Here are some of my top tips that I hope will help you on your cycling journey.
Planning & Preparation
We’ve all read articles featuring the legendary late Mike Hall in which he completed the Tour Divide in just under 14 days, averaging ~ 183 miles / day and thought “yes, I’m going to do that”. Inspirational, yes! But before you set off on your own heroic conquest you need to be realistic with yourself as to what you can actually achieve so as to avoid burying yourself in the ground in the first couple of days and having to quit.
Time in the saddle
I have read countless articles of cyclists (mostly middle aged guys) who have decided to ride the Tour Divide and had to quit 3 days later due to saddle sore issues, knee problems or complete exhaustion. All of which are down to not applying the seven ps (Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance)
I always recommend that before embarking on a cycle trip, especially, ones of < month duration that you should be aiming for back to back rides of 5hrs + fully loaded on the exact same setup as you are planning on using. If you can do longer then that’s great as it will mean that come day one you can spend more time in the saddle. You can then use this figure as the basis of how many hours you can spend cycling in your first few days without risk of knee problems, saddle sores or exhaustion. What ever you do, don’t rock up having only cycled for 3 hours on an unladen bike and then attempt to cycle 10 hours. Yes, you will most likely cycle 10 hours but I will put money on it that after a couple of days you will have to scratch. Be conservative in the first few days even if you think you could give more as it will pay dividends later.
Route Elevation Profile
Another classic mistake is planning the route and failing to study the elevation profile of said route. Forget distance. Elevation is king! You may well be able to cycle 100 miles at home with an elevation gain of 6000ft, but if said route is mountainous and 100 miles equates to 15000ft then that day’s cycling is a totally different story. So don’t assume that just because the route total is 1000 miles it will take 10 days. Study the elevation profile and base your expected daily distance on the elevation gain. This is especially important if you are trying to get to campsites at given locations.
This is mainly an issue when using a road or gravel bike that has a double from c/set. The key factor here is that you want to have low enough gearing that come a 20% climb you are able to remain seated and keep the cadence high and the heart rate down in your endurance heart rate zone. A higher cadence in a lower gear will save you grinding the climbs and save your knees too and also enable you to keep the heart rate down. If you cycle at too high a heart rate you will pay for it the next day and your body will struggle to recover overnight and you will wake from your tent feeling fatigued. I’ve been there and there is nothing worse than emerging from your tent drained, nothing in the tank and having a days cycling ahead of you. Just for reference. I now run a 30/46 C/Set and a 11-40 cassette on my gravel setup.
Gravel or 29er
Well, I’m going to stick my head above the parapet on this one and say that I think the whole gravel bike fad is complete bollocks and it is just the cycling industry trying to increase bike sales. I have a 29er and I have a gravel bike and whilst I enjoy riding both and have toured with both I wouldn’t hesitate to pick the 29er for the Tour Aotearoa or the Tour Divide if I was doing that type of ride again. 29er’s are fast, comfortable (if you pair them with a 2.4″ Maxxis Ikon tyres) and great fun when descending. They also fly when you get them up to speed. Gravel bikes are great for road and fire trails, but with 45c tyres and drop bars there are certainly no match for a 29er.
If you do happen to feel tender in the lower regions just from the pressure of sitting on the saddle for days on end then wear 2 pairs of bibs. You might laugh, but I can assure you it really does help and I have done this on a couple of trips now and it really does take the pain away.
I’ll try and put a few more tips on here as and when they come to mind. I hope this info has been useful and happy cycling.