Sunday, May 15, 2011

Slow Bicycle Touring

I  like the opening sequences in the movie “110 hours”. The mad rush to exit the city, to get away, to get to the start of your real trip. It’s a characteristic of a weekend escape. Limited time. You have a destination that you have to be at by a certain time. To get back to work. It sets the tone for the weekend: go, go.

On my latest tour, I consciously decided to slow it down. Yes, at a stretch I can do 90km plus. But I aimed for 70km per day. This time I went from Ballarat to Mt Buangor State Park to Maryborough and back to Ballarat. Yes, a circular tour. Why are circular tours good? Well if the wind is strong, it’s unlikely to turn around in a circle and follow you each day.

But how to slow down? The challenge of slow anything is to get the mindset changed. I find that having a definite place to stop at the end of the day helps. Google Maps, and Google StreetView is your friend. Many times I’ve picked out a camp at the side of the road using StreetView. Having the actual place to stop fixed means you don’t worry about it, so you can relax.

When I’m in motion I don’t look at the average speed or the kilometers travelled. I just put the bike computer on the clock setting. I can see roughly what sort of progress I’m making, but it doesn’t become the central concern. I don’t listen to music or anything like that. I just like to take in the scenery. Be in the space. I can travel at a comfortable pace. I find that mostly I travel at around 15km/hr fully loaded whether there are hills or not. It’s interesting that without looking and monitoring I keep the pace.

This time I actually tried to slow down just that little bit more. Take 10% off the pace. Yes, I can cross this flat stretch at 25km/hr plus, but just take it back a bit. A couple of times I actually found myself just dawdling along, taking in the surroundings and really drifting. It’s not that riding is a way of getting where you want to go - what I want to do is ride.

Slowing down means you can improve your living conditions. Another thing I learned on this tour, partly from reading touring blogs, is about setting the tent up. Normally I just throw it anywhere. But spending a few minutes looking for a soft, flat place, really makes for a good night’s sleep. Also, amazingly, after over five years of using my $70 tent from Aussie Disposals, I learned something about the tent. If you close up the velcro flaps at the top, it stays warmer. I’m sure I wouldn’t have worked this out if I had been on a schedule, pushing to the next stop.

Have a look at the long term touring cyclists. Those that take it easy, have plenty of rest days, and those who push, and then push again. It’s probably not coincidental that the push, push guys have more problems. If you read the blogs I think you’ll find that the slow ones enjoy it more.

Then of course there is the other reason to go slow. On the last day I found I had to ride 60km into a 40km/hr headwind. Not so bad. But then when I got back to the city it was rush hour, so couldn’t put the bike on the train. So another 30km into the headwind to get home. Don’t know how I would have made it if I had pushed for the whole time.

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