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OPINION

John's blog: 3 lessons from last weekend's ride — how Plotaroute, Garmin Connect and Strava helped avert disaster

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In which stuff goes wrong, various tech saves the day and lessons are learned

When it all goes a bit pear-shaped what do you do? On a recent ride I managed to salvage something out of the day  despite feeling distinctly ganged up  on by the universe.

The plan was simple. My buddy Craig is training for a ride in the summer that’ll involve multiple big days in the saddle. As part of conditioning himself for this epic he was going to ride from just outside Cambridge to Felixstowe and back, a 130-mile round trip (over 200km in new money). Our clubmate Hamid stepped up to join him.

I’m always willing to support such silliness, but I’m currently not fit enough to ride that far so I hatched a plan to get the train to meet Craig and Hamid in Ipswich on their return leg and ride back with them. As well as making the distance rather less silly this also swerved the planned 6am start and its accompanying one degree Celsius weather forecast.

Rather than battle Saturday morning traffic in Cambridge, I rode out to Dullingham, the first stop on the line and a station so minor the crossing barriers for the adjacent road are manually operated.

What could possibly go wrong?

Lesson #1: Check what’s on that might affect trains

Racing at Newmarket (CC-BY 2.0 Florian Christoph via Flickr)

Racing at Newmarket (CC-BY 2.0 Florian Christoph via Flickr)

Hop on the train at Dullingham, hop off at Ipswich, join Craig and Hamid for the return leg of Craig’s epic. Doddle, right?

Wrong.

When the train pulled into Dullingham, it was rammed. Standing room only, people in their off-to-the-races glad rags crammed in so tight they’d have injured each other if they all breathed in at the same time. I might have been able to squeeze myself on, but there was no way there was room for a bike too.

Leaning out of the window of his cabin at the end of the train, the guard expressed sympathy: he’d never seen it so full. He offered to call Cambridge and have them make sure the bike space was clear on the next train, if I was willing to wait an hour. I can think of worse places to twiddle my thumbs than Dullingham Station, which is not so much a minor train stop as the station staff’s rather gorgeous gardening project. The Spring flowers were in full bloom; they obviously get loving care between the staff raising and lowering the barriers twice an hour.

However, if I waited an hour, Craig and Hamid would be long gone by the time I got to Ipswich. Time to thank the guard and come up with Plan B, since the combination of Newmarket races and the first sunny Saturday in a while had thoroughly scuppered Plan A.

Lesson #2: Take all possible routes with you

Route

Plan B was to ride the route Craig and Hamid were taking from Ipswich in the opposite direction and so meet them… somewhere. Problem was that I’d loaded the route from Ipswich to Cambridge into my Garmin, but not the reverse or the full 130-miler. A GPS function I’ve always wanted and which would have been really useful is the ability to reverse a stored route, but Edge GPSen can’t do that. (The latest Bryton Rider can, though.

Fortunately I had the full route stored on Plotaroute, and Craig and Hamid were coming back the way they’d gone out. So all I had to do was get the full route to my Garmin via Garmin Connect.

Plotaroute Premium subscribers (it’s well worth £18/year) can take advantage of the mobile version of Plotaroute and Garmin Sync, Garmin’s tool for sending routes to Garmin Connect. Once a route’s in Garmin Connect, you can use Garmin Connect Mobile on your phone to send it to your Edge.

Now, I usually do route planning at my desk, where I’ve got a stonking great 43inch 4k screen that’s fantastic for looking at maps. I’m not a fan of trying to do anything serious through the six-inch screen of a phone. I was expecting a frustrating experience, but Plotaroute Mobile and Garmin Connect came up trumps for me. I found the route I wanted on Plotaroute and marked it to send to Garmin Connect and seconds later there it was. From Garmin Connect Mobile, ‘Send to device’ copied it to my Edge… eventually.

Annoyingly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to force an Edge to sync with Garmin Connect Mobile straight away, so I gave up waiting and hit the road, heading for a nearby village on the route. By the time I got there, the route had transferred and I was able to start following it.

Another handy bit of tech helped: Craig was using Strava Beacon to indicate where he was, so I was able to check how far away he and Hamid were.

A couple of hours later, and feeling frankly smug at my tech-wrangling prowess, I bumped into Craig and Hamid, turned round and joined them for the last 30 miles of the day.

Lesson #3: Carry cash

Bank of England Five Pound Note tyre boot.JPG

We’d hoped to make it to the picture-postcard Suffolk town of Clare at about 3:30, but by the time we met it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen. That meant the cafes, including the excellent Platform One in Clare Castle Country Park were all going to be closed by the time we got there.

“We’re not going to make it before everything in Clare closes, but I passed a cafe at Melford Country Park, so we can go there instead,” I said, with the confidence that comes of not being in possession of all the facts.

Jenny Wren’s Cafe at the park was indeed open, and by all accounts it’s a little gem. However, they don’t take credit cards and between three of us none of us had any cash. Oops.

We pressed on to Clare where thankfully the Co-op was open for all our face-stuffing needs.

Melford Country Park: we’ll be back. There's a twenty in my wallet now with your name on it, no trains will be involved in getting there and I'll have a variety of possible routes there and back loaded up in case of flood, earthquake or meteorite strike.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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