Category Archives: touring

Have Komoot, Will Tour

Retrospectively, if I had known what was to happen next, I would have ridden further and to hell with the coffee stops.  But hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Who knew COVID would rewrite my and many of my cycling friends’ worlds?  So, the late-winter almost-spring mini tour with Sarah Chaplin, a friend from Audax Oz, was based around short days, coffee, caik and good food.

The tour had first been discussed over the interweb back in October 2019 just before the start of the Hound Dawg 1200, promoted by the Lone Star Randonneurs.  I had time on my hands lazing in my hotel room, so it was easy to ping messages between Oz and the USA.  This should have given me more than ample time to plan, but I then went out to Oz to ride the Audax Australia 2019 Geelong Flyer 1200 in late November.  Once home, I continued to chase miles through December to break the AUK Women’s mileater record with 22,618 miles in a year.

Texas Hound Dawg

Geelong Flyer

The beginning of 2020 fell into a normal pattern.  Commute to work and then the usual round of early season 200km brevets.  Life was still busy, so planning the mini tour got put on the back burner, only being taken off less than a week before departure.

Looking for inspiration, I turned to the AUK calendar.  By happenstance, one of AUK’s classic brevets, the 150km Gospel Pass, made the perfect tour arrivee.  It is a brevet that I had wanted to ride for a while (I had never ridden the Gospel Pass before) but had not quite got around to doing.  So, I grabbed the opportunity.

The plan was over three days, to take Sarah through classic English lanes and stay at hotels that would either have a fantastic restaurant or be a place of interest.  Looking at Google Maps, some overnight towns jumped out at me – Milton Keynes, Stratford-on-Avon, Hereford, then Chepstow.  Finding suitable hotels was easy using knowledge gained from previous solo UK tours.  I was already familiar with some hotel chains where bikes were welcome plus food would be available.  Hereford would be the exception, but booking.com worked its magic.  These hotels fulfilled the touring cyclist mantra of ride, eat, sleep, repeat.

Now for routes.  My most enjoyable tours had been ones where planning was done on a day-to-day basis driven by things like avoiding bad weather or visiting places of interest that stood out in Lonely Planet travel guides.  With the advent of GPS this got lost, with meticulous planning done in advance from home. I felt that the experience I already had with Komoot might enable the spontaneity of before with the convenience of GPS.  Reading a paper map on the move is not exactly easy. Lo and behold it did.  Having preplanned destinations with hotel bookings allowed me to plan the next day’s route the evening before.  If I did not spot a foot path, there was ample time to re-route on the fly and still be at the hotel with plenty of time before dinner.  Having the stage towns about 100km apart meant I could use Komoot’s touring route planning, rather than road cycling.  The benefit of the touring route is that it does not take a fast direct option, but a leisurely route primarily using lanes.  I had already found that Komoot in touring route had a passion for goat tracks, sheep paths and seriously muddy canal towpaths.  I also like the element of it being a magical mystery tour which is very much like being on a brevet you haven’t ridden before.

Stratford-Upon-Avon

My steed for this adventure was Beryl, a Kinesis Tripster AT.  She handles brilliantly on brevets up to 600km, multiday touring, commuting and rough stuff.  The fat tubeless tyres meant she is fast on the road but surefooted on rough stuff.   Luggage was a Carradice Carradry saddle bag, otherwise known as ‘the ugly’ and a small Apidura top tube bag.  Set up like this, my chattels including the Tweccle   would stay dry, no matter what biblical weather was thrown at us.

Sarah’s bike was her PBP steed, a titanium thoroughbred.  A pair of large Ortlieb pink panniers and rack bag put it into touring mode.

Despite being early March, the weather was typical mixture of dull overcast skies and bright sunny days.  The only rain we had was for an hour or so on the way into Stratford.  This meant that the excellent bikepaths/ tracks that Komoot provided were mostly not too muddy and still ridable.  Only the occasional bridleway was deemed unsuitable and an alternative route found.  The climbs that Komoot chose to get to Hereford were long and, in some places, steep with fabulous views.  I do not think I would have necessarily chosen to go this way, but the scenery made me glad that I did.

Beryl only suffered one mechanical and that was the roads of Herefordshire rattling her rear mudguard to the point that one set of stays departed their fixing.  In good AUK style this problem was swiftly repaired with zip ties, their antenna left waving in the breeze.  Sadly, the puncture fairy was rather persistent with Sarah’s skinny tyres and she had several visitations.

Sarah likes beer.  This is something that the Brits are particularly good at and sadly three days was insufficient time for Sarah to check out as many as she would have liked.  The top lunch must go to Corse Lawn House Bistro.  I have ridden past this more times than I can remember.  Knowing what food delights lie within, I think next time it is going to be a struggle not to stop!

One of the highlights of the ride was meeting my exceptionally good friends, Anne and Mark Brazier, in Ewyas Harold near Hereford, which strangely enough is on the Brevet Cymru 400 route.  The meeting point was a church hall that turned into a coffee house for the morning.  A whole gaggle of Hereford Wheelers had collected, as it was their regular Friday morning meet-up spot.  The usual swapping of stories ensued while tea was guzzled and cake was scoffed.

Given that the following day we would be riding 150km including the Gospel Pass I had considered a longer, flatter way to Monmouth.  Anne and Mark were very keen to ride with us to Monmouth on their way home to Ledbury and it seemed churlish to decline.  Mark’s preferred way was through the hills, a route well known to me but in reverse, again on the Brevet Cymru.  The sun shone and the ride to Monmouth was fantastic.  Mark’s recommendation for lunch was the Spoons, which was OK and provided the opportunity to summon a GF apple crumble from our table using a smart phone app.  Little did we know that eating in a crowded pub was shortly going to be a dim and distant thing of the past.

Monmouth

The final stretch from Monmouth into Chepstow was the old Bryan Chapman 600 route past the ruins of Tintern Abbey, following the River Wye.  You get two countries for the price of one as you briefly dip into England and then back to Wales.  There is some climbing involved but the distraction of the scenery makes the road seem almost flat until the twisty climb out of Tintern up to Chepstow Racecourse.  I have ridden this road so many times in both directions on brevets, but the only time I had stopped was as a child.  I decided it was essential that a stop be made to sample the tea and caik that I was sure I had glimpsed when whizzing through a-wheel.  I spotted a little tea rooms right by the abbey.  Sarah was somewhat impressed by what Henry VIII had left of the abbey but seriously impressed by the gluten-free carrot cake.

Tintern Abbey

My preferred hotel pre-Bryan Chapman, the Castle Inn had no vacancies.  It is always a flying visit and it would have been good to enjoy its hospitality at a more leisurely pace but sadly, no vacancies. I guess too many other riders had realised that its front door opened onto the start of the Gospel Pass brevet.  Via the internet, I found another good hotel that did the job perfectly. The only downside would be that we would have to ride uphill to the hotel after the brevet.  The Bike Butler met us there with Shedman (the car) as I had persuaded him that a hilly 150km in early March was just what he wanted!

Chepstow Castle

The day of the Gospel Pass, the weather was murky with a hint of rain in the air.  Beryl performed perfectly, less so the rider.  We headed out of Chepstow, leaving the castle behind us, over the river and immediately started climbing.  The climb would last for some kilometres enabling a circuitous route to the first control at Monmouth.  The nominated control was rammed so I stopped at Costas.  Then it was over to Abergavenny via the Gospel Pass, taking in a few minor lumpy bits on the way. By the time we reached the Gospel Pass, the rain had gone.  However, some idiot had installed the headwind from hell as we grovelled upwards firmly in the gutter.  As I winched myself to the top, I was looking forward to a rapid decent.  Alas not; spotting the smooth amongst the potholes and gravel was a challenge.  Any silky-smooth stretches on the descent could not have added up to more than a handful of metres.  Of course, Beryl handled this perfectly.

Abergavenny was the final control before the finish at Chepstow.  I was dreaming of the 24-hour petrol station having been a rather regular visitor to this oasis.   Instead, we got the opportunity for some brief time travel in a pub that had somehow got stuck in the ‘70s.  The run into the arrivee would be the oh-so-familiar route to Usk and up and over to Shirenewton.  Nick Peregrine, the original sorely missed organiser of this ride, directed us left into Shirenewton rather than the usual straight on and through some fantastic back lanes to avoid much of the A466.  A final swish down to Chepstow and the ride was complete.  Jen (Nick’s partner), the current organiser, was waiting for us in the Three Tuns.  Digby carefully refuelled, using a method that is remarkably familiar to anyone who knows George Hanna. 

Digby at the Three Tuns

I will certainly be using Komoot for future touring when I want to plan the route on the fly.  The one thing that I would do differently is use my Garmin GPS for this, rather than the Wahoo.  The Wahoo is perfect for brevets where the route is defined, and you really have no intention of going off it.  However, there are occasions with Komoot as route planner, where tweaks may be required while you are riding.  This is a challenge with the black and white map of the Wahoo and its more rigid zoom and the way it marks the route.  With the coloured, easily zoomed map of Garmin and the purple line, it is much easier for me.  A plus with the Wahoo is that you can kill the route without having to stop and save your track.  You simply create a new route on your phone, ping it across and start riding.  Sadly, this is not possible with a Garmin, as you cannot push a route through from your phone with the ride being recorded   It would have been good to have a small tablet to review the route once plotted.  Doing a route on an iPhone screen was a tad challenging.

The Brevet Bird


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Autumn Tour 2014 – Old Roads and New (borrowed from the great Jock Wadley)

We, the peloton

  • Me – The Brevet Bird
  • My side kick – the Co-pilot
  • Our trustee steed – Casper the Little White Moulton
  • Guest appearances, the Kit-Kat wrapper & Gollum the GPS

Day 1 – The big tailwind

IMG_1706A late start was cunningly achieved through lack of preparation caused by too many kilometres a-wheel in the preceding weeks. With tracks finally created and loaded onto the Garmin, Casper’s tiny tyres hit the asphalt and started to turn at round about 10am. Our destination was Surfleet, just outside of Spalding and the Ship Inn.

The route was very familiar and at most contained undulations. Sneaking out of the Chilterns back door via Wendover, we then headed to Tingewick via Silverstone. Knowing that lunch opportunities would be thin on the ground, lunch was grabbed at the preferred cafe at Towcester.

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The sun continued to shine and the wind blew from behind. It was a wonderful, almost autumnal day to be out on the bike. Traversing Northampton was its usual painful self. But once we had poppws out the other side into Moulton, the lanes were delightful. Good progress was made and the back of the Kit-Kat wrapper calculation said that despite the late start that arrival at the Ship Inn would be in goodly time.

Spalding seemed to dangle from our grasp for far too long. Then suddenly we zoomed over the Spalding prime sign. Just 10km and we would be at the day’s arrivee.

At 8pm we arrived at the Ship Inn. It turned out to be an excellent choice with a warm welcome, excellent food and a room with a centrally heated washing line located in the bathroom. What more could a super tourist randonneur wish for?  213km

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Day 2 – The Headwinds Start

Our destination was York YHA. We would be traveling mostly on well laid Easter Arrow tramlines with the added frisson of the Lincolnshire Wolds thrown in. Again, not a hilly day if you were counting contour lines, but plenty of Dutch hills created by the rather unkindly headwind that didn’t vanish all day.

The day started in an over relaxed fashion as the back of the Kit-Kat wrapper said we had plenty of time. It lied. Because I thought we had the time, I succumbed to rather too many photo stops, which were on the whole too good to decline. The Co-pilot remonstrated with me that I was stuffing around. I took no notice.

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When we reached Boston, where there was no tea party, I realised that I had made an error on the track. Luckily the Spoons provided the internet power to check what the route should really look like. Thus we headed off to Spilsby, then to Horncastle where it seemed like a good idea to have lunch. This turned out to be quite correct as we didn’t pass any more cafes for the next 130km.

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After lunch we crept up the Lincolnshire wolds as the headwind caused an increase in these gentle climbs. At Brigg, I’d forgotten that we were not travelling just before dawn, so taking the A18 to Scunthorpe wasn’t necessarily the best idea I’d ever had. Scunthorpe at peak hour isn’t a place to endear itself to you. Then it was the switchback lanes following for the most part the River Trent to Goole via Swinefleet.

Goole provide both the highlight and excitement of the day. The swing bridge was in operation. As a child, my dad had waxed lyrical about this bridge as we crossed it in the car most Easters. However, I’d never seen it in action. In the evening sun, approaching dusk it was a pleasure to watch it in action.

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Once the bridge was swung and dropped into place, it was off to Howden and then the bad lands of great flatness to York.

York arrived as per the evil Kit-Kat wrapper’s prediction, late. A cunning plan formed to solve the question of dinner. Pick up take away fish and chips. Simple in the planning, it turned out to be tricky in the executing. After what seemed like ages, but probably wasn’t, fish and chips were purchased and attached to the Carradice.

York YHA had been extended and upgraded since my last visit. It now had a large and welcoming reception area with a bar and plenty of space to eat and relax. Once the fish and chips had been consumed it was time for a shower and bed. I was most pleased to find new bunk beds with individual power points. So there were no dramas charging the various gadgets overnight.  217km

Day 3 – The Lunacy Starts and the Head Wind Continues

I should have known better when I planned the route to Durham, our next stage town. But I was kind of like a kid in a sweet shop. I wanted it all even if it wasn’t god for me. In this case it was going to make the legs hurt. Basically I’d picked places on the basis of revisiting some of my early touring memories and forgetting how the roads between them were going to join up. I’d found 3,000 meters of assent, with it turned out an added bonus headwind.

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The plan was to have lunch in Kirby Stephen as I remembered a great café there. But the wind had been so pesky that I decided that a late elevensees stop was in order. A suitable cafe beckoned in Leycock. The dreaded Kit-Kat wrapper popped its head up and adjusted the truth. The 30km to Kirby Stephen was not going to take us one and a half hours. With the head wind, rain and super gloom it was going to be a good two hours of gutter grovelling. On the upside, once the super gloom disappeared the views didn’t disappoint and the decent into Kirby Stephen was rather pleasurable. That’s where the pleasure of arrival took a temporary halt. Every café was closed, including the one lodged in my memory banks. Desperation set in. Then I spotted a rather odd little shop that promised caike. I hurried in to check. Indeed caike and coffee were on offer. OK, not a perfectly balanced lunch, but hey needs must.

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My meteo observations had been correct. We would get blown down to Middleton in Teesdale. It was a blast. Initially the wind was reasonably friendly, climbing out of Middleton. Then the wind turned nasty. It attacked us relentlessly from the side. So much so that over Weardale we were blown from gutter to gutter and almost onto the road. A short section of nifty SPD sandal work in the 24” gear was necessary to keep us moving, well enough not to grow moss. The rather lovely touch was the police van that drove pass but didn’t think to check that one small woman pushing a shopping bike was OK. I’ve never been quite so worried on a bike. After making a steep descent that felt more like a climb, we reach Stanhope and a very welcome right turn. Yippee, the wind was at our backs and remained so right up to our arrivee at the Star Inn, Durham.

Some undulations, then some climbing and suddenly we were descending and descending for multiple kilometres. There had to be some catch to this as Doughty’s law says ‘what goes down has to climb up again’, but for the moment we enjoyed a free ride.

The staff at the Star Inn were fantastic. I’d arrived just after kitchen close off time and the chef very kindly accepted my order for vegetarian lasagna, which was superb. All round the stay here was brilliant.  206km

Day 4 – Yet more lunacy and further headwinds

Doughty’s law was correct by virtue of my own cunning planning. To get to the next stage town of Bamburgh, we had to climb the descent of the previous evening. Of course the wind had remained in position, so we were climbing into a headwind plus occasional squally showers. Our reward for this putting up with this was some rather fine rainbows.

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Planning a route on soft mapping means that providing your GPS doesn’t have any emotional meltdowns, you always know you are going to get to the arrivee. However, what you can’t tell is how steep the undulations are. The answer to the rather beautiful back road to Alston was super severe.

As we ground up seemingly never ending steep inclines that we had not asked for on our way to Alston, a close relative of the wind that had inhabited Weardale relentlessly toyed with us. Again, keeping Casper upright and perhaps evening moving forwards was a challenge. The payback was magnificent panoramic views. The decent into Alston was down a series of very steep ‘steps’ which popped out onto the top of the famed cobbled road. I’d always wondered where this road went; it’s nice to have a question answered but not a road to be revisited in a hurry.

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This time memory and 2014 actuality matched. The café that I remembered in Alston was still there and as good as I the memory banks said it was. A swift lunch and we were rolling along with a helpful side wind and more down than up. Of course this arrangement couldn’t last forever.

At Haydon Bridge the crinkles started getting bigger and the head wind came back to pester us enough to be noticeable. Because I remembered it’s rather fine castle from a tour way back when, I put Alnwick on the days itinerary. I hadn’t though realised that a roller coster of lumpy bits would sit between us from Rothbury to Alnwick. Just as we had given up hope of reaching Alnwick, in the twilight it appeared. As we swung past the castle it didn’t disappoint.

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Although in theory the roads from Alnwick to Bamburgh were flat, to tired legs worn down by hills and headwinds it didn’t feel flat. A visit by the man with the hammer didn’t help, but a swift bar of Cadbury’s milk chocolate fixed the situation. Once we turned on to the coast road the speed picked up. Noticing the time on the Garmin, we sprinted across the Bamborough prime time to slide the day in just under the 13 hour mark. Despite Bamburgh being such a small place, locating our hotel was more challenging than expected. Finally tucked up in our hotel room enjoying picnic supper and doing the days write up, we looked back on a very fine day a-wheel. Tomorrow would be the rest day.  204km

Day 5 – Thus to Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne had been a place I had wanted to visit for some time. Galloping past it on Rufus the tandem trike on our 600km brevet earlier in the summer had been the nudge I’d needed to finally go. It didn’t disappoint.

After a leisurely breakfast, we set off into quite lanes and sunshine. Mainly using NCN1 we worked our way from Bamburgh to the causeway that takes you from the mainland to Lindisfarne. The magic of Lindisfarne started as soon as the causeway commenced. I’m not sure the impact in a car would have been the same as a-wheel. The smell of the sea, the squawking of the birds and the rustle of the tall grasses all added to a wow factor experience.

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Lindisfarne is very small, but packed with history. It’s where one of the book of Kells was written and where Saint Aidan set up his mission to convert the local pagans to Christianity. With so many tea shops to chose from, lunch was spread over two cafes. After a relaxing couple of hours it was time to retrace back to the mainland before the tide came in and covered the causeway for multiple hours.

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The plan was to hug the coast up to Berwick upon Tweed using NCN1. However, when NCN1 turned into a goat track, that idea was swiftly abandoned and some off the cuff GPS navigating was deployed. Berwick turned out to be a rather delightful stage town. I’d booked the Youth Hostel, which other than the 4am fire alarm provided an excellent place to stay.  65km

Day 6 – Boarder Raid

Meeting up with my very good friends, Mark and Anne Brazier on the new bridge at Berwick, we spent a wonderful morning riding from England into the Scottish boarders. At Galashiels, Mark and Anne turned around to loop back to Berwick and we headed on to Edinburgh, Linlithgow and then Glasgow.

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At Innerleithen a cafe appeared right on time. We stopped. The most memorable item on the menu was haggis and brie panini. On leaving the cafe we took the most amazing road, quietly climbing through a beautiful glen with a gentle back wind. Then onto the hurly burly of Edinburgh. With time in hand, a well earned afternoon tea stop was taken in a little continental cafe just beyond the town centre.

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After that, the roads got a little unpleasant, but fortunately there was a shared use pavement to decamp onto rather than be squashed by the fast moving traffic on the A9. Then onto Linlithgow. Birthplace of Mary Queen of Scotts within the walls of it’s small palace. It didn’t disappoint, although it would have been nice to have stopped rather than just pass through.

Then came green fields, pleasantly undulating lanes and our final sunset of the IMG_1727tour before heading into the grey of Glasgow. The GPS guided us perfectly to Glasgow Central station and the finish of our tour. From here, following a spot of dinner we would take the sleeper back to London, home and work until the next tour beckoned.  210km

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