Everyone learns a lot on their first cycling trip abroad. You learn what to pack and not pack, how much riding your body can take, new skills including handling different terrains, how to cope with hot and cold weather and, depending on where you go, how the body acclimatises to altitude. In 9 months this year I’ve squeezed in 8 cycling trips and summited several grand tour climbs including Stelvio, la Gavia, Tourmalet and Cormet de Roseland to name a few! Here are my top tips on what to take and how to prepare to get the best out of your trip…
Hiring or travelling with your bike?
If you don’t have ready access to a bike box/bag or you’re only away for a short time or fancy trying out a new bike, hiring a bike is a great option. As well as no packing/unpacking, you can often swap a hire bike if you need to and there is no risk of your own bike getting damaged in transit. You can also have some fun hiring a bike that you might only dream of owning yourself, such as a Pinarello Dogma F10 (although, that won’t necessarily make you quicker going up ;-)!)
Top tip? Most bike hire shops ask you to take your own pedals if you ride clipped in. It’s a bit of a faff taking pedals on and off and you can buy a pair of SPD-SLs for as little as £26.99, so if you plan on hiring a bike more than once I’d definitely recommend buying a spare pair!
I generally take my own bike overseas, simply because I love riding it and I trust it 100%. Most airlines will ask you to book your bike separately into the hold, although British Airways currently just asks you to book hold luggage. They do, however, ask that you notify them if you intend to bring a bike…
Top tip? Most airlines now let you travel with a couple of 16mg CO2 gas canisters. It’s worth checking before you fly as these take up less space and can be a godsend if you need to fix a puncture quickly. Cheeky tip? I’ve previously managed to safely transport four bottles of wine safely in a Bike Box Alan… champagne Tour de France stage next?!
Top tip? Whilst it sounds obvious, make a digital list of everything you need, which you can then reuse and edit. Mine includes everything from my bike to spare bike parts (eg spare hanger). I also always take tools, CO2 canisters, spare inner tubes and tyre levers, my Garmin, lights, heart rate monitor, clothes (morning, cycling and evening!), spare batteries and every type of charger/adaptor I need. I usually pack a track pump too, in case there isn’t one readily available at my destination.
Top tip? If you aren’t sure if you can get food for fuelling whilst overseas, your best bet is to take it with you – calculate what you need per ride and pack it. Whilst most cycle friendly locations sell bars and gels, there are no guarantees you’ll be able to get exactly what you want. That said, I’ve always managed to find something! I eat regularly when training to keep my energy levels constant, as I suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). I fuel up before a ride and during a ride my go-to snacks are Clif bars (oaty energy bars) and SIS energy gels. I ensure I pack enough food for a trip by assuming I’ll do 4-6 hours riding per day. If it’s particularly hot, I also take salt capsules. These little guys have helped me avoid cramp on several rides!
Top tip? Pack for all weathers – especially if you’re going to the mountains. The weather can be unpredictable; this year, I climbed Val Thorens in 32+ degrees, a day or two later friends did it in 36 degrees… and a week later, the Tour de France was forced to change the Stage route due to hail and flooding! I usually pack toe thingies, a gilet, arm warmers, leg warmers, a base layer and sometimes a cap and jacket; however, depending on the time of year, you might want overshoes or even a balaclava (hardcore!)
If you’re travelling solo or with friends, it’s a good idea to download a few cycling routes in advance. Even if you don’t do them all, you’ll have the option and a few different choices. Strava, Komoot and Garmin all support creating routes. Bikemap is great for downloading and sharing road, unpaved and gravel routes, considering your bike type and the elevation.
Unfortunately, of course, sometimes routes go wrong, which is where online maps come in! If you haven’t got great phone signal, it is always worth downloading a route on google maps as a good ‘b plan’!
If you’re travelling with a cycle guiding/tour company, you won’t have a problem that said as they’ll do the hard work for you! It depends how off the beaten track you want to go…
More than anything, enjoy the experience. You’ll see places in a completely different way, meet new people from different places and backgrounds and probably go to places you couldn’t get to by car or that would take too long to reach on foot. It’ll be hard not to get hooked…