Top 10 Tips for Cycling London to Paris
This is the biggest Tribesports Tries to date: 8 of the office team took to the road in what can only be described as the most professional peloton that France will ever see! Setting off from the London Eye with the Eiffel Tower targeted as the end destination, taking nothing but their bikes, bags and wits - we've decided to write up our Top 10 tips for a successful unsupported ride:
1. Check out our packing list with recommendations from other Tribesports users (some of these tips were absolute life savers!!) - from spare parts to first aid kit, this minimalist list did us well!
2. Fully prepare your route - with the marvellous map skills of Rose K, we only slipped around 1 kilometre off the planned route between London and Paris. Although we had a Garmin in the group, it was there in a supporting role rather than chief navigator. It was amazing to have the Garmin once we arrived into Paris and had to navigate within the city, it would also be useful for those who aren't great on London geography too.
We based our route around Donald Hirsch's which went from the London Eye to Newhaven, ferry to Dieppe, Dieppe to Beauvais and then onward on the final leg to Paris. We avoided A roads in the UK (other than the A23 for a rapid exit of London) and stuck to D roads in France so that traffic was as light as possible.
Here's an example of the maps we were using - annotated Google maps with points of interest/recognition which were looked up on Google Street View scribbled in to help:
This map shows where we had just rejoined the main roads after 40km on Avenue Vert - the amazing cycle path which runs out of Dieppe down to Beaubec.
3. Stay bright, light and dry - the Avenue Vert leg of our journey was cycled between 4am and 7.30am in rain, hail and the pitch black. We were not fully prepared for rain as weather reports has predicted cold and dry conditions; pack for rain no matter what they say!!
After getting very cold and wet, we took a 2 hour break to dry off in a train station at the end of Avenue Vert - this was when we had the massive dilemma of whether it's better to stay in wet clothes hoping they'll dry or change for 2 hours and have to put the wet clothes back on.
Had we taken more preventative measures, the group may have been a lot more cheerful!
Below are our top 3 bright, light and dry recommendations:
4. Breaks and overnight stops - as our pace wasn't manic, the toughest part of the Challenge for some of the group was the lack of sleep from day 1 to day 2 - we had cabins booked on the ferry which ran between 11pm and 4am (with an hour lost due to the time difference).
Lessons to take from this: ferries are noisy - light sleepers should take ear plugs!
The best advice we could offer is to take advantage of any stoppages along the way - from map reading to tyre changes, make the most of your mini-break to take on water and food.
Check out this guide on Advice for when to take breaks and stops and remember that communication is key about stopping - if you need to stop then you have to tell somebody!
5. Food and provisioning - as we were riding in an unsupported group, we generally had to eat what we carried as we couldn't depend on there being food on the road.
In terms of prepared provisioning, the group did this in very different ways but everyone seemed to come out happy with nobody suffering for lack of food. Jack, Sean, Jenna, Joe and Andy went for the sweets, gels and bananas approach whilst Will, Cags and Rose carried sandwiches and more savoury snacks. Of course we all shared these out so it was good to have the mix.
We all ate massive evening meals (double dinners for most of us - yes, that is ham, egg and chips with a side of lasagne!) but other than that we didn't ever stop purposefully to say 'this is eating time' - it was very much an 'eat when you can' mentality.
If you're planning a long ride and want advice on what to eat then look at our cycle nutrition guide.
6. Mechanical issues - we were very lucky in regards to mechanical issues; 7 punctures, 1 gear mechanism malfunction and 1 case of bad brakes, it could have been much worse! The gear and brakes issues occurred on the first day which was ok as we only had to stop for an hour in a bike shop to get it fixed. This was where going on a supported ride would be advantageous, having a support car with spare parts and an engineer at hand would have been lovely!
One thing that would be useful on the French side is a dictionary/printed list of mechanical terms so that when you go to a garage asking for WD40 you don't have to say:
'Help! My bicycle listens like a guinea pig...squeak squeak!'
We do owe Jack massively for his speedy tyre changing skills - Andy was our puncture champion with 5 punctures in total; his slick tyres were like a pinboard towards the end of the ride! We only had 1 puncture on the winter tyres which 6/8 of use were riding on so definitely recommend using those rather than slick tyres.
Here is Jack's guide on how to change your tyres.
7. Group riding - it wasn't until nightfall on the London to Newhaven leg of the journey that we really began to work well as a group of riders, earlier in the day we had been spread out over around 100m from the front rider to the back; we were stopping more, moral was lower and our pace was inconsistent. Once we started following the 5 essential tips for group cycling, everything became much better for team riding.
8. Pack light and pack right - Jenna and Jack were the envy of the group with their light weight panniers! Jenna had the Topeak bag to go with the Beamrack bar which meant she could fit all her kit on the back of her bike. As you can see in the image above, Jack had to also use his handlebars for storage - this did effect his maneuverability on the bike.
Here's our list of pros and cons for bike luggage; backpacks, panniers and bum bags.
9. Nappy cream and chamois cream - there's no way of avoiding a sore bum when cycling and chaffing is something that you have to try to avoid at all costs! We had 3 creams on the trip: Chamois Butt'r (RRP £12.99), Sudocrem (RRP £2.25) and a supermarket own-brand nappy cream (RRP £1.09). In all honesty, spending more is not a guarantee of a more effective product! The cheap nappy cream worked fine both on the bum and as relief for shoulders which were suffering from long days with a backpack on!
10. Communicate with the group - especially important if you're riding in a well streamlined group: call out pot holes in the road, if you're braking and make clear signals approaching junctions. Pass messages forwards and back to make sure the whole group knows what's going on.
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