Blog Archives

Double Dutch in Amsterdam

A Dutch couple on a tandem were climbing the L’Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 hairpin bends, and the stoker said “Blimey, that was really hard going…..such a steep climb”. “Just as well I kept the brake on”, said the captain “otherwise we would have gone backwards”


After a very hot, sticky night, I climbed up to the top deck of the boat to greet the sun, to enjoy the cool of the dawn, to discuss political shenanigans with an anti-BoJo Scot who had slept on the deck with his teenage son,





and to admire the view from our breakfast lounge.

For €18pp B&B, this was a rare deal indeed, and one to be savoured….




Browsing the forecast ahead of us, we had every reason to shy away from mounting the tandem, but it was only 24km to Amsterdam which, in normal conditions, is a mere pootle in the park, but when it’s in the mid-30s, it can be a trial by ordeal.

But why Double Dutch? Our English metaphor for gobbledegook…..well, to back up my Garmin routing, we switched on Mrs Google in my back pocket while we rode, and Jenny had to repeat everything I couldn’t hear clearly because of traffic noise, so that I knew where to go…..well, you can imagine the fun we had with the pronunciation of street and place names! The common factor was that most ended in ‘straat’….it was the bit that preceded ‘straat’ that caused the fun. Try this one, for example: Scheepstimmermanstraat…..see what I mean?

Anyway, we limped into Amsterdam, defeated by the heat and humidity, and had to forego a visit to the Resistance Museum because, ironically, our resistance had been defeated by the circumstances. What energy we had left was expended on a café terrace while waiting to meet our hosts for the evening…..(to be resumed…)….


Riding for the Edge…

Riding for the Edge.

Titles are meant to catch your attention, even if the rest of the piece is of questionable interest. But now that I have your attention……

I set off for my customary Monday morning ride and my phone rings.

-Frank, that Garmin Edge 1000 you were inquiring about….well, I’ve got it here. I can let you have it for £150. When would you like to pick it up?

I need a cycling GPS with mapping and navigation, and an Edge 1000 would normally retail at about £350. I’ve finally decided the simplicity of the breadcrumb trail on my Edge 200 is just not enough, especially when crossing urban areas with complicated networks of cycle paths.

I was about to head west for a couple of hours, but Hilton was in the opposite direction, about 25 miles east.

-Great. OK, change of plan, I’m heading out your way. I’ll be with you in about an hour and a half…….what’s your address?

When I get there, he invites me into his workshop. He’s a retired engineer who has built himself a cycle repair workshop in his garden, which satisfies two important needs: it generates a bit of income but, more importantly, it keeps him busy. He just loves fettling bikes…..and is a bike rider himself, who likes to head off with his wife on fully-supported bike rides in far-off countries. Almost a man after my own heart…….just forget the ‘fully-supported’ bit.

I get home with the Edge 1000 and begin sifting through the User’s Manual online…….it’s infinitely more complicated than my old Edge 200………..sigh!

“Which way to Istanbul, please?”

garmin_edge_touringPeople ask me if I have gone completely digital for navigation. I stand back in mock horror, and whatever I say will carry the following message: “Are you kidding?”

You see, I have been trialling Garmin’s newest cycling GPS device, the Edge Touring. Its specification is absolutely perfect for the long-distance, A to B cyclist like me. It is designed to help you navigate through distant, unfamiliar territory with the minimum of fuss, and without the need of internet connection or data downloading. But after 6 weeks of testing it on my home roads, all I can say is that one day it will live up to its USPs, but only when multiple frustrated users have reported enough glitches to Garmin for it to live up to its marketing profile.

Not only did the digital displays frequently malfunction but, despite all the settings being checked to avoid unpaved roads and dirt trails, it frequently wanted to send me across ploughed fields or up stony bridleways or, in some cases, across church yards. These are sorts of glitches you can handle in your own backyard, but in the middle of Serbia or Bulgaria…………?

When I have challenged cycling friends about their use of similar devices (who, by the way, all seem happy with what they’ve got), I generally discover they are not used seriously as navigation devices. The most frequent use is to map the rides they have done and record all the statistics that will keep their racing/personal fitness instincts satisfied. In other words, they are primarily personal training tools.20140418_155924_Android

Even the one or two who have used GPS in far distant countries on long treks, I have found that their primary tool for navigation has still been paper maps, and the device has served as a back-up, or a ‘second line of defence’.

So, rather than asking people at every turn “Which way to Istanbul, please?”, I will be in my comfort zone using paper maps, and my back-up will be cached google maps on my phone for Western Europe, and Open Street Maps for Eastern Europe and Turkey. The theory is that, with the internal GPS of the phone, I will be able to see where I am without the need of Wifi or a data connection. The moment of uncertainty about what the paper map is telling me, is the very moment I turn on my phone and a little blue dot will tell me exactly where I am.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway………….

To be steered by a satellite?

Is this man going soft? What’s wrong with traditional paper maps and following your nose/instinct/wind direction, or even being guided by the sun? Is this just a bid to clutter up the bicycle handlebars with yet more junk, and find that on long journeys I have to carry yet another charging cable?

I have side-stepped the inevitable for several years now. I have watched my club mates progressively acquire their Garmins over the years, progressively become more dependent on, and attached to, the stats, and now find that they can’t find their way around the Sunday morning route without the directional promptings from their handlebars. In fact, they can become so dependent on satellite navigation that, if the device begins to malfunction, they are lost……….I mean, absolutely and completely lost. Do I really want to be like them? Dependent on stats and navigational hints?

Garmin Edge Touring

Garmin Edge Touring

Well, the short answer is a resounding “no”! So why get one (you might ask)? Well, I suppose I could use the excuse that I found it, quite by chance, at the bottom of my Christmas stocking……… but then I would be hiding the fact that I used my cyclist’s discount to get 20% off in my local bike shop (Grafham Cycling). OK, so I had a hand in it.

I could say that I didn’t want to appear different from anybody else, to be able to join in with the stats comparisons and join the Strava road wars. I mean everyone at club level wants to be a Strava warrior (see their website for details). But I have to confess that none of the above is really me. The only stats of any interest to me are distance and, very occasionally, time lapse. But all that could change. If it does, I hope it will be subtle and in line with my kind of cycling.

As many of you know, my cycling terrain is in the long distance, endurance stuff. Nothing can beat a good 8-10 hours on the road, whizzing through open landscapes, visiting new towns and villages, meeting people from different countries and places. The Garmin Edge Touring (as the name suggests) is a navigational device for the long-distance rider, who may be riding through unfamiliar terrain. This is an opportunity to become unhitched from the soggy paper map, to have a neat little device that can feed me more information about my immediate surrounds, and give me directional hints as I negotiate tricky places like city centres or outer suburbs when directional signposting disappears altogether.

So, will I get rid of paper maps? Not likely. I will always carry some, probably deep inside a saddlebag, to serve as a handy reference and, of course, to substitute the flash Garmin which will eventually suffer any one of several adversities: break, run out of power, suffer a technical glitch, get lost or stolen…….. or just simply give up the ghost.

We do, of course, live in an imperfect world.

Maps v GPS

It is tempting to hook up with the current enthusiasm (amongst some cyclists) for GPS. Download your route, charge up the battery and mount it on the bar stem. However, when I hear whispers about batteries running flat, or the mere fact that you should never rely entirely on GPS (in other words, carry a set of maps as well!) I am easily dissuaded.

When it comes to maps for long journeys, I hesitate both about the extra luggage and the expense. Maps at a scale useful to cyclists don’t come cheaply, and when you are crossing whole countries, you need quite a few. My solution for my Land’s End-John O’Groats in 2008, was to buy a £1-99 road atlas of Britain  from a service station, at a scale of 1: 190,000 (3 miles to the inch) and tear out the relevant pages. As each page was completed, it was consigned to the recycle bin. No temptation, therefore, to parcel up used maps and send them home for keepsake. The other great advantage of using map pages was that they could be folded up small to fit the maptrap, and this meant no stopping en route to unfold and consult large maps. Very handy indeed!

I was delighted to discover the Michelin Road Atlas series at a scale of 1:200,000 (2kms to 1 cm). The France version will see me safely across Switzerland as well. The atlases for France and Italy have cost me a total of £17 and, at the risk of people crying “foul!”, I will tear out the pages I need (about 20 in total) and leave the rest at home.

I have done the same with guide books in the past, tearing out the relevant pages for an area and leaving the bulky bit behind. I know some of you might report me to the Royal Society for the Protection of Books (RSPB), but it does save a lot of weight and bulk. Try it next time. You’ll find if you do it once, it gets easier and easier ;0)

Donate safely at: