How to do long distance bicycle trips
How to do long distance bicycle trips
Many people I talk to about long distance bicycle trips see it as something you have to practice for. After all, bicycling is a physical endurance thing, right? What they forget is that there is a difference between having to get somewhere in a rush and enjoying your vacation.
When I told the waiter in a restaurant in Lomarlay that I was riding from Paris to Amsterdam, the cook came out and had a chat with me, locals at another table were informed and in general, everyone thought I had to be in really good shape to do this. And when they got outside and saw what kind of bike I had, they all laughed at my riding a woman's city bike, which I had bought for my wife.
This may seem laughable if you think I'm competing in Tour de France. But I'm not.
Long distance is not about pushing hard
When I lived in Ålesund, I lived about 2 km from my office. In the morning, I would pedal as hard as I could and, upon arrival, get a huge glass of water and spend 5 minutes catching my breath. This is possibly the typical experience of people doing their local commute by bicycle.
So I decided to do an experiment. One morning, I would time myself, how long did it take to get to work, and how much time did I spend catching my breath before I could work? In short, the time between departure from my apartment and until work could begin.
Next morning, I did the same thing, but instead of pedaling as fast as I could, I would ride in a comfortable pace that did not exhaust me in any way. When I arrived at work, I was happy and ready to start working immediately.
The difference of cycling time turned out to be 15 seconds. However, when taking recovery time into consideration, I had actually gained almost five minutes and I was in a better mood.
Nutrition and technical factors
There is a nutritional factor in this - what to eat when, and how fast you deplete your reserves vs how fast your body is able to replenish them. Rather than diving into the science in this article, I will rather direct your attention to a video on GCN that covers not only nutrition, but also other technical factors that helps you do a long distance bicycle trip. Notice that actual pre-ride training is really only a small factor.
Another factor not discussed is the purpose of your long distance trip. As I've mentioned, I do it as a vacation. I'm therefore not really concerned about reaching the goal as I am about enjoying the trip. This is a form of meditation, helping you to enjoy life right there and then.
To fascilitate this thought, I try to plan as little about the route as possible. I want maximum freedom during the trip. I learned this very well on my Paris-Amsterdam trip, where I had the trip laid out in my head for 11 years, some of which was spent planning to every detail which little village to go through. Once I was in Paris, however, that went out the window.
I discovered that to really enjoy the trip, I should not be attached to all these smaller goals, because I might actually find something that is more interesting. I also didn't want to set myself up for feeling bad about missing a specific point on the route. So I minimized the number of checkpoints, and the only rule to straying from the original route was access to mass transportation should I have problems catching my plane home from Amsterdam.
The thing is, the more attached you are to specific goals on the trip, the more time you will spend thinking about these instead of enjoying the present moment. Not making those goals will take a hit on your motivation. Being able to enjoy every mile on the trip, however, keeps motivation and trip satisfaction up.
And so can you!
So it's not a question of being a champion at all. Anyone can do a long distance bicycle vacation if they want to. It's just a question of making sure your trip is achievable and realistic. You can figure out how far you can go by bicycling in a relaxed pace for a full day (8 hours) somewhere you have not been before. Take breaks whenever you want. Have your meals somewhere nice. Enjoy your day. Chances are, you will probably go a lot further than you thought.
Multiply your 8 hour mileage by the number days your planned vacation is and shave off one third for the unplanned rain-or-exploration day. This is your realistic vacation mileage. Use this only for one thing: To know how far you can go.
Do not use the number to set daily goals to achieve. Some days will have less mileage, other days more. This is one of the reasons you shaved off a third. You have plenty of time. Only when you are 2-3 days before you need to be at your destination to catch that plane home do you need to worry about where you are - and where the nearest railway station is.