I have been thinking about taking a long bike trip since I saw Matt Baker (the good looking presenter on the One Show) ride a rickshaw from Edinburgh to London for comic relief. He was supported along the way by a slick team of BBC people and was given considerable encouragement from local people cheering him on but you could see it was not easy. The bike was heavy, the gearing was poor and he rode all day and sometimes into the evenings to keep up the blistering schedule. He completed the ride in 7 days a stone lighter and with bandaged, aching knees but had raised over a million pounds in sponsorship. Not bad really for a telly luvvie.
My trip is not for fund raising, just pleasure (ha!). I will follow a roughly south easterly route from Edinburgh back to Suffolk - about 400 miles - avoiding main roads where possible and taking in the countryside a bit off the beaten track. I aim to visit interesting towns and villages along the way together with larger places like Newcastle, York and Lincoln. Unlike Matt, I'm riding unsupported, with nothing much more than a light sleeping bag and tarp, and I will 'wild camp' along the way with occasional B&B stops as the need takes me. Food, drinks, snacks, etc will be bought on the hoof to keep the packed weight down. I'm hoping for dry, warm weather with, preferably, a constant, brisk north westerly and for all the route to be downhill (I can but wish).
I'm already well into my training regime, riding most days between 10-20 miles and in the next couple of weeks I intend to increase the mileage so that I am prepared for riding an average of 40 miles a day. If I can keep to that average, the trip should take about 2 weeks. If the daily grind drops below 40 miles (I may have to take a rest day or two) it will just take a bit longer. I keep telling myself it's not a race. I just hope I listen.
My trusty steed is a Kona Dew hybrid, made by an American company that specialises in fairly high end sports/mountain bikes. This bike is at the commuter and touring end of the market but is ideal for what I'm planning. I like the fact that it is well made, is light, everything works well and nothing rattles or vibrates - even when I change gear. This gives me a great sense of confidence that it will all hold together on the 400 miles back from bonny Scotland.
So what does the bike look like?
I've gone for the flat touring handlebars and an extra soft gel seat cover. Since I took this photo, I decided that, as the seat cover seems to shout 'wimp', I have taken it off and bought a proper pair of cycling shorts with a gel insert - highly recommended though a slightly odd feeling when one first steps into them).
The bike has the distinctive Kona sloping frame (not that I would have known that if Kona had not mentioned in on their website). It's got a whopping 21 gears from the high speed Tour de France selection to the low speed 'Granny' gears. So far, I have only needed to use the middle range as all my training rides have been in Suffolk but once I get off the train and hit the southern hills of Scotland, I may have to drop down a gear or two. I may even have to adopt the GOAP technique (for those of you unfamiliar with bike touring, that means - get off and push).
The panniers are from another American company, Bontranger - is there nothing on this bike from Europe or the far east? The bags are really well designed with a top (expandable) bag and two fold-away side bags. It even has a nifty spring-loaded attachment system that is very strong and literally only takes a second to apply and disengage. The little yellow button on the back is the release catch - much simpler and better than your average high street option that uses straps and buckles. I'd even go so far as to say it's fool-proof but we'll see.
The front end has a hybrid lamp by the company Cateye which has a small solar panel on top. It gathers sunlight during the day which charges the internal battery. That will last for about an hour at full blast - more on flashing mode. If I then need further light, I just switch over to the back up AA battery (or the other way round I suppose).
I've also invested in a new pair of tyres as the treads on the present ones are wearing thin and the walls look a little rough. The new ones are called Marathon Plus made by Schwalbe and are as puncture resistant as you can get. They do this by having a rubber strip like Kevlar welded into the tyre along its whole length which can repel things like nails and glass. All the reviews I have read are very good - they are not too heavy, ride well and punctures are virtually unheard of so these seemed like a good thing to have - we'll see. I'll still take the spare inner tube and puncture repair kit but hope not to need them.
The tarp will be interesting. I have used it many times when treking, utilising my walking poles as extendable tent poles but on this ride I will only have the bike and maybe the odd tree or wall to attach it to. If I am unable to find another fixing point, I thought I ought to practice setting up with just the bike. So with the bike resting upside down on its handlebars and saddle, I found it's easy to stretch the tarp over the two wheels to form a ridge. Once the corners of the tarp are pegged down, it's as firm as any other set up I have used.
So that's it. Just as the world and its finest athletes are (apparently) counting down the seconds to the start of the 2012 Olympics, I'm packing my panniers and getting used to wearing shorts that make me walk like a character out of Planets of the Apes (and if you see me along the route, no, I have not pooed myself).