Reflections on the Transcontinental Race

What a great adventure. 3,400 km of cycling, two ferry trips, all the way from London to Istanbul in 13.5 days for a 34th place tie. It was more than I had hoped for with great riding, challenging conditions, and fantastic camaraderie. As I sit in my hotel room in Istanbul thought it would be good to do a few reflections on what worked and what did not work for those who want to race the TCR themselves in the future. A race report will follow.

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What Worked

Bike:

  • I treated myself to a BMC GF01 Granfondo and it proved to be an amazing bike. It absorbs so much of the road noise that I never felt overly worn out in the ride. I’ve described the bike setup in more detail here. The disc brake was definitely worth having, although in hindsight I could have got away with a double rather than triple crank. Otherwise no changes whatsoever.

Tyres:

  • I did not get a single puncture during the entire ride. I put this down to the excellent Continental 4 Season GP tyres that I ran, as well as using 28 width, rather than the standard 25’s. Other riders with the same tyres and 25s had a lot of punctures so 28’s (or wider) are recommended.  ALWAYS start with new tyres.
  • For the tubes I ran the ‘Slime’ self sealing tubes. Although they were not needed, if there are minor punctures they will (hopefully) seal so you can continue. An added advantage is that when there is a puncture you can easily find the hole. This is important in places where you have no access to water and are very tired of looking for small puncture holes. Stan’s is white and has the same benefit. Just makes life easier.
  • A Presta-Shrader adapter for using petrol station pumps on your tyres is very useful.

Lights:

  • The Busch & Muller Luxos U dynamo light was magic. It has the perfect beam for riding fast at night with a horizontal cutoff as well as side lights for extra safety. The integrated USB output eliminates the need for other add on devices such as ‘The Plug’ which I used on the Tour Divide and which can be very problematic. I used a small dual USB adapter to enable me to run cables to both my phone and GPS. December 2014 Update: After Jono’s question I did a test of the B&M rear light. Works great except you cannot recharge your Garmin 800 at the same time it is operating. Since the 800 draws less current than a phone that wouldn’t work either. Best option is to use the Solas light below. During the daytime the Luxos U will run the GPS and recharge the light.
  • The NiteRider Solas Tail Light provided an incredible amount of light to the back—several riders commented on it. It is rechargeable via USB and so in day time I would plug it in to recharge.
  • The Noxgear Tracer 360 vest was brilliant.  It flashed like a Christmas tree and gave me a lot of confidence that I was visible from all sides. It was the envy of several riders and I gave it to one after the finish as a gift.

Other Gear:

  • My Sony Xperia Active cell phone once again was bullet proof. It survived the rain, cold etc. Several riders had their phones fail on them due to getting wet or the vibrations affecting the plug connections. You can pick them up relatively cheap on eBay. Worth the investment.
  • KinEsys SPF30 Sunscreen was fantastic. After I cleaned up at the finish you would not have known I spent just under two weeks riding in up to 43 C weather! I took two 1 Oz bottles and then discarded one when empty. The second lasted until Istanbul.
  • Tenacious Tape once again proved its use—I helped fix a rider’s wheel where their rim tape had come off in the high temperatures. It is rugged, waterproof and weighs nothing.
  • A vulcanizing patch kit rather than the standard self adhesive patches everyone uses is essential. Once you get to 40+ C (which happened throughout Greece and Turkey) these self adhesive patches come unstuck.
  • The Leatherman PS4 is tiny and its pliers and scissors came in quite handy.
  • My rain gear (jacket, pants, over mitts and socks) were invaluable. Several riders saved a bit of weight but paid for it most of the way from Zurich to northern Italy when we had rain, rain and rain. And some snow. Garbage bags and cut up space blankets are not as effective and hypothermia really knocks you back!
  • I took a piece of waterproof paper with food instructions on it (i.e. that I am a vegetarian). I used Google Translate to put it into every language that I would encounter. Came in handy a few times in remote areas.

What Did Not Work

Navigation: in partiuclar, my Garmin 800.

Most riders planned their routes on sites like Ridewithgps.com. We then downloaded these routes to our Garmin’s.  When the routing went well it was fine, but as soon as there was a problem—for example the road was actually a track or closed—you were stuffed.

While Garmin has the ability to navigate you to a location, the programmers who developed the algorithm are totally clueless. Every time anyone had to use this feature we ended up on what would politely be called the ‘Tour De Garmin’. At one point I found a rider coming back to me in the opposite direction to where we needed to go following her Garmin. This was typical. It would try and take you on the most illogical, convoluted route possible with no rhyme or reason. Total rubbish.

A second problem arose for a number of riders using ‘The Plug’ to power the Garmin. Basically there was an incompatibility and the Garmin would shut down. Like completely shut down so it would not restart. Or you would have to do a factory reset to get it alive again—losing all your data in the memory (particularly problematic if you had not saved your routes and data on the memory card!).

If you wanted to ‘dead reckon’ with the Garmin you couldn’t very effectively. Firstly, when you zoomed out the map would take forever to load and scroll, but often it would take up to 5 minutes for your route to load to see if you were going in the right general direction. It was also annoying insofar as there would not be a lot of large town names showing (I had the full Garmin European maps on my device).

In hindsight I made the mistake of relying on my Garmin the way I did when racing the Tour Divide. In the USA there is a limited road network in rural areas so the 800 was able to handle the rerouting etc. without any major problems. However in Europe where there is a multiplicity of roads it simply can’t cope. I should have brought a paper map with me—at least scanned to my phone—which would have saved me many hours of being shagged around by Garmin’s poor navigation abilities.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, it did not save any data correctly for my ride through the Alps!

The RidewithGPS route was pretty good, but I should have gone over it in detail in Google Earth before the ride. This would have shown me where the road was actually not a real road, or unpaved. But this is not their fault.

Others:

  • Carbon Rims: One rider had his rims delaminate when it hit 42+ C in Thessalonica.
  • Plastic Tyre Levers: Several people broke their tyre levers. Make sure you have steel backed levers.
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14 responses to “Reflections on the Transcontinental Race

  1. I recently toured through France with a Garmin Touring. The routing feature is grotesque. It frequently calculated dangerous and convoluted routes that added up to 50% in mileage compared with the Google Maps route. In the end we mainly relied on our cell phones typically plotting routes when we had wifi reception and then using them offline.

    So, if anybody serious about touring is reading this and wasn’t already convinced after your post, let me repeat: do NOT rely on a Garmin device in any situation where it might matter.

  2. Great write up Chris, sounds like a wonderful adventure, thanks for sharing these tips, I hope I can put them to good use one day!

  3. Great roundup, I also used the The Busch & Muller Luxos U dynamo light.
    And I used it already in the past. One night it shut down, without any reason, I had to ride the next 25kms to the next town on a completely dark highway with my mobile phone in one hand to enlighten the road.
    Apparently one of the in-connectors on the lamp broke off … this isn’t a durable light at all, it’s rubbish, only 4 months old.

    • That’s a drag. They also had problems with early models with water getting in and shorting them out so perhaps they fixed it? This is why I always carry a backup light – for the TCR it was a Fenix LD22. I didn’t need it but about 30 km from the finish line my riding buddy Rickie had her dynamo fail so I put the light on her helmet and it got her to the finish line.

  4. Excellent and helpful report. What did you use for accomodation: bivvy bag, tent, hotels?

    • I took with me a sleeping bag and a Titanium Goat bivy sack. When practical I stayed in hotels (most nights) but otherwise just bivied where I needed to. There was a great ATM machine at the top of Stelvio Pass which was the best spot. After the alps it was so warm didn’t need the bivy sack so next time I wouldn’t take one.

  5. I’d never use my 810 for routing. The only thing I do is creating my files by using google maps (streetview for tricky legs), gpsies (they come along with several layers), ridewithgps and others. Then I import the track into BaseCamp (having the same map active as on my 810) and exporting the track out of BaseCamp. Done that I deactivate all routing and sportive BS on my 810 for each track, put set that one I want to ride along as always visible, adjusting the color too.

    And then just ride. You won’t be annoyed by misleading you into somewhere, following your red line is as easy as using a paper map with some marks on it. Zoom in once you approach cities, thats all to do.

    Even some detouring is easily done, just head back to your colored line on the device.

  6. Jonathan Elliot

    Hi Chris, I met you at CP3 for breaky and then Albania. I had problems keeping my garmin and phone charged using an Edelux II and sinewave USB charger combo, as the charger couldn’t be used at the same time as the light. I remember you saying your Luxos U could operate and charge your gear because of the cache battery. I have since bought a Luxos! How come you didn’t run a dynamo rear light? Does the extra power being used than make it not possible to charge and use the front light at the same time?
    Jono Elliot (16)

    • Hi Jono. Nice to hear from you! Are you racing 2015? I’m in 🙂

      I decided that I wanted something a bit stronger than the B&M rear light so went for this: http://www.niterider.com/lights-2/rechargeable-2/solas-usb-tail-light/

      It is unbeatable for brightness and what’s great is that it is USB rechargeable. So I just plug it in during the day – the Luxos did that and my 800 – so had a full charge for night riding.

      Not sure if the Luxos would work with their dynamo rear light and the Garmin 800. I have one so will test in a few weeks.

    • Hi again. OK. I did the test today. I hooked up the B&M rear light to my Luxos U and went for a ride. Brilliant light (doesn’t flash though). BUT the Luxos will *NOT* recharge the Garmin 800 at the same time that the light if connected. So if I was going to commute or go for short rides the light is great. Otherwise, better to have a USB rechargeable light like the Solas so you can run your GPS 100% of the time.

  7. Jonathan Elliot

    Hi Chris,
    Yes I am racing in 2015!
    I have a B&M Secula Plus rear light. It fits to the seat stay (underneath the pack), is really bright and includes a reflector. Doesn’t flash but I believe that’s because it’s german made and flashing rear lights are not allowed there. Yeah I thought running the rear light might draw the current needed to charge the garmin/phone at the same time. I haven’t rigged up my Luxos yet but you’ve already tested and proven that theory now.
    I agree a usb rechargeable rear light is the way to go. That way I can keep my garmin on charge.
    I have a usb rechargeable head torch (Petz Tikka R+; brilliant) and is way bright enough to ride by as a backup; I relied on it to get to the finish in the TCR as I had to turn off my dyno light so the garmin could charge! Sweet, thanks for the help.

    • Jono,

      Glad you’ll be racing again! Seems like quite a few of us are back again. Just don’t cook yourself in Albania this time 🙂

      Thanks for the tip for the Petz. I’ll get one. I used a Fenix LD15 but like the idea of a rechargeable torch.

      Looking forward to seeing you in Belgium!

  8. Hi Chris,

    First, thank you for the blog. I’m racing in the TCR this year too, and found all your various pieces very informative and useful! I wanted to add a quick note in response to the conversation above.

    I’m running an SP dynamo and a Luxos U with a Secula Plus at the back, and the set up doesn’t seem to have any problems charging my 810 when the lights are on. I’m not sure if there are any differences between the 800 and the 810 that can explain this, but I thought you might be interested to know!

    • That’s really interesting to know. They must have improved something between the 800 and 810. I’m going to do some tests with my 1000. I’ve also installed a switch just to be safe which means I can turn the Secunia off if I need more charging power.

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