Category Archives: Cycling

Garmin eTrex 30 review

I’ve been using the Garmin eTrex 30 for navigation and to record my rides for four years now. I like it a lot, but I don’t think it’s the GPS for everyone. Here’s my review.

Design and appearance

Garmin eTrex 30 mounted on road bike handlebarsTo be brutally honest, the eTrex is a chunky lump to put on your handlebars. If it was writing a lonely hearts ad it might describe itself as “rugged”. The device sticks up a good 45mm from the handlebars. It’s about 100mm long and 55mm wide. It can’t even pronounce the word aerodynamic. The colour probably won’t match your bike.

The reason it is a bit plus-sized is to fit two AA batteries and a 44x35mm screen. The wider reason for the form-factor is that the eTrex 30 is not aimed at racers, time-trialists or triathletes. It’s intended for hikers, sailors and touring cyclists. It is also very popular with audaxers like me.

Around the edge are five small rubbery buttons: Menu, Up, Down, Back and Light/On-Off. These need a firm press which can take a couple of tries in winter when I sometimes wear ski gloves, but I’d prefer this to them being flimsy and getting pressed by accident.

The screen is not touch-sensitive. Instead, on the top is a 4-direction “joystick”. It can also be pushed in to select items. Selection in this way is a bit tricky and it is easy to “miss” when trying to push the stick in and ending up pushing it up or down or doing nothing. I find this the same whether I’m wearing gloves or not. However, I’m seldom in a rush when using this button and I only tend to need it two or three times a day. I find that as long as I’m patient and pay attention to where I’m going the button does the job nicely. If my smartphone had an interface like this I’d hate it, but it doesn’t bother me on the GPS.

Features and function

The etrex 30 can be used for a lot of other activities like hiking, sailing, etc. It has a load of features I’ve never used, like a “Man Overboard” button. I can’t tell you about those features, as I’ve only ever used it for cycling.

eTrex front with joystick and screen showing time, Trip odometer, elevation, speed, etc.

My “data” screen

I followed some very thorough etrex 20/30 setup advice and went for a simple system of two screens, one for a the map, one for the numbers – time, distance, average speed, battery level, etc. You can choose which fields you want and have them in various layouts. I switch between the two screens using the back button which is quick and easy.

The main thing I use this for is guessing when I might arrive at the next control. If my average speed has dropped but my elevation is high, then I can expect to gain some speed when I descend. Arguably maximum speed is more for entertainment than anything else. Total ascent can be useful when Everesting or chasing AAA points.

I also put two boxes like these at the top of my map screen – Overall Ave. and Distance. You can have four boxes, but it starts to obscure the map a bit. With the help of the up and down buttons on the top left edge of the device (see image above) the map can be zoomed in or out much further than you’re likely to want. I use 120m scale for towns and 200/300m for countryside. If you get lost you can also scroll across the map using the joystick, but this is a bit clumsy and slow to update.

You can buy or find additional online maps, but I found those that are built-in to be fine for the UK.

When I’ve planned a long ride I usually copy a GPX file onto the device so I have something to follow for navigation. You can use the “Follow route” feature which provides a thick pink line as well as some peak and valley icons which don’t seem very accurate to me. For simplicity I prefer to simply “Show on map” and select a colour that I find easy to see. I prefer dark blue or red (see below).

I don’t get any warnings or beeps if I go off-route, but with an audax routesheet alongside I find navigation pretty easy.

eTrex screen showing red route not quite following every bend of the road

When trackpoints are reduced, the route shortcuts some of the curves of the road. This shot shows the pointer mode rather than my info boxes.

However, this is where you have to be a bit careful on longer rides. There is a track point limit and if you go over it, the end of the route will be cut short. I discovered this halfway through a 300km ride to my alarm. Thankfully I also had a routesheet. I’m not sure exactly what the maximum number of track points is, but it’s definitely less than 6500 and more than 4600. I’ve since learnt several ways to get around this and I always use the “View map” option on the GPS to check my routes are about the right length after I’ve copied them across. If I use a tool to reduce the number of track points the route often ends up slightly shorter  – say 98.6km instead of 100km due to the way the reduced route takes shortcuts across the bends in a road (see image). So I aim to reduce to 4500 track points to get the smoothest track without risking the eTrex cutting off the end. For routes longer than 200km I’d prefer to split the route into several sections.

Like most GPSs the eTrex 30 records the track you travel on for Strava or other ride-recording tools. What I found different to the Edge 500 was that once it’s set up the eTrex records all the time – no need to press start. You can save your track to another file or clear the current track, but it will keep recording. If you turn the device off or even change the batteries it will continue recording when you turn it back on. If you’ve moved while it was off it draws a straight line between the points. What this means is that you need to remember to clear the current track before you start a new ride. That way it doesn’t include your car/train/plane journey!

Note: If you’re concerned that your total ascent figure is as accurate (and large!) as possible when uploading from an eTrex to Strava, I’ve made some scripts to fix the way the altimeter data is read.

Other features

  • Takes 2xAA batteries which are available anyhere. Rechargeables work fine.
  • Good battery life – I’ve had Eneloops last well over 24 hours.
  • Can be powered (but not charged) via USB.
  • Mini-USB data connector.
  • Can display HR and cadence if attached via ANT, but doesn’t record them for Strava, etc.
  • Secure bike mount available and lanyard attachment point.
  • Reliable – never had a crash or loss of data in four years.

Conclusions

I previously used a Garmin Edge 500. The Edge 500’s navigation was very basic, consisting only of a wiggly line, no map and a buzz when you’re off course… or the GPS signal has failed. But most annoyingly the Edge 500 has a non-removable Lithium Ion battery that I could never get more than 12 hours out of. While charging on the go is theoretically possible with the right kind of cable, I always found that this reset my route. As I understand it, most of the Edge series (apart from the Edge Touring) is designed for training rides where you might want to record HR, cadence, power, etc, but not ideal for audax/touring.

When all I want is to record my ride and it’s less than an hour long, my phone is simpler. But on longer rides I like to conserve my phone’s battery in case of emergencies. I haven’t tried every GPS out there, but in spite of the user interface quirks already mentioned, I’m very happy with the eTrex 30 for touring and audax.

This is not a tour 400A photos

Why I’m riding “This is not a tour”

This weekend I’m riding the 400km on and off-road audax in the style and memory of Mike Hall. My motivation for this ride is similar to the reason I ride audaxes in general, but with the added variety of off-road sections. I’m interested in the question, “How much harder will that be?”. I met Mike only briefly, but I think this kind of event is what he would have wanted to inspire.

Long distance cycling is something I’ve got into over the past five years. Whenever I’ve mentioned one of my rides to friends I get bewildered responses ranging from admiration to horror. A lot of people ask if I’m doing it for charity.

“No” I say, “I’m doing it for… fun?”.

Yes, fun. I enjoy planning the route, deciding what clothing, lights and bike maintenance kit I should take. I enjoy the challenge of not knowing whether I can finish within the time limits. I enjoy the peace and solitude exploring deserted country lanes. I enjoy chatting with other riders. Sometimes I’m winding my way up a hill, sometimes I’m concentrating on a tricky descent. Sometimes I’m ambling along, sometimes I’m pushing to go as fast as I can. I enjoy the freedom of roaming and of self-sufficiency. I enjoy getting away from it all, relaxed but focused on the ride.

I’m not claiming that every journey is smooth and full of picture-postcard scenery. Things go wrong. Punctures happen, wrong turns happen, lights fail. Headwinds, achy legs and cold temperatures conspire against an easy ride. On most rides I’ll have a “low point” when I’m fed up, uncomfortable or hungry. Getting through that and whatever other challenges the ride may throw at me is part of the challenge and the reason I feel elated if I finish.

And I don’t always finish in time. If I always succeeded I’d wonder if I was limiting myself to easy challenges. Failure is a good way to learn, even though it hurts at the time.

I’m sure most of my bewildered friends take on similar challenges. Things which take unusual mental or physical effort, which take us away from the humdrum of everyday life. Things where success is not guaranteed, where temporary discomfort is tolerated to reach a goal. Everyone’s challenges are different, but we all need to be challenged.

Can you relate to that?

Commuting to Bristol in photos

I’ve spent a few years infrequently commuting to Bristol through the year. I’ve now left that job, so thought it would be interesting to share the photos taken on my usual routes.

Audax training plan

I’ve got some longer audaxes planned this year, so I thought I should actually have a training plan for once. I’ve avoided stating exactly what ride I’ll do on what day as I know life is likely to get in the way, but I still have some targets which I think are reasonable. Perhaps publishing it here will keep me honest!

Jan – Feb

  • 1 x interval session (outside or turbo) 30-60 mins per month.
  • 1 x 50km+ ride per week (could turbo)
  • 2 x 100km+ ride with 1000m+ climbing per month (could count as two of the 50km)
  • 400km and 5000m total per month

 

Mar – Apr

  • 2 x interval sessions (outside or turbo) 30-60 mins per month.
  • 1 x 50km+ rides per week (could turbo)
  • 2 x 100km+ ride (could count as one of the 50km)
  • 1 x 200km+ ride with 2500m+ climbing per month (could count as one of the 50km)
  • 600km and 7500m total per month

 

May – July

  • 2 x interval sessions (outside or turbo) 30-60 mins per month.
  • 1 x 100km+ rides per week (could turbo)
  • 2 x 200km+ rides with 2500m+ climbing per month (could count as the 100km)
  • 1 x 300km+ ride with 4000m+ climbing per month (could count as one of the 200km)
  • 900km and 12000m total per month.

UPDATE 10th August 2018

Now that I’ve completed the two big rides – 400km and 1000km, I thought I’d mention what I would change about this plan.

The first thing is that a lot of longer rides probably aren’t needed. As it turned out life got in the way and it was near-impossible to fit in all the long rides I had planned. It’s subjective, but I don’t feel like a 200km ride gives much more training benefit than a hilly 100km ride, especially if you do at least half of the 100km before having breakfast. 200km+ rides are really disruptive as I needed to take a day away from family at the weekend, or book a whole day off work. 100km can be done in half a day and if you start early, being back by lunchtime is possible. I do think it’s worth doing at least one 200km+ ride in a longer training period, just to get familiar with the effects of fatigue on speed and rest times, but I don’t see any real training benefit.

Secondly, I think interval sessions are great. I really felt like I got a lot of benefit from them in a short space of time and this was confirmed by my sleep monitor in terms of a lowering resting HR and physical recovery. So next time I’d do more of that.

The monthly distance and climbing targets were worth having as they did get me out on the bike regularly, though I might reduce them a bit next time.

Volunteering at Thirsk for LEL

I recently volunteered for a few days at the Thirsk Control for London Edinburgh London. I put up banners, sorted out chargers for riders GPSs and phones, found beds for people, served food, fixed bikes and marshalled people into the control. It was tiring, but with a great bunch of people to work with it was also good fun.

Here are a few of my photos.

Lego ginger cat

Siobhan’s cat

Light green bags with LONDON EDINBURGH LONDON 2017 written on them

The bag drop has landed

Pens, space blankets, banners, signs, torches, etc laid out on a desk

A wide variety of kit is needed to run the control

LEL 2017 banner on school gate

Banners to guide the riders in

James standing in front of two LEL banners

Proud of my handiwork!

USB chargers on table.

Lots of charging for GPS and phones

Metal barriers in the car park

Parking for hundreds of bikes

School gym with mattresses laid out

A few beds in the overflow hall

Large school sports hall with many mattresses ready

160 more beds in the main hall

Three audax riders arriving at Thirsk school

An early group arrive before dark on Sunday

Boy on mountain bike

Not an audaxer

Woman on shopping bike with basket.

Also not an audaxer, but it’s hard to tell from a distance, OK?

Volunteers in school corridor

Edwin and Kate doing sleep running

Bikes parked at night

Plenty of bikes making use of the parking facilities

Volunteers in canteen

James and James learning how to serve food – it’s harder than it looks.

Pasta, Rice, Curry, Meatballs in canteen

Ja, I vill have ze pasta wiz ze curry. OK…

Bikes parked in daylight

A fairly busy time.

Red velomobile

Wow

Bike on stand being serviced

James looks into another gearing problem.

Light blue frame and front derailleur

Stiff shifting to the big ring, gunk in the cable duct. Lubed up and it was good enough.

Knock Ventoux 2017

Few bike routes truly deserved the overused term “epic”, but I think Andy Corless’s Knock Ventoux 300km audax is a contender.

I rode this in June 2017 and here are my photos.

 

Tweaking the bike for Everesting

I’m planning my second Everesting, so thought that as well as climbing lots of hills to prepare my legs, I should do something to prepare my bike. I have one proper road bike which I use for club runs and audaxing. Audax is bikes are partly about comfort as over that kind of distance discomfort eventually becomes pain, which slows you down a lot. Anyway, it is supposed to be enjoyable, mostly. Maybe some type-2 fun, but hopefully not type-3.

I’ve pretty much decided on The Burway for my next Everesting, even though I won’t be the first.

Mods for Everesting

I’m conscious that with Everesting there’s a lot more climbing than even the hilliest audax. The Cambrian 200 is one of the hilliest and even that has under 4000m of climbing. Everesting means 8848m in as little as 180km. When climbing, weight makes a huge difference, so some of my modifications are to reduce weight. I’ve removed the mudguards, the bell and the pedal reflectors and swapped my dynamo hub wheel for a standard one. The weather looks good and I hope not to be riding too much into the dark, so hopefully this will be OK. I’ve also swapped out my Brooks leather saddle for a simpler and lighter Charge Spoon. If this isn’t quite as comfortable I’m hoping it won’t matter as I tend to stand up for the descents and maybe parts of the climbs.

I’ve switched to some 25mm Continental GP4000 tires I have but rarely use. These are fractionally lighter and also roll a bit faster, which is a bigger proportion of energy usage uphill when aerodynamics are negligible.

Scale showing 8.61kgI haven’t spent a huge amount of money to do this, just bought a couple of cheaper bits. No doubt you could save a bit more weight by spending more. The titanium frame is light, but not as light as some carbon ones. Still, I’ve got the weight down to 8.6kg.

The other significant change I made was in gear ratios. The Burway has a 20-25% section which I can easily get up with 34×29 when I’m fresh. However recent training rides on a 18% climb make me think that will become very hard after a few repetitions. I’d like to have the option of standing or sitting to climb, even when my legs are tired. So I had a look at Spa Cycles and found a cheap triple chainring that would do the job. the smallest ring is 22 teeth, which gives a lowest gain ratio of 1.4 (or 18.1 inches), compared to the 2.1 (or 28 inches) I had previously. At 90 RPM that’s 7.8kph, probably a realistic speed for the steepest part of the climb, though I expect my cadence will drop further when tired.

Small 22-tooth chainring mounted on titanium frame, missing larger rings

Very low gears with a 22-tooth chainring

I only have a shifter for a double chainring and didn’t want the hassle/expense of buying and setting up a full triple at the moment. So I thought I might as well remove the two larger rings and for that matter the front dérailleur. A little extra weight saved.

I can still shift between 32 and 11 tooth cogs on the back, but this means I can’t pedal fast enough much beyond 25kph, so I may be a bit slower on the flatter bits of the descent. I’m not too worried about this as I think the climbs are more important to the overall time. Ideally my front ring would be about 28 teeth, but I don’t have one of those without spending more money or pulling apart my hybrid.

Maintenance

I’ve also replaced the chain as it was getting worn and set the length of the new one for the small chainring. I guess when I switch back to my double I’ll need a new, longer one.

Broken aluminium nipple

Broken aluminium nipple

Horrible aluminium nipple with damaged head.

Horrible aluminium nipple with damaged head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also noticed recently that the fairly cheap wheels I bought about a year ago have had several nipple breakages, two when the wheel was just sitting in the garage. It looks like the nipples are made of aluminium rather than brass. Brass ones are a bit heavier (1g vs 0.4g by my measuring), but also more reliable. I don’t enjoy the prospect of nipples breaking while out on even a short ride, so I’ve laboriously replaced them all.

Hopefully all this will help me complete the Burway Everesting tomorrow!

 

 

Preparation for Everesting

A couple of years ago I everested Bowden hill in Wiltshire and found it a good challenge. I was the first person daft enough to do it. Since then I’ve been thinking about another hill to Everest.

For a long time I had my eye on Bwlch-y-groes aka Hellfire pass in North Wales, but last year Ian Barrington did it before me. More recently I’ve been thinking seriously about The Burway in Shropshire, but a couple of weeks ago Chris Winn did that one. Huge kudos to both these guys for amazing efforts on these famous climbs. However, I was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t be the first up either of these, which is what the Everesting.cc hall of fame focuses on.

Why?

I started wondering about whether I really needed to be the first to Everest a particular hill and for that matter why I do it at all – something which I feel I often have to explain to puzzled friends and family. Last time I was doing it for charity, but this time I’d rather do it for me. Partly because I don’t like asking people for money.

One reason I do these kind of challenging rides is that it adds a definite goal to aim for. Whether I’m training or modifying my bike or working out the route and logistics, it’s all more enjoyable with an aim in mind. If you don’t have a goal you can’t fail, but success is also rather meaningless. There’s no sense of anticipation or achievement. Some cyclists use racing or aiming for KOMs on Strava segments as goals, but I’ve never been much of a racer. I’ve assumed that, having only started cycling seriously in my thirties I was a bit old to be really fast over a short distance. But I feel I might be better suited to these longer and quite frankly, weirder challenges. If I really feel the need to get the “first ascent” on the hall of fame, am I doing it for bragging rights? A lot of people I know find my challenges more eccentric than impressive, so perhaps I am doing it for my own satisfaction. I’ve said before that everyone’s challenges are individual and in some ways hard to compare. I’ve judged that Everesting will be a challenge for me. Despite having done something similar before, I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete it with my current level of fitness, a different hill, different conditions, etc. That’s part of what makes it interesting.

So I’m still undecided about redoing a famous climb or trying to be first on a new one. Either way, I’ll need to prepare my bike.

Let me help you commute by bicycle

I regularly use my bike to get to work. Usually only for the short journey across town where I leave it at the station and take the train the rest of the way. Once every week or two I ride the full 25 miles to Bristol. It’s a nice way to start the day, saves the train fare and on at least one occasion has been quicker than waiting for severely delayed trains.

Hybrid bike with rack bag by canal

Hybrid bike set up for winter riding

However, I can remember a time when this kind of distance and the logistics of riding in to work seemed intimidating. How long would it take? Where could I secure my bike? Will I need lights? How do I carry my laptop and work clothes? Can I shower at work? What if I get a puncture?

I’ve now resolved these questions and my 18-year old hybrid is now my go-to form of transport for short journeys and sometimes longer ones.

Have you thought about making some or all of your journey to work by bike and never quite got around to it?

Cycling UK‘s Bike Week event is coming up (10th to 18th June) and in the spirit of encouraging more people to cycle, I’d like to offer to help those friends and colleagues who’ve never commuted by bike to give it a go.

I can give some advice on the practicalities, safety, route planning and, if you need a bit of extra motivation and you live or work nearby, I may even get up early to escort you to and from work the first time. Just ask and I’ll see if I can help. My guess is that when you give it a go, it won’t be as difficult as you think.

James in a white jersey with tandem in a country lane, rear seat is unoccupied.

Don’t have a suitable bike? How about joining me in the tandem sometime?

If you’re​ already comfortable commuting by bike, then have a think about how you could encourage others to do so.