Why do it at all?
There's a whole range of different reasons as to why thousands of people from across the world attempt this iconic ride each year - the sense of achievement, the bragging rights amongst friends, to raise money for charity, to see the whole country, to lose weight, to spend quality time with a partner, to tick an item off a bucket list..... Or just simply, why not?!
Whatever your reason, it's certainly something you'll look back on in years to come with pride.
How much does the trip cost?
Many factors can affect the cost of the trip and people spend anything from a few hundred pounds right up to several thousand pounds. The biggest factors are how long you take, what type of accommodation you use (and if you can share a room to split the cost), as well as how much equipment you already have or need to buy. Some of the other items to consider when budgeting could be:
- The cost of travelling to and from John o'Groats/Land's End;
- Accommodation - the cost can vary by season, whether you book in advance, and what type of accommodation you prefer. My B&B's cost on average about £70/night (in 2016);
- Food each day;
- A bike (if you don't already have a suitable one!);
- Panniers and bags;
- A bike computer if you want, eg to help navigate or to record your riding;
- Other necessary bike equipment if you've not already got them - helmet, lights, toolkit;
- Suitable cycling clothing, including waterproofs.
See the equipment page for a full list of what I took. You should also allow some contingency money for on the ride too, for example to pay for any bike repairs needed or taxis.
I took a full 5 weeks in B&B's, had very little of the equipment to begin with, and I like my gadgets too (GPS units for example), so for me the cost of the trip was extremely high - higher than it needed to have been. As a once in a lifetime challenge that I'll remember forever though it was a cost that I viewed as being worth it.
How safe is it?
Thousands of people manage to successfully complete the ride without incident each year. As with all cycling it's not risk free and there have been accidents, notably a tragic one in 2013 involving a lorry driver who'd fallen asleep at the wheel. You can never make cycling 100% safe but you can minimise your risks through:
- Careful route planning (avoiding busy roads where you can);
- Making yourself visible;
- And paying attention at all times (no headphones!!).
How long does it take?
The current world record for cycling between Land's End and John o'Groats on a conventional bike was set in 2018 with a crazily fast time of 43hrs 25 mins! Obviously you don't need to be quite this fast 😉
How long you take can deopend a lot on your motivations. For many people their goal is to complete the ride in the shortest time they can, for others it's simply to finish it. Other people take it intentionally slowly and spend some time sightseeing en-route.
Cycling it in 5 days is not uncommon but the majority of people take anywhere from 10 to 21 days - I took it even slower and rode it in 29 days. Many people aim for 2 weeks to fit around their holiday allowance from work. You can take as long as you want to cycle it though - just aim for whatever you can achieve and which fits in with your personal objectives and constraints.
Also remember to allow a day either side of the cycling to travel to and from the start/end points.
What mileage would I have to do each day?
This depends on how quickly you want to complete the ride. If you're a regular club cyclist then 60 miles or more each day won't be a problem; if you're not a regular cyclist then it might be wise to start with as little as 20 miles a day until you build your fitness up on the ride. Remember that your bike will be a lot heavier than normal (unless you're lucky enough to have a support car taking your luggage!), and Cornwall can be surprisingly hilly and tiring.
How fit do I need to be?
As long as you can ride a bike and you're in good health then you can do this! I wasn't a regular cyclist or massively fit (playing squash or badminton once a week) and I was very overweight, yet I still easily achieved it. Obviously the fitter you are the quicker you can do it in, and I wouldn't recommend any non-regular cyclist try for anything quicker than 3 or even 4 weeks. If you push yourself too hard you'll not enjoy it and will get injured, especially if you're not used to cycling day after day. Take it easy though and almost anyone can do this.
Does tiredness accumulate throughout the ride?
I found that by the time I got to day 3 or 4, that was the most tired I got all trip (and I experienced the same again on my 2018 European ride). Most people seem to say the same thing of their experiences too; your body takes a few days to get used to the cycling but then settles down and you get into a rhythm. Different parts of my body ached or hurt at different points throughout the full ride but nothing serious.
If you're not used to cycling for many days in a row at a time then it would be a good idea to try a short cycling holiday first to test yourself out - this will also help build your confidence. I hadn't cycled across several consecutive days since I was a child, so booked myself onto a week long cycling holiday in Tuscany before I committed myself to the full LEJOG ride. This was with Saddle Skedaddle who organised it brilliantly. They had a minibus following us round too so I was able to take a break and sit one day out when I was tired. And as it was Tuscany, it was great training for the hills in Cornwall! When I returned home I had the confidence that I could do LEJOG so started organising it straight away - 4 weeks later I was on the train down to Penzance!
Is it best to do it solo or in a group?
It's up to you! There's pros and cons to both:
- In a group you can support each other and have a laugh, and share the weight of some equipment out (eg toolkit items and spares such as inner tubes). You've also got ready help if any of you have an accident or a major mechanical issue. The downside to group cycling though is that you must get on (if you haven't cycled this far before it can be tiring and bring out the friction in a group) and you're also restricted by the pace of the slowest person.
- Riding it solo you'll need to be happy in your own company as you'll have hours of cycling by yourself. You will though meet people en-route, and fellow touring cyclists especially are always happy to stop and talk. You can also set your own pace, have breaks whenever you want, and even choose to detour to see a particular viewpoint or visit a tourist attraction without having anyone disagree!
Will I need a support driver?
If you know someone willing to be a support driver then lucky you! Most people do the ride without one; of course it means having to carry all your clothes and equipment with you but there are bigger bragging rights at having done that! Having a family member or friend acting as a support driver can give you peace of mind though if you're worried about ever being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken bike, and a support car also means you can be much more flexible when booking accommodation as you can drive miles off-route (and back again the next morning) to reach your hotel.
The other benefit of a support vehicle is the flexibility it gives you in cycling more or fewer miles each day than planned, depending on how you're feeling. On several days I got to my accommodation earlier than expected and wished I'd been able to carry on but with some means of returning back to where I was staying; had I had a support car I could have done that.
Several tour companies also offer organised trips, such as Saddle Skedaddle, who will take a support minibus and carry your luggage for you. These can be great but you won't necessarily be able to cycle at your preferred pace, and being an organised tour there's a schedule to keep so you can't just choose to take a rest day if you want - you'd end up missing out on being able to say you'd done the whole ride if you did. I've used Saddle Skedaddle for a cycling holiday in Tuscany and can happily recommend them.
What's the best route to take?
The only real constraint to cycling LEJOG is that you must start at Land's End in Cornwall and finish at John o'Groats in Scotland (or the other way round if you're doing JOGLE) - how you get between those two points is up to you. There is no "official" route as such.
The vast majority of people follow a route west of the Pennines as this tends to be the shortest and least hilly way of doing the ride. Starting at Land's End (reverse this for JOGLE) it's common to cycle to just west of Bristol via Bodmin and Taunton, and from there up to either Hereford via the old Severn Crossing bridge or Worcester via Gloucester. From there cyclists head straight north to Penrith, threading between Liverpool & Manchester on the way, and skirting the edge of the Lake District past Kendal.
There's then two common alternatives to Inverness; either via Glasgow, Fort William, and along Loch Ness, or towards Edinburgh and over the Forth Bridge, and then following (on quiet paths and roads) the route of the A9 over the Cairngorms through Aviemore and on to Inverness.
From Inverness some people stick to the east coast all the way, reaching John o'Groats via Wick along the A9 and A99, whereas others prefer to head up to the north coast and cycle through Thurso to get to John o'Groats. There's several popular routes for reaching the north coast, the most common being to go via Bonar Bridge and Altnaharra, or initially heading along the east coast and then turning north off the A9 at either Helmsdale or Latheron.
Take a look at the LEJOG route planning page; at the bottom are some links to different routes.
Is it best to start at Land's End or John o'Groats?
From reading around I get the impression that starting at Land's End (LEJOG) is more common than starting at John o'Groats (JOGLE) although I can't find any proper research to back that up. There is no real difference to it though; you still end up cycling the same distance in the end and it's the same achievement. There are a few small considerations you might wish to take into account when deciding - take a look at the LEJOG route planning page for some of these.
What accommodation options are there on route?
There's plenty of bed & breakfast and hotels along the whole route - the UK certainly isn't short of these! There's also youth hostels which are cheaper although limited in number, or if you're really adventurous you could camp. This means carrying more equipment but potentially allows you to pitch up anywhere once you've had enough for the day (assuming you can get permission from the land owner). Personally I preferred the comfort of a good B&B to relax in after a day's cycling but there's pros and cons to each option.
See the "Finding Accommodation" section on the LEJOG route planning page.
Is it best to book accommodation for the whole trip in advance, or book it as you go?
You're probably starting to notice a trend to my answers on here of "it depends"!
If you're confident in how many miles you can do each day then it might make sense to book in advance since you'll get cheaper rates and more choice (and if you find places with favourable cancellation policies then that's even better). For full flexibility though then booking on the day, or just one or two days ahead at a time, can work too.
I had an unexpected stopover for 2 days in Cheltenham to get my rear wheel repaired; had I had onward accommodation pre-booked then it might have forced me to find a quicker way to sort my wheel out (such as buying a cheap nasty replacement just to get back on the road), but having the ability to be flexible meant I could get it done properly without losing money on wasted accommodation bookings.
Even if you choose to be flexible, I'd suggest booking ahead for when you're going to be passing through the more remote areas to make sure you don't get stranded with no availability anywhere. I booked my first 7 days through Cornwall (it was the start of summer and busy), and then a few days before I reached Inverness I also booked the last few days from there up to John o'Groats.
Other than that, between Bristol and Inverness, I booked a maximum of 2 to 3 days ahead and had very few problems - the only issue was having to spend an extra rest day at home in Leeds as there was no availability anywhere in Northumberland at the weekend.
How much stuff do I need to take?
You should aim to travel as lightweight as possible (to make it easier to get up those hills!) but whilst still carrying everything you need. It's a bit of an art form and in my case I probably took a little too much, however it did all still fit into 2 rear panniers and a handlebar bag. See the Equipment page for a suggested list.
People have been completing the LEJOG challenge for years on many different types of bikes - there's even a world record for completing it on a Penny Farthing! (in July 2019 this was set at a seriously impressive 4 days and 12 hours in case you're asking...).
The simple truth is you don't need anything particularly fancy, with generally either a racing bike or dedicated touring bike (similar to a hybrid bike with no suspension) being the main types used. There's some characteristics worth bearing in mind that you should look for:
- Suspension is not needed (unless you're doing an off road version of the route); this adds unnecessary weight and the roads and paths are smooth enough.
- Tyre choice is important - thick knobbly mountain bike tyres will burn a lot of energy, whilst any that are too narrow (such as racing tyres) will be uncomfortable, dificult to control over rough terrain, and may not support the weight of your bike & gear. Tyres around 1.75" wide are a good balance. Make sure you get some puncture resistant ones, such as Schwalbe Marathon tyres.
- Look out for eyelets in the frame to attach a pannier rack to. Not all bikes have these, making attaching panniers very tricky otherwise (although there are ways around this, such as by using 'bikepacking' luggage).
- Make sure the bike is sturdy and has strong rear wheels - touring bikes often have 36 spokes (more than other bikes) to help take the load. Spokes are also not all made equal; make sure your bike is fitted with some good quality ones such as from Sapim or DT Swiss. Your bike shop will be able to advise.
If you were to go expedition touring around the world, miles from bike shops and over rough terrain, then you'd need to pay even more attention to the durability of your bike's components as well as making sure it only uses common parts (ie nothing fancy or unique). But for the UK where you're never too far from a bike shop, then a regular basic bike will be good enough!
The most important criteria for the bike is that it fits you well and it's comfortable - you'll be spending countless hours on it.
If you do want a comprehensive guide to choosing a robust touring bike, one that will easily last a LEJOG ride, then take a look at the great article "How To Build The Ultimate Round-The-World Expedition Touring Bike". This has been written by Tom Allen, a cyclist who's been travelling the world by bike for over 10 years and knows a thing or two about bikes. I referenced an earlier version of this article when designing a custom bike I had built for my European trip and it proved incredibly helpful.
What are some of the mechanical issues I might have with my bike?
Bikes are fairly simple things and as such are reasonably reliable with care. The more common things you might experience can include:
- Punctures (although I managed to avoid any on both my LEJOG & European trips!). Getting a good pair of puncture resistant tyres can make a huge difference.
- Gears hopping or not changing smoothly. After 1,000 miles cables will stretch and the chain will gather dirt, so learn how to tweak your gears and make sure to keep your chain clean & oiled.
- Broken spokes, especially on the rear wheel which takes the load. These seem more common than I'd ever realised; I've spoken to several LEJOG'ers who've experienced this. Spokes are not something people normally think about when buying a bike, but if you pay attention to making sure you have a good strong wheel before you go then you shouldn't have any problems.
I was unlucky on my LEJOG trip and had a few other issues too such as a snapped pedal (yes really!), a broken wheel rim, loose spokes, and a cracked tyre. My chain also jumped off the cogs 5 or 6 times. The snapped pedal was a freak, whilst the wheel rim and tyre might be related to the spoke issue I had early in the ride as well as my weight (I'm not light!). I also had a snapped chain at one point, although that was easy to fix by the roadside with the right tools.
The other issue I had at the end of my trip was an ineffective rear brake. This started to degrade not long after leaving Inverness and stopped being of any use whatsoever for the last 2-3 days - and unfortunately I'd passed the last of the bike shops by then. I assumed the brake pads had completely worn out; tightening the brake adjusters had no effect. What I (annoyingly) hadn't realised at the time was quite how simple it was to fix - there was another bracket on the brakes themselves (that was not obviously a moveable part) which with a quick one-quarter turn adjusted the brake pads in some other way and breathed new life into them. I'd cycled for 3 days without a rear brake and 2 seconds is all it would have taken to fix it - I had to laugh when the mechanic at my bike shop showed me (otherwise I think I'd have cried...)
Many bike shops, including the high street chains, run bike maintenance classes. Even if it's just a 1 hour overview session then it's worth attending one of these before you set off - especially if you'll be riding LEJOG solo. They do generally only cover the basics such as repairing a puncture (and not often how to change a spoke or adjust a weird design brake - the two things I'd have benefitted from!) but they can be a great refresher with fresh tips to pick up even if you already know most of it.
There's also some good books on bike mechanics and repairs, if you want to increase your knowledge & confidence before you set off. I've created a list of suggestedon Bookshop.org that should be of interest (please note, in the interests of full disclosure, that I'll receive a small commission for every book sold - this does not affect the price you pay).
My own experiences
What would I do differently if I did it again?
There's not much that I think I'd do differently; the whole experience went relatively smoothly. I'd definitely pay more attention to making sure I had a really strong & reliable rear wheel, as well as trying to cut down on my luggage weight a bit - I took some jeans as a luxury for the evenings but they did weigh a bit and so (lighter weight) hiking trousers would have been better, plus I'd also get some lighter evening footwear. The other thing I'd do is to make sure my waterproofs (especially my trousers) were truly waterproof! Long fingered waterproof gloves would have been useful too. And I'd get a jacket that wasn't yellow (which I found attracts bugs - who knew?!) but instead another high-vis colour such as orange.
For my European trip in 2018 I learnt my lessons and cut back on the clothing I took, and had a bike with a stronger wheel that performed brilliantly. I did though intend on taking a tent, and whilst I ditched that just before setting off (long story...) I forgot to offload some of the other camping equipment I'd packed and again carried far more weight in my panniers than I needed to. D'oh!
What bits went really well in terms of planning & equipment?
All the equipment I took proved really useful, however certain pieces stand out:
- The handlebar mirror* was brilliant; this allowed me to regularly glance to see what was behind me without having to turn round. Some cars are so quiet these days that there was a few times I was being tailed even when I'd not heard anything behind!
- My waterproof trainers weren't that great in torrential downpours, but for general showers and light rain worked superbly well and meant I didn't need to keep getting my waterproof shoe covers out.
- On my European tour, I used some cycling sandals from Exustar. Whilst I only had a couple of days rain in the whole 5 weeks, these sandals were amazing for making sure my feet didn't end up soggy - when combined with waterproof socks any rain just fell away.
- The Garmin Edge 1000 (now replaced with the newer Edge 1040*), for navigating. It's not always the most user friendly piece of kit but kept me on track and meant I didn't need to carry loads of heavy maps.
What were the toughest parts?
The toughest bit for me was probably in Cornwall, partly because my body was getting used to the cycling but also because it's the hilliest part of the whole ride. Whilst Scotland certainly had higher elevation, Cornwall was more up and down (and steep in places) and so the total altitude climb each day was high. Knowing this was one reason why I chose to start at Land's End - to get the Cornwall hills out of the way first!
What was the best bit?
Finishing! Not because it meant no more cycling but just the sense of achievement at what I'd achieved. I'd dreamt about the moment for the whole ride, and whilst the actual finish was a little anti-climactic, the sense of satisfaction and pride since has been great.
During the ride there were many memorable moments, such as the spectacular Northumberland coast, seeing friends & family at the halfway point in Leeds, cycling over the top of the Cairngorms with my friend Emma who'd joined me for the day, randomly bumping into an old university friend in Bristol, and cycling over Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. I also found the hospitality of many B&B owners really welcoming (with a few even offering to sponsor me) and some of the B&Bs just amazing. Overall it was a superb experience!
Would I do it again?
Yes, definitely! When are we going? 😏
Join the discussion!
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