Trans Kernow words by Katherine Moore

Photography by Tom Probert, Todd and Katherine Moore

Hosted by Plymouth’s trendiest bike shop, Rockets and Rascals, the inaugural Trans Kernow departed from the darkening, cobbled streets of the harbor side to conquer the roads of Cornwall. Katherine Moore embarked on the 370km ride and shares her top tips for surviving a long distance, multi-day event.

So, What is the Trans Kernow? Well, you might have heard of the Transcontinental Race. Organised by the late Mike Hall, British ultra-distance legend, the race has run annually since 2013, starting in London or Belgium and ending in Turkey or Greece, with a number of checkpoints in between. Riders head off into the night with some 4000km and two weeks of riding ahead of them, leaving this race only for the most dedicated and toughest long distance cyclists. Trans Kernow offers up a bite-sized slice of the action, crossing the glorious county of Cornwall (AKA Kernow in Cornish), over a long weekend.

The brief was very open, but it was clear that this was not a race. Whether you take 24 hours or three days, all riders are congratulated on conquering this challenging ride. Some opted for a lightweight approach, racing bikes with small saddlebags for spares and food supplies and kipping in B&Bs, whilst others went all out with gravel bikes, laden with tents, sleeping bags and even stoves for an all weekend adventure. Riders chose to either ride solo or in pairs.

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At the start of the ride, each rider received a brevet card, to be stamped in each of the three checkpoints in St Ives, Falmouth and Bude, before returning to finish at the start. Some opted for the most direct route, others headed for the spectacular coastal roads, and some riders detoured via off road sections. Being Cornwall, there are a number of ferries that you can choose to take to cross the river inlets, which all adds to the sense of adventure.

There were very few rules, although it was reiterated that the ride was self-supported. Gathering at the bike shop on a Friday night, the start was informal. A quick brief from owner and founder of the Trans Kernow, Steve Toze, who reassuringly was joining us on the. It was the Transcontinental Race that had inspired Steve to organise the event, curious having never ridden this type of discipline before, yet like many unable to commit to such a mammoth undertaking due to family and business commitments... and so, the Trans Kernow was born.

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Along the route, riders often met at the checkpoints, sharing tales of their journey so far and the plan for roads ahead. With the first rider back in less than 24 hours and the majority arriving back into the bike shop on a Sunday morning, jubilant, yet exhausted riders shared their stories amongst each other and with the organisers over coffees or local ales, before heading back their separate ways. No grand prizes for the fastest or furthest, just a huge sense of achievement and a nod of respect.

7 Things I learned from riding the Trans Kernow

In the discipline of long distance rides and multi-day events, there is so much more to learn than simple cycling fitness. Navigation, kit selection, and storage all become very important, as well as looking after yourself in terms of nutrition and rest to help you get the most out of your ride.

Choose your strategy

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Know from the outset whether it’s a ride or a race, and what you aim to get out of it. You’ll have a different attitude to planning your ride if you’re planning on going flat-out to be the first to the finish, or whether you’re chilled about timings but hope to see and explore as much as possible. Do you intend to carry a lot of kit? If you plan to sleep, will you bivvy, camp, or opt for hotels? Obviously, this will have an impact on how much you carry, and how quickly you will be able to ride.

Plan your route

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Some events will have a set route provided, whereas others will give a series of checkpoints for you to navigate between. If you’re aiming to be as fast as possible, you’ll be likely to stick to the main, direct roads (although some major roads are often forbidden for safety reasons) and try to minimise elevation gain. Opting for a more scenic route could involve bike paths, gravel tracks, hillier coastal roads and scenic detours.

The weather forecast may also affect your chosen plan, resting in periods of bad conditions or avoiding strong winds. Make sure you are confident with your means of navigation, whether it’s a simple map, route card or turn-by-turn route on a GPS device.

It’s also worth noting locations along your route where you can get supplies, like 24-hour garages, bike shops should things go really wrong, or a way to get home should the worst happen. Fingers crossed you won’t need them.

Prepare your kit

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Your chosen plan of attack will determine what kit you’ll need, although a few simple requirements exist across all approaches. It’s important that you have all the tools that you might need to fix up a minor mechanical, especially if you’re in a remote area or riding through the night when bike shops won’t be open. Carry at least two spare tubes for the worst case scenario.

If you’re planning on riding through the night, consider your lighting choices carefully. Always have a backup light and make sure that you have enough to last you through the hours of darkness. A dynamo light is a great advantage here, where the rotation of your front wheel generates energy to power mounted lights. With a dynamo, you won’t have to worry about battery life, and the light tends to give much better visibility and breadth of coverage than battery powered lights.

Optimising your nutrition is critical on long distance events. Get it right and you’ll be well fuelled for endless miles; get it wrong and you’ll be crawling along wondering why everything feels so hard! Practice makes perfect when it comes to this area, and different food choices work for different individuals, so make sure you refine your plan on longer training rides before the event to find out what works for you. Make sure that you fuel yourself with enough carbohydrates for your body weight and riding intensity, and be aware that sugary foods and caffeine, although giving a rapid energy hit, may also cause an energy crash soon after.

For me, a combination of snack foods such as flapjacks, trail mix, bananas, and energy bars tend to work well whilst riding, supplemented by small savory meals at checkpoints or stops in villages and towns. These hot meals can be a real morale boost, especially in the dark, cold or wet, and will also give you a chance to rest your legs a while.

Often overlooked, staying well hydrated is also key to success over longer rides. If you are riding in a remote area or through the night, you can usually find taps at petrol stations or in churchyards - for watering the flowers. A little creepy perhaps but you’ve got to keep drinking. If you get the luxury of a toilet, assessing the colour of your pee is a good way to check your hydration level

Finally, on the kit side, try not to take any risks on a long ride. It may be tempting to wear your shiny new road shoes or shorts, but choosing tried and tested kit is fundamental to being as comfortable as possible in the saddle. Speaking of which, don’t forget the chamois cream!

Choose your partner, peloton or go solo

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Different events will have different rules and options; on an audax ride you can join up and ride with as many as you like, whereas on other rides like the Transcontinental Race or the Trans Kernow you can ride either solo or as a pair. If you haven’t done much long distance riding before, it would be wise to ride with others that have, not only for moral support, but they’ll be able to guide you and offer advice based on their experiences too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn as much as you can from their wisdom!

If you choose to ride solo, be sure that you can be completely self-reliant. That means dealing with any unexpected mechanicals, carrying all of your own kit, food and navigating by yourself. There’ll be no wheel to suck either, but a huge sense of achievement come to the end that you’ve accomplished the whole ride just on your own.

There are many advantages to riding in a pair. Apart from the obvious division of labour with kit carrying, navigation, and mechanical know-how, the moral support is invaluable. Inevitably there’ll be dark moments, so having another voice to encourage you really helps, and vice versa.

Be a nightrider

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Ever ridden through the night before? Most likely not, no views, cold, dark, and you’d rather be tucked up in bed, right? There is so much more to night riding than you might expect. Although you will miss out on the scenery, your other heightened senses reveal a totally different type of riding. Smell the wild garlic in the hedgerows, the salty sea air and the pine trees, hear the trickle of streams and rivers and keep an eye out for wildlife.

Riding through the night also offers the advantage of quieter, often traffic-free roads. Busy main roads that you’d otherwise avoid in the daytime may become a viable option, and remember that the scenic route will be best left for daylight.

Night riding takes practice, and it’s likely that you’ll need to experiment before you perfect your technique. As the light fades, you may find that your body clock kicks in and makes you feel sleepy, so have a strategy in place to overcome this. Blue light, caffeine, energy foods, chatting to another rider and music are all different options that work for different people. Remember that it also tends to be colder at night, so pack an extra layer or two to keep you riding comfortably.

Check the weather

In the lead up to the event, you’ll need to know what you’re letting yourself in for; sun, rain or winds (or all three given the great British weather)? How does the weather change in different locations along the route, at different times of the day and on each day? This will help you pack suitable kit and formulate a plan to suit the conditions.

Mental training

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There’s no denying it; these rides are tough. They will test not only your legs, but your mind too, and challenge your grit and determination. Be realistic and build up gradually in distance and duration, so as not to bite off more than you can chew.

Dark thoughts and testing moments are almost inevitable so spend some time thinking about your coping mechanisms. Do you have particular thoughts or scenarios that lift you up when you’re feeling down? Try visualising the end of the ride, the emotions that you will feel once you’ve conquered those miles, the sense of pride and achievement. Even having an emergency stash of your favourite food can help to brighten your mood and keep you pedaling when the going gets tough.

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So what are you waiting for?

Fancy a slice of the action yourself? Rockets and Rascals have announced round two of the action on 4th May 2018, this time shaking it up with Trans Devon. There are plenty of long-distance audax rides that you can try, building up from the smaller distances, or try organising a trip of your own. Just remember, above all, to ride safe and have fun!

You might also like:

Emily Chappell: Winning the Transcontinental Bike Race

How to Prepare for and Ride your first Audax

Riding the Transcontinental Taught Me to be More Self Assured