So, how much kit do you need to ride across Europe? Multiple panniers & backpacks full of gear? Seasoned long distance rider Emily Chappell talks about her Transcontinental kit list… and some unfinished business with the race.
Now that I’ve got several long-distance bicycle journeys under my belt, I’m used to the questions people ask as they try to get their heads round my daring and unorthodox lifestyle.
“But isn’t it dangerous?”
“How do you find your way?”
“How do you cope, being a woman?”
“What if your bike breaks?”
Some of them I’ve even thought of good answers to.
But when I announced that I’d be competing in the 2015 Transcontinental Race – a non-stop 4,500km dash from Flanders to Istanbul (via various fiendish mountain passes), and explained that I’d be trying to ride over 300km a day, with as little sleep as possible, people’s confusion spiraled even further.
“But riding for 20 hours a day – is that even possible?”
“What if you fall asleep on the bike?”
“Will you at least have some rest days?”
“You’ll have a support car, right?”
No, no support car. What do you think this is – RAAM? One of the most important rules of the Transcontinental is that riders are self-supported: only allowed to use what they can carry with them on the bike and scavenge from supermarkets and petrol stations along the way. Yes, you can stay in hotels if you want. But you’ll be a lot quicker if you just unroll your bivvy bag in the corner of a field, scarf down a couple of Lidl cereal bars, set your alarm for a quick 45-minute snooze, then get up and carry on.
“So how many panniers will you be taking?”
None, as it happens. They’d just slow me down, and really, there wasn’t all that much I’d need. For a week before I left, my new Genesis Datum sat in the living room, resplendent in its Apidura bikepacking luggage, which slowly I began filling with the stuff I’d need to see me through my crossing of Europe.
‘Filling’ is perhaps an exaggeration. By the time I was ready to leave, my bags were still partially empty, and I occasionally looked anxiously around the flat for other stuff I might cram into them, before remembering that I might as well save some space for the thousands of calories I’d need to carry (and eat) every day.
At the other end (after eight days of racing, two days of enforced rest following an unplanned hospital visit, and another three days of minimum sleep and maximum mileage), I unpacked my scant belongings on the floor of our Istanbul Airbnb apartment, curious to review what I’d carried all that way, what I’d used, what I could have done without – and, knowing this excavation would be of great interest to all the dot-watchers and gear nerds out there, I recorded the occasion in photographs.
First of all I emptied my fuel pod, which had spent the last fortnight strapped to my top tube and my stem, and was the first bag I’d rescue from a burning building, if it came to that.
spare wallet with bank card, insurance card and euros
external battery pack
brevet card (in Lezyne wallet)
Then I turned out the contents of my food pouches. I have a tendency to hoard food on long bike rides, quite often finishing with several thousand calories still untouched, but the final push through Serbia had been particularly demanding, and all I had left was:
Lidl cereal bar
Lidl cereal bar
Lidl cereal bar
Italian seasame snaps
Nuun hydration tablets
And then came the large triangular frame bag, which had bulged so much with all my tools and spares that it raised scaly-looking calluses on my inner calves. (More than one person has pointed out that this may have more to do with the girth of my calves than the dimensions of the frame bag.)
mini duct tape
notebook & pen
powerlinks (for chain)
water purifying spray
USB wall plug
elastic strap for glasses
AAA batteries (lithium, for tracker)
useful plastic bags
And finally, the massive seat pack, which had hung from the back of my saddle, occasionally rubbing on the back wheel when a particularly bumpy stretch of road worked the straps loose, and contained what I like to call my comfort zone: everything that would keep me warm and dry and happy if the weather took a turn for the worse.
Garmin (I stopped using it once I got to Italy)
emergency foil blanket
Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag
Rab Neutrino 200 sleeping bag
Panaracer Gravelking tyre
miscellaneous paperwork (inc. Garmin instruction manual)
lucky light (had it since about 2007)
Knog blinder rear light (USB chargeable)
Then, out of curiosity, and because I have every intention of going back next year and doing better (actually finishing might be nice), I went through and weeded out all the things I’d carried the whole way but not actually used.
Some of these things (like the hip flask and the foil blanket) had been comforting to have for emergencies, even if I never used them. And others (the spare tyre; the back-up lights) could have proved essential had I blown out my sidewalls on the Strada dell’Assietta (like fourth-placed rider Ultan Coyle, who lost eight hours on this gravel section), or had my dynamo hub failed (which it did shortly after I arrived home), but in the event, went unused.
The Transcontinental and I have unfinished business. I’ll be on the start-line again in 2016, and this time I’ll be fitter, stronger and faster; I’ll have cracked the sleeping issue; I’ll have made friends with my Garmin – and I’ll be carrying significantly less than what you see before you.