Lightweight Touring – Chargers Apart

We make every effort to tour light.  We each carry two panniers and a bar bag. I have a saddle bag for bike-related bits (tools and spares) and our wet weather gear.  We start each trip with 4.5 kilos in each pannier.  They tend to lose weight over the weeks as consumables get used up and older stuff gets discarded.

However, we seem to carry a ridiculous number of chargers. At a rough count we have different chargers for: two cameras; two phones; two iPads (we have different versions of each); one for our bike coms system and one for our Garmins.  In addition, we carry one three-way UK extension lead with a euro-plug converter – an excellent idea that helps manage the nightly cue for charging in hotels that only offer one socket.

Every trip away I think I ought to be able to do better, but somehow it never happens.  Any idea how I might improve things? Don’t suggest leaving the electronic gear at home please – that’s a non-starter!


Our Picks of the London Bike Show 2013

Well, it’s a long way to go, Aberdeen to London, but we just about felt we got enough from the London Bike Show 2013 at Excel.  Here are our favourite picks – in no particular order.

Airnimal certainly impressed
Airnimal certainly impressed

We still have a hankering after a couple of folding bikes to increase flexibility when travelling and especially, going and coming on tours.  So we were keen to visit the Airnimal stand – and we were not disappointed.  Of the various models, the Joey took our fancy as a ‘do it all’ bike combing speed, versatility and a go anywhere capability.  Best of all was to speak with the bike’s enthusiastic and knowledgable promoters.  They made such a positive change from the half-hearted and frankly feeble bloke we met on the Brompton stand.  Chalk and cheese I am afraid to say.  Airnimal were the clear winners in our mind.

Jo McRae gives great advice
Jo McRae gives great advice

Creditability was also the keynote we took away from Jo McRae and her ‘Training for Cyclists’ company. Jo’s presentation centred on the need to fit the bike correctly and to correct the negative effects of turning only to cycling for exercise.  She told a pretty convincing tale of the need to do other activities to build up core strength and correct weaknesses and problems likely to follow too much cycling.  We found her talk and demonstrations totally convincing.  Google her and her company for more details.

The award for the most innovative new start we gave to “Water off a Duck’s Back” and their range of attractive and stylist all weather gear for commuting cyclists.  Their stuff was really stylish and the designs were original and we felt they deserved a good look.

Innovative design convinces
Innovative design convinces

Next to catch our eye was the Topeak Tourguide Bar Bag.  This is their mid size bag and we were attracted to it for its good size and multiple compartments and long list of features.  Nominally priced at £54, we were pleased to pick up an example from Halfords, no less, for a 20% reduction and so paid £43.  It will be with us soon and we will review it as soon as we can, but it is an eye-catching and fully featured bag.  Hopefully, it will make a good keepsake from what was an interesting visit to the show.

The Topeak Bar Bag
The Topeak Bar Bag

Top Five Cycle Touring Technology Tips I wish I’d Learned Earlier

We have been back from our cycle tour from Paris to the Algarve in Portugal for a few weeks now.  Time enough to reflect on some things I wish we had done differently.  My top five regrets are:

  1. Not using the GPS location feature on my still camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30) routinely.  Sure enough, we have arrived back with photos taken in places we cannot remember.  Most annoying is the fact that I bought the Panasonic because of its GPS facility!  Fears over battery demands put me off having the GPS on all the time put me off. Big mistake!
  2. Not taking enough video footage.  The Panasonic takes great video and I was also carrying a Flip video camera.  I had even created a mount for the camera on top of my front light: but somehow I failed to use it.  I default to stills I regret to say.  Big mistake.  Especially before a couple of brilliant descents on the border between Portugal and Spain. I can still run these through my brain, but seeing the footage would have been so wonderful.
  3. Not taking enough photos.  It’s impossible to take too many is it not? We take too many similar shots because we take them under the same circumstances each day.  We take when we stop to eat and drink and at special viewpoints.  So, too many photos take the same format and too many show us in our dayglow waistcoats.  Big mistake.
  4. Not buying a Smartphone data roaming package.  I had my iphone with me, but fears of big bills meant I turned off data roaming.  So no Twitter, no Facebook and no regular blogging updates on the road as events unfolded.  Big mistake.
  5. Not blogging each night in our hotels with wifi.  Somehow there seemed to be so much to do each night, with booking hotels and navigation, we failed to blog our experiences each day.  We did keep paper journals each day, but blogging would have added something for sure.

I guess we will just have to do it all again, and do better next time!  I wonder if you have ever made similar mistakes, or have suggestions on how to manage things better?

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Paris to Algoz, Algarve, Portugal – Our Navigation System

We had expected to start cycling from Santander.  A last minute ferry strike meant a switch to Eurostar and a start from Paris.  At a stroke all our careful planning went out of the window. Worse, we had no France maps for our Garmin Edge 800.  We set off with a 2004 edition of a Michelin Road Atlas:  as it was way too heavy, I spent hours tearing out pages we would not need.  Mostly I got it right!

The best map is the one to hand!

Without details maps for the Garmin we had to resort to planning on paper.  Not such a bad thing perhaps?  We devised a system that worked well for us – most of the time. Each night in our hotel we would use the overview map to pick out a town to the southwest of where we were.  Then we would take a length of dental floss (yes, we were in improvisation mode!)  cut to the length that corresponded to our preferred 80km daily range.  We would track this along the detailed map route and estimate the distance to our preferred destination town.  We decided anything between 80 and 100km was acceptable.  On a few occasions we were forced to make it 111km – but that was really pushing it for us and dangerous if headwinds, hills, or getting lost forced us off track and added to the demands.

Heading South East Works!

If our hotel had wifi, we could add the luxury of planning our exit from the town of departure in detail.  This saved much frustration and time the next morning. Better still, we could use the Via Michelin site to get suggested cycle routes and the Map My Ride site to check out the elevations and climbs ahead.  This was very reassuring: as was the use of a weather site which told us wind direction and force – more important than temperature and chance of rain.  Most days we would use the web to book into a hotel for the next day.

On the road we carried the map pages for the day in Jacqui’s map sleeve on her bar bag along with any detailed instructions she had copied out. I had the Garmin with the base map only, but it was a great help as a compass giving us a check on direction.  This saved us from a number of bad mistakes on the road.

Once we got to Spain and Portugal we had the luxury of detailed Garmin maps, but we chose to stick to our paper-based planning system.  This worked well once we adjusted to the change in scale!  This cut our daily range from a page plus in France to half a page in Spain.  A painful adjustment!

Route through Spain and Portugal

The Garmin did come into its own when trying to find routes out of cities and hotels on arrival.  Set to avoid motorways, tolls and unpaved tracks the Garmin proved reliable most of the time.

We ended up covering some 2,228km in total and climbing for 21,346 meters over 29 days so I guess the system was pretty well proved to work by the time we were finished! I certainly learned not to over-plan trips and leave some room for spontaneity in future.

Are we lost yet?




Equipment Review: the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 as a cycle touring camera

I decided some weeks ago that neither my Nikon D90 nor my Canon Ixus were quite right for our forthcoming tour of Spain.  The D90 is wonderful, but it’s heavy and while it does fit in my barbag, it entirely fills it leaving no room for anything very much else.  The Ixus 75 has been a faithful friend, but Jacqui wants it more often than not now, so it seemed time to find a stable mate for it.  Having a camera each will hopefully result in more pictures being taken.

I looked at a number of options before deciding on the Panasonic Lumix TZ30.  I almost went for a new iPhone on the grounds that it carried the advantage of being a single, multi-purpose phone, musicmaker, web browser, stills camera and video camera all in one.  I still like that idea, but baulked at the cost at this time.  I looked at ‘system’ compacts, but turned them down, mostly again on cost.  They are blooming expensive.

I decided the DMC-TZ30 would fill the bill for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was sure I wanted a compact I could fit into the barbag with lots of room to spare.  I like the idea of having easy access to the camera while cycling.  The TZ30, like the Ixus, can be carried out of its case in the barbag or a waistcoat pocket on the road. Easy access makes for more photos in my experience.

Secondly, I was attracted to the superb telephoto zoom on the Lumix. Covering 24 to 480mm in old money, it promises you great flexibility on the road in a tiny package.

Thirdly, I wanted something competent with a good combination of ‘point and shoot’ friendliness and user controls.  The Lumix has everything from  ‘intelligent Auto’ (which is very impressive in use), through scene modes to Aperture or shutter priority and full manual control.

Fourthly, and decisively, I fancied something with GPS onboard and location tagging of photos. Again, reviews suggested the Lumix GPS worked as well as any on a camera.

Finally, I want to get into video, and the Lumix seems to be a more than competent video performer.

So, after a couple of days of road testing what are my initial thoughts? I like it!  (Just as well given the money!) The GPS works, and works reasonably quickly, albeit at quite a cost in terms of battery life.  I sense that it might be necessary to carry a spare battery on the road, or to turn the GPS off and on as you travel – to my mind, defeating the point of having it to a considerable degree.

In use, the Lumix is a pleasure.  Quick and responsive and with lots of options and control for the user.  As I hoped the zoom lens is its best feature in many respects.

The camera sits nicely in a pocket or barbag compartment and inspires confidence every time you pick it up.  It is not however perfect for the job of a cycle tourer.  For example –

It’s not waterproof and it does not seem all that robust.  However, neither did the Ixus and it has proved bullet-proof in use.

The manual is anything but friendly and I would have been a bit at sea were it not for the help of some excellent tutorials on YouTube.

Compatibility with my Apple iMac and iPad is a bit hit and miss.  In fact the data card has to be removed from the camera and used with Apple’s card reader to import photos into the iPad.

Batteries have to be charged in the camera, with a full charge taking 260 minutes.  Not ideal, unless like us you are hotel-based on tour.

All of this part, I am well pleased with my Panasonic Lumix TZ30 and look forward to happy snapping in spain in the coming month.

UPDATE September 2013: I have abandoned the TZ30 and passed it on to the family. Why? While all of the above is true and it is a small, but very powerful package, finally the lack of a viewfinder proved to be a deal breaker for me. Somehow, not being able to see without fiddling with my reading glasses kills off my creative side.  It’s a pity, but the TZ30 travels well, but tends to get left in my bar bag too much to be successful.  A great and rather expensive pity.

Garmin Edge 800 Navigation Tip

While I have had great success navigating with the Garmin Edge 800 using per-plotted routes created with Map My Ride, I have found navigating on the ground with the device a great frustration.  On previous rides I have struggled to get a sense of where I wanted to go from the small screen.

On a recent ride in Portugal, this technique came to me and I have found it very useful.  I zoom out till I can see a number of place names, then choose one in the direction I want to go.  I then go to Where to? And Cities in the sub menu and pick out the place name I want, generally 6 or so K away.  Routing to this spot with no tolls, trunks etc. generally produces a quiet ride.  On arrival I repeat the steps moving in the general direction sought for my final destination.

This has worked well for me and has taken me on some interesting back roads to some very small hamlets here in Portugal.  Certainly beats the local paper maps that are usually very inaccurate in my experience.

Technology: iPad App for WordPress

I have just discovered the iPad app from and for WordPress, but will it work? I have a hunch yes and it could be yet another reason to carry your iPad on your cycle tour. Mind you how many reasons do you need?

Update: Well, it worked a treat.  Looks like it would be just great for adding daily updates on a trip with simple text that could be embellished with photos and maps later.  Not that these cannot be added at the time, but doing so from a ‘proper’ machine would be easier I think.  What you need, however, is something to catch your ‘thoughts’ as notes as you go and the app on an iPad would work just fine.

Technology: Take Care Creating Map My Ride GPX Files

We are just back from a 10 day mini-tour in the Algarve and Alentejo, Portugal.  Brilliant trip, wonderfully quiet roads, dramatic Atlantic coast scenery and kindness and a warm welcome everywhere we went.  One wee ‘operator error’ crept in, however: I hold my hands up – all my own fault.

I created a set of GPX files for our Garmin Edge 800 before going, using Map My Ride on my Apple iMac before leaving.  On the very first day we ran into trouble with the first of these routes.  After 15 glorious K of complicated navigation on very remote roads north of Messines we were directed to, ‘take the unpathed road’ to the right – and spent the next 20K battling up and down the roughest and remotest track imaginable.  We were on a track gouged into the hillside to service the radio masts built at the top of each summit.  No hamlets, no farms, no civilisation, nothing. No shade.  Wonderful if on a planned trip off road on the right bikes, but hardly what you want to be doing on commuter bikes with road tires and luggage for a week or more.  It made for a hot and sticky day and a certain amount of tension on the team!  There is a solution, however: read on.

On the Dirt Again

Overnight I realised my mistake.  Sitting at a 27 inch iMac, and determined to avoid major roads, I had zoomed in to a degree that showed up every house drive, dirt track and worse – all unaware that I was no longer dealing with ‘proper’ roads.  Zooming out just a little brought up roads with numbers and villages.  So each night thereafter we used Google Earth to check what we were getting ourselves into for the next day.  In passing I might say, the Garmin never missed a beat and always knew where we were and prompted us onto the right ‘track’ at every turn.  Without it carving a path for yourselves would have been very difficult. In that sense it was very reassuring.  Unfortunately, it could not keep an idiot from himself!  A lesson hard learned!

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