Well the time has come to report on my little 80 quid experiment I undertook on the road since last posting, and after a loop of the Scottish Isles with several litres of luggage on board, I think it is now safe to call it a success.
The ride began with 3 of us convening in Manchester to ram ourselves, the 3 bikes, and enough to sustain us for just over a week into a small European hatch, and then proceed north for 5 hours, sans aircon. I’ll say at this point I had copped somewhat of a bumsteer on touring gear recommendations – there was a small misunderstanding on my behalf about the difference between waterproof overpants, and walking overpants. I had the former, which as you may have guessed on a hot day were doing a better job of keeping moisture in!
Getting underway, riding a loaded bike is a weird sensation – particularly when it has full racing geometry and is made from ‘built for comfort’ steel – standing up was a real surprise – the whole thing felt like a top heavy beast that belonged at a rodeo. This took some taming, particularly owing to the style of riding it was subjected: the other two on the trip were avid racers in their own respective disciplines it was not long before we were forming an echelon in crosswinds, chewing the bars on descents, and swapping off manoeuvres that were probably a little close with the panniers on. All this would have been a little better had my bike not shown its one little weakness of a notched headset! Not so pleasant down a steep descent all loaded up.
So whereabouts did this little trip go? We ended up doing a lap of the Outer Hebrides (the western most isles in GB) all on a £31.50 ferry pass – a bargain for 10 hrs ferry time. The only disadvantage with this massively reduced ferry ticket was the direction in which we were riding – it would mean riding south down the islands – a little bit of a problem given the prevailing SW winds in the region. Not only did we cop these on the trip, but it would seem no matter which way we rode there was only one 8 mile section of road where a tail wind was received. In fact the headwinds were that strong at one point after cresting a pass I was pedalling the 39-15 flat out down a 6% grade, only to be brought to a stop by a huge gust. There were a few very tough days in theses conditions!
Accommodation was an absolute cinch – Scotland has the advantage of very liberal laws with regard to camping – essentially if you are not on someone’s property and 100m from the nearest road all is good. This resulted in many loch-side evenings, and even asking the local publican whereabouts a superior campsite could be found in the dunes around the front of the pub.
To end the trip, it was decided owing to opportunity and ferry timetables that it would be hard to pass up a cycle sportive in the Lake District on the way south. What a winner – arriving at 5a.m., pitching tents, and awake and out on bikes by 10a.m. may not sound like fun, but when it is into quintessential English countryside over 4 of the most challenging passes in the UK, and around 20ºc – who could complain? 40 miles were smashed without the hindrance of the anchor-like panniers, although one 25% climb with a headwind did get somewhat close! Back at race central there was what can only be described as the fullest spread of post bike ride food I have ever seen – yep and I’ve been to Euro pasta parties. All included in the miniscule race entry of 15 quid. A few good local ales and a hog roast were also included in this to boot. Going back to work on Monday was certainly a mission!
Some may say that cycle touring is not ideal for marathon training, but I beg to differ – there were many good solid hours put into riding, and many more hours of quality chamois time!
As for the 80 pound experiment – not a single mechanical was encountered all trip – that is if you don’t count the increasingly worse ‘don’t take your hands off the bars or you will die’ notched headset steering. 8 Pounds should sort that. Pity about the 120 spent on the panniers and rack!