How do I Stay Sharp on Long Trips ?

Having a riding plan and sticking to it is key to Stay Sharp on Long Trips. And concentrating hard saps less energy than taking things as they come and hoping for the best...

When I'm training, I often see someone riding to a very high standard for a long time, then suddenly making a howling mistake. So they’ll take 99 corners perfectly and then go far too fast into the next one, grab the brakes mid-corner, stand the bike up and head to the middle of the road. This is what happens when you stop having a riding plan. You have to constantly ask yourself: what can I see, what can’t I see, and what might I reasonably expect to happen? If you’re doing that, you’re anticipating so you can then prioritise the danger. You’re planning ahead.

If your concentration drops the riding plan can suddenly disappear with disastrous consequences. This is usually down to fatigue, which creeps up on you. You often don’t realise how tired you are until you suddenly see a hazard and grab the brake late. Your heart rate soars, you get a moment of panic and suddenly think "How long have I been riding this badly for?".

I had an instance of it last Sunday. I’d been riding for two and a half hours and was starting to feel tired so I decided to stop at the next garage or café, but there weren’t any, so I carried on. After 20 minutes I noticed that even moving seamlessly through junctions became a bit of a trial. My brain was starting to fade, so I stopped. What I should have done was stop 20 minutes earlier.

The classic case is on a foreign trip when you’ve been riding all day, you’ve had a cracking time, perhaps riding a little bit faster than normal, and you’re absolutely knackered. Then you go the wrong way, turn round and set off on the wrong side of the road. So many people do it – I’ve done it myself.

It might seem that having a riding plan at all times would make you more tired because of the concentration necessary, but this isn’t the case. If you’re thinking your way through situations and prioritising, it actually reduces stress so you can stay relaxed and not get as fatigued. So instead of seeing someone at a junction, slamming on the brakes, getting tense and having a jolt of adrenalin, you’ve already slowed down because you saw the junction sign a while ago and were expecting someone to be there. Your heart rate is down, your muscles are relaxed and everything seems easier. Flying by the seat of your pants is hard work.

Having the right kit is massively important on long trips, either to keep you warm or cool – being too hot or cold makes it very hard to concentrate. On summer trips the problem is generally heat, when wearing protective kit can make you very hot. It’s a personal choice, but if you’re tempted not to wear protective gear I would suggest the mesh armour that’s popular with continental riders or a cool vest (these store water, cooling you by evaporation) under a textile jacket.

And Here is 3 steps to Keeping A Plan

- Keep looking at signs, anticipating what’s ahead and riding accordingly. This will keep you safe and (funnily enough) is also far less tiring than flying by the seat of your pants.

- Take regular breaks and stop as soon as you feel tired. Riding on for just 15 minutes longer could be a big mistake, as your concentration will drop off significantly.

- Being too Hot or Cold seriously dents concentration. If you’re going abroad in summer, think about investing in a cool vest, vented jacket or mesh armour.