyres (ie. weight-saving at all cost) are around 120.
  • Finally, reflex sidewalls just mean that the sides of the tyre are kinda reflective, so that you’re more visible at night.

Schwalbe do an excrutiating detailed technical document about all this stuff if you’re into that kinda thing.


Time for some high-geekery.   Whilst climbing big hills, I noticed an occasional crunchy-slippiness coming from somewhere on the bike.  A quick application of the magic chain gauge showed that the chain was indeed pretty worn, and the sprockets had gone a bit shark-tooth shaped.  Since I’d already planned to get a new 22 tooth rear sprocket (for the hills), I augmented my shopping list with a new 20 tooth rear sprocket and a new chain and then set about trying to understand what the heck all these different kinds of chainrings were for, and which one I needed.  Several hours later, and I think I now have a Clue – which I’m going to preserve here for Google and posterity.

I’ll use this chainring as an example, because it’s the one I’m going to buy.  It’s a “Thorn 104mm PCD 4 arm reversible single chainring 3/32 inch 46teeth”.  Which all meant nothing to me when I first read it.  But now I can explain!

  • Thorn is a product range made by SJS cycles.
  • 104mm PCD means that if you draw a circle which passes through all of the mounting bolts, it’ll have a diameter of 104mm.  PCD stands for ‘pitch circle diameter’.  Some people say ‘BCD’, which means ‘bolt circle diameter’, but it means exactly the same thing.  It can be kinda fiddly to measure this directly on your bike, so you can measure it indirectly by measuring the distance between the bolts and looking up a table like this one.
  • 4 arm means that the chainring will have 4 mounting bolt, to connect to the four arm ‘spider’.  The spider itself is part of the cranks.  As a bonus, you can infer this from the PCD size.  All 104mm PCD chainrings have 4 bolts, and all 110mm PCD chainrings have 5 bolts, etc.
  • single means that this chainring has been specifically designed for bikes with a single chainring.  If you have a derailleur bike with multiple chainrings, the chainrings will have ramps and pins to help lift the chain up onto the next sprocket when you are changing gears.  Additionally, a few of the teeth will be short and stubby – again, to help shifting.  Also, the teeth might be shaped specially to help shifting.   When your bike only has one chainring, you don’t all this magic.  The teeth can be much simpler (possibly stronger for it?).  So that’s what a single chainring is promising – straightforward teeth with no fuss.  As a bonus, they can be …
  • reversible, which means that when the teeth get worn out, you can just take the chainring off, flip it over, and have a go at the other side of the teeth.  Twice the lifetime!
  • 3/32″ is the width of the chain it was designed for.  On a derailleur bike, a narrower chain is desirable because the sprockets on the rear cassette can be closer together.  But on a hub-geared bike, you don’t have that constraint.  So typically you run a wider 1/8″ chain (= 4/32″) (presumably inspired by a belief that a wider chain means more contact area, therefore lower pressure on the links, therefore less friction and longer life).  However, a 1/8″ chain will happily ride on a 3/32″ sprocket (it’s just a wee bit wider after all).
  • 46 teeth is pretty obvious.  More teeth on the front == harder to pedal.

Phew, the mystery of chainrings revealed!  The only other dimension I came across was the kind of metal.  Aluminium alloy is lighter than steel, but will probably wear out faster.  From what I saw, large chainrings are often made of alloy and smaller ones are made from steel.

Cross country training

This weekend I was up at Leanachan Forest (Fort William) checking out the route for 10 Under the Ben which is at the end of May.  Much to my surprise, all my LEJOG training has put me in pretty good stead for this.  The course largely consists of long energy-sapping climbs on big wide roads!  Hurrah, that’s the course for me!  Having said that, there’s plenty of weaving through trees (yay!) and the odd heartstopping (potentially literally) rockstrewn descent.

The drive up to Fort William took us across Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe, which is the route I’ll be cycling during LEJOG.  Awesome scenery, but nowhere to shelter from the wind.  So, as an experiment I’ve borrowed a set of aero bars for my bike (thanks Tim!) which I’m going to try out over the next few weeks.  It’s 600g extra weight to carry, but the reduction in drag is significant (when you can use them).  I’m not too sure whether the posture will give me a sore back, so I’ll try them out for a while and see.

I have now ordered a 22 tooth sprocket for my road bike.  The internet suggests that you can switch them over just using a screwdriver, so my plan is to take a 20t and a 22t sprocket and switch between them as required.

A huge thankyou to all the people who have sponsored me.  I got an email from the Sick Kids hospital the other week saying thanks for the fundraising, and so I wanted to pass that thanks onto all of you who’ve donated money!

ObRandom:  Whilst scouring flickr today, I found this.  It’s not a staged photo.  This guy really did cycle Lands End to John O’Groats on a unicycle – read about it in his blog.

– Sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/andrewbirkett_lejog