By Grant Williams
The highlight of my cycling is riding in the mountains, both in the UK and Europe. Every year, my partner Emma and I spend our summer holiday cycling in spectacular areas such as the Pyrenees, the Dolomites or the Alps.
As this is the focal point of our year, a large amount of effort goes into searching out places to visit, choosing the right equipment, training, and nutrition. Mountain Essentials gives an insight into some of the things which have been added to our cycling to make the preparation more effective, and the time spent riding even more enjoyable and rewarding.
This bag is such a useful piece of kit. Whether cycling at home or abroad, we frequently travel by car to the start point of our bike ride. For this arrangement to work out, all ride essentials must be taken along.
The Wet Bag is an item of luggage which really assists clothing and equipment being organised and easily transported. This is achieved through a number of great design features. Before owning this bag, there has been at least one instance of driving several miles before realising my cycling shorts were still in a drawer at home!
For me, the labelled storage compartments are just so helpful in ensuring the kit I want to take is packed, and the process of locating certain items when getting ready for a ride is made so much easier. Then after the ride, it also feels a little more organised, and the potential of forgetting something is reduced by simply using the bag labelling as a prompt.
I have found that the labelling on the bag may not completely match your kit, but a familiarity regarding what is where, soon develops. The bag measures approximately 36cm long x 24cm x 24cm. Although its size is quite compact, it is actually quite cavernous.
The bag I currently use (pictured within this feature), was sold by Rapha, and is no longer available, but Scicon offer a similar bag. Castelli’s wet bag is also worth checking out, although it is of a slightly different design.
Equipment for Hot Weather
I love riding in the mountains when the skies are clear and the sun is warm, and use equipment which is designed for this. There are a number brands who make kit specific for hot weather, which provide high levels of UVA and UVB protection. This is something well worth checking when you are choosing the clothing you will use.
To complement the hot weather jerseys and shorts now available, I also choose lightweight, well vented, breathable, accessories to minimise heat absorption, and assist comfort. This ranges from helmet, gloves, socks and shoes. I have found Oakley’s Polarised, Black Iridium lense especially good for the bright sunny days in the mountains of Europe, and generally switch to this from my usual choice of Oakley Prizm Road.
I can certainly vouch that on a really hot day, a glove, sock, or shoe designed for riding in higher temperatures can feel much more comfortable when the sun is beating down, and there is a long way to the top of the Col.
Keep an Energy Bar Wrapper
During the big days on the bike, it’s easy to accumulate a number of energy bar wrappers. When emptying my jersey pockets at a roadside bin or buying water, I tend to retain at least one bar wrapper. If the next item of ride fuel you take on is an energy gel, its wrapper can be tucked away in the one which previously held a bar. This method goes a good way in avoiding the jersey pockets and your cargo getting sticky whilst carrying open gel wrappers!
The importance of hydration has been written about many times, and this is something that I consider frequently, when on the bike in the mountains.
The terrain itself tends to prompt shops and bars to be located in the valleys. Mountain top restaurants and cafes are common on the majority of the larger Cols or Passos. When on a ride, we will take the opportunity to buy water when the chance arises, even if our drinks bottles may still be part full. This goes some way to overcome the possibilities of lunchtime closures or if bigger distances to the next bar or shop make it difficult to top up.
The energy and hydration related products we use are now available in sachets. This is really helpful, and we carry these during long rides. Mountain views or the sheer effort of the climb can sometimes be a distraction to your hydration! To help ensure regular fluid intake, I try to create prompts for myself. This may be as simple as taking a sip at every switchback.
We have found a number of bars and gels which are tasty and provide the energy needed. Choosing these is very much down to individual taste and preference, and it is well worth trying a few different brands to find out which ones work for you.
When heading out on a long ride, we like to carry a number of bars and gels of various flavours. This helps to ensure that we keep taking in nutrition, throughout the day.
Both Emma and I have found the bars formed from natural ingredients with a subtle taste profile are particularly good for long days on the bike. They remain appetising even when consuming a number of them throughout the day. The brands who make these bars offer a number of flavours, which provide fruity, spicy, nutty and chocolate based flavours during a ride.
I would definitely recommend trying some of these natural based products. We have found that certain brands provide a greater amount of energy than others, making some better suited to the rides we do, than others. Our favourites include: Torq Fitness, Veloforte, Tribe, Trekbar and Enervit.
Recovery and Flexibility
Effective recovery significantly contributes to getting the most from a bike trip, and can help the legs feel a little less sore as the days in the mountains begin to stack up.
Our bike trips tend to be based on us catering for ourselves, and we have found it relatively easy to buy food and prepare meals to sustain a healthy diet. Added to this are selection of Recovery products, which work for us and taste good too. These tend to be in the form of drinks and bars, and when the ride volume is particularly high and demanding, these are topped up with a supplement designed for use during these periods.
When the ride finishes with a descent, I tend to take in a recovery bar before heading down the hill or mountain. This is with the aim of starting the recovery process as soon as possible, and being ready for the next ride.
Our recovery routine also includes stretching and the use of a foam roller. We travel by car, so a mat and small roller are easy to include in what we pack for the trip.
When heading to the mountains of Europe, I pack clothing options which enable me to be comfortable cycling in a broad range of temperatures. During our most recent trip, we experienced a temperature range between 15 to 40 degrees Celsius. Even on a really warm day, I always carry a jacket or vest; mountain weather can be changeable and you may find the temperature significantly lower at the summit, and on the descents.
Researching routes and climbs can be fun to do, and can feel really rewarding if you discover a hidden gem, or have a really great day on the bike as a result of your efforts.
Part of our preparation is to form a list of climbs and routes which we would like to ride. After creating this, we will purchase maps of the area. A map is obviously helpful when planning a ride, and makes it much easier to establish whether certain climbs or interesting places can be linked together to form a route. We don’t always get this right, having recently ridden Col du Coraduque in the Pyrenees, thinking it would link us to another Col, but upon reaching the junction, we realised that gravel bikes or mountain bikes would be needed if we were to try and link to Col de la Spandelles!
Of course, there is also lots of on bike technology nowadays with Garmin, Strava etc, but we kind of like route planning the old fashioned way!
Television coverage of the grand tours can be helpful, and I often take a note of fabulous looking climbs, for future reference. When visiting Europe, I am always on the look-out for cycling magazines which contain details of climbs, routes or interesting places. Although the magazine may be printed in a language that I cannot read, just the name of a certain climb or place maybe all that is needed to begin planning the next mini adventure.
We must not forget social media too, where you can keep in touch with fellow cyclists around the globe, and be able to easily learn about fantastic places to ride.
Neither Emma nor I have any specific expertise in weather and rely on forecasts when planning our road rides. The modern age of smart phones and hourly forecasts is a huge help. This approach generally gives us the information we need to choose if the weather conditions suit the ride we are planning, and there have been many instances when we have adjusted our day, after checking the latest forecast. This may be to either avoid a soaking or maximise another day of blue sky and sunshine.
The weather in the mountains can change very quickly and it may even vary from valley to valley. We have experienced a horrendous mountain storm in one valley, with debris washing all across the road as we headed over Col d’Aspin in extremely intense rain (fortunately travelling by car), and after we had driven down the other side into the next valley, the roads were bone dry!
When out on a ride, I look for signs of the weather changing. This may be cloud building or wind increasing. During our most recent trip, part of the route had the option to tag on a new climb. As the cloud was building in the valley, we chose not to, and within a less than an hour, the mountains behind us had disappeared into thick cloud, and rain was in the air. We headed back a few days later and enjoyed the climb with a clear blue sky and spectacular views.
When visiting a certain area, we will store any location specific numbers relating to Emergency Services within our phones and also the number of local taxis. Fortunately, it has never been necessary to use these numbers, but having this detail could be so helpful to either ourselves or another person, should the need arise.
Part of what I love about cycling is the variation which it holds. Some cyclists love to race, for others it’s the tech and the data. For me, it’s riding my bike in the tranquillity and grandeur of the mountains. If you choose to head to these fabulous mountain areas, it really is worth easing back, and taking a few minutes once in a while to admire the views, and breathe in the air. These really are special places; take time to enjoy each precious moment.