Technical Information
The Bikes, Navigation, GPS and Computers

The loaded tandem

The bike and equipment

Our tandem is a Thorn Explorer from St John Street Cycles in Bridgwater. It is our third tandem together and superb for expedition touring. We traded in our previous Thorn in 1999 because we wanted S and S joints. This is so that we can divide it into three parts, making it possible to take the tandem on most forms of public transport.

The Rohloff hub keeps maintenance to the drive system to a minimum. We still have to do lots of other maintenance. We have replaced almost every moving part but the main structure remains sound and reliable.

The S and S joints work superbly. You would never know riding the bike that it can be dismantled in 15 minutes. We often take just the front off the tandem when we need to get it into a hotel room or onto a train.

Following Anne’s illness we modified the tandem to allow her to free wheel. The long wheel base means that we can ride out of sync without our feet or legs touching. The stoker takes much simple amusement from pedalling backwards when we get the call “she is not pedalling on the back”, a phrase which we understand in most European languages.

 The tandem on the train

We do travel light although it does not feel like it very often. We have become credit card tourists. In terms of clothing we have one on, one off and one in the wash.

The heaviest item in our panniers has in the past been books and maps. On this trip the management has decreed that we will take no books, instead both having Kindle 3 book readers. Both are wifi compatible and one connects to the mobile phone network. Loaded on them are all our guide books and more novels than we have in our bookshelves at home. We still carry an overview map but rely on Garmin MapSource on the Acer net book for detailed mapping. The electronics weigh just over 2 kgs and are both lighter and more compact than our previous books and electronic equipment.

We carry all our stuff in four panniers. Anne’s new electronic blood monitor takes up less space than the earlier model but still needs to be kept dry. Our Ortlieb waterproof panniers keep everything, including our clothing and other electronics, completely dry.

Breakdowns take time and can be expensive

Route Planning

We want an easy tour in Europe with good winter weather. The Canaries is the only place which fits the criteria. Our cargo ship docks at Gran Canaria, a great place to cycle tour if you are fit and like mountain climbing. The interior is spectacular but we were looking for something a little easier. Reluctantly the management agreed to do only short easier routes here.

The island we like best is Lanzarote with its unique and mesmerising volcanic scenery. To get there we need to go via Fuerteventura which is a near desert.

We soon had the basis of a tour. Christmas in Gran Canaria with a short trip into the mountains. A leisurely crossing of Fuerteventura but without any very long stops, then three weeks on Lanzarote. We will embark for the voyage home from Arrecife in Lanzarote.

Things from here on in are easy. Garmin software generates bicycle routes electronically. They needed manual amendment but were basically sound. We then planned stops to provide easy moving on days and nice places to stay. All of the booking was done on line, most of it via which has the advantage that no deposit is required. The route will be refined on the cargo ship as we travel to Gran Canaria. It will then be converted to tracks for downloading to the GPS. To make this an easy tour we are only moving on thirteen times in six weeks.

 The GPS on the handlebars showing the cycle computer screen


Navigation on the rides could not be more simple. The management has the GPS Map76CSx on his handlebars and follows the track on the map screen. The destinations are marked as waypoints just to be on the safe side. We only get into real map navigation when we vary the route or fail to trust the instrument.

It is true that using the GPS this way deskills navigation. Once there is any deviation between the track on the GPS and the position arrow we know we have gone wrong. We seldom go more than 50 metres in the wrong direction unless we go a different way on purpose. We also have the saving grace that the stoker, unlike many cyclists, likes to know where she is. She always has her faithful SmartyPants GPS on her handlebars so we do have backup.

The Acer One 260A netbook PC


Being privileged to be able to spend several months away from home each year we have always considered it important to keep in touch with family and friends. On our first tour we started a daily diary and on this and on subsequent trips we sent it by email to an ever increasing number of people.

Mobile phone companies still rip you off at 30p a minute for calls made abroad. It can cost £300 a week to use a Google Android or an iPhone outside the UK mainland. We turn 3G off, only using 2G. We also use an App to ensure that everything else is off. We use texts where this is appropriate and keep calls to a minimum. We can use internet cafés to update this blog and it is also possible to make Skype calls from most internet cafés.

We use an Acer One netbook for almost everything. It runs under Windows XP and works better than our Sony, a laptop which cost six times as much. Where wifi (often called wiffy in other European countries) is available it is possible to surf the net, listen to BBC radio live, send and receive emails and make Skype calls. So as long as we have a phone signal we can also get our emails and some internet access free via our Kindle book reader.

The management’s pet hate is hotels that either don’t provide wifi at all or charge for it. Those that fit into these categories are incompetent or money grabbing or both. They remind us of when we used to avoid hotel phone charges by finding the nearest red phone box. Wifi, at least in public rooms, is simple and cheap to provide. It is a basic service which all hotels, and indeed other similar businesses, should offer to customers. If we possibly can we will not use those which don’t.