Lands End to John O’Groats
In June of this year Gary Robinson, Duncan Schwier, Rob Sandercombe, Graeme York and I completed this ride. It comes to about 950 miles and 45,000 feet.
Some of us rode for charity, some for sport and some simply because we still could.
We had motor vehicle support from Gary’s parents and so did not carry anything more than you might on a Tuesday night ride. That said it was still a challenging 8 back to back days of riding – the easiest day being 99 miles and the toughest being over 130.
We planned routes that mostly kept us off the A roads when possible and – while that is preferred – it does make for some very long days.
On days two and three we had a choice of short or long routes and we rode the shorter A road routes. The other benefit of A roads is a very high average speed and we managed 18 mph on these days.
Inverse to expectations – most of the climbing is in Cornwall which delivered over 10,000 feet of short hard climbs in 114 miles on day 1. Probably the toughest day in numbers but obviously our freshest. Scotland – with its shortage of routes – means most riding is on the A roads and those are busy and windy. For our last day we chose the longer central path up through the middle of Scotland to avoid the A9 and what a great road that was. It is almost 30 miles of moorlands and plantations with almost no traffic and wonderful views – the perfect cycling road.
Routing and planning was largely completed a month beforehand with Strava route-builder used and input from a collection of different sources including our own Holly Seear who had ridden some of the southern route before us. Navigation was by Garmin with each day broken into roughly four 30+ mile bites and lunch always set for well past halfway.
We did not ride with mudguards and in retrospect it may have almost been our undoing. Day two was wet and with constant spray off the road surface. Later that day and for every day to the end of the trip we had recurrent cases of a nasty viral sickness which seriously impacted three of the team and put one man shivering in the car for half a day. What should have been a 24 hour bug was protracted by mounting fatigue and poor sleep. A lesson well learned. We also had a few pulled muscles and sore knees. Carry lots of painkillers ….there is a very good chance Someone will need them.
Largely we had anticipated all mechanical failures with spare wheels and all tools available so the usual punctures and tire shredding was handled easily. What was more serious was a total failure of the DI2 Battery on one bike. Lesson here: keep it simple. I rode clinchers and not my usual Tubs for this reason. A short trip to Plymouth saw the DI2 problem corrected.
Here are some of the many things we learned both in planning and on the road:
Accommodation and transport
Gary booked this 6 months in advance. The problem you will run into with a summer trip is that few places are willing to take on a single night booking. Additionally you need bike storage AND a commitment upfront to an early breakfast – we tried to be on the road by 8 so breakfast at 7 was required.
Trains seem to have limited bike space – the train back from Inverness has room for 4 only. Book it a long way in advance or these will be gone. Alternately plan to have your bike broken down and in a box to carry-on or be shipped back.
There are dozens of choices. Strava will pick out the most popular routes used by riders if you use it but watch out for being sent down single track bike trails…these are often crowded and very slow.
We rode regular carbon road bikes. Make sure you are on a bike you know you can ride for 100+ miles in comfort. If you have only done the short rides with the club on your bike – take it out on a few century+ rides and see how you feel after.
Riding a route off a Garmin works well but remember to turn the navigational warnings on. You may run low on battery if the ride goes over 6 hours. Tip: turn it off at coffee stops and lunch – you will not lose the data. I ran Strava on my phone as a back up but switched the phone to Airplane mode. This extends battery life enormously and should see you through 8 hours of recording.
If you are planning this as a group then good group riding skills will keep you safe and reduce fatigue. If you have been riding TCC group rides then these skills are second nature. If not you need to practice – a lot.
It would be very hard to do this route in this time without a car for support. If you are planning it and have a willing driver – make sure the vehicle is large enough for luggage plus spares plus food….plus room for a bike and a rider in case of the need arising – as it did with us twice.
Food and breaks
Lots of food and snacks. I consumed about triple normal calories. Factor this into the budget and the stops. Coffee is a great aid to endurance riding.
Plan to get lots of extra sleep. You will need it.
This is where it can all come apart if you don’t choose wisely. Go with people you have done events with before and ideally people you have eaten and roomed with before. Nothing will make a good trip go bad faster than a grating irritation with your room mates. We have all ridden miles and miles together over the years so this was a non-issue but it should not be overlooked.
This depends on your aims and current abilities. We are a bunch of men between 41 and 55 all of whom trained up to 250 miles a week beforehand with lots of back to backs and climbing included where possible. While you probably cannot be fully prepared for 8 back to back century+ rides you can certainly speed the recovery by training hard beforehand.
Costs: We spent about £1200 each all in and that covers shared rooms at decent guesthouses plus meals out and fuel costs, trains and taxis You could do it for less. ….but it would be harder.
In summary it is a great ride to do and an opportunity to see enchanting new parts of the UK and get some good time away with clubmates.
If you would like any other tips, routes or other info I would be delighted to help out.
PS Many thanks to Gary for the great idea and logistical genius, Duncan for the great 7Mesh waterproofs, Graeme for his solid resolve and Rob for his ever constant humour and constancy. A very special thanks to our support team who had food and smiles along the way and to whom we owe special thanks for the wonderful pictures of the trip.
Keep safe out there.
“In Velo Veritas”