I race infrequently these days yet I still like to toe the line at my local Eurodistrict Triathlon Half Ironman. I also no longer have the time or motivation for regular long rides. However, penciling in a short bike tour the month before the event allows me to train short year-round yet be fit enough to enjoy race day. So why might you forgo the sun and comfort of a Training Camp in Lanzarote for the potentially muddy campsites of France or your local area?
It’s Cheap & Simple
As triathlon seems to get increasingly complicated and expensive, a bike tour is cheap and simple. Most bike tours require very little planning. No need to book ahead as even the most popular camp sites will find a space for your tiny tent. Unfold your map and sketch out a rough itinerary. Try and stick to backroads and forest paths. Include lakes for swimming and trails for running as part of your route. With everything you need for travelling, sleeping, swimming and running tucked tightly behind your saddle you can ride out of your garage and let the adventure begin.
Leave Your Best Bike in the Garage
Systems exist to attach a rack to your race bike or any other bike without rack eyes. However, it’s better to strike out on a bike that you don’t mind leaving out in the rain overnight. That you can lean up against a tree in camp. That you’ll be comfortable on all day. That allows you to ride confidently on dedicated bike paths, hard packed forest single track and quiet backroads. Don’t have a dedicated touring bike? Why not save an old frame from the scrapheap and build up a cheap, go-anywhere touring rig?
Why does my commuting bike always feel more comfortable than my race bike? I don’t move on the saddle. I flatten the pedals and drive them downwards. I feel great on the drops, hoods or tops. Saddle height feels perfect. Of course, I ride it every day. I’ve made fine adjustments to the position over the years. My body has adapted, strengthened and moulded to the bike. I also have the same feelings of comfort and power on my tandem at the end of a touring holiday.
I've sold my time trial bike and now have only one bike for touring, training and racing. My triathlon goal is to have a respectable cruising speed not a scorching top speed. To be comfortable rather than quick. Even if you don’t want to take such a drastic step you can still use a short tour to decide on a powerful position that you can enjoy all day long..
A bike tour is a holiday and a retreat rather than a training camp. Leave your Heart Rate Monitor at home and forget about Power Data. Don’t rush. Ride all day and get from campsite to campsite. Look at the scenery, stop at a castle, dip your feet in a stream, stop for coffee or a picnic, read, write, sleep and take photos.
Have an Adventure
If you’re on a quick S24O from home make sure that you seek out roads that you’ve never ridden before. Turn off onto forest tracks even if you don’t know where they might pop out. When exploring foreign lands you’ll experience different cultures or grapple with a language you might not understand. When pulling into camp or stopping for a rest in a village, the sight of your bike is an instant conversation starter.
You know your destination exists as you’ve seen it on the map. But you don’t know how long it’s going to take you to get there and the obstacles that could be in your way. You’re riding into the unknown. See villages and countryside that tourist buses don’t stop at. That trains speed through and that planes totally ignore. See what’s inbetween and get there under your own steam.
With your bike fully loaded you’ll be forced to build strength in the hills. With long days in the saddle planned an endurance boost is guarenteed. Why not push yourself on the last day with an extra ambitious route? You can ride pretty far when all you’ve got scheduled for the day is sitting on your saddle. You’ll have a massive sense of achievement, possibly set a personal daily mileage record and the beer on arrival will taste great.
Recover From Life
Go to bed when it’s dark. Maybe read for a little while with your head-torch. That novel you’ve had on hold for months. Get up with the sun. Eat Well. Stop and buy fresh, local produce for lunch. Get Inspired. Keep a diary. Switch off. No computer. No TV.
Pick Up Some New Skills
We look back on our early tandem tours as cultural and travel successes but bike touring disasters. It took us 3 or 4 years before we figured out what was worth bringing and what wasn't. Striking a balance between lightness and luxury. The logistics of camp cooking. How far we could ride in a day. Pitching our tent and striking camp. On an FSR Tour you’ll be fast tracked on all of these skills as well as being able to improve your French and learn the basics of on-the-road mechanics.
Holidays of the Future
Petrol prices are rising, air travel is becoming unfashionable and there’s a renaissance in exploring your own country. People are starting to value leisure time more and realise the importance of spending time in nature. The growth of cycle paths and the multi-terrain capabilities of many bikes also make it possible to plan tours that are virtually traffic free. The Path Less Pedalled has also recognized that bicycle touring is changing. People are taking shorter tours, combining train journeys with biking and taking advantage of bicycle friendly accomodation options and other businesses.
Simplify Event Travel
I hate loading the car and driving to events. I also have a little chuckle when fellow athletes open the boot of their car and piles of superfluous clothes, kit and equipment tumble out. As I race infrequently these days I prioritize events that I can ride to. I minimise kit, sometimes camp and enjoy having a full day or weekend of steady activity rather a balls-out, results based racing experience.
Camping Is Not Compulsory
On an FSR Tour we camp every night but if you organise your own tour you don't have to. Stay at the Ritz if you want. Get your butler to carry your Louis Vuitton luggage in your Rolls Royce if you want. Even if you’ve set off with the intention to camp there’s no rule that says that you can’t check into a bed & breakfast if it’s raining.