Over two years (nearly three) have passed since finishing my long distance bike ride from Pontypridd (South Wales) to Chamonix (French Alps) and it already feels like a lifetime ago. Back in the hum drum of everyday life I’m wishing I was back on my bike but I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I would do differently if I were to do it again (yes, there will be a next time!).
So, here are my top 5 things NOT to do if you’re going on a long distance bike ride (not in any particular order).
1.Travel without a map
In my wisdom, I thought I’d be able to ride from Pontypridd to Newhaven via Bristol, Bath, Salisbury, Southampton and Brighton without a map, and by relying on the Sustrans National Cycle Route markers and use my phone every now and again. Wrong. Whilst the Sustrans routes are pretty well marked, its quite easy not to spot some of the signs in bushes / on lampposts and end up travelling in the wrong direction. It’s also pretty easy for your phone battery to die unexpectedly and leave you in the middle of nowhere with no-one to ask for directions. Top tip – get yourself a proper map of your route. For the France leg I was really well equipped with a whole bunch of Michelin Maps, but for some reason I thought I could ‘wing it’ in the UK. Maps, maps, maps. Get some.
2. Assume your clothing is waterproof
My waterproof trousers and jacket were brilliant on my training rides, but when it came to an endless day of heavy rain through France, I got extremely wet from head to foot, and extremely miserable as a result. I was relying on my old Berghaus trousers to still be waterproof after many years of use, and I kind of knew that my Craghopper jacket was only showerproof but I went along with it anyway. It’s totally worth investing – or even borrowing – decent waterproof / breathable layers for a long distance bike ride.
“You can’t control the weather but you can definitely control what you wear. Staying dry in really bad weather when you’re in the saddle 7 hours or more is a good plan!”
3. Ride down a dual carriageway
On two occasions I had the misfortune to end up on an English and French dual carriageway – once from not having a map and the second time from not reading the map I had properly! Despite these roads being good for getting from A to B pretty quickly, they’re not much fun if you’re on a bike. My 12mph was no match for traffic speeding past at 70+ mph and it made me feel super vulnerable. A quick exit onto quieter roads was the right thing to do.
4. Attempt to ride up a 13% hill alongside speeding traffic
I guess this one depends on your level of fitness, your bike and the type of road, but on this particular occasion my fitness, my bike and the type of road was not a good combination. I knew this hill was coming and gave it a good shot. However, I was literally crawling up it, tucked in to the kerb as far as I could go, whilst HGVs and speeding cars were gunning their engines to the max to get up it as fast as possible. On reflection, taking an alternative longer route would have been a good idea!
5. Run out of energy to unclip from your pedals
Clip in pedals are great. I hadn’t had them for very long before I went on this adventure, but they really provided me with a noticeable increase in power which was very useful for this journey. They’re normally really easy to unclip from – just a quick twist outward with your heel and you’re free. But, when you’re really really tired at the end of a very long day, that signal from your brain to your heel sometimes doesn’t get through. On five separate occasions my brain and legs let me down, meaning that I keeled over in comedy-slow-motion in front of various strangers.
If you’re off on a long distance adventure then stay safe and remember these top ‘what not to do’ tips.