Tom Shakhli of Brake the Cycle shares advice for those touring by bike for the first time.
Going on your first cycling tour is a wonderfully exciting experience. There is nothing quite like the feeling after an hour on the first day where you’ve set off and all the doubts over whether you can do it or not are long forgotten. However there are a few key things to remember in order to make the experience enjoyable and safe. We have a more exhaustive guide on our website, but for now we think these are some useful mantras to live your life on the saddle by.
Get the miles in beforehand
Brake the Cycle tours are generally very accessible, as shown by the fact that around 75% of people who join us are touring for the first time. While we don’t cycle at great speeds, some days can be long and most days are spent on the saddle, not the beach. So we highly recommend getting in as many miles as possible beforehand. Every mile will add to your fitness as well as your resilience to remain peddling day after day. We have a Strava group to keep you motivated and organise free training rides as a way to get to know our team as well as your bike more intimately.
Speaking of which, given that you’re about to embark on spending 50+ hours together, we think it’s worth making sure that you’re actually a good match. Your comfort on a bike will not only make your ride easier, but also prevent unnecessary injuries. You don’t need to go for an expensive bike fit to do this — check out tutorials on youtube such as this one from Global Cycling Network which introduce you to the basics on how to set yourself up for a beautiful and hopefully long-lasting relationship with your bike!
Learn some basic mechanics
While we provide a fully supported tour, complete with mechanical equipment and a modest amount of expertise, we also encourage people to use a cycle tour as an opportunity to make yourself more self-sufficient regarding bike maintenance. If only because you won’t want to return home and get a puncture and then face someone saying to you, “You cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats and you can’t even change an inner tube!”. We’ll run mini sessions throughout the tour on spot fixes which you’ll no doubt get a chance to practice yourself, but any time you have before the tour to learn a few basic fixes will be beneficial. Youtube was made for DIY cycle mechanics!
Eat early, eat often
Ok so you’ve done the training, you’re fitted up good and proper, and you can even whip off a tyre and replace the inner tube in the event of a puncture. But suddenly your legs are heavy, your vision is a bit foggy, and the road feels like it’s made of treacle. You’ve just hit the wall, or as it’s known in the cycling world, you’ve bonked. Caused by the depletion of your glycogen stores, it’s a state that no cyclist having experienced it ever wants to return to. How to avoid this personal cycling apocalypse? Keeping yourself hydrated (putting electrolyte tablets in your water is an extra way to achieve this), and maintaining your glycogen levels through eating even when you are not hungry, is your most effective defence against the dreaded ‘bonk monster’.
A healthy return home
Now this one for those who appreciate a bit of good planning. We’ve returned from many a tour feeling great, fit and healthy, only to arrive home to an empty fridge and spend the next week living off convenience food. A recent breakthrough was made when someone suggested getting an online shop lined up so that it is delivered later on the day you are due back, or the next day, and having it loaded up with all the good things that make living healthily easy and available. We’ve found it a really effective way to keep up the good habits you make on tour.