Navigating – Cycling Lands End to John’O’Groats Part 2

Following on from LEJOG part 1  this article focuses on plotting and navigating your route from Lands End to John’O’Groats. Previously I asked if you want to challenge yourself by riding a fast and direct route or if you plan to see the sights and make a ‘full on’ cycle tour of your journey? Decide what appeals to you most, my advice for either category is very different.

Lands End to John’O’Groats – Fast and Direct

There’s no official LEJOG route but if you are challenging your speed and endurance it may be worth taking a look at other cyclists routes who have raced their ‘end to end’. You’ll find plenty of riders accounts of how they completed their challenge, the route they rode and their reasons for choosing it. They’ll also often mention what they would do differently and this info can be invaluable. Take reference and inspiration from other riders.  The fastest routes will have been plotted, finding one that suits your own ability and time frame will save you hours of research and plotting.

Lands End to John’O’Groats – The Sight-seeing Cycle Tourist

If you’re riding the length of the country you may as well see the sights, right? My advice for this kind of ride is to please yourself entirely. A fast and direct route can be copied from whose who have gone before because the emphasis is on the speed not the sights. The touring cyclist should ignore other ‘end to enders’ routes, of course draw inspiration from cyclists logs but don’t get bogged down by them. Choose what you want to see and plot your route between these points, travelling along the type of roads (or paths) you want to ride. Of course, the time you have available for your trip will greatly determine your route. If you have two weeks it’s no good picking points of interest on opposite sides of the country. Remember your not against the clock. If you only have two weeks available but your perfect route needs four, split the ride in two and complete the second half the following year. It’s not a race!

Cornwall scenery whilst cycling Land end to John'O'Groats

Inspiration from Others

Cycling forums and even ‘End to End’ specific chat rooms are a great source to find riders LEJOG accounts. Posts will usually include a link for a route map recorded by GPS. At this point of your planning it’s worth getting familiar with a route planning tool, these are another good source of cyclists routes.

I use and swear by ‘Ride With GPS’ . This is a great route plotting tool with lots of handy features. You’ll need an evening to become familiar with it but the software really is very intuitive. ‘Ride with GPS’ allows you to search previously saved rides and planned routes from other riders. These can be saved to your own route folder and you can alter, edit and save your changes.

Ride with GPS for a Direct route from Lands End to John’O’Groats

If you’re riding fast and direct you can search for rides that have been ridden quickly. Look at the roads that have been travelled and decide if you’d be happy to ride them. If you like the majority of the route but there’s a few roads that you would prefer to avoid simply drag the route line from the roads you don’t like the look of to ones you do.

Another great feature with ‘Ride with GPS’ is you can select the map type the plotting software is overlaid on. By using Google Maps you can zoom in, then use ‘Street view’ to take a look at the actual road you’re planning to ride. It’s surprising how ‘A’ roads can differ, some are no more than quiet country roads and others are very busy main trunk roads. ‘Street View’ will help you determine the type of roads your contemplating.

When plotting a fast and direct route using ‘Ride with GPS’ there are two handy tips. Tick the ‘avoid highways’ box, you can then select a start point and an end point then the software will plot a route avoiding all motorways. Also select your form of transport as ‘driving’. If you select ‘cycling’ the software will include any near-by cycle routes and choose cycle lanes through town centres etc. Don’t be fooled by even the most direct looking cycle lanes unless you want a severe dip in your average speed.

Planning plotting a route from Lands End to John'O'Groats for cycle touring

Ride with GPS for Cycle Touring Lands End to John’O’Groats

I found this software the perfect plotting tool for my end to end tour. I wanted to ride traffic-free where possible and elsewhere only on quiet roads. ‘Ride with GPS’ allows you to choose each individual road of your route. This isn’t a quick process but once planned you can start your tour confident with every mile of your intended route.

I spent many evenings picking out my route, zooming in and switching to street view, checking the road was one I’d want to ride. I’d pan the view round to see what sights were awaiting me. What I thought would be a chore I found myself enjoying.  A lot of Lands End to John’O’Groats cyclists plot and save a route based around each days riding. My advice is to plot each route section in a nice round hundred miles. If you try to plot per day you’ll often fall short of your target or reach your destination too early with more in the tank and want to push on.

When I first started using this software I was plotting each turn manually. As I became more familiar with it I used the point to point feature more often. From a set point I would pick a village or point of interest in the general direction I was heading and select it. ‘Ride with GPS’ will then plot a route to that location based on the options you’ve selected. I would always then check back using ‘Street View’ to check the road images in a few spots and be double sure of the choice. This method speeds up the plotting process. I could plot a 100 mile route with care in a few hours of an evening.

As I mentioned above, ‘Ride with GPS’ will allow you to plot ‘point to point’, the software will devise the best route depending on the options you’ve selected. When using this software for cycle touring you’ll want to tick the ‘avoid highways’ box and possibly select your means of transport as ‘cycling’. One word of warning, by selecting ‘cycling’ the route plotter will use cycle paths and lanes where possible. In my case this was exactly what I wanted but there were some cycle paths that anything other than a 26″ wheel with a chunky tyre wouldn’t have coped with. I followed canal paths and went through forests which were magical but could be a nightmare if you’re running skinny road tyres.

Navigating from Lands End to John’O’Groats – OS Maps / Print-outs

In the run up to my ‘end to end’ tour I read countless times of cyclists having navigational nightmares, especially through built-up areas. Travelling at the speed we do, we generally have plenty of time to consider our navigation but slip ups are easily made. After stopping to look at your map you know that your due to take a left turn shortly on to a road that will take you to Cirencester. A little way on you approach a left turn signposted Cirencester which you take. Unfortunately, the turn you actually wanted is a further half mile on and the road you’ve taken is a long winding one that will eventually take you to Cirencester but adding another eight miles to your daily tally. My tip to avoid this type of slip up is invest in a GPS unit.

GPS Navigation – A Touring Cyclists Best Friend!

So you’ve spent hours plotting your perfect route from Lands End to John’O’Groats on your laptop from the comfort of your armchair. My advice to get the most from your carefully plotted route is to be guided by a GPS unit. ‘Ride with GPS’ allows you to download your routes to a whole host of GPS devices and even your mobile phone with the click of a button. There are help articles on the site, guiding you through the export process for each compatible GPS model.

GPS for navigating cycle touring to Lands End to John O Groats

Garmin Etrex GPS for Cycle Touring

A big problem for the touring cyclist is keeping their devices charged, especially if you’re camping. I get around this problem with two solutions. My GPS is a Garmin Etrex, the beauty of this unit is that it’s powered by two ‘AA’ batteries. This is great for cycle touring. I carry two spare batteries and stop at a shop when I need more. I always then have two new batteries ready to go and I’m never carrying more than two spare. On average you’ll get two to three full eight hour days of navigating from each battery set.

The Etrex unit itself is a versatile bit of kit, it was originally and primarily designed for hikers. I find using the unit itself a bit slow and clunky but the beauty is you don’t need to fiddle with the Etrex if your routes have been downloaded to it.  Take my advice, don’t attempt to plot a route using the Etrex, it’ll drive you mad! always plot and download from a route planning tool then simply select and ride.

The routes you’ve plotted at home on your computer are downloaded with ease to the Etrex from ‘Ride with GPS’. When you turn on the unit, the Etrex will acquire satellites and all your saved routes will be displayed as a list. The route that’s closest to your current position will appear at the top of the list. Your position on the map is displayed as an icon and you simply follow your highlighted route accompanied by small prompts along the way. The only feature I use whilst riding is the map zoom, closest when I’m in built up areas and zoomed out for long straight runs.

Cycle Touring using Phone Navigation Apps

There’s lots of apps out there to record your route and navigate to your destination. The trouble is they generally use lots of battery power and data allowance, however, there are ways around this. ‘Ride with GPS’ has a handy, easy to use app with mapping that is much more detailed than the Etrex. We’re all familiar using our touch screen smart phones, the pinch and zoom commands make using it much easier and quicker. My tip is to use the app mapping but without navigation assistance. Use your battery powered GPS unit to guide you as this won’t cost you any data usage and batteries are easily replaced. Then, use your phone mapping app as an occasional reference and planning tool.

‘Ride with GPS’ Phone App

So, plan your 100 mile routes on your laptop using ‘Ride with GPS’ and download them to your battery powered Etrex GPS for an accurate navigating guide. Then download the ‘Ride with GPS’ phone app and all your routes will show there too.

In the app, tap on the route you’re riding, this will give you a detailed map with your highlighted route line. At this point you are not using any data or excessive battery use. You can switch map type on the app, on my Iphone I have nine map options. I used Apple Maps for general navigation but would occasionally switch to satellite or Hybrid when looking for places to wild camp away from built up areas.

A very handy feature when on the apps route overview, from the options list select ‘show my location’. This will show your current position on the map, it will use a bit more battery and some data but not a great deal. The real drain is when the app is used as a full navigation and route recording tool, I wouldn’t recommend this. I find using the map overview with ‘show my location’ very handy, I sometimes leave this on when riding if I’m looking for an alternative route away from my plotted course to find a shop for supplies etc. You can then follow your position on the map and see where you are in relation to your original route and where you need to go to rejoin your plotted course.

Phone / GPS Battery Power when Cycle Touring

Keeping charge in your devices is essential. My second tip is to gear up to generate your own power. Probably the most useful bit of kit on my bike is a dynamo hub. This allows me to generate power from my front wheel hub which feeds directly to a power bank which in turn passes through and charges my phone. It’s reassuring to know that I have a fully charged phone and reserve power stored in a battery bank for any other charging needs or to keep my phone topped up whilst I sleep. I’ll go through this set-up in a later article.

Summary

Whether you’re relying on highlighted paper maps or you prefer seeing your position shown on a GPS unit, you won’t go too far wrong finding your way from Lands End to John’O’Groats. Personally, I prefer to do my route planning before leaving on a tour so I have less to do on the roadside. Plotting your route at home and having a battery powered GPS saves a lot of stopping and map reading. Your smart phone will make any deviations from your planned route easy and is a good referencing tool with powerful mapping. Electronic mapping also saves carrying countless paper maps to cover each stage of your journey. Now with the technology available to charge your devices self sufficiently I’m comfortable with the electronic option. There is something nice in mulling over a paper map, I just prefer to do this in my lounge with a cuppa and not on a wet and windy roadside!

Garmin Etrex and Iphone navigating from Lands End to John'O'Groats on a cycle tour

I am in no way connected with ‘Ride with GPS’ or any other company credited in this article. Companies and manufacturers mentioned are ones that I have personal experience of and are relevant to the article subject.

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