Best bike for Lands End to John O Groats?


Now two years on I completed my LEJoG on my old Trek Pilot, have sold it and have two replacement bikes.

My Bike for Life (a very special Shand Stoater Plus) would be my first choice for a self supported LEJoG. Very reliable, incredibly low maintenance, very comfortable, very practical!

If I was riding with support and quickly then I’d go for my new Road Bike. A Whyte Suffolk. Very nice and quick but with 28mm tyres, disc brakes and mudguards for British summers!

[End Update]

In my earlier post Bike for Lands End to John O Groats « 42 Bikes I said I would be using my existing Trek Pilot 1.2 for the LEJoG (if I do it).

Of my bikes it is the obvious choice. I could not manage the hills on my fixie, I would love to do it on my Bullitt Cargobike (just to say I did it) but could not manage it fast enough for the time I can make available. My Trice XXL recumbent trike is another possibility but I think for me at the moment it will feel more of an achievement on 2 wheels.

However, what if I decided the Trek Pilot was not going to work, or if it was not available then what bike would I choose?

I am not interested in choosing a bike that will be too specific so that it won’t get used for anything else. That means I would not choose a really fast Sportive bike for me as I am not planning to ride many/any Sportives.

So if I was not using my Trek Pilot I would be looking for a bike that would be great for LEJoG but also for lots of things afterwards. That means I would be more interested in something suitable for fast long rides as well as moderately loaded tours and general transportation all year round. In other words a modern equivalent of my Trek Pilot but with the lessons I have learned over the last 5 1/2 years as well as the advances in technology.

If I were replacing the Trek I would want to keep:

  • Drop handlebars for multiple hand positions and possibility of reducing effect of headwinds
  • Pedals that work with SPD clips on one side and plain shoes on the other
  • Brooks B17 Select Saddle
  • Space for mudguards
  • Rear rack at least as an option
  • Space for at least 28mm tyres
On the other hand I would want to change a few things as well:
  • Steel frame instead of Aluminium (lower environmental impact and more comfort)
  • Ability to fit mudguards and rack separately at the rear dropouts
  • Ability to fit front low riders or front rack

There are a few technologies that I find really attractive

  • disk brakes (for power, modulation and low maintenance)
  • hub gears (Alfine 11 speed or Rohloff) for the long life, reliability and ability to change while stopped
  • Gates Belt drive for cleanliness & long life
  • Much larger volume tyres (seems to me the comfort really starts to kick in at sizes over about 35mm)
  • Dynamo front hub & dynamo lights

At the moment not all these can be combined (eg Rohloff & drop handlebars don’t yet have good options).

At the moment two bikes that I like the look of that fit most of my criteria are the:

Milk Bikes RDA

This ticks all the boxes but will cost around £2,000 all in.

On-One Pompetamine Versa 11 Speed Pro

Cheaper but no Gates Belt Drive option

Of course neither of these are going to be the fastest bike to ride for LEJoG (for which I would be looking at a carbon Sportive bike from the likes of Trek, Specialized or Giant). But they will both be usable for far more different things in the long term as well as being more comfortable for the actual event (plus I do like the fact both are from small British Companies even if the frames are not built in the UK).

What would be your ideal bike for LEJoG and what would you be able to use it for afterwards?

[Update] In the end I rode LEJoG on my Trek and it was good. After LEJoG I made a whole set of bike choices that culminated in my Bike for Life project (which starts here) and has ended up with a bike that I would choose for most long distance rides (unless in a great hurry).

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  1. I did the article a couple years back – bought a classic steel framed bike second hand on eBay (£205) and fitted the brooks and some SPDs and it was good to go. We were riding fully loaded, trailers and all, and it handled it all admirably, plus a further 600 miles riding around scotland. No problems whatsoever with it, then or since.

    I have since done a couple smaller tours and use it every day commuting for commuting/shopping trips. Can’t beat it! That’d be my advice – buy second hand and buy well.

    • Sam,

      Sounds great. We had a fantastic old tandem for a while (came with kiddy cranks which we needed at the time). Problem was getting parts and I missed things like STI (it had downtube friction shifters).

      The only scary things was getting it to stop 🙁 Especially with 2 kids (one on the back pedalling and one on a childseat).

  2. You could build up something around a Singular Peregrine frame that would work pretty well.

    A Cotic Roadrat could also be fairly versatile

    I had a Rocky Mountain Sherpa 30 until recently which looked a lot like the Milk Bikes RDA but with Deore 9 speed instead of hub gears. Really comfortable though and so strong. Slightly heavy but great once rolling. The uprightness of the frame and large head-tube meant all the positions on the drops were great to use. Riding the tops felt like an upright dutch bike and riding the drops was like riding the tops on normal road bars / frame. I had to get rid of it though as the idea of getting time to disappear off on a tour anytime in the next few years with young kids taking all my available time wasn’t realistic. Also needed to fund a second hand Brompton purchase which has already had much more use than the tourer. I’d buy one again though if I ever got the chance to us it.

    I like the idea of being able to afford a Hufnagel Rando bike one day. Might be slightly too expensive though.

    • Adam,

      Yep, the Singular & Cotic are nice options (although I am attracted to a Gates Belt Drive).

      Yep custom handmade bikes like the Hufnagel are beautiful but well outside my pocket.

  3. Recently came across your blog, nice reading and with a couple of things in common including a desire to do LEJOG one of these years..

    Like everyone else, I reckon my bike is the best in the world and it might even fit your description but not the technologies.

    Best regards,

    • Hi Doug,

      Tis a nice bike sure enough. Thorn do make some lovely frames although I do like the fancy new stuff that they are not so keen on (disk brakes in particular).

      I use bar end shifters on my recumbent trikes where they are fab (just sitting in the right place for your thumb & index finger) but I don’t use the drops that often so they don’t appeal on drop bars. My STI levers have been flawless over several years (although I think the latest designs route all the cables along the handlebars which would be handy).

  4. My advice would be to leave technology well alone when it comes to LEJOG. You need to be confident that you can get your bike repaired easily at any LBS without seriously affecting your schedule. I’d say whatever bike you choose you need to be riding it at least 3 months before the trip. Comfort is the absolute number1 priority, saddle, handle bars and shoes; reserve some time in your training schedule for 4 consecutive daily rides of 40+ miles,if you’re completely comfortable on the bike on the 4th day the chances are you will be ad infinitum. I used an old steel framed hardtail mountain bike modified only with brooks saddle, slick tyres, wide riser bars and bar ends. I only suffered a single broken spoke which was quickly replaced at an LBS in Glasgow. Of course to an extent I was just plain lucky, but I did witness many LEJOGers enroute who had sacrificed comfort and reliability for the latest state of the art, and as a result were not enjoying the challenge as they should have been. Here’s the route and some pictures from my trip in 2010

    • Chris,

      Your points about not using the latest technology and having a bike well settled in are I think the most important things about the bike.

      Unless something catastrophic fails before I do the ride I am almost certain I’ll be using my Trek Pilot 1.2 which will be about 5 years old at the time. I am just reassembling it now after some major maintenance originally started by a gear cable snapping. By the time I do LEJoG I’ll have another 1,000 miles or so on it so the new bits will be properly bedded in. It does have a Brooks B17, this one I have been using since the autumn and have done one100 mile ride on it so far.

      Hopefully, the bike will be back together in time to do 100 miles on Thursday this week.

      One thing I am eager to test on that ride is a switch to Speedplay Frog pedals, I am hoping the extra float (and non centring) will be good for my knees (not that my knees are very bad, just very conscious that now I am doing more miles caution is a good idea).

      Everytrail is playing up at the moment so I can’t see your route. My route is taken from the Sustrans book.

      Did you do the whole ride alone and unsupported? I don’t feel mentally strong enough for that. I found the Reivers route (which I did on my own after riding the C2C with a group) very tough on my own. When I get tired and cold I feel I am, mentally collapsing into a little heap if I am on my own 🙁

      A lot of the stuff about new bikes is simply fantasy. My dreams are really for a bike that is

      – very reliable
      – low maintenance
      – long lasting
      – great to ride reasonably quickly for long distances
      – everyday transport in all weathers
      – able to carry up to medium touring loads
      – as much as possible made in Britain

      Oh and it should have a low carbon footprint.

      I kind of wondered whether I should use LEJoG to justify such a bike but now figure I’ll give the Trek a few more years first (and still enjoy distractions into dreams about carbon bikes). By then maybe some of the technologies that I think would fit well will be readily available 🙂

  5. Hi Dave, Your overhauled Trek Pilot has to be the obvious choice for LEJOG, the only investment needed now might be in a new pair of tyres just before the ride? Looking after the knees is a wise precaution, your daily mileage is going to be pretty demanding.
    Yes, I did the who route alone and was completely self sufficient, carrying camping gear and pretty much everything else to cope with any eventuality. In hindsight I carried too much weight, which really became a burden when battling over Cumbria and the Dales, but travelling south I did manage to lighten the load a little before reaching Cornwall!
    In terms of remaining mentally strong I have 2 suggestions; 1, is to JOGLE and not to LEJOG, although the benefit of the prevailing south westerly wind can be significant, riding south from Scotland does definitely seem like you’re going downhill and if you live south of Yorkshire it actually feels like you’re cycling “home” as well. 2, is to try and get ahead of your schedule early in your ride (this is easier to do going from North to South). On my first day I managed to gain half a day on my schedule which I kept “in the bank” throughout the ride, it was a great psychological boost.
    The route I took was the CTC “Youth Hostel” route, which I modified slightly to avoid the diversions to Youth Hostels! I can email you the GPS routes/track if is still playing up.

    It sounds unlikely I know, but for your dream bike, have you considered a Brompton Tourer (P6), it seems to meet all of your criteria?

    • Chris,

      Yep, thinking of some faster tyres than the Marathons with Jane carrying a spare tyres in the car. Was thinking about trading to 25mm instead of 28mm but unsure on the comfort/speed trade off.

      Have you read about my style of cycle camping. See Day 2:Woodhall Spa to Mablethorpe and Summary of my Cargobike comfort camping

      Given more time a self-supported LEJOG on a Bullitt with lower gears (probably by combining Alfine 8 and a MountainDrive) would be a nice holiday.

      I think we are sticking with LEJoG, One reason is some family located in Cornwall which will allow us to go there for the night before I ride and for the first6 night as well.

      You are right a Brompton is very nice and if I was in a city like London would be my 1st choice bike. Here I have space not to need the folding very much so the advantages are much reduced.

  6. Dave, my advice would be to go with the biggest tyres your frame will allow, you’ll appreciate the comfort far more than any marginal increase in speed. All the LEJoGers on road bikes that I passed on my JoGLE all appeared to be grimacing!?
    Your Bullit adventures has certainly made me consider the advantages of a cargo bike, especially when on Saturday when I was cycling home with a sack of coal bungeed to my pannier rack!

    • Chris,

      I don’t think I can fit more than 28mm tyres in. I would probably need wider rims for much bigger tyres and the frame spacing is not that great already.

      Plus how many of them were riding with nicely broken in Brooks B17 saddles 😉

      Yep, cargo bikes are awesome. Today it was full twice, this morning a large box of fresh coffee (7kg of ground coffee is quite large), projector, laptop & stuff. This evening a portable PA, laptop, projector, projector screen and everything for 200 pancakes 🙂

  7. LEJoG Choice of bike « 42 Bikes - pingback on July 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm
  8. Hi,
    I’m a 5ft4 20year old, doing LEJoG for charity in summer, any advice for what bike I should be looking at? We are going to be camping for the most part, so being able to carry equipment is a must.
    Lydia 🙂

    • Hi Lydia,

      A lot depends on the budget and what you have already.

      My guess is that three most common options would be

      a) convert a mountain bike (not a full suspension one and the main change beyond adding a rack would be faster tyres).

      b) use a hybrid but check the gear range and weight, could be a slow option.

      c) a “proper” touring bike.

      With camping equipment I think pretty much any “road” bike is going to struggle unless you are very good at very lightweight camping. My Trek couldn’t cope with the weight and my legs wouldn’t cope with it’s gears if fully loaded.

      So in summary the bike needs to be able to carry the weight, your legs need low enough gears to get the loaded bike up some big climbs and with all that you need the best compromise that you can get between comfort and speed.

      Oh and all that does not matter at all if either you or the bike keep breaking down so final 2 things are

      – being sure the bike is in good condition and has proved itself reliable on long, loaded rides (gears, brakes and wheels being critically important when loaded).

      – getting the time on the bike so you know you are going to be able to cope. Whatever you do make sure you don’t wait until the actual ride to try the daily miles on a loaded bike.

      Hope that helps


    • Sorry, in my last comment I didn’t customise the suggestions to your height.

      Sadly the bike industry has generally ignored women when it comes to bikes. So getting a bit good fit may take a bit more work.

      Obviously not such a problem if you can afford a nice new bike, although even then touring bikes designed for women are not that common.

      My limited experience suggests that you should look for a little more upright position compared to a mens bike of whatever style. On bikes for my wife, Jane, we have swapped the stem for one with a big rise which helped.

      The reach for brake levers can be a problem for many women with smaller hands. Some can be adjusted to move the levers closer to the handlebars.

      I understand that sometimes smaller frame sizes can suffer more from toe overlap (where your toe hits the front wheel when pedalling around a tight corner). If you find this a problem then a bike with 26″ wheels can help (typical mountain bike).

      I would also suggest spending time trying saddles to find what works best for you. The stereotype is very wide and lots of padding. That certainly does not work for all women, Jane included.

      Last tip is not specific to women but to camping. Sort out your stuff so you carry as little as possible and make some it all works well in the rain.

  9. I went through this process at the end of 2012 for my legog 2013 April-May. I finished up with a Koga Signature Rohllof , Gates Belt , Disks and smitt dinamo hub which also powers an ewerk charger.
    Fully loaded for an unsupported Legog camping this bike was flawless . Comfortable (thanks Brooks for your B17 saddle ) and reliable. Finnished in severn and a half days and was still motivated to do the north and north west coast of Scotland finishing up in Fort William.
    This bike will do everything I will ever want it to. I am never going to be in to time trials or racing .

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