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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.