Picture of Ken and Linda with their tandem

Title: End to End by Tandem. Ken & Linda Hardy

 Tips for preparing for the ride

Small map showing our route

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How to get to one end and from the other?

  • Train - This is good if you have an easy service to/from somewhere near your home. It's certainly the most environmentally friendly way of transporting you and your tandem. See below for more detail.
  • Car - OK if you have a tandem carrier (we don't) and a willing person to drive all that way. Don't forget that it's a round trip of 2000 miles or so for someone to take you to the start and go to collect you at the other end. That's a lot of petrol, time and pollution!
  • Bus - probably not very practical. I've no experience of this to offer – sorry!

Booking trains

  • We travelled from Sheffield so can only offer comments on that journey. There is a leaflet available from stations called "Cycling by train" which details which rail companies offer what. We found this invaluable.
  • Trains from Sheffield offer a straight through service to Penzance on Virgin, who also carry tandems for the cost of two bikes (3 each). Space is limited so book in advance.
    (Update June 2001 (see below for later update): as of 20th May 2001 Virgin are no longer prepared to carry tandems. If you feel strongly about this, please write to them, and to other organisations such as the CTC, the Tandem Club and BikeRail. It may be that Virgin can be persuaded to change their minds if enough of us express our opinions. The 2001 issue of "Cycling by Train", available at railway stations, presents the current situation regarding tandem carriage.)
    (Update February 2002: After some correspondence and representations from CTC and the Tandem Club, and others, Virgin do now carry tandems once more. You may have to insist when booking, although the 2002 edition “Cycling by Train” leaflet says tandems are carried. It seems that Virgin are also doing their best to provide tandem accommodation on their new “Voyager” trains which were not originally designed to take tandems. Many thanks to all involved in bringing about this welcome change.)
  • Trains in the far north don't carry tandems (Scotrail do carry pre-booked single bikes though). You need to get back to Inverness for a mainline train which will carry tandems (this involves about 120 extra miles of cycling). Again, book this in advance to be sure of a space for the tandem. Great North Eastern offer a straight through service via York and Peterborough but there's no link to Sheffield with tandem carrying facility. We arranged to be picked up at York by car with a borrowed tandem carrier.

Route planning

  • Guide books - Paul Horsley's book "Land's End to John O' Groats - the great British bike adventure" (Cordee) is very useful. We didn't follow his route much of the time but we did use sections of it. He follows minor roads most of the time which can involve some tricky map reading. We felt that this would be slower than the main road routes although undoubtedly has the advantage of being more pleasant. He has some extremely useful hints and tips for the journey and certainly helps to build the enthusiasm.
Picture of the front cover of the book "Lands End to John O' Groats - the great British bike adventure"
  • Highlighting on your map - When on the road you don't want to be constantly checking where you are on the map, you need to be able to see in an instant. Highlighting your route on the map beforehand saves a great deal of time and confusion. It also means that you've familiarised yourself with the details of the route before you set out.
  • Use pages from a road atlas - We found a good source of suitable road maps is a standard road atlas such as the AA or RAC produce. These are cheap and it doesn't feel too bad to tear out the pages you are going to need so that you can leave the rest behind. No point carrying extra weight! The scale of these is about right for this kind of journey with enough detail but no need to keep changing sheets too often. We disposed of our map sheets as we finished with them, but as the journey progressed we felt that we ought to have kept them as a record.
  • CTC routes - The CTC offers 3 routes (free to members) with a choice of routes designed for B&B accommodation, Youth Hostel accommodation and a third using main roads. We broadly followed the main road route and didn't find traffic too much of a problem most of the time. You also get a record sheet which you can get stamped each day and send it to the CTC afterwards to get a certificate of your achievement.
  • Sustrans tracks? We looked at the new National Cycle Network routes but concluded that they would be far too slow for such a long journey. With a tandem especially, there is the problem of the barriers on these tracks and other obstructions. They are also nowhere near as fast to ride as a surfaced road. Having tested some of these tracks in our neighbourhood we decided to leave them alone for this trip. We do, however, love them for more leisurely day rides and they would make a wonderful way of travelling for a less intense holiday ride.

Checking the bike

  • Get it serviced properly - this is essential! Either do it yourself or get your local bike shop to do it. 1000 miles is a long way and your bike will be carrying more weight than usual so it will suffer. Our tandem was only 2 years old and had only done about 2000 miles before we set off and even we suffered a few mechanical problems. An old, poorly maintained bike will almost certainly let you down!

    When we were at John O' Groats, we got talking to two lads who had arrived the same evening as we did. They had had terrible problems including 19 punctures and many broken spokes resulting, eventually, in the total collapse of a wheel necessitating about a 30 mile walk. Breakdowns rarely happen close to a bike shop and on this trip you can be a long way from help. They only completed the trip by borrowing another bike. Get your bike serviced!

    Things to check particularly: rims and rim tape, tyres and tubes, brakes, bearings, transmission, use oil on the chains often especially after rain even though the stoker gets oily legs! It was probably a lack of oil that caused our middle chainring to wear out. Also make sure that your bike is set up for you properly so that you are comfortable.

Accommodation:

  • B&B - comfort, good breakfast, plentiful which means it's not essential to plan the route around available accommodation – can find a B&B towards the end of the day when you know how far you've travelled, little need to book in advance, costly (around 20 per person per night in 2000)
  • Youth Hostels - no experience to offer, cheap, not so plentiful so route needs careful planning and is therefore less flexible. May be other advantages I don't know of due to lack of experience.
  • Camping - a lot of extra weight to carry, perhaps need a trailer, need to know where camp sites are and route needs planning around their availability, cheap, least comfortable, may be a lack of sites in northern Scotland but could wild camp (with permission).
  • Cost: for us — 3 weeks in B&B + meals, trains and other costs = about 1500. Expensive business!
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