I Wish I'd Known That!
Here are some tips and thoughts I've had having cycled LEJoG in two weeks with a Tour operator [Peak-Tours.co.uk].
They took our tandem down to St Just for the first night after I'd dropped it off at their HQ in Glossop (which was a day's ride away for us).For free. We stayed at the Wellington Inn the first night after a pub dinner which was quite heavy/rich with loads of cheese - this is pretty much the norm with pub food if you didn't know.
Breakfast was the usual of cereal, toast/jam, cooked (egg, bacon, sausage, beans, tomatoes); if you can digest that with less than an hour until cycling then enjoy but if not then break yourself in gently with less until your metabolism speeds up over the next few days. I never got past bowls of cereal & bananas, because I knew I could eat lots and it would digest more quickly than the cooked. Before the day's ride starts there is time to pump up tyres, lube chains but not much more than that.
The back-up van had lots of tools, sufficient for me to replace spokes later in the trip for example. We only needed to carry clothing for the changeable conditions of a day's ride, thin packable layers win out over a single thick layer. Mid Morning and mid afternoon there is always a pre arranged stop; I thought it would would be a waste of time having just sated my appetite at the meal table but they became useful mileage markers to break up the day into mentally manageable chunks and fruit goes down easily even if you don't feel a bit weary- some days the biscuits, nuts, croissants became a welcome boost before the next hill.
The team will buy anything you want for the snack stops if you have a preference for chilli coated peanuts for example. The slightly longer lunch break varied from a set meal of pasta and meat sauce to soup/sandwich/cake combo-
if you prefer not to eat certain food types you should let the team know at the outset; we didn't because we presumed there would always be a choice at lunch which was mostly true but occasionally we'd just have potatoes or just pasta if we didn't want the meat. This is where the back up van and its mid afternoon stop can top up any food shortages you may have had from an unwelcome lunch choice (lack-of). Again watch quantities as you'll need to get on the bike again pretty soon after eating. The entire tour involves hills some steep and regular some rolling and more sporadic, it is very rare that an hour of cycling will go by and you've not used your granny ring.
Which brings me to gears-
most sports bikes will run with a compact double and a 28t first gear. If you know you are strong and have not wished for lower gears when riding in Yorkshire Dales, Lake District or Peak District then you will mostly cope. If you can squeeze in a 32t or 34t first gear then you will be glad of it. We ran with a triple front with a 28t granny ring and 36t first gear and were using it a lot and we were with the faster end of the tour party. Make sure your chain does not come off the rear cassette when going into first gear. Holding a good cadence when climbing does necessitate low gears but it vastly reduces muscle stiffness and we had no trouble with leg stiffness at the end of the day- although we always spend a few minutes stretching at the end of a day's ride..
After going up you will need to come down, so new good quality brake blocks are essential as is cleaning the rims every few days to clean off brake dust which reduces efficiency if you don't. Also involved in a lot of wear is your tyre. If you are still riding with the tyres the bike originally came with then replacing them before you travel is pretty essential. Go for a reputable brand [ Continental, Schwalbe, Michelin, Vredestein for example].
If you're on a sports bike with 23C tyres then put on 25c tyres the small extra volume will increase bump absorption and roll better on roughly surfaced roads i.e. over a third of the miles covered. Same goes for original saddle- find one that works for your bum not one that fits Mr/Mrs Average (i.e. no-one). Padded lycra shorts is the area I spent most time trying to get right. I would try each of the shorts I wanted for the trip on a long ride before hand. If it didn't finish with acceptable comfort it would get discarded. I got through lots to find four I could rely on the other six got left at home and will either gather dust or be used on half day rides or under winter kit. You can spend £130+ on a pair of good shorts but sometimes you'll find a pair that work well for £50 - never found a pair that would last me a day for less then that- cheap possible sources are Planet x, Decathlon, Merlin, Cycle Store. I went to these in my hunt for shorts as well as my hunt for waterproofs. 3000mm/hr is the minimum waterproofness you'll want, these are packable for those times when rain springs out of nowhere for a summer shower. But 10,000mm/hr is needed for full on Scottish rain
The back up van often stopped for its mid morning/afternoon stop at a roadside layby, many times there is a loo nearby but it is not uncommon to need to nip behind a bush a few minutes later if you don't spot a loo in a supermarket, for example.
You will sweat and you will want to not pong at breakfast so become used to washing out your smalls and cycling kit with travel wash in the bedroom sink and squeezing them out in a towel. Modern cycling kit does dry really quickly but have three or four tops and bottoms to have something different to wear. We only had two places out of fourteen that would wash our kit. My wife could take lots of photos from the back of the tandem with out having to constantly stop, if you find you like to keep moving along then invest in a helmet mounted camera.
When you have stopped for the day and are looking for a good sleep but likely to be in a different place with different noises then try ear-plugs and eye mask. I used them all the time and slept well but my wife tried them and couldn't get on with them and occasionally didn't get a brill night's sleep. Have a stretch when you get in off the bike as it will drastically reduce stiffness and make it a lot easier to get started each day.
Finding your pace for the day for some can be a bit awkward if you usually ride with a regular group at a regular pace. Typically you want to feel as though you're going a little too slow for the first hour then after that your body usually finds its own rhythm. Your pace will probably vary from day to day with food, sleep, scenery all adding to the mix resulting in your pace. We often found our pace would wilt towards the last quarter of the day but by then we knew it wasn't far to go so weren't too bothered. Other times I would munch away on jelly babies etc if I felt I was wilting a bit. The tour operators always rode at the back of the group so no one was ever left behind.
This was our first Garmin experience - we foolishly left the 'Auto Route Recalculation' ON. we made an error in Plymouth and were sent skirting south of the Moors instead of going straight across as we were originally supposed to. Again the Tour Operators bailed us out when we were still miles from our bed and it was past my dinner time by collecting us in the van.
Dinner could have been a pub option most nights but we often got a load of simple foods from Coop etc and ate crisps, tuna salad, yoghurts, flapjacks etc in front of that night's telly followed by a prompt bedtime. The hours then the days of cycling easily persuade you to put the lights out sooner rather than later; don't be too upset if you struggle to stay awake after 8p.m, just go with it and sleep.