Monday, July 03, 2023

Long Distance Cycling Tips from Paul M

The following is copied with permission from a Facebook post by Paul McCormick (Group cycling over 60, July 3 2023). I didn't want to see this kind of shared experience stuck on Facebook. The text in square brackets is my commentary. I haven't done bike touring for perhaps 35y or so, but this all seems familiar to me.

Once a year or so I take myself away on a long (6-8 weeks) cycle tour, generally somewhere in Europe. In the last seven years I've cycled from Stamford to.... Turkey, Sardinia, Italy, Corsica and Majorca to name just a few places. On these tours I carry everything I need to be self-sufficient on the road, including a tent and sleeping bag, food and water and spare parts for my bicycle.

Here are my 'top ten' tips for long-distance cycle touring!

It is important to have a plan! It gives you focus and direction and ensures you don't overlook anything. Plans should be flexible and include contingency arrangements; something will inevitably arise that will require changes to your plan.

Have a route in mind. It can be as general or as detailed as you wish, but it is helpful to know where you are going, how you are going to get there and how long it is going to take.

Having made a plan and a route you now need to follow your route. There are lots of cycle navigation Apps out there. I use Komoot on my phone and select the road cycle option (as the touring option often takes you on rough tracks and/or bridleways). I then export the route to my Garmin and have both devices mounted on my handlebars. Garmin is great for data and is generally sufficient for navigation, but I find it is easier to take a look at Komoot when I need to zoom in and out on the map.


You need a tourer! Generally, tourers are steel-framed and have mounting points for front and rear luggage carriers. Steel is both strong and flexible and so will absorb the shocks on the road far better than anything else; important when you are on the road for 6-8 hours!

[These days in the US these are better known as gravel bikes. They are mostly carbon however, which many long distance cyclists distrust and have limited pannier capacity. Or they are alloy, which is uncomfortable on long rides. I'm fond of the Salsa Vaya (cable disk brakes).]

My preference is for four panniers: two at the rear and two at the front, for balance. I also have a large saddle bag that sits on my rear carrier for my tent. My two front panniers contain everything I might need for the day, and the two rear panniers for stuff I'll need at the end of the day. One of my front panniers contains my wallet, passport, charging cables, electronic devices etc. That pannier is always with me wherever I go - shop, Bar, toilet!

You are prospectively riding 80km-100km a day. That's a long way, and a long day in the saddle! I like to be on the road by 8.00am and to split my day into four 'two hour' riding chunks, separated by 30 minute coffee/food stops. In each riding chunk I'll cycle circa 20km - 30km depending on the terrain and weather conditions. 

Don't chase the miles; let the miles come to you! Heart rate zone 2 for touring all the time.

Just eat and drink little and often. It doesn't really matter what you eat. Eat absolutely everything you are offered and don't worry about over-eating; I always come back from a tour far lighter than when I left. Expensive energy bars aren't necessary; just get the calories down you. And don't forget to drink regularly. [I can't afford to lose weight so I need to eat a LOT when I'm doing something like this]
Oh, and if you have too much for breakfast, wrap it up for lunch!

You will almost certainly encounter hills, and some of them will be long and with a lot of ascent. Make sure you have appropriate gearing and try as far as possible to pedal at a high cadence in heart rate zone 2. When that is no longer possible stop for a short rest as often as you need to. Focus on good pedalling technique and controlled, steady breathing. Remember, don't chase the miles, let the miles comes to you!

Mechanical problems 
Something will inevitably go wrong. Don't panic, everything and anything can be fixed! Take a deep breath, sit down and think clearly. Google the problem. Find a solution. Ask a stranger for help. Call a friend. Be inventive. Hitch a ride. You have a Credit Card!

Oh, and if you can't change an inner tube, don't even think about touring!

Long tours can, at times, be lonely! Social Media allows you to keep in touch with family and friends, and writing a blog on your journey gives you something to focus on when you're not cycling. But you'll need to make an effort to talk to people and initiate a conversation with a stranger, otherwise your only human contact will be when you buy a cake and a coffee in a café!

I belong to a Cycling Touring network called Warmshowers and, as far as possible, I stay overnight with members of that network. So, in addition to being offered a bed, shower, evening meal and breakfast with a host I have someone to talk to in the evening.

[Hostels used to be a good way to meet fellow travelers but during my most recent stays everyone was buried in their phones]