Cycle touring is a great excuse for a grand adventure. Cutting your way through a foreign landscape on bike is both an affordable way to see the world and a means to get up close and personal with the locals in a way that traditional tourists can’t. Cycle tours were once a grueling test of endurance in ways they aren’t today. Tourists would load their bike with heavy saddlebags and venture out into the unknown. But is tour cycling still a meaningful way to train?
Larry Warbasse and Conor Dunne seem to think so. Their NoGo Tour cuts through the Alps, and it’s become a popular sensation among those throughout the cycling community. Others, like track athlete Rachel James, have their sights set on even more ambitious tours. Her cross-country honeymoon journey across the United States spanned a whopping three months time. In the past, tours like these were normal, but the conveniences of modern travel have transformed them from a sensible travel option into an unusual extravagance.
Regardless, those who have gone on such intensive tours praise their training potential. Dunne and Warbasse have called it some of the best training they’ve ever experienced and particularly comment on the useful level of resistance that comes from the extra travel weight. Rachel James has claimed that her extraordinary journey was transformative: a bold proclamation for someone with such intense training habits in the first place.
The benefits of added weight are further bolstered by our medical knowledge. The resistance training offered by more kit can spread that weight over a broader range of muscle fibers, creating a more balanced approach to training. That said, University of Kent professor Louis Passfield warns that treating the tour as a training exercise could defeat the point. While there are some significant training benefits to tours like these, focusing on it exclusively as a means to improve your performance could get in the way of you enjoying the experience. And those benefits could be more effectively replicated with more focused training.
In short, touring a foreign country on your bicycle can help you perform better as an athlete, but you could be missing out on what makes such a tour really special. Success as an athlete means prioritizing your activities for peak efficiency, and sometimes that means making time to enjoy yourself rather than focusing solely on your times.