Most cyclists will have heard of Rapha’s Festive 500, the challenge to ride 500 kilometres between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. But what about going a step further and dedicating your ride to mucky trails and bridleways?
For some it’s a happy distraction from the annual festivities, and others an ambitious challenge during a week off work. Over a number of shorter rides or in a oner, alone or with friends, in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter or the Southern’s summer, which ever way you choose to do it, the Festive 500 is not easy.
Inclement weather, frozen toes and gale force winds, sometimes snow and ice, short daylight and managing your time around family visits, the challenge equates to covering 62.5 km per day for the eight day period.
Take on an off-road Festive 500?
If you’re looking to make the Festive 500 into even more of a challenge, which not take it off-road? Linking up tracks, gravel roads, singletrack, canal paths and (in all likelihood) bogs makes the 500 kilometre target even more of a toughie!
I took on the challenge back in 2017 and just about made it, so here are my top tips for anyone wanting to take on an off-road Festive 500 in 2020.
1. Rally the troops
Well, that may be easier said than done in 2020, and of course you must follow local Covid-19 guidance, but tackling long hours in the saddle with friends is always better than alone in my opinion. Who else is gonna laugh at you when you deck it at kilometre 7 into a freezing, muddy puddle (true story)?
But seriously though, a bit of company can make a big difference when it comes to clocking up the distance, or might even be able to show you somewhere new to explore.
2. Footwear is everything
Even if it’s not raining, it doesn’t mean you won’t get wet feet. Puddles, water crossing or just road spray can all leave you feeling a little soggy, made even worse when combined with the cold. Oh, and no-one likes putting wet shoes back on either.
Battling to keep my feet warm and dry was one of the hardest parts of my Festive 500 off-road, compounded by a condition called Raynauds which plagues the circulation your extremities. Not helpful!
Getting into a routine of drying out your shoes overnight properly, opting for more weatherproof winter boots or even waterproof socks can all help keep you cosy and comfortable to keep pedalling.
3. Capitalise on the festive leftovers
Look on the bright side, there’s couldn’t be a better time of the year to ride, snack-wise. With a glut of pastries, dense cakes, chocolate selection boxes and of course the Christmas dinner leftovers, you won’t go short on food to take on your rides.
To ride 500 kilometres off-road, you’ll need to be in the saddle for a long time, so consider taking proper meals and savouries with you like sandwiches as well as the sweet treats.
When it’s really cold, a warming flask of tea, coffee or hot chocolate can be a real treat too, but just don’t forget that even though it’s cold you still need to hydrate plenty.
4. Plan for the terrain
Although hitting pure slop can sometimes be fun, it’ll really slow you down, and therefore that’s longer in the saddle and out in the cold.
Plan your off-road routes wisely to take in tracks, gravel roads and trails that you know are more weather-proof and run well year-round. You probably won’t make it 100% of the time without running into a boggy situation, but you can at least try and plan your way out of it!
I use komoot to plan my off-road rides, looking at the user contributed images and tips for the gravel sector Highlights to see whether that area might be a good choice or not. Check out the ADVNTR komoot profile for some route inspiration here.
If you’re new to komoot use our ADVNTR voucher code to get a region map bundle for free. Head to www.komoot.com/g and enter the code ADVNTR. Valid until 31/12/2021
5. Just keep going
I’m not going to dress it up; the Festive 500 is hard, and off-road is really tough. During the 8 days of my attempt in 2017, I spent nearly 44 hours on the bike, an average of 5.5 hours a day, in rain, snow and wind.
Somehow, I still managed to fit in a family Christmas, and post-Christmas holiday with my pals in Wales, although I rode out on the canal paths and mountain gravel roads to meet them for lunch at the bike parks that they were visiting each day.
The weather, if you’re in the UK, will probably be crap, so ride when you can and try not to get too down when you can’t.
Still tempted to try a Festive 500 off-road?
If you’ve read this and you’re still not put off, you can sign up to the Festive 500 challenge here and share your pictures on instagram using #festive500offroad. Good luck!
Last modified: 10th December 2020