For the past three years I’ve been honoured to give a talk at the Cycling Touring Festival in Clitheroe, Lancashire. It’s a wonderful, friendly event and this year was drenched in continuous sunshine from beginning to end. That aside, in each of those three years the festival has afforded me the opportunity of preparing a new cycle-touring related talk. This year I was in reflective mood, looking back over the ten years of what is now CyclingEurope.org and I came up with a list of fifteen ‘top tips’ for long-distance cycling. Some are serious, others less so. Some you will wholeheartedly agree with yet you will no doubt disagree just as passionately with some of the others. So here they are, with a little explanation and illustration, the first five of my Top Fifteen Tips for Long-Distance Cycling…
1. Do a trial run
Prior to embarking upon the first of the three long-distance cycles across Europe in 2010, I thought it wise to test if I was cut out for multiple days in the saddle. So, the previous summer, in August 2009, I headed up to Berwick-upon-Tweed for a week-long cycle along the Pennine Cycleway, route 68 of the National Cycle Network. You can read more about that particular ride here.
In preparation for cycling in Norway on the third long European cycle from Tarifa to Nordkapp in 2015 I wanted some experience of cycling in a more challenging environment so I took the bike to the north of Scotland for a coastal ride from John O’Groats to the island of Skye. Read more about that adventure here.
2. Never buy a one-person tent
I did and was soon regretting it as the rain fell in the August of 2010 as I was making my way from southern England to southern Italy. It was a tight squeeze when trying to sleep with all the cycling gear stored inside the tent out of the way of the elements. Is it really worth saving a kilogram or so of weight when you could be carrying a tent for two people? I’ve since upgraded my tent twice with each new one being larger than the previous. If you are keen to keep the weight down, go on a diet.
Read more about my recent choice to upgrade to the Vango F10 Xenon UL2+ here.
3. Don’t let the weather put you off
Given the choice we would probably all opt for sunshine over showers. But we can’t change the weather, so get used to it. If you really are bothered by getting wet on a bicycle, it’s time to consider alternative means of transport. What’s more, sometimes, a downpour can actually be a lot of fun. Below is a short extract from my first book, Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie. I was in the east of France and it was very damp to say the least…
“Suddenly the clouds blackened and my road descended steeply into the valley. It was almost as if Mother Nature herself had told her minions to put on a show to impress. And I was. As I cycled along the road the rain pelted down. Arriving in the valley bottom there were flash floods with me struggling to cycle through the currents of water. It was great. And so was the scenery; the bland rolling hills had been replaced with one dramatic steep sided valley with a monster of a river in the bottom; The Meuse, my new best friend, which didn’t fail to impress as I continued my ride along its banks all the long, winding way to Charleville-Mézières itself. I later posted a sentence to the blog that summed up what an invigorating end it had been to a very, very wet afternoon; The adventure started today!”
4. If you see a mountain, cycle towards it
Yes, they can be hard work and incite profanities to be uttered as you crawl your way to the top, but the sense of satisfaction at having conquered these beasts of solid rock is only matched by the glorious views. Worth every ounce of sweat expended and every expletive expressed… As far as Europe goes, these are the mightiest of the lot and when climbing the Alps back in 2010, I chose to do so via the Gotthard Pass:
You can find the posts that I made at the time of climbing the Alps in 2010 here. There were plenty more mountains in 2013 as I cycled ‘Along The Med…‘ including the Peloponnese, the hills of Albania, the Alps (again), Mont Ventoux and the Pyrenees – see the original posts here. And even more of the buggers when I cycled from ‘Spain to Norway…‘ including, once again, the Pyrenees and the peaks of southern Norway: the original posts are here.
5. Try to be lucky!
But… things didn’t quite go to plan on the other side of the Gotthard Pass. Broken spokes put the entire trip at risk. Would I be able to repair the bike in Airolo, the small town at the foot of the mountain in the Italian-speaking Swiss region of Ticino? It wasn’t looking good. Would I have to catch a train to Milan to repair a rather poorly Reggie? Watch and read:
So there we have numbers 1 to 5 in Cycling Europe’s list of Top Tips for Long-Distance Cycling. Plenty more useful(?) advice to come. Stay tuned…