1. You’ll need to ride pretty far
Around 260km per day to be precise. Once you factor in unavoidable faffing while cycle touring, your average speeds will most likely drop much lower than you might expect. With a little eating, navigating, the odd mechanical and the quick toilet stop, you probably can’t expect to be doing much faster than 18-24km/h. The result = a good 13-15 hours in the saddle each day and those 4.45AM alarms don’t get any easier…
Now try this in November because “it’ll be a laugh” and you’re starting an hour before sunrise and finishing three after sunset. Safe to say you’ll do your share of night riding, and probably feel saddle sore like you’ve been drop-kicked in the gooch.
2. You won’t need a £10,000 ultralight racing bike
Cycle touring light and fast feels a little incongruous. Even if you go minimal like we did, having enough clothes to keep you warm and dry and something semi-comfortable for the evenings means you’re probably looking at 6-8kg worth of luggage. Put bluntly, there’s not much point in having an 8kg ultralight bike and then adding its own weight again in luggage. That said, having a suitable adventure touring bike and decent gear will make a real difference. Essential kit includes a decent portable power pack (GPS and low temperatures will munch your phone battery) and enough power plug adapters to charge the countless electrical items you may need or wish to bring.
The weather gods will have a big say on your chances of success. Compelled to crack on with our challenge, even after summer had slipped away (Brexit n’ all), we were facing -10° over some mountain passes as high as 1800m. After being blown off my bike from savage cross winds, we were generally lucky to get cold, but relatively still and clear days later in the week. An extensive collection of suitable cycling attire is paramount, the isolation and serious remoteness of these cold areas should not be underestimated – a fact we were starkly reminded of by a few distinct Wolf howls in the depths of Kosovo’s mountain forests.
Our favourite bits of kit
3. The countries you visit may amaze you
If you’re serious about breaking records, you won’t always be able to take the scenic route. That said, there were many incredible parts to our traverse of the Dinaric Alps. Before cycling out of the European Union into Bosnia & beyond, we didn’t know a huge amount about the southern end of this vast continental peninsula but entering a whole new frontier of unchartered Balkan territory was for us, where the adventure really began. Though beautiful in places and not without their own historic unrest, Slovenia and Croatia had felt remarkably similar to Western Europe. Bustling with 90’s retro cars and a little rough round the edges, the second half of our trip felt entirely different. What these countries sometimes lacked in historic grandeur however, they more made up for in character.
Many of these new states fought or voted their way to independence from the Republic of Yugoslavia 25 years ago now. Though the troubles of this inter-ethnic war have generally passed, Kosovo remains a disputed state to this day and therefore would not contribute to our record goal despite being recognised by most UN Nations. Cycling for days through these mountainous countryside regions, you may find comfort as we did, in the simplistic life and incredibly welcoming people.
4. The cycling was the easy part..
Once you’ve flicked through the 35-page rule book provided by Guinness, it’s clear obtaining the required evidence is a key part of the challenge. In fact, you must be very structured and disciplined to ensure you collect the GPS, video and witness statement evidence that might get you in the book. Though, what started as an inconvenient chore, became an immensely fulfilling part of our trip. Chatting to locals to obtain our two (minimum) mandatory signed entries per country gives you a legitimate excuse to get to know the people you encounter, as well as a brilliant distraction from the sore arse and muscle aches. We didn’t have a single negative encounter on our trip, and were met with an overwhelming enthusiasm and kindness that was genuinely extremely humbling. Our only (albeit inevitable) regret, was not having enough time in the day to be able to learn more of these people and how they live.
5. Do it for the right reasons
Although the World Record status of our Breaking Borders challenge was at the core of every early morning start and the long ride each day, curiously very soon after it didn’t seem quite as significant. A few weeks on, I look back and am already more proud of the journey we took from Poland down to Greece, and every experience along the way. Fundraising for a cause you’re passionate about will really make a difference. Every donation that popped up on the JustGiving app during our ride was like a gentle push on the back. For us, it was launching our charity, that supports the Emergency and Rescue Services that keep UK adventurers safe. Despite every limitation we had, potential excuses we could find or adversity we faced, we had the time of our lives. If you go for it, whether you want to break a World Record or not, good luck and don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way…
If you’d like to donate to the British Rescue Trust please do so on the JustGiving page.
The finish line: Greece - country number 14 on the 3rd November 2017