Posted by: Ian | March 31, 2012

A day’s bike ride from London to Somerset

This year I’ve had a few great rides of 40-70 miles in length but have been feeling the lack of any recent longer rides. When Paula suggested taking a day off work to have a long ride around London, it occurred to me that I could actually cycle home. Originally I thought this would have to be a two day ride but when I checked it on BikeRouteToaster – simply putting Steve’s address in as the start point and home as the end – I saw that it was makable in a day. Despite having incurred a bad back from riding on her Yukon when the saddle had slipped into a bad position, Emily was also keen to join me on the 150 mile ride.

Here’s the route:

We set off yesterday with the simple aim of finishing more or less in the light. For navigation, we both loaded the route onto our Garmin 800’s. For a quick overview, Emily had prepared a couple of sheets of map clips that summarised the key sections. In addition, for back up I printed off 15 map pages that covered the route as far as Sherborne on a 1:50,000 scale. I also finally got round to getting a seatpost bag for the Astraeus. I chose a Rixen & Kaul that has space for me easily to pack more repair gear than I could pack in wedgie bag, more snacks than I could get in a top tube bag and enough layers for me to deal with any weather – while still being reasonably light. Mounting it was a breeze but I first had to switch my carbon seatpost for the Van Nicholas Ti one. As I’ve written before, the Van Nic post looks great and works well but it’s a pig to change saddles on it. Despite this, since I don’t get on with the Fizik saddle that was previously attached, I switched it for the comfier Charge Spoon saddle that I had on another bike.

Emily and I both left at 6:00 AM and each rode 3 miles to our meeting point on the Harrow Road. From there it was a quick run on quiet roads to the A4. Initially we used the A4’s bike lane but we soon got fed up with its pavement surface – one of my bidons got jolted right out of the bottle cage – and so moved onto the appealing newly re-laid tarmac of the  road itself.

By 7:30 we were in Windsor and ready for a big breakfast. Unfortunately, Windsor was closed and we pushed on, and didn’t take our first stop until we reached a small village green (at Shurlock Row) after we’d ridden over 30 miles.

Our plan of stopping every 25 miles was met, approximately, next at Kingsclere, where we had a welcome hot tea with scone (Emily) and topical pasty (me). This left a short section down to Andover, where we made our lunch stop at noon, although without eating anything that could be classed as lunch. Instead we had coffee and Cafe Nero snacks, while a guy in a games shop plugged in my Garmin, whose battery, despite being fully charged the day before, was already running down.

The sun came out, transforming the day, and we sat outside with our drinks. We were making very good time and the next several miles of cycling were ideal.

In setting the BikeRouteToaster route, I had switched to OSM maps and chosen the Bike routing option. My only worry about the course that it generated was that at about 80 miles it set us on a long section of bridleway, which was marked as the continuation of a Roman road. It wasn’t clear to me that it would be cycleable on road bikes and there were no convenient road alternatives. My fears were justified. The first section was a sun-hardened, narrow, twisting mud footpath. This gave back onto the road for a while before we re-joined the main off-road section. We saw it stretch up ahead of us, straight and apparently relatively steep. The nicest part of it came after the uphill, when there was a gentle grassy run:

For the next few miles the path reverted to sun-baked, twisting mud through trees, only this time with added undulations. Scenically, it was one of the most picturesque parts of the whole day and this was only enhanced by the occasional sound of a South West training rushing along an adjacent cutting. However, for Emily (with a sore back) the rough and uneven path was not helpful. No road bikes could have been better suited to this than our titanium Van Nicholas Yukon and Astraeus, but the treadless 23mm tyres and lack of suspension took their toll, literally halving our speed.

Our next stop came at Wilton. By now my Garmin was reporting low battery but I had no luck finding anywhere to get it charged. Since we’d stopped we had some very welcome food and disappointing coffee; again, as in Kingsclere, we took it in a very pretty churchyard:

From here, the BRT route directed us up to high ground and along a ridgeway path. For the sake of Emily’s back, we instead took the A30, which was scenic and thankfully quiet of traffic. Knowing that my Garmin was about to die, we took yet another stop at Shaftesbury, which came at round the 100 mile point. As I cycled onto the High Street the Garmin did indeed die. This time, though, we found a friendly photography shop where they were happy to give it another charge while we had a leisurely coffee in the Costa next door (and Emily popped another neurofen to relieve her back pain).

Since the A30 was working well for us, for simplicity we kept on it all the way to Yeovil Pen Mill. Before reaching Sherborne, both of our Garmins crapped out and were dead for the rest of the day. They had lasted long enough to navigate us to where I knew my way home but it’s disappointing that neither of us has a complete record of what is, for both of us, our longest ride yet. The current issue of Cycling Weekly has a review of a cheaper unit that detects ANT+ and records ride activity and which has a phenomenal reported battery life of 18 hours but lacks mapping. As Emily suggested, next time we’ll pack our own plug chargers.

We had no further stops as it was touch and go whether we’d make it back in the light. The final 20 or so miles from Yeovil took us on a beautiful cross country route that I especially like. A huge orange sun set in front of us as we cycled from Hinton St George and we still had good light as we set up the final, and toughest, climb of the day. The combination of a sore back, 150 miles of cycling and the final steep ramp at the end of a two mile climb depleted Emily’s reserves and we were both glad that we could essentially coast home from the top.

By now the daylight had just gone and I was glad of the floodlighting quality of my Exposure Joystick helmet-mounted light. As we ground out the last couple of hundred yards to our gate (Emily now walking for fear of hitting an unlit patch of sketchy road) we came across Paula, who had come to wave us in with a Union flag. And inside she lifted our spirits further with big bowls of chilli.

The day had gone pretty much exactly to plan. We’d cycled over 150 miles with well over 6,000 feet of ascent and we hadn’t got lost. We’d had no punctures or accidents. We’d had breaks more or less on schedule, though perhaps not had enough food. We’d made it almost right home in the last hint of the gloaming. And inspired by our efforts, Paula and Heidi had got up at our start time of 6:00 and walked a hilly half marathon.

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Responses

  1. I see this is from a few years ago, but I am trying to arrange a school charity ride for parents from Yeovil to North London . I wondered if u had any tips about your route, we are a mixed group of keen Lycra men to people who haven’t cycled since their youth!! We plan to do it in 2 days . Any ideas where would be a good first night stop over so that day 2 is an easier day??

    • Hi Sam,
      I’ve done that ride a few times now. In essence, it’s a great trip from Somerset to Basingstoke then it becomes very urban. I’d be inclined to overnight just to our side of Basingstoke and then plan the next carefully, being prepared to do some extra miles, if necesary, to improve the route. I’d be happy to give you more advice/thoughts by direct email (dearsir@mac.com). Good luck! Ian

  2. […] North to South line. Then, I was on a day-long ride from London to Somerset. I recorded that ride here, but I didn’t record what a crap bike buddy I was to Emily who came with me: in my anxiety […]

  3. Hi,

    Personally I would recommend something like this:

    http://www.fesv.com.sg/arigo_mobile_power-amp_i5000.html

    Portable, emergency charger with a rechargeable battery inside… Ideal for our Garmins 😉 I brought my from Sinagpore but it’s easy to buy something similar in UK (check: http://goo.gl/5gqNS)

    Buy only with the capacity 5000mAh and more! Will last longer on one charge.

    Regards,
    Mariusz

    • Many thanks for that. Looks like a v useful product for a pile of things.


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