Having no idea the weather we would be encountering during the Transcontinental made packing clothing very difficult. We knew we would be in the alps for two, maybe even three days and having lived in the French mountains for several years, I was very aware how fast the giant storms could roll in and soak you to the core without a minutes notice. We were also going to be traveling through eastern Europe in August possibly dealing with temperatures close to 40°. We were also going to be riding through the night and especially at dawn it can be far cooler than any other time of the day. The other slight spanner in the works, was that days before we were about to leave Westminster Bridge, Hurricane Bertha was due to be sweeping across Europe, almost in the exact direction. Great!
So what to take?
(These photos are post not pre ride, all looking good after a quick wash)
It was decided that only one jersey would be taken…yuk…one jersey for the whole two week trip. That was going to be pretty disgusting by the end of it. Those that know me, know I have a tendency to ‘over heat’ on rides, so even after a few hours, kit usually needs a good wash. I wasn’t sure this was going to be the most hygienic way to travel, but hey, it is a super light ultra distance race…lets try.
Giro make some merino wool jersey which are very understated in design and fit really well. I didn’t fancy riding across Albania looking like a huge billboard for cycling so something plain would work well for me. Colour wise, darker the better, it would show up the ‘effort’ far less. Merino is also renowned for its no odour properties and this would be put fully to the test.
I was a little concerned about the extra heat of merino on the hot days, but to be honest, it was fantastic. It kept me cool and regulated my heat really well, never feeling that it was an issue.
On the cooler/cold/freezing days it was a welcome insulation layer that helped to preserve any body warmth we may have made.
The most impressive feature was quite simply it’s robust build. The jersey is still in great condition even after being ridden for 3600km and being put on and off and jackets, food and maps stuffed in pockets. In contrast to some other ’boutique’ brands the pockets have lasted with no damage to the stitching or stretching. The only damage was when I crashed (I literally fell asleep on my bike and toppled sideways). This ripped up some of the shoulder, but the holes didn’t get any bigger for the rest of the trip. Very strongly recommended and I will be definitely using this jersey again on longer rides.
In addition to this, I took a long sleeved Howies merino thermal. This was to layer up with the Giro one and also to sleep in. No really need to review this; It’s a Howies product so it’s well made, functional and sensible price.
I took a Rapha Waterproof shell with me. I’ve had this jacket for several years now and it has stood up to a lot of abuse, packs down really small and is surprisingly waterproof for such a thin layer. The warm cuffs help keep the cold out and warm in and the ‘originally cream but now brownish’ colour was more visible at night than other darker jackets. There are some reflective trims on arms and hem which help make dozy drivers aware of your existence at 2am. A proper saviour in the mountains.
I took two sets of shorts with me. Not washing a jersey is one thing but the same pair of shorts for two weeks would be another thing all together. The plan was to wear one pair for two days, then wash and swop around, giving the other pair proper chance to dry. In practise, this did not happen. After 3 days, saddle sores were pretty painful so I took to wearing both pairs combined with half a pot of chamois cream and some vitamin I to ease the pain. This did work and after day 6, I had almost forgotten the pain of sitting.
The two pairs were some Rapha Thermal Bibs and Castelli Free Aero Bibs. Basically these were the two best sets of bibs I owned so thought I should take them. Both were brilliant and fitted really well, comfortable and eased the pain of spending 15-18 hours a day in the same spot.
The best kit is the kit you don’t recognise…and I would forget I was wearing this. Giro Atmos. Really comfortable, light, airy, what more do you want in a helmet. Oh yeah, some high vis accents on the back to help being seen….check.
Mounted on the helmet, is an Exposure Joystick. This did stay off most of the time but was really useful for rummaging around in bags and general faffing at night.
The Empire shoes were probably my favourite item of the whole trip. They were simply outstanding. Really comfortable, but stiff and easy to pedal in, yet easy to walk in as well. I think they look amazing too. Clean, classic looks with loads of tech in them and really cool orange heel piece. Brilliant shoes for every sort of road riding possible. The thing that blew me away the most was how new they still look. After the whole event, in rain, dirt, gravel, heat, cold, wet they still look brilliant after a wipe with a soft cloth.
The cleats wore pretty fast but i’m not surprised.
Arm warmers, knee warmers, socks, gloves and underhat. All really useful extras that saved us on a few occasions. Gloves maybe one of the most important parts of my entire kit as I finished with compressed ulnar nerves in both arms which has caused quite a lot of issues. Even simple daily tasks have been a huge issue, pinching, zipping, gripping are all high on the no-go list. With cheaper or no gloves, this issue could have been very serious possibly resulting in some proper rehab rather then just pain and annoyance.
These Giro gloves were super hi vis; great for signalling at night with a suitable amount of padding on the palms. The colour has faded quite considerably after the 2 weeks, but they have been on my hands the entire time, not really surprising and they have protect my hands in my two embarrassing crashes of my life.
I think next time, some thicker arms and legs as the ‘race’ spec lightweight ones that were taken were ok, but heavier warmer ones would have been worth carrying.
A Patagonia merino underhat was superb as were the merino socks…basically merino was the material of the race! If anyone is thinking of doing an event like this, any materials options, choose merino. Fast drying, comfortable and warm, even when wet.
Good sunnies are really important when riding from dawn to dusk. A pair of Oakley Radar Locks with Polarised lenses did the job admirably. Comfy, no fogging and perfect optics meant they were a pleasure to wear and tucked into the giro helmet really snuggly for night riding. They are still in very good condition at the end considering what they have been through.
In addition to these items. I took a pair of swim shorts. These dry really quick, super light and make a nice change from sleeping in riding shorts. A merino buff for keeping the draughts out.
I purchased a set of waterproof trousers in Davos when the weather was really really bad and that totally saved me. Warm and dry(ish) and made the 2 days in the mountains during a hurricane almost enjoyable.
We did end up living in bin bags for a few days too. thinner ones in shoes and under helmets and thicker ones as gilets. They made a huge difference to our warmth levels and cost next to nothing. Washing up gloves kept out hands free from cold rain…and looked fantastic.
This was everything we had…no other shoes, no extra layers, no downjackets. Just the stuff above.
I think the clothing we took was suitable and not excessive at all, especially for a 2 week race. I used everything I took and felt that nothing was not worth carrying. I was very happy with all my clothing selections. All was packed into the rear saddle bag for ease of access.
An Alpkit bivi bag stayed with us for the whole time. Great bit of kit. It packs down super small and was very comforting crawling into it at any time of day for 30 minute nap.
We went for the cheap and cheerful method for sleeping bags and 1/2 roll matts. Decathlon junior versions to be precise. Small, light and cheap. These were rolled up in order and stored in a dry bag on the front of the bike.
These were thrown after Italy as it was warm enough to do without.
Pillow was a dry bag with clothes in…overall a very comfy sleeping arrangement that I would use again in an instant.