Preparing for the ride
I am frequently asked if I have started my training for the ride. The truth is, I ride bikes for pleasure, and frequently. So my state of physical fitness should not be an issue. What is always an issue is the repetition of high mileages day after day, sometimes in terrain and weather conditions that are little conducive to comfortable riding, and carrying luggage that will inevitably hamper the pace. As I cycle southwards, I will catch the backend of a continental summer (which can frequently be hot and humid) and the terrain will inevitably go skywards as I approach the Alps. The vital thing is to adjust your pace and expectations to suit the conditions, and adapt your schedule to make it more comfortable. Starting early to catch the coolness of the morning, and avoiding the heat of the midday sun are essential ingredients if it is to be a success.
My trekking bike, far from being an expensive bespoke machine purchased specially for the venture, is no more than an old adapted (pre-suspension) off-road bike. I’m a great believer in adapting and making-do with kit that I already have, and it’s a lot cheaper! My old Raleigh has been thrown about on rough tracks and bridleways for the past 15 years, and the only modifications I’ve made to it have been to put on semi-slick tyres (allowing both on and off-road riding) and a pair of SKS mudguards.
In terms of luggage, I might be classed as a lightweight (or even super lightweight) adventure cyclist. I seldom carry a tent (though frequently a sleeping bag) and I try not to carry anything that might be superfluous (what the average traveller might include as a “just-in-case”). The fewer “just-in-case” items in your luggage, the easier it will be to climb over mountain ranges and less to drag behind you against a headwind. My policy is: what I can’t fit into an average-sized saddlebag and small bar-bag, does not go with me. This does, of course, mean that careful calculations have to be made about luggage contents, and sometimes I get it wrong. It is always a calculated risk.
I have met far too many long-distance travellers, both walking and cycling, who have been severely encumbered by the luggage they carry. I was much encouraged by Nick Sanders’ account of his attempt in the 1980s to cycle around the world in 80 days. His entire luggage fitted into two small front panniers and, even though he slept outside most nights, he didn’t even carry a tent! Impressive.