© Adam Morka
Bikepack safely and happily with tips and advice from Emily Batty
When this year’s XCO racing calendar was highly-affected by cancellations Emily Batty was left feeling frustrated. But, it was nothing an epic bikepacking expedition across Iceland couldn’t fix.
As the events of 2020 began to unfold, Canadian cross-country mountain biking athlete Emily Batty was forced to reevaluate her professional goals with every mountain bike event cancelled, rescheduled, or affected in one way or another. With no Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup racing until at least the end of September, Batty had to find purpose outside of just training at home in Canada.
Plans had also been afoot for her husband Adam Morka, older brother Eric Batty and famed action-sports photographer, Chris Burkard, to take a nine-day, 900km-plus bikepacking trip across Iceland this year. The plan was to cross east-to-west, riding primarily gravel and dirt roads, through a vast diversity of Icelandic landscapes. To their knowledge, no one had ever completed the trip. The easing of lockdown restrictions in the summer made the bikepacking trip possible and Batty made the decision to join the boys on their expedition.
In August, the crew flew into Reykjavik, proceeded to the small eastern village of Dalatangi and set off. Across endless fjords and mountain ranges, lava fields, black sand deserts and jagged coastlines, the team rode a total of 975km, climbing more than 12,000m of elevation. In doing so, Batty once again found purpose riding her bike.
From redefining what it means to find happiness on a bike, to equipments tips and long-distance preparation, here are Batty’s greatest takeaways from her epic expedition.
1. Long-distance expeditions require a lot of preparation
Developing fitness levels, determining fuelling strategies and route making, as well as getting accustomed to your gear are essential components to any long-distance expeditions that should be dialled in months or weeks in advance, not the night before departing.
Batty strongly suggests building up fitness levels and mixing in longer rides within your training so your joints and muscles can adapt to duration and load. While her training regiment didn’t change much, she made sure to incorporate one to two long rides per weeks – each roughly 200km or seven to eight hours of riding. This buildup of endurance will ease your mental and physical state while pushing through those long, vigorous days.
Testing out your fuelling strategy and gear is also recommended before beginning. When cycling for nine hours plus a day, you want your stomach to be acclimated to whatever food you’ll be consuming – to alleviate stomach aches, or accidents – so begin a consistent diet weeks before, and avoid any unfamiliar foods from the country you're in on the expedition. Also, lay out your gear, test it and figure out how it’s going to be packed.
2. Having the right equipment is key
For Batty, the greatest obstacle on this bikepacking trip was how to overcome the amount of weight and gear strapped to her bike and body. While cycling up and down mountains for 917km is gruelling in itself, carrying roughly 36kg of equipment and food makes it a much more difficult feat.
“I’ve done many hard things throughout my career as a professional athlete, but bikepacking through Iceland may have been the toughest, between the terrain and challenging route, plus all of the gear,” Emily wrote in her recent blog post.
This is where frame bags come in handy. Transferring the contents of a backpack onto your bike allows you to shed weight and pressure from your body without losing any essential riding gear. It creates a much more comfortable, stable and faster ride. Properly storing gear goes hand in hand with bringing straps. On major trips, you’ll likely have more items than you need with nowhere to store them, so it’s essential to have the ability to start strapping stuff everywhere.
Additionally, it's important to bring the right clothing to be able to adapt to ever-changing weather and environments. Iceland’s diverse natural landscape meant traversing snowy mountain ridges, mossy lava fields, and black sand deserts, all in a day's ride.
3. Bikepacking can be a lot of fun
Despite the unprecedented events of the year, Batty saw this period as an opportunity to ride more with family and friends, explore new places and enjoy her bike beyond the confines of competition. Bikepacking trips and planning them may seem daunting and a lot of work, but there can be a lot of fun to be had along the way. Riding a bike with a sense of purpose but without a worry in the world isn't really work after all.
A bikepacking trip or a bike ride over several days where you can camp or stay in accommodation is something Batty recommends to everyone.
I’ve had more fun riding my bike this past year than I ever have
Getting back to the competition circuit after returning from Iceland, Batty placed 27th at the World Championships in Leogang and had Top 30 placings at the two rounds of racing at the World Cup in Nové Město.
“I’ve had more fun riding my bike this past year than I ever have,” Batty explains. “It's been a different year for everyone and with no overall, the races being so late in the year, my main focus was to have fun, enjoy the moment and hopefully collect some UCI points along the way.”
Looking forward to 2021
Batty's eager to return to competition next season with more fire than ever.
"It's been cool seeing how much depth there is in women's racing now. I feel like 2021 will be the most exciting year of racing we've ever seen,” she added. “I’m ending the season super hungry and motivated for top performances in the new year.”