My first few months working at TDA Global Cycling

 

If you have been following along you may remember me, I’m the new girl here at TDA in the Toronto office. It’s been a few months since I started in mid September and OH BOY I have learned a lot!  If you have recently emailed us or called the office with questions you might have learned a little something from me too. Here are some of the most common questions I’ve had so far from potential riders, which usually required a little research and thought to get them their answers.

WHAT KIND OF BIKE DO I NEED FOR YOUR TOURS?

This is by far the most common question I’m asked on the daily.  Firstly, it depends on what tour you are considering, also if you are doing the entire tour or a few sections. The terrain can vary drastically with some roads being newly paved one day and the next you are riding on mostly dirt or sand. Luckily our website is built to help guide you through a whole bunch of really helpful information. Each tour page has a level of difficulty rating on it using our tour rating system. Once you have an idea of how the tour is rated you can read more about bike selection on our FAQ page. There is no need to purchase a new expensive bike – we actually prefer simple bikes with simple components so our tour mechanic can service your bike with limited access to parts. A good steel or aluminum bike with clearance for larger tires is ideal – we suggest a absolute minimum tire size of 700 x 35 on any tour. Good quality tires mean less flats, less flats mean more fun. An additional tip would be to get a good bike fit done at your local bike shop (most offer this) to ensure your set up is ideal for long distance riding and optimal comfort. They will measure your sit bones too which is really helpful in choosing the right saddle.

ARE THERE WASHROOMS IN BUSH CAMPS?

Have you ever wondered what the toilet situation is like in a bush camp on the Tour d’Afrique? Well, you are not alone. As I learned quickly in my first week, a lot of people are curious (often slightly nervous) about where they do their number 1’s and 2’s while staying at bush camps. This is a fair question, and when I first had someone call in to ask I had to politely ask if they could hold for a moment while I checked in with my fellow colleagues.  The facts are that some camps on our expedition tours will not have regular washroom facilitates and no running water. You are outdoors the entire time and you will need to take care of your business outdoors too. The immediate question that usually follows is “How often will I need to poop outside?” We did the math and if you are signed up for the entire Tour d’Afrique then 20 % of the time you will need to be prepared to dig a hole (we have shovels) and master your squatting technique. Don’t fret if you have never had to squat before we will send you informational videos and helpful ‘how to’s’ before the tour begins. It’s not a bad idea to practice at home or maybe when your alone on a run before you embark on this memorable adventure!

WHAT SORT OF TRAINING SHOULD I DO?

Training, training and more training. Well, not for everyone. Firstly I must say we always suggest you see your doctor before you register for any tour to ensure you are in good health. Everyone is also required to fill out a health and fitness questionnaire before the tour begins. As for training tips, you should keep in mind that myself, nor anyone at the office is a fitness expert (by any means) but we are indeed happy to offer our thoughts on the topic.  Our suggestions come from a place of personal preference, past experience and hearing what has worked well for riders on past tours. Personally my training involves running a few times a week to build up my endurance and riding my bike whenever I have the opportunity. That might include riding to work, a nice long ride to the other side of the city or even to the pub for a quick pint after a long work day.  My training techniques might not be for everyone but I think the common ground is spending time on your bike and being active as mush as you can.  Spending tonnes of time on your bike before you go is by far the most important note to take. You will want to work out any little adjustments necessary so that you are as comfortable as possible for many hours on the saddle. Whatever your training strategy is, just be sure to have some fun with it. You want your body to get used to the idea of working hard but maybe even enjoying it too.

I will leave you with those for now but stay tuned on what comes along next as I navigate my way through learning the ropes at your favourite cycle touring company!

Go to Homepage

No Stone Unturned: A Bikepacking Journey Through Kyrgyzstan

Bikepacking in Kyrgyzstan is one thing but one event in history will stay in my memories forever. The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. I was born in East Germany, not too far from a deadly border that divided families and friends over the decades. I spent the first ten years of my childhood in a country where freedom was non-existent. I grew up in a state where a corrupt government and one of the best organised and funded secret services in the world made sure they justify their own existence first, and then think about the people. On that day in November, I received the biggest gift in my life, my personal freedom. A gift for life, hopefully. Something many people have fought long and hard for peacefully.

Growing up in East Germany taught me to live with not much. I didn’t experience any poverty. We always had enough food, mostly grown in our own garden, and also all other things needed for everyday life. Our flat was small and I shared a room with my sister before she went off to university to become a teacher. But there is nothing I really missed as a child, but I still remember the hours standing outside of shops with my brother and sister cueing for bananas and oranges for special occasions like Christmas. Those were the luxury goods of my childhood.

Looking back now, thirty years later and with many adventures in my CV, that night in November and the first ten years of my childhood have shaped me significantly. I learnt that freedom is not an entitlement, but a precious gift. My life wasn’t shaped by the materialism which exists in modern western societies. I learnt to live with little and to accept that things are not always readily available. Experiences though, like the Saturday night spent playing board games with the family, have shaped my life. And appreciating freedom and learning to prioritise experiences over things have led me to my bikepacking adventures, and prepared me at an early age for expeditions like bikepacking in Kyrgyzstan.

Even though we had limited choice, my parents still took us on at least one holiday a year. They also travelled by themselves. As I was too young to join them, and they would only be granted visas with their children back home as security, I loved their pictures and stories from their visits to Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Judging by my parents’ pictures there were plenty of Lenin statues around in those days, and not much has changed since then in Kyrgyzstan.

Last year, when clearing out my room at my parents’ home in Germany, I stumbled across a toy model of a KAMAZ. A Russian truck that, even after more than 30 years, is still found driven on the streets of Kyrgyzstan these days. I was a bit gutted that I had missed the chance to take part in the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018. Following the race as dot watcher, I was instantly hooked, and it didn’t take long for Nelson Trees, who organises the event, to talk me into a last-minute spot when we cycled the first night at the Highland Trail in May this year together.

My love for travelling and adventure is something that dates back to those days of my childhood. At the age of 9 I started learning my first foreign language – Russian. It was then, at primary school in Heiligenstadt in East Germany, when I got handed a German book called ‘Briefe an Freunde’, ‘Letters to Friends’ in English. It is a reference work for writing letters in Russian, published in the same year I was born. Not many books from my childhood days have made the journey over to Scotland, which I happily call home for more than 10 years now, but this one did. And when I finally sat in my room, with a lot of film footage from my trip, looking for ideas for a script, the book caught my attention. Bikepacking in Kyrgyzstan had inspired me so much that I wanted to write a letter to a friend, describing my experiences, but also connecting them to my past.

Markus Stitz Kyrgyzstan

Once fluent in Russian, my skills in speaking and understanding the language have since rapidly declined. But when I cycled out of Bishkek in the beginning of August, with temperatures above the 40C mark, I was not only reminded of my childhood, but also slowly picked up the language again. I was able to read road signs and labels on food, which made cycling independently across the country easier. Although Kyrgyz is the official language, many people still speak Russian in this part of the world. And as the days went on, I could remember basic phrases and even have simple conversations.

While I was very keen to document my journey, I wanted any photography and filming to be the least intrusive on the country and my own personal experience. When I left for Bishkek there was no pressure to come up with a film. But as almost two years have passed since I filmed Wild About Argyll, this was a welcome opportunity to return to filmmaking.

The locals of Kyrgyzstan

The great thing about a bikepacking setup is that it leaves very little room for taking extra stuff, and I also had to strike a fine balance between carrying enough warm clothes, good camping equipment, enough food for a few days and my equipment for filming and photography. ‘No Stone Unturned’ was filmed and edited on an iPhone, with a mini tripod and a smartphone clamp, and a small DJI OSMO Pocket. When I fell into a river when filling up my water bladder on day eight, my memory card with the footage didn’t survive. I could only use the footage from my phone for the final film. I deliberately left my drone behind, as it would have been too intrusive on my adventure. As I still wanted to portray the sheer scale of the country I had to be creative. The filming of one scene in the film included a substantial hike back and forth along a steep mountainside. It was totally worth it.

Kyrgyzstan mountain range

Bikepacking in Kyrgyzstan was the perfect way to experience this amazing environment. In a country covered 80% by massive mountains I was never short of wilderness. But as most Kyrgyz in the mountains still live as nomads in yurts, I also never felt lonely. A number of times, just when I thought I had found the most hidden spot possible, I was surprised the next morning by a local on a horse, welcoming me to their country and offering me tea. On one occasion I reversed that, by inviting a local man and his cow for tea, when they both passed my tent in the morning on their way to work. I had just put water on to boil and there was plenty for both of us. The only thing missing was a second cup, so I quickly repurposed the tomato paste can from dinner the night before into a coffee mug.

The ten days travelling before the start of the Silk Road Mountain Race gave me time to be myself again. To escape the echo chamber that social media often is, to escape a busy Edinburgh full of people in August. I could travel at my own speed, I could stop wherever I wanted. I didn’t plan a route, all I had was a guidebook on my phone and maps.me and OsmAnd Maps as navigation apps.

I made my own decisions, most of them brilliant. If they weren’t too good, I had to live with the consequences, no one else. Like on the day when I stayed an extra night near Karakol Pass, hiking up one of those majestic mountains in my cycling shoes. I had to cycle almost a full day on two slices of bread with some leftover honey the next day, and was happy to meet two Canadian backpackers, who gifted me a Twix bar, which tripled my calorie intake for that day.

Local on horseback: bikepacking in Kyrgyzstan

While bouncing over those bumpy roads and constantly swallowing the dust I had plenty of time to reflect on my life. On the way back home I watched Steve Jobs’ brilliant 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. There’s one particular bit of the speech I listened to over and over again: ‘‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.’ Back home I also read Scotti Lechuga’s excellent account of her Silk Road Mountain Race experience, in which she describes the ‘unpacking’ of her life during the race.

Sunset in Kyrgyzstan

I started to unpack my life, connecting the dots and writing a script. My life had led me off the well-worn path and Kyrgyzstan was no different. While I came to the country with doubts and insecurities, this bikepacking adventure gave me the confidence to follow my heart, however bumpy the road there might be. To leave ‘No Stone Unturned’. Not just in those ten days cycling, but throughout my life.

I wrote all my thoughts down and matched them with the stunning scenery of Kyrgyzstan. The result is a new film. It reflects on my past and will hopefully inspire more people to see this country with their own eyes in the future.

Markus Stitz



‘No Stone Unturned’ was supported by YellowJersey and is available on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/3Fbz52-fANY It is subtitled in English, German and Russian. Markus’ detailed account of the Silk Road Mountain Race is available on the Aussie Grit Blog. He has also written an article on how to prepare for bikepacking races for The Draft.

The post No Stone Unturned: A Bikepacking Journey Through Kyrgyzstan appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

An Accidental Bikepacking Trip in Ireland

I wanted a cheap holiday. We all know the two most significant costs are travel and accommodation, so I decided to cycle (free) and carry a bit of tarpaulin in my panniers to crawl under at the end of a day (also free) eliminating these big holiday costs. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had accidentally discovered and planned a bikepacking trip in Ireland. I called it ‘a cheap holiday’, Friends called it, ‘he’s definitely cracked’! But, it was a joy that has fuelled the fire for more adventure and discovery!

I had a cheap, adventurous holiday that would be mostly spent upon my bike… The trip ticked all the boxes.

I plotted a 400-mile spin starting in the south-east corner of Ireland doing a loop that took in Waterford, Kerry, Galway, skirted Dublin and back again to Rosslare with planned stops in Galway to go caving and cliff jumping. I would also squeeze in some family time to catch up with them on the final leg of the trip.

sea view - bikepacking ireland

Putting together my kit list was easier than I thought, I have done the odd camping trip in the past and most of the equipment simply tucked into my panniers. For those who are interested though, my ‘bikepacking on a shoestring’ kit list is below:

Kit List

Giant Defy 3 Aluxx

Halfords pannier rack and bags

Gerber multi-tool

Flint fire starter

6 ft x 6 ft tarpaulin

1x spool of twine

4x bungee cords

2 litre water bottle

Spork

Small tool kit

Camp stove

2x tins of beans

2x tins of tuna

Small pot with handle removed

4x chemical warming pads

Waterproof jacket

Lightweight sleeping bag

 

The ferry port - Biekpacking trip ireland

Day 1: Setting off

I took the ferry from Fishguard, following the advice from the local county council who told me parking in the lot across the road from the ferry terminal for a week was both free and safe! A school-aged choir on the way home to Ireland kept everyone up on the over-night ferry singing songs and having a great time, which was infectious.

Landing in the Emerald Isle early in the morning, I was met with a beautiful, sunny and early morning warmth that lifted my spirits as I left Rosslare heading east.

I was footloose and fancy-free. I had no real goal for the day (no destination or target distance). It was a Sunday morning with quiet roads, so I decided to go along the main road. By the afternoon, I made it to Waterford and stopped for lunch. Walking about the town, I found a second-hand book shop and picked up a book. With book tucked under my arm and nowhere in particular to go, I asked about for a local park. Wheeling the bike through the gates, I settled down on the grass to a family-size chocolate bar, a tin of beans, a tin of tuna and some biscuits. After enjoying an alfresco lunch, I lay back in the sun, had a doze and read a bit of the new book. Bikepacking is easy!

After a luxurious rest, I hopped back on the bike, spun my way out of Waterford continuing east. As the hours ticked by, I started flagging. In hindsight, I wasn’t fuelling regularly enough and didn’t have the stamina for a longer ride. As I got to Youghal, I was desperate. My tank was empty, there didn’t look anywhere suitable for camping and some ominous clouds were threatening rain. Forgetting my frugal aspirations of camping where I fell every evening, I found a pub who phoned a local B&B. Fortunately, they had availability. Unfortunately, they were two miles down the road. I’d never make it. Hallucinations of a bed, a shower and food delivered me wavering between life and death to the B&B’s door. I ate everything in sight, had a shower and collapsed into bed by 8 pm. I managed 90 miles that day and my longest ever cycle.

Makeshift shelter for my bikepacking trip

Day 2

The next day, I was a new man. Hungry for food and miles. My target was 50-miles away at a hostel pre-booked in Kinsale, a small, artsy town south of Cork. A work colleague from Cork suggested Kinsale as a haven that locals visit for the walking, scenery and food. I’d recommend following that recommendation. Kinsale is a beautiful town, well maintained and friendly nicely nestled in beautiful countryside. It’s an old port town, now with fantastic photo opportunities along the scenic River Bandon.

Day 3

Day three, took me past the infamous Ring of Kerry and the hills of Kerry. One descent was 20 kilometres long! The beautiful thing about bikepacking with only a loose agenda is you can stop when you want. The heat was bearing down too much on me. So, I stopped in the forecourt of a petrol station. Across the road was a church with a massive tree in the churchyard. Again, loaded with all the junk food I remembered from my time as a kid in Ireland, I sat in the shade of the tree, enjoyed the snacks as I watched the world quietly turn.

The irony of going to Ireland with everything needed to ward off the wet and cold was that I rode through a heatwave and didn’t see a drop of rain! The morning of the fourth day, I decided to stop cycling arriving into Listowel in County Kerry and catch a bus to Galway because the backs of both my hands were so burned massive blisters formed covering the backs of both hands!

 

I planned a rest day in Galway – it’s a great city with loads to do for every interest. I pre-booked into a hostel in the city centre. It was easy to kick out the door and immediately be swallowed up by the energy all around. I had booked on with an adventure company for my day off and ended up having a one-to-one session exploring the Burren Caves in Country Clare. In the afternoon, Michael (my instructor) and I enjoyed a lovely, homemade lunch together on the scenic and, suitably, famous Cliffs of Mohor. With lunch finished, we threw ourselves off some cliffs into the sea doing some coasteering!

For the final leg of my journey, I hopped on the train from Galway to Naas in County Kildare, where I caught up with family.

Cave diving in Galway

Day 4

The next day, my cousin and I had a great spin out of Naas, me heading south to the end of my trip. Over a few miles, we cruised some lovely, quiet country roads and caught up. Coming into Baltinglass and the point my cousin had to turn back, we stopped off for a spot of cake and a cuppa.

I carried on from Baltinglass to Gorey and more family. My final day in Ireland was spent, in the morning, with my aunt walking the dog and catching up. Leaving hers in the afternoon, laden with more food than I could ever eat or the bike was designed to carry, I spun the last 30 miles back to Rosslare to take the return ferry UK-side. I had stowed a Molson Canadian beer (a favourite from my time in Canada) that I got in Galway and sat on the open deck of the ferry with my beer.

 

Summary

As with everything, things don’t always go to plan. I had planned on kipping out of doors more than I did. But, circumstances prevailed leading me indoors.

Cycling around Ireland though, there were solutions easily at hand. Friendly people were there to give advice and help. It was a great time that I thoroughly enjoyed and will definitely be used as a stepping-stone to other, longer, more challenging bikepacking adventures!

 

 

The post An Accidental Bikepacking Trip in Ireland appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

How To Prepare For A Bikepacking Race

Having successfully finished two of the toughest bikepacking races in the world, the Highland Trail 550 and Silk Road Mountain Race, and a trip around the world on a single speed bike, Bikepacking Scotland founder Markus Stitz shares his advice with us on how to prepare for a bikepacking race.

prepare for a bikepacking race - marcus at the top of the climb

Which race?

Even if you are an experienced rider, this is one of the toughest decisions. Time is gold in most of our lives, and most races require a lot of time: Time for preparation, transfer time to get to and from the race, and time to recover from the strain of a race. While transfer time will increase the further away you travel, preparation and recovery will often depend on the length and intensity of the race. Personally I prefer off-road events, as they take me away from the busyness of everyday life and, in most cases, challenge my riding ability at the same time. If you love big miles and are concerned about frequent resupply, then a race on roads is possibly your choice.

If you pick your first event, choose something that best fits your experience. A shorter, 3 to 4 day event is much easier to finish than a 14 day odyssey like the Silk Road Mountain Race. Start building your confidence step by step. Challenge yourself to break out of your comfort zone, but don’t become a victim of your own ambition. Built-up your confidence and experience instead of crushing it with bailing from a raceway beyond your capabilities. The more experience you gain along the way, the more you will find out about yourself, and what really makes you tick, so future events are easier to pick.

If you are looking for inspiration for your first adventure, check out our blogs on where to go here. 

prepare for a bikepacking race - marcus' bike

Which bike?

Bike choices are very personal. Instead of giving you advice on the whole bike, here are some important parts to consider.

Wheels: A dynamo hub on the front makes you self-sufficient. This can be used to charge a power bank by day and run lights at night. If you are getting your own wheels built, remember that conventional spokes are much easier to find in bike shops than those only used by a specific manufacturer.

Tires: Tubeless is a must for me now, but I always carry back-up tubes as well. Base your tire choice on the terrain and the availability of spares. Races are not the right environment for experiments, so use tires you are confident with.

Brakes: There’s no alternative to disc brakes. While hydraulic brakes beat cable brakes in stopping power and the frequent need to manually adjust the pads of cable brakes is a pain, changing a torn cable is a very easy task. Bleeding a hydraulic brake or mending a hose is impossible without the right kit.

Handle bars: Drop bars are great for long distances and become a go to choice on many off-road bikes as well. Considering flat bars, there are two handlebar models that are particularly suited for bikepacking racing. Jones H-Bars and Surly’s Moloko Bar are swept back by 45 and 34 degrees and may look unconventional, but they provide extra space to mount bags, GPS unit, camera and lights. They offer a multitude of hand positions to keep you comfortable and in control over the course of a long day riding over varied terrain.

Drivetrain: 1x drivetrains have become popular in recent years, reducing the things that might go wrong further by eliminating the need for a front derailleur. If you want no fuss at all, try a Rohloff hub or single speed bike.

Lights: For riding on roads dynamo powered lights will likely be sufficient. For off-road races, an additional helmet light is essential when grinding uphill and on fast descents, and is also beneficial when things break on the bike at night. Always carry a back-up head torch with an integrated red light, so it can serve as front and rear light.

prepare for a bikepacking race - Marcus' bike

What to pack?

There’s one basic principle to stick to when you prepare for a bikepacking race, and that is to take less. For races this is even more crucial. Packing size matters more than weight! Down sleeping bags and an inflatable mattress can both be condensed down to the size of a small water bottle, the lightest tents on the market don’t take up much more room, but will be pricey. Even when a trip doesn’t involve camping from the outset, it is wise to carry this kit.

For some races taking food for multiple days without resupply is needed, so you need a high degree of flexibility. Without going into too much detail, as the packing list will give you exactly that, here are a few items that make the packing challenge easier and give you more flexibility.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Daypack: Packing down to a bit more than the size of an egg, this will temporarily increase your space by 15l, and is perfect for carrying extra food if needed.

Voile Straps: Made of tough stretch polyurethane, they come in a variety of sizes and colours, and help you strapping extra water bottles etc. on the bike. Voile straps are great to temporarily outsource items like that wet tent that you don’t want to pack with your remaining dry clothes.

Dry bags: A few ultra-light dry bags will give you the ability to strap items on the outside to temporarily increase your food carrying capacities.

bikepacking advice- marcus' tent under the stars

What insurance?

Make sure you got the right cover for races overseas. Most travel insurers do not cover the risk, but the Yellow Jersey Travel insurance does. If you own a spot tracker, a device you need for almost every race, you can also purchase GEOS Search and Rescue for as little as £15 per year. GEOS provides S.O.S. monitoring and emergency dispatch through the dedicated International Emergency Rescue Coordination Centre (IERCC) based in Houston, Texas.

prepare for a bikepacking race - marcus riding to the hills

How to prepare?

While a good level of physical fitness is required, self-supported bikepacking races are a mental game more than everything else. Give yourself peace of mind by choosing the right bike and the right kit. A race is not a good opportunity to try stuff you never used before. Prepare to get uncomfortable. Most riders at the Silk Road Mountain Race experienced stomach problems at some point, so be prepared that your body will temporarily go into turmoil. Most importantly: Get used and enjoy your own company. During the race, you will quickly find out that cycling is the easiest bit.

 

Some advice for during the race

Leaving the start line for the first time can be intimidating. Flip the coin and see the positives, and apply the same principle to every situation in the race. At the very moment you leave the start, you need to survive with whatever you have. Races like the Silk Road Mountain Races offer no opportunities to buy extra kit or get it mended without your own tools. No matter how thorough your preparation is, things can and will go wrong. Forget Plan B! You are entering a race to finish it. At the very moment you think about alternatives, you will direct your attention and resources away from what you should really focus on, and that is to finish. Things will get tricky and you will likely face situations that will push you way beyond your comfort zone, but that what is bikepacking racing is about. If you need to make a crucial decision like scratching from a race, never make this at night, or in the heat of the moment. Give yourself time, have a good night’s sleep; things mostly look better on the next day. Be creative when it comes to fixing your bike. When changing a spoke on my tubeless setup I didn’t have spare tubeless rim tape to seal the gap, but a small bit of toothpaste wrapper tied down with normal insulation tape did the trick and saved my Silk Road Mountain Race.

 

A selection of races

 

 

Silk Road Mountain Race

Bike and Kit List Markus Stitz

 

Bike Surly Straggler

  • 44t front, 11-42 rear cassette
  • Halo Devaura wheels, with SP 8 dynamo front hub
  • Schwalbe G One Bite tires, 2.0’’ front, 1.5’’ rear, tubeless
  • Fibrax Ultra Light 16omm rotors with Avid BB7 cable disc brakes
  • Brooks Cambium C15 saddle
  • HT Leopard M1 pedals
  • Gusset GS 11 chain
  • ESI RCT bar wrap
  • ESI silicone tape to protect frame
  • 2 spare tires strapped to fork with Voile straps
  • Swiss Eye sunglasses case with Oakley Jawbone glasses & clear lenses strapped to fork
  • Spare bottle cage and bottle as storage for trail food
  • Spot tracker attached with Voile nano strap
  • Garmin e-Trex 20x GPS
  • Exposure Revo front and rear lights
  • Sinewave Revolution charger
  • Lezyne Micro Floor Drive pump with pressure gauge

 Apidura Expedition Top Tube Bag

  • 50ml Factor 50 sunscreen
  • Factor 20 lip balm
  • Torx T25 key
  • Spare space used for food

 On-body

  • Altura Mitts
  • Bontrager Starvos helmet
  • Giro Rumble shoes
  • Chrome Industries Crew Merino Socks
  • Aussie Grit Trail Jersey marine
  • Aussie Grit Ignite 2 in1 bib shorts (worn for full duration of race w/o washing)
  • Aussie Grit Bike Light Gilet black
  • Aussie Grit Performance Tee (red, as base layer or warm weather top)
  • Rad Trail Long Day Hut cycling cap
  • DJI Osmo Pocket camera in plastic case
  • Apple iPhone 7s in Lifeproof Next case
  • Apple headphones
  • Travel wallet with
    • Vaccination pass
    • Yellow fever certificate
    • 80 US Dollar cash
    • 30 GBP cash
    • Local currency cash
    • Passport
    • Brevet card
    • 3 credit cards (UK x 2, German x 1)
    • Local SIM card

Apidura Expedition Handlebar Bag 14l

  • Yeti Passion 3 sleeping bag
  • Thermarest Neo Air sleeping mattress
  • Thermarest pump sack

Apidura Expedition Saddle Pack 14l

  • Petzl Tikka head torch
  • Exped Snoozle dry bag
  • 45NRTH knee high merino socks
  • 45NRTH Risor thick merino gloves
  • 45NRTH Sturmfist 5 winter gloves
  • Defeet merino arm warmers
  • Defeet merino knee warmers
  • For Bicy boxer shorts
  • Aussie Grit merino beanie
  • Tineli thermal skull cap
  • First aid kit, including sewing kit
  • Gator face mask
  • Tineli overshoes
  • Aussie Grit Focus Jacket (with hood)
  • Yeti Purity lightweight down jacket
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, charcoal powder, dental floss, small piece of soap
  • Spare space used for food
  • Travel towel

Apidura Expedition Full Frame Bag 7.5l

  • Source 2l Liquitainer
  • Source Hipster Widepac 1.5l water reservoir
  • Source Hydration tube with Sawyer filter
  • 60ml Schwalbe Doc Blue tire sealant
  • Brooks MT21 multi-tool (incl. chain breaker and spoke keys)
  • 2 Schwalbe tire levers
  • 2 Schwalbe extralight tubes
  • 2 sets of Fibrax semi-metallic pads for Avid BB7
  • Weldtite tubeless repair kit in plastic box, which also included:
    • Spare cleat
    • Various spare bolts
    • Adapter Presta to Schrader
    • Schwalbe Valve core remover
    • End caps for cables
  • Schwalbe glueless patches
  • KMC 11spd chain link
  • 4 spare spokes and nipples (2 front, 2 back)
  • Roll of insulation tape
  • Sea to Summit titanium spork (lost)
  • Opinel knife
  • Sea to Summit Ultra Sil daypack
  • Purple Extreme chain lube 120ml
  • Cotton cloth
  • 2 Voile XL straps

Apidura Accessory Pocket 4.5l

  • Thermarest repair patch
  • Spare Fibrax gear cable
  • Spare Fibrax brake cable
  • Park Tool tire boot
  • Tooth paste wrapper
  • Emergency blanket
  • Hygiene gel
  • Sea to Summit X Kettle, which included:
    • Sea to Summit X Cup
    • Small sponge for cleaning
  • Tub of chlorine tablets
  • Sea to Summit 1l dry bag
  • Toilet paper

Strapped on Apidura Saddle Bag

  • Sea to Summit 2l dry bag with Nordisk Lofoten 2 ULW tent

Apidura Food Pouch Plus 1.2l

  • Small tub of Happy Bottom Bum Butter
  • Ortlieb Candy B Graveller Dry Bag, including:
    • Exposure Diablo Helmet light
    • Pixo Charger
    • MI 10000 mAh battery pack including cable
    • Cable for DJI Osmo
    • Cable for Exposure Diablo
    • iPhone charger
    • Cable for iPhone
    • Cable for GPS/Pixo
    • 2 sets of AA rechargeable batteries
    • 1 set of AAA rechargeable batteries
    • Adapter for lighting jack, DJI Osmo Pocket adapter
    • Spare 16GB Sandisk Mini SD memory card

Apidura Food Pouch Plus 1.2l

  • Spare space used for food

bikepacking - marcus rides past camels

If you want to find out more

The Surly Dunoon Dirt Dash, organised by Markus, is not a race, but a great event to prepare you for a bikepacking race in the future. Markus will be speaking about his experiences on the Silk Road Mountain Race and Highland Trail 550 on 12 November at Summerhall in Edinburgh. For future events and bikepacking workshops visit his website: www.markusstitz.com/talks

The post How To Prepare For A Bikepacking Race appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Is cycling bad for my oral health?

cyclist showing his teeth

After a glorious summer on the pedals and with the temperature dropping ever so slightly I have found myself recently, nursing a dull ache coming from my chops.  Is cycling bad for my oral health? Is my bike to blame?

Sports drinks, gels and bars are bad for your teeth. This finding, from research just published in the British Dental Journal, is hardly surprising.  

Indeed, many cycling enthusiasts – even those that take the time to bake a home-made banana loaf or pilfer their wife’s carefully created energy balls – will likely take more interest in caring for their teeth than the population at large.

Sugary stuff is pretty hard to avoid. But we can sleep easy (once the lid is replaced on the tube), safe in the knowledge that those pre, during or post workout energy boosts have been safely brushed away.

Or not

“Elite athletes have high rates of oral disease despite brushing their teeth more frequently than most people,” the UCL scientists found.

Of the 352 Olympic and professional athletes in 11 sports, including cycling, 94% said they brushed their teeth at least twice a day, and 44% regularly cleaned between their teeth (flossing). This is far higher than the general population: 75% for twice-daily brushing and 21% for flossing.

I don’t know anyone who flosses, so maybe that’s a good place to start. But for those who are already doing that – as well as brushing, going to the dentist every 6 months, not smoking and eating healthily – the findings are a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Dr Julie Gallagher from the UCL Eastman Dental Institute Centre for Oral Health and Performance said it’s the gels, bars and drinks that are the issue.

“The sugar in these products increases the risk of tooth decay and the acidity of them increases the risk of erosion. This could be contributing to the high levels of tooth decay and acid erosion we saw during the dental check-ups.”

Now, these are ‘elite athletes’. As such, they may well be quaffing more sports drinks than your average Joe, or David. However, the fact they are seemingly doing all they can to protect their teeth and gums – and still have poor oral health must be hard to take.

Amongst those athletes, the researchers found:

  • nearly half (49.1%) had untreated tooth decay
  • the large majority showed early signs of gum inflammation
  • almost a third (32%) reported that their oral health had a negative impact on their training and performance.

So now they’re looking at introducing more hygiene habits – like additional fluoride use from mouthwash, more frequent dental visits and reducing their intake of sports drinks – to help the professional cyclists, runners, swimmers et al improve their gnashers. The results aren’t out yet, so what can you do?

Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific advisor at the British Dental Association, had this advice for readers of The Draft:

“Competitive sport requires considerable energy to beat the competition – but quenching your thirst by sipping on energy drinks for long periods amounts to constantly bathing your teeth in sugar.  The sugar-free varieties are just as damaging, as these drinks are also acidic which over time can strip the enamel of your teeth. This erosion makes teeth vulnerable to tooth decay.

 “I’d advise people to steer clear of ‘energy drinks’. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and perhaps consider more complex carbohydrates to sustain energy levels.”

For us mere mortals:

Start with a decent bowl of porridge before that long Saturday ride, providing slow release energy (maybe go crazy and add peanut butter – though be warned, it’s claggy so you’ll want to brush before leaving the house).

Keep hydrated, with water, which will also stop you getting ‘dry mouth’ (saliva helps protect your teeth). Then think about balancing what you need. If you are doing a session after work, think about the fuel you’ll need in advance, so you can go for the complex carbs rather than the last minute gel.

On longer rides, there’s a fair chance you could be over-fuelling, especially at the coffee shop stop. I’m also not sure where the science for the recommended intakes for energy gels comes from. One every 25-45 minutes – really? On whose advice: the marketing team? Can anyone carry that many gels on an 8-hour ride?

And for the commuters: you don’t need an energy gel on the way from Tooting to Westminster – however hard you ride.

Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance policies can cover you while you are training, travelling and racing and offers up to £500 emergency physio and dental treatment as standard – click here to get your free quote.

The post Is cycling bad for my oral health? appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Cycling in Peru: Jonas Deichmann races the Incadivide

Cycling in Peru - Adventure Bike Rider looks out on the Andes Mountain Range

Peru is not internationally renowned as a cycling destination but for a bikepacker it has all the elements. Steep, unforgiving mountains, untouched scenery, friendly locals and an unnerving  sense of the unknown. Not only does it have these in abundance, the countryside is also littered with an ancient road network used by the Incas…

With all of these ingredients it is of no surprise that an epic, ultra-distance, unsupported bike race was going to happen at some point…

This week in the Draft we report on Jonas Deichmann’s experience racing the Peru Incadivide in the BikingMan Ultra racing series.

Cycling in Peru - Glacial Valley

Fairly new to the scene, the BikingMan race series has made a big impact in the ultra distance cycling community and has attracted some of the best athletes in the world. The series consists of six races, set in Oman, Corsica, Laos, Peru, Portugal and Taiwan with each stage consisting of (on average) 1000km through extremely tough landscapes and high altitudes. The races are also open to amateurs and professionals alike with on average 80 entrants competing in one race.

Cycling in Peru - Jonas putting the hammer down

Jonas had been chosen by BikingMan as the 2019 race ambassador because of his incredible achievements in ultra cycling. These include an incredible 96 day ride from Alaska to Ushuaia setting the new Pan America Record and the Eurasia cycling record.

The previous stage in Laos saw Jonas’ bike suffer irreparable mechanical failure with a fair chunk of the race still to go. So instead of scratching (the cycling term for your race ending due to injury, bike failure or simply giving up) Jonas decided he was going to walk the remaining 200km.

Pushing his bike on foot along remote jungle passes, through tropical storms and up steep mountain roads to complete the race before the cut off time. A truly heroic effort. Hopefully we would not see a repeat of this in Peru…

Cycling in Peru - Morning view of the mountains

The race started and ended in the coastal town of Trujillo. Bursting with energy and character, the 50 riders gathered in the square of the town (which was still busy with folks enjoying the previous evenings activities) at 4.30am.

Excitement grew, nerves were amplified and with a long loud blast of the klaxon, the riders clipped into their pedals and pulled away into the night with a mind boggling 1600km and 32,000m of ascent ahead of them. Bike lights and coloured cycling outfits soon turned into blurry shapes and disappeared into the morning darkness away from the coast and into the unknown of the Andes mountains.

Cycling in Peru - Fruit Shack

Being an unsupported race series, the cyclist have to carry their own kit, source their food and find places to sleep along the route. Some choose to camp as well as stay in hotels depending on how remote they are during the course when night arrives. The more hardcore of the cyclists often choose to ride through the night to gain advantage and miles over their competition.

The Oman, Corsica and Laos stages were incredible adventures. But Peru was something truly hard to beat.

Thinking of taking on an ultra-cycling race? Click here for 10 vital tips which you should know! 

Cycling in Peru - the white road

We followed Jonas on the road and rugged tracks as he made his way up and across the Andes through sleepy mountain villages up into the high national parks. For the last 4 or 5 days of Jonas’ race we passed through Punta Olympica National Park and the Canyon Del Pato. Snow capped peaks and ancient glaciers flanked us as we traversed across the range in and out of deep canyons and green valleys. so far the trip had delivered the most incredible landscapes we’d ever seen.

Cycling in Peru - Snow capped mountains

The days ticked by as Jonas rode with a seemingly bottomless pit of energy, occasionally stopping to refuel. Unsurprisingly it was very difficult to find anything with enough of the protein, fat or carbohydrates needed for cycling such a long distance. This only added to the jeopardy and adventure of the race.

The people we met along the way were friendly and more than happy to help us, the women wore beautiful hand woven, colourful shawls and impressively high hats covering long dark pig tails. A traditional Peruvian way of dressing that is just so wonderful to see first hand.

Cycling in Peru - Local resident

By the time the halfway stage of the race came, a few cyclists had already finished. The winner, a French rider called Sofiane Sehili completed the 1600km race in staggeringly short amount of time of just 5 days 15 Hours. His first 600km was undertaken with no sleep at all. A truly super-human effort. Second place was taken by local cycling legend Rodney Soncco. A regular competitor and winner of the BikingMan series.

Cycling in Peru - puncture

Jonas had decided before the race that he was going to take the full ten days to finish. His reasons being that he wanted to save his legs for his big world record attempt in September of this year, where he will be cycling 18000km from Norway to South Africa.  

Interested to know what kit you need for next bikepacking adventure? Click here for more information. 

cycling in Peru - in front of the Tunel Punta Olimpica

Jonas finished the race with a final dash through the night, back along the busy but impressive Pan American Highway, with endless sand dunes to one side and the deep blue of the Pacific to the other. Eventually he rolled across the finish line at 4.40am. Just 20 minutes from the race cut off time. An exciting end to an unbelievable cycling race, and a hugely memorable adventure for both cyclists and everyone else involved.

If you are looking to go cycling in Peru Yellow Jersey bicycle insurance will provide travel and bike insurance for all forms of bike packing.

The post Cycling in Peru: Jonas Deichmann races the Incadivide appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Cycling Tours Vs Your Daily Commute

Brad Davis is a Melbourne-based copywriter with a background in journalism and commercial web content. He has worked on TDA tours in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Tell someone you’re travelling from one end of the country to the other by campervan, and they might be impressed. Tell someone you did four laps of the 20km bike path around the bay on the weekend, and they’ll congratulate you on your fitness. But tell them you’re travelling from one end of a continent to the other by bicycle, and people often balk at the idea. “You rode from where?” … “No way, I could never ride that far on a push bike!” … “120km a day is ridiculous!” … “I can’t understand how you guys can do that.”

I think the aspect of long-distance cycling tours that gets lost in translation is that people often imagine it in the context of their day-to-day lives. They think of their 10km bike ride from home to work, and they multiply it by 10 or 20 in their minds. But along with multiplying the distance, they also multiply every familiar hill, tedious intersection, dangerous crack in the pavement by 10, they multiply their lack of desire to go to work today by 10, and they multiply their daily physical and mental exhaustion by 10.

What’s ironic is that on a cycling tour, you actually leave all that stuff behind. You’re not cycling in the context of commuting, transit, getting from A to B… you’re just cycling. You’re exploring new territory for the sole purpose of leisure, recreation, pushing your limits and broadening your horizons. I’m not denying that it’s often exhausting, but it’s also energizing and revitalizing. The more often you ride, the more energy you have.

Most people have been commuting to work by bike or going on regular weekend bike rides for years before they show up at the starting line of a TDA tour. For me, it was the other way around. The first time I rode a bike purely for the sake of commuting to work, it was after working on five TDA tours. Having spent months cycling 100km from camp to camp every few days, it was a weird sensation riding 5km from my house to work and back, seeing the same scenery every single time.

And while I thoroughly enjoyed my daily bike-ride commute, I realized something – you really can’t compare recreational cycling to commuting, no matter how much you enjoy the ride. It’s apples and oranges. It’s chalk and cheese. It’s waiting at traffic lights while pondering your day’s to do list vs. racing through a foreign countryside pondering other cultures and lifestyles.

Obviously cycling to work through Melbourne, London or Toronto is different to cycling through East Africa or South America… I get that. But I’m not talking about the landscape – I’m talking about your own headspace. When your to-do list for the day is simply “Ride 140km”, it’s not daunting. It’s the best thing ever. Travelling across continents by bicycle isn’t impressive because of the distance… it’s impressive because of the experience.

Go to Homepage

Cycling in Switzerland: Explore Valais by Bike

Cycling in Switzerland is like paradise. Just picture riding through open roads, rolling meadows and the misty mountains of the Swiss Alps. Bet you can almost smell the fresh air and hear the cowbells ringing now.

Thanks to its extensive network, cycling in Switzerland is one of the best ways to explore this part of Europe. And tucked into the southwestern corner of the country, Valais beckons as a high-altitude playground for adventure seekers.

Before you pack your saddlebags, we’ve been working with Swiss Tourism to take a peek at the region’s cycling highlights, from well-marked routes and dramatic climbs to legendary passes and alpine trails – all explorable on two wheels.


©Valais/Wallis Promotion – David Carlier

CYCLING ROUTES

Valais is full of options when it comes to cycling routes. Warm up with a leisure ride on the Rhone Route, winding its way through mountain scenery, crossing the palm-lined promenades of Lac Léman and the Lavaux vineyards, and ending at cosmopolitan Genève. The route is 320km long and covers contrasting landscapes. It runs mostly downhill, but from Brig to Geneva, the route is almost entirely flat and suitable for leisure cyclists.

Meanwhile, the Vineyard Trail stretches 82km from Martigny to Leuk with an energetic up and down on a sun-kissed southern slope. It takes you through the most uniform wine region of Valais, past small villages and historical municipalities such as Saillon. Valais is characterised by its soils and climatic zones, so along the three-hour ride, have a break in a winery and sample distinctive wines like Petite Arvine, Amigne, Cornalin and Humagne Rouge.


©Valais/Wallis Promotion – Pascal Gertschen

If you’re up for a bigger challenge, which includes 8 ascents, you could test yourself on the Trophy of the Dams. From the village of Aproz, the road climbs towards the Nendaz mountain resort before whisking you into a small valley enclosed by forests until Siviez. The more adventurous should get ready for a bumpy finish. The last kilometres leading to the summit of Cleuson Dam, at more than 2,100 m of altitude, are unpaved. Take a bike that can handle well on a dirt road.

Between the Pennine and Lepontine Alps, Simplon Pass is also worth a visit. The grade is generally steady so you can admire the view of the Rhone Valley. Pedal through alpine meadows with the Wasenhorn and Monte Leone looming overhead. At the summit, stop off to refuel at the pass restaurant and take it all in.


©Valais/Wallis Promotion – Christian Pfammatter

For all routes, we recommend a bike in excellent working order, helmet, gloves and bell, clothing suitable for the weather (always carry a waterproof), food and drink.

RAMP UP THE DIFFICULTY

Want to crank up the difficulty? Valais has hosted three stages of the Tour de France with challenging mountain finishes.

The French cyclist Laurent Fignon triumphed at Crans-Montana in 1984. The Spaniard Alberto Contador came first in the Verbier stage in 2009. And the Russian racer Ilnur Zakarin won the Finhaut-Emosson stage with a spectacular finish at the Emosson Dam in 2016.

See how you measure up on the Tour de France routes with ascents to Verbier and Emosson and along the Crans-Montana sprint.

For a long-distance adventure, you could sign up for the Valais Cycling Tour. Designed by pro cyclist Steve Morabito, the 10-stage route stretches for 740 km over 29 major ascents.

MUST-SEES

Along with cycling routes, Valais presents many attractions to satisfy sightseers. The Aletsch Glacier, made up of 27 billion tons of ice, is the largest glacier in the Alps and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its easily accessible location makes it ideal for nature excursions, and you’re likely to spot some of the rare animal and plant species that live in the area.

Likewise, the Matterhorn in Zermatt is another can’t-miss destination. The Matterhorn is the famous mountain printed on Toblerone chocolate. On top of being one of the highest summits in the Alps, it’s surrounded by 38 summits over 4,000m high, just the thing for cyclists looking to refine their skills.

Save room in your schedule for the Grande Dixence Dam, the highest gravity dam in the world at a height of 285m. We recommend touring the dam’s interior, which you can visit on request.


©Valais/Wallis Promotion – Alban Mathieu

FOOD & DRINK

You’re likely to work up an appetite during your Swiss cycling adventures, and Valais delights with a range of Gault & Millau-rated restaurants. Among the traditional local products are Raclette du Valais AOP, the quintessential Valais cheese with a recipe passed down from generations.

Pair it with robust wines bursting with mineral notes, alongside fresh local fruit such as apricots, rye bread, dried meats and rare spices. Fancy bringing some delicacies home? Just pop into one of the charming local shops peppered throughout the region.

GETTING AROUND

Getting around Valais is a breeze. With more than 100 cableways and countless bus and train routes offering bike transport, you can quickly get to where you want to go.

All in all, Valais has a variety of terrain, so don’t hesitate to hire a bike. Road bikes, e-bikes, fat bikes and mountain bikes are available at sports shops across the region, together with high-quality equipment and good service.

ACCOMMODATION

When you’re ready to call it a night, kick up your feet at a bike hotel close to the trails such as Hotel Matthiol. Across Switzerland, hotels have been working hard to improve their facilities for cyclists including a safe place to store your bike and a workshop for repairs.

You can hire a cycling guide to meet you at your hotel and help you find the best routes. You can also download itineraries online with GPX files and level of difficulties, length and duration.


©Valais/Wallis Promotion – Tamara Berger

GETTING THERE

By car, the A9 motorway is the main route leading to Valais. From the north, reach Valais via the Swiss capital and then hopping on the Lötschberg railway tunnel. Starting from the south, take the Simplon Pass or Simplon railway tunnel. From the west, drive via Lausanne. And from the east, via the Furka pass or Furka railway tunnel.

When travelling by air, international flights land in Geneva, Zurich, Basel and Bern. Public transportation links are excellent from there. Direct trains to Valais run from major Swiss cities, including Basel, Bern, Zurich and Geneva. Connections are guaranteed every 30 to 60 minutes, allowing you to transport your bike and easily reach different resorts.

Conveniently, the Easy Card offers 2, 3 or 5-day options and access to public transport from Lake Geneva to the Lötschental valley. In all, you can travel on more than 1.1km of routes at no extra cost. It comes with significant discounts, including 50% off Valais cable cars, certain chairlifts, over 50 activities and attractions, and free public transport from Saint-Ginolph to Blatten and Fafleralp.

Alternatively, the ErlebnisCard grants free travel on public transport and discounts on attractions and excursions. Pick yours up for 2, 3 or 5 days.

WHEN TO VISIT

The best time to go cycling in Switzerland is from May to October. Some of the pass routes only open in June, depending on snow conditions. Before heading out, double check your itinerary and road openings.

And don’t stress if you can’t make it this year. The 2020 Road Cycling World Championships will roll into Switzerland and parts of Valais. Particularly, the districts of Martigny, along with Aigle, will welcome the world’s top cyclists.

PLAN YOUR TRIP

Ready to go cycling in Switzerland? Match Valais’ cycling routes to your performance by visiting the Valais cycling website and save a few quid on these cycling offers.

Need cover while enjoying your travels? Cycle worry-free with our bicycle insurance and cycle travel insurance, available as short-term or annual policies.

The post Cycling in Switzerland: Explore Valais by Bike appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Cycling the Monega Pass: Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland

Cycling the Monega Pass - Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland 1

A few weeks ago I spent the long Easter weekend in Alyth, a small town on the foot of the Angus Glens, building my first Coracle. After three days of manual work, with my hands torn up and covered in plasters, I was waiting at the breakfast table for the coffee to brew and listened to Mark Knopfler playing in the background. YouTube did the choosing for me, and for the first time in my life I found myself listening to ‘Telegraph Road’ from the Dire Straits. I listened up. The song instantly caught my attention. I had to listen to it again. Over the smell of fresh coffee I looked up the lyrics.

 

‘A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a sack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
Made a home in the wilderness.

 He built a cabin and a winter store
And he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
And the other travellers came walking down the track
And they never went further, no, they never went back.

 Then came the churches, then came the schools
Then came the lawyers, then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their load
And the dirty old track was the Telegraph Road.’

 

A few hours later I found myself on the top of Monega Hill. This morning, while listening to Telegraph Road, I had picked the walk that intrigued me most in the Angus Glens. It was a clear, sunny day and the views from the top were mind-blowing. For almost ten years now I had lived in Scotland. I had spent most of my weekends travelling, either by bike or by foot. But what unfolded in front of my eyes on that sunny Easter Monday not only made me really happy, the happiest I had been for months, it also inspired me to take my bike up here. Walking here was great, but if I was able to cycle up here, this would not only be the highest I have been on two wheels, but also the mountain crossing with one of the most spectacular views I have seen so far in Scotland.

rapid_racers_852_by_122_animated_banner_ad

 

Almost three weeks later I found myself waiting for the 18.11 train from Glasgow to Pitlochry. It was a Sunday on a bank holiday weekend. I had just finished two days of guiding people and while waiting for a coffee decided to treat myself to a day off. I remembered that I had a return ticket from Dundee left to be used before the 12 May. The snow had returned to the hills, the temperatures dropped significantly. The forecast looked great for my plans. I knew I had one last stab at this before the snow was gone.

Cycling the Monega Pass - Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland 2

I stocked up on supplies for the next day and for dinner when I got into the town and checked into the hostel in Pitlochry. Egg mayonnaise and mashed potatoes were washed down with a local ale. Loaded up with protein and carbs I enjoyed the conversations in the lounge. I didn’t sleep well, I was way too excited about the things to come.

Cycling the Monega Pass - Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland 13

Not many people had heard of the Monega Pass when I talked to them. Even fewer had been there on a bike. The highest of the Mounth Roads that cross the Cairngorms, the Monega Pass reaches over 1,000m near the summit of Glas Maol. It crosses a high, exposed and featureless plateau which in winter is frequently swept by storms. It runs close to a much better known tarmac road, the Cairnwell Pass, connecting Braemar in the North and Spittal of Glenshee in the South. With Glenshee Ski Centre situated at the summit, at 670m the Cairnwell Pass is the highest main road in Britain. The much lesser known Monega Pass passes the top of Little Glas Maol at 973m, and my planned route also took me over Monega Hill at 908m and Cairn of Claise at 1,064m.

While I was excited and frightened at the prospect of cycling up there on a gravel bike with 42mm tyres and drop bars, the route to get to Braemar, from where the Monega Pass runs to Auchavan, was equally stunning. Part of the Cairngorms Loop bikepacking route, Glen Tilt is one of the most scenic routes to cross from Highland Perthshire into Royal Deeside, offering a delightful mixture of vistas ranging from woodland to open glens and hillsides. But there is more to this glen than just pretty views. It was also the site of a long drawn-out Victorian access battle through the Scottish courts when the 6th Duke of Atholl tried to eject a party of wandering botanists in 1847, access was later granted by the Scottish Rights of Way Society, Scotways.

Cycling the Monega Pass - Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland 8

The ride though here was stunning. The sun broke through the clouds from time to time, while I enjoyed the views to the majestic snow-capped mountains around me. This was like cycling the northern part of Carretera Austral in Chile a few months back. The only difference was that this was so close to my front door, less than two hours on the train from Edinburgh. On a well graded gravel track I followed the River Tilt northbound, which after a while turned into singletrack. For the first time my skills on the drop bars were put to a proper test. With a few bits of pushing I joined another double track and cruised into Braemar around 13.30 in the afternoon, ready for a coffee and brownie and some rest at The Bothy.

rapid_racers_852_by_122_animated_banner_ad

 

After a few miles on the road I spotted the sign on my left, ‘Public Path to Clova’. There wasn’t any hint of the Monega Pass here, but another well-graded track took me to Loch Callater, where a nice bothy invited me to stop. While the weather in the morning was calm and dry, the clouds over the hills indicated that the conditions would soon turn. This was Scotland after all, and it only took a few more minutes for the first snow shower to start while I signed the bothy book.

Cycling the Monega Pass - Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland 7

From here another well graded path climbed rapidly into the mountains. The gradient of up to 20% made cycling tough, at times impossible. With the bad weather looming all around me I could have been worried, but the higher I climbed, the more ease I felt. I had the right mind-set, enough food and good equipment, there was nothing to worry about. The sheer marvel at the landscape send my confidence to levels it hadn’t been for months. Every time I turned around I admired the views around me: The snow capped mountains looming in the background, while the path was twisting its way up the hill. It felt like I had left all my worries and anxieties of the past months deep down in the valley, and the higher I climbed, the closer I got to my happy place.

Finally I reached the top of Cairn of Claise, the highest point of the crossing at 1,064m. The snow showers came and went and in between the clouds broke. When the sun peeked through, sometimes just for seconds, it made the barren landscape look even more dramatic. Memories of Iceland shot through my head. The views were breath-taking, with steep corries covered with a dusting of snow and a small loch to my left. The conditions went from snow showers to more intense snow fall, but I kept pushing on.

Cycling the Monega Pass - Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland 14

Once I had reached the top almost everything was rideable on a gravel bike. The path was clearly visible, navigation even in bad weather was ok. From time to time I stopped, left my bike on the track and wondered closer to the edge. I went as far as I could to the edges of the steep gullies, with corninces still lingering around. The views from here were amazing. At times the track was covered in snow, which was a welcome invitation to get off, push and enjoy the scenery.

At around 6pm I reached the summit of Monega Hill. The clouds were hanging much lower now, and I was happy that it was downhill all the way from here. Once again my bike handling skills were put though a proper test, descending steeply on skinny tyres into the valley. By now the showers had become permanent, and I was glad when I reached another well graded gravel road that took me to Auchavan, before it turned into tarmac all the way to Kirkton of Glenisla.

Cycling the Monega Pass - Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland 16

“I had spent a day in the wilderness, which made me the happiest I had been in a long time”

I reached into my pack, dug out my headphones and put on ‘Telegraph Road’. I didn’t need any music for distraction during the day. But the song made me think again. I had spent a day in the wilderness, which made me the happiest I had been in a long time. I experienced a Scotland I had not seen in this beauty before. Never before I had been that high and able to enjoy the world from above on two wheels for such a long time. And while the scenic tarmac road over the Cairnwell offers great views, the beauty I had just witnessed on the Monega Pass was only accessible by foot or by bike. In many ways I was thankful. Although I was most thankful that this was still a dirty old track, and not a Telegraph Road.

More information about the route can be found on Bikepacking Scotland’s website , and on their Facebook page

 

 

The post Cycling the Monega Pass: Bikepacking the highest road in Scotland appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Cycling to Japan to save lives

We love a challenge here at Yellow Jersey – the bigger and bolder the better – and we especially love a challenge with a good cause behind it. So when we heard about Patrick McIntosh’s latest undertaking, you can bet our ears pricked up.

This weekend, Patrick is setting off on an epic 7,500 mile journey by bike to Japan, to raise vital funds for cancer research. A tough challenge for anyone, but even more so for Patrick given that he himself is a triple cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with bowel, prostate and skin cancer in quick succession in 2012 and had to endure major surgery to remove the affected areas, plus gruelling rounds of follow-up treatment.

“Some people say I’m crazy to want to cycle around the world having survived three cancers,” Patrick says, “but I want to show what’s possible even after a horrible diagnosis and major surgery. Cancer is no longer a death sentence for everyone, and I want to highlight the importance of eating well, doing exercise, staying positive and getting any symptoms checked. But I’m also supporting my local hospice because I recognise that not everyone is as lucky as I have been.”

The route will take him across Europe through the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Finland. Once he reaches Russia, he’ll attempt to cross the vast swathe of land in just 90 days by following the route of the original Trans-Siberian railway all the way from St Petersburg to Vladivostok. He will be riding two bikes – an Orro Gold road bike, and a hybrid bike as a back-up or alternative ride for tough conditions such as the Ural Mountains.

7,500 miles is a long way to travel alone, so Patrick will be accompanied by his friend Glenn, who will be driving a support vehicle where Patrick will eat, sleep and do his laundry! As for finding somewhere to stay each night, the pair are hoping to camp, relying on official sites or getting permission from landowners.

This monster ride is just the beginning of a planned around-the-world trip on his bicycle, which he aims to complete by next year. So once he has arrived in Japan and cycled to Tokyo to cheer on England in September’s Rugby World Cup, Patrick will then carry on to cycle across North America and Iceland on his way back to the UK, visiting all four home nations for good measure before returning home to Surrey.

Having previously climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and trekked to the South Pole as fundraising challenges following his treatment, he’s not one to shy away from a challenge. Patrick explained that the polar explorer Conrad Dickinson, who accompanied him to the South Pole, has stood out as an inspiration for his upcoming ride.

“He’s not a star cyclist but I learnt an awful lot from him; he’s an ex-SAS soldier who emphasised the power of focus and mental resilience that you need for an effort like this. Very few people have ridden from one end of Russia to the other but my main goal is to use the experience to raise awareness, and having that thought in my head will keep me motivated.”

Despite the intimidating magnitude of the challenge, Patrick is taking a level-headed approach. “Cycling the world is like eating an imaginary elephant,” he told us. “You have to take it one chunk at a time. I’m 62, not getting any younger and have had major cancer surgery, so the main understanding is to ride within my body’s ability – not too fast or too slow. I expect cycling 7,500 miles to Tokyo will be just as hard both mentally and physically as walking to the South Pole, while a very different experience geographically. But I expect it will be easier taking toilet breaks when it’s not minus 50 degrees outside, as it can be in Antarctica!”

The Life Cycle in numbers:

  • May 3rd – 20th September: the dates of the challenge
  • That makes a journey of 139 days (4 months 16 days)
  • A distance of at least 7,192 miles (11,574km)
  • Climbing a total elevation of more than 52,455m
  • Averaging at least 84km per day

On Saturday morning at the start of this journey, friends and well-wishers will be joining Patrick on a group ride from Twickenham Stadium, the home of England Rugby, and there are still some spaces left if you would like to join in and show your support – you can register here. You can also support Patrick by donating via his fundraising page and keeping up with his progress on Twitter using the hashtag #LifeCycle. We will certainly be following his travels closely – good luck, Patrick!

 

 

The post Cycling to Japan to save lives appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Three signed copies Big Mile Cycling by Sean Conway up for grabs!

Longstanding friend and ambassador of Yellow Jersey, Sean Conway, is a man of many talents. From his original career as a photographer he’s since hung up his suit and tie for a life outdoors, running, swimming and cycling all over the world. Not content with just enjoying the great outdoors at a leisurely pace, Sean thrives on pushing himself to attempt incredible challenges and records.

From cycling around the world to swimming the entire length of the UK, Sean recounts his epic adventures in a number of books which have been inspiring readers of all ages to dream big and get outside.

Sean’s latest book, Big Mile Cycling, centres on his world record ride last spring in which he cycled from Portugal to Russia. In doing so, Sean became the fastest person to cycle across Europe unsupported and broke the existing world record. He also explores his previous failed attempts on this challenge and how they made him a better cyclist, as well as his ultra-cycling inspirations – both those who are still riding on and those in whose honour he rides.

To celebrate the release of Big Mile Cycling, we have THREE signed copies of this brand new book to give away. To enter all you need to do is answer the following question:

What nickname did Sean give to his bike on which he rode across Europe in 2018?

Competition closed

Entries close 9th May, you can view the full T&Cs here.

The post Three signed copies Big Mile Cycling by Sean Conway up for grabs! appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Get into…bikepacking

Packed up and ready to ride. Credit Tom Owen

One bike, a long day and the freedom of the road – there is no more fully realised manifestation of this perfect scenario than ‘bikepacking’. Loosely defined as a combination of mountain biking and minimalist camping, it takes the freedom of cross-country hiking and adds the long range of the off-road bicycle.

Founded on flexibility, bikepacking allows its participants the open-mindedness to head down the unmarked trail just because it’s there, regardless of its destination; it is the epitome of exploring the road less travelled, be it dirt, singletrack or gravel, all while carrying the bare essentials for a night under the stars.

In a world of power meters, interval training and virtual reality, bikepacking is the contradiction to the trend. It’s cycling’s counter-culture, popular because it turns away from the rigidity of facts and figures. It gets back down to the root of why we all got into cycling in the first place: the freedom to explore.

As with oh-so-many cycling disciplines, it is assumed that getting into bikepacking will cost newbies an arm and a leg, but this is a common misconception. Granted, if you stick at it, you’ll gradually accumulate various tangible and intangible additions, from lightweight gear to valuable advice, but take a breath, slow down – bikepacking is simpler than you think.

It’s fair to say that the British bikepacking scene is blossoming with health and there is no shortage of experts with heads full of experience to harvest. There is no bikepacking playbook that dictates the discipline; you’ll quickly find that each individual has their own way of doing things and it is that freedom that defines it.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Alex (@ajh_cycling) on Jun 5, 2018 at 11:25pm PDT

Equipment

Ultimately, the ideal bike for bikepacking simply has two strong wheels and goes forward – there is no such thing as a ‘bikepacking bike’. Katherine Moore, GCN correspondent and self-described “friendly Westcountry type”, is an enthusiastic adventurer and bike rider whose experience is based on experimentation. Of the bike, Katherine says:

“It’s a bike, that’s all. While it can be your everyday commuter or a specialist setup, what really matters is that you just get out there and go for it. To me, bikepacking is off-road touring, so unless it’s bone-dry smooth trails that you stumble upon (good luck with that in the UK), you’re likely to need some knobbly tyres. The larger the volume, the more comfortable you’ll be, and more aggressive tread patterns will help you churn through stickier mud with (relative) ease.”

For ultra-endurance cyclist, Alex Hill, comfort is key: “If you are heading out on a multi-day ride you need to be comfortable, so a bike with a more relaxed geometry tends to work better than an all-out race bike. With mine, I’ve concentrated on making my long rides as comfortable as possible by adding fixed metal mudguards to keep the inevitable rain off, 32mm road tyres at a fairly low pressure (the UK roads can be unforgiving most of the time!) and finally I’ve increased the range of gears on the bike to make climbing a little easier when loaded with bags.”

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Alex (@ajh_cycling) on Jun 5, 2018 at 9:55am PDT

One of the more obvious differences, at least aesthetically, between bikepacking and good old-fashioned touring is the means by which the bike is loaded, i.e. frame bags rather than panniers. Travelling light is characteristic of bikepacking, making frame bags the natural choice as they are lighter, easier to fit and more versatile. Alex tells us that “the beauty of the modern bikepacking movement and the fantastic technology in bags/equipment mean that you can fix a bag to pretty much any bike, pack some essentials and head off on an adventure.”

There are plenty of options when it comes to frame bags too, with the seatpost, top tube and handlebars all providing ample room to attach the necessary equipment. Katherine says, “you want to carry as much weight over your bottom bracket as possible. I find the majority of my kit in a seatpost bag works best, with additional lighter kit in a handlebar bag.”

Though we’ve established that to get into bikepacking, there is no obligation to spend enormous amounts of money on a new bike, wheels or equipment, there are adjustments that you might find useful as you get deeper into it. Yes, minimal baggage and a lightweight setup are key considerations, but you’ll still find that the extra weight may slow you down. For this reason, many bikepacking setups will have larger gear ranges than conventional cyclocross or road bikes. Opting for a 42-tooth cassette will make life considerably easier and more comfortable over the rough and ready off-road trails frequented by bikepackers.

 

What to pack

So, you’ve got your bike and a selection of frame bags. Now, what to take with you? There is a fantastically comprehensive list of essential gear on the Bikepacking website which includes sleeping gear, compact stove and food, tools for emergency maintenance, water and additional layers – basically, the bare minimum that you’ll need to survive a night out under the stars book-ended by riding your bike.

Katherine is an advocate for experimentation and has taken to carrying a hammock rather than the wherewithal for bivvying: “There’s no point in doing things differently for the sake of it but where experimentation yields interesting results, it can be really useful! I’m in love with hammocking now as I like to get ‘foetal’ when I sleep, and personally find it much cosier than bivvying. It’s been really fun learning to sling a hammock in places where there are no trees; lots of outside the box thinking!”

A hammock slung between trees becomes a snug place to spend the night. Credit Katherine Moore

Both of our experts never leave the house without a small toolkit for unexpected situations, complete with a good multi-tool (chain breaker and split link included), cable ties, electrical tape and super glue. They also emphasise the importance of additional layers and accessories, like a Buff neck scarf, base layer, jacket, and long-johns to wear overnight.

“A packable insulated jacket is key,” says Katherine. “Pack it near the top of your bag for easy access and put it on straight away when you stop to set up camp, have a mechanical or are simply stopping for a tea break – conserving heat is so important.”

One seldom discussed item that you might consider is a bum bag, something which Katherine is rarely without, again playing into her experimental nature which is shared by many in the bikepacking community. “A bum bag offers loads of space for sandwiches and other snacks,” she assures us, “as well as easy to access items like charging cables and tools. Surprisingly, I don’t feel it there when it’s on me, plus it means that I can go pocket-free with my clothing and choose more casual kit than conventional lycra.”

Last but most certainly not least, Alex’s golden ticket item is a good set of lights that you can wholeheartedly trust: “Inevitably, you’re going to have a ride that runs over into darkness, or perhaps you plan on riding through the night. Good, dependable lights are an absolute necessity. I fully trust Exposure lights as they provide excellent run time and light weight.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Daniel Groves (@danielsgroves) on Mar 19, 2019 at 5:28am PDT

Preparation

Now that bike and kit are sorted, it’s time to plan the ride itself. Once again, there is no pre-ordained network for bikepacking rides; in fact, grab the nearest map and you can – and should – take literally any track, no matter how thin the line. Many keen bikepackers are self-confessed ‘map geeks’, born with a feverish desire for exploration, to go to the end of every path, track or trail that they find themselves on.

In the modern world, we have access to a range of apps and platforms for route-planning, as well as a choice of devices to follow them on. Alex Hill uses a combination of Strava and Google Street View to plan his routes, assessing the practicality and passability of the trails before the tyres meet the dirt. Strava is not the most popular planning tool but Alex says that the ‘heatmaps’ function is one big thing it has in its favour; “it lets you see what routes are popular in a given area, and so may be of interest.”

While Katherine also loves maps and route-planning – herself a champion of Komoot – she says, “what shouldn’t be underestimated is the value in real life route sharing and exploration. Roll up to organised gravel rides and you’ll get incredible routes put together by local experts or check out forums like Bikepacking.com for inspiration.”

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Fausto Agency (@fausto.agency) on Nov 20, 2018 at 1:12pm PST

 

Finally, as Katherine will confirm, there’s no better feeling than simply letting inspiration strike and exploring any intriguing path or bridleway that winds off into the distance. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll have to turn back, but you never know, you might stumble upon the most amazing, all but untouched, new singletrack.

 

Setting out

If there were a bikepacking starter kit, the one thing it would definitely include is a fun, flexible and open-minded attitude to route-planning. Also important are a comfortable bike, plenty of warm layers and possibly a bum bag… Above all, what matters is to get out into the fresh air, have fun and enjoy the freedom of the ride.

 

Both our experts, Katherine Moore and Alex Hill, are preparing for some pretty epic bikepacking adventures this year, so be sure to follow them on Instagram at @katherinebikes and @ajh_cycling.

 

If you’re ready to get out on the trails for your first adventure, you’ll be pleased to hear you’re covered for off-road riding in the UK and Europe by our Performance Bicycle Insurance, our policy for the enthusiastic cyclist.

 

The post Get into…bikepacking appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

A bike packing adventure in Chile: When the dust settles

Bike packing in Chile, cycling adventure in Chile, Markus crouches next to a lake

Chile. The smell of freshly baked empanadas, washed down with Sauvignon Blanc. The taste of red dust, rinsed down with a cold Cerveza Austral. Listening to Calexico’s ‘Carried to Dust’ in endless rotation, the perfect soundtrack for an adventure in a country that is not short of surprises.

The Atacama Desert and Pumalin National Park in Patagonia – two landscapes that couldn’t be more different. Worlds apart, yet both embedded in one very thin country. It is the dust that connects them in my memories. Dust is what I remember when I think back to the end of last year, buying a cheap 24-speed Trek Marlin 6 mountain bike in Santiago and exploring a previously unknown part of the world for a number of weeks.

Atacama desert cycling, cyclepacking in Chile

My journey takes me north of Santiago first, on a plane to Calama and then a short shuttle ride though the desert to San Pedro de Atacama. While Calama hosts the biggest copper mine in the world, San Pedro is the undisputed tourist hub of the Chilean Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. With cold nights, crystal clear skies and stunning sunrises and sunsets it is hard to beat. Mixed with loads of places to eat and cheap hire bikes available on every corner, this is a dream for every off-road enthusiast, either for a few days or, as in my case, for a number of weeks.

 

Before I arrived in Chile I hadn’t thought about taking my bike here, but for mountain biking I can only think of a handful places I have travelled to so far that can rival the small and cosy oasis in the middle of a fascinating lunar landscape. Imagine massive sand dunes, killer climbs, technical downhill trails and endless ridge rides. Almost everything here makes me stop with awe. And come back a second time. Sometimes a third and forth time.

Nearly every morning I get up early, wrap myself in my down jacket and follow my nose into another part of the desert. I am normally back for breakfast, as riding during the day is a serious challenge with temperatures in the upper twenties. Only in the late afternoon the conditions become bearable again. The best activity in between is to relax and read a book in a hammock in one of the many hostels in town, or to sit in the shade and sample the coffee, croissants and sandwiches at La Franchuteria, a French bakery in which I soon become a regular customer.

bicycle touring in Chile, Atacama desert

On most evenings I head out again, the experience of watching the sun setting over this surreal landscape is second to none. When the sun finally sinks it paints the rock formations into an array of warm colours while the sky changes from pink to purple and on to black. Stone and sand formations stick out like bizarre sculptures that appear from the massive valleys. Carved by wind and water, the landscape displays an impressive range of colour and texture, while the wind blows clouds of dust through this barren paradise.

Yet there’s more to San Pedro than the bizarre landscapes of the Valle de la Luna, Valle de Marte or the Qubrada del Diablo. All of them make for amazing mountain biking, but the salt lakes in the south of the small town give you a unique chance to get some serious gravel miles in those legs, go swimming and spot flamingos along the way. The best time to visit the lakes is in the morning, as most visitors flock to them in the afternoon.

Laguna Cejar invites me for a swim in the salty water. The water is so salty that I float on the surface without any problems. A few kilometres further south Laguna Tebinquinche is surprisingly tranquil, far off the tourist track, with only a handful of people around. As their Landrover leaves, I am by myself.

But the most amazing experience of all is strapping gear and food on the bike, taking enough water with me and spending a night under the stars in the open desert.

Atacama desert stars. Cycling in Chile

After a few weeks I leave the Atacama again and set my feet on a much wetter place on the Northern edge of Patagonia: Isla Grande de Chiloe. After a few night’s rest and 24 hours of non-stop rain in the capital Castro I set off. With my Apidura bags strapped on the frame and a massive roll of cookies to feed me I am on my way towards Quellon on the southern edge of the island.

Cheap touring bikes in Chile

Ruta 5 Sur, better known as the Pan-American Highway, terminates here. But my journey is just about to begin. A ferry takes me east across the Pacific Ocean. And as the sun sets the snow-capped top of Volcan Michinmahuida disappears slowly in the pink sky. Two hours later I set my feet (and wheels) onto the Chilean mainland again in Chaiten.

bicycle packing Chile

From here my adventure takes me northbound through Pumalin Park, a fascinating nature reserve with fjords, temperate rain forest and impressive volcanoes. The total opposite of the Atacama, but equally impressive. The park, opened by North Face founder and philanthropist Douglas Tompkins, hosts some of the most active volcanoes in the country, among them Chaiten.

Bicycle Packing Chile

I hide my bike in a bush and hike up to the crater, and I can only imagine the carnage when it last erupted in 2008. The landscape on the upper half of the trail is dominated by dead and fallen trees. From the top I can see the caldera floor with two wonderfully blue lakes on the north side of the lava dome. As the desert a few weeks earlier, this is a dream-like landscape.

Pumalin Park Chile bike packing

Not long days in the saddle, but a curious mixture of hiking, admiring and cycling dominate my ride on the northern Carretera Austral, Ruta 7. The road runs for 1,240 km from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins through rural Patagonia. Construction of the highway commenced in 1976 under the dictatorship of Pinochet, and it is often referred to as one of the best bikepacking journeys in the world. The areas it traverses are sparsely populated. Despite its length the highway only provides access to about 100,000 people, a paradise for cycling.

Carretera Austral, Ruta 7 cycling in Chile

The facilities for camping on Lago Negro, my stop for the first night in the park, are as stunning as the scenery I pass through. One of the campsites even has cold showers. The end of November is still low season, so I have most places for myself. In the early hours of day two I hike up to two impressive waterfalls, Cascada Baja and Cascada Alta. In the middle of the temperate rainforest the amazing beauty of the landscape unfolds in front of me, when the first rays of sun break through the dense forest. From here it is a short but demanding ride on rough gravel to Caleta Gonzalo, from where a seven-hour ferry and bus journey through an impressive fjord takes me to Hornopiren. Here the gravel shortly turns into tarmac again.

This is where the dust settles. After four days on the road I finish my adventure the next day in Puerto Montt, and I can only imagine what the southern part of the route looks like. I will hopefully be back soon and find out. A country of stark contrasts and a paradise for cycling: There are very few countries in the world that have impressed me as much as Chile did.

Markus Stitz

Markus will talk about this and other adventures in South America on Thursday 2 May in the Green Jersey in Clitheroe, on Saturday 11 May at Oban Distillery (as part of the Oban Sportive) and on Thursday 8 June 2019 at Eastgate Arts in Peebles. More information and tickets are available on www.markusstitz.com/talks.

Yellow Jersey’s bicycle insurance will insure your bicycle for bike packing adventures worldwide, while cycle travel insurance will ensure that you have the appropriate cover should have an accident and require medical help while cycling overseas.

The post A bike packing adventure in Chile: When the dust settles appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Celebrating amazing women in cycling for International Women’s Day

Back in 1984, a women’s Tour de France ran alongside the men’s event and at the end of the race, the winner of the men and women’s races would stand on the same podium, side by side. Who would have thought that possible when you watch today’s Tour where stage winners are presented their jerseys by women usually sporting tight dresses and high heels?

It appears gender equality in cycling has actually gone backwards; and the sad reality is that the event only lasted five years due to a lack of funding for the women’s side of the sport, something which is a constant battle at the pro end of women’s cycling with teams regularly folding and leaving hugely talented riders without a team to train and race with.

But it’s not just in pro cycling. Across the sport in the UK, more needs to be done to help get women onto bikes and to enjoy the same opportunities as men. A 2018 study by Sustrans found that men were twice as likely to cycle across a city than women yet four out of five women supported more investment in cycling… something’s not quite right there.

I could go on listing lots of ways in which women seem under-represented in cycling but I think you’d all just stop reading! So instead, and to celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, we’ve looked at women who have inspired us all over the past year in some way related to two wheels. These women are an inspiration to us all, men and women alike.

Jenny Graham

If you’ve not heard of Jenny by now then where have you been? When she broke the current women’s record by more than two weeks by cycling self-supported around the world in 124 days, she made it onto almost every mainstream and cycling news channel. Jenny set off in June last year and covered 18,000 miles across four continents. It was an extraordinary achievement, especially for someone who was relatively new to cycling. It’s fair to say she will have inspired thousands to get out and explore more using two wheels.

She set herself the rules of:

“I’ll do it all myself, under my own power – no drafting

I’ll carry all my own gear

I won’t accept any outside support (deliveries only to public addresses or open homes, no vehicles of any kind meeting me along the way to provide supplies or assistance).”

Jenny started bikepacking comparatively late in life and only did an endurance race for the first time in 2015, so she is proof that dedicating yourself to your passion can reap rewards very quickly.

Victoria Williamson

Last week Victoria was competing at the World Track Championships in Poland, an achievement enough in itself. What was so special about this is that less than three years ago, while racing at the Rotterdam Six Day event, she had an crash so bad that she says her hospital discharge notes suggest she is lucky to even be alive. Just millimetres away from life changing paralysis from her neck down, she has spent the past two years fighting herself back to fitness again. It takes a strong woman, with an excellent support team of course, to not just overcome such a catastrophic injury but to come back stronger.

We salute you, Vicky, and we’ll be watching your journey eagerly as you start your journey to claim your place in team GB at Tokyo 2020.

Kristina Vogel 

One of the all time track cycling greats, having won two Olympic Gold Medals, countless World titles and many other National and European medals. But in 2018, everything changed for Kristina when she crashed while training, an accident that has left her paralysed from the waist down. Less than a year after this life changing accident, Kristina has fully embraced her new situation and is now proactively using her misfortune to inspire others. She has no regrets and is headstrong in her opinion that you should follow your dreams and not worry about the ‘what ifs’.

For the thousands of people out there who might be struggling with an injury or illness, no matter how big or small, she is fast becoming a fantastic role model to help people believe that they can do it, they just need to believe in themselves. There is no doubt, she is an incredible woman.

Lael Wilcox

I’d never heard of Lael Wilcox until someone pointed her out to me and said she needed to be on this list. How right they were… this woman is hardcore and is constantly breaking boundaries that are not defined by gender. How had I not noticed her before?!

Credit: Laelwilcox.com

Lael is undoubtedly the best female ultra-endurance cyclist in the world, almost by accident. She now clocks up 20,000 miles each year on her bike! Her first race she entered on a borrowed bike which she entered a couple of days before, casually winning it.

The next year she entered the Tour Divide a 2,745 mile mountain bike race that follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. If that wasn’t enough, Lael decided to ride to the start from Anchorage to Alberta (adding 2,100 miles). She finished the race in a mind blowing 17 days, 1 hour, 15 mins, a new woman’s record. However, Lael was not content with this, and thought that she could do better so later that year, she cycled back and did it all over again 15 days 10 hours 59 minutes!

In 2016, she won the Trans Am bike race which runs from 4,400 miles from Oregon to Virginia. She was the overall winner – the bit I like the most is that she slyly over took the race leader on the last night, almost out of nowhere. That must have hurt!

She continues her success and now champions the use of a bicycle as a means to move and stay alive. She is still racing but now spends a lot of her time dedicated to getting more women onto bikes. She currently organises a bicycle adventure program for girls in Anchorage and runs scholarships for women to give them a helping hand to achieve great things on two wheels.

Rhoda Jones

At just 4 years old, Rhoda Jones became the youngest girl to ride Lands End to John O’Groats with her parents and older brother, Thomas. Rhoda’s never really know any different – she went on her first bicycle tour aged just 4 months in a trailer behind her parent’s bikes. However, this young lady seems to have fully embraced a love for life on two wheels and we think she and her family deserve a shout out for being so awesome!

Oh, and you may remember this lovely little girl when a video of her went viral when she gave thumbs up to a lorry for giving them space on the road (skip forward to around 2 minutes to watch).

Donnons des elles au vélo

These women are just awesome. Hell bent on showing the world that the women would be more than capable of riding the full Tour de France route, this French cycling club, mainly made up of pretty speedy amateur female cyclists, ride the full course just before the men take it on each year to try to demand a revival of the women’s Tour de France.

In 2018, the group of 11 women who took it on were a mixture of scientists, teachers, journalists and full time mums. They rode the 3,351km successfully (again!) raising valuable awareness of the continued sexism that surround this event. Aside from campaigning for equality at le Tour and other major races, the group spends its time trying to promote women’s cycling at every level.

Helen Wyman

Helen’s just announced her retirement from professional cycling after 14 incredible years racing Cyclocross. She’s not only been racing and podium placing on a regular basis at the very highest level but has also been actively involved with the UCI Cyclocross Commission which is making significant progress for championing equality in this sector of the sport, including equal prize funds for male and female racers and the introduction of a women’s junior world title.

We reckon this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Helen; with more time on her hands now, the sport is sure to benefit from her as a mentor as well as a lobbyist.

Lucy Gossage

I was pretty sure Lucy announced she was retiring from life as a pro triathlete at the end of 2017 to focus more on her career as an Oncologist. Yep, that’s right, she’s been juggling oncology and being a pro triathlete for years now.

So when I kept hearing that she had been winning races one after the other, I was clearly impressed but also a little surprised. It turns out that Lucy had just dropped the amount of training she was doing due to increased work load and in fact it was benefiting her performance. So, on her ‘off year’, this incredible woman won 3 Ironmans, 2 half Ironmans, Long Course Weekend in Mallorca as well as the inaugural Patagonian Man. That’s insane!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Lucy Gossaage (@lucygossage) on May 26, 2018 at 4:13pm PDT

Alongside all of this, Lucy founded an initiative called “5k Your Way” which takes place at regular Park Run locations each month. It’s a community based initiative to encourage and support people living with cancer – family, friends, those working in cancer services – to walk, jog, run, cheer or volunteer at a local Your Way Park Run. She is a true role model for making the most of each day, whatever it may hold.

A snippet from her blog states:

“Every day at work, I’m astounded by the resilience of people. For the last 5 months I’ve been treating a lot of younger people with cancer. It’s what I want to do longer term – I love it. Most people would struggle to understand why a job like this is enjoyable and I find it hard to explain. But some of it, I’m sure, is seeing people at their strongest… But every time, pretty much every single time, patients and families cope. Lives are turned upside down in an instant. Dreams are threatened. Futures uncertain. But people deal with it and work around what they have. The resilience of humans is incredible.

“I guess in many ways, Ironman is also about resilience. Everyone who crosses that finish line will have suffered setbacks. Dealing with those, in training and on race-day is what makes finishing such an achievement. And I guess that’s partly why, in my book, Ironman is in some ways a metaphor for life. It teaches you so much more about yourself than just swim, bike and run.”

I could go on forever with this list but it’s fair to say that there are some pretty amazing women out there, from all walks of life, at all levels of the sport who are leading the way to inspire and encourage more women into this sport.

And maybe, just maybe, one day a women will wear that prestigious maillot jaune…

The post Celebrating amazing women in cycling for International Women’s Day appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Bikepacking in Scotland: A lowland, winter adventure

By the time we had reached Glasgow Queen Street it was dark. It was an ordinary Thursday evening at the end of January when we followed the Paisley Flyer westbound, a cycling route I had recently devised for the Glasgow Cycle Map. Christian had booked us a small hotel in Paisley and finally we were off on a mini adventure bikepacking in Scotland through the lowlands and on the south west coast, an often overlooked part of Scotland.

Bicycle touring Scotland 2019-from-paisley-to-newton-stewart_Bikepacking scotland

By the time we arrived at the hotel it was already bitterly cold. We left the bikes behind and after a quick change of clothes we were out again, exploring the city and looking for a nice meal. Both of us were pleasantly surprised. The icy pavements of Scotland’s ‘largest town’ were virtually empty and the buildings were beautifully lit up. We were both excited about what was to come and discussed clothing choices on the way back to the hotel, as the temperature was supposed to drop even further overnight to -7. We were out in the coldest night Scotland had experienced this winter.

In the morning it felt more like -20 when we got outside. Normally I use my down jacket only for the times off the bike and hardly ever when I ride, but it was cold enough to use it as the final layer this morning. My winter boots and knee-high socks kept my feet dry and cosy, and with two pairs of gloves my fingers warmed up after a while. The sun was just about to rise when we cycled through a beautiful winter wonderland on Sustrans National Cycle Route 7 out of town. Our first short detour was Elderslie, the birthplace of Scotland’s national icon, William Wallace. Other than the usual monument there was not much else to see here, and with the temperatures still well below zero, any minute standing around meant getting colder again, so we kept the visit brief.

Bicycle touring cycling in Scotland snowy-road-Bikepacking scotland

As not many people braved the temperatures we had the cycle path for ourselves. As the sun gently warmed our backs, our tires crunched through the frozen snow on the path. Everything was coated in white crystals. At Castle Semple Loch we left the cycle route for a few miles and enjoyed the winter wonderland views from a gravel path along the shore.

rapid_racers_852_by_122_animated_banner_ad

A challenge when cycling in winter is finding an open café in rural, less touristy towns, and luck wasn’t on our side this morning, so Tesco filled the gap before we left Route 7 again for a while to discover Kelburn Castle. Christian took the safer option on the road, while I tried my bike skating skills on the snowy and at times solidly frozen paths on the grounds of the estate. The views over the sea to Arran and the rather eclectic castle were worth the effort. Kelburn Castle’s walls are covered in striking graffiti from four Brazilian artists, which makes it stand out on a route that brought us to many castles.

cycle touring in Scotland eclectic-castle-Bikepacking scotland

The snow covered hills of Arran formed a beautiful backdrop for the rest of the day while we cycled along the coast, basking in beautiful winter sunshine along the way. A short off-road section brought us to Portencross Castle and on to Irvine. Another short detour from Route 7 took us to the ‘Bridge of Scottish Innovation’, behind which an abandoned Science Centre that only opened for three years hides. The bridge is permanently retracted as the centre on the Ardeer Peninsular is closed, and we could only imagine what lies on the other side. A visit to the sauna and a whirlpool in our hotel in Ayr ended our second day on the road in style.

Day three started with a mishap on my side. After a beautiful sunrise the wind had picked up, it was freezing again. One of the cleat bolts on my shoes had come undone, and I could no longer unclip the shoe from the pedal. I had no other choice than to take off my shoe and sit on a bench, trying to separate my shoe and the pedal. I felt sorry for Christian as he had to wait in the cold wind but eventually succeeded, and thankfully he had brought a spare bolt as well. The cycle on more scenic paths along the Ayrshire Coast made up for my frozen foot that was gradually warming up again.

Cycling in Scotland frozen lake icy-general- Bikepacking scotland

Again we left Route 7 for a short detour further along the coast to Turnberry, passing a section of road called Electric Brae. The make up of the land around this short stretch of road makes you think you are going downhill but in reality you’re climbing. We only believed this when we actually stopped to see where the bike went without pedalling.

Turning eastbound again we found a lovely café in Maybole, strengthening ourselves with warm food for the last and most demanding leg of the ride over the Galloway Forest Park. Distracted by the beautiful views we went the wrong way and added a few kilometres to the daily count. Shortly after re-joining Route 7 we found a ‘Road Closed’ sign ahead of us. We ignored the sign and celebrated the fact that we had the road to ourselves and climbed steadily on to about 450m of altitude. The road was covered solidly in snow and the climbing was tough. At times we had to get off the bikes and push them over patches of ice. The going was very slow and we were pleased to join a busier road to Glentrool after about two hours in this winter wonderland.

Scotland cycling touring cycling winter 2019-from-paisley-to-newton-stewart_- Bikepacking scotland

We rolled into Newton Stewart at about 6 and checked into our room. The Black Horse Inn was a proper rural pub, and soon we got to know the owner and a few others while enjoying a big meal. While I was reasonably tired and retreated to the room soon, Christian had a proper ‘night out’ in Newton Stewart.

Both of us didn’t look forward to what was to come the next day, as the forecast was for temperatures just below zero and rain. We had originally planned to head eastbound to Dumfries and on to Lockerbie, where trains to Edinburgh depart frequently, but the conditions outside were treacherous.

Cycle touring in Scotland railway-path - Bikepacking scotland

It took us a good two and a half hours for the 30km cycle to Barrhill. Heavy rain turned us into soggy looking and cold creatures and the roads into an ice rink, but somehow we made it to the station without a single fall. Drying up in the four different trains we had to take to make it back to Edinburgh this way, we looked back onto an amazing bike adventure, dreaming about more snowy roads, frozen lakes and warm hotel rooms to hide in the evening. While winter in Scotland might not be your first choice when you think about a bike adventure, our experience proved that it is the perfect time to enjoy the country.

Cycle touring in Scotland, mountain bike beside frozen-lake - Bikepacking scotland

Tips for cycling in winter:

  • Make sure your feet, hands and head are properly covered. Winter cycling boots and knee-high socks keep your feet comfy and dry, while several pairs of gloves of varying thickness give you the chance to layer them up. Plastic gloves from petrol stations are a good layer of insulation should your hands get really cold. Make sure your ears are covered in frosty temperatures.
  • Layer up and adapt your clothing choice during the day. Try not to get sweaty.
  • Take a down jacket for colder mornings and evenings or a visit to the pub.
  • The wider your tire choice, the more flexible you are.
  • Check the ‘feels like’ temperature instead of the actual temperature, as cold winds can have a significant impact.
  • Get good lights and head out before the sunrise on a clear day.

Markus Stitz is the founder of bikepackingscotland.com. He is speaking about his recent adventures on 2 May in the Green Jersey in Clitheroe. More information about the event can be found here.

Yellow Jersey bicycle insurance will cover your bike for all forms of bike packing, here in our beautiful UK countryside as well as the rest of the world.

The post Bikepacking in Scotland: A lowland, winter adventure appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Frozen Scotland – A lowland bikepacking adventure in winter

By the time we had reached Glasgow Queen Street it was dark. It was an ordinary Thursday evening at the end of January when we followed the Paisley Flyer westbound, a cycling route I had recently devised for the Glasgow Cycle Map. Christian had booked us a small hotel in Paisley and finally we were off on a mini adventure in the lowlands and on the south west coast, an often overlooked part of Scotland.

Bicycle touring Scotland 2019-from-paisley-to-newton-stewart_32130977807_o-1024x575

By the time we arrived at the hotel it was already bitterly cold. We left the bikes behind and after a quick change of clothes we were out again, exploring the city and looking for a nice meal. Both of us were pleasantly surprised. The icy pavements of Scotland’s ‘largest town’ were virtually empty and the buildings were beautifully lit up. We were both excited about what was to come and discussed clothing choices on the way back to the hotel, as the temperature was supposed to drop even further overnight to -7. We were out in the coldest night Scotland had experienced this winter.

In the morning it felt more like -20 when we got outside. Normally I use my down jacket only for the times off the bike and hardly ever when I ride, but it was cold enough to use it as the final layer this morning. My winter boots and knee-high socks kept my feet dry and cosy, and with two pairs of gloves my fingers warmed up after a while. The sun was just about to rise when we cycled through a beautiful winter wonderland on Sustrans National Cycle Route 7 out of town. Our first short detour was Elderslie, the birthplace of Scotland’s national icon, William Wallace. Other than the usual monument there was not much else to see here, and with the temperatures still well below zero, any minute standing around meant getting colder again, so we kept the visit brief.

Bicycle touring cycling in Scotland snowy-road-1024x576

As not many people braved the temperatures we had the cycle path for ourselves. As the sun gently warmed our backs, our tires crunched through the frozen snow on the path. Everything was coated in white crystals. At Castle Semple Loch we left the cycle route for a few miles and enjoyed the winter wonderland views from a gravel path along the shore.

rapid_racers_852_by_122_animated_banner_ad

A challenge when cycling in winter is finding an open café in rural, less touristy towns, and luck wasn’t on our side this morning, so Tesco filled the gap before we left Route 7 again for a while to discover Kelburn Castle. Christian took the safer option on the road, while I tried my bike skating skills on the snowy and at times solidly frozen paths on the grounds of the estate. The views over the sea to Arran and the rather eclectic castle were worth the effort. Kelburn Castle’s walls are covered in striking graffiti from four Brazilian artists, which makes it stand out on a route that brought us to many castles.

cycle touring in Scotland eclectic-castle-1024x576

The snow covered hills of Arran formed a beautiful backdrop for the rest of the day while we cycled along the coast, basking in beautiful winter sunshine along the way. A short off-road section brought us to Portencross Castle and on to Irvine. Another short detour from Route 7 took us to the ‘Bridge of Scottish Innovation’, behind which an abandoned Science Centre that only opened for three years hides. The bridge is permanently retracted as the centre on the Ardeer Peninsular is closed, and we could only imagine what lies on the other side. A visit to the sauna and a whirlpool in our hotel in Ayr ended our second day on the road in style.

Day three started with a mishap on my side. After a beautiful sunrise the wind had picked up, it was freezing again. One of the cleat bolts on my shoes had come undone, and I could no longer unclip the shoe from the pedal. I had no other choice than to take off my shoe and sit on a bench, trying to separate my shoe and the pedal. I felt sorry for Christian as he had to wait in the cold wind but eventually succeeded, and thankfully he had brought a spare bolt as well. The cycle on more scenic paths along the Ayrshire Coast made up for my frozen foot that was gradually warming up again.

Cycling in Scotland frozen lake icy-general-1024x576

Again we left Route 7 for a short detour further along the coast to Turnberry, passing a section of road called Electric Brae. The make up of the land around this short stretch of road makes you think you are going downhill but in reality you’re climbing. We only believed this when we actually stopped to see where the bike went without pedalling.

Turning eastbound again we found a lovely café in Maybole, strengthening ourselves with warm food for the last and most demanding leg of the ride over the Galloway Forest Park. Distracted by the beautiful views we went the wrong way and added a few kilometres to the daily count. Shortly after re-joining Route 7 we found a ‘Road Closed’ sign ahead of us. We ignored the sign and celebrated the fact that we had the road to ourselves and climbed steadily on to about 450m of altitude. The road was covered solidly in snow and the climbing was tough. At times we had to get off the bikes and push them over patches of ice. The going was very slow and we were pleased to join a busier road to Glentrool after about two hours in this winter wonderland.

Scotland cycling touring cycling winter 2019-from-paisley-to-newton-stewart_40107783333_o-1024x575

We rolled into Newton Stewart at about 6 and checked into our room. The Black Horse Inn was a proper rural pub, and soon we got to know the owner and a few others while enjoying a big meal. While I was reasonably tired and retreated to the room soon, Christian had a proper ‘night out’ in Newton Stewart.

Both of us didn’t look forward to what was to come the next day, as the forecast was for temperatures just below zero and rain. We had originally planned to head eastbound to Dumfries and on to Lockerbie, where trains to Edinburgh depart frequently, but the conditions outside were treacherous.

Cycle touring in Scotland railway-path

It took us a good two and a half hours for the 30km cycle to Barrhill. Heavy rain turned us into soggy looking and cold creatures and the roads into an ice rink, but somehow we made it to the station without a single fall. Drying up in the four different trains we had to take to make it back to Edinburgh this way, we looked back onto an amazing bike adventure, dreaming about more snowy roads, frozen lakes and warm hotel rooms to hide in the evening. While winter in Scotland might not be your first choice when you think about a bike adventure, our experience proved that it is the perfect time to enjoy the country.

Cycle touring in Scotland, mountain bike beside frozen-lake

Tips for cycling in winter:

  • Make sure your feet, hands and head are properly covered. Winter cycling boots and knee-high socks keep your feet comfy and dry, while several pairs of gloves of varying thickness give you the chance to layer them up. Plastic gloves from petrol stations are a good layer of insulation should your hands get really cold. Make sure your ears are covered in frosty temperatures.
  • Layer up and adapt your clothing choice during the day. Try not to get sweaty.
  • Take a down jacket for colder mornings and evenings or a visit to the pub.
  • The wider your tire choice, the more flexible you are.
  • Check the ‘feels like’ temperature instead of the actual temperature, as cold winds can have a significant impact.
  • Get good lights and head out before the sunrise on a clear day.

Markus Stitz is the founder of bikepackingscotland.com. He is speaking about his recent adventures on 2 May in the Green Jersey in Clitheroe. More information about the event can be found here.

Yellow Jersey bicycle insurance will cover your bike for all forms of bike packing, here in our beautiful UK countryside as well as the rest of the world.

The post Frozen Scotland – A lowland bikepacking adventure in winter appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

Cycling home for Christmas: 710 kilometres from Edinburgh to Germany

Christmas is a time for celebration, but also a time for reflection. With the joy of being able to sit back and catch up with family and friends for a few days comes time to look back on the year that has passed and make plans for the year ahead.

We asked adventure rider, Markus Stitz, to share his thoughts on why he chose to cycle home for Christmas last year from Edinburgh to Schwobfeld in Germany and what he reflected on while spending 4 days on his bike.


2.15am. As my phone rings, I try to turn around, hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. I can’t. I have less than an hour to get dressed, get some coffee down my throat and leave. Ready to roll home for Christmas. Ready to embrace long distance cycling again. It is the biggest gift I can wish for this Christmas.

While the prospect of having to cycle from Edinburgh to the middle of Germany in less than four days might be a daunting thought for some, for me it isn’t any more. I have done this journey three times in winter. The first time in 2010, on a singlespeed bike with panniers, taking 14 days to crawl through one of the worst winters Europe has seen in recent times. In 2011 I cycled home again, this time after being struck down for weeks with a really bad cough, not being able to cycle for weeks before. And then in 2014, with the thought of cycling around the world in my mind, using the Christmas journey as the final straw to finally hand in my notice three months later and tackle a journey of a lifetime.

After two hours I dare to look down at my Garmin for the first time. As usual there were a few last-minute things that needed attention, so I had left the first pedal stroke a little later than intended. But standing on a pavement in Loanhead, I have to look again, and again. 27.2 km/h average for the first stretch, a number that terrifies and motivates me in equal measures. I am on a fully loaded steel gravel bike with 39 mm tires. Surely, I can’t be that fast.

Markus Stitz cycling home for Christmas woods

I didn’t announce this journey until the very last minute as I wasn’t sure if I’d find the right motivation to do it. A few things happened in the last two years that made cycling big distances very difficult, at times unbearable. While cycling around the world I had to say farewell to my father exactly three months into the trip. He died of serious head injuries after crashing his bike on an empty country road in Germany. On the last three trips home, he’d been there to welcome me, this time he wouldn’t.

The death of my father was the first time I had to face mortality. I was hit again earlier this year, shocked to the bones by the news of the death of Mike Hall at the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. Mike was and still is one of my biggest inspirations, and having cycled on a section of the very same highway he died on in Australia, I still find the news of his passing hard to comprehend. As long-distance cycling is not so much about physical strength as it is about being in the right head space, I simply hadn’t been in the right place for a long time. And despite trying hard and almost succeeding a few times recently, the ability to ‘fly’ down the roads simply hadn’t returned yet.

Not yet. As I approach the English-Scottish Border, the sun rises gently over the Reiver Country, one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. While I turn my head towards the Ale Water Valley and Melrose, most recognisable by the Eildon Hills towering above the beautiful countryside, my Garmin already shows 107 km as I climb to the top of the first big hill.

In the last few months I had been craving the lightness, ease and fun I had enjoyed so many times when being out on two wheels. But as with all things in life, the more desperate we get trying too hard, the more we are spoiling our chances. As I roll through the starry night, with Frankie Goes to Hollywood putting my mind to rest, gradually a feeling of ease returns. With glimpses of civilisation appearing and disappearing again into the night, my mind is fully focused on the road ahead, only a little distracted by the Christmas songs piped repetitively into my ears.

Markus Stitz cycling home for Christmas fog

It’s that feeling that will stay with me on the days to come. While cycling to the ferry in North Shields felt like a breeze, the second day turns out harder than I expected. Thick fog paired with long straight cycle paths are a challenging combination, but as I dive through the lit-up streets with their Christmas decorations through the Netherlands to the German border, I get the exact same feeling from the day before again. Day three ends on a high as I end up in a beautifully lit German town after 170 km and enjoy conversation and hospitality in a small local bar. And although day four turns out to be much harder than any of the days before, having to carry the bike over trees that block the gravel paths and pushing through deep mud at times, I finally choose the most challenging option to end the trip. I push and roll over parts of the former German Border, before the lights of Schwobfeld appear in the not too far distance to the sound of The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ playing in my ears.

Markus Stitz cycling home for Christmas with bicycle

For the last three days and 14 hours I have found the courage again to dream big and make the endless kilometres seem insignificant in comparison; to enjoy rolling down endless tarmac roads and gravel paths through starry nights; to find the courage to love and care about what I am doing best, and to commit to it again. And while it’s nice to get my teeth into a freshly baked piece of Stollen while I sit at the dining table with my mum and my brother, I finally begin to realise one thing. The biggest gift this Christmas was the ability to take the journey here.

0

The post Cycling home for Christmas: 710 kilometres from Edinburgh to Germany appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

The Transcontinental Bike Race: Q&A with Rory McCarron

The Transcontinental is a self supported bicycle race across Europe. The sixth edition kicks off on Sunday 29th July 2018, and you can follow all the dotwatching action via the competitor’s live trackers.

Last year the race started in Belgium and finished in Greece, and the competitors had to make their way via 4 check points in Germany, Italy, Slovakia and Romania. Each competitor had to plan their own route and fend for themselves for food, water and mechanical mishaps. While some choose to stay indoors in hotels, others traveled with bivvy bags and slept on roadsides for a few hours a night to maximise time out on the road.

The Transcon really is a true cycling adventure, and in this repost from last year, we were lucky enough to catch up with Rory McCarron from Leigh Day Cycling. On his first attempt at the race in 2017, Rory completed the race in an impressive fifth place.

transcontinental bike race

How did it feel to cross that finish line?

I felt total relief to finish. I loved the race for the first 6-7 days but not long after entering Romania the heat and the roads became unbearable and I really started to struggle mentally and physically. It’s funny because the last few days you are so close to the end but I found that the hardest bit. I got so many messages when I was about 50km away from the finish congratulating me. I think it took about 4 hours from there. The slowest 50km of my life! I heard that someone scratched 200 or 300km from the finish, well within the time to make the finishers’ party because their head wasn’t in it anymore.

transcontinental bike race

What’s the first thing you did when you finished?

I kissed and hugged my (now!) fiancée, Lucy. Then had an orange Fanta, quickly followed by a beer… then a shower (but I couldn’t wash properly as I’d lost the sensation in my hands).

This was your first TCR and you came 5th overall. A phenomenal achievement for a rookie… does this mean you will be back next year?

I swore that I’ll never do it again. It’s now two weeks since I finished and the psychological and physical pain has started to drift away a bit. James Hayden (this year’s winner) was telling me I need to come back again and give it a proper shot. He couldn’t believe I was staying in hotels with 5/6 hours sleep and having slap up meals and that people who finished behind me were going to be really annoyed about that. I promised Lucy that I’ll never do it again and I need to remember this. I have a few other things that I’d like to do and I really want to get back to riding with friends again. The training was very lonely at times and hard on Lucy.

Did you have a strategy and did you stick to it?

Yes, I broke each day down and I had a route saved for each day. I planned for 12 days and had 12 routes on my Garmin which was conservative based on my training and what I knew I was capable of. I knew that slowly I would start chipping into each route as the days went by so I would eventually be looking at 11 days or 12 days if things didn’t work out as well as I planned. I had factored in time off the bike for food and drinks as well as sleeping at night. When I heard that Frank had died I promised Lucy and myself that I wouldn’t take any stupid risks, which included no riding at night. I stopped at 9/10pm every night, ate well and rested. My cycling club starts their club rides at 5:45am every morning and it takes me about 45 minutes to get there, so I’m used to getting up and riding in the early hours of the morning when the roads are at their quietest. This all worked well until I couldn’t find a hotel in Romania after CP4 and I started to think irrationally and then the race kicked off with a few days to go and it all went out the window.

What was your average speed?

As far as I understand my average moving speed was about 24kph which was faster than some that finished higher than me. I knew I wouldn’t be riding for as long as most people in the race so I had to ride faster when I was on the bike. All the way along the race I would open a gap up on others during the day then stop at night. I would wake up in the morning to find out they had ridden for another 3/4 hours or so and overtaken me late at night. We bunny hopped each other for days.

And daily distance?

Approximately 350/360km per day. Some more, some less. I had a bad day to CP4 where I only covered 295km, but I did climb over 8,000 meters which was nearly the same ascent as Everest. That was a really tough day in the saddle.

How much sleep did you get each day? And where did you sleep?

I slept for about 5/6hours a night. Day one I rode through the night but then I hotelled nearly every night until they were all booked up in Romania after CP4. I ended up in a really dodgy town, sleeping in a shop front and making a bed out of chairs. I only slept for about two hours due to numerous people coming by and waking me up, dogs barking, cars wheel spinning  and Romanian music being played by people passing. It was really scary actually. On the last night I was in a race with 4 others to the finish so I slept on the side of the road up a mountain in Macedonia in a gravel gutter. It was awful, but I was so tired I would have slept anywhere. Ironically there was a picnic bench 20 yards away and a 24hour petrol station with lush grass outside half a mile up the road. I had no data roaming to find this out. I only slept for two hours for the last 36 hours which was really tough given the heat and pain killers I was taking.

What were your eating habits like on the road?

I had steak and chips twice. Double pizza followed by ice cream in Italy. I actually tried to eat as healthily as possible other than that but the further east we got in Europe the more difficult that became. I managed to find a luxury breakfast in some town in Slovakia with great coffee. I ate a lot of fruit. Every hotel I stayed in didn’t have breakfast ready at 4am so I’d have to rely on 7 day croissants from the petrol stations. I got food poisoning 2 days before the end in Serbia. I took two Imodium and barely ate to the finish. I was really sick by the end and still haven’t recovered properly yet.

transcontinental bike race

What kept you going in the dark moments?

Knowing that Lucy was waiting for me at the end. Her parents were also there but they were leaving to go back home on day 11. I didn’t tell anyone but I bought a ring before I left, wore it round my neck for the race and planned to propose to her in Meteora, but I needed to speak to her father first. I was up against it time wise to be able to speak to him. Luckily I made it and all was good. I think he took pity on me. Lucy also made me a playlist on my iPod which I didn’t listen to until I started. It was quite funny listening to some of the songs she chose.

Oh and so many people, including friends and family who don’t even like cycling sending me amazing messages of support. That was really cool.

transcontinental bike race

What was the high point?

There were quite a few actually. I really enjoyed the start. I ended up being right at the back of the race up the Muur so that I could enjoy the whole atmosphere which was crazy. 2/3 people deep with lanterns and beers cheering you on was great. I also chatted to loads of other riders and wished them luck. I met loads of dot watchers on the road too, in Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania. One guy, Flavius, in Romania was so pleased that I was the first rider to pass through his town, Medias that came and met me with a sign he made saying Go Rory! (Attached). I met a really old cycling buddy of mine at the Grappa which was also really nice too. I haven’t seen him for years and we used to cycle together loads before he moved with his wife and kids to the Dolomites.

Double pizza in Italy. I love pizza and it was really good!

Also meeting Frank Simons’ son who came to the finishers party. It literally brought tears to my eyes as it was such a brave thing for him to do. I was really pleased to talk to him.

And any real low points?

I had really bad pressure sores from day 3. They were actually so bad I thought I was going to scratch by day 4. I even put my spare pair of bibs on my saddle for extra support. I ended up using compeed that you use for blisters on your feet and loads of pain killers which isn’t the best as these make you dozy. It seemed to work though.

Getting chased by packs of dogs in Romania. People joked about this happening but it really did. I nearly crashed into an oncoming car trying to sprint away from some.

transcontinental bike race

Photo taken by Camille McMillan

How did you train for something as big as TCR?

I’ve done a lot of miles for the last few years but nothing can really prepare you for riding for 10-14 days non-stop… unless you do the TCR previously. I did a few multidays of riding, which got me used to getting up and riding again after a big day before. I also did an Everest which was good prep.

What kit did you take with you? Is there anything you’d change next time?

2 pairs of bibs and one jersey. Lightweight Gilet, rain jacket and hardshell jacket. Waterproof arm and leg warmers. Two pairs of socks. I couldn’t exactly say I lucked out on the weather as it was so hot, it was like cycling in an oven at 45 degrees but when I got to Slovakia I looked ahead and realised I didn’t need all the kit I had. I ended up posting a box full of kit home. I ditched my sleeping bag and emergency bivvy too just leaving me with a silk liner, the kit I was in and a waterproof jacket which was enough. I had loads of other things too should something happen. I had literally planned for everything. I ended up ditching loads of stuff on that mountain in that garage in Macedonia. It’s funny because when I finished I heard stories of people snapping cables, running out of tubes or tyre boots and breaking cleats. If they’d have known, it was all up there next to a bin at that 24 hour garage.

transcontinental bike race

Were you happy with your route? Did it change along the way to what you had planned?

I had planned my route meticulously. I am constantly paranoid about getting lost when riding so I think my training versus route planning was 50/50. One issue was in Serbia/Macedonia where I was coming to a boarder crossing and the army stopped me on a smaller road and told me I couldn’t continue. They ushered me onto a really busy main road which I wasn’t comfortable with but they said this was the only way to cross the boarder. I don’t know if I’ll get a time penalty for that but if I do I’ll have hunt down that officer.

Based on your finish line photo, we are curious to know if you found some time to wash along the way?! 

Funnily enough I pretty much had a shower every night to treat my saddle sores. Wearing a light jersey was a good choice in principle because of the sun but I didn’t factor in how dirty it would get. I actually look a real mess at the end because I snapped my hanger on the very last climb and had to pull my rear mech out of the rear wheel and fix the whole bike. 4,000km of cycling without a cleaning your bike was always going to be messy.

Long distance cycle races are becoming ever more popular however this year the sport has been clouded by grief after the loss of Mike Hall (founder of TCR) and Frank Simons (tragically killed on day one the TCR05). Would you do a race like this again, and what advice would you give to those who are nervous about taking part in future events as a result?

Yes the loss of both and of Eric Fischbein in the Trans Am is an absolute tragedy. Mike was a pioneer of long-distance racing and this really shook the cycling world when he passed away as it makes it ever so real that this could happen to such an experienced cyclist. When I heard of Franks death I really considered scratching too because of what had already happened. I know Lucy was a nervous wreck about me doing the TCR in the first place and this really didn’t help her nerves at all. I had to keep telling myself that I cycle everyday in London and around the UK on some of the busiest roads in the world and I was just, if not more likely to be involved in a incident there than I was riding on the roads in Europe. I have to say that for most of the time I felt quite safe in Europe other than the odd busy road. I also refused to cycle in the dark at night.

I would say to anyone thinking of doing something like this is to families yourself with cycling in foreign countries, even if that’s for a few days. What really helped me was using google street view to plan my route. Look at the roads and see if they look cycle friendly or whether there are alternatives routes to take.

I don’t plan to do the TCR again. In an ideal world I would like to as I think I could definitely go faster and use the experience from this one, but it would be hard to beat 5th and I would be really disappointed if I didn’t. I really want to explore the UK and Ireland more so I think I’ll focus on that for next few years. I was actually looking at Mark Beaumont’s North Coast 500 ride in Scotland the other day on Strava. I won’t aim to beat his time as 36 hours is very punchy, but the route looks amazing.

Can you summarise the TCR in 5 words?

Transcontimental, brutal, exhausting, exhilarating, beautiful.

Why should someone reading this do TCR?

It’s a life changing experience. You go through a whole range of emotions from feeling on top of the world to feeling totally drained. You learn life skills that you never knew you had and really understand what your body and mind is capable of. You pass some of the most beautiful places in the world. Funnily enough I went through some really hard and poverty stricken places which were also beautiful in their own special way. You’re on your own in the race but during that time everyone is creating their own stories at the same time. I only realised this post the race when you sit down and talk about it with other riders. They call it the TCR family which I’m slowly understanding.

What’s up next?

I suppose getting married, I’m pretty excited about that actually. I’m looking forward to spending time with Lucy as she’s been through a lot; before, during (she told me it was the worst 10 days of her life) and after the race. Getting back to riding regular club rides with mates again.


Rory took out Yellow Jersey Travel Insurance to cover this trip. We have special rates for our bicycle insurance and cycle travel insurance for TCR competitors, please get in touch if you would like more information.

The post The Transcontinental Bike Race: Q&A with Rory McCarron appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

The Transcontinental Bike Race: Q&A with Rory McCarron

The Transcontinental is a self supported bicycle race across Europe. The sixth edition kicks off on Sunday 29th July 2018, and you can follow all the dotwatching action via the competitor’s live trackers. (Update: Tracker will be restored in time for transcon 2019)

Last year the race started in Belgium and finished in Greece, and the competitors had to make their way via 4 check points in Germany, Italy, Slovakia and Romania. Each competitor had to plan their own route and fend for themselves for food, water and mechanical mishaps. While some choose to stay indoors in hotels, others traveled with bivvy bags and slept on roadsides for a few hours a night to maximise time out on the road.

The Transcon really is a true cycling adventure, and in this repost from last year, we were lucky enough to catch up with Rory McCarron from Leigh Day Cycling. On his first attempt at the race in 2017, Rory completed the race in an impressive fifth place.

transcontinental bike race

How did it feel to cross that finish line?

I felt total relief to finish. I loved the race for the first 6-7 days but not long after entering Romania the heat and the roads became unbearable and I really started to struggle mentally and physically. It’s funny because the last few days you are so close to the end but I found that the hardest bit. I got so many messages when I was about 50km away from the finish congratulating me. I think it took about 4 hours from there. The slowest 50km of my life! I heard that someone scratched 200 or 300km from the finish, well within the time to make the finishers’ party because their head wasn’t in it anymore.

transcontinental bike race

What’s the first thing you did when you finished?

I kissed and hugged my (now!) fiancée, Lucy. Then had an orange Fanta, quickly followed by a beer… then a shower (but I couldn’t wash properly as I’d lost the sensation in my hands).

This was your first TCR and you came 5th overall. A phenomenal achievement for a rookie… does this mean you will be back next year?

I swore that I’ll never do it again. It’s now two weeks since I finished and the psychological and physical pain has started to drift away a bit. James Hayden (this year’s winner) was telling me I need to come back again and give it a proper shot. He couldn’t believe I was staying in hotels with 5/6 hours sleep and having slap up meals and that people who finished behind me were going to be really annoyed about that. I promised Lucy that I’ll never do it again and I need to remember this. I have a few other things that I’d like to do and I really want to get back to riding with friends again. The training was very lonely at times and hard on Lucy.

Did you have a strategy and did you stick to it?

Yes, I broke each day down and I had a route saved for each day. I planned for 12 days and had 12 routes on my Garmin which was conservative based on my training and what I knew I was capable of. I knew that slowly I would start chipping into each route as the days went by so I would eventually be looking at 11 days or 12 days if things didn’t work out as well as I planned. I had factored in time off the bike for food and drinks as well as sleeping at night. When I heard that Frank had died I promised Lucy and myself that I wouldn’t take any stupid risks, which included no riding at night. I stopped at 9/10pm every night, ate well and rested. My cycling club starts their club rides at 5:45am every morning and it takes me about 45 minutes to get there, so I’m used to getting up and riding in the early hours of the morning when the roads are at their quietest. This all worked well until I couldn’t find a hotel in Romania after CP4 and I started to think irrationally and then the race kicked off with a few days to go and it all went out the window.

What was your average speed?

As far as I understand my average moving speed was about 24kph which was faster than some that finished higher than me. I knew I wouldn’t be riding for as long as most people in the race so I had to ride faster when I was on the bike. All the way along the race I would open a gap up on others during the day then stop at night. I would wake up in the morning to find out they had ridden for another 3/4 hours or so and overtaken me late at night. We bunny hopped each other for days.

And daily distance?

Approximately 350/360km per day. Some more, some less. I had a bad day to CP4 where I only covered 295km, but I did climb over 8,000 meters which was nearly the same ascent as Everest. That was a really tough day in the saddle.

How much sleep did you get each day? And where did you sleep?

I slept for about 5/6hours a night. Day one I rode through the night but then I hotelled nearly every night until they were all booked up in Romania after CP4. I ended up in a really dodgy town, sleeping in a shop front and making a bed out of chairs. I only slept for about two hours due to numerous people coming by and waking me up, dogs barking, cars wheel spinning  and Romanian music being played by people passing. It was really scary actually. On the last night I was in a race with 4 others to the finish so I slept on the side of the road up a mountain in Macedonia in a gravel gutter. It was awful, but I was so tired I would have slept anywhere. Ironically there was a picnic bench 20 yards away and a 24hour petrol station with lush grass outside half a mile up the road. I had no data roaming to find this out. I only slept for two hours for the last 36 hours which was really tough given the heat and pain killers I was taking.

What were your eating habits like on the road?

I had steak and chips twice. Double pizza followed by ice cream in Italy. I actually tried to eat as healthily as possible other than that but the further east we got in Europe the more difficult that became. I managed to find a luxury breakfast in some town in Slovakia with great coffee. I ate a lot of fruit. Every hotel I stayed in didn’t have breakfast ready at 4am so I’d have to rely on 7 day croissants from the petrol stations. I got food poisoning 2 days before the end in Serbia. I took two Imodium and barely ate to the finish. I was really sick by the end and still haven’t recovered properly yet.

transcontinental bike race

What kept you going in the dark moments?

Knowing that Lucy was waiting for me at the end. Her parents were also there but they were leaving to go back home on day 11. I didn’t tell anyone but I bought a ring before I left, wore it round my neck for the race and planned to propose to her in Meteora, but I needed to speak to her father first. I was up against it time wise to be able to speak to him. Luckily I made it and all was good. I think he took pity on me. Lucy also made me a playlist on my iPod which I didn’t listen to until I started. It was quite funny listening to some of the songs she chose.

Oh and so many people, including friends and family who don’t even like cycling sending me amazing messages of support. That was really cool.

transcontinental bike race

What was the high point?

There were quite a few actually. I really enjoyed the start. I ended up being right at the back of the race up the Muur so that I could enjoy the whole atmosphere which was crazy. 2/3 people deep with lanterns and beers cheering you on was great. I also chatted to loads of other riders and wished them luck. I met loads of dot watchers on the road too, in Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania. One guy, Flavius, in Romania was so pleased that I was the first rider to pass through his town, Medias that came and met me with a sign he made saying Go Rory! (Attached). I met a really old cycling buddy of mine at the Grappa which was also really nice too. I haven’t seen him for years and we used to cycle together loads before he moved with his wife and kids to the Dolomites.

Double pizza in Italy. I love pizza and it was really good!

Also meeting Frank Simons’ son who came to the finishers party. It literally brought tears to my eyes as it was such a brave thing for him to do. I was really pleased to talk to him.

And any real low points?

I had really bad pressure sores from day 3. They were actually so bad I thought I was going to scratch by day 4. I even put my spare pair of bibs on my saddle for extra support. I ended up using compeed that you use for blisters on your feet and loads of pain killers which isn’t the best as these make you dozy. It seemed to work though.

Getting chased by packs of dogs in Romania. People joked about this happening but it really did. I nearly crashed into an oncoming car trying to sprint away from some.

transcontinental bike race

Photo taken by Camille McMillan

How did you train for something as big as TCR?

I’ve done a lot of miles for the last few years but nothing can really prepare you for riding for 10-14 days non-stop… unless you do the TCR previously. I did a few multidays of riding, which got me used to getting up and riding again after a big day before. I also did an Everest which was good prep.

What kit did you take with you? Is there anything you’d change next time?

2 pairs of bibs and one jersey. Lightweight Gilet, rain jacket and hardshell jacket. Waterproof arm and leg warmers. Two pairs of socks. I couldn’t exactly say I lucked out on the weather as it was so hot, it was like cycling in an oven at 45 degrees but when I got to Slovakia I looked ahead and realised I didn’t need all the kit I had. I ended up posting a box full of kit home. I ditched my sleeping bag and emergency bivvy too just leaving me with a silk liner, the kit I was in and a waterproof jacket which was enough. I had loads of other things too should something happen. I had literally planned for everything. I ended up ditching loads of stuff on that mountain in that garage in Macedonia. It’s funny because when I finished I heard stories of people snapping cables, running out of tubes or tyre boots and breaking cleats. If they’d have known, it was all up there next to a bin at that 24 hour garage.

transcontinental bike race

Were you happy with your route? Did it change along the way to what you had planned?

I had planned my route meticulously. I am constantly paranoid about getting lost when riding so I think my training versus route planning was 50/50. One issue was in Serbia/Macedonia where I was coming to a boarder crossing and the army stopped me on a smaller road and told me I couldn’t continue. They ushered me onto a really busy main road which I wasn’t comfortable with but they said this was the only way to cross the boarder. I don’t know if I’ll get a time penalty for that but if I do I’ll have hunt down that officer.

Based on your finish line photo, we are curious to know if you found some time to wash along the way?! 

Funnily enough I pretty much had a shower every night to treat my saddle sores. Wearing a light jersey was a good choice in principle because of the sun but I didn’t factor in how dirty it would get. I actually look a real mess at the end because I snapped my hanger on the very last climb and had to pull my rear mech out of the rear wheel and fix the whole bike. 4,000km of cycling without a cleaning your bike was always going to be messy.

Long distance cycle races are becoming ever more popular however this year the sport has been clouded by grief after the loss of Mike Hall (founder of TCR) and Frank Simons (tragically killed on day one the TCR05). Would you do a race like this again, and what advice would you give to those who are nervous about taking part in future events as a result?

Yes the loss of both and of Eric Fischbein in the Trans Am is an absolute tragedy. Mike was a pioneer of long-distance racing and this really shook the cycling world when he passed away as it makes it ever so real that this could happen to such an experienced cyclist. When I heard of Franks death I really considered scratching too because of what had already happened. I know Lucy was a nervous wreck about me doing the TCR in the first place and this really didn’t help her nerves at all. I had to keep telling myself that I cycle everyday in London and around the UK on some of the busiest roads in the world and I was just, if not more likely to be involved in a incident there than I was riding on the roads in Europe. I have to say that for most of the time I felt quite safe in Europe other than the odd busy road. I also refused to cycle in the dark at night.

I would say to anyone thinking of doing something like this is to families yourself with cycling in foreign countries, even if that’s for a few days. What really helped me was using google street view to plan my route. Look at the roads and see if they look cycle friendly or whether there are alternatives routes to take.

I don’t plan to do the TCR again. In an ideal world I would like to as I think I could definitely go faster and use the experience from this one, but it would be hard to beat 5th and I would be really disappointed if I didn’t. I really want to explore the UK and Ireland more so I think I’ll focus on that for next few years. I was actually looking at Mark Beaumont’s North Coast 500 ride in Scotland the other day on Strava. I won’t aim to beat his time as 36 hours is very punchy, but the route looks amazing.

Can you summarise the TCR in 5 words?

Transcontimental, brutal, exhausting, exhilarating, beautiful.

Why should someone reading this do TCR?

It’s a life changing experience. You go through a whole range of emotions from feeling on top of the world to feeling totally drained. You learn life skills that you never knew you had and really understand what your body and mind is capable of. You pass some of the most beautiful places in the world. Funnily enough I went through some really hard and poverty stricken places which were also beautiful in their own special way. You’re on your own in the race but during that time everyone is creating their own stories at the same time. I only realised this post the race when you sit down and talk about it with other riders. They call it the TCR family which I’m slowly understanding.

What’s up next?

I suppose getting married, I’m pretty excited about that actually. I’m looking forward to spending time with Lucy as she’s been through a lot; before, during (she told me it was the worst 10 days of her life) and after the race. Getting back to riding regular club rides with mates again.


Rory took out Yellow Jersey Travel Insurance to cover this trip. We have special rates for our bicycle insurance and cycle travel insurance for TCR competitors, please get in touch if you would like more information.

The post The Transcontinental Bike Race: Q&A with Rory McCarron appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage

The Transcontinental Bike Race: Q&A with Rory McCarron

The Transcontinental is a self supported bicycle race across Europe. The sixth edition kicks off on Sunday 29th July 2018, and you can follow all the dotwatching action via the competitor’s live trackers. (Update: Tracker will be restored in time for transcon 2019)

Last year the race started in Belgium and finished in Greece, and the competitors had to make their way via 4 check points in Germany, Italy, Slovakia and Romania. Each competitor had to plan their own route and fend for themselves for food, water and mechanical mishaps. While some choose to stay indoors in hotels, others traveled with bivvy bags and slept on roadsides for a few hours a night to maximise time out on the road.

The Transcon really is a true cycling adventure, and in this repost from last year, we were lucky enough to catch up with Rory McCarron from Leigh Day Cycling. On his first attempt at the race in 2017, Rory completed the race in an impressive fifth place.

transcontinental bike race

How did it feel to cross that finish line?

I felt total relief to finish. I loved the race for the first 6-7 days but not long after entering Romania the heat and the roads became unbearable and I really started to struggle mentally and physically. It’s funny because the last few days you are so close to the end but I found that the hardest bit. I got so many messages when I was about 50km away from the finish congratulating me. I think it took about 4 hours from there. The slowest 50km of my life! I heard that someone scratched 200 or 300km from the finish, well within the time to make the finishers’ party because their head wasn’t in it anymore.

transcontinental bike race

What’s the first thing you did when you finished?

I kissed and hugged my (now!) fiancée, Lucy. Then had an orange Fanta, quickly followed by a beer… then a shower (but I couldn’t wash properly as I’d lost the sensation in my hands).

This was your first TCR and you came 5th overall. A phenomenal achievement for a rookie… does this mean you will be back next year?

I swore that I’ll never do it again. It’s now two weeks since I finished and the psychological and physical pain has started to drift away a bit. James Hayden (this year’s winner) was telling me I need to come back again and give it a proper shot. He couldn’t believe I was staying in hotels with 5/6 hours sleep and having slap up meals and that people who finished behind me were going to be really annoyed about that. I promised Lucy that I’ll never do it again and I need to remember this. I have a few other things that I’d like to do and I really want to get back to riding with friends again. The training was very lonely at times and hard on Lucy.

Did you have a strategy and did you stick to it?

Yes, I broke each day down and I had a route saved for each day. I planned for 12 days and had 12 routes on my Garmin which was conservative based on my training and what I knew I was capable of. I knew that slowly I would start chipping into each route as the days went by so I would eventually be looking at 11 days or 12 days if things didn’t work out as well as I planned. I had factored in time off the bike for food and drinks as well as sleeping at night. When I heard that Frank had died I promised Lucy and myself that I wouldn’t take any stupid risks, which included no riding at night. I stopped at 9/10pm every night, ate well and rested. My cycling club starts their club rides at 5:45am every morning and it takes me about 45 minutes to get there, so I’m used to getting up and riding in the early hours of the morning when the roads are at their quietest. This all worked well until I couldn’t find a hotel in Romania after CP4 and I started to think irrationally and then the race kicked off with a few days to go and it all went out the window.

What was your average speed?

As far as I understand my average moving speed was about 24kph which was faster than some that finished higher than me. I knew I wouldn’t be riding for as long as most people in the race so I had to ride faster when I was on the bike. All the way along the race I would open a gap up on others during the day then stop at night. I would wake up in the morning to find out they had ridden for another 3/4 hours or so and overtaken me late at night. We bunny hopped each other for days.

And daily distance?

Approximately 350/360km per day. Some more, some less. I had a bad day to CP4 where I only covered 295km, but I did climb over 8,000 meters which was nearly the same ascent as Everest. That was a really tough day in the saddle.

How much sleep did you get each day? And where did you sleep?

I slept for about 5/6hours a night. Day one I rode through the night but then I hotelled nearly every night until they were all booked up in Romania after CP4. I ended up in a really dodgy town, sleeping in a shop front and making a bed out of chairs. I only slept for about two hours due to numerous people coming by and waking me up, dogs barking, cars wheel spinning  and Romanian music being played by people passing. It was really scary actually. On the last night I was in a race with 4 others to the finish so I slept on the side of the road up a mountain in Macedonia in a gravel gutter. It was awful, but I was so tired I would have slept anywhere. Ironically there was a picnic bench 20 yards away and a 24hour petrol station with lush grass outside half a mile up the road. I had no data roaming to find this out. I only slept for two hours for the last 36 hours which was really tough given the heat and pain killers I was taking.

What were your eating habits like on the road?

I had steak and chips twice. Double pizza followed by ice cream in Italy. I actually tried to eat as healthily as possible other than that but the further east we got in Europe the more difficult that became. I managed to find a luxury breakfast in some town in Slovakia with great coffee. I ate a lot of fruit. Every hotel I stayed in didn’t have breakfast ready at 4am so I’d have to rely on 7 day croissants from the petrol stations. I got food poisoning 2 days before the end in Serbia. I took two Imodium and barely ate to the finish. I was really sick by the end and still haven’t recovered properly yet.

transcontinental bike race

What kept you going in the dark moments?

Knowing that Lucy was waiting for me at the end. Her parents were also there but they were leaving to go back home on day 11. I didn’t tell anyone but I bought a ring before I left, wore it round my neck for the race and planned to propose to her in Meteora, but I needed to speak to her father first. I was up against it time wise to be able to speak to him. Luckily I made it and all was good. I think he took pity on me. Lucy also made me a playlist on my iPod which I didn’t listen to until I started. It was quite funny listening to some of the songs she chose.

Oh and so many people, including friends and family who don’t even like cycling sending me amazing messages of support. That was really cool.

transcontinental bike race

What was the high point?

There were quite a few actually. I really enjoyed the start. I ended up being right at the back of the race up the Muur so that I could enjoy the whole atmosphere which was crazy. 2/3 people deep with lanterns and beers cheering you on was great. I also chatted to loads of other riders and wished them luck. I met loads of dot watchers on the road too, in Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania. One guy, Flavius, in Romania was so pleased that I was the first rider to pass through his town, Medias that came and met me with a sign he made saying Go Rory! (Attached). I met a really old cycling buddy of mine at the Grappa which was also really nice too. I haven’t seen him for years and we used to cycle together loads before he moved with his wife and kids to the Dolomites.

Double pizza in Italy. I love pizza and it was really good!

Also meeting Frank Simons’ son who came to the finishers party. It literally brought tears to my eyes as it was such a brave thing for him to do. I was really pleased to talk to him.

And any real low points?

I had really bad pressure sores from day 3. They were actually so bad I thought I was going to scratch by day 4. I even put my spare pair of bibs on my saddle for extra support. I ended up using compeed that you use for blisters on your feet and loads of pain killers which isn’t the best as these make you dozy. It seemed to work though.

Getting chased by packs of dogs in Romania. People joked about this happening but it really did. I nearly crashed into an oncoming car trying to sprint away from some.

transcontinental bike race

Photo taken by Camille McMillan

How did you train for something as big as TCR?

I’ve done a lot of miles for the last few years but nothing can really prepare you for riding for 10-14 days non-stop… unless you do the TCR previously. I did a few multidays of riding, which got me used to getting up and riding again after a big day before. I also did an Everest which was good prep.

What kit did you take with you? Is there anything you’d change next time?

2 pairs of bibs and one jersey. Lightweight Gilet, rain jacket and hardshell jacket. Waterproof arm and leg warmers. Two pairs of socks. I couldn’t exactly say I lucked out on the weather as it was so hot, it was like cycling in an oven at 45 degrees but when I got to Slovakia I looked ahead and realised I didn’t need all the kit I had. I ended up posting a box full of kit home. I ditched my sleeping bag and emergency bivvy too just leaving me with a silk liner, the kit I was in and a waterproof jacket which was enough. I had loads of other things too should something happen. I had literally planned for everything. I ended up ditching loads of stuff on that mountain in that garage in Macedonia. It’s funny because when I finished I heard stories of people snapping cables, running out of tubes or tyre boots and breaking cleats. If they’d have known, it was all up there next to a bin at that 24 hour garage.

transcontinental bike race

Were you happy with your route? Did it change along the way to what you had planned?

I had planned my route meticulously. I am constantly paranoid about getting lost when riding so I think my training versus route planning was 50/50. One issue was in Serbia/Macedonia where I was coming to a boarder crossing and the army stopped me on a smaller road and told me I couldn’t continue. They ushered me onto a really busy main road which I wasn’t comfortable with but they said this was the only way to cross the boarder. I don’t know if I’ll get a time penalty for that but if I do I’ll have hunt down that officer.

Based on your finish line photo, we are curious to know if you found some time to wash along the way?! 

Funnily enough I pretty much had a shower every night to treat my saddle sores. Wearing a light jersey was a good choice in principle because of the sun but I didn’t factor in how dirty it would get. I actually look a real mess at the end because I snapped my hanger on the very last climb and had to pull my rear mech out of the rear wheel and fix the whole bike. 4,000km of cycling without a cleaning your bike was always going to be messy.

Long distance cycle races are becoming ever more popular however this year the sport has been clouded by grief after the loss of Mike Hall (founder of TCR) and Frank Simons (tragically killed on day one the TCR05). Would you do a race like this again, and what advice would you give to those who are nervous about taking part in future events as a result?

Yes the loss of both and of Eric Fischbein in the Trans Am is an absolute tragedy. Mike was a pioneer of long-distance racing and this really shook the cycling world when he passed away as it makes it ever so real that this could happen to such an experienced cyclist. When I heard of Franks death I really considered scratching too because of what had already happened. I know Lucy was a nervous wreck about me doing the TCR in the first place and this really didn’t help her nerves at all. I had to keep telling myself that I cycle everyday in London and around the UK on some of the busiest roads in the world and I was just, if not more likely to be involved in a incident there than I was riding on the roads in Europe. I have to say that for most of the time I felt quite safe in Europe other than the odd busy road. I also refused to cycle in the dark at night.

I would say to anyone thinking of doing something like this is to families yourself with cycling in foreign countries, even if that’s for a few days. What really helped me was using google street view to plan my route. Look at the roads and see if they look cycle friendly or whether there are alternatives routes to take.

I don’t plan to do the TCR again. In an ideal world I would like to as I think I could definitely go faster and use the experience from this one, but it would be hard to beat 5th and I would be really disappointed if I didn’t. I really want to explore the UK and Ireland more so I think I’ll focus on that for next few years. I was actually looking at Mark Beaumont’s North Coast 500 ride in Scotland the other day on Strava. I won’t aim to beat his time as 36 hours is very punchy, but the route looks amazing.

Can you summarise the TCR in 5 words?

Transcontimental, brutal, exhausting, exhilarating, beautiful.

Why should someone reading this do TCR?

It’s a life changing experience. You go through a whole range of emotions from feeling on top of the world to feeling totally drained. You learn life skills that you never knew you had and really understand what your body and mind is capable of. You pass some of the most beautiful places in the world. Funnily enough I went through some really hard and poverty stricken places which were also beautiful in their own special way. You’re on your own in the race but during that time everyone is creating their own stories at the same time. I only realised this post the race when you sit down and talk about it with other riders. They call it the TCR family which I’m slowly understanding.

What’s up next?

I suppose getting married, I’m pretty excited about that actually. I’m looking forward to spending time with Lucy as she’s been through a lot; before, during (she told me it was the worst 10 days of her life) and after the race. Getting back to riding regular club rides with mates again.


Rory took out Yellow Jersey Travel Insurance to cover this trip. We have special rates for our bicycle insurance and cycle travel insurance for TCR competitors, please get in touch if you would like more information.

The post The Transcontinental Bike Race: Q&A with Rory McCarron appeared first on Yellow Jersey.

Go to Homepage
%d bloggers like this:
[xyz-ips snippet="backlinks"]