If you’re going to embark upon a race of epic proportions — say something like a 2,745-mile journey from Canada to Mexico with an accumulated elevation gain of 200,000 feet (60,960m) — having the right kit is critically important.
So what items did seasoned long-distance endurance riders Lee Craigie and Rickie Cotter choose when doing just that?
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In June 2017, cross-country racer Craigie and adventure cyclist Cotter set off on the Tour Divide, a long-distance race from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border.
It’s the world’s longest off-road cycling route with riders cycling the equivalent of three times the length of the UK with around 20 Everests’ worth of climbing.
The race is self-supported, and for anyone who competes it’s not just an epic adventure but “a journey of self-discovery”.
Cotter and Craigie are both members of the Adventure Syndicate, which in its own words is “a collective of female endurance cyclists whose aim is to increase levels of self-belief and confidence in others by telling inspiring stories, creating an encouraging community and delivering enabling workshops and training.”
The group of women has embarked upon numerous adventures before, but the Tour Divide is surely one of the most gruelling.
In true adventure style, Cotter and Craigie’s journey was not without challenges, including failed bottom brackets, exploding tyres, broken kneecaps, rattlesnakes, bears and hospital visits, to name a few.
If the arduous journey wasn’t challenging enough, they also took it upon themselves to film their attempt. The resulting film Divided captures their highs and lows, and gives viewers a real understanding of the true grit needed to compete in the Tour Divide.
It’s an entertaining and inspiring tale, and if you feel motivated to give something like this a go, or even something on a slightly smaller scale, here are a few things to consider.
1. The bike
What kind of bike you go for depends on the terrain you’ll be covering as well as your personal preference.
The Tour Divide is mostly on gravel and off-road routes, and Craigie rode a Shand Custom Bahookie.
The steel-framed 29er, custom-built by Shand Cycles — a small bespoke bike builder in Scotland — featured a rigid carbon fork, SRAM Eagle chainset, ENVE wheelset, SON dynamo hub, Igaro charging unit and Exposure REVO light, Jones h-bars, Schwalbe Thunder Burt tyres 2.25, Time Atac pedals and a Specialized saver seatpost and saddle.
“The SRAM Eagle was incredible, it did 7,500 miles on the same chain,” enthuses Craigie. “I’ve only just taken it off and it did the Tour Divide, 2,000 miles in Peru, a bikepacking adventure in Norway, a tour of Scotland and more.”
2. Frame bags
When you’re riding constantly for days and days you have to carry everything with you, and even the lightest of packers will need something to haul it all in.
For Cotter, the Apidura frame bag, handlebar pack and saddlebag were her top pieces of kit: “They’re such small, lightweight units. Without these we wouldn’t have been able to travel at the speed we did… it enabled us to go a lot quicker a lot more efficiently.”
3. Dynamo hubs
The fact that Cotter and Craigie were capturing the highs and the lows of the race via GoPros and iPhone meant getting power for charging was crucial.
A SON dynamo hub hooked up to a converter and handlebar-mounted USB socket kept them rolling and charging. ”You don’t need to stop as you’re creating your own energy,” says Cotter.
4. Durable tyres
Deciding to opt for the comfort of slightly wider and stronger ENVE M60 rims, Cotter selected a Specialized Fast Track 2.2 tyre.
”It was really good until about three-quarters of the way through when it began to get scuffed…” she says. It was less than 100 miles from the end of the 2,745 mile race when the tyre finally gave in and exploded on a hot barren section of dirt road in 45-degree desert heat!
“Although it’s not a massively technical route you get a lot of side swipes from rocks, so it was critical that the sidewalls were robust,” Cotter explains. “If I did it again I’d do a full tyre change 1,800 miles in at Steamboat Springs.”
5. What to wear
Since Craigie and Cotter were in the saddle riding for hours, day-in and day-out, having comfortable clothing was critical.
Craigie focused on wool layers for the trip, packing Merino boxer shorts, baggy shorts from UK company Findra, a GrnSportswear bamboo T-shirt, Findra Cowl neck Merino wool top, Swrve socks and Giro Rumble mountain bike shoes, all topped off with Endura technical wear.
Top tips for your own cycling adventure
If you’re inspired to take on your own cycling adventure, Cotter and Craigie have these three tips:
- Do a little research but don’t overthink it or you’ll never start
- Make realistic goals but don’t be confined to thinking small, you’re always more capable than you think you are
- Remain open to evolving situations. If something goes wrong then roll with it, this is the adventure! Stay in the moment and enjoy that change in direction. Just keep moving and everything will be all right in the end
Where to watch Divided
- 20–22 April 2018: Bespoked in Bristol
- 4–7 May 2018: Cycle Touring Festival, Clitheroe
- 11 May 2018: #JennRide2018, Staveley, Cumbria
For news on upcoming screenings and to keep up to date on the various adventures and challenges being undertaken by members of the Adventure Syndicate, check out its website.
In particular, the Syndicate’s newest member, Jenny Graham, will be attempting to set a new record for the fastest woman to cycle around the world.