(Ask Fieldpoppy is a monthly column written by Cate; for last month’s post, go here. I would love your questions for next month! Put ’em in the comments or in messenger through the FB page. This month, I’m focused on cycle touring).
Last month, I asked you about my first cycling trip. Thank you for your advice! I have found out that my 2-day cycling trip is on a multi-use trail that will be only moderately hilly and windy. I am with 3 other folks, self-supported, and riding with panniers.
I have been on a spin bike for a few days now—this was a great suggestion. However, I am having a difficult time envisioning joy because I have more so questions about water consumption, clothing, speed, technique, etc.
How much should I carry? Focus on minimizing weight or size? How much should I drink? A lot to hydrate, but then what if I have to pee all the time? How important is having cycling shirt/shoes, etc? How fast should I plan to go if I am biking all day? What gear? What basic riding techniques do you suggest for a novice biker to be get faster (or at least avoid injury)?also…my butt hurts!
— What am I getting myself into?
Dear Butt Hurts,
Yay you, with your spinning and planning! You are well on your way to joy! And, you’re asking about one of my secret joys: deciding what to bring on a bike trip, and all the list-making!
The list is an art. For me, there is a profound, minimalist satisfaction in knowing that I have divested myself of all but the most essential elements of life, that I’m propelling myself through the world with the perfect balance of necessity and comfort, no more, no less.
Actually achieving that balance is much harder, especially if self-supported means camping. Camping takes minimalist joy to an even starker degree: you are carrying all you need for life, including your HOUSE. How much more of a badass could you be?
But you didn’t ask about camping, so I’ll stick to what you most need to know.
First, yes, wear cycling gear. You don’t wear wicking shirts, padded shorts, a good bra and gloves because you want to look like a cyclist, you wear them because if you don’t, you hurt your body. Cycling gear is designed to minimize chafing, keep your temp regulated, protect you from sunburn and wind, help your butt not hurt and protect your hands and wrists, either on the bike or if you happen to fall. If you don’t have a cycling jersey, wear a good, technical workout shirt, preferably not a tank. And If it’s really sunny, I recommend sun protection sleeves for your arms. (Well worth the investment, said the person with a history of sun-related skin issues).
Shoes are trickier. Everything works better with a good pair of spd pedals and cleats – your feet and hips stay in good position in relation to the bike, and you get the pull on a pedal as well as a push, which is super helpful on hills. It’s much more efficient and therefore, less fatiguing. And, if clipping into your pedals is new for you, it can be intimidating and scary. There is always at least one pedal-induced fall — it’s a rite of passage. Have someone show you how to adjust the tension on your pedals so you feel like it’s easy to unclip. Once you have that down, you’ll wonder how you ever rode without clipping in. And you’ll feel baddass.
The other piece of kit I highly recommend is some kind of water hydration system, like a camelbak. Again, this can be a bit intimidating, but having a couple of litres of water on your back, easily accessible with a little hose in your mouth, is my biggest recommendation for all day cycling in the summer. It’s way too easy to avoid drinking if you have to squirm around to grab a bottle from your frame and stick it back in while still moving. I keep a bottle with water and electrolytes on my frame and dip in every now and again, but keep my camelbak steadily flowing. It’s the most important part of staying well on a bike — by the time you feel thirsty, it’s too late. Drink small sips frequently for the best relationship with your guts as well as your overall wellbeing. If you don’t have to pee occasionally, you’re not drinking enough — and peeing by the side of the road is SOP for cyclists. Just don’t litter your TP, and don’t do it someplace where you could get ticketed for public urination.
As for what to carry? As little as possible. Jacket, the lightest clothes possible to wear off the bike (I like soft light loose pants to air out the bits, a lightweight t-shirt and a thin hoodie), socks, shorts, bra and jersey for the second day, absolute minimalist toiletries, diaper cream for chafing, ibuprofen, snacks, sunscreen (never on your forehead), a bandana to wipe your eyes, spare tube, tiny pump, tire levers, a cycling multi-tool. A way to charge your phone. Maybe hand wipes. Kleenex. I.D. Money. Honestly, that is all you really need.
And how fast to go? Well, that’s between you, your bike, the road and your god, but I suspect the question is coming from spin classes where you are pushed to go hard. On a loaded bike, you’re not going to go hard. The bike and your body will tell you what a comfortable rhythm is — and even with a minimally loaded bike, you’re going to go waaaaay more slowly than without. I average about 25 km/ hour on a typical ride with my road bike — and when I’m touring, it’s usually a lot closer to 15 or 16 km an hour, on a good day. Or less, on hills. Just find a rhythm that makes you feel like you could go all day, keep pedalling steadily, and occasionally confer with your friends. It’s more important to keep a steady rhythm than to try to hit a particular speed. Listen to your legs and your body.
And that’s the advice about how to get faster and stronger, really. Put in time on the bike, and learn to pay attention to your body. What’s standard discomfort, and what’s pain that needs attention? Keep going to spin classes, and when you have a choice between high cadence and harder tension, choose the harder tension — that’s what it will feel like on a loaded bike. Add in some basic yoga and stretching — lots of hip openers and figure fours. Practice riding with loaded panniers. And enjoy the feeling of badassery and freedom.
I’m a seasoned cyclist, but I’m taking off on my first solo cycle tour. I have lots of questions about logistics, camping gear, etc, but those are easy. My real question is — won’t I feel lonely? How do you avoid feeling lonely on your bike?
Signed, I think I know what I’m getting myself into?
When people talk about loneliness, I hear a slightly different question underneath it: “What if I don’t like being by myself for so long?”
Solo cycle touring is definitely an encounter with the wide-open empty space of the existential void. It’s just you, the spokes, the road, and every damn thought and feeling you’ve ever had. It can be very busy inside your head, and not always comfortable.
One of my cycling inspirations is Anne Mustoe, who took up cycling at 54 and rode around the world by herself twice. She wrote in her first book that as soon as she got a little comfortable with the actual riding, she found herself replaying every relationship, every argument, every regret or unspoken desire. She had a whole uninvited crowd there in her head while she was alone on the bike.
I’ve had the same experience. Like meditating, like the yoga mat, wherever you go, there you are. The steady rhythm, the empty space? They can breed a lot of internal churn.
When I really own it, I realize that this discomfort is an invitation to just be with what comes up, like meditation. Oh look, there’s some weird anger. Huh. Now it’s gone. Oh look, there’s sadness about that unresolved thing. Gone. Oh look, I miss that friend I haven’t seen in ages. Maybe I should text them later. Repeat. Repeat. Be in it, and it dissipates.
There will be times where you feel sad, or inadequate, or desperately in need of encouragement to get up that hill. And tempting to want another person to distract, support, process with, soothe you when you fall and scrape yourself. And, being with it, getting through it? On your own? It’s a profound gift where you get to remind yourself you have everything you need, to trust yourself, to reset. Which — I have to believe, somehow, maybe — means you’re more grounded when you reconnect with others again.
And, if it’s all just Too Much? If the wind is bewitching you into believing you’re trapped in the dust bowl of the 1930s? Or you’re fighting the wind and hills so hard you can’t believe you will ever not be riding? Podcasts or soothing biographies. I got through the hills and wind and hypothermia chill rain of northern Newfoundland with Michelle Obama’s memoir in my ears. I don’t remember a thing about her life now, but she sure was my friend on that trip.
You got this. And your bad-assery will be even more badass when you’re done.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who wrote this post from shared unceded territory of the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation. Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships, meaning making and bodies. They have done solo bike trips in Australia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Germany, Canada and the Baltics, and have ridden with groups in many South and Southeast Asian countries. They have their eyes on riding in Japan if it ever opens up to tourists.