Planning a bikepacking trip? How about a long distance ride? Whether on the latest ultralight gravel bike or loaded up steel touring bike, a long distance trip on the bike can be a daunting prospect for a beginner. What better way to plan than to get some expert tips from seasoned bikepacking or bike touring veterans.

Photo and Quotes are kindly provided by the riders

Frances GrieR

Last year, our friends at Beeline told us about a cyclist they were helping guide on a 15,000km route from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. On a self supported epic journey complete with wild camping and questionable bike locking locations we got in touch with Frances to offer some security for the ride. Now Frances has made it to Mongolia, and a bit further into China and back, we asked her what her top tips for long distance cycling and bikepacking would be.

TRAVEL YOUR WAY

 One of the things I love about cycling is how many ways there are to do it, whether you’re all about the carbon and lycra or you’re more into suspension and body armour, and it’s the same even within touring.  You can be a see-you-next-year-I’m-off-to-cross-a-continent type of tourer or you can be an I’ve-got-a-week-off-work-how-far-can-I-go tourer, and that in turn dictates what you take with you, and the level of comfort (or discomfort) you want out of it.  When I cycled from the UK to Mongolia I needed to survive in deserts and mountains and be far from food and water and hospitals, and that meant I had a 15kg bombproof bike with easily repairable components, a tent that very nearly had to withstand a typhoon, and enough emergency gear to deal with everything from dog bites to broken limbs and around 25kg of kit spread across five pannier bags.  For shorter trips in Europe I have gone as lightweight as possible, usually using my steel road bike and a bikepacking set up and relying on never being more than a few hours’ walk from a town where I can get help, counting on regular cafes to refill my water and stock up on food, and sleeping in a bivvy bag.  You can take it a step further and be a credit-card-tourer where you stay in hotels every night and don’t take any of those oh-so-heavy coins, and then you can really cover some ground.

FIND YOUR HAPPY PACE

Everyone has their happy place – or rather their happy pace – and you fall somewhere along the scale of your tour being about “the journey” or “the destination” and how much you’d like to stop and smell the roses along the way.  It also affects how much you want to smell of roses, or if you’re happy with a wash and a wear set of clothes for the sake of a few extra kilometres a day.

BE SADDLE SURE

One thing which seems to put a lot of people off is – without wishing to be too indelicate – how one can sit on a saddle day after day.  It’s simple: it’s like setting off for a week of hiking: you wouldn’t do it in boots you bought yesterday.  Plan ahead, give yourself time to try a few different saddles, wear them in, let them mould to you and you to them, and it will be fine.  I got a leather saddle which, just like leather shoes, does “break in” and shape itself around your specific bones and I had no problems at all.

PACK OR RACK?

The two most common ways of carrying your gear are to use panniers, which are bags attached to a metal rack over your wheels, or to use a bikepacking setup, where the bags are attached directly to the bicycle itself.  They both certainly have their pros and cons and it really depends on what you’re doing, how “fast and light” you want to be and what your bike will allow (some bikes don’t have the screw holes to attach a pannier rack).  Personally I quite like the pannier method as it’s much easier to pack and carry weird shaped things (like tents and stoves) and can be more stable, though it’s slightly heavier and less aerodynamic.  Sometimes I end up doing half and half. 

Find more from Frances here; 

https://gobibike.wordpress.com/ 

And here; 

https://www.instagram.com/gobibike/

TIM WIGGINS

Blogger and Endurance Cyclist Tim Wiggins is no stranger to longer rides. With a whole host of long distance cycling adventures under his belt, such as his Maratonas Challenge, 7 Countries, 7 Passes ride & his Roads from Rome, he’s more than qualified to give out some tips on bikepacking and long distance cycling, here he lets us in on some tips for lightweight bikepacking and bicycle touring. 

THINK TWICE, PACK ONCE

The key to effective packing for a cycling tour, is effective planning. You need to plan for possible scenarios, but weigh up the possibility of the scenario occurring against the downside of the weight and bulk of the additional kit you require to deal with it.

For example, consider riding through the mountains: cold or inclement weather are a distinct possibility, and being ill prepared could be potentially life threatening. The added bulk of waterproof arm and leg warmers, an insulated gilet, and a proper GoreTex jacket are notable, but they are well worth carrying.

In contrast, question whether you really need to take a full cutlery set to eat your dinner, or could you get away with just a spoon? Do you need to take a mug, or could you just drink from your stove pot?

It is about stripping back the unnecessary, but not compromising on the kit that will keep you safe and comfortable.

TEST RIDE YOUR KIT

This might seem obvious, but it surprises me how many people will attempt a long weekend trip or century ride in a pair of cycling shorts they have never worn before. Equally, it is no good finding the lighting mechanism on your stove doesn’t work when you are in the middle of nowhere. Testing kit doesn’t mean you need to do lots of fully-loaded test runs, rather you can just build it into your normal weekend rides. Do one ride with your panniers fitted, to check that they don’t bounce or rattle. Do half a dozen rides in those fancy new shoes, to ensure they don’t rub or feel sloppy. Test each and every piece of kit before the big ride, then there will be no unwelcome surprises en-route.

My final tip is to stay flexible: expect the unexpected, and embrace the challenges.

There are certain things you can do to reduce the stress caused by possible pitfalls. Have contingency plans and shorter paths in the back of your mind, in case the going is slower than expected. Have escape routes planned, in case you cannot continue. Keep a bank of phone numbers handy that you can call on if you need emergency assistance. Remember to always tell people where you are heading, and to check-in when you get there.

Unforeseen problems and hiccups will always occur when you are away on a bike trip; enjoyment can be taken from overcoming the adversity, and coming out stronger the other side. Adopt the Scouts approach of ‘Be Prepared’ – both physically and mentally, and you will be able to enjoy the unexpected developments along the journey.

 

KATIE BUTLER

Youtuber, mountain lover and Audax conqueror, Katie Butler (or Katie Kookaburra as known online) is a long distance cycling enthusiast passionate about sharing her infectious love for cycling on youtube and instagram, Katie was kind enough to share with us some of her top tips for long distance rides. 

BREAK UP THE RIDE

Break the ride up into 50km blocks. Mentally it helps to know you are just riding 50km and also a great way to stop for a few mins and eat an energy bar or pick up some food from a supermarket / garage / services.

KNOW YOUR ROUTE

Know your route – and make note of any significant climbs along the way. This prepares you for what’s to come. Knowing your route and having a back up of the route on your phone also prevents any wrong turns which may lead to even further distance than you had planned. Not always welcome when you’re a few kms from tears / bonking / throwing your bike into the nearest bush (we’ve all been there!)

WEAR LAYERS

There’s nothing worse than overheating or being cold while riding. Long distance riding means you are going to be out a lot of the day / multiple days so take kit you can layer up. It’s going to be different for everyone and where and when you ride. But for example when I rode 600km last month we had all weather; torrential rain, wind, and baking hot sunshine. For that ride I wore bib shorts and took waterproof leg warmers, jersey, long sleeve jersey, waterproof jacket and gilet over the top. I also had a pair of overshoes. I always think it’s better to slightly overpack and have all the kit I need than be freezing and questioning why the hell I’m riding my bike at 2am. It’s easier to answer that question while warm and toasty 🙂

BE VISIBLE

Again as long distance riding is going to take in at least a sunrise, sunset, or both (and can well mean you’re sometimes riding through the night) make sure you have lights, back up lights and a way to charge them if needed. I also wear a reflective gilet through night rides to ensure I’m as visible as possible. 

GIVE IT A GO

Finally, give it a go! You don’t know your limit until you push it. My first 400km I sobbed because I found it so tough. I also bailed at 400km on my first 600km ride but… I went back and completed it! You learn what works, what doesn’t work, and what your limit is. And always remember, it’s just a bike ride.

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