Endurance

Elspeth Beard rode a beat-up BMW around the world.
In addition to daydreaming about which motorcycle I'd like next, one of my favourite things to do when stuck indoors is stare at a map and imagine the places I could go. 

The obsession from which this blog gets its title is one borne of a desire to see more of the world around me. I have lived in the United Kingdom for 7.5 years but I really haven't seen that much of it. I have never been to Scotland, for instance. Never to the eastern side of the island of Great Britain. Never to Northern Ireland. Never to Manchester, Liverpool, York, or Newcastle. Until this past Christmas, I had never been to Cornwall. Most of what I have seen and experienced on this side of the Atlantic Ocean exists within 30 miles of the M4 –– the 190-mile-long motorway running from South Wales to London.

Part of the reason for that has been lack of adequate transportation. There was a space of time there when I had a 1995 Peugeot 306, but I didn't trust the thing. This mistrust proved to be well-founded when the brakes gave out on the aforementioned motorway and I ended up having to use the rear end of a Ford Focus to stop myself. Afterward, I bought an even worse car, sold it three months later and thereafter went without.

But there has been, too, my tendency to build up fears and anxieties of the unknown. I have an amazing ability to get worked up about nothing. The whole motorcycle thing was (and is) an attempt to overcome both the above issues: i.e., lack of means of exploring, and lack of the proper will to do so.

(That's not to say I've ever lacked the desire to explore/wander. But there is a difference between having the desire to do something and having the will to do it. I could digress into a discussion of how I honestly feel the oppressive negativity of most Welsh people's thinking has infected my own and made me a lesser person, but I won't go into it except to say that after living here for a while I started to lose my will to explore.)

Now that I have a bike and am getting to the stage where I am (slowly) growing more confident in my riding ability, my mind turns ever more to the issue of where to ride. The list of places I've yet to explore in this rainy archipelago is so long I have trouble choosing. Where to go? What to see? What to do? 

In 1929 Vivian Bales rode 5,000 solo miles in 78 days.
And as I ponder these questions one thing stands in my mind as a possible obstacle: endurance.

So far, the most I've ridden in a single day has been 220 miles. It was an all-day affair, broken up by no less than six stops, and I almost crashed toward the end. Since then, I've rarely ridden more than 150 miles in a single day, and again, these journeys are broken up by an incredible number of breaks. 

Consider, for instance, the fact that it is just 90 miles from Aberdare, Wales, to Pennant, Wales. When I covered that distance back in October it took me 4.5 hours to do so. OK, yes, it was rainy and I wasn't well-equipped for the cold and I stopped for a long lunch and I was riding down comically narrow lanes for a certain part of the trip, but still. That's an average of 20 miles an hour!

There is no way I'd be able to take off enough time from work that I could travel up to Scotland and back if I were only covering 20 miles an hour!

To that end, a trip to Scotland would inevitably require a certain amount of motorway riding (motorways are like interstates, for those of you playing along at home). Because the lesser roads in the United Kingdom are, indeed, lesser roads.

It is not like the United States where there is a large network of good-quality roads that simply have lower speed limits and less traffic. Such as in Texas, where you can get from Dallas to Houston either by the I-45, or via a combination of U.S., state, and farm-to-market highways, and in both cases be relatively assured of good road surface. In Her Majesty Elizabeth II's United Kingdom, back roads are small, they are badly maintained, and they tend to wind illogically through every possible village and town.

All of this leads to a need to increase my endurance: the distance I can go overall, and the distance I can go without breaks. It's admittedly a hard thing to work on in winter because the opportunities to get out are less, daylight hours are fewer, and cold weather naturally forces more breaks upon even the toughest of riders. But I am trying.

This past Saturday, for instance, I was very pleased with myself for making it from Gloucester to Penarth without a stop. That's 65 miles, most of it on the motorway, and the temperature was 3ºC (37ºF). Account for the windchill factor (I was going about 90 mph [a] most of the way) and it was a cold ride home –– my visor frosted up on the edges. But I did it without much negative effect. Though, I doubt I could have gone more than an additional 5 miles without a break. And even with a break, I'm not sure I could have handled more than 30 additional miles to the day's total. 

In total on Saturday, I rode 140 miles, and I was quite tired at the end of it. With that sort of daily mileage, just making it to the Scottish border would demand a midpoint stop –– meaning I'd get to spend one evening of my precious time off living it up in a Travelodge in some gloriously insignificant town like Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Steve and Tina spent much of 2013 riding all over the United States.
I realise that the main thing I need to do to increase endurance is simply ride as much as I can. But I'm also investing in a few modifications I hope will help make the ride easier/more comfortable. Chief among these are heated grips. My father bought me some for Christmas, and I'm going to have them put on in the next week or so. Additionally, as I write this, I am waiting for the delivery of a new, taller windscreen. It will only add 12cm (4.7 inches) of height, but, as they say in these parts, every little helps.

My hope is that the combination of these two things will result in my not getting so cold so quickly. It's hard to go very far when your teeth are chattering.

Beyond that, though, I'm not too sure what to do. So, I'm turning it over to you: what else can I do to increase my time in the saddle? What are tricks you use to stay comfortable and alert for long rides? I'd love to know.

__________

(a) If you are a member of Gloucestershire Constabulary, Avon & Somerset Constabulary, Gwent Police, or South Wales Police, please note that this is a lie told for storytelling purposes only. I never ride above the speed limit.

Comments

  1. I can relate especially about riding in Texas... http://www.thetexasrambler.com/2012/03/07/long-distance-touring/

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  2. Mmmmm heated grips. You're going to wonder how you ever did without. I've been known to use mine on chilly summer morning or evenings too.

    Longer riding days come with time and experience. There was a time when my longest day was 100 miles, then 200, and year before last on the way home from the IMBC it was 479 miles in one day. And now I look at that and wonder how the heck I did it since I haven't done over 200 in one day since.

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  3. Endurance comes with experience as previously stated. There's no magic pill, so just let it happen when it happens. Have fun for now. I love riding long distances, but I love the breaks too. I've done the coast to coast to coast challenge here in the US and completed it in 90 hours via Interstate 10 (Jacksonville FL to San Diego CA and back to Jacksonville). The down side of that is bypassing all the really cool stops along the way.
    Make sure you have a comfortable seat, good riding gear and a comfortable riding position on your bike. Every little thing that starts out as an irritation in the beginning will become monumental after 5 or 6 hours.
    So enjoy the breaks for now. The longer rides will come.

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  4. Chris:

    From my experience; (1) you will need a way to move your legs about. I used to rest my legs on my frame sliders and on my Vstrom I added Highway Pegs. (2)A gel Pad on your seat will aid in airflow and cushioning (3) and don't forget a throttle rocker or throttle lock

    another thing which really helps is to follow another lead car when you are getting tired. It is easier to pace yourself without thinking. It is very tiring to be first in a line when you are not familiar with the roads

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

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  5. I've ridden quite long distances... the farthest was about 1,000km in one day. My ride was a K1200LT, which is an extremely comfortable motorcycle, and the weather was very hot, not cold. So not sure how you can relate to my experience here... Just got my knees hurting a bit from the sitting position. No numb or hurting fingers (like when I ride my K1200R)... but that' the K12LT's doing...
    Basically, I do get lots of water for the way. I usually get a few doses of B-complex vitamins (help with the headache), stop every hour or two, to stretch my legs, and clear my head. Rock music makes go the distance... but that depends on people. My bikes make almost no noise at all (BMWs), just the wind. Reducing noise goes a long way to making you comfortable and avoiding headaches. Above everything stay hydrated. Stop if you have to download coffee, and use it to stretch your legs. Do take pictures and tell yourself that there's nowhere else you'd rather be... Look at your motorcycle and realize how lucky you are... Start planning in your head your next trip, and how you will cherish the one you're on. Tell yourself that this is a milestone you have to overcome. The only way to improve your riding, is riding more. Cheers!

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  6. Imagine my surprise to scroll down on your blog and see my own face! Ha ha ha!!

    Understand, I had no endurance when we started. But I grew into it. Sadly, now I'm a flabby mess again because we've been riding so little. But I can get back into "riding shape" with a few miles. And working out.

    Before we left Steve and I hit the gym OFTEN! We both did at least 30 minutes of cardio (he did 60 mins on the treadmill, me always 30) and we pushed our heartrates up and down. So we set a baseline (mine was 130 bpm) and then a high point (mine was 170). For 30 mins I would push up to 170, hold for 1 min, drop into a zone where I could breathe again, then push up to 170 again. But I always kept above 130 bpm. Building up our cardio endurance made the difference in riding endurance.

    We also did some weight training daily, which helped me significantly. All of this came into play when we rode so far. Overall strength and endurance does wonders for riding long distances. Sheer determination helps, but you have to train like an athlete in some ways. Think of the Olympic athletes and the work they do.

    Eating well, drinking lots of water (even when it's not hot and you're not thirsty) and getting enough SOLID sleep all make a difference. I also indulged in Sour Patch Kids at 3pm on the long days (I taped a bag to the inside of my windshield and ate one at a time for about 1 1/2 hours) for a sugar boost to end the day. Also, I love 5 hr Energy drinks. One a day after lunch helped me.

    Eat a big breakfast and a huge lunch!! You'll burn so many calories it will blow your mind!

    Music helps me too. Loud, rock, fun music. Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Doors, Collective Soul, Rihanna, Rush, Florence & The Machine, etc. Don't forget Freebird! :)

    Smooches,
    Sash
    www.SashMouth.com

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  7. Not much to add to these good comments. Earplugs were the biggest single thing that changed my riding. Using them reduces the fatigue a lot and helps to focus.

    Personally I'm not sure if riding very long distances in one day is something to especially aim for. Sure if you want to travel you need to do some miles, but to me part of the fun is to ride, take brakes and then rode more. I'm also very aware of how a long day in the saddle affects my concentration and awareness. The more tired I am the more likely I am to injure myself. So no IronButts for me :)

    Kalle

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  8. It sounds like you need something to channel your spirit of adventure and bring it out of you. What kept me going each day on Road Pickle was what I was going to be writing about. I could imagine you and others following our adventure along the highways, and that inspired me to ride. Motorcycle Obsession is a great blog about your coming of age as a motorcycle rider, but maybe something else focused on the great little travel finds of the UK is what's in order.

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    Replies
    1. I like that idea. I'll have to see what I can think of. It's funny: I've lived here so long that I now think of it as boring, so I can't imagine anyone wanting to know about it.

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