We are now one month into our expedition and we hope (depending on how kind our routemaster Lobby is feeling) well over half the distance of our first leg from London to Istanbul. While we’ve talked through a few highlights of the route so far on this blog, we haven’t yet touched upon any of the real physical side to the cycle. For me this is quite a key part of the trip – and it has certainly dominated discussion here over the last couple days – so I think it’s only fair that I should share some details of what it feels like to sit on a saddle all day (then repeat the experience and times by 250).
Essentially the sore bits are the parts of you directly connected to the bike. I thought that I’d be aching in my back, calves and quads, but instead the pain is mostly in the hands, feet, and – you guessed it – what an Aussie cyclist we met delicately dubbed “down in your undercarriage (mate)”. The hands and feet get number from being under pressure for long periods of time, but frankly that’s quite easy to deal with. It’s the rear which gets the brunt of it and has been this week’s feature. This is definitely the bigger problem.
I personally found out the extent of the problem on our cycle into Vienna, which ended up being a 200km day and nighttime arrival. For me, pain begins just beyond the 100km mark (at which point brain told undercarriage “You’re halfway there!” and undercarriage replied with a dull ache) and noticeably intensifies after 150km to become a persistent tingle, then throb. At the 200km mark it feels like someone is giving you a Chinese burn on your delicates every time you sit down, so by the outskirts of Vienna we were practically all cycling standing up!!! Stopping once in the darkness to shake things out a bit, we were greeted by an Austrian couple off a river cruise. The bloke had clearly done some cycle touring before because, instead of giving the hairy tourers a wide berth (we were massaging our rears at this point, usually cause enough for people to cross the road to avoid us), he came straight up to us and grinned knowingly. “Die arsch is kaputt, yes?” he asked. This seemed a perfectly normal conversation starter at the time. Grim nods all round. “But die spirit, still strong eh!!” he continued, laughed, and disappeared off into the night. We took two days in Vienna to ease the saddle sores.
It’s not that we set out totally unprepared though, far from it. Among the lycra that we now proudly own are padded shorts, which do what the name suggests really. They pad the important bits to make the saddle feel less like an offensive weapon. On top of that we’ve picked up tips from bike shops and cyclists along the way, and the team is now using combinations of talcom powder, chamois cream, moisturizer, vaseline and the list goes on. One German friend even went as far as to suggest we get the infamous “backen sacken und cracken” citing aerodynamics as well as hygiene as legitimate reasons for the procedure. I can confirm that none of us have yet gone down that route (in case anyone was wondering), unsure as to how shaving your back could increase your bike speed. We’ll put that one down to cultural differences then.
So as you’re reading this, sitting in front of a computer at home or at work – even if it is on one of those flimsy plastic chairs – then do spare a thought for how much comfier your experience is right now than poising your rear on a sweaty saddle for most of the day.
(Seriously though, medics with any knowledge about potential undercarriage issues do have a comment below, cheers)