Race Workshop: Comfort

In ultra-distance racing, the narrative around pushing your boundaries physically and mentally can give the impression that this style of riding should be fundamentally uncomfortable. While this does little to help broaden the appeal of ultra-distance, it’s also simply not true. Yes, it can (and should!) be difficult – but discomfort should not be the norm. Instead, there are many things you can adjust about your racing setup that actually maximise and prioritise comfort.

Reading time: 4 min
2 cyclists riding down a gravel path surrounded by a forest

 

Pack Choice

Choosing the right packs for both your bike and the way you are intending to ride can have a big impact on your overall comfort. For those looking to compete at the sharper end of a race, it is common to choose packs with a slimmer capacity, such as our Racing Series, prioritising the comfort of riding with less weight – but perhaps doing without a few “luxury” items. Riders should consider the balance of having a lightweight setup, but also being able to carry everything they need cope with the various situations that will no doubt crop up during a race. What’s comfortable and tolerable for one person might not be for another, with experience and race aspirations being key considerations for riders.

Christoph Strasser’s two-time winning Transcontinental Race setup is a good example of balancing a reasonably lightweight kit list, while also anticipating his needs for riding 4000km across Europe.

 

Christoph Strasser’s Transcontinental Race No.9 bikepacking kit list
kitgrid

Christoph Strasser’s Transcontinental Race No.9 bikepacking kit list

 

Regardless of the way you choose to approach the race and your pack choice, testing your setup beforehand is a great way to make sure you have everything you need on race day, but more importantly, pinpointing the things that you don’t: if you didn’t use an item, can you make do without it? While obviously there are caveats for items like rain jackets (unless you’re 100%  sure it won’t rain..), this will help to reduce unnecessary weight from your setup and in turn, help to reduce fatigue over the course of a race.

Maximising Pack Capacity

Packing suitable clothing can make a huge difference to performance and comfort when racing, with differing weather conditions and length of the challenge necessitating different approaches. From chilly mornings to scorching afternoons, proper layering allows you to adapt to the environment, regulating your temperature and keeping you comfortable.

Using lightweight clothing with a small pack size can help with weight and overall capacity, but can sometimes come with a substantial price tag. One way to navigate this challenge can be to us alternative layering combinations that can also be spread out between different packs. As an example, a pair of arm warmers and an insulated gilet can be just as warm as a dedicated jacket, but, by having these two elements separated, you can spread them between different packs, maximising your free space in different areas, whilst ensuring you are prepared for whatever may comes your way.

Distributing weight evenly across your bike will also help with comfort as well as handling and ride feel. Packing everything inside one big saddle pack with all the weight at the back of your bike will make handling difficult, especially on rough terrain. By spreading the weight of your gear evenly across your bike, you’ll be doing yourself a favour when it comes to comfort – especially over long distances.

Rob Britton during Badlands in 2023
Rider bent over packing his Apidura hydration vest

Rob Britton during Badlands in 2023

On shorter races or big day rides, it is possible to run a minimal setup and have the right layers to ensure all-day comfort. After winning the pairs category at the 9th edition of the Transcontinental Race in 2023, Sherry Cardona visited the remote gravel tracks of Andalucía in Spain. In this kitgrid you can see how she used a lightweight Racing Series setup, comfortably fitting a lightweight rain jacket, gilet and spare socks in our Racing Saddle Pack (3L), the smallest saddle pack in our range.

In some races, where high temperatures and remote conditions limit available resupply, water provision is a key priority. Whether choosing to use a Frame Pack Hydration Bladder in a suitable half or full frame bag, or opting for an on-body piece like the Racing Hydration Vest. As with all things bike related, it is important for your body get used to using a Hydration Vest or similar on-body carry option. With the stock 2L water bladder on the Racing Hydration Vest filled with water, there is now an extra 2kg of weight on your back, which could impact your sit bones. 

Creature Comforts

Bringing along some creature comforts can positively affect your morale and comfort when racing. This can be as simple as bringing a pair of headphones with you to listen to a favourite playlist or podcast, or treating yourself to a change of bib shorts. Although minimalism and necessity can often be overriding themes in ultra-distance racing, the mental boost that comes with some small comforts can be the difference between enjoyable moments and ones you’d rather forget.

 

Cynthia Carson at the finish line of Badlands 2023. Photographer: Nils Laengner

Cynthia Carson at the finish line of Badlands 2023. Photographer: Nils Laengner