Planning a safe LEJOG / JOGLE route
The most obvious way to reduce your risk is through careful route planning. If you're going for a LEJOG speed record then you're likely to have to follow the main A-roads to minimise your mileage & hills, although these can sometimes be little more than motorways by another name. Some of the A-roads are better than others - occasionally you'll have a wide section to the left of the road markings in which to cycle, whilst sometimes you may even be lucky enough to have a completely segregated cycle path (on sections of the A9 in Scotland for example). Other times though the roads can be narrow with nowhere for cycles to go.
You might think therefore that quiet country roads are safer.... they're certainly more pleasant to cycle, but if it's a bendy road with high hedges or walls either side then you'll need to stay alert for any speeding cars coming round the corners either from behind or from ahead of you. On the whole though I didn't have any problems on these roads.
What follows below is what I discovered about the roads on some of the main sections of my LEJOG route - if you're ever unsure about a road then Google Street View is a brilliant resource for checking roads and junctions out in advance.
The A30 - a motorway in disguise (image from Google Street View)
In Cornwall I avoided the A30 at all costs, except for between Land's End and Penzance where it's perfectly rideable. North of Penzance it becomes treacherous and is notorious amongst LEJOG'ers as a road to avoid. Even where it's dual carriageway it can sometimes get narrow with no side section for cyclists; the biggest danger here are that any lorries being overtaken will struggle to move out to pass you. Unless you really need to cycle on the A30 then you're best avoiding it entirely.
Cycling out of Bristol towards Gloucester you can take the A38 without issue. There is an alternative dedicated cycle path between the two cities, and whilst I didn't try it myself, a few local friends tell me it's a bad surface and gets extremely muddy in the rain. It's also much longer.
The A38 by comparison I found to be fairly ok and not too busy even on a weekday (most drivers will have taken the M5 instead). It's a smooth road and I managed to pile the miles on quickly because of this (apart from when my spokes broke, but that's a different matter!). The only slightly dodgy bit that I encountered was just outside of Bristol near Patchway (if you've skirted west of Bristol via Avonmouth instead of going into the centre then you might manage to avoid this) and the roundabouts at Aztec West and with the M5. There are pedestrian paths here though so you can safely get around, although it can take a while & I was hampered by roadworks at the time.
NCN Route 1, near Amble, as a dedicated cycle track
The A1 through Northumberland (if you head this way, most people tend to go to the west of the Pennines) can be as busy and unpleasantly dangerous as the A30 in Cornwall. Avoiding it entirely can be tough however 😕
NCN Route 1 just north of Beal (near Lindisfarne) as a grass track
Whilst there are plenty of quiet roads around Northumberland they don't unfortunately always join up in a direct alternative to the A1. Your main alternative, if you want avoid lengthy and hilly detours, is the National Cycle Network Route 1 (known locally as the "Coasts and Castles" route) which follows many of these quiet roads, as well as some dedicated cycle tracks. Whilst this is a beautiful route that heads along the coast you should be aware that for some sections it is little more than a dirt or grass track - tricky (and very slow) on narrow tyres and with a heavily laden bike, and especially so when muddy. It is just about rideable though.
Crossing the Forth Bridge
The Forth Road Bridge is easy to cross and in good weather a highlight of the trip! The bridge has a segregated pedestrian / cyclist path on both sides which is wide and gives superb views - the tough decision is which side to cross on! I chose the east side so that I could look out to the Forth Bridge and not have to cross the A90 at the other side either.
[Edit]: As of early September 2017 the new Queensferry Crossing has opened for cars and lorries, meaning that the Forth Road bridge now has substantially less road traffic. For a month it will be used exclusively for bikes and pedestrians, before being converted into a 'public transport corridor'. The ride across this bridge should be even more amazing now!
After crossing the bridge the cycle path carries on as a separate cycle path and peels off to the right towards Inverkeithing; from there you're on small roads all the way to Perth.
Cycle path alongside the A9, between Perth & Pitlochry
The best way to get between Perth and Inverness is to broadly follow the route of the A9 (via Aviemore) but along quiet roads and dedicated cycle paths that run close by.
Dedicated cycle paths over the Cairngorms
From Perth to Pitlochry there are several quiet roads you can take, as well as the cycle path that runs alongside some sections of the A9. Just north of Perth I did end up cycling for half a mile along the A9 where there was no separate path in order to avoid adding 2.5 miles onto the day, although this wasn't pleasant nor safe. Be aware of this section - you can take a detour via the town of Stanley to miss it out, and with hindsight I should have done so.
From Pitlochry round to Aviemore, and on to Inverness, the whole route is along a mixture of quiet roads and a segregated cycle path - you don't need to ever go on the treacherous A9 🙂. This is a really great ride and was probably my favourite part of the whole trip!
The cycle path over the summit (which runs for about 18 miles between Calvine and Dalwhinnie) runs pretty much next to the A9 (and the train line) and is tarmacced for the whole way. There were places where the surface was slightly breaking up and a little rough but it's easily suitable for even racing bikes - it's truly a beautiful route to cycle! You do go up to 457m altitude (very gradually - you hardly notice it) so it's probably not advisable to do it in the winter or really bad weather.
Some people instead choose to take an alternative route through the Cairngorms, following the road through Braemar and Tomintoul. This can be very hilly (especially going up and over the two peaks of the Glenshee and Lecht ski resorts) but is arguably even more scenic than going via Aviemore. If you like a challenge then go for it!! Knowing this road as I do however traffic can drive along here pretty fast, and it's not one that I'd personally like to cycle.
North of Inverness
As you head north of Inverness the choice of routes gets much smaller. The A9 would be the most direct path to follow, however this can be busy still up to Tain and is best avoided up to there (which is possible to do quite easily).
Up to Tain there are 2 bridges to cross:
The cycle path alongside the Kessock Bridge
- The Kessock Bridge (just out of Inverness) - Cyclists have a dedicated cycleway which is completely segregated from traffic and gives great views of the Beauly and Moray Firths.
- The Cromarty Bridge - If you're following the A9 you'll cross this bridge, however there are quiet roads to the west via Dingwall (with the added benefit of a bike shop) which are much more pleasant and don't add much distance. If you do choose to cycle over the bridge, there is a pavement that looks as if it could be used (although I've only ever driven over this bridge and not tried to cycle it).
From Dingwall you can either head towards Bonar Bridge and up to the north coast via Bettyhill, or (as I did) carry on towards Tain to follow the east coast northwards. See the route files page for details of these alternatives.
If you choose to follow the east coast route then just north of Tain there's one more bridge to cross:
- The Dornoch Firth Bridge - You have to cycle on the A9 here, however as you're now north of Tain there's substantially less traffic and it's easily rideable. The Dornoch bridge also has a very wide section to the left of the road markings in which you can safely cycle. To avoid the bridge by taking a detour via Ardgay (although it has a bike shop) will add a lot of miles to your route if you want to remain on the east coast route. I think the view from this bridge would normally be pretty spectacular, however as there was a thunder and lightning storm when I crossed I didn't pause to look!
The A9, where it passes over the River Fleet (between Dornoch & Golspie)
North of Tain the A9 quietens down a lot and wasn't an issue for me to cycle along. Quite often, as with on the Dornoch Firth bridge, you also have a wide section to safely cycle in to the left of the road markings. Even where this isn't the case all drivers seemed pretty respectful and passed with care.
After planning a safe LEJOG route, making sure that you're clearly visible to drivers is the next best way to help stay safe. This doesn't really need much explanation as it's self explanatory!
For cyclists of a regular body size there's plenty of cycle tops to choose from in your local bike shop. But since all cycle clothing tends to be a couple of sizes smaller than the labels might otherwise suggest, then as a large person I've discovered finding good cycle clothing can be a bit of a struggle.
If this is you, you might want to look at the British retailer Fat Lad At The Back, or the US retailer Aero Tech Designs. I bought a high-vis cycle top from Aero-Tech (this one) which fit brilliantly and was superb - it packed incredibly small, was totally windproof, warm, and fully waterproof too. It was an all-round amazing jacket, and it arrived from the US less than a week after ordering it. My only complaint was that as a yellow jacket it attracted the flies on a couple of days! In the future I'll look for an orange or other coloured jacket.
For lights it's worth investing in some good quality bright ones to help drivers see you in the rain (and obviously at night time too if you plan on cycling in the dark). Around my home town I see far too many cyclists with lights that are barely visible - just because a light switches on doesn't mean it can be seen easily by drivers amongst all the other road clutter and distractions. Poor quality cheap lights are a real bugbear of mine and I strongly believe should be banned for giving a false sense of safety. 😕
There's no need to spend a fortune but do check out any reviews and test the lights before buying if you have the chance - if you're in a shop try checking their visibility from several metres away. Remember, a good light could save your life.
See Sense Icon+ lights
The lights I used were the See Sense Icon+* ones. These lights are incredibly bright and have intelligence built in to increase the flash frequency when it's darker or when a car approaches. The battery (USB rechargeable) could easily last more than 2 days as well - superb for such a bright light. These one's aren't cheap but there's no need to spend this much, I just bought them because I like my gadgets! They even have a built in crash alert - if you connect it to your phone in advance then they can send a text alert with your location if they ever detect a bad crash! Fortunately I never had to try this out 😏
In addition, I also had a Moon Nebula* as a second rear light to give extra visibility. This again is just phenomenally bright! On full constant power the battery life is only an hour or so, but on its lowest power output it's still very bright and will last for over 7 hours. If it's flashing it will go for even longer.
The Mirrcycle mirror on my bike
The other item I took that I wouldn't now go without was a handlebar mirror. This helped me to quickly see at a glance what was coming up behind without having to constantly turn around. After a lot of research I found the Mirrcycle Mountain Bike Mirror*.
This fitted very easily and was stable on the bike - not getting in the way of my hands. It could rotate to get the best possible viewing angle, or even to move out of the way completely when walking your bike through a narrow gap (really useful on some cycleways which have those annoying anti-motorbike barriers that you need to squeeze through).
Other LEJOG safety kit
Other safety kit I took (as well as the obvious helmet) included an emergency blanket (just in case I got stranded in the middle of nowhere in Scotland and couldn't find shelter) as well as a first aid kit. The emergency blanket was probably unecessary; even over the Cairngorms the path stayed close to the A9 so had I ever had a real emergency I'd have been able to flag a car down for help. Still, it's something you may choose to take.
Security of your bike and luggage
One concern I had when setting off for LEJOG was the risk of theft, especially as I was travelling solo and didn't have a companion who could stay with my bike if I ever needed to stop for the toilet during the day. As it turned out though I didn't have any problems with security at all, and all other cycle tourists I met en-route had never had any issue either. That said, it can still be worth taking precautions against thieves.
Secure bike storage overnight
For security of my bike overnight, I would always phone up accommodation places first before booking to check they had somewhere secure and undercover to store the bike - it's not always easy to tell just from a Booking.com listing or their own websites. Most places had a garage or shed, and the 3 Premier Inn's I stayed in all let me take my bike into my room, but some B&B's I phoned didn't have anywhere to store it so I had to look elsewhere.
My D-lock attached to the bike
Bike locks, especially good ones, can be heavy. The best one I found was the Abus Granit X Plus 540*; this had great reviews for its security and was lighter than several others, yet big enough to lock my rear wheel to the frame. Combined with a Kryptoflex cable lock I could attach the bike to anything.
Check out the great "The Best Bike Lock" website for reviews of different bike locks.
Quick release handlebar bag for valuables
I wasn't too worried about my bike though - what I was more worried about were my panniers and possessions whenever I left my bike during the day. The main precaution I took was to keep my valuables (phone, wallet, etc) in my handlebar bag, which had a quick release for carrying with me whenever I left the bike. I would also take my GPS units off too - the Garmin Edge devices simply twist to remove from their mount.
In addition it goes without saying to try to keep your bike in view when possible, for example leaving it by the window of the coffee shop. This is where I found a kick-stand* invaluable; it makes it much easier to leave your bike in random places as you don't need to keep lying it down on the floor if there's nowhere to prop it up.
Locking the pannier bags to the bike
Finally I also locked my panniers to my bike by threading a second thin Kryptonite Kryptoflex cable through their handles and the pannier frame, and attaching it to my Abus D-lock.
It only offers lightweight security - a thief could simply cut through the fabric handles of the panniers, or even open the panniers up, but it gave some small level of security against opportunists. The Kryptoflex cable was so light that it was a no-brainer for me, even if thieves could bypass it with minimal effort. I mainly relied on the fact that thieves would probably just expect panniers to be full of dirty clothes and not pay any attention to them.
Join the discussion!
How safe did you feel on the trip? Are there any roads to especially avoid or that you recommend going via? Have you found any particular piece of safety equipment really useful? Let us know here!