Train with load to avoid injuries
Training with a loaded bike is a must. Most people are surprised by the weight difference and changes in handling once a bike is fully loaded with all their kit. It changes how you corner, climb, and descend. If you’re riding off-road, traction is drastically altered too.
We think that people ride differently on a loaded bike, especially when climbing. Some riders seem to fight a loaded bike, mashing on the pedals rather than maintaining good technique. We suspect that’s why so many complaints of knee and Achilles soreness happen very early in bikepacking races. Keeping all your race kit on the bike in the lead up to a race is a great way to practice having good pedalling technique and getting your body used to the different demands of riding with a loaded bike. It helps increase strength too. Riding with a loaded bike is a free boost to your workout. The load will always make you work harder, especially when climbing.
Getting used to riding with your bikepacking bags is important as well. The locations of the bags and how they function once loaded can change your pedalling technique. Training on your loaded bike will highlight any problems. There is nothing worse than your knees banging into your feed-bags bags when climbing out of the saddle.
Frame bags can be similarly problematic. When packed so much that it bulges
at the side, a frame bag can rub on the inside of your legs as you pedal. While this is annoying in itself, you might also change your pedal stroke, bowing your legs out to prevent them rubbing on the frame bag. This can result in soreness or injury. That’s why we recommend doing a lot of riding with a loaded bike well before your race.
Most of our training for ultra-endurance cycling races has been done with heavily loaded bikes. Whether we’re doing strength efforts up climbs or sub-threshold efforts at a velodrome we’ll usually do them with a loaded bike.
Sarah Hammond riding loaded.
Nutrition - hunt for potatoes and orange juice
Bikepacking races are eating competitions with a bit of riding thrown in. With the huge distances you cover day after day your energy requirements are enormous. While bikepacking nutrition is very different from supported endurance racing, the same principles apply. You need to make sure you have enough energy to continue, you must keep your electrolytes balanced and you need to stay healthy for the duration of the race. It’s easier said than done with the limited resupply options while competing in a bikepacking race. Petrol station food isn't the greatest!
Make sure you fuel up on potato. Potato is a good source of potassium, an important electrolyte. Most potato options on the road also contain plenty of fat making them good calorie-dense fuel sources, and plenty of salt which is important to keep your electrolytes balanced. You lose electrolytes when you sweat and you have to replace them. The starchy carbohydrates and soluble fibre in potatoes are good for digestion as well. Potato chips, french fries, hash browns, potato cakes are all great bikepacking race foods. They all have bonus oils and salt too. McDonalds is a good source of potato.
A trick we have used in the past is ordering 10 or more hash browns and an empty soft drink cup. We crush the hash browns into the cup and fold the top of the cup over. The cup can be stored in a feed bag and you can pick away at the starchy, salty goodness for hours. Like potato, orange juice is a great source of potassium. It’s also a good source of vitamin C which is important to stay healthy, especially while on a poor race diet. Whenever we find orange juice at a resupply point we make sure we buy it. Ideally we would drink some orange juice once a day.
You can use orange juice as the base for a homemade sports drink. Orange juice has about nine times the potassium as Gatorade (for the standard Australian formulation). That means you only need 100 mL of orange juice topped up to 1 L with water to get a similar amount of potassium as 1 L of Gatorade. We usually use about 300 mL of orange juice and top our bottles up with water. We add a few pinches of salt as well to make a great “ghetto sports drink”. There are often sachets of salt or salt shakers at service stations - we often use those. We sometimes also add some sugar too. There is often sugar available for people to put in cups of coffee - we just use that. Aside from being a great source of electrolytes, the ghetto sports drink gives us a break from plain water.
Hopefully these simple tips will help you with your ultra racing need. For more the complete set of our bikepacking racing tips, tricks and secrets you can find the complete eBook HERE.