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  1. #1
    Triathlete/Tourist
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    Preparing for UK tour - buy cycle in store or online?

    First of all I would like to introduce myself. I'm new to bikeforums and am very excited to start learning and sharing experiences with all of you. So, hello! My name's Terence Steinberg, I'm a triathlete and cycle enthusiast from Minnesota and I'm currently preparing for a cycle tour of the UK and Ireland, which I will undertake in late August and early September.

    The plan is to do about 1000 miles over three weeks, starting and finishing in London. I've been looking into certain deals on bikes, but I'm not sure what will be best since I've never done a tour this size before. Can anyone advise me on whether it's a better idea to purchase a bicycle in person and make sure the fit and everything is perfect - and pay a premium for the service - or to purchase a cycle online from some discount store such as discountbicycles.co.uk or cyclestore.co.uk? It seems these online stores may be able to give better deals. Is anyone here familiar with cycling in the UK and could provide some recommendations? My total budget for a bike, panniers, and related gear is around $1500 (900 pounds). I am planning on bringing my own spd pedals and shoes, helmet and apparel.

    Any info at all is greatly appreciated. Thanks very much!

    cheers,
    Terence

  2. #2
    Senior Member Nigeyy's Avatar
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    You may well be better off getting a bike over in the States, and simply packing it up. I know for sure British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will ship a bike for free at this time (obviously check the fine details on the respective web sites). Even if you have to pay if you use another airline, it's probably still worth it; bikes in the UK aren't cheap. I've cycle toured in the UK a couple of times, both times brought my bikes.

    Another reason for doing this? You really don't want to be over there to find out the bike isn't quite right for you or you haven't had the time to get used to it (that is a big deal, otherwise you could have a miserably uncomfortable tour!). Of course you have to balance this against the chance of your bike being damaged or lost in transit, but the same can happen to a bike being shipped to you in the UK anyway! Also, another thing to factor in is if you choose to buy a bike in the UK, what if you need to go a distance to pick the bike up? Travel also isn't cheap in the UK. Just a few thoughts.

  3. #3
    Triathlete/Tourist
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    Thanks for the response,

    I'm flying Delta, which charges $300 each way for a bike (because they were the cheapest airline and I figured I'd buy a bike there..). So, if I bought it here in MN, I'd have to pay $600 just to get it to the UK (because I fly separate flights, first to NY for a few days, then London a few days later). I could look into DHL or something, but at that point, things become very expensive fast, and any savings from buying it Stateside instead of in the UK would be marginal after shipping costs I reckon.

    As per travel in the UK, I wasn't thinking I'd need to travel much to get the bike. I'd take London public transit while shopping, then ride it home once I bought it. Total, that might add up to $50 for 'shopping travel,' if I go far and wide around the city to look, I figure. Alternatively, I could buy it online and have it shipped to where I'll be staying in London, but that might lead me to buying a poor fit.

    I hadn't thought about the time necessary for getting acquainted with my new bike, however. Thanks for pointing that out. I currently ride a Giant OCR3, which is a very compact road bike. Do you figure it will take long to get used to a new ride, especially considering it will be fully loaded with touring gear? Even if I bought it here and shipped it, I would have very little time to get used to the feel of the bike, since I have a Half Ironman next weekend two states away, then would have one week to shop for and buy the touring bike, ship it, then fly MN-> NY->London to claim it.. So, I probably wouldn't have any time to get familiar with it even if I bought it here.
    Sorry if this response seems like rambling - I just wanted to point out the parameters of my possibilities.

    Still recommend shipping one?

    On another note, where did you tour in the UK? How did you find the routes, or did you make them up as you went along?

  4. #4
    Senior Member Nigeyy's Avatar
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    Wow! That is expensive! My last piece of advice might not be too good then, it makes it tough to swallow shipping at that price. Have you checked out how exactly how much it would be to use UPS or even USPS? It might still be worth it. What about the possibility of hiring a bike in the UK? I would think that would be unlikely, but still worth looking into. Or buying a bike, pay for shipping to the UK, then sell it in the UK (as you may well lose less than $300 selling it at a loss?). Also, I can't remember if it is Delta, but some of the airlines offers a discount for members of some cycling organizations. Sorry to be so vague, but you never know...... Oh yes, try cyclechat.co.uk touring section, and post to get some good advice (or even possibly help).

    Concerning getting used to the bike and assuming you get one in the UK, it might be worth while taking a saddle that you use extensively. That's not completely fool proof though as different geometry might make you sit on the same saddle differently, though I'd still say it's worth a try. Another -though really more extreme -thing to do is to take the handlebars as well, though I'm not sure it's really worth it unless you have some strange or very uncommon sizing issues.

    I think where possible you should be cycling with the bike before you go -there can be so many "gotchas" with comfort and also sorting out how to carry stuff.

    Cycling in the UK: I went to the Yorkshire Dales and South East England (both beautiful where I went), plus I went to college in Nottingham, so I've done quite a bit cycling in England. Here's my quick take:

    Advantages: usually good road signage so you can find your way around on the fly easily, hardly ever too far away from a village or town so getting supplies (unless late or on a Sunday isn't too hard). For the Dales, I simply followed the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway which is nicely marked. Pubs are ubiquitous and can offer a nice warm fire on a cold wet day. Beautiful scenery, that is actually very varied. Food can actually be very nice -I particularly recommend fresh bread and some English cheese, cheap and delicious. If you like beer, you can find some really nice beer too in some of the little English country pubs. Ordnance Survey maps? Fantastic! (sorry, don't mean to sound negative, but American maps are just terrible in comparison).

    Disadvantages: major ("A" and "B" roads) can be horrendously busy with very fast traffic -always go back roads if possible, certainly avoid "A" roads whenever possible. Cities -like any cities in any country -can be unpleasant, particularly at weekend nights as there is an alcohol culture that can be less than desirable. Usually very expensive to get around (renting a car is expensive, cost of gas, super expensive!, trains can be inconvenient and expensive too, though sometimes they are surprizingly cheap too, though usually only when there's a set of weird criteria to be met -e.g. "so sir, you're going from London to Upper Chippingham-on-the-Wolds on a Thursday, when it's a full moon, a Bank holiday, and it rained yesterday; that'll be two pounds fifty -otherwise it'll be a non-super saver regular non-economy fare of one hundred and sixty two pounds and fifty pence please...."). Campsites and accommodations can be expensive too, though sometimes you can get bargains.

    Have you got any specific questions or concerns (aside from the bike)?

    edit: one possible solution you may not have thought about -what about a folding bike? Though they don't usually make for good tourers, they can be used. Until my sister's boyfriend volunteered to pick me up, I was going to take my folding bike in an old disposable suitcase, fly into Heathrow, tour, buy a new suitcase and then fly back home. In the end I could take my "regular" touring bike.

    Quote Originally Posted by Terence.Steinbe View Post
    Thanks for the response,

    I'm flying Delta, which charges $300 each way for a bike (because they were the cheapest airline and I figured I'd buy a bike there..). So, if I bought it here in MN, I'd have to pay $600 just to get it to the UK (because I fly separate flights, first to NY for a few days, then London a few days later). I could look into DHL or something, but at that point, things become very expensive fast, and any savings from buying it Stateside instead of in the UK would be marginal after shipping costs I reckon.

    As per travel in the UK, I wasn't thinking I'd need to travel much to get the bike. I'd take London public transit while shopping, then ride it home once I bought it. Total, that might add up to $50 for 'shopping travel,' if I go far and wide around the city to look, I figure. Alternatively, I could buy it online and have it shipped to where I'll be staying in London, but that might lead me to buying a poor fit.

    I hadn't thought about the time necessary for getting acquainted with my new bike, however. Thanks for pointing that out. I currently ride a Giant OCR3, which is a very compact road bike. Do you figure it will take long to get used to a new ride, especially considering it will be fully loaded with touring gear? Even if I bought it here and shipped it, I would have very little time to get used to the feel of the bike, since I have a Half Ironman next weekend two states away, then would have one week to shop for and buy the touring bike, ship it, then fly MN-> NY->London to claim it.. So, I probably wouldn't have any time to get familiar with it even if I bought it here.
    Sorry if this response seems like rambling - I just wanted to point out the parameters of my possibilities.

    Still recommend shipping one?

    On another note, where did you tour in the UK? How did you find the routes, or did you make them up as you went along?
    Last edited by Nigeyy; 07-26-09 at 02:37 PM.

  5. #5
    'roid monkey wannabe AnnaMossity's Avatar
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    Terrence:

    I was in the UK briefly on tour in late June. Flew in with my bike to Gatwick. Thomas Cook charged me $30 CAD to take the bike and all I had to do was put it in a bag with the pedals off and the bars turned sideways. Gatwick was hell, no signs for bike routes anywhere, no maps to be found either, nobody had a clue how to ride into London so I endedup taking a train in to town after 40 kms and riding illegally on the motorway (the cops were very nice though). Do yourself a favour and bring a very detailed map before you leave the US. Everything in the UK is more expensive including maps and that's IF you're lucky enough to find one. I recommend taking a train into London if you must visit that very bike unfriendly town and definitely get a rearview mirror. The roads are very narrow and the drivers generally reckless around cyclists.

    If you're being charged $300 to ship a bike you're getting rooked! Most I paid was 20 euros to ship my steed anywhere. Oh and if you can it is well worth it to brink a good bike bag along for the trip in case you need to hop a train or a bus. Most public transit companies require a bike to be bagged and partly disassembled to go on the train/bus and I encountered many stations in Europe who claimed to have no bags for sale. A few angry words magically produced one most of the time but they charged me 5 pounds for a *** bag that ripped instantly when I tried to take the Eurostar.

    Hope you have a better time than I did m8.

    Oh and when you see signs for a "bike path" be warned , "bike path"s near London are ****e! We're talking chest high grass and weeds on one half of the path and low-hanging branches on the other. It took me hours to ride 40 kms and I nearly **** myself several times when nut jobs tried to pass me on blind corners on narrow roads.

    I did manage to find a relatively cheap B&B a few blocks from Buckingham Palace though (45 pounds) so it can be done.

    Oh and I vote for buying a bike in person since fit is so critical. Unless you know exactly what you need to be comfy then don't get it online.
    Last edited by AnnaMossity; 07-26-09 at 08:08 PM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Google for bike shops in London. Call or email until you find one that seems like they will be able to outfit you with a properly sized entry level road bike that'll take a rear rack. Make sure it has good, puncture resistant tires, 32 mm.

    Alternatively, a hybid can actually be an inexpensive, comfortable touring bike, especially in hilly areas, as the gearing is lower than a road bike. Might be something to consider. Lots of England is very hilly. Add bar extensions for hand positions, and the rack.

    Buy all the touring gear you'll need here, including panniers. Should weigh less than 40 pounds even if you carry a kitchen and plan on camping. Much less if a credit card tour.

    Put the bike up for sale when you finish the tour. The shop that you delt with might be willing to take it on consignment. You should recover about 1/2 of what you paid. Or ship it home.

    I second the "bring your tested saddle" suggestion.
    The bicycle is one of the great inventions of mankind. Delights children, challenges young men to feats of daring, and turns old men into boys again.--Me

  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    SJS Cycles, the makers of Thorn touring cycles, frequently has lightly used Thorns and demo models for sale. You can check their website for bikes.

    SJS is in Somerset...you'd have to fly to London, then take a train out to Somerset to pick up your bike, but Somerset would be a nice place to start a bike tour from.

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/category-...mesets-671.htm

  8. #8
    Tinkerer since 1980 TheBrick's Avatar
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    Take what AnnaMossity says with a pinch if salt. Central London is bike friendly, but coming from north American cities it will feel very different and a little confusing to deal with some of the traffic systems at first.

    Nigeyy is spot on with his advice.

    For maps. AA or philips road atlas cover most roads outside of urban areas. http://www.base.com/Books/Philips-Ro...17/product.htm

    London A to Z will be needed. A mini one will do for central London (~5) but you'll need the big one http://www.a-zmaps.co.uk/?nid=31&iid=3389

    Landranger 1:50,000 and explorers 1:25,00O/S maps show footpaths and bridalways, contour lines and the explorers even show field boundries but are expensive but if your in one area for a while and want to explore may be worth it.
    http://shop.ebay.co.uk/?_from=R40&_t...nkw=landranger
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    Lets make this happen.

  9. #9
    Triathlete/Tourist
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    Hey all,

    Thanks so much for all the great info.

    I'll definitely bring my current saddle, but will leave my handlebars at home..

    I stopped into my bike shop today and spoke to them about my pannier options. Right now I'm considering Axiom Lasalles, Jandd Mountaineers and/or Topeak Drybag panniers - or a combination of two kinds.

    http://www.modernbike.com/itemgroup.asp?igpk=2126174907
    http://directbicycleparts.com/page.c...mpaign=froogle
    http://www.topeak.com/products/Bags/PannierDryBag

    Have any of you experience with any of these or their competition? What I'm thinking now is to get the Axiom Lasalles for the rear and Topeak drybags for the front. That way the rear is large and seems pretty durable and dry (seems like good fabric and it comes with 'waterproof' cover), and the front will be guaranteed dry for things like electronics, maps, camera..

    Would the Jandd bags be overkill? I think I'd feel that way. Also, they don't state they're waterproof and don't come with covers. But they look amazing/strong and would provide plenty of space.. But since I'm not planning on camping the whole time, its probably not necessary..

    I'm assuming these will all fit on standard racks. The Jandd says specifically theirs will fit on any. Is there any reason the others would present trouble when attaching to my bike?

    In regards to accomodation, I'm becoming increasingly less worried on that front. I'm going to couchsurf and 'warm shower' (warmshowers.org - network for cycle tourists to host cycle tourists, worldwide) my way around the UK, as well as staying with friends and occasionally camping. Food/fuel and buying the bike will be my main expenses, it seems..

    as per the maps - those great detailed Ordnance maps - how do they compare to an iPhone? Is the Ordnance data private and I must purchase the maps to access the information? It's likely I'll have an iPhone coming along for this trip, so I'm not sure how much I want to spend on copies and copies of paper maps. (On another note, anyone had experiences touring with such luxurious resources/info as that kinda gadget?)

    Cheers!
    terence

  10. #10
    Senior Member Nigeyy's Avatar
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    Since the UK is notorious for its wet weather, can I throw out the Axiom Typhoons/Monsoons as an option? Truly waterproof and very reasonable in price. I recommend them.

    Maps.... I just use the hard copy with no problems on my front bag. I also think with the amount of signposts and little villages, it's much easier too. However, got to be honest, I'd love a bike specific gps to plot out a tour so I spend more time enjoying the view rather than buried in a map at every junction or being worried about taking a wrong turn when I have limited time. Having said that, I really don't think they would be that beneficial in England -better for a place where signage is really lacking or a wrong turn might be more of a penalty.

    But check out the Typhoons/Monsoons -I got mine very cheaply off Ebay and am very happy with them. Oh yeah, make sure you have some fenders!

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