Cycling holidays abroad are becoming more popular among South Africans. So much so that leaders in all-inclusive holidays, Club Med, recently launched a Summer Mountain offering for South Africans to cycle and enjoy the outdoors at their Grand Massif Samoens Morillon resort in the French Alps.
If you’re heading off on a cycling adventure sometime soon, you’re certainly not in the minority. Such holidays are usually anticipated months in advance and embarked upon with great expectations, and all being well riders can expect to come home with improved fitness and renewed enthusiasm following some sunny days spent in good company.
However, it’s easy to let the excitement take over, burst out the blocks on arrival and return home over-tired and burned out.
Here are some tips for a successful and enjoyable cycling holiday or training camp.
Build up some miles to prepare for a cycling holiday
‘Training for a training camp’ might sound a little bit like a one-way ticket to Losersville, but if you’ve built up a few miles in your legs you’ll probably enjoy your trip more and be able to get a greater benefit from your days in the saddle.
Your cycling holiday is likely to involve back to back, long days. We’re not suggesting you try to log this sort of distance at home around your day job, but if you can extend your weekend rides in the lead up and perhaps do a couple of double-days it’ll help your body in its readiness for what’s coming and psychologically you’ll feel more prepared.
If you’re going away with a group of other cyclists, then it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page. Is this a ‘training camp’ or a ‘cycling holiday’? Are you riding all day, or splitting your time between the bike and the bars/pool/tourist attractions?
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you doing some of your rides separately – just make sure you’ve all got similar expectations.
Outline a rough plan
Most cycling holiday locations feature local climbs – a desire to ride the surrounding ascents probably played a role in your choice of base. If there are some climbs on your bucket list, make a plan for when you’re going to attack them.
It’s a good idea to plan in a ‘recovery day’ when you might spin out for a shorter, flatter ride, though prepare to be flexible with this as the weather dictates.
Prepare your bike
There’s few things worse than a week of listening to a noisy pedal – or worse, having your descents ruined by tyres you don’t trust or brakes that are so near the metal you’re not quite sure if you’re going to be able to brake for that fast approaching bend. Your bike is going to see more wear on your week away than normal. The demands of long climbs and descents means that you really want your gears and brakes to be in good working order – so replacing brake pads and cables before you leave is a good idea. It probably goes without saying, but just in case: don’t be like this author (many years ago) aged 21, madly hunting for a bike sized cardboard box the night before travelling with her three-week-old first road bike to the Pyrenees.
Your bike is going to need to travel in some form of box or bag, we recommend a hard shell case above all – mainly for the metal pole that runs through the middle and makes it impossible to crush and there are several good options on the market. (Note: Travelling with Air France, your bike will count as one of two checked-in luggage included in your air ticket).
Take kit for assorted weathers
Traditionally we travel to Europe for better weather conditions – but that doesn’t mean you can expect wall-to-wall sunshine 24/7.
Weather conditions may vary, day-to-day and during rides – not to mention the fact that your core temperature will fluctuate on the climbs versus on the descents.
Important items to consider, then, are removable layers – arm warmers, leg warmers, packable jackets, gilets and a base layer that can wick sweat away on the climb so it doesn’t cool on your skin on descents.
Many European mountain passes feature long, unlit tunnels – so taking a set of lights is a good idea.
Consider saddle comfort
If you’re struggling with any sort of saddle discomfort now, then you’ll be struggling a whole lot more after 500 kilometres. Take a seat that you know is bum friendly over endurance rides (make sure you test it in advance), especially if you’re hiring a bike – you don’t want to be playing saddle roulette.
Nutrition is important
The number one piece of advice for cyclists taking on long rides is always to fuel correctly – drinking and eating along the way to top up the tanks. So if you’re completing long rides every day (or almost every day) then it follows that this is going be become even more important.
If you usually use energy drink, bars, gels or recovery drinks, then take your normal poison with you, unless you know it’ll be readily available where you’re staying.
It’s common for cyclists to stay at hotels with buffet style dinners (which is standard at all Club Med resorts) on training camps. This removes the hassle of shopping and cooking (if you don’t enjoy it), but it does mean you’ve got to eat what’s going. There’s usually a lot of choice, but try to avoid getting carried away and eating foods that you know won’t make for better bike riding the next day.
Check your insurance policy
Boring… we know. But you’ll be a lot more bored if you find yourself bike-less for a month after being decoupled from it on a descent.
Most home insurance policies cover your bike when abroad (provided you’ve declared its worth if it’s over the ‘unspecified limit’), but it’s worth checking. Cycle specific insurance companies will probably cover you, but do check. Purchasing travel insurance, which can cover your flights, accommodation and any medical fees is a smart idea too – just make sure your planned activities are covered.