Beja to Mértola – perfecto!

We rode out of Beja with gloves and cycle kit still soggy from the day before, despite all Jacqui’s attempts to dry them overnight. However, the early morning sun promised a better day.

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Half an hour into the run we were riding in bright sunshine and a warm, steady and nicely drying headwind.  The feeling of cycle mitts drying on your hands is always very satisfying.

I was worried we would not be allowed to ride the IP2, but all my concerns were misplaced. We met no ‘No Cycles’ signs and completed the 12k or so to the junction with the N122 without trouble.

The route to Mértola is certainly a bit lumpy, but it is increasingly lovely.

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The required 50k seemed to romp by.  Our only concern was avoiding the millions of these little guys who were crossing the road in their millions just ahead of our wheels.  Any ideas what they are?

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We rolled into Mértola at 13.45 in time for a soup and pudding lunch in the Bus Station Square.

Negatives?  Only one.  Somehow Jacqui managed to lose her Garmin the day before.  Riding along without hearing her running commentary on how our average speed was doing was very strange. It did however give me more time to enjoy the splendid scenery.  I so love cycling in the Alentajo.

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Lightweight Touring – Chargers Apart

We make every effort to tour light.  We each carry two panniers and a bar bag. I have a saddle bag for bike-related bits (tools and spares) and our wet weather gear.  We start each trip with 4.5 kilos in each pannier.  They tend to lose weight over the weeks as consumables get used up and older stuff gets discarded.

However, we seem to carry a ridiculous number of chargers. At a rough count we have different chargers for: two cameras; two phones; two iPads (we have different versions of each); one for our bike coms system and one for our Garmins.  In addition, we carry one three-way UK extension lead with a euro-plug converter – an excellent idea that helps manage the nightly cue for charging in hotels that only offer one socket.

Every trip away I think I ought to be able to do better, but somehow it never happens.  Any idea how I might improve things? Don’t suggest leaving the electronic gear at home please – that’s a non-starter!

 

The maps.me app is a gem

Before we left I went looking for a mapping app for my iPhone that would work without Internet access and so incurring data charges.

Maps.me looked to fill the bill and so I decided to give it a try.  I downloaded the maps for free and went with the free version of the app for a start.  Now I can’t imagine being without it.

I haven’t tried the routing tool as yet – no bike version exists so far.  But on the road it proves invaluable at points.  The GPS works really quickly, locating your position and can be orientated by the compass points.  The maps appear and can be changed in size and details in moments – instantly really.  No reason to be lost ever again.

Better still, the app is a great way to explore and make sense of the options around you at moments of indecision.  Say you are at an unmarked and unsigned fork on the road.  Left or right?  Maps.me allows you to explore what’s ahead on each choice – without wasting a wheel turn.  It is also great in showing what sort of consequences will follow such choices.

In short it’s a very useful tool and far more useful than my Garmin Edge that cost a fortune a few years ago.  I’d never buy another now.

Anyone else had the same experience – or perhaps not?

Revised Cycle touring kit list – for non-camping softies who like toys and comforts!

We have been revising our essentials only kit list as we prepare for our month in Spain and Portugal later in September and October.  This trip is different as this time we intend to fly with our bikes. (Update October 2016: we are not taking our Thorns this time, but the list is the same save for Rohloff and Thorn specific items.)

Update: This is the revised/revised list for our Alicante to Algoz trip Spring 2016.

So far we plan to take:

Norman (Jacqui much the same in panniers (2@4.5kg) and bar bag (1.7kg), but has no saddlebag)

BarbagOrtlieb Model 4 (weighs in at 3.0 kg) [Still going strong – excellent bit f kit]
Wallet with cash and cards
Passport
Travel Tickets (plane)
Next accommodation details
Travel Insurance Details
E111 Euro Health Card
‘Business’ Cards

Pleased to meet you!

Diary/Journal – Moleskine
Camera – Nikon 1 V1 withkit zoom lens and shutter remote [tele lens never gets used]
Sat Nav – Garmin Edge 800 [Still going strong]
Mobile Phone – iphone 6
Pen
Swiss Army Knife – a cheap clone after losing the original in Auz.
Keys
Sunglasses (off bike)
Reading Glasses
Bag waterproof cover
Helmet waterproof cover
Micro Towel
Fieldglasses 10×25 – 7Dayshop.com [Left at home: too little used]
Sunblock F50

SaddlebagCarradice Long Flap (weighs in at 5.0kg)
Large D-Lock and 2 cables – Kryptonite Silver rated to save a kilo.
Insulation & Velcro Tape
Spare Tubes x2
Spare Gear Cables – Rohloff x2
Rohloff hub service kit x2
Spare Brake cables Jagwire x2
Cleaning Cloths x2
Bungee Ties x2
Waterproof Jackets – Ultura x2 (NC and JM)
Waterproof Trousers – Ultura x2 (NC and JM)
Multitool – Toepeak
Eccentric Hub Spanner – Thorn
Allan Keys x5
Latex Gloves x2
Puncture Repair Kit
Tyre Levers
Pedal Spanner – Slim line
Pliers/Cable cuttters
Cable Ties
Chain Lube
Mini Floor Pump – Bontager

Left Rear PannierOrtleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Hotel and Travel Documentation in Travel Admin File
Paper Road Atlas – Michelin Spain and Portugal
Passport and Card Details (Photocopies)
Emergency Contact Numbers
Bike Details
Toilet Bag and Medical Kit
Cycle Shorts x2
Base Layer
Cycle Tops short sleeved x2
Cycle Top long sleeved
Cycle Socks x5
Cycle Leggings – Gore
iPad

Right Rear Pannier – Ortleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Trousers x2
Shirt
Microfleece – Craghoppers
Shoes
Chargers’ Bag
– iPhone x2
– iPad x2
– Still camera – Nikon
– Still camera – Lumix
– Garmin & Sena headset/mike
– iPad photo transfer gizmo
– Mains Adapters x2
– UK Multibar
Medical Supplies

The Thorn Raven Sport Tour bikes we have are recommended to take no more than 16kg on the rear rack, so we are well inside that at 9kg and 5kg for my saddlebag.  T

Bicycle navigation – reinvented…

It was wild, wet and windy (again) today, so I surfed a little instead of riding – don’t be too hard on me, I did get out for a jog. One link after another led me to GizMag and their top ten cycling innovations of 2013. Top of the list is the intriguing Hammerhead for Bike Navigation.  I think it is well worth a look.

Hammerhead - navigation re-invented
Hammerhead – navigation re-invented

The new startup team behind Hammerhead say they are inspired by simplicity – get the essential right then junk the rest is their philosophy: in this they (and their advertising video) reminded my strongly of Apple and that cannot be bad.  Their breakthrough to simplicity ideas include:

  • team the Hammerhead to a smart phone, using all its complicated and expensive electronics;
  • replace spoken or turn instructions with peripheral vision colours as direction indicators
  • a really smart, minimal design and look
  • incorporate a built-in headlight.

I like this idea a lot for several reasons:

  • it’s great to see someone other than Garmin looking at navigation
  • I want to make better use of my iPhone
  • it keeps the iPhone safe and dry without needing a new case
  • it’s refreshing to see a new take on an old problem
  • conventional satnav screens are a nightmare for those of up who need reading glasses
  • it looks like great value for money.

I see Schwinn have an alternative out (see below), so I will wait until some user reviews appear, but I hope I won’t have to wait too long.  This looks like a great device full of promise.

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Paris to Algoz, Algarve, Portugal – Our Navigation System

We had expected to start cycling from Santander.  A last minute ferry strike meant a switch to Eurostar and a start from Paris.  At a stroke all our careful planning went out of the window. Worse, we had no France maps for our Garmin Edge 800.  We set off with a 2004 edition of a Michelin Road Atlas:  as it was way too heavy, I spent hours tearing out pages we would not need.  Mostly I got it right!

The best map is the one to hand!

Without details maps for the Garmin we had to resort to planning on paper.  Not such a bad thing perhaps?  We devised a system that worked well for us – most of the time. Each night in our hotel we would use the overview map to pick out a town to the southwest of where we were.  Then we would take a length of dental floss (yes, we were in improvisation mode!)  cut to the length that corresponded to our preferred 80km daily range.  We would track this along the detailed map route and estimate the distance to our preferred destination town.  We decided anything between 80 and 100km was acceptable.  On a few occasions we were forced to make it 111km – but that was really pushing it for us and dangerous if headwinds, hills, or getting lost forced us off track and added to the demands.

Heading South East Works!

If our hotel had wifi, we could add the luxury of planning our exit from the town of departure in detail.  This saved much frustration and time the next morning. Better still, we could use the Via Michelin site to get suggested cycle routes and the Map My Ride site to check out the elevations and climbs ahead.  This was very reassuring: as was the use of a weather site which told us wind direction and force – more important than temperature and chance of rain.  Most days we would use the web to book into a hotel for the next day.

On the road we carried the map pages for the day in Jacqui’s map sleeve on her bar bag along with any detailed instructions she had copied out. I had the Garmin with the base map only, but it was a great help as a compass giving us a check on direction.  This saved us from a number of bad mistakes on the road.

Once we got to Spain and Portugal we had the luxury of detailed Garmin maps, but we chose to stick to our paper-based planning system.  This worked well once we adjusted to the change in scale!  This cut our daily range from a page plus in France to half a page in Spain.  A painful adjustment!

Route through Spain and Portugal

The Garmin did come into its own when trying to find routes out of cities and hotels on arrival.  Set to avoid motorways, tolls and unpaved tracks the Garmin proved reliable most of the time.

We ended up covering some 2,228km in total and climbing for 21,346 meters over 29 days so I guess the system was pretty well proved to work by the time we were finished! I certainly learned not to over-plan trips and leave some room for spontaneity in future.

Are we lost yet?

 

 

 

Cycle touring kit list – for non-camping softies who like toys and comforts!

We have been revising our essentials only kit list  we prepare for our month in Spain in October.  So far we plan to take:

Norman (Jacqui much the same in panniers (2@4.5kg) and bar bag(1.7kg), but no saddlebag)

BarbagOrtlieb Model 4 (weighs in at 2.7kg)
Wallet with cash and cards
Passport
Travel Tickets (train and ferry)
Next accommodation details
Travel Insurance Card
E111 Euro Health Card
‘Business’ Cards

Pleased to meet you!

Diary/Journal – Moleskine
Camera – Panasonic Lumix TZ30 (stills and video)
Camera – Flip Ultra (video)
Sat Nav – Garmin Edge 800
Mobile Phone – iphone 3S
Cycle Computer – Cateye Wireless
Torch – micro model
Pen
Swiss Army Knife
Keys
Sunglasses (off bike)
Reading Glasses
Waterproof cover
Micro Towel
Fieldglasses 10×25 – 7Dayshop.com
Compass

SaddlebagCarradice Long Flap (weighs in at 5.0kg)
Large D-Lock and 2 cables – Kryptonite New York 3000
Insulation Tape
Spare Tubes x2
Spare Cables – Rohloff x2
Sunblock
Cleaning Cloths x2
Bungee Ties x2
Paper Road Atlas – Michelin Spain and Portugal
Waterproof Jackets – Gore x2
Multitool – Toepeak
Eccentric Hub Spanner – Thorn
Latex Gloves x4
Cleaning cloth
Puncture Repair Kit
Tyre Levers
Cable Ties
Chain Lube
Mini Floor Pump – Revolution

Left Rear PannierOrtleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Hotel and Travel Documentation
Passport and Card Details (Photocopies)
Emergency Contact Numbers
Bike Details
Toilet Bag
Cycle Shorts x3
Cycle tops x4
Cycle Socks x3
iPad

Right Rear Pannier – Ortleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Trousers x2 Rohan
Shirt
Microfleece – Rohan
Sandals
Chargers’ Bag
– iPhone
– Nokia
– iPad
– Still camera – Ixus
– Still camera – Lumix
– Garmin
– iPad photo cable
– Mains Adapters x2
– Cateye Batteries x2
Medical Supplies
Reading Book

The Thorn Raven Sport Tour bikes we have are recommended to take no more than 16kg on the rear rack, so we are well inside that at 9kg.  The only downside is the massive 2.7kg for the D-Lock and cables.  I am tempted to take the lighter model and just make sure of the bikes physical safety wherever we can.  Good idea?

Navigation: using Via Michelin for cycle touring

I guess it should not come any any great surprise that this Michelin hosted site offers pretty good navigation features.  It is well worth a look as an alternative to cycle only sites and offers a number of attractive features.

Mapping Via Michelin Style

Firstly, the mapping is very clear and attractive and its possible to selectively add several layers of information and detail.  The maps give more detail as you zoom in and offer visual cues and keys.  Good use of colour give you a sense of the terrain, but if that is not enough, then you can add satellite or map/satellite hybrids.  As far as I can see, however, no elevation view is included.  However, you can ask to add different layers of detail showing locations of eating places, hotels, etc.

A second, very positive benefit for the cycle tourer is the option to specify that you want to follow cycle suitable routes when asking for directions.  Limited testing suggests that this does not throw up cycle only routes (such as greenways etc.) but it does keep you clear of major and cycle-unfriendly roads to a degree.  As you can specify locations you want to add along the route you can fine tune routes to a degree.  Better still you can ask for locations such as petrol stations or restaurants to be added and their location appears in the item by item written instructions.  As a luxury, it will add general weather information if you ask. Once you specify a destination, its possible to search for hotels in that destination from the same page. There is a suspicion than not all hotels are shown, however, but at least this provides a decent starting point.

All this is pretty neat and convenient with an a stable site that it is pretty straightforward to navigate.  Better still its possible to export and download the route instructions as a GPX file and for different types of GPS device.

The site works well on a desktop computer or on the Apple iPad, so it seems to have something to offer  the cycle tourer at home and on the road.  Anyone got any more experience with it – for good or bad?

Check out the Via Michelin site.

Garmin Edge 800 Navigation Tip

While I have had great success navigating with the Garmin Edge 800 using per-plotted routes created with Map My Ride, I have found navigating on the ground with the device a great frustration.  On previous rides I have struggled to get a sense of where I wanted to go from the small screen.

On a recent ride in Portugal, this technique came to me and I have found it very useful.  I zoom out till I can see a number of place names, then choose one in the direction I want to go.  I then go to Where to? And Cities in the sub menu and pick out the place name I want, generally 6 or so K away.  Routing to this spot with no tolls, trunks etc. generally produces a quiet ride.  On arrival I repeat the steps moving in the general direction sought for my final destination.

This has worked well for me and has taken me on some interesting back roads to some very small hamlets here in Portugal.  Certainly beats the local paper maps that are usually very inaccurate in my experience.

Technology: Take Care Creating Map My Ride GPX Files

We are just back from a 10 day mini-tour in the Algarve and Alentejo, Portugal.  Brilliant trip, wonderfully quiet roads, dramatic Atlantic coast scenery and kindness and a warm welcome everywhere we went.  One wee ‘operator error’ crept in, however: I hold my hands up – all my own fault.

I created a set of GPX files for our Garmin Edge 800 before going, using Map My Ride on my Apple iMac before leaving.  On the very first day we ran into trouble with the first of these routes.  After 15 glorious K of complicated navigation on very remote roads north of Messines we were directed to, ‘take the unpathed road’ to the right – and spent the next 20K battling up and down the roughest and remotest track imaginable.  We were on a track gouged into the hillside to service the radio masts built at the top of each summit.  No hamlets, no farms, no civilisation, nothing. No shade.  Wonderful if on a planned trip off road on the right bikes, but hardly what you want to be doing on commuter bikes with road tires and luggage for a week or more.  It made for a hot and sticky day and a certain amount of tension on the team!  There is a solution, however: read on.

On the Dirt Again

Overnight I realised my mistake.  Sitting at a 27 inch iMac, and determined to avoid major roads, I had zoomed in to a degree that showed up every house drive, dirt track and worse – all unaware that I was no longer dealing with ‘proper’ roads.  Zooming out just a little brought up roads with numbers and villages.  So each night thereafter we used Google Earth to check what we were getting ourselves into for the next day.  In passing I might say, the Garmin never missed a beat and always knew where we were and prompted us onto the right ‘track’ at every turn.  Without it carving a path for yourselves would have been very difficult. In that sense it was very reassuring.  Unfortunately, it could not keep an idiot from himself!  A lesson hard learned!

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