Unpaved Podcast

Ultra rough: How bikepacking is taking racing to the extreme

Episode Summary

Bikepacking races are surging in popularity, so much so that they've even broken into WorldTour pro cycling with Rapha and EF Education First's Alternative Racing Calendar. We chatted to The Racing Collective, a group of competitive bikepackers behind the GBDURO route and many other UK-based challenges, as well as current pro cyclist and first finisher of the 2019 route, Lachlan Morton.

Episode Notes

Check out more from our guests at:
https://www.theracingcollective.com/ https://www.instagram.com/theracingcollective/
https://www.instagram.com/philippabattye/
https://www.instagram.com/pilgrimcyclingco/
https://www.instagram.com/lachlanmorton/

Watch Rapha's incredible film on Lachlan Morton's GBDURO:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e74xncSCoqw

If you'd like to take a closer look at the GBDURO route, check out the official collection on komoot:
https://www.komoot.com/user/gbduro/collections

If you'd like to try the route that Mark from Bikezone Oxford made for us you can find it on our komoot account here:
https://www.komoot.com/collection/905732/-unpaved-podcast-routes-and-highlights-on-komoot

Thanks to our podcast sponsor, komoot, we can offer new users a free map region bundle! To claim your free region bundle as a new user of komoot, head over to https://www.komoot.com/account/gift/?code=UNPAVED .

Make sure you enter our giveaway to be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to Brother in the Wild by signing up to our newsletter here: https://mailchi.mp/f4c8a3b0741a/brotherinthewild - You'll find full details and T&Cs on that page.

Read the episode transcript here.

www.unpavedpodcast.com
www.komoot.com/user/unpavedpodcast
https://www.instagram.com/unpavedpodcast/
https://www.facebook.com/unpavedpodcast/
https://twitter.com/UnpavedPodcast
Newsletter Sign Up: https://mailchi.mp/189b389ee675/unpavedpodcast
 

Cover art thanks to Cadence Images (https://www.instagram.com/cadence_images/), Hannah from Yoke Creative and Tim Wilkey (design)
Music by LTO & Vegyn

Episode Transcription

Katherine

This is Unpaved episode three, where we're going to be looking at the extremes. We're looking at the extremes of off-road bike racing or endurance style bike packing and we're gonna be chatting to the Racing Collective who are the people behind GBDURO which is an ultra endurance challenge from Land's  End to John O'Groats. It was run for the first time last year in 2019 so we're gonna be chatting to Miles Resso and Philippa Battaye from the Racing Collective and also Tom Probert who raced GBDURO among about seven other endurance events last year.

 

Tom B

So we're gonna be talking a bit about what it takes to put on a route like that and we're gonna do this podcast slightly differently because this was our overnighter, so we spend not only a really nice Friday night and a chilly bivvy with our guests, but we also did a ride the next day and spoke to Lachlan Morton from EF yeah who absolutely crushed GBDURO and he was the first person to finish.

 

Lachlan

I think I just found something in that event particularly that I hadn't had in any other form of competitive riding. I also feel like I only kind of figured it out towards the end of it what it's all really about.

 

Tom B

And he's interesting because he's a professional road racer in his day job but he's now doing this Alternative Calendar of off-road events and last year he did the 3 Peaks Challenge in Yorkshire as well as GBDURO, Dirty Kanza and his attitude towards them is really really interesting so there's quite a lot so we're gonna split this episode into two parts and we'll tell you a little bit more about that at the end. 

 

Katherine

Yeah there was just so much wisdom and and really good funny stories so we didn't want to have to cut anything out.

 

Tom

So we'll just play you a little bit of our journey up into the woods.

 

Miles

I'm Miles Resso founder of the Racing Collective.

 

Phillipa - I'm Philippa Battaye and I like riding bikes a long way and I co-organized GBDURO.

 

Tom P

I'm Tom Probert, bike rider and graphic designer for the Racing Collective yeah.

 

Katherine

When was the last time you camped out? So I love how we came under the pretense that you guys do this all year round!

 

Miles

Starting from now...

 

Katherine

Yes no better time to start than January.

Tom B

Tell me about what you remember from that ride up there.

 

Katherine 

There was a lot of nervous anticipation. It had been wonderful being in this like warm cozy pub on a Friday night absolutely bustling and then we're sort of heading out into the darkness you can see the roads almost twinkling a little bit as we headed up the hill and then Tom had the logs on his back in this like weird old military, I don't know how you describe it, big rucksack thing.

 

Tom

It was a bit like I'm the knapsack that Puss in Boots has on a stick but with shoulder straps.

 

Katherine 

Yeah it was really funny and then Miles was showing us the way and you know and it just like descends into bog and you're like 'does this guy actually know where he's going'?

 

Tom P

We were just going to ride to our campsite on the road and then we took a wrong turn and ended up on late-night black drunken gravel and we've just arrived at a fence slash gate where we have to just climb over it into a muddy field that looks really waterlogged and muddy.

 

Tom B

There was definitely just the whole feeling of like there's been a bit giddy from being out in the middle of the night we felt a bit naughty.

 

Miles

We can go left, along a good track and then an unknown a good track and then a fence and then some mud and then a fence and then mud. It might be a longer bit of mud...

 

Tom P

I remember just getting up to the top of this plateau and I could see that like it was gonna be really good for fire and I was like, this is gonna be great.

 

Katherine

We sort of came upon this clearing and started to set up our fire and it was it was beautiful actually, cos it was such a clear night, I guess that was part of what made it so cold.

 

Miles

I think that's a good one!That's getting a lot of heat that one, will take a long time to dry it out.

 

Katherine

I sat down with Miles, the founder of the Racing Collective to chat about how it all started. So what was the gap that made you think that the Racing Collective needed to come about and and what made you really think about founding it as a principle?

 

Miles

It was mainly about the TCR actually so the Transcontinental, so once I'd committed to that, that was late 2016, I thought right well how the heck am I gonna train for this thing?

Okay I'll simulate a mini TCR, I'll set up a schedule and I'll simulate what the TCR does, so four checkpoints, ride from point to point, and I thought well if I'm gonna go through it why not tell the people that this thing is happening? So yeah it started off with a series Trans England Trans Wales, Trans Scotland and yeah the first one Trans England I turn up at Morecambe Bay at 11 p.m. Friday night and no one's there. Just me, I count down the clock and off I go. I just, you know, just rode it and it was absolutely brilliant because you're riding off into the night and that's basically perfect training for the TCR because you're gonna have to ride at night, it's all about intrinsic motivation, so the fact that like no one's there watching you is a really important aspect. So it's all about kind of not getting too far but pushing your limits and the idea is to explore the best that British Isles it's got to offer.

 

Katherine 

So last year you launched GBDURO for the first time. What even is it?

 

Miles

So it's of 2000 km, well we call it a scrappy rolling picnic, so it's relatively easy... it's broken down into four stages so the first stage is 630 K from Land's End to to Mid Wales and then it goes from there and the idea was that through having the checkpoints and the time stops at the checkpoints riders get a chance to sit around and discuss things and some of the most enjoyable bits are out the checkpoints where, you know, you're interacting with other riders and you know out of the billions of people on the planet they're obviously people that where you share a heck of a lot in common on GBDURO I like to think that they're kind of... the format lends itself to those really like deep and meaningful chats, I mean I'm hoping that through these kind of exhaustive exercises, so you know Racing's checkpoint 1 or whatever, I'm hoping that it kind of unlocks a bit of imagination in people and so the real end game with something like GBDURO to try and capture some of that when people get to a checkpoint, to kind of unload what they've just been through it really brings out without sounding too corny, what it means to be human and a lot of the modern-day world is, you know, we get so far away from the basic kind of human ways of being - eating, sleeping in this case being on your bike, but by you know through that exertion, through exercise you kind of strip it back to its raw essence and hopefully there's something to be gained through that.

 

Lachlan - You could look at it as something new, that's kind of sprung out of this just one for adventure you know this sort of like post road racing scene.

 

Katherine

So this is Lachlan and we chatted to him one night over whatsapp because he's in Australia.

 

Lachlan

People want something else outside of you know going to a road race and pumping your tires up, pinning your number on and getting aggro for a few hours like, it's grown out of that but if you look at the history of of cycling on the whole it's actually kind of how it all started. The idea of being unsupported, covering really big distances a lot of that is like if you look at the origins of road racing, that's sort of where it all began so it's almost full circle in a way.

 

Katherine

I'd actually ridden to checkpoint 1 on GBDURO because I've been in Wales that weekend at great first and we were quite close by so we're like 'oh might as well carry on touring and go there', hopefully like see Lachie in the flesh which is pretty cool, cos he's a pro rider and of course being Wales it wasn't any signal so we couldn't check out where people were, you couldn't look at the dots on the screen you just had to sort of blindly go there and hope that you'd be there in time. Aad then when we did actually turn up Lachie he'd already been and gone, so we went into the barn and we found Angus Young and Fraser Hughes who were right at the head of the race and they were explaining this and that he'd come in the day before had something to eat had a shower slept and then got up early in the morning and just cracked on. Which was just unthinkable almost and as the time stops when you're at these checkpoints like you could spend as long as you like so they were gonna wait a lot longer and wait for everybody else to come in and hang out that I think he was under time pressure as he had a flight at the other end which was just mad to get your head around.

 

Lachlan

It's like the most incredible mixed terrain route for the length of the UK and yeah I'm blown away by the course itself because like I know like personally I spend like years perfecting my own routes just in my backyard and still I think I struggle to rival any sections of that course. It's also like it's probably if you looked at that course like it's the most efficient way to cover is on a bike you know like you would struggle to drive it, you can't you couldn't do a lot of motorbike you know. It's like you're covering it in probably the most efficient way, and it's almost like you have company in the way that the route is so well thought-out you can kind of see what whoever created that section you can understand what they were thinking but it's all it all makes sense you know. There's nothing for the sake of it, even the hard sections he kind of rewarded because you realize you at the end of the day like there would have been no other way to get to this next section right?

 

Miles 

You're not just going off-road for the heck of it. It's about connecting places and you're trying to progress through this country and this yeah there's so much good riding that you can kind of take in but we're not allergic to roads you know there's no point in just going along a shitty bridleway just for the sake of it so the idea was to connect the really good bits of gravel if you know if it's no good then just take the road.

 

Lachlan 

The couple of days in Scotland, once I kind of worked out how to manage myself physically and mentally so I could really really enjoy it. You know, without being scared. That was incredible and just like initially like the idea of being sort of remote for those long periods is like daunting, but the further I got into it the more I really enjoyed those long long sections by myself. So yeah I think like those those last few days like up in Scotland were probably my most fond memories they were incredibly difficult like just like the mental state I was in the state I was physically the fact that I was sort of trying to take it on overnight. There are a lot of factors there but just made that seem like impossibly difficult I remember very like specifically like being a hundred and twenty ks away I think from the end and knowing like there's probably like 10 hours or something and just had absolutely no idea how I was gonna get there, you know like because I have absolutely no idea I get so impossible. Which yeah they will stick with me for sure. It's just a race against yourself really you know like, as much as you know that you're aware there's other people out there sort of competing or riding like, it's purely about how you manage your own head more than anything and obviously like learning to to manage yourself physically is a part of it but really it's just part of it but really it's about getting the most out of yourself and going to that dark place and then working out how to deal with that. Or like how you're gonna react to that. It's not one of those things that you do one time and you're like okay, I've got it I've worked it out, you know like each time something will creep up and you sort of find yourself reacting differently and it's just sort of managing that. So I guess like I was I was pretty worried about like because I've never really gone to that sort of headspace like, how I would react you know it's quite daunting in like it can

be pretty confronting to sort of realize what's in there but I guess that's what I was I was worried about. I had the idea of of quitting something but I guess like a lot of that was even just in starting and I kinda had to accept the fact that like that's kind of a very real possibility that you don't don't finish I didn't have any expectation so I can't say whether like I was surprised or you know I don't know I just kind of took it as it came. I think like I realized pretty early on that like any expectation only slows you down because like that's just ego and ego doesn't get you very far when it's like, you know two o'clock in the morning and you feel like crying in your head lamp's broken, yeah, you've sort of gonna let those things go a little bit.

 

Katherine

I guess what I wanted to ask Lachie was what is it about this kind of racing but he was starting to fall in love with

 

Lachlan

I don't think I just found something in that event particularly that like I had I hadn't had in any other form of competitive riding so like I felt very like at home you know like I feel like I've been looking for something in better cycling for a long time and like to do that event and feel like I'd found it. It's one of those things you usually find something like that that really fulfills you on like a total level you know you want to do more of it. So I kind of had that feeling of like I've sort of been like preparing for this sort of thing my whole life without knowing and now I've found it. So yeah I think it's like I also feel like I only kind of figured it out towards the end of it what it's all really about, so yeah I wanted to take like what I loved and just apply that to something else as quickly as I could. But yeah unfortunately I have

restrictions with my job but yeah it definitely opened up a can of worms for me for sure. 

 

Katherine

So having done some of these events I wanted to ask Lachlan what he thought the pro peloton could learn from them.

 

Lachlan

I think like it's - it's more it's about community more than anything. I think like it's about like the the interaction with like like greater cycling and, you know like what, you kind of got a question what what your role is as a as a professional athlete because it's very easy to go, well my role is while I'm here to win races make as much money as I can for the fifteen years and then you know move on with my life but I mean the reality is I think the purpose of professional athletes is to inspire people to get outside to do things, to be active and like I think like there's there's other ways that we could be more effective i doing that so I don't think that's I mean like as athletes we're just kind of conditioned by by our environment and you know whatever the goalposts are so, it's hard to say oh we need to think differently but I think the sport, specifically I think like men's road cycling, we can learn a lot from what's going on in these other events where you know they're totally open to anyone. You know the fans become like competitors and can be involved by participating you know, not just not just by watching. I think like that gives us so much more meaning and you know the impacts that have on communities and getting people involved with bikes just on the whole I think it's really exciting to see how these events are changing the sport. I just think we can learn by by being involved with that you know, and it's not

about like us saying okay now we're gonna race gravel but you know there's gonna be a UCI gravel series where there's 20 teams and you have to be in one of these 20 teams if you want to race, so there's gonna be a points structure you know and like... then we're gonna have a world championship but it's not gonna be the rainbow jersey but it's gonna be brown rainbow.. but like it's not about that, it's more like it's more like ok, how can we interact with the people who are actually out there riding bikes. Okay we make what we do more relevant.

 

Katherine

I think one of the things that the Racing Collective has really keen to promote was the idea of just getting out there and riding on your own own doorstep and sort of the sustainability angle that I think Lachlan is being quite vocal about especially since the Australian bushfires and the work that he's done to try and raise awareness and funding to help people have been affected. And I think he's one of the few riders they're actually trying to think about how the sport can progress and what the future looks like in terms of making pro cycling more sustainable.

 

Miles - His spirit kind of embodies what it's all about really. It's so rare to have someone of his ability to acknowledge that what he's sort of destined to be isn't isn't on the WorldTour necessarily, and that he's prepared knowingly well most people don't even have the choice right to have that ability is exceedingly rare but then to have the insight to say mmm there's something a little bit broken with it. I think the next step is trying to figure out what a sustainable WorldTour looks like and you know it's not a sustainable riders are just flying around the world picking and choosing which country they're going to visit and they might you know may or may not know much about it and... it's trying to figure out where this goes next and it will be riders like Lachie who are gonna spearhead that that movement and right now the world and heeds some leaders not in ten years time but it has to start now. So let's see what happens. 

 

Katherine

I guess if you go back to the first Tour de France it was very much like the modern Transcontinental where riders were self supported, they'd probably ride to the starts, you know they don't have a huge entourage of mechanics soigneurs etc, all travelling around. Do you think that we are sort of going back to that very early racing? Do you think that's feasible?

 

Miles

Yeah I think the the history the Tour de France is like a little microcosm of kind of human development if you like and it was quite sustainable not through choice but just that was the way it was and then it's exploded the thousands of vehicles and sport has a role to do something alternative and it's people like Lachie that are going to acknowledge that and not just you know, start doing off setting and that sort of stuff but like change the game and I really think something like TCR holds the key to that. So I think the future will be about kind of stripping it back to sort of self supported stuff.

 

Lachlan

There's things we could do particularly like the way like the current model of road cycling looks like, I think there's a lot we can do to try and cut down our impac.t I mean the I'd like cycling and riding a bike should be kind of I guess like a pin-up activity for a green mode of transport and exercise, and it has all the parts for that. So I think I think we could do a better job especially at a professional elite level of reflecting that. It's hard to get around the fact that like cycling they're global events so it involves a lot of travel but I think there's definitely like waste we could cut down on. Yeah I mean like I don't think I'm qualified to say what that looks like but I would really hope that like we could open that discussion yeah.

 

Katherine

So having spoken a bit more generally about cycling on the whole, I think next we wanted to find out a bit more about how riding these alternative events like the Dirty Kanza in the GBDURO, how that had actually affected him personally in his pro career?

 

Lachlan

It definitely helps me sort of have a better perspective on it because you kind of realized racing it on the road well ultimately you're kind of doing for yourself. You know so like it helps with that, and then I'm like well if I'm gonna be here doing it it's just for me so I might as well be fully, you know, focused and engaged on it because there's nothing there's no other reason for me to be here. So yeah I think it helps in that regard. It helps me you haven't like a broader perspective and also like it just keeps me motivated to know that like this there's a bunch of exciting things going on in our sport because it's easy to be sat in the hotel room, like you know in a WorldTour event thinking about the next stage, whatever go okay this is what cycling is you know I'm at the top of the sport this is as good as it gets but now the reality is that's just one very like niche experience that only very small few people have with bikes. The majority of people have a largely different experience so it's nice to have that in the back of your head.

 

Katherine

I think it's fascinating Lachie said when he's training it's actually his off-road bike that he's been going to.

 

Lachlan

I think like over the last four or five years I just found myself riding off-road more and more just did my daily riding just because I enjoy it more. I find it like getting away from traffic is a big one, but it's just sort of engaging you know. Once you've mastered Road riding you end up pedaling away like kind of mindlessly for a long period of time which is great if you want to think, but it's sort of it could become like pretty pretty monotonous so I like to sort of mix it up and it do like mixed terrain I guess every time I

ride. The only time I really ride on on skinny tires is racing on a road bike so I think like in that regard like I kind of just slowly gravitated towards it. I never really thought I'd compete off-road it was more so just you know my day-to-day riding and what I enjoyed if I want to think I'll go on the road if I want to not think at all I'll ride off-road because I don't like, I don't have the patience to meditate but from what I can understand it's sort of like the idea is just being totally in the moment and it's clearing your mind and if you if you're riding down a trail or like a technical bit of dirt like you kind of force into the moment right because if you stop thinking about what you're doing about exact moment you crash. Yeah I like it

for that because it just forces you to sort of put everything else out of your mind and just be present. So like as far as like I guess that kind of conditioned me for like riding off-road but I never did any like specific, I always trained pretty long I like to ride a lot of hours just just because I enjoy being outside so that I sort of try and spend as much time as I can each day out on my bike anyway, which turns out is pretty good training for like these sort of events but it was never like a conscious decision like I didn't do

anything specific before like Kanza or GBDURO, I just kind of jumped into It.

 

Katherine

So I guess we tried to get lucky to spill the beans on what the racing calendar looked like for this year in terms of the alternative calendar we got a few little hints.

 

Lachlan

Yeah I'm not sure what the final calendar looks like I know 100% I'm gonna Cape Epic in March which I'm really looking forward to and then I know we're doing Leadville and Kanza again but beyond that I'm not 100% sure yet. Yeah I'll be fitting in as many as I can, as many as I can get away with. I mean I've got a list of races that I really want to do that I think it's gonna take like probably five to ten years to tick off so like I'm not in any rush but yeah.

 

Katherine

I know if I was in the peloton, like in my wildest dreams and I was watching all of these amazing videos of Lachie, going and smashing GBDURO and having a whale of a time at Dirty Kanza, I'd be really envious and so I was wondering why more professional cyclists doing this kind of thing?

 

Lachlan

It's hard to say I think like it's hard it's hard at this level to get people to take the risk. I think a lot of people see that risk and I can understand that you know a lot of people especially people coming from outside Europe like, they've sacrificed a lot to get to that level and I have a lot riding on them - you know that's their livelihood so the idea of going it to a gravel race and falling off and and hurting themself and then you know potentially not getting a job like that's a very you know it's a hard risk to take which I get that but I think there's definitely a lot more people sort of open to it and there's definitely a lot of interest around it, like all of the guys that ask about it, so yeah I think like it's gonna take it'll take time but that's more, I think a lot of people would love to but it's just being able to have an environment where that's kind of embraced, which you know our team is doing and it's very, it's very new so it's it's breaking like a very long tradition of what racing looks like which takes time yeah think it'll happen.

 

Katherine

So I said to Lachie, like you must be really stoked to be able to be doing this kind of racing alongside your normal career and I actually loved the answer he gave because in his own little modest way he kind of said well actually I've worked really hard to get here. Lachlan - I'm super grateful to have it it's like I mean it was also like a process to get to this point it's not like it just sprung up out of the blue and like, I was like ah amazing this opportunity came up! Just what I wanted I just manifested this. I was like I guess more to it than that but I'm really grateful to have the backing of like a team like EF because you know that it's opened a lot of doors for me and the reality is to be able to juggle these events and race WorldTour events it doesn't exist but for anyone else outside of our team, so like it's it's a pretty incredible opportunity I guess.

 

Katherine

That was Lachlan Morton, it was absolutely amazing to be able to hear from him first hand, exactly how he found that experience and so if you're feeling inspired to take a bit more of a look at the GBDURO route there's actually no less than four official collections on komoot, w decided to split it up because it was so long so there's four collections, covering the South West of England, Wales, the North of England and Scotland so you can go and ride the whole route if you want, or you can split it up probably a bit more achievable for 99% of us, whether it's like a couple of days at a time or you just want to do

one day on the part that's most local to you. 

https://www.komoot.com/user/gbduro/collections

 

And then we've also got the opportunity if you haven't used komoot before to get a free region bundle so all you have to do is go to komoot.com/g and then you enter the code UNPAVED that's all in capitals we'll put all the instructions in the show notes down below so you can just go through there it's really easy, and then of course there's this episode's route.

 

So at the start of the episode you heard us riding up the hill into the woods to our bivvy spot for the night and then in the morning we sort of dusted some of the frost off of our tires and wore literally every layer I think we each had and down to the Handlebar Cafe which is right in the centre of like beautiful historic Oxford and it was really good actually because first thing the morning there aren't there many people around and you can weave in through the streets. So I got a coffee and then asked Miles about what the ride was looking like for the day.

 

Miles

Well it's currently going through a little bit of a revision. We are running a little bit behind schedule so I think we're gonna take an axe to the original plan and then yeah freestyle it a little bit but what should we expect from today I think we'll cruise through Oxford and taking some historic sights go up by the Thames

through some woods they're nice easy non muddy gravel let's hope.

 

Katherine

So Mark from Bikezone Oxford who was our wonderful local guide for the day had reworked the route but in addition to us being a little bit late, we also ran into another unexpected obstacle.

 

Mark

We're riding a route that I typically do after work but I've not done it in a while and it's a bit flooded so yeah we're gonna have to we're gonna have to either build a bridge or just just chance our luck basically with a bit of a pond.

 

Katherine

So we went through this little gate into this field and the water was so high all the way around the gate but there was just this sort of jetty like these wooden planks extending into this water. So what would have been the path was now this long diving board essentially into bog and Mark I think was the only one feeling brave or confident or maybe stupid enough to actually consider riding straight off of it straight into

the bog and across the field.

 

Tom B

I think we can be quite proud of the group there, I was expecting somebody to land on ice. Katherine - And then as we carried on across this field it was just either beautiful lush grass or this really deep moat like pond reflecting the blue sky and then horses just sort of scattered about and this bunker or bus stop kind of structure right in the middle. I'm not gonna lie. I was pretty miffed that producer Tom missed what I thought was one of the best parts of the day.

 

Tom B

Oh yeah, I was pretty devastated as well we were just riding across what looked like a grass flat field so I thought I'd turned the microphone off for a little while and then about five seconds later I'd had this huge shriek from Philippa. Talk me through what happened back there Phil.

 

Philippa

I wasn't concentrating on the river I was cycling so I ended up with my ankle deep in mud and water and ice so now I have one very very cold left foot but I've got spare socks! All this water like these like the playgrounds this morning and the goalposts, these weird reflective like surreal landscapes that you'd never normally see.

 

Tom B

Yeah especially when the Sun is bright today so still yeah it's really beautiful. I was finding that

horse reflection in the water it's quite surreal.

 

Phillipa 

With the bunker floating in the water, yeah that's the kinda photo you'd see in a gallery, would be like a surreal bunker and horse yeah next to lake.

 

Tom B

So I was riding along with Phillipa at this point and it was mid Jan we were recording this and it

wasn't long since I'd been on my Christmas break whilst on Instagram I was watching her on a cargo bike riding from Edinburgh all the way to Copenhagen with the Adventure Syndicate so I asked her about how that was and how freezing it looked.

 

Philippa 

Myself and three other women, Lee Craigie, Jenny Graham and Alice Lemkiss cycled two cargo bikes between us from Edinburgh to Copenhagen which was about 1000km, between Christmas and New Years, riding and then being cargo. That was probably that one of the hardest things to deal with was the cold and discomfort of being the passenger. Whereas actually the riding it was pretty much pan flat once we hit the continent so actually the weight doesn't really affect you so much, but yeah after an hour sitting on front of a bike in sort of sub-zero temperatures even if you're like coated in four layers of down you still get pretty pretty chilly.

 

Tom B

How did you hatch the plan?

 

Philippa

Lee and Jenny had gone out to Copenhagen to do a podcast about like the craft of making these wooden bikes with this company in Copenhagen and they also make a cargo bike, so they sort of came up with this idea of why don't we do this potentially impossible thing. We don't even know if how long can you ride a cargo, like a load that big and is it feasible to do in that timeframe, to sort of raise awareness of the climate crisis, and also just that's kind of dead time between Christmas and New Year's but all you're really doing is eating and sitting on the sofa and just consuming, to go and do something in a particularly

sort of tough time of year just sort of hopefully you know maybe inspire some people to get off the sofa and get outside and be like well they can do that... But we had no idea if it was possible. We realized probably unlike day two we were like we might just do this, but we hadn't had very much time

beforehand to I mean me and Jenny had ridden together for like a day on a

cargo bike.

 

Tom B

Was your handling quite difficult at first?

 

Philippa 

Yeah it definitely definitely took a lot of getting used to and well there's there's a fair amount of footage of the actual spills which happened quite frequently, depending on which bike you are on. We had two different bikes the Bullet which is sort of steady and stable and bit heavier and then the Omnium which is this slightly like nippy a lighter cruisier thing but you're on a much higher platform so that that was less stable but we were yeah it was surprising how quickly you built up confidence in your own riding and your

partner's... so we would you know like bombing along at 50 kilometres an hour and I don't it was probably partly just your sort of cold and tired and on the front he just you're like, ah fuck if I came off then you know, it's not the worst well they actually there was quite a big crash but I think we we actually reflected afterwards on how dangerous it could have been. But you know we're already cooking up plans for next year so it wasn't that bad.

 

Tom B 

What was it like when you arrived in Copenhagen?

 

Philippa

Yeah it was pretty pretty amazing the run-in was incredible because between Christmas and New Year's is the only time in Denmark you're allowed to buy fireworks. So it's like just lawless like setting off of fireworks so for the sort of last 40k it felt like every two three seconds there was a firework somewhere going off so it was it was incredible in the streets were just completely deserted until you hit Copenhagen and then and then there were people sitting them off in the streets you're going through like clouds of smoke and you go into the centre and someone had told us it's a bit like a fun war zone and it felt like

that there was just like the biggest booms going off everywhere like fireworks meters away from you just like rockets being shot into the air so it was it was like mad and then yeah we so we got in it just

before 11 and then hit the pub and then yeah started to fall asleep in the pub around 2 got kebabs and then went home!

 

Katherine 

So after a few monkey bridleways and byways and then this little section through the woods we sort of turned a corner and then all of a sudden we were in this amazing sand bowl and it was his nature reserve that had these little single track trails which you have to like really power up to try and get up these banks and then they were quite sketchy on the descent as well because it was so steep and sandy and then little sand pits where you could try and do a figure of 8 and inevitably fail ended up on my knees on

that one. And the sun actually came out whilst we were there which was really very well received in January especially as it was so cold so we stopped there a little while and had a chat about the route. 

 

Mark

We've gone probably no more than five miles from the town centre at any point so it's all accessible from the town centre all after your day job.

 

Katherine

So we had a slightly different route in mind at the starter today which we've decided not to do can you tell us a little bit more about that route?

 

Mark

Ah so that I guess again that's another classic after-work route with more gravel and orientated sections maybe a bit less mud, maybe a bit less flooding but you can't really avoid it this time of year no matter

where you go really, damage limitation, but it's made for a fun interesting ride like it's just kind of made it a bit more exciting a bit more unpredictable, and yeah everything going perfectly doesn't necessarily mean a better ride so yeah you can take a risk sometimes and and just go with the flow. Go down that track you don't know or or cross that flooded section of mucky field that you probably shouldn't go through but taking a hit for the team.

 

Katherine 

So we were coming towards the end of the ride now just like we're coming to the end of this podcast so thought it would be a really good chance to wrap up talking to Tom, Philippa and Miles about their personal experiences on GBDURO.

 

Philippa

It honestly felt like one of the the best like well-thought-through routes there was none of it but and I didn't do any of the route so I know I'm not like praising like well done me, and I think that's because of how it had been pieced together borrowing bits from other bits that people had had already recced just it did feel like it was done by people who knew their their areas really well, and then you've linked up this route that left the country whereas some of the other events I'd done like I did the Italy Divide and some of that felt a bit more like just you know doing like gratuitous hike-a-bike next to a road just to get it in there and it's like ugh, where is you know going off the back of them what is it called Great Dun Fell that was a necessity to make that a proper link rather than having to if you'd come back down the same way then that's just a climb for the sake of a climb but it's because you were connecting these dots and sort of moving in a constant direction and I think that's a very satisfying thing to do and hopefully you imagine like most of the route anyone is within probably about a hundred miles of the route if not less and I'm sort of 15 miles from Bristol so I've been meaning to go back and do you know head south from Bristol I'm on the route and do the bit going north into Wales again in just a slightly more chilled way and actually take it all in a lot more and I think it's nice that people can I can go and do that.

 

Katherine

Absolutely I think it's worth mentioning the fact that it is now an established route as GB divide rather than the event GBDURO which is published online by Miles in several different places and you can just go and tour it if you want this an incredible route not only to to push yourself, but also to tour, whether you want to do that in one go over weeks and weeks or whether you want to split it into chunks yeah and maybe do a section every year, yeah absolutely it's really cool to have that resource online and available to everyone. 

 

Philippa

As a start location I mean it was a beautiful morning and yeah there's something very cool about you've just got 180 degrees of ocean one way and then you're just on land all the way up to the top and then hitting it at the end yeah it's very satisfying experience and yeah a pretty epic place to start a race. 

 

Katherine

I find it really fascinating about what you say that you know 99% of the people doing this are just average people and they go home and they've got jobs full-time jobs families children to look after and and how they fit in preparing in training and getting their heads around something that's such a massive scale. How do you think people do it, how do you do it?

 

Philippa - Well I guess when I did the first one I'd quit my full-time job so it meant that I had I was more in control of my own time being self-employed so I guess that helps and I always actually do feel quite ill

prepared at the start and I just assumed almost as soon as we set off I like realise that something is not where it should be I'm like oh why did I just not think about this yesterday. So it's really hard and it does take planning and actually the most stressful part is definitely the prep and once once you actually get going you know you can sort most things on the road but yeah I think if it's something you want to do just just try and start planning early, mitigating all the potential pitfalls but I think anyone would be

surprised at what actually they're capable of doing versus what they think they can do because all my experience has been that yeah you tend to be able to do a lot more than what you think it's possible. So if

you're even thinking about it…

 

Katherine

I think that would be a really interesting one for Tom actually in terms of how you prepare for especially riding five events how you prepare and train for these sorts of things when you live in London, in such a

big city? Yeah I mean are you constantly on the indoor trainer or you're getting out and about?

 

Tom P 

Yeah luckily for me I've discovered I really like doing indoor cycling when a lot of people hate it so it's it's a completely personal choice and if you're not into doing that then it makes it a lot harder it also in

London it depends a lot on where you live in London because basically you can't really be going through the middle of London to try and get to your training right because it just takes so long to do that so you're limited to wherever your closest sort of exit point is from the city mine is northeast into Essex which is basically flat so it's it's not that useful if you're doing these events that have got loads and loads of climbing yeah exactly so yeah so I found myself doing like sort of 45 minute or hour or hour and a

half sessions place called H2 in Soho which it's not like a spin class it's more like set up as a kind of properly thought through constructed training plan for actual cyclists and you go in there and the great thing is that that means you can build that in around your day and it's very practical to squeeze that in you know I'll go before work probably do like an hour session have a shower going to work and you feel

amazing because you've just done this really intensive session and because you're not doing things like stopping at traffic lights you know there's a lot less time that you might be wasting, a lot less faff time you know it's just this as intense and kind of direct.

 

Yeah exactly, so that that's kind of what I found myself doing a lot of and it seems to have worked but I think as well just with endurance it's really about building up a kind of base of endurance over time, and when you do things like be going like audaxes and sportives you always get the old boys cruising past here and there in there like 60's and there because they've been doing it for so many years they've just gradually built up this amazing sort of endurance base and I think a lot of it is to do with that so it's probably a lot harder when you're coming into it because you have to go through a few of these events and races to start with to build up that base I think it's only so much you can do through training. That's why it almost became I wasn't really doing much training last year after a while because the doing the

races was was effectively like training for the next ones.

 

Katherine

So in the run up to your first ultra event or think back to the time you did your first Transcontinental how long were you thinking and preparing about the race beforehand?

 

Tom P 

It's pretty much a year-long kind of lead into I think you you have to almost start training before you know whether you've got a place on it because I think generally speaking you'll find out in the new year and about Christmastime or the new year so that gives you like about six months to to get your training

done but for the first one because I was so scared of doing it I was very very like conscientious about training and probably did more than I certainly did more on the first one then either in the other two because it's the unknown you don't know quite how you're going to do so I definitely started pretty much the summer before and I had a set amount I can't remember how much it was now, I had a set amount of kilometers that I set myself to ride every week and just through like commuting and then topping that up at the weekends with rides. So I would have got through a lot of distance before even getting to the start and that's so that's the physical bit but then there's also a huge amount of time that you have to invest in route planning and and if it's your first one there's also a lot of research going into like what kit you

need to buy you know there's endless reports online from other people that have done these things before where you can really start to get into the minutiae of you know tire selection and you know different ways to set up your luggage and there's you know it's like anything that when you start getting into it you just get deeper and deeper into the forums of like discussions on tire widths and pressures and things like that so you know.

 

Katherine

Did you find anyone as a mentor or somebody that you knew that had done the race before that you could ask a lot of these questions too or was it a lot more online research?

 

Tom P

Yeah I think for the first one because I hadn't really met anybody else that was doing this kind of stuff it was pretty much a solo mission of like just trying to research it all but as you go on and you do more of the the events because it's such a small community you start to meet lots of other people that do it and then you've got like this nice little network that you can go and find out all this information and see what other people are doing and share ideas so it's kind of it gets a bit more it gets easier and it gets more fun the more you you get become part of the scene.

 

Katherine 

Did you pick up anything during your three times on the Transcontinental that you could pass on in terms of tricks or hacks or things that you've changed to make it easier for yourself?

 

Tom P

Yeah I mean broadly speaking you just you learn so much every time you do any race and you will

make multiple mistakes on each one and the first TCR I did was just an absolute horror show like every everything went wrong and but because of that you know you your your learning curve is so steep you know I would have come out of that having learned like probably 80% of the stuff that I know. Yeah I got I got hit by a deer which totally destroyed my front wheel and then the knock-on effect of that was that I kept getting punctures because the wheel was kind of rebuilt badly and it was it wasn't even round

for about a thousand kilometers of the race, it was like riding a horse. I finally got that sorted out in something like Bosnia or something and then it felt like having a new bike and it was like effortless to ride but yeah... All sorts of stuff like that happened but yeah I think you know things that you learn from that are just you know always making sure you've got enough spare parts like my race ended because my rear mech came off I didn't have a mech hanger, I didn't really have the skills to sort of botch your repair and I ran out of time so then you make sure that you take a spare hanger and you know learn a bit more kind of bike maintenance to make sure you can be self-sufficient in those situations.

 

So yeah I think I mean you could go into the specifics of this for like hours but generally speaking it's experiences that teach you the most you know you can go and read as much as you want on forums

and from other people's experiences, but until you've actually learnt them the hard way and and suffered the actual consequences and found out actually what that means in reality you don't really learn those lessons seriously I don't think, but now you know there's probably lots of stuff but that I do without

thinking about it that has come from going through those experiences.

 

Katherine

So that's it episode 3 but we've got loads more from this trip coming to you next week.

 

Tom B

Yeah I was listening back through the material and this episode as you've heard was focused on the Racing Collective in GBDURO and it felt like it would be a good thing for you guys listening to it hear all about that in this episode and to hold back a little bit of a conversation that we had with Philippa and Tom. We spoke to them up by the campfire and we were staying out in the woods and we're gonna bring you that conversation in part two next week.

 

Katherine

Yeah it was just one of those evenings where you lost track of time because it was so fascinating hearing these stories, and yeah I hope they'll be as inspiring for other people as they have been to me personally.

 

Tom B

So thanks for listening and don't forget that you can ride today's route by going to our komoot profile where you can find all of the routes from every episode of Unpaved

 

Katherine 

Yeah and when you do go and have your coffee and handlebar cafe pop in the Bikezone and say hi to Mark because he's got loads of other routes up his sleeve he's a real local aficionado of off-road riding and this is your last chance to enter our giveaway for two tickets for Brother in the Wild which is essentially like a mini festival all about bike packing in the Purbecks in Dorset we're going to be doing the draw at noon on Friday the 6th of March and all you have to do is sign up to our newsletter to enter.