Lessons Learnt from Cycling and Bikepacking in the Yarra Ranges and Snowy Mountains – Nov to Dec 2018

This is an epic post with a bunch of lessons learnt from a few days of long alpine rides, and a few days solo bikepacking. It is as much for my own benefit for planning my next trip, as to share my learnings with others who may find it useful.

Gear

  • Always pack a true waterproof lightweight rain jacket, it will also be wind proof and will keep you warm and dry.
  • Always pack a buff – my newly-purchased merino buff has been a valuable piece of gear in the last few days, as a neck and head warmer on the bike and a beanie/head warmer off the bike.
  • Always pack a buff – my newly-purchased merino buff has been a valuable piece of gear in the last few days, as a neck and head warmer on the bike and a beanie/head warmer off the bike.
  • A cycling cap is essential to use in the rain to keep water out of your eyes, and in the sun to provide sun protection. Put on sunscreen even in abysmal conditions – I got burnt on a day when it was raining the entire day and we were riding through the clouds! Alpine sun is fierce.
  • Put on sunscreen even in abysmal conditions – I got burnt on a day when it was raining the entire day and we were riding through the clouds! Alpine sun is fierce.
  • Put on sunscreen even in abysmal conditions – I got burnt on a day when it was raining the entire day and we were riding through the clouds! Alpine sun is fierce.
  • I can wear a merino top for two weeks without it getting too smelly – e.g. merino singlet to bed every night and to a yoga class in the heat and it didn’t smell at all. I also wore my Rapha merino polo shirt for several days throughout the trip, including on the flight over, and I was still feeling fresh in it at the end of the trip.
  • A mini toothpaste will just last two weeks.
  • My packable Pacific Northwest backpack can easily fit in all my clothes for two weeks as carry-on, it is comfortable as a backpack (at least through the airport) and packs down very small. It is also useful as a shopping bag and emergency gear carry bag if I have any issues with my bikepacking setup.
  • My Alpha-down jacket plus merino buff was warm enough for a short visit to Charlotte’s Pass in windy conditions. I also haven’t reached the limit of its water resistance, even wearing it on the rainy ride in the Yarra Ranges.
  • A musette bag or similar collapsible bag is useful for small shopping trips and for carrying essentials on plane and train trips.

Alpine riding:

  • Above 700m altitude, I noticed that it started to get colder. Even when climbing, it was noticeably colder than lower altitude.
  • Above 1000m altitude, I noticed that I could feel the lower oxygen levels and had to back off my pace to a pure aerobic effort level.
  • At the higher altitudes e.g. over 1000m, my back pain often wasn’t as bad – maybe due to the cold air, maybe due to the lower effort level. Except for Mt Donna Buang.
  • Wear sunscreen and reapply every stop / every few hours.
  • Disc brakes are the best – particularly in wet weather, on gravel, bumpy sealed or unsealed roads, long alpine descents through the clouds. Pretty much describes the conditions I was riding in for days!

Bike packing and touring logistics and planning:

  • Average riding speed for a mountainous road ride on my cyclocross bike without luggage, elevation gain/distance ~ 19-22, with the same descent as gain, was 17-18kph.
  • Average riding speed for a flat short rail trail/gravel ride on my cyclocross bike with half-packed luggage (not cooking or camping gear), was 20kph.
  • Average riding speed for an undulating all-day road ride on my cyclocross bike with half-packed luggage was 21.5 kph.
  • Average riding speed for a mountainous road ride (elevation gain/distance 23, 3300m gain compared to 2700m loss) on my cyclocross bike with half-packed luggage was 13.5 kph.
  • Generally I stopped for less than an hour in total over the whole day. Snack stops and stretches were only a few minutes, I had one or two toilet stops each day, and the lunch and afternoon tea stops were about 15-30min.
  • Route mapping: Do not trust Google Maps for actual routes / roads that may or may not exist. Also Google Maps under-estimates elevation gain by a good chunk, maybe 15-20%. I use Ride with GPS to plan my routes – I can do this on my tablet (using an internet browser) but not on my phone. On my phone, I can access and download the routes (inluding background map) so that I can use it while off-line. In flight mode, the app will still find my location on the map so that I can check that I’m on the right track.
  • For navigation on the road, I didn’t use a route in my Garmin. I put route notes in an app on my phone – the distance to key landmarks, such as start and ends of large climbs, main turns, and towns. I also made sure to have the route downloaded offline. Navigation mainly involved following road signs that pointed to the next “significant” town on a route, and the road number (e.g. C512). Make sure you know all the towns on your route, refresh your memory of your route in the morning over breakfast, and pay attention to road signs along the way.
  • I put my Garmin in power save mode for the whole trip, with bluetooth sync turned off, and I still used about 75% of my battery over the long touring days.
  • I didn’t use my bike lights during the day, to save battery power in case I needed them towards dusk or during very overcast conditions.
  • I added reflective tape strips to my cranks, and wore a reflective ankle strap on my right ankle, for the touring rides. The ankle strap was not annoying and I didn’t feel like a goofy wearing it!

Food and nutrition:

  • Hunger is not always the best gauge for when I need to eat, in order to keep up energy supplies for the brain and for cycling. When my brain starts feeling vague and I am not seeing straight, it is time to eat. When I’m cold, I have to eat more frequently. This includes cold due to elevation.
  • On long days in the Yarra Ranges (7-8 hours riding time), I ate porridge made with milk plus coconut, marmalade and seeds for breakfast. With milo and instant coffee in my first drink bottle of the day, this kept me going for the first couple of hours. I also had a sit-down lunch (pie or foccacia) with a sweet slice and a coffee. Throughout the ride, I had a few jelly beans and two muesli bars. I probably needed at least one more bar for that length of ride. I probably only had three bidons at 600-750mL each, so around 1500mL while riding, but that was in very cool conditions. Add in the coffee and water over lunch and it would be around 2L total. While this doesn’t seem much, for me it seemed to be ok for the conditions I was in.
  • For the long touring days (8-10 hours riding time), I had muesli for breakfast and just water in my bidons. On the long day with big mountains, I mixed coke in with my water half-half for the mountain climb, which was two bidons from one 600mL bottle of coke. I went through just 3L of fluid (water and coke) over 11 hours in generally mild conditions, although I was sweating a lot. I didn’t run out of water or feel dehydrated. It seems in mild conditions I use about 1L of water per 4 hours.
  • I had a “proper” lunch of toasted sandwich or roll with salami and cheese, and a proper afternoon tea of crumpets or toast with toppings. This worked very well as a good re-fuel, mental and physical break. These stops were 15-30min. Something savoury worked best and was most palatable. The crumpets and the toasted sandwich were my favourites!
  • I find museli bars work better for me than trail mix, because they are defined servings – even though they are not all the same, it makes my estimations of how much food I need much easier. I can also open and eat them while riding, and easily store them in my handlebar bidon bags for access on the bike.
  • Polenta for breakfast was a fail.
  • Porridge with jam, milk and add-ins were great for breakfast. The add-ins (coconut and seeds) and chocolate didn’t seem that necessary to my enjoyment of the porridge, but may have helped with maintaining energy. Butter or peanut butter could be a good alternative.
  • Too much refined sugar is not great for maintaining steady energy levels, and is likely to lead to gas. Try real fruit and slower release sugar / carb sources – oat-based, dried-fruit based.

What went well, above and beyond expectations:

  • My bike: I love my bike. No mechanical issues, aside from some slight gear tuning required in Albury, and needing to pump up the rear tyre about every second day for the first few days, before the sealant fully settled in (new tyres). Comfortable powerful bike fit (thanks Leon Vogels), comfortable saddle.
  • My gear ratio: I think it is 11-40 cassette and oval 34 or 36 tooth chain ring. Although I was at my easiest gear by about 8% gradient, I could still get up long climbs with significant sections over 10%. I also got up Col de Beloka (without luggage) which is 2 x 1.5km sections at ~16%.
  • My Vermac bib knicks: I had zero problems with these after over 10 hours of riding, including in the rain. I will not use any other knicks for long rides. The only problem is that they are bibs – but wearing shorts on multi-day trips doesn’t work for me as they cut into my belly. It actually wasn’t too inconvenient to get out of all my clothes to use the toilet, as I only had to do it a few times each day, and I’m pretty practiced at it now. I also used chamois cream each day, and skin repair gel on any tender bits at the end of the day, which worked wonders.
  • My brand new Giro Republic knit touring shoes with mountain bike cleats. I had worn these only once before my trip, hugely risky, but I’ve had zero problems with them rubbing or causing any discomfit, including in hot, wet, cold and muddy conditions. I used toe covers in the cold – my feet were still numb, but nothing could have prevented this given the conditions we were in.
  • My endurance: For the long rides, I have felt equally as powerful at the end as at the start (except for the Donna Buang climb). My power to heart rate ratio has been 4-6% (target is about 5% for good endurance), this is a low level of decoupling between heart rate and power. In fact, I did such a huge negative split for the Albury-Corryong ride that my heart rate was a little lower and my power was way higher for the second half of the ride, leading to -55% power : heart rate ratio! Each day I have felt good getting back on the bike, I haven’t felt sore or fatigued, except for my problematic lower back, which actually hasn’t gotten hugely worse.
  • Bug deterrent: I have a small pot of lip-balm consistency herbal-based bug deterrent. I applied this after sunscreen as dabs on my face, neck and ears and it did wonders at keeping the flies from landing on my face! Miracle, essential touring kit.
  • Cardboard box bike bag: For the first time, I packed my bike in a cardboard box for travelling on the plane, as I needed to dispose of it when I arrived then pick one up at a bike shop to pack on the way home. It was easy to pack my bike – the only extra thing I did was take off the rear derailluer, which I will do from now on anyway for protection. I could also fit in all my (mostly empty) bike packing bags, my helmet, cycling shoes, bidons, tools, etc. All up it weighed 20kg, and because it wasn’t too heavy or too high, I could actually carry it easier than my soft bike bag. It did require two hands to carry the bike box, so it only worked because I had a backpack carryon bag. It was also way more protective than my soft bike bag. I think I’ll use my new cardboard box to travel with my bike for my next trip, until I find an ideal bike bag. I would like a bike bag that is equally as light and protective as a cardboard box, but smaller i.e. shorter in length so that it can fit in a standard car, and easier to manouevre through airports – e.g. on excellent wheels. I was thinking that a backpack bike bag would be good, but considering how great my backpack collapsible carryon bag is, I will probably use that in future!
  • My planning and estimated ride times: I estimated a realistic / worst case scenario ride time, particularly for the Corryong to Jindabyne mountainous route, and I finished a little faster than my best case scenario. The climbs were not entirely up / steep, which meant that my average uphill riding speed was faster than expected, at 7.5 – 10 kph, although my minimum climbing speed on the steep sections was at least as slow as I had thought, at 3.5 – 6 kph. I also stopped for less time than I had expected throughout the day – this was probably made easier because I was solo, so I just stopped when I wanted to stop and did the things necessary for me as efficiently as possible, without having to consider anyone else.
  • Silicon cargo net on my seat bag: It extends my seat bag storage capacity significantly, and is a great place to attach things that are needed for easy access during the day. Strapping shoes to the rear of the seat bag with the cargo net worked very well. Extra things can also be tucked under the cargo net – e.g. a collapsible water bottle. And extra things can be tied onto the cargo net – e.g. rain jacket in a bag, attached in two places to make sure it doesn’t fall off. Only when I had the 1L water bottle plus a 600mL coke bottle tucked under the cargo net (along with the shoes) did it slightly impinge on my bum – not enough to cause irritation, just enough to be aware of.
  • My full frame bag: it is excellent, it can fit so much stuff in! It is also the easiest bag to access during a ride, so is best for food.
  • Clothing packed: The items that I used multiple times through my trip and I think are necessary and suffiient: one pair of long pants, long skins, one pair of shorts, a merino T-shirt, merino long-sleeve top, merino singlet, one pair of socks for off the bike, a no-underwire bra for off the bike, 2-3 pairs of underwear, two sets of bike kit including socks and base layers (one warm, one cool), one comfortable bra for on the bike, down jacket, rain jacket, merino buff, one cycling cap, long (waterproof) and short finger gloves. Unnecessary items: bathers and goggles (sadly I didn’t get in as much swimming as I’d hoped, but the bathers did get used once), light-weight long-sleeve shirt, regular T-shirt, gilet.
  • Train transport with bikes in Victoria: It is fantastic that you can take assembled bikes on the suburban and regional trains in Victoria as luggage, without even needing to book them in, they are just taken as luggage! I arrived 30min early for my (booked) regional train to Albury, as advised, and stood around waiting for 20min as the conductor wanted to load all the suitcases etc first, then put the bikes in at the end. The bikes were strapped in, in different locations depending on where we were going to. It was so easy!

What didn’t go well, below expectations and problematic:

  • Apidura handlebar pocket: Due to limited clearance to my front wheel, the Apidura handlebar pocket has sufficient clearance from the front wheel only if the handlebar bag is packed to the maximum diameter, and there is one full dry bag strapped in between the handlebar bag and the handlebar pocket. But not more than one full bag, and not less than one full bag! Even in this situation, on bumpy downhill roads the extra dry bag would drop lower, causing the handlebar pocket to drop lower and then to rub on the front tyre. It is best to not use the handlebar pocket at all, it is problematic. An extra dry bag strapped on the front is fine without the handlebar pocket. The handlebar pocket needs to be left behind on future trips.
  • Jackets: I had a Vermarc cycling jacket that I expected to be waterproof and warm, it was neither of these. As a backup, I had a Kathmandu alpha down jacket with durable water repellant finish. On the plus side, I havent yet reached the limit of its water repellence, but it is not windproof at downhill cycling speeds in the rain at 2 degrees. I had to buy a waterproof jacket at an outdoor store in Albury (on a hot sunny day). It has great zip up vents under the arms and on the front, a stowable hood and was water and wind proof on the descent. But the arms are very loose fitting and flappy, which makes it way less warm, and way more irritating. My ideal rain jacket would be high visibility colour, with reflective bits on the back, proper waterproof and windproof, with a long-ish tail, but well-vented so that I could wear it riding uphill if it was very rainy or cold.
  • Nutrition: although in a sense it did work, because I had enough nutrition for all the rides and didn’t have any major tummy upsets, I’m not sure how I’m going to do several days totally self-sufficient i.e. without replenishing supplies, considering I needed to eat something every hour and I would be riding for 8+ hours. That is a lot of somethings to carry with me! Also the amount of sugar I was eating was not sustainable and not that great for my gut.
  • Cycling jerseys: not actually problematic, just not ideal. My merino jersey got used the most – it is fast to dry and warm, and has long sleeves that protect my wrists. But if it gets wet it is cold! And if it is warm (e.g. over 15 degrees) then I’ll be sweaty. I have a light-weight long-sleeve Vermac jersey, which is super comfy, but the arm length is about 1 – 2 inches too short, so I need to wear a buff on each wrist to protect from sunburn. I could wear a short-sleeve jersey with arm-coolers or arm-warmers, but I find on long rides that the elastic tends to cut into my upper arms and becomes irritating.

What I would change:

  • Bring my mini battery pack, even for charging a Garmin or lights mid-ride or a phone at the airport.
  • Bring a microfibre buff to wear on my wrist or neck to protect from sun exposure, and to use as a hand-towel during the day (e.g. after applying sunscreen or eating).
  • Put my first aid kit in a soft bag in the bottom of my frame bag, rather than a hard case, so that it is less likely that the frame bag will rub on the crank or chain ring. And make sure that what is in the bottom of the frame bag is well-packed and won’t move around too much, for the same reason.

Let me know what you think of my tips, and anything you would add!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s