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The Japanese Odyssey: An Epic 2,400km Endurance Bicycle Adventure - Interview with Duncan Lloyd

Duncan Lloyd is about to participate in the Japanese Odyssey, an epic 2,400km endurance bicycle adventure through some of the most beautiful parts of rural Japan. The journey begins in Tokyo, on September 17th 2016, and finishes in Osaka, 14 days later. Along the way he’ll see active volcanoes, taste local roadside cuisines and perhaps even sleep in bus stops. If you happen to be in Japan around then, and see a man in a bus stop snoozing in a sleeping bag, let him rest and leave him some high calorie chocolate. He’s expected to burn around 12-15,000 calories per day, as he explains…

Last year’s Japanese Odyssey saw riders pass through Mount Aso aka Checkpoint 3. It is one of the largest active volcanoes on the planet.

 

Hi Duncan, could you tell us a little about yourself, where you live and what you get up to in your spare time?

I was born in Swansea 48 years ago. After leaving University, I worked in the oil business for 30 years before deciding to take a break from working overseas to focus on helping bring up my daughter and in the meantime starting to race full time in the Czech National Masters League. I have lived in Prague for 15 years but also regularly visit family back in Swansea. In 2016 I have come 3rd in the Czech (ELM) Masters cycling league – a year long series of 26 races combining Road Races, Time Trials and Hill Climbs.

I used to time trial in the Swansea scene with Swansea Wheelers when I was a young teenager before my work commitments took me overseas for most of my working life. I re-started bike racing when I was in Norway 9 years ago and soon began entering major Sportives. I have ridden 6 Etape’s du Tour, the Quebrantahuesos in Spain. I’ve ridden 3 out of the 5 cycling classics, Paris – Roubaix twice, the Tour of Flanders once and Liege-Bastogne Liege 3 times.

In 2013 I was in Vietnam for work and I became involved with a Neonatal Charity called Newborns Vietnam seeking to prevent infant mortality in premature babies based in Da Nang. I rode 1,200km down Vietnam in 2013 with 2 of the World’s best endurance riders: Mike Hall and Richard Dunnett. Talking with these guys sparked my interest in Endurance Racing and after further rides across Vietnam in 2014 and 2015 Mike Hall let me know about the Japanese Odyssey. The route sounded very challenging and coupled with the fact that my brother had just moved to Vietnam I signed up for my first endurance race.

 

You’re about to undertake a 2,400km endurance bicycle adventure through rural Japan. What training have you done to prepare for this incredible journey?

I have been racing for 1.5 years in the Czech Republic and train with a professional coach who tailors my training plan on a weekly basis to my racing schedule. I also train with a Power meter to optimise my fitness and racing. Training 6 days a week has allowed my fitness level to increase 18% during 2016 which is a huge amount. In short, I carry a lot of race fitness with me as well as using the off-season October – March to build ‘base fitness’, this means doing long slow rides of 150 – 250km in duration. Each year for the last 3 years I have gone to Vietnam to ride around 1,200 – 1,500km in 10 days that builds up a lot of endurance capability.

 

Have you done any other endurance events? What other events would you like to do?

I have ridden 3 multi-day events cycling down Vietnam (and have cycled from the South to North of Vietnam). These events are 1,200-1,500km and typically take 10 days so I am used to riding long distances day after day. I always say that the hardest thing in multi-day events is getting on the bike on the 2nd day, if you can do that, you can complete the event. The key difference with the event in Japan is that I will have to increase my daily average on the bike by around +100km/day rising from 150km/day to 250km/day in order to complete the course in the 14 days allotted. In endurance events, riders usually carry GPS Trackers on their bikes so their progress can be monitored live over the internet. This provides safety – knowing where the rider is, and also verification that a rider has passed through required ‘control point’.

I think that the Trans-Continental race, run by Mike Hall is one of the ultimate endurance events (not including Round the World). The 2016 edition just finished and I have been keeping up with the event on Facebook. The Ride Across America also looks like a great event and is less stressful than the huge Race Across America (where each rider requires a full support team).

Mountains in Kyushu



You recently got a new bike, what is it and where did you get it from?

Yes, I just picked up a new custom built Condor Fratello. Condor (one of Britain’s oldest bike shops, since 1948) build all my bikes and this is my 4th bike from them. My Fratello is a purpose built endurance machine which has been spec’d up by friends who are specialist endurance riders. I have just come back from a 265km shake-down ride around Exmoor and Dartmoor in Devon. We started the ride in the dark at 05:00 so that I could test the lights and to get some practise riding in the dark.

The frame is made of light and compliant Columbus Steel, perfect for long days in the saddle. I always use Shimano groupsets because the parts are so reliable. The drive train is a 50-34 compact chainset and a 12-34 cassette on the back. The wheels are custom built pre-production Pacenti 25mm rims with 28” Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires, tubeless should be more reliable than running inner tubes on Endurance events. I will be using Tribars clipped to the handlebars that allows me to vary my riding position. I have a dynamo hub on the front wheel that allows me to power my Supernova lights without batteries. I am also using a Garmin eTrex 30x GPS for navigation rather than a specific cycling GPS because the eTrex GPS is powered by batteries that means I am not reliant on stopping to recharge equipment.

 

You’re taking a Litelok with you, this might be the first time a Litelok has been part of such an epic adventure! Why did you choose Litelok?

It was during the Ride Across America that a friend had her bike stolen while she was buying a coffee in a convenience store about half way through the event. This made me start thinking about taking a bike lock to Japan. My friend said she never thought of taking a proper bike lock.

I asked a friend in the bike industry – Luke Humphreys from Velobrands for suggestions about possible locking solutions. He immediately recommended Litelok as the lightest and strongest bike lock on the market and sent me a web link. When I looked at the Litelok website while visiting my father in Swansea I was amazed to find that the company is based in Swansea and when I phoned them up Litelok was kind enough to let me visit their HQ to discuss about the history of the business and the development of its products.  

Left: Ben Cory-Wright (Litelok team), Middle: Duncan Lloyd, Right: Neil Barron (Litelok founder)

 

The Japanese Odyssey is an unsupported event, so you’re on your own for most of it. Do you plan to stay in hotels or camp out in the wilderness? Or a mixture of both?

That’s a good question. When and where I sleep will often depend on the availability of accommodation, campsites or an appropriate place to ‘crash’ for example a bus stop. I am taking super light weight equipment with me mostly made by the company Rab, I have a Bivi-Bag, super light weight sleeping bag and sleeping mat. The key to packing is to practise until you can roll these 3 items together into as small a volume as possible to minimise packing space. I have a superb packing solution provided by Apidura that allows me to optimise weight distribution on the bike.

Looking at the route there are some very long ‘transitions’ between control points – that are on mountain tops or volcanos. On the long transitions I imagine I will definitely camp for a few hours, it is imperative that on long flat days I aim to ride a high daily kilometre rate meaning I will probably only sleep about 4-5 hours. I also expect that when I am well into the event I hope to find one of the mountain hot-water springs where I can bathe in the water, wash kit and have a rest in a proper bed. I have to remember though, this is not a ‘holiday’ and the more hours I don’t cycle, the harder it will be to complete the event in 14 days.

Norikura Pass - Checkpoint 2, from 2015 Japanese Odyssey

 

Will you carry any special food and drink with you? What’s your eating regime going to be like?

No I won’t carry anything with me, it’s simply too heavy. If one eats sports gels for 2 weeks your stomach would quite simply go into ‘meltdown’. The basic feeding rule is, eat what you find on the way. Stop when you can buy something and keep eating. I expect to be burning around 12-15,000 calories per/day which is a huge amount.

Eating and drinking will be key to completing the course. I remember Mike Hall saying that when he was cycling round the world it got to the point where he would dissolve half a cup of sugar in a cup of coffee simply try to take on board enough sugar. I will carry a little musette (feed bag) that will allow me to store more food and eat while cycling. Apparently Japan has a huge number of roadside convenience centers where you can buy produce from the local region and farmers. One of the most exciting aspects of the journey will be discovering new foods.

 

What advice do you have for others wanting to get into endurance cycling?

Try to talk to the experts. The best riders in the UK are all amateur and have day jobs and they are all very approachable via for example Facebook. Some of the best tips I was given came this way, things that you wouldn’t think of until you’d tried at least one event.

Training, you need to able to ride for multiple days, so either try a multi-day camping tour or sign up for one of the increasing number of multi-day cycling sportives.

Pace, don’t think each day is a road race, go at a pace you can sustain for 10-15 hours and listen to your body. I know I can ride quickly for 90kms before my body totally runs out of blood sugar, so I know that I need to eat and drink every 50kms or so – that’s just me, everyone will be different.

Kit, think hard about what you’ll take. Buy the lightest kit you can and learn to pack it efficiently. You have to be able to get kit out quickly as the weather changes, you have to be able to put up a bivi-bag late at night in the dark, so you have to learn how to pack this kit and deploy it quickly when you are tired, hungry and maybe short tempered.

Wheels – tubeless or tires? This will be a personal choice but will have an impact on packing as tubes take up space and weight – and weight (or lack of it) is king.

Security – are you going to risk riding without a lock or not? As we have seen in 2016 riders have had bikes stolen during events. I am looking forward to testing the Litelok in Japan being able to give feedback and suggestions about the product on my return.

All of these things you can practise at home so by the time you go overseas for the event you are fully confident in your equipment and preparation.

Health and Dental check.  While health issues tend to occur during an endurance ride, teeth issues can end a ride immediately, so it is important to visit your local GP and dentist to get a full check before you depart.

 

What happens at the end, is there a celebration?

Endurance events all seem to have one thing in common, doing the event is the prize. There are no medals, no presentations. All the endurance scene knows who has come 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in each event. You get kudos by completing the event, there is no ‘fanfare’. In many cases all the riders want to do when they finish is sleep – sleep deprivation is definitely part of the package.

In the case of the Japanese Odyssey, there is a finishing party on the 1st October (day 14) at the finishing location in Osaka. This will probably be a dinner with a few beers with a chance to talk to other riders and share experiences. 

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