12

Planning a bike packing with a friend immediately after finals, meaning we have no time to train. Will be cycling for around a month through Europe, on road bikes.

I ride a lot but my friend hasn’t ridden a road bike before and is borrowing one just before we leave.

What is a reasonable daily distance to target? We are both in good shape and were thinking of 100km/day does this sound reasonable?

14
  • 7
    When you're cycling for a month on road bikes, how do you take your gear? Are you camping? How much gear you bring makes a difference. Road bikes are not the best bikes for bringing camping gear + other stuff for a month.
    – gerrit
    Mar 11 at 8:03
  • 7
    "Through Europe", a bit of difference between The Netherlands or Austria...
    – pipe
    Mar 11 at 8:47
  • 8
    Just go by the feel. Start with 40-60 km a day until you figure out your rythm and routine. Then build it up. If you are both fit, you can easily aim at ~160km days. But its always smart to start with shorter days if you have the whole month. You don't want your mate to have to take a week off due to saddle sores in the very beginning. Mar 11 at 9:51
  • 6
    Personal anecdote, at the time I rode a few times a month, mainly mountain biking. A friend and I did the UK coast to coast route over 3 days on road bikes, with paniers (no rucksacks). My physical fitness (legs/aerobic) were absolutely fine, but my butt was in agony by lunch of the second day because I wasn't used to sitting in that saddle for long periods.
    – Sam Dean
    Mar 11 at 13:56
  • 3
    @SamDean that hints at another issue too - not being used to it meant you hadn't tested your saddle/shorts for long days
    – Chris H
    Mar 11 at 16:43

3 Answers 3

25

I can think of worse things to get a mate to do without training, but not many.

If you told me your mate ran a marathon last week, this answer would not change. It is not about how fit they are, it is about how bike fit they are.

Years ago (when I was mid in my 20's) I was driving home for work on a Friday afternoon. The radio advertised a 40/100km fun ride happening locally, sponsored by my LBS that was just a block ahead of me. I stopped, walked in to sign up for the 40, decided what the... and signed up for the 100. I had been off my bike for over 8 months, initially due injury, then got into running and the bike collected dust. Before that I had complete a few 100 milers on that bike. I had a good bike fit and was fit, but was not bike fit.

I did the 100km, in a respectable time considering, but it hurt. It hurt a lot more the next day, no way was I riding far (I did a very easy 10km to get things moving). You will likely have issues with saddle comfort, if the road bike is a racer, your friend may struggle with the length of time in the position needed. Given your mate is on a borrowed bike and not an experienced cyclist, the bike fit is likely to be poor.

What I would do is plan on a much lower milage for the first few days, building up over a couple of weeks. Allow for plenty of time off bike including full rest days and short days. Your first two weeks will need to have conservative, or very flexible, plans.

Most likely the biggest problem will be saddle soreness and chaffing. With no pre-conditioning, on a borrowed bike, 100km (4 hours in the saddle at 25km/h average) is likely to make things rather uncomfortable. If doing this every day, no time to recover.

Your friend really needs to get a bike (ideally the one they are borrowing) and make the time to put in a couple of back-to-back 80km+ rides. Ideally you join them and work out how you ride together (I expect you, as the stronger and more experienced rider, will take point much of the time). From the information gained, you can then work out a plan that has a greater chance of a successful trip. If your friend cannot put aside time for a couple of rides, you will need to assess your friend's tolerance for discomfort, and consider if it is a trip for another time.

4
  • 11
    I'd add that there is a good chance of trip-ending injury besides general discomfort and fatigue. I've specifically trained for a 9-day trip back in 2019 but didn't have a good bike fit, so I got knee issues (luckily on the last full day) and just made it to the finish with painkillers. After that, I was off the bike for a week to recover, i.e. pain-free cycling. A few days or more off will have an impact on your schedule when you only plan for a month.
    – DoNuT
    Mar 11 at 7:24
  • 2
    Since it isn't mentioned yet in this top voted answer I'm adding this as comment. Also consider taking into account the height differences. I did a 5-day cycling trip without training and by far the biggest issue was the amount of climbing much more than the distance. Being a bit heavier (good shape you mention might even mean carrying heavy muscles) and possibly carrying a heavy load I think it will be the climbing that kills you.
    – Kvothe
    Mar 11 at 17:12
  • 2
    @Kvothe Definitely. I rode a hilly 70k loop with a mate, who's a sub-3h marathon runner and casual cyclist.... despite going reasonably slow on inclines and being in the wind for him the whole ride, he felt it quite a bit by the end - not sure if he would have joined the next day. Lacking specific muscle kills, especially on climbs and that adds up day by day when you're in rolling terrain.
    – DoNuT
    Mar 11 at 17:42
  • 3
    Note: OP said "friend", not "good friend". Maybe OP doesn't care about how the friend (or the friendship) fairs over the journey. ;)
    – FreeMan
    Mar 12 at 13:47
20

In addition to the other good answers, I think you should ask yourself if you just want to be on the road, or that you want to enjoy other things as well.

I have been on several (camping) cycle holidays and, for me, a holiday is just that: A holiday, not a long distance race. But that's of course a personal choice, and others may enjoy cycling as far as they can.

To get some idea, a typical day for me would look like this: Wake up and eat breakfast, get a coffee, get another coffee, slowly start packing, leave between 10-11, have lunch after an hour or two, visit something, cycle two more hours, then start looking for a place to sleep, arriving around four, with plenty of time to have a drink in a bar, get groceries or find a place to eat.

OTOH, last year I met a guy who would travel 150-200 km per day, but he left at 8 in the morning and arrived at 8 at night, carrying only a minimal amount of gear.

I'm reasonably trained, and I can certainly ride 100 km in a day if necessary, but usually it's more like 60-80. And this is mostly on paved roads, without hills or mountains. It also depends on whether you will be camping, or staying in ho(s)tels, and how much stuff you will be carrying around.

3
  • 1
    Good answer, Berend. What I would like to emphasisze: the amout of climbing on a day is crucial and has a big effect on the distance one can cover on that day. So for me it's more about time in the saddle and intensity of the drive (be it climbing hard or riding fast).
    – Michael
    Mar 11 at 14:36
  • That sounds like a reasonable touring schedule if you're camping. If you don't have to worry about putting up a tent, you might want good sightseeing opportunities planned, or the days might not feel full enough. A couple of years ago I did consecutive days of 17½, 14, 15 hours elapsed (300, 220,220 km, all with about 10m climbing per km on average), before slowing down to 80-120km days with time for sightseeing. The latter felt much more like a tour - I had time to watch wildlife, do some short hikes, and swim in lochs and rivers, though I'm used to long distance.
    – Chris H
    Mar 11 at 16:41
  • This is exactly my experience from the last bike tours where we just did a bit over 30km (slower comrade with a lot of stuff) but enjoyed nature and time with our hosts a lot! I used to measure bike tour quality in km but that's definitely not a good measure for holidays! As for the climb, I suggest estimating 1 height meter = 50 length metres, so 60 km flat = 500 height meters on 35 km. (Based on other forum entries and my own experience.)
    – flukx
    Mar 12 at 20:44
11

The "reasonable distance" for such travel is the one that the least trained member of the team is sure to able to cover day after day, and there's no way to know it without training/preparation. It might be pedantic as answer, but planning something of this scale without knowing the most important parameter is an impossible exercise. If you'd like to make the best of this trip, the best is probably to lower uncertainties and training is the way to do it.

Note that a 2-hour ride for someone fit but not "bike fit" can be already painful, and may require some recovery time to ensure that pain the days after won't remove any enjoyment from the rest of the trip. Even for someone who bikes a lot, changing "bike style" requires an adaptation time, with potential recovery periods - different muscles are used, that need to be built up. And you also need to be sure that the bike fits you. While some adjustment can be done when traveling (if you know what to adjust), some are more difficult to change - bike size, saddle (although saddles can be easily swapped, so finding the right one can be an objective of the training/preparation).

There's also a "flag" with the keyword bikepacking: while not having to stick with a strict planning gives a lot of flexibility, it's also a potentially another source of problem: if you spend less time that foreseen on the bike, you'll need to find something else to do, and taking care that nothing happens to the bikes when you are doing your other visits.

3
  • 1
    2 personal anecdotes: in my early 20's, I was commuting by bike 14km one-way (so around 6000km/y). I received a new bike, and to test it, I went to the country side. First day (160km) was fine, I did a 1 hour hike after. Second day (120km), I was suffering but made it. I still needed a few days to recover after. More recently, I used my folding bike for about 10km in a city (while riding daily sportively), I couldn't sit on a bike for the next days.
    – Rеnаud
    Mar 11 at 14:30
  • Thanks everyone for the advice, we decided to go for it with 100km days but will start shorter, and can get trains some days if distances prove too large
    – Nathan
    Mar 11 at 20:36
  • @Nathan In that case you very likely will have time other means to spend your time because if you spend all the day biking, you would cover much more distance even when not trying to go fast. If you sleep in hostels or b&bs it should not be a big issue but for camping it might. Mar 12 at 10:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.