So excited for you!

I was driving home last night through the hills of Los Altos, an area I would frequently do hill repeats on and just remembering how good it feels to be on a bike. Anyways, I started thinking about everything I’ve seen and loved along the west coast and got really excited for you. I know if anyone can do this it’s you and at the end you’re going to have this wonderful memory that will shape you and be yours. 

Ok, that’s a little mushy. But it’s gonna be awesome. I mean, what are you going to do with a month without rain? 

Oh, and apparently the friend’s house I was at is adjacent from one of the Google creators if also want to say “hey, what’s up to him!”


New bike options..

Okay, so as option 1 for the ride is to adapt my existing bike, but as discussed here there are some problems with that; essentially all I would keep is the frame, and even that would probably be a sub-optimal solution.

So the alternative option is to buy something different (new or 2nd hand).  I chatted to Andy (Ronde Technician) a little about options on this front; they’re Condor re-sellers, and as such that’s where their expertise went to..

But a bit of googling came up with some viable alternatives..

For all of these, the focus is on something that is something that balances two competeing elements — strong enough to take panniers and stand up to the rigours of long distance riding whilst being comfortable and being sufficiently light that it is still a pleasure to ride (and 65miles/day is easy enough).  Of course there is a trade-off to be had here.  At one is the road racer, at the other is the true tourer, something like a Surly Long Haul Trucker (which is pretty much ALL you’ll hear about if you google touring bikes). For sake of comparison..

  • Surly Long Haul Trucker (£280 frameset on ebay – interestingly that’s being sold by the Edinburgh Bike Cooperative!)

Chat with Andy (Ronde)..

Andy in Ronde suggested lose pricing of..

  • frameset, £600
  • groupset*1, £400
  • wheels,*2, £200
  • Deda finishing kit, £200

*1 Groupset – need to balance (1) performance, (2) longetivity, and (3) ease of replacement. The last one means not SRAM, since suppliers are limited.  So Shimano or Campangelo; I’m good with either. I currently use Shimano and know their range, so we stuck with that.  Recommended the 105 over my current Tiagra, as thought a big jump in performance, but hardier than the upper models (Integra and Dura-Ace).  In terms of ratios, thinking compact at front (50-34) rather than my current standard (52-39) and wide at back (11-28) rather than my current (11-25).

*2 Wheels. Make sure they’re hand-built (so they can be easily repaired).  Consider getting a second set for back here, that are lighter and use a second cassette to make switching wheels easy.  Put Gatorskin tyres on, as wide as the wheel can take – e.g. 28C or 30C.

Concerns / more things to think about..

  1. Do I want to pay for brand new, or buy a frameset or even entire bike, second hand?
  2. Do I want to get something that’s an out-and-out tourer, like the Surly LHT, and accept that it’s a slower (but certainly hardier, and possibly more comfortable) ride?
  3. I guess for this question, I need to know how much stuff I’m taking, and whether it will fit onto an Audax equivalent?
  4. The Condor Fratello comes with carbon poggia forks; can they take / do they suit front panniers?  Reading reviews (e.g. here) suggests that when loaded (with only 15kg of weight) there is a some flex in the backend.

I guess my main concern, expressed in 2-4, is “Is an audax the right style of bike for a 2000 mile, unsupported, ride?” If I was motelling / crashing on people’s floors every night, then yes, undoubtedly; I could travel super-light, just use rear panniers, and this would be fine.  But (a) can I afford that for 60 days straight, and if not, then (b) how much weight (and volume) is the camping option going to add?  That basically determines what I get.  Looks like I’ve decided what the topic of  my next blog post will be..

Budget for new bike / cycle-to-work scheme

I’m fairly sure my employer is on this scheme, although like most UK workplaces they cap it at £1000.  The amount you save varies with both cost of bike and your tax bracket. Condor have a handy online calculator to work  it out, and for me it looks like I would save 41% – ie £410 on a £1000 bike.

I don’t have a specific number in mind but I guess I was thinking of capping it at around £1000, so with the cycle-to-work reductions, that means an upper limit or around £1410.

At that value, and on a big  bike trip, I suspect I should be thinking bike insurance.  I’ve heard through Mr Tinsley that insurance companies typically have a problem with cycle-to-work scheme bikes that are over the threshold, since they aren’t all owned by one party.  Will need to look into that, and possibly either reducing it’s top value (if it works out at say £1200, that’s only a £200 hit) or that it’s a cycle-to-work scheme bike (I fully intend to keep it at the end anyway).

Can I do the ride on my current bike?

My current bike is a Ribble Winter/Audax Frame, which is an aluminium frame with carbon forks.  I’m aiming for around 65miles/day on the ride.

I chatted to the technician in Ronde (Andy?) about whether it would be possible to do the ride on my current frame, and the main issues that came up were comfort, carrying-capacity, gear ratios and how easy it would be to fix wheels..


Aluminium frame plus carbon fork equals stiffness, which means bumps come through to your hands/bum.  A short (aka racy) geometry makes it good for turning, but less clearance between feet and mudguards / panniers – I’m already banging my feet on my front mudguard when I turn.  No ‘tweaking’ will change the underlying material or size of the bike, I’m stuck with it, or I change bikes.

Carrying capacity

The front forks won’t take panniers.  I don’t know that I do want front panniers, but the option would probably be useful, especially if camping stays on the cards — need to price out the camping/non-camping options.  However, this doesn’t mean the bike can’t used — I could simply replace the existing forks with steel ones with eyelits.

Also, at present I can’t fit a rear pannier, because my rear brake is a side-pull, and the arm that guides the cable in is in the way of  the arm that connects the pannier to the frame.  So, I’d need to change my rear brakes.  Ronde’s technician guy (who’s name escapes me right at this second) mentioned that canti-levered brakes were actually more powerful than calipered (which are what side-pulls are an example of).  Not that power is a big problem for me at the moment — braking problems are at present more due to loss of grip between tire and road surface than about not being able to stop the tire spinning.

Gear Ratios

I’m riding a standard two-ring chainset (ie 52/39), with an 11-25 cassette on the back.  The technician recommended switching to a compact chainset (50/34) and a 12-28 or 12-30 cassette, giving an option of an almost 1-1 ratio 34:30 for longer sloggier hills.  That change could be done on the existing bike or a new one.  He also recommended switching to the 105 set because he thought the performace would be noticably better, but that Ultegra/Dura-Ace would wear through too quickly. Avoid SRAM because rarer, so would be slightly more difficult to get parts for.  Not much difference in availability between Shimano and Campag.  Some people have a strong preference for one brand than the other (I’ve only ever used Shimano, so don’t know).


Strongly recommended, above all, changing my existing wheels, which are machine built, narrow-guage, to something hand-built and wider.  Hand-built means it can be hand-repaired, especially so if it is a simple J-style spoke.  Hand-repaired means things like getting a buckled/bent wheel or broken spoke can be fixed by me, if needs be, or easily by a shop.  Also a fatter rim, with a greater tire volume, will give me a little more comfort in the ride.


Existing wheels need replacing (~£200).  Fronts forks need replacing (~£100).  Drivetrain probably needs replacing (£400), or at least new non-calipered rear brake (~£20), and new chainset/cassette (£110/£40), ie ~£170. And still frame won’t be ideally sized (feet!).  Also, as an aside, buying bits for a new bike can’t go on cycle2work (though I might use the scheme to buy a racer, if I could make use of the Ribble, so not really money ‘lost’).  Plus a pannier rack for ~£40 (another £30 for front?) So it is £540–£770 for the upgrades.  Whereas a new bike might be around £1500 all in (and that’s more like £1100 after getting on to the cycle2work, more on that next).  So, a new bike is definitely more, but maybe not crazy amounts more..

Flights, and the Grandma consideration..

I first looked at the cost of flying:

Ed->London (£150) + London to Vancouver  return (£1000) + San Diego to Vancouver (£140). ie £1300 all in.

But then I realised, Grandma is probably not going to be best pleased if I go to Canada without seeing her (in Toronto).  🙂

That makes for a more complex set of flight options..

1) fly back from Vancouver..

  • Ed -> Toronto (£504, single, I think that was BA),
  • Toronto -> Vancouver (single, with either Westjet or AirCanada, ~£200),
  • SanDiego -> Vancouver (£140, ??)
  • Vancouver -> Edinburgh (£690, I think BA again)
  • Total = £1534

1) fly back from Vancouver..

  • Ed -> Toronto (return £1019, though £903 via Air France through price-checker)
  • Toronto -> Vancouver (~£200, as above),
  • SanDiego -> Toronto (£198, Air Canada)
  • Total = £1417 (or £1301)

What extra cost is there to put a bike on these flights? (free on BA flights)

Hmm. Time to make hard decisions, for which I need to know — what is my budget??


I had dinner with Mark and Becca last night, and whilst chatting they mentioned that I would need a visa for the states, and that they thought they were limited to 60 days, whilst my trip is due to be around 80 days…eek!  I looked into it this morning, and found out the following..

  • Britain is part of the US’s Visa Wavier Program
  • This allows visitors to the US to not have to go through the rigamorle of filling out all the forms/documentation required for a full VISA (yay!)
  • It has certain limitations (including time limits, as M&B mentioned) but visitors for pleasure/tourism/visiting family/friends (aka me) are allowed to stay for 90days.
  • I need to check if my current ESTA is still valid, and if not, renew it, at least 45 days before travelling.
  • (also, for ref, I have an electronic passport)

Also two things to note:

  1. my stay starts as soon as I hit US soil, ie if I fly through New York on my way to Vancouver, then that is the start of the 90-day VISA (though since the whole trip is intended as 80 days, that’s not the end of the world),
  2. I cannot extend my trip on the Visa Waiver Program, so if there’s any doubt about the length, a different type of visa would be better.  (I think this is highly unlikely to be a problem — I have my masters’ 10-year anniversary get-together the week after I’m planning on getting back, and I’m planning on booking specific – rather than moveable – flights, so..)

Academic use of trip…

I have had, for quite some time, the urge to work outside of the UK.  Thanks to the post-doc I just accepted with Gabi it looks like I will be here until around August 2015, so that gives me time to sort out the publishing papers /presenting results side of my CV that’s a little weak at the moment (compared with the doing model-runs and crunching-data side).

Chris, and others, have pointed out that papers more than contacts are what gets jobs, so no doubt I need to work on that.  But in my experience of getting onto the PhD and in manouvering through various jobs here at Edinburgh, I have found it is my contacts that have opened doors.

So, it seems to me to make sense to try to meet people / give talks at a few of the universities that I’ll pass along the way. This should help to build contacts, give me a feel for what the universities and environment are like, force me to practice giving talks, and is probably one of those “good for my career” type experiences.

Of course this involves two things (1) having something to talk about and (2) finding places where that would fit.  But both those can be worked on.  Possible universities to visit…

  • Vancouver — University of British Columbia.  Their Earth, Ocean and Atmos Sciences dept —
  • Seattle — University of Washington.  Gabi has worked here.  So has Panos. I think both in Atmospheric sciences — — although they also have an Earth Sciences department —
  • Portland — ?
  • San Francisco — ?
  • LA — ?
  • San Diego — University of California at San Diego.