Traveling to a bike race can feel daunting. Whether you are flying or driving there, there are a lot of components and things you need to walk through to avoid any last minute panics. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with my bike for over ten years as a professional road athlete, mostly flying, and now as a professional gravel athlete, mostly driving and often with a camper, and here are some of my best practices:
Having a Race Ready Bike BEFORE Departure
That thing should be ready to race as soon as you arrive. If something pops up on a shakeout ride, it should be easier to address than having that laundry list of things you need to do before race day. Remember that you are already spending a lot of time, money, and resources to attend an event and having a working bike is truly an essential part of that…who wants a DNF from a totally preventable mechanical. Being in touch with your LBS (Local Bike Shop) that you trust weeks ahead of the event is essential so that they can give the bike the service it needs and get any parts, if needed. Of course, if you are maintaining your own equipment like we do in our household, be sure to set aside time well before departure for these same reasons!
A few items that may not be immediately apparent:
- Brake and shifting cables
- Sealant in tires
- Brake pads/brake fluid
- Batteries in bike, charging bike
- Bonus tip: if you are flying with your bike, remove and carefully wrap your rotors in a cloth, not touching. These can become bent pretty easily during air travel. Don’t forget a tool in your bike bag to put them back on!
Having a comprehensive packing list for bike trips is really important. Since most people are balancing their bike eventing with full-time work and families, having a packing list that you develop over time can alleviate last-minute forgetfulness and make sure all those creature comforts get in there too. Since Zack and I travel together for Bike Sports, we take on different roles in our packing but are able to check in on a joint Google Doc to ensure everything we need makes it with us. The list is divided into categories: bike-related (anything you need for your ride or fix your bike), personal-and-work related, and then a third column broken down by day-trip or vehicle-only trip, camper trip, or airplane trip. Since travel often brings up unexpected stressors, this is a really easy way to reduce stress and increase performance around your event!
A few of my essentials that have saved the day:
- A really good multi-tool. If you are traveling by airplane especially, don’t forget to pack that multi-tool in your checked bag or bike bag that can entirely disassemble and reassemble your bike. Many don’t have an allen wrench large enough to handle pedals.
- Earplugs, minor first aid, TUMS, allergy meds, ibuprofen
- Lacrosse ball, travel foam roller
- Coffee setup + reusable mug + emergency snacks
- Bike washing equipment and lube (vehicle trips)
Have a Plan, a Flexible Plan
Try as we might, flights are delayed, driving trips can go awry or take longer than expected. It’s good to have a travel plan that provides a solid buffer for your destination so that if things do go south, you can still get the essentials done. I like to rank things into an essentials category (i.e. packet pick up, checking out the start/finish), do it if possible (i.e. specific shake down rides, Brand social activities), and a wish list (i.e. checking out the local sites, etc). If the weekend gets too busy, I can start to let go of items to protect my time and focus on the event ahead. I’ll also add that getting as much sleep as your body needs two nights before event-day is also in the “essentials category”, as well as as much chill down-time or slowly getting ready time the day before. I like to use this slow, getting-ready time to check over and give a final wash to my bike, put my number on, plan out my event-day fueling and aid stops, review the competition and course, and think through how the race might go down and my race plan.
Spending time prepping the bike, packing carefully, and letting go of the schedule allows for a nice, early wind down time. I like to avoid thinking about the race as much as possible during this time and avoiding anything that would ramp up my energy or emotions. Keep the inbox closed, maybe avoid social media. Sleepytime tea, melatonin, NBS Goodnight, a really boring book are all great options for a wind down routine.
Go Get ‘Em!
A little bit of planning helps a TON for a successful event day, whether you are going for that finish, a PR, or a win. Any opportunity to reduce stressors going into event day clears up time and energy to quickly adapt and tackle those things that inevitably do pop-up from time to time. Now go, ride!
About Whitney Allison: Whitney Allison is a long-time professional athlete who transitioned over to gravel in 2021 under the banner of Bike Sports with podium finishes at events like Unbound, BWR Utah, SBT GRVL and more. Off the bike, you’ll find her invested in her community and doing her best helping riders get on bikes and stay on bikes via FoCo Fondo, Bike Sports TV, Gravel Graceland, and the City of Fort Collins Bicycle Advisory Committee.
Photo Credit: Jussi Oksanen and Hot Route Media