This is the third time I’ve planned a multi-day long distance (as far as I’m concerned) bike ride.
The first, in 2015 was sub 200 miles over 3 days all in England – and it was successful. The second was only last year and was 1000 miles over 8 days in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Eire and England. That one wasn’t successful, but the planning was still valid and it taught me things that came in handy for planning and completing the recent 280 mile, 5 day ride to Amsterdam.
So where did we begin? With the route.
This is easy if you have something in mind. We rode to Amsterdam because that’s where the physical evidence of the raid on Chatham in 1667 by the Dutch is held. Everything else slotted in around that.
The daily distances determined the stopping points and the types of days we thought we’d have affected the flow of the week. The first day was medium distance and hilly, second and third days were a little longer, but much flatter, the fourth day was long distance and flat. We’d hopefully be in our stride by this point and able to manage it. The fifth and final day was deliberately a bit shorter than the rest so we could take it in and enjoy it.
Wherever it is you’re planning to go and why you’re going there is the start. Work out how much you want to do in a day. Is it a race? Do you want to have time to look around and meet people or is the destination more important than the journey? So you know all that, well then you also know roughly where you’ll be overnighting on the route.
It will also tell you some of the stuff you’ll need to plan. Passport, EHIC, currency, vaccinations… You can’t sort those out unless you know you need them.
This sort of thing is a lot easier (for most people) if they aren’t doing it by themselves. Some people are self-motivating, work better when they’re alone and can keep up a pace without the need for company, external motivation or simply someone there to chat to. And while I salute those people, I also know that I’m not one of them and I don’t think most people are.
Having other people around means you can chat, eat, laugh, rest, moan and cope with whatever difficulties the road might throw at you together. I don’t like riding in a large group – but the 6 people we had as a group this time wasn’t a large, strung out, difficult to manage peloton. It was a tight, close knit group and they worked well as a team.
If you have a team, make sure you have some team rules.
They don’t have to be restrictive or complicated. Ours mainly revolved around the following:
- Make sure you are ready
- Make sure your bike is ready
- Wear a helmet
- Take an agreed kit list (lights, first aid, tools and repairs etc)
It meant everyone was on a level playing field and that we could all be confident that everyone was prepared.
Once the team was set, the next thing that needed to be decided was how we were going to spend our evenings. I am quite literally a happy camper. But the overwhelming group decision was that hotels were the preferred method of overnight accommodation. Each has its advantages. Camping is typically cheaper, but undoubtedly heavier. Campsites aren’t as conveniently located as hotels in built up areas either (although we cycled past a lot of well signposted sites along the way). Hotels also tend to have nicer showers… and WIFI. Breakfasts… The list goes on.
Once that was set, booking.com became my new best friend. The route told me where we would want to stop so I simply searched for B&Bs, hotels and hostels that fitted the bill on the dates in question. You can research different venues really well on the site, secure a booking, contact the owners/managers and, if necessary, cancel with reasonable notice. You’ll know costs in advance and can then work out your budget.
Travel? Well that’s easy – we cycled. But there was more to it than that.
Think about it.
You’ve cycled to Amsterdam.
How are you getting home?
With your bikes. And all of the stuff you carried there. And six people.
We investigated buses (not cheap and up to 12 hours of journeying). We investigated trains (prohibitively expensive – I mean PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE). We even investigated air travel (which turned out the be the quickest, cheapest and easiest option – no, seriously).
It did require a bit more planning though. For starters, it was only cheap if you didn’t take any hold luggage, so no bikes, no “all of the stuff you carried there”, only hand luggage. You also have to get from the hotel to the airport – with no bike. So that meant a taxi transfer (which we were able to book in advance). Then what do you do with the bikes?! Well fortunately we have a large car and a very cooperative family, so we arranged for my mum and sister in law to pick up our car, drive to Amsterdam, pick up the bikes and then drive them home. We paid for the Dover-Calais / Calais-Dover ferries in advance, we filled the tank (although I suspect there was at least one refill that we haven’t been told about) and packed our non-cycling clothes in bags to be brought to us. Then we had to arrange train travel from Stansted Airport to south London where we could be picked up relatively easily. Again, that was pre-booked so we didn’t have to worry too much while we were in the middle of things.
All of this pre-booking does cost though. And trying to manage payments from 6 different people for their share of a 7 day holiday with ferries, air travel, 6 nights in 5 hotels, airport transfers and rail travel could have been a complete f**king nightmare.
Could have been.
A few years ago I had a Pay As You Go credit card. I loaded money on to it so that I had some protection when ordering online, or so that I could save up some money easily when I needed to – mainly because my credit rating was abysmal. Then the company that provided it stopped offering the service. But, on the off chance, I thought I’d have a look and see if anyone else did. Fortunately the search threw up a name I hadn’t heard of before – Pockit.
It’s a Mastercard, but also has an account number and sort code attached so you can transfer money onto it via a bank transfer (even your wages could be paid onto it). It turned up very quickly after a simple online application and was precisely no trouble at all in Europe. Everyone taking part loaded £300 onto it over the months before the ride, that money was then used to pay for the main ride costs. So we got all of that list above… The accommodation, the flights, the transfers, the ferries, the 7 day experience in 4 countries for 6 people for £300 each.
There’s a smartphone app that means you can track payments in and out, find the details quickly if you need to (even the PIN is available on the app) and show others the statements. We even added a little extra individually if we were buying things for the trip on eBay. It was a godsend and made the whole process a lot easier.
So that’s the how.
It was, realistically, an inexpensive and amazing experience.