Cycling Scotland

This is a 12 day tour we cycled in August along the coastal side of the Scottish Highlands. You will find island hopping touring on Scottish single track roads through cool deciduous forests. The single track roads provide excellent riding with views of beaches, lochs (fjords), mountains, and quaint coastal towns with friendly tea rooms or pubs awaiting you each stop. The single track roads can be challenging up and down riding and the upward grades can be quite steep. The other challenges of this tour are the weather and the midges. The weather is famously bad, but plan-in a couple weather days and learn why pubbing can take the edge off any rainy day. Midges are tiny flies that bite and are more prevalent inland than on the breezy coast. Specific temperature ranges and wind-less conditions permit the formation of black clouds of midgets. You should be prepared (tent netting and “midget bonnet”) for them if you are camping as their bites itch for a very long time.

The Highland area of Scotland has lots of tourist infrastructure. You will find tea houses at the remotest coves with fresh baked goodies. B&Bs are found everywhere too, just remember they are fully booked for the month of August. We stayed in B&Bs during the wetter days and camped on the nicer days. You can easily get to the Highlands region by rail with your bike (bikes go free if space available) from Glasgow or Edinburgh, then, start your ride from Gourock, Oban, Malaig, or Kyle of Lochaish. If you wanted to extend our route into a loop, you could take the ferry from Ullapool to the Outer Hebrides Islands riding back south in 4 additional days.

Via Michelin Mobile

Michelin’s European road atlases are now available with the Via Michelin Mobile apps for iOS and Android. Michelin’s road atlases are in my opinion the best road maps for cycling in Europe. Graphically, I prefer Michelin’s relief shading, it allows you to put together great cycling itineraries. Michelin maps highlight (in green) scenic roadways which you should consider riding. Google Maps do not provide this information, and in many cases, the scenic classification also means; safer roads with less traffic. With a WIFI connection, or better yet, with a cellular connection you can have all of Michelin’s road atlases on your smartphone or tablet device. Michelin’s app maps display like it’s printed maps and have adequate resolution with close-up magnification. The app is free, but if you want to use the maps in realtime on the road, you will  need to purchase about 2GB of prepaided data from a local European carrier. Normally, this would cost about 20 Euros with a local European carrier. The Michelin app works similar to Google’s Maps including; GPS pin-pointing your location and purple-colored plotting of your desired routes (see below: Configuring your route and Route overlay). Your routes are automatically logged in a historical panel within the app for easy future retrieval. Your routes can be calculated relative to car, moto, bike, or hiking travel time. Michelin estimates that bike riding Passo di Gavia would take you 3:05, but if you were on a Ducati moto (think crotch-rocket), the same route would only take 1:15 or as I have witnessed: way less at 180 KPH. When you zoom into a desired map location, the app switches to a Google-style flat map, which is detailed enough to show buildings and dock structures. When you zoom out, you can see a nice relief-style map. My biggest complaint with Google Maps on an iPhone is the lack of a relief style map. An Apple rumor is that they are not updating Google Maps and are developing their own mapping technology. The Via Michelin app includes other areas of the world, but the better; visually-descriptive maps seems to be only available in European countries. All you need when riding from Paris to Istanbul.

Euro Tour 2010 Summary

These are photographs from an April-May bike tour to Spain and Portugal. The route was planned by noticing that there are a large amount of scenic designated roads (per Michelin Motor Atlas) in Northern Spain and Portugal. You can piece together a beautiful scenic route; riding coastlines, mountains, and vineyards with almost no traffic. Maybe 90% of my route was deemed high quality euro touring.

I was on this tour exactly a month. I rode 27 of 30 days, probably over 2000km. About half the day, I rode, and the rest of the day, I would sight-see or do work related tasks online. As hotels are fairly cheap in this area, about half the nights were spent in hotels, but I carried camping gear (tent, pad, bag) on my bike, the remaining nights were spent at euro camp grounds. It’s nice to have your own choice at each destination; camp or hotel, depending on your current mood, needs, and the weather.

I carried only only a latex spoon, so all my meals were taken out. I don’t have accurate bookeeping of my trip expenses, but I estimate approximately two grand for a month, this includes my $800 RT airfare; Denver-Madrid-Denver. I probably spent $100 on prepaid Internet data charges with Vodaphone.

There have been a number of posts about keeping my gear lite. I have a rear trunk bag on my Richey Breakaway bike and I wear a small hydration-like REI Flash pack, no panniers for me. All my gear weighed 11 pounds total. This is light enough to ride comfortably in the mountains. I have decided that 10 pounds is the golden threshold for comfort and speed. Reaching this threshold weight does require a lot of gear research. Almost all touring riders I met had too much gear. Everything needs to be light-weight, multi-purposed and compact.

Next trip I think I can eliminate my Canon Powershot camera, camera battery charger, and USB upload cable with the new iPhone 4 (half pound lightened?). The iPhone 4G camera has a 5 mega pixel camera with a 5x zoom which is probably good enough for most trip photography. Many of the panorama shots were taken with the Pano iPhone app which stitches together multiple lined-up photos. This app really helps with the limitations of the cell phone’s crappy lens allowing you to capture wide angle vistas.

The biggest technical problem with my bike tour camping is not being able to recharge electrical devices from a tent site. In my case this means my iPhone; my only electrical device. I have been researching small camping solar panels. There are some promising solutions that would allow recharging while riding or from panels connected to your tent’s roof.

The second biggest challenge is finding a place to leave your bike box if you are traveling overseas. Upon landing, I had my bike tuned at the Bike Room in Madrid, they allowed me to leave my box at their shop, super friendly too.

The Google map below shows my route. The white placemarks show my overnights in hotels/pensions. The green placemarks designate campground overnights. I traveled from Madrid to Talavera and Bilbao to Madrid with my bike on the bus.

The kewlest phenomena about euro bike packing/touring is going lite and being able to be spontaneous and mobile. If you desire other Europeans tour destinations, check out my book Euro Tours.

Related links:
Gear list
Camping Souvage
Digital Michelin Maps
Virtual Travel Laptop
iPhone Data Plan Spain
iPhone Travel Blogging
Only Digital Travel Books
Travel with Google Voice
Goal0 – Portable Solar Products
Bikepacking.net

Touring Bike Rack

trunk_bikeAfter some false starts with bike racks and bike bags, today I got together a pretty good system for surprisingly little cash. Debra let me install her Nitto rear rack and I picked up a Trans It trunk bag at Performance Bikes on sale for only $29. The main compartment of the trunk bag has my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and 2-man CloudBurst tent (as shown), the top compartment and the three smaller side compatments are still availible for addtional gear. On a test ride, the rear weight (approx. 5 lbs) carried well. I don’t want to carry everything in the rear and have a fat ass, so I am looking into a small lite-weight hydration pack for some clothes and personal gear. I think I am finally ready to start making a complete gear and clothes list, now that my bike rack is installed.

Cloudburst Tents In Stock

Tarptent's Cloudburst tent
Tarptent's Cloudburst tent
Tarptents finally got some of their tents in stock today and I ordered a Cloudburst 2 today. A two person tent that weights only 38 oz! I have been emailing Henry the owner of Tarptents and he has been very helpful. It’s hard to check these tents out because he says “I don’t do the retail thing”, but he says you can return anything. I finally have my ultra-lite Euro bike tour camping stuff (sleeping bag, pad, and tent). Now I just need a lite rear-end bike rack to carry everything.