Cycling Touring Blog
Eating and Cooking on a Bicycle Tour | Part 1
In my list of things I love in this world, both cycling and food are high 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. And more often than not, I'm dreaming of my next meal shortly after finishing the last!
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! This makes bicycle touring and food a perfect match me :-)
I have read many posts from people asking what, when and how to eat on a cycle tour. Do you need special food? What travels well in your panniers? How much? When to eat? The list goes on and on. This series of posts is to run through what I do when out on a bicycle tour. I'm not saying it is what you should do or I'm an expert in nutrition. It's an insight into what I do. And if it helps someone, then that is good thing. Ultimately it is about working out what works for you. And that will mean some trial and error. Don't be put off by that. See it as a journey to cycle touring food heaven!
I like to keep things simple, so let me start with the way I see the differences in cycling and eating. 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 think you can eat everyday food. 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 eat too many. Don't get me wrong, these type of energy foods have their place and will get you out of trouble if you do 'bonk' one day. It is handy to have one as an emergency. Or alternatively, have a bag of high sugar sweets for those dark moments in the saddle!
From the 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 (normally anyway!). They are quite often chilling out, taking in the world, plodding along and like to make more stops. For me the nature of cycle touring is about getting away from it all and having a great time away. And enjoying what you eat at the same time is all part of it. I generally spend much of my day riding, thinking about my next meal and when I can eat another snack.
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 doesn't mean cutting back in an attempt to get a beach body!
Only you can work the right balance of calories. It may mean trial and error, but you will get there with a bit of common sense. 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 flavor. There are some practicalities when choosing food. What is the weather like? Is there space in your panniers for my bags of shopping? Do I have the tools to cook the food? You get the picture. 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 to go a BBQ! Trust me, you will do this at least once.
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.
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 into the next. I think I could go lower if I cut out some of the expensive cashew nuts and evening beers out of my basket. It is about what you can afford and your food tastes.
One day when I'm a little richer (hopefully!), I'll do some five star touring, stay in posh 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! Think I'll stick to camping, BBQ's and cooking my own food. And above all waking up to the sound of the world :-)
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
We have all read it time and time again. 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 you 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. Fortunately for me, I don't suffer from not being hungry when I wake up - I'm starving what ever time I wake up! Seriously though, I would advise to eat something, otherwise it may ruin your day. Even if it is just a cup of coffee and a pastry. Something is better than nothing - you can also top up a little later when the stomach is happier.
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 favorites. I like to stop throughout the day at different shops to keep me topped up, and I don't like to carry too much at once. Keeps weight down and avoids wasting food that has perished in the panniers! Obviously I need to know there are shops on route. If I suspect not, or it is Sunday and they are closed, I top up on a few supplies. My advice is to always have some food with you at all times. Try not to get caught out. Have an emergency pack of sweets and nuts in your panniers. Water too. And don't eat/drink them unless really desperate or when you get home.
End of the day
Along with breakfast, I believe an evening meal after a days riding is so important. It will help repair you after a days riding and put something back in ready for the next day. It will give you something to focus on after a long day, help you chill out and is a social thing to do with others. Especially if you have a fire or BBQ. And it will keep you warm and happy overnight if it is cold outside!
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 so with my simple cooking set up. I know I'm not in a field somewhere miles from home, but this is pretty close to how it is for me.
Next time I'll run through some of my favorite 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!
Cycling Touring Community
Check out Part 2 of Eating and Cooking on a Bicycle Tour now... https://www.cyclingtouring.org/blog/entry/eating-and-cooking-on-a-bicycle-tour-part-2