Eating and Cooking on a Bicycle Tour | Part 1
In my list of things I love in this world, both cycling and food are up there. Obsession is probably a better way to describe my commitment level for both. My poor suffering family, friends and work colleagues generally have to listen to me talking obsessively about one of them constantly.
I have always eaten well to feed my cycling over the years, but nothing prepared me for the hunger I would feel after progressing into the world of cycle touring. With many long days in the saddle and having all my kit on the back of the bicycle, three meals a day soon turns into many more. Bicycle touring and food are a perfect match for me. Exploring new cultures often means trying new food, which I think is what travel is all about.
The question of when and how to eat on a cycle tour keeps being asked. Do you need special food? What travels well in your panniers? How much? When to eat? The list goes on and on. Much of this is down to the individual to decide, however, this series of posts will run through what I do when out touring. I'm now an expert in nutrition - it's an insight into what I do and hopefully it helps other people. It can mean working out what works for you, and that will mean some trial and error. Please don't be put off by that. See it as a journey to cycle touring food heaven!
Let us begin
To me cycle touring isn't like high-speed road racing where you need fast, quick releasing energy foods, special breakfasts and controlled diets. I believe you can eat everyday food. The food you enjoy. Quite often these energy gels and similar high energy products don't taste very nice, are expensive, and can leave you feeling awful if you consume too many. Don't get me wrong, they have their place and will get you out of trouble if you do 'bonk' one day. And it can be handy to have one in an emergency. Or alternatively, have a bag of high sugar sweets for those dark moments in the saddle!
From a cycle touring point of view, most people are not in a rush and aren't trying to push themselves into the red all day. They are not racing - they are often chilling out, taking in the world, exploring new cultures and generally plodding along. For me, the nature of cycle touring is about getting away from it all and enjoying what you eat is all part of it.
Obviously what you chose to eat is important. You need enough calories to fuel you each day. Getting this wrong could see you depleting your reserves and feeling awful - the 'bonk' as it is known in cycling. If you have ever experienced this, then you know how awful it is. Whilst on this topic, it is worth mentioning that a tour cycle tour is not a time to go on a diet! You need to do your best to match your intake to the expected mileage and that doesn't mean cutting back. Eat well!
Only you can work the right balance of calories. It may mean trial and error, but you will get there. Don't be afraid to try new things. Maybe pop away for a short tour in your local area to work out how to eat before you hit the road for an epic cycle tour! It really doesn't take long to understand what works for yourself and putting in some effort will pay off.
At home, I eat a good mix of foods and I like to do the same when out on my bicycle. I'm on holiday after all and want to eat well and not just survive on boring plain pasta and water! I want food with flavour. There are some practicalities when choosing food. What is the weather like? Is there space in your panniers for my shopping? Do I have the tools to cook the food? You don't want a mass of heavy food weighing you down that also melts in the midday sun. Have a think before you run into the shop starving hungry and find you don't have enough room. Try to have a rough plan before you enter the shop and stick to it. I know what it is like looking around shops hot, thirsty and hungry. I come out with lots of cold beer, crisps, peanuts, pastries, chocolate and far too much meat for dinner!
I like to cook my own food on tour and do try to avoid spending money in expensive restaurants. Cooking is a hobby of mine anyway, so it isn't an issue for me. Cooking is a key part of cycle touring in my opinion. It is about taking care of yourself whilst exploring the world and I find it so relaxing after a long day in the saddle. If I do eat out, I try to find local options instead of the mainstream chains or fancy resturants.
I do try to keep to a budget when touring and keeping track of the food you buy is key to making sure nothing goes to waste. I believe you can eat well, even on a small budget. If I'm in France for example, I try to stick to around 15 Euro per day for all my meals and drinks. It quite often works out that I spend more one day and use the excess food in the next.
One day when I'm a little richer, I'll do some five star touring; stay in fancy hotels, dine in the finest restaurants and have smoked salmon and cream cheese for lunch! Although I suspect I may find it rather boring and the diners and hotel guests will never appreciate me in my cycling clothes! For me, eating a meal at my camping spot, with the sunshine or stars twinkling is perfect.
What equipment do I use for cooking?
I take some basic tools with me on tour. Jet boil stove with coffee plunger, plastic fork/spoon/spatula, frying pan, bowl, plate (doubles up as chopping board) and a Swiss army knife. I have taken more stuff in the past but can survive perfectly well with these simple items. These items give me the ability to cook all my meals and make hot drinks as and when I need them. It is only when the weather is really bad that I'll venture into a cafe, normally to warm up and use their WiFi.
How I start the day
I believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And this is very true when cycle touring. You want your body to be capable of getting you to your destination without making you feel bad, so give it some good food when you get up. Even if I don't want to eat, I always get food in me before I start riding for the day and make sure I purchase what I need the day before. Even if it is just a cup of coffee and a pastry, something is better than nothing.
It is just as important to keep yourself topped up throughout the day. I personally prefer to graze on multiple types of food rather than having a big lunch. Little sandwiches, pastries, nuts, dark chocolate, cheese, bananas, grapes and apples are some of my favourites. I like to stop throughout the day at different shops to keep myself topped up. If you can, always have some food with you at all times - an emergency stash. If you get caught out (maybe shops are closed), you have options. Maybe an emergency pack of sweets and nuts in your panniers.
End of the day
Along with breakfast, I believe an evening meal after a day of riding is so important. It will help repair you and put something back in the tank ready for the next day. I find having something to focus on after a long day, helps me chill out. And cooking is a social thing to do with others - sspecially if you have a fire or BBQ.
To bring part 1 to an end, I have uploaded some images from a little cooking session in my back garden. These will give you an idea of what I can do with my simple cooking setup.
Next time I'll run through some of my favourite basic dishes to cook on tour. And I'll even post a little video of me using my stove to cook up some food!
Must go, all this typing has made me hungry!
Check out Part 2 of Eating and Cooking on a Bicycle Tour now... https://www.cycletouring.org/blog/entry/eating-and-cooking-on-a-bicycle-tour-part-2
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