Getting ‘bike fit’ is something many new overlanders don’t really think about, and that the seasoned ones often forget. So much is the concentration focused on getting the bike, luggage, kit, destination, routes, documents, and everything else that goes along with a big tour or trip, squared away – it’s easy to overlook preparing perhaps the most important piece of your travel kit: you.
Before you go rooting for that ‘abdominizer’ that’s been in the attic since three Christmases ago, getting bike fit isn’t just about being physically more able – although it does help – it’s about getting yourself accustomed to long days in the saddle, preparing for road and weather conditions you’re not used to, and being mentally prepared for everything a journey can – and probably will – throw at you. Here’s how:
- The fitter and more flexible you are, the better. It helps with enduring those long days in the saddle – particularly if you’re riding off-road – and aids recovery afterwards. Remember that on a bike you’re using different muscles from ‘normal’ life, so get down the gym and focus on legs, lower back, shoulders and core. Out on the road your back, neck, knees and everything else, will thank you for it. Increased fitness also means you won’t become as quickly fatigued. And riding when fatigued is not good! Think loss of judgement, worse reaction times – you get the picture.
- You’ll also need to improve your mental fitness. You need to concentrate harder when riding in unfamiliar conditions, and that’s tiring and stressful. Learn to assess your state of mind: are you tired (big session last night); are the conditions going to be challenging (flooding, snow, ice); are you stressed (can’t find phone, documents in a mess). Learn to recognise the signs and deal with the problem right away.
- Get plenty of experience riding in the conditions your likely to expect – rain, snow, wind etc. and even if you’re not planning on doing any ‘off-roading’, it’s worth getting even just the basic skills in your armoury – you never know when you might have to tackle a section of roadworks, a detour down an unpaved section of road, or even just down a long gravel track to a campsite etc. And if you are riding on unpaved surfaces, standing on the pegs for hours on end needs core strength.
- Practice riding and basic manoeuvres with your bike fully loaded. Fully loaded touring bikes are heavy, so ensure you have the right techniques for physically moving them around – know your balance point! And don’t leave it until day one riding to the ferry port to try out with a pillion. The same goes for your riding kit too; make sure your gear will prevent you getting too hot, cold or wet and ride in it regularly in the run-up to a trip to seek out any weak points.
- Finally, just ride the miles. The best way to be bike fit is to regularly ride. You never know when you may have to knock out a really big mileage day: maybe a border is closed or there’s a ferry to catch; perhaps there’s been an incident and you have to go the extra miles to get help. Being capable and confident of riding for longer periods is a skill that not many train to do, but sometimes there may be no option. Be prepared, so that if a 500-mile day presents itself you are up to the job.