The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast
EPISODE 256: In Conversation with Two Ians
Saturday 5th September 2020
SPONSOR: Jenson USA
HOST: Carlton Reid
GUEST: Environmental psychologist and ultra-endurance cyclist Ian Walker.
Ian Walker’s webpage, drianwalker.com
Strava article on the Transcontinental, which inspired Ian to enter the event.
Holly Seear cycling coach
Ian Walker’s article on parking
Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 256 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Saturday 5th September 2020.
David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by JensonUSA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Jensonusa.com/thespokesmen. Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at www.Fredcast.com. I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at www.the-spokesmen.com. And now here are the spokesmen.
Ian Walker 1:09
Today’s show is a conversation with two blokes called Ian. I’m Carlton Reid and I’ve been talking with record-breaking ultra-endurance cyclist Ian Walker. I’ve also been talking with environmental psychologist Dr. Ian Walker. As you’ll hear they sound awfully similar — the first part of the show delves into close overtakes of cyclists and why motorists park on the infrastructure meant for pedestrians. The second part is a dissection of Ian Walker’s brilliant new book, Endless Perfect Circles. There’s a little bit of psychology in this but it’s mostly and gloriously an account of his surprise discovery that he’s actually quite good at sport, specifically riding very long distances, fast, over multiple days and without support. Ian was a high placed finisher in the Transcontinental Race, won the North Cape 4000 and then, last year, set a new Guiness world record for riding across Europe, north to south. For relaxtion he rides 650 miles around the whole of Wales — in a long weekend. I read Ian’s book and loved it — not only is he a great rider, he’s a great writer, too. The book includes a neat Jedi mind trick that anybody who turns up at hotels with a bike will use for ever more, and we discuss why it works, so here’s my chat with the first of the two Ians. So I have absolutely really really really – as have many people – enjoyed your book.
Ian Walker 2:58
Oh thank you.
Ian Walker 3:00
I absolutely do what I do want to discuss it I do want to I want to I’m actually going to quote loads of things back. Okay? Because it was very funny. I’m going to quote lines back to you and you can even read it out in your own voice so we can hear the lines from you which were quite good but I because of who you are, yes okay so everybody now knows you of course not as your your super intellectual self but your physical self your your long distance endurance amazing feats Ian – we will get on to that, of course, but I want to start with your the intellectual in the brain Ian and how would you tell us what you do for a living when you’re not in that cottage? When you’re at university? What do you actually do?
Ian Walker 3:43
I do research on a whole variety of environmental psychology issues. So there’s, there’s a strand of this that’s probably not very interesting to your listeners, which is, I do work on energy consumption and water consumption and that kind of thing and how we can help people use it [YAWN from Carlton] as predicted. But probably more interesting to you and your listeners is I also do work on travel and transport. I try to encourage healthy, active travel modes. And I do work on traffic safety, especially for vulnerable road user groups like cyclists,
Ian Walker 4:25
So to lots of people and I know you’ve had about 10,000 citations on this. You can tell us how many citations and in fact, I’m sure you know this, but you came to probably my attention to everybody’s attention a long time ago, and you can tell us when that was, but you were wearing a dark wig. You weren’t wearing a blonde wig. So that’s the mistake a lot of people make it was a dark wig. But what were you wearing a dark wig for, Ian?
Ian Walker 4:50
Well, that was part of a series of experiments, trying to get an idea of whether anything you did on a bicycle made a difference. To the people overtaking you in the street. So the thing I was particularly setting out to look at was the riding position. So did it matter how far to the left or to the right, I was riding in terms of how much space I would be left by passing drivers. But as I was doing that, various people suggested other things that I could look at. And so I incorporated all of those into the study. So for example, I incorporated notoriously whether wearing a helmet made any difference to how much space people left and also the really last minute, I think about three people just said, Do you know it’d be really interesting to see if men and women are treated differently, and So sure enough, I went to a local novelty shop and bought this long dark wig and rode around either with or without the wig. Basically, I’d ride to the end of the street. Reach into my pannier, whip this wig out, stick it on, go up and down the street again, hide the wig and I Did this over and over for several days. And sure enough, I’ve got quite a bit more space on average from passing drivers when I had the wig on.
Carlton Reid 6:08
And you put that down to …?
Ian Walker 6:10
Probably something about people’s stereotypes about riders. So, you know, it’s hard to pin down at an absolute hundred percent definitive answer, but it’s probably something to do with people holding, you know, very unfair stereotypes that women riding need more consideration than men
Ian Walker 6:32
And wobbly riders, that kind of thing? So if somebody sees somebody wobbling up ahead, they’ll give them more space?
Ian Walker 6:38
Do you know we’ve never tested wobbly writers specifically, although an interesting development is we’ve got a paper hopefully coming out literally any day now. Which was done with a series of Belgian researchers who got in touch with me. And what we did there was we tested something that a lot of people have anecdotally taught About, we tested child seats, and thankfully, the results went the right way that riding with the child seat led to more consideration from passing drivers, which is the way round I think we all hoped it would be.
Ian Walker 7:15
Yes, so even if you’ve got a rucksack in your your child seat, you haven’t got the child at that moment. So this is this is a safety tactic you could use even without a child and this is just something just put a child seat on your motorcycle pass your wider
Ian Walker 7:31
it certainly appears that way. I mean, maybe sticking a dummy in there might be the best approach of all to really make sure people pay attention.
Ian Walker 7:39
So I’m now imagining “Airplane” with like the inflatable child in the in the back seat all the way back me. So people have replicated your study.
Ian Walker 7:50
Yeah, a lot of people have done similar studies. So one of the things so I’ve done two sort of big studies of overtaking distance and joining The second one of the things that I was able to do was develop a really quite simple, low cost, easy to produce device that you can stick on a bike and measure how much space drivers leave. And that’s all open source that’s just on the web. If you want to make one you can make one, it would cost less than 100 euros. And so that’s been kind of exciting. And what’s been really nice is to see people run with that. So I’ve seen several groups over the last two or three years who’ve taken that and gone further with it. They’ve added extra sensors or ways of gathering additional data points. And so the whole thing has become really quite democratised. It’s very easy for anybody to go out and collect data on how much space they get left.
Ian Walker 8:47
And as that research gone away from the small field of cycling, and then got into transport research in general. So this could actually you know, make real world differences because You know, designed things have been put in place because it’s it got into outside of cycling.
Ian Walker 9:05
Well, it’s interesting you say that. So one of the things that I’ve really come to conclude from quite a lot of years of looking at this issue of how drivers interact with cyclists on the road, is there is nothing that a cyclist can do to guarantee that they will be safe. And that’s a couple of reasons. In particular, it seems there’s always going to be a really difficult minority of drivers who just will not behave safely. So I’ve really come to realise that if there’s only one way to guarantee safety, which is segregation, get the cars off somewhere safe, where they can’t hurt anybody, and let cyclists travel safely without having to mix. Now obviously, there are all sorts of issues with that, like, there will still be places where mixing is necessary. We’re not going to get ad networks have cycleways that go to every single address in the country. So we still need to solve some of these problems of mixing. But ultimately, given that you can never trust motorists to entirely do the right thing all the time, some level of segregation and good quality infrastructure really seems to be necessary. And so that’s why it’s been so exciting. And I’m sure you’ve been part of this as well. It’s been so exciting seeing the UK Government recently issuing quite strong guidance on what Cyber Infrastructure should look like. And I think all of us over here who work in promoting cycling have been quite excited to see central government for the first time saying infrastructure needs to be high quality, it needs to work for everybody. It can’t just start and stop. You can’t just slap a bit of paint on the road and call it infrastructure. And it’s been really exciting to see these developments happening.
Ian Walker 10:58
Well, you mentioned those developments and that’s that’s an immediately made me then think of grant Shapps, which is not something I do all the time I do hasten to add, but he yesterday or a couple of days beforehand, when when we were recording, he announced that the government is now looking at perhaps more closely and I find this very exciting, looking more closely at the issue of sidewalk parking, pavement, parking. And that then brings me on to the next thought trip that I had was, Well, you did this very, very interesting and fascinating blog posting. God knows how long ago a long time ago but I know I always refer to whenever I refer to this issue, I always refer to your excellent excellent blog posting. And that’s where you put a big book you tell us what you did you put a crate on the on the road and why do people do that with cars? So explain that blog
Ian Walker 11:56
posting? Yeah, well, that was actually I think 12 years ago, which is really depressing back when I had dark hair and, and enthusiasm. And yeah, so that was kind of a thought experiment at the time it was, I realised, you know, I was struck by one of the many double standards that we seem to have about motoring, which is, if I had any other item whatsoever, and I had nowhere to store it, I would not be allowed just to dump it in the road and expect it still to be there the next day. And so I use the example of a crate that was you know, sort of two metres by three metres or something like that, but the same dimensions as a car. So if I had a big box or oceti sofa if I had a caravan, you’d have anything at all that I needed to store and I didn’t have space on my own land, and nobody would tolerate me just leaving it in the road blocking traffic, but the moment it is the car, we offer That’s completely acceptable. And so my point there was to try and illustrate that slightly crazy double standard. And the other thing I mentioned it as a little addendum to that essay was, I was struck by another really good example from the world of transport. So quite a few years ago, I lived for a while on a boat on the English canal river system. And what’s interesting there is that they operate a completely opposite system, on the canals, you are not allowed just to just to leave your boat there. You’re only allowed a licence to have a boat, if you solemnly swear to keep moving, and never stay anywhere for any length of time. And, you know, just freeloading by saying, well, I’ve got a boat and I’m just going to store it here in people’s way. is not is specifically not allowed. And yet we do it on the roads. Hmm. So that’s, that’s separate
Ian Walker 13:56
to the pavement parking issue, but it is just this entitlement issue. have Yeah, I’m going to park my my private property where the hell I like and then I when when it comes on to the pavement is you It’s like I’m going to leave it on the place where people are trying to get past with double buggies and guide dogs which we if you might hear in this that later in the show when my guide dog puppy comes back in the house and pedestrians it so motorists just have this many motorists, not all but we must stress that have this entitlement complex that which is a psychological condition in
Ian Walker 14:33
Well, I don’t know because my experience with the motoring side of things is more as an observer. So I you know, asking motorists what they’re thinking is actually really difficult because when you do that, you often find that the answers you’re given are not the right answers. So in it partly because people don’t know why they do what they do. So a big part This is that, and I think any of us who are interested in traffic will appreciate this. What we see in the motoring context is people just unconsciously imitate one another. So, you know, it starts with one person just bumping a couple of wheels up onto the pavement onto the sidewalk, because they’re worried about slowing the flow of traffic. And then, you know, within six months, other people start noticing this and thinking, Oh, yeah, I’ll do that as well. And then, you know, another six months, everyone’s doing it because they imitate one another. And then another six months later, the cars are completely across the pavement. And there is this very strong tendency to just unconsciously imitate one another as social beings. And that’s a big part of what goes on in traffic. But people are not aware of just how much they unconsciously imitate each other. And so what the problem is, as soon as you ask somebody, why have you just done this particular thing? The answer you get is going to be one that’s Often just constructed on the spot as a way of trying to answer the question, but the answer might not be valid because the behaviour was the subconscious imitation of other people or a subconscious and ascertain events entitlements or something like that, rather than a considered decision to behave in a particular way. But the explanation you get when you ask somebody why they did it will be as if it were deliberately considered and chosen. And so the explanation won’t really be the right one for the behaviour.
Ian Walker 16:40
Which might mean if the government – and I’m touching wood here – if the government did actually bring in some more London style, even though it does happen in London, most London style draconian fines, parking on the sidewalk on the pavement that might actually change behaviour of that bulk of the population which are doing it unthinkingly you’re gonna get the radicals are always going to want to park on the pavement. But a good bunch of people are just doing it for the reason you just said they’re just they’re not thinking about it, they’re just doing it.
Ian Walker 17:12
Yeah, absolutely. I think that that’s what we really hope is going to happen. You can see how it how it’s come about that this you know, let’s face it fairly anti social behaviour has become normalised because if you’re in your car, and you need to stop at a shop or a house or something like that, it’s more convenient for you to just bump it up on the pavement, Job done Off you go get about your day. And and if you have essentially been licenced or permitted to do this income, this convenient thing, because everybody else is doing it. And nobody has ever told you not to. Then of course you’re going to do what’s easier and convenience people fundamentally do what is easy and convenient. So clear message from government saying, Okay, look, this is no longer acceptable. This is causing problems for lots of people, especially people in many cases whose lives already have enough problems. The central message is going to show that it’s less acceptable, that should start to eat into the number of people who are doing it. Once it’s less common and normal that eats into that subconscious copying tendency. And hopefully, it will be the small snowball that starts the big change.
Ian Walker 18:35
So I’m not hopeful. There’s there have been many, many reviews into this over the years. There’s there’s all sorts of it’s probably every 10 years, there’s a government review into this and the government, you know, farms it out, and they say, right, we’re going to we’re going to, we’re going to go with recommendations that the panel gives, the panel comes back and says well ban payment Parking them. And the government says, oh, oh, well, yeah, so better not do that. So I’m not terribly hopeful. But it’s it’s kind of like, the signs that it occurred. Some changes could be afoot. So why would grant chaps float these things if he wasn’t going to do some tweaking?
Ian Walker 19:17
Ian Walker 19:19
And you write that and there will be resistance. I mean, when it comes to traffic issues, I keep finding myself coming back to that phrase that’s often used in very different contexts of when all you’ve known is privilege. Equality feels like oppression. And, you know, we see with a lot of motorists that as soon as you say, you’ve got to have some responsibility for your actions. There’s this knee jerk, oh, my god, you’re taking something away from me. Anger approach, and we’re going to see that as we ask people to no longer inconvenience other people for their own convenience because they’re just so used to having the world accommodate them coming first.
Ian Walker 20:02
And what we’re seeing that right now with the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods concept in that I’ve asked on Twitter, for example, genuine examples of people who have been cut off, they can’t motor they can’t get out of their house, they can’t go where they prefer to go. Show me a genuine example of where you are being blocked in into your driveway by a low traffic neighbourhood. And of course, nobody can, because it’s hyperbole. It’s, you know, literally they just got to spend another five minutes maybe going around. But then John Crace the journalist, The Guardian journalist, put in one of his columns last week, the exact same thing that you know, I you know, motorists are now blocked from getting anywhere. And I challenged him and said, Well, can you please show me a map where you are genuinely blocked in by these wonderful phrase, the modal filters, the bollards and stuff, and he hasn’t responded Now assuming it has seen Because there’s an awful lot of first that background kicked up when he said this and what I said that this is what he said, and I’ll probably approach him offline to see if he will say these things because these Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, they’re not genuinely stopping people going anywhere. They just make it slightly more inconvenient if you choose to do a 500 metre journey in a car.
Ian Walker 21:21
Absolutely. And I’m sorry, I can’t remember who said this, but somebody on Twitter made the good point that the percentage difference it will make to your journey is completely related to how long your journey was in the first place. So if you’re leaving your home in a city centre and driving to another town, it’s not going to make any real difference. Whereas if you’re leaving your homeless centre and driving 500 metres to buy a newspaper, it’s as a percentage of your journey time. The hit is going to be quite substantial. But that should be the sign that your journey maybe needed reconsidering in the first place.
Ian Walker 21:56
But you are asking people to in that case, modify their behaviour. Yeah, that’s a psychology. You know, that’s, that’s kind of tough because these are ingrained behaviours.
Ian Walker 22:04
Hmm. It’s true. But one of the things that I’ve really come to realise over the recent years, is fundamentally the geographers had it right all along, and we psychologists didn’t, because if you want to know about why people behave the way they do in travel, it’s mostly about the physical environment, the physical environment, shapes the way we travel more than what we think we might kid ourselves that our travel behaviours are rational, deliberate, considered choices, but really, they’re in much bigger part they’re, in most cases, a response to the built environment of the built environment makes something easy and convenient. People are going to do it. If the built environment makes something difficult and feel dangerous, people are not going to do it. And of course, for those of us who are interested in promoting walking and cycling. What does the built environment do? It makes it difficult, slow and feel dangerous. And right there is the problem.
Ian Walker 23:10
Hmm. So let’s talk about SMIDSY for a second. So, “sorry, mate. I didn’t see you.” But what you were saying before, in effect was there’s another category of Yeah, yeah, I absolutely saw you. Yep. But I want to kill you. So there’s a small subsection of motorists who as as you know, Andy Cox, the superintendent, and West Midlands Police have found out there is an awful lot of people who are doing this deliberately. So, is the only way we can mitigate against that literally. Having cycleways.
Ian Walker 23:50
Oh, good question. I mean, I think on the one hand, just as for context here, it’s another example of The kind of strange double standard that exists in our culture in context of cars. So I did a long ride with a friend this weekend. And we had several instances of people using their vehicles as weapons against us, simply riding along the road, and people swerve their cars utters or screamed abuse at us as they passed for doing nothing wrong whatsoever. Now, as my friend and I were commenting later, I’m sure every single one of those people is perfectly nice in any other context. I’m sure they all think of themselves as perfectly decent people. And I’m sure several of them probably do lovely things like giving to charity or volunteering. And it’s just our culture has this toxic strand, where as long as you’re in a car, all bets are off and it’s certainly okay to behave like this. So for example, the person in the large mistake who flew right pastors was leaning on their horn for no reason whatsoever on an otherwise empty road, I, I can guarantee that when they Next go in a shop and have to stand in a queue, they will not scream at the person in front of them to get out of their way. Whereas that’s what they felt it was perfectly okay to do two guys on bikes. And so we have this very weird, messed up cultural problem with driving that and that condones and encourages and permits otherwise completely normal people to behave in deeply aggressive and dangerous anti social ways. And I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the rest of your question because I was going off on a rant about that.
Ian Walker 25:49
Well, that’s okay. Well, I’ve actually just segue into into what you’ve just said there actually, rather than go backwards. And that is that that behaviour that weird Jekyll and Hyde behaviour that you have when you when you get behind the wheel of course was very much recognised and parodied by Disney 50s 1960s I’m sure you know it the famous storyteller Goofy, Mr. Walker, and Mr. Wheeler. So Mr. Walker is the sweet mannered, lovely pedestrian, which you’ve just kind of mentioned, people are like that in real life. And then as soon as he got behind the wheel of a car, psychologically, Mr. Walker changed into Mr. Wheeler, who was this awful, aggressive character who just said that is that is that what it is? It’s that it’s that trigger? It’s getting behind the wheel of a car and then you feel something different?
Ian Walker 26:45
Well, apparently, yes. I mean, I’ve never personally studied this in detail. And I do have one or two colleagues who do work on driver anger. And your ultimately from what I’ve seen of their work, it is does seem irrational, it seems. Anger in drivers is often triggered by things that in any other context would not be permissible. So for example, a minor delay to your journey is seen as a legitimate cause of becoming angry. And and this is why I think the real explanation doesn’t sit within a person’s head. The real explanations for this sit at the level of our culture. You know, we have a strange cultural, double standard about almost every aspect of motoring. One part of which is it’s perfectly fine to be aggressive and to assault people, as long as you do it with a car.
Ian Walker 27:47
And we are seeing it to absolutely horrific effect in America at the moment, you know, with these big big muscle SUVs going through the city of Portland with the driveers – if As if they’re not aggressive enough, then that Macing people out of the window. And then of course, you’ve got the President saying, well, they’re patriots doing that you think, Oh my god, that behaviour is going to be so cemented in people?
Ian Walker 28:13
Well, I mean, it fits into a slightly wider picture as well, doesn’t it have something that society has wrestled with for literally thousands of years, is how do we reconcile people’s freedoms when they’re not when they’re in conflict with each other? So how do we reconcile my freedom to drive whatever I want, however, I want, with your freedom to be safe from the consequences of that and your freedom to not breathe poisoned air and things like this. And ultimately, the way we’ve addressed that, that conflict between your freedom and my freedom for quite a long time in countries like ours and countries like the United States, has been to say Well, if you’ve bought the car, your freedoms are more important than the person who isn’t in the car. So the person who’s not in the car will be at the edge of the road, in their space at the edge of the road, the person who’s not in the car will pause and wait until the person in the car has got out of the way. before crossing the road, the person who’s not in the car will make a special journey to a designated crossing point, so as not to inconvenience the person in the car. And, and hopefully the various things we’ve been talking about here today, you know, the ideas coming from grant shops, the ltn 120 guidance for promoting active travel. I’d really like to believe that these are the beginning of a swing in the opposite direction where we say, Well, you know, the person who just wants to walk down the street, their freedoms are important to their freedom to make a journey, their freedom to breathe clean air, their freedom to be able to go to the shop without their life being in danger. Hopefully we’re seeing a rebalancing towards those freedoms being taken seriously as the freedom of Yeah, I’m good. I’m doing air quotes here, the freedom to drive what you like.
Carlton Reid 30:13
Oh, well, we’ve now got into not just
Ian Walker 30:17
recent government announced we’ve gone back thousands of years into, into absolutely, how we classify freedom. But at this juncture in I would now like to cut for a commercial break. And we will be back, however, to talk about your absolutely fantastic book.
David Bernstein 30:38
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much. And it’s it’s always my pleasure to talk about our advertiser. This is a long time loyal advertiser. You all know who I’m talking about? It’s Jenson USA at Jenson usa.com/thespokesmen. I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection have every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices and what really sets them apart. Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is their unbelievable support. When you call and you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors and these are cyclists. I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And, and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check him out. Jenson USA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s Jensonusa.com/thespokesmen. We thank them so much for their support and we thank you supporting Jenson USA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.
Ian Walker 32:05
Thanks, David. And we are back with Ian Walker. In the first half of the show, he went through his psychological training and background. And in the second half of this show, we’re going to switch completely different lives. It’s almost as if we’re having like Mr. Wheeler, Mr. Walker conversation here we’ve got two different people we’ve got Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here in that psychology psychologist in is different to this other guy, this athlete in these these are two different people you would you would think so Ian, you’ve written this brilliant book. It’s called Endless Perfect Circles and I’m gonna be asking you questions that I know the answer to because you’ve written down in your book. I’ve still got to ask them so I will I will come and ask them but but first of all, so this is this is a story about a number of endurance rides you’ve done and and and run system running in there too, but just tell us How did you get into long distance endurance sports in the first place?
Ian Walker 33:08
Well, I basically did it very late. So what I’ve explained at the start of this book is I went to a fairly poor School, where, yeah, most things were not really encouraged. So they certainly weren’t very good at encouraging people to learn. But also in particular, the teachers there had no real ability to push or encourage people to have a good sport. And so basically, the short version is I came out of school 1618 years old, absolutely convinced that I had no ability to do sport whatsoever. And I hung on to that perception for something like 25 years. And then shortly after turning 40 I got encouraged to have a go at long running race, which I did on a spur of the moment decision and yeah, okay, yeah, let’s do it when a friend invited me. And from that point on, I did this first long distance running race, and actually did reasonably well at it. And one of the things that I keep coming back to across the course of this book is how long it took me to go from 25 years of thinking I could not do anything sporty, to realising I was actually reasonably good at certain sports, and just how difficult it was to claw back 25 years of misperception on that count,
Ian Walker 34:41
And you are not just kind of okay at it. You’re a record holder. So you can tell us about that. That the way you you didn’t, you were going to go one way across Europe and they decide to go north south to Europe. will tell us about all the different rides you’ve done. So let’s get into the cycling. Talk about the the record breaking across Europe. But then also tell us about the you know, the trans continental and all the right races that you’ve done and where you came in them, for instance,
Ian Walker 35:12
well it was so I was very, very happily doing long distance running. And I’d found this wonderful world full of amazing, friendly accommodating people, everyone so encouraging. And then I stumbled across a photo essay on the stryver website about a race called the transcontinental race. And this essay just revealed to me a whole new world of scale. So I’d done running races that take, you know, maybe a day or so, and at the time, running for an entire day, feels vast It feels like this huge event. But then I started reading this essay and realise that there was a world of cycling races That went to a whole new level. And that if I was to start riding a bike, I could do events that didn’t last a day, I could do events that maybe lasted two weeks. And I just got absolutely hooked on on this idea of, of just handing myself over just like putting my life on hold for one or two weeks or more, and just taking part in a race that that is your whole world for that period. And so I entered the transcontinental race back in 2017 or 2017, and just threw myself in at the deep end again. Basically, I bought a bike started riding through myself in the race and did a lot better than I thought I would certainly not troubling the winner, but I was sort of fairly high in the field despite having lots and lots of punctures and breakdowns and getting stranded in Romania. And things like this. And so the following year, I decided to have a go at another race of the same sort, which is called the North Cape 4000. That race, it’s similar bikepacking self supported. Hundreds of riders set off from the north of Italy. And it’s a race to the very top of Norway. So the very, very last point in Europe if you’re heading north called North Cape, so it’s about 4300 kilometres. And basically, again, I set out just with a view of, let’s see what happens. And then there was this really astonishing turning points partway through the race, where I realised that if I was bowled, and if I really, really pushed myself, I had a chance to get into the lead of the race. And I’d never done anything like this before. And you’ve got to remember this 25 years of thinking I didn’t do sport, to suddenly find myself in that decision point of interest. Heck, okay, I’m, I’m actually in a position here where I could take the lead in an international race. And to do that, to make that jump, required opening quite a few new doors, it involved partly just pushing myself physically much further than I ever had in the past. But also, it really did involve throwing off this mental baggage of believing that I was a person who could not compete. And so, yeah, taking part in that race just was transformational. Because I made that decision. I made that decision of like, okay, yeah, let’s let’s do this. Let’s just see what happens if I try to win if I try to do sport properly, and so I threw myself in and there was a bother. Well, for an outsider, thrilling, and for me, nerve wracking section of about five days or so, of being in the lead If the race to the finish, and I book I refer to it as the thousand mile breakaway, and it genuinely was 1000 miles of me riding as hard as I possibly could, with the entire rest of the race chasing me down. And I’ve got to say it was so incredibly mentally stressful to spend days being hunted like that. But again, you know, it, the whole thing was just this revelator experience of to discover what it’s like to push myself that hard. And thankfully, I was able to maintain that lead to the finish and, and was able to finish in first place.
Ian Walker 39:42
Which was, which was, as I say, quite revelatory given my background and how I’d for so long carried around the idea I couldn’t do this. And then that brings me on to the final thing, which in many ways is the meat of this book. Which was me saying to myself, Okay, I’ve competed I’ve won this international race. And maybe I am actually okay at this stuff. How can I go further? What’s the next step for me? And the answer I came up with was to try and break the record for cycling across Europe as fast as possible.
Ian Walker 40:20
And how fast did you do it?
Ian Walker 40:24
And so I went from I went back to North Cape at the top of Norway. And I set out there and headed south aiming for to reefer which is the southernmost point in Spain. So it’s from the very top to the very bottom of Europe. And, and I managed to do it in 16 days, 20 hours and 59 minutes. So that was averaging 377 kilometres a day. I was riding for 16 to 18 hours every day. Pretty much a non stop efforts. And then there’s all sorts of Extra challenges involved in this. So for example, because I wanted to do it as a Guinness World Record, they place all sorts of restrictions on what counts as a record attempt. And critically, one of the things is it must be continually overland. So that raises all sorts of extra issues like, you have to go through Russia. There’s no way to get from the north to the south of Europe without going through Russia. And your that raised all sorts of interesting questions about customs and border controls. And frankly, the astonishingly bad standards of St. Petersburg drivers.
Ian Walker 41:41
And then you got through Russia. And you actually got through the checkpoints much quicker than you thought, didn’t you?
Ian Walker 41:48
Yes, sir. I I’d read all sorts of stories about people going through Russian border controls. And in particular, the one that stuck with me was Sean Conway, who at one point broke the record for cycling east to west across Europe. And he’d written about, you know, being made to empty his bags out and wait around for hours. And, you know, it sounds and I’d read various other stories from previous cyclists who talked about just hours and hours of delay and bureaucracy and aggressive border guards and being searched and questioned over and over again. And in the end, I turned up and basically found this young Russian woman who was going through ahead of me, and I just sort of latched on to her and essentially pretended to be her boyfriend without her realising. And whistled through the whole thing in about five minutes, which is fantastic.
Ian Walker 42:45
So you mentioned roads there and then the very different so you go from one border to another border and all of a sudden the road a completely different so where where were the best roads? Where were the worst roads?
Ian Walker 42:55
Oh, there’s a question and probably the best roads I’ve ever written were earlier on the transcontinental race where I would say Austria and Switzerland have some of the greatest roads, just very well constructed really great surfaces. And again, in the transcontinental race, the worst roads by far has been Macedonia. You’ve got really long stretches that are just cobbled roads. And you bear in mind I was hitting these after something like 12 days or sitting on a bicycle saddle, and doing 20 kilometres of cobbled road after you’ve been sat on a bike for two weeks is not much fun. So that they’re the worst on the most recent journey when I did the record for crossing Europe. Probably the, the scariest road so the worst road in terms of the traffic was definitely Russia in going through St. Petersburg. And they just have these vast, vast six eight lane boulevards, full of speeding traffic people literally crashing into one another. Right next to me. It was genuinely terrifying at times to get through there. One of the curious things was that a couple of days later, I found one of the easiest fastest roads, which was in Latvia. And there’s a section there where you’re allowed to cycle on the motorway on the freeway. And, to my surprise, that actually felt much safer than most of the roads, because ultimately, a lot of roads any any kind of reasonably substantial road, the traffic is going that speed Anyway, you know, hundred hundred and 10 kilometres an hour 60, 70 miles an hour. Whereas on a typical road, you’ve got the traffic doing those speeds past you, and you’ve only got a little bit of shoulder at the edge. Whereas on the motorway, you’ve got an entire lane to buffer you from the traffic and the speeds are essentially the Same so the motorway felt incredibly convenient and safe compared to typical roads.
Ian Walker 45:06
And then in Spain you did a long stretch before Seville where there was a like a parallel road so there’s that like a tip would be to find a motorway and then found like an equivalent a road that’s that’s like next to it.
Ian Walker 45:22
Yeah, I did that really deliberately. So I what I did for the whole course, I looked for new motorways, and Spain has had a lot of new motorways built in the last sort of 1015 years. And I found this stretch that went for hundreds of kilometres, where there was the new motorway built directly parallel to the what was the Old Main Road and the old roads are all still there. And it was just unbelievably convenient. Because the roads that have been replaced, they’re still there that well surface they’re good quality roads. They Pass through towns, their shops, there’s petrol stations, there’s motels, all the facilities are still there from when they were main roads, but there’s hardly any traffic on them. So I just spent like three days, gliding along these highways at almost having them to myself with the incredible convenience of being able to stop and get food and water and so on whenever I needed to. So that is an absolute top tip. Look for motorways and look for the roads that they’ve replaced.
Ian Walker 46:30
Another top tip in the book is the what you do when you go into a hotel. So, so describe how you get your, your bike past the receptionist.
Ian Walker 46:41
Well, this is a really good one. And in fact, I mentioned that I was riding this weekend with a friend and we stayed in a couple of hotels this weekend and I was able to demonstrate to him that this works. So what I’ve discovered and I think any of your listeners who’ve gone on cycling trips will probably have experienced this The typical thing when you’re going to a hotel is you come up to the reception desk, and the receptionist will say, okay, you need to leave your bike outside. And what I found that just magically works almost every time is, if you carry your bike in, rather than wheel it in, they almost always let you take it into your room. I think when you wheel your bike in, and you’ve got the clicking free wheel, and it’s making noise, and they see the wheels going across the floor, it starts to make people ask questions and say, Well, look, that thing’s a vehicle that needs to be outside. I don’t want that filthy thing in the room. Whereas if you carry it in, on the one hand, it’s silent. And I think also, it seems to send this message to people of, Oh, well, you know, he’s got it in his hands. It’s just another piece of luggage. I guess it’s fine if it goes to the room. And I i’ve, since I discovered the secret of carrying bikes into hotels, I don’t think I’ve ever been refused. Taking it up to my room, which is just this magical little trick
Ian Walker 48:04
It is a good tip. I mean, even if you’re you’re you with a bike with lots of bags on, you could probably take them off before you go into the hotel and still do the same trick. You don’t have a lightweight bike like you’ve gotten a bike. So yeah, we’re kind of describing your route. in stages here. We’re kind of like we’ve definitely segwayed away, but you’re not you’re now in Spain. You’re on this wonderful motorway or road that’s parallel to the motorway and then you you’re very nearly at the end, but then you have a meeting with with your girlfriend Hmm. And you how many kilometres Have you still got to do I mean, that must have been so so numbing to do that after you’ve met somebody after haven’t seen anybody. For a long time.
Ian Walker 48:49
It was so hard. So something I learnt a year or two earlier in my first big bike packing race was I really learned and I learned this the hard way. I learned that pushing through the night is a bit of a mistake. And yet, you know, just to prove that we’re all capable of being absolute idiots at times, as I came towards the end of the world record crossing, I failed to remember that lesson and decided I was going to push right through the night to get to the finish. So at this point, I’d written something like 300 kilometres, it was another 200 to the finish. And I thought, gar, come
Ian Walker 49:29
on, let’s do this. Let’s just let’s push
Ian Walker 49:31
through the night and get this done. And so I set off and basically, as I should have predicted, I just slowed down and I slowed down, and by my speed plummeted, it became harder and harder, keeping myself focused and going forward became harder, you know, your, your body just wants to shut down at three o’clock in the morning. And so I’m pushing myself through this My girlfriend and our parents heard arrived in Spain the day before. And up to that point, I’d really deliberately said, No, don’t come and meet me. I will meet you at the finish. I wanted to keep myself focused keep myself in this little bubble of just me. And so I thought if I met them, it might almost break the ceiling. And, you know, stop me being able to focus on just keep moving forward. But in the middle of that night, I just cracked it was something like four o’clock in the morning, I was cold, I was hungry. I was really exhausted. I still had quite a long way to get to the finish. I was crawling along to terrible speed on some really hilly roads. And I just cracked and I phoned Louise and said, Did you think maybe you could come meet me after all, and so they came out and we caught it with each other in a A nighttime car parked outside a restaurant. And in some ways that was great. It was really nice to have somebody pat me on the back and tell me I wasn’t far to the finish. But then on the other hand, it did as you alluded to, it was, it was almost mentally hard for them because having that external world reappear, and burst my bubble made me realise how far it was still to the finish. And it was still maybe four more hours of riding to the finish. And that was the longest four hours you can imagine. So it was a really tricky one. It was it was really great to see them and get that, that boost of seeing familiar people. But at the same time, there was an effect of the bubble bursting, and being brought out of my own head, after being in there for 16 days was a really dislocating experience.
Ian Walker 52:00
So a lot of this writing a lot of what you talked about in the book is about what’s in your head. Because clearly humans are capable of these feats of endurance we know that we are physiologically capable of doing amazing things you know that’s that’s just our ancestors and living in the in the forest have given us that and long distance running etc. But then the modern person has then got to get round these in their head. So, a What are you thinking about? And are you using any psychological training is any tips you can give us from your your day job as to how to get through what can often be a grind?
Ian Walker 52:44
It is a grind and yet so to give, give the game away slightly. A really substantial chunk of this book is what I’ve learned along the way about how you deal with difficulty how you deal with keeping yourself moving when you don’t want to. And, you know, I’ve really partly from my own experience, and partly from listening to other people with experience, I’ve managed to capture a whole load of information about ways you can do this. And one of the things that I think is really interesting is how what I’ve been able to do is use endurance sport, as a kind of practice for suffering. And I think other people have had the same experience of how you can, you know, there are times in life when things are hard, and there are times in life when keeping going can be difficult. And endurance sport is a place where you can practice in a fairly safe, comfortable sort of way. The techniques that you need to be able to keep yourself moving when life gets difficult. It’s almost you know, it’s like a dry run for coping with adversity. And a way to test yourself and learn that you are able to keep going, you are capable of pushing on when things are really difficult, that you just need to find the ways that will motivate you and the ways that will keep you going forward. And so what I’ve done here is share all the various things I’ve come across the good ways of keeping myself moving forward. And so sometimes, you know, that’s as simple as breaking down the task ahead of you. So certainly, when you’re travelling a long distance under your own steam, you hundred percent can never, ever allow yourself to think about the destination. If you’re trying to think about the end point, it’s always always too far away. That Thank you thinking about it will never be useful. So it It’s all about breaking down the enormity of the task into tiny little sub goals, because each tiny little sub goal is a victory. And it might be that those sub goals if it’s really tough, those sub goals might be something as simple as getting to the next tree getting to the next road junction, it might be that the sub goal is simply getting 30 metres further up the road, but that’s fine. After that 30 metres, you’ve had a little victory, and you’re further on than you were before. And as long as you can keep yourself just in the moment, and don’t look too far ahead. Just keep yourself in the moment, focus on something tangible and achievable, like reaching the next street sign. And that is amazing for keeping you going. And the other thing that I talked about quite a lot is the importance of acceptance. And this is where there’s some overlap with my more professional, psychological World, one of the things that I’ve really come to value from doing endurance sports is the kind of pleasure or liberation, I’m not quite sure what the right word would be. But the there’s a real joy in accepting difficulty there, putting yourself in a difficult position and saying, This is it, it’s going to be like this for a while, and it becomes pleasurable. At the point you stop fighting the difficulty, if you’re in a situation that can’t get better. So, you know, if I’ve put myself in a position where I’m 200 kilometres from the nearest source of food, and it’s the middle of the night or something like this, and maybe I’m really tired. And, you know, I’m falling asleep, and I just want to stop moving. And there’s nothing to be gained by giving into that by fighting that, you know, if my circumstances are hard, just wishing They were different isn’t going to make life better. Where what I find works for me is to give into it to say, Okay, yeah, I’m in a really tough situation here. Okay, that’s fine. I accept the fact I’m in a tough situation. And that allows me to keep moving. That that acceptance that that giving into it, and frees you up. And as soon as you’re freed from trying to fight your situation, dealing with the situation becomes wildly easier.
Ian Walker 57:32
So I loved the microcosm of life in the book in that if you do something incredibly hard, this then translate into into the real world. I’m gonna give you an anecdote now, if you don’t mind. So I’ve been in my dim and distant past I have been a long distance cycle tourist – I’ve not done it in record breaking times, I took lots of bags and stuff on but I have done you know, cross, Europe and cross continental trips. I’ve also done 24 hour solo mountain biking in the past, so I know that kind of aspect of your book about going through the night again, it’s not 16 days of it, but it’s 24 hours. It’s it’s through the night. But it’s the bit in your book where you talk about this is you know how you can you can treat your life like this, if you do these endurance events. If you could do this, you can do anything in effect. And the anecdote is one of my early tours in the UK long before I did anything across Europe, was going to see my sister in Nottingham, and I was living in Norwich at the time it was only 100 miles. So it wasn’t a huge distance. But I had bags on because I was going touring. It’s so it’s five in the morning. And it was very soon I started having diarrhoea and I then had to go 105 miles with incredibly bad stomach cramps, and that to this day is my worst day ever ride for all the reasons you can imagine, like, you know, disappearing behind you know, haystacks and the just the sheer physical and discomfort of that and, and I didn’t want to stop I was just going to go ahead and do this anyway, I’m not going to turn back. And that was a life lesson for me in that and I’ve always used that that’s always in my head. Whenever there is a I do a tough ride anything tough in life, I always go and this is now 30, 40 years since this happened, but I always go Yeah, it’s not as hard as travelling through the day with with chronic diarrhoea. So there you go. Yeah, that’s that’s, that’s my anecdote on on toughness. Now, in your book, you describe it as a as a textbook, because of what you learned. So it’s absolutely people will who buy this, and I do recommend they buy this book, don’t just take the anecdotes that Ian’s giving you now because they’re far funnier in the book, not that you’re not funny in real life here, but in the book that absolutely fantastic and I just want to get on to now and I’ll read some of the ads because they are they are just laugh out loud funny, some of them and I’ve grouped them all together and maybe you can you can you can describe them in yourself. But it’s the food so clearly a cyclist has got to be fueled. So that’s that’s absolutely top of your mind when when you’re riding is so when my question is what are you thinking of? You’re probably thinking about most of the time. But this for anecdotes that I’ve that I’ve picked out. And I’ve described first and we can we can go into greater depth. So here they are. It’s the 7-Day croissant. It’s the anecdote about seagulls and fish and chips or one seagull probably. I’m hoping it’s just one seagull. Latvia’s one kilo bags of yoghurt, I laughed out loud at that one just imagining you doing this and then the ‘one in one out’ policy. So we’ll go backwards out what is your ‘one in one out’ policy in for saving time?
Ian Walker 1:01:05
Oh, this is horrible. So if you’re eating, I think you should probably put your food down now. And yeah, this was on the record attempt, one of the things that was going to make all the difference was being efficient with my time. You know, that obviously, I trained really hard. But you very quickly realise there’s a point where I, there’s a limit to how fast I can pedal the bike. But there’s no limit to how much time I could waste off the bike. And one of the things I had to do was be really efficient and spend as little time as possible off the bike. Because if I’m on the bike and moving, that’s forward progress, that’s good. That’s getting me towards the goal. And so I had this really strict 30 minutes. rule for myself in the mornings that I woke up, I had to be on the road within 30 minutes of waking up and that might not sound much at the moment. By if that sounds easy, I challenge you to have a go at it, when that includes making breakfast, getting dressed, servicing your bike, and so on and so on. So one of the things I hit upon as a way of trying to get as much done as quickly as possible in the mornings, was I started having breakfast while sitting on the toilet. So that was my one in one out policy was basically shoving food in one end as yesterday’s food came out the other way.
Ian Walker 1:02:29
I don’t know why you mentioned that because that’s just normally. Yeah, that would that was definitely funny. And I can actually recognise that that is that is yes, I won’t I won’t go any further than that. Right. Latvia has one kilo bags of yoghurt. So what did you do to Why are these bags of yoghurt so good. And what do you do with that that made it so special in the book?
Ian Walker 1:02:48
Well, the thing is, when you’re writing these sorts of distances, life just becomes entirely focused on finding calories. So you know, I’m burning through eight hours. And 10,000 calories a day, on top of just whatever’s needed to stay alive. So that is just a hell of a lot of food. And especially after a few days on the road eating junk from petrol stations and stuff like this, you really start to lose taste for food, it becomes hard to make yourself eat after a few days of vast amounts of cheap, nasty food. And one of the things I stumbled across when I crossed Latvia the first time during the North Cape 4000 race was in the supermarkets, they have these kilogramme sacks of yoghurt and ease are intended to last a family for a week. So you know, the idea was to have a little squirt of this on your breakfast in the morning. But this kilogramme of yoghurt it’s something like 1200 or 1500 calories in a bag. And it turns out you can rip the corn off the bag and just fester. Work the whole thing down your face in 10 seconds at While I was able to get something like 1500 calories into me with one big squirt of this bag, the problem is it turns out, people don’t think it looks very good when you’ve got witnesses. So at one point I came out of a soup and chug two week supply of yoghurt in 10 seconds. And there’s basically a village full of people staring at me in disgust. But yeah, I didn’t care. It was it was entirely functional and got the job done.
Carlton Reid 1:04:29
That was wonderful. That worked. That was I’m laughing now and I’m laughing when it was in the book as well. That was great. I’m going to go I’m going to finish with the fish and chip supper anecdote last but first of all, let’s go to the 7-Day croissant – so what’s the 7-Day croissant? Would you eat one now? And why is it so good for the trip?
Ian Walker 1:04:47
Well, the 7-Day croissant is almost like a talisman for long distance European cyclists. So what they are they are these pre packaged croissant that are sold all over eastern Europe. So basically Basically, that used to be, I’m now imagining there used to be hidden behind the Iron Curtain. And but, you know, as the Iron Curtain fell, then the 7-Day croissant were released. So basically you only find them in the old Eastern Bloc. So you know, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia places like that. And they’re basically absolutely foul. But you can buy them in almost every single shop and petrol station, they’re incredibly cheap, and they’ve got a huge amount of calories in them. And you know, they’re just convenient because you can just stuffed them in your jersey pocket and eat them on the move and so on. So they are absolutely rancid. And I just realised I’m not going to get a sponsorship deal this way am I but they taste vile. But they are so incredibly convenient for the fact you can just shove them in a pocket you can buy them every shop, that I ended up eating them the whole time in Eastern Europe on all three trips.
Carlton Reid 1:06:02
Would you eat one now, when you’re away from the bike and away from this trip?
Ian Walker 1:06:05
Well, I have actually eaten one quite recently. So about a month ago, I cycled down to the south coast where one of my friends lives. And yeah, basically there back in a day just to have lunch with him. And as a little surprise, he ran off to the Polish shop the day before, and bought me a triple of 7-Day croissants.
Ian Walker 1:06:28
And so I did eat them on the way home all time.
Carlton Reid 1:06:31
Very good. And then the final anecdote I’d like you to recount and you’re going to recount this cleanly, in that you can’t say the same word you said in the book. You have to have some of the euphemism. Some other way of expressing this, but talk about this is a trip in Wales. And this is a seagull supper, we could say,
Ian Walker 1:06:53
yeah, this was a ride. Actually. Coincidentally, it was a ride I was doing exactly two years ago. today because Google Photos reminded me this morning, so exactly two years ago today, I was doing 1000 kilometre ride with a friend in Wales. And we were, I think two days in at this point. And we’ve had a really tough day of climbing because Wales is a hilly country. And we were in a little town called Bala. Towards the end of the day, we still had maybe five hours or so to go and we stopped to eat and we got to the fish and chip shop in Bala just as it was closing so it was one of those real skin of your teeth moments where you’re thinking I’ve I’ve been here just five minutes later I wouldn’t have been able to have any food. So I got this fish and chips, massive fish and chip dinner. And we were sat on a bench outside and some huge dunking great bird just did the biggest plop across my dinner. And so you can just imagine my faces I’m starving, hungry. I’ve got the Only hot food in town and I’m just watching seagull droppings, erupt across my dinner. But the thing is, and this is one of those things that makes you wonder about long distance cycling, I was so hungry. I just pushed all the plop to one side and carried on eating. And that’s the sort of animal that you become after a couple of days on the road. And that was only going around Wales. That wasn’t like crossing Europe that was just three days in Wales.
Carlton Reid 1:08:31
Okay, so I’m not giving every single part of the book away. There’s still tonnes of people that people will find hilarious and and fascinating in this book. So but yes, that’s a fantastic anecdote and thank you for giving, fleshing that out. And thank you all. So for the the euphemisms for the word. Which actually, I think an Anglo Saxon phrase actually probably makes it funnier. Anyway, yes. That was excellent. Thank you. Now again, I’m going to ask you a question that I know the answer to but let’s talk about it anyway. And that is your coaching. So in previous ride you didn’t have a coach, but in the in the in the record attempt you got coached
Ian Walker 1:09:11
Yeah, it was it was genuinely a sort of a situation of not wanting to have any possible regrets. You know, I knew I was almost certainly only ever going to try something like this once. And I it became really important to me that if if things went wrong if I didn’t manage to break the record, and I didn’t want to have any regrets in the future, I didn’t want to risk looking back on this as an old man and thinking, you know, I reckon I could have broken that record If only I’d done something different. So I decided that the best way to leave no stone unturned was to find an expert and I found a wonderful coach called Holly Seear, who’s a very experienced cycle coach. And she was absolutely wonderful for helping me in all sorts of different ways just get on top of the process, partly just making sure I did enough training of the right type, which of course is exactly what you’d hoped from a coach. And but she was also very good at helping me think about logistics thinking about how much I needed to eat and all those kinds of things. And so she fulfilled the whole role of a whole raft of different roles. Partly just the raw physiological knowledge that’s needed to make a good athlete, but also she was a sounding board she was encouraging. She was a planner and so yeah, I really valued working with her on this.
Carlton Reid 1:10:43
I want to talk about dotwatchers now because I’m sure lots of people who listen to this potentially dotwatch you have said they might have dotwatched other people I’ve certainly dotwatched my son who cycled back from from from China and he want to have one of these Spot GPS devices on so just explain what a dotwatcher is and and why they were very important to you and how you sometimes met them on the road?
Ian Walker 1:11:06
yet, so I think ultra distance cycling does actually have a slightly
Ian Walker 1:11:14
hidden world of spectators. And it’s the thing that makes it slightly unusual is it’s probably the only spectator sport that unfolds even slower than cricket. So you know, cricket fans have got extraordinary patience watching an event unfold over five days, whereas the people who enjoy watching endurance cycling ultra and john cycling, there’ll be watching races unfold over two weeks. And obviously, when the race is unfolding across an entire continent, you can’t televise it, you can’t watch it, and so on. So the way people follow the races is that the riders carry satellite trackers that upload their positions. Every five or 10 minutes through communication satellites, and the race organisers will provide a map of the continent. And you can see exactly where every rider is. And it’s, you know, you’ve obviously had a go at this, I’ve watched other people’s races. And it’s just it’s kind of strangely compelling, fascinating thing to sit at home, at refreshing your web browser every couple of hours and seeing how the race is unfolding, especially when you’ve got some of the races that allow riders to choose a route. So for example, the North Cape 4000 rate that I mentioned earlier that had a fixed route, we all had to follow exactly the same path. Whereas a race like the trans continental, you can go whichever way you want, as long as you hit the checkpoints. And so there’s such an excitement of going, Oh my God, look, she’s gone that way. And he’s gone that way. I wonder who’s going to get there first and you’ll sit there for maybe a day watching these two lines converge on the butor in just thrilling to see, see this thing unfolding such slow motion. And so the people who who spectate on these ultra distance sports, become known as dot watches. And one of the things that I just absolutely loved of the past few years is where you bump into them. So because of course, there’s this real asymmetrical relationship where they know where you are, but you don’t know where they are. And every now and again, you’ll just meet somebody in the streets. So for example, you know, on the transcontinental race, I was riding through a really old Slovenian city called Ptuy, which I think is how you pronounce it. P. T. U. Y., if anyone wants to look it up, it’s really beautiful. And as I’ve rolled into the town, there’s a young woman there, and she just waved and made a sort of stop/stop/stop gesture. And she’d been watching the race and she’d come out and she was greeting everybody who came through that town and similarly other parts of the world. So you know, in Serbia and in Italy and places like this, people would just appear out of nowhere and say, Hey, you must be Ian, I’ve been watching you on the tracker. And it’s just this absolute delight after, you know, maybe you’ve been riding for a week at this point. And you’ve just spent seven days completely inside your own head, focusing on the race, and it’s an absolute joy to have somebody just appear and drag you out of that for a few minutes and be reminded that you’re part of this bigger event. And so the dotwatchers are just one of the most wonderful things about this sport.
Carlton Reid 1:14:40
But you’re also a dotwatcher. Certainly when you’re doing it against other people, because you’re watching where the people who are chasing you are coming with so that’s also a demotivator for you. or perhaps a motivator?
Ian Walker 1:14:53
Yeah, and it’s one of the things I mentioned earlier that’s in the North Cape 4000 race where I was able to take the lead with 1000 miles to go, I became really quite obsessive about checking the tracker, because obviously you can look on your phone and see where the entire rest of the pack is. And it almost became unhealthy just how much I was fixating on where everybody else was, especially because there were one or two riders whose trackers weren’t updating very frequently. And so you the addition, the additional stress was quite considerable. I was in this position where I was pushing myself to the absolute physical limits in a way that I’d never done before. And then to have the additional mental anguish of worrying about where everybody else is and, you know, are they catching me up? Are they going to appear on this next bend without me realising it? Yeah, it became really quite a stressful thing. And in the end, I had to just stop myself looking at all I just said, Look, knowing where people are, cannot change the outcome of this, all I can do is just write as fast as I possibly can. And I just have to put the phone away and devote myself to just writing as fast as possible.
Carlton Reid 1:16:14
Always checking people like that uses battery life, which must be stressful in its own way, because you are not always going to be at hotels you sometimes can be sleeping in, in all sorts of exotic and not so exotic roadside locations where you’re not going to get electricity. So describe how you charge your electronic devices. And I know it’s different in the later races because you’ve now got your own onboard electricity generation. But talk about how you originally did it and then why you went to onboard electricity generation.
Ian Walker 1:16:51
Yeah, so for the first of the two big races for the Transcontinental and the North Cape. I took just a big battery Packer sort of to dead 20,000 milliamp hour USB battery pack, and I’d use that to recharge my bike computer, my phone, my lights, and it works kind of okay, that would be enough power to get me two to three days of autonomous riding. But the problem was, I had a moment on the North Cape 4000 race where it really led me down at a bad moment. So it was maybe 11 o’clock at night, I was quite high in the mountains in czechia. And I just ended up low on power. And so I was forced into a hotel you know, several hours earlier than I would have liked to, just because hotels were the only place you could get a good recharge. And so it really is kind of threw a spanner in my plans for that day. It led to me doing what I knew was a mistake, which is sleeping at altitude, because this was just near the border with Poland. And it’s quite mountainous and the border is up on top of the mountains. And sleeping high up is a mistake, because it means that when you start the next day, you’re descending without doing any physical work in the cold air. So you always get really cold if you sleep altitude. And so having made that mistake and having, you know, been caught out and have had to change my schedule to fit the needs of my battery pack, rather than have the battery pack work for me, I realised I needed to become more autonomous. And so I switched over to a dynamo system. And that has just been absolutely wonderful. It means I can run a headlight on full brightness the whole time, which makes night lighting so much safer and faster. It means I’ve got USB charging facilities so I can charge my computer and my phone and and that autonomy just opens up options and it’s always nice to have options. So even if I do end up sleeping in a hotel or whether I end up sleeping in a bush shelter. I can in principle, I can keep going indefinitely. And just knowing that I’ve got the freedom to go indefinitely if I want to removes a big source of anxiety, and lets you ride much more efficiently.
Carlton Reid 1:19:19
Hmm. So, the final question is I’m going to I’m going to going to come back to the first part of this show and that in and that is, when we’re discussing the, in the first episode we’re talking about how cycleways are the way to go. distracted drivers and all sorts of aggression on the road is not very nice. That’s that in that’s the, that’s the cerebral Ian, and then if we come into this half of the show, where we’re talking about the the athlete Ian, there going across Europe as fast as you can, in that’s an Ian that that that is throwing all that out the window because you’re going on fast roads where you’re going to guaranteed to get these awful drivers to how do you square those two circles, those two different Ian’s?
Ian Walker 1:20:13
Yeah, that’s a very good question. And I don’t know if I do entirely. Certainly, as you’ve alluded to they’re racing for long distances forces you to ask yourself some questions about which roads you will travel on. Because I think, for most people, given a free choice of going from A to B, across a continent like Europe, you would naturally seek out the back roads, the quiet lanes for all sorts of reasons, partly because they’re quieter and safer, but also they’re often more scenic. Whereas something I realised quite early on in my bike racing was, if you want to go fast, that’s not an option. If you want to go fast, you’ve got to take Bigger roads. Now, having said that, one of the things I’ve realised is there are bigger roads and there are bigger roads, and they’re not all the same. And it’s a little bit like with the motorway that I mentioned earlier. I have found that, you know, a good, wide, long, straight road, where there’s plenty of space at the edge, they don’t feel bad, you know, even with trucks going past and, and so on and so on. And lock the drivers, it doesn’t feel particularly dangerous. Probably the thing above all that determines how safer road feels when you’ve got the bigger roads is just the width. So a nice wide road just means everybody’s got some space to coexist. It’s when things get narrow, that it doesn’t feel as safe. But in terms of how I reconcile that with the professional roadside In? I don’t know, I just don’t know what the long term solution could be, I can’t realistically imagine a situation where we’re going to get lovely, safe, efficient, off road cycle facilities that travel long distances across the continents or even across the country. And so, to some extent, the solution will have to be getting drivers in check.
Ian Walker 1:22:27
Absolutely. Now, that’s going to be the end of this show they’re in. So now is the point where we can plug your book with actual details. So I want three things off you on where you can get your book from. Maybe from from yourself, I’m sure because I’ve seen that on Twitter that you have other copies, you’re quite happy to sign them. Secondly, I want to know where people can find you on social media. And then thirdly, websites, and specifically because we talked about the crate on the road. So where can people read if they indeed is still a blog that’s still going on? It’s still fine, double anyway. So those three things in,
Ian Walker 1:23:16
right three things. So first, the book, it’s called Endless Perfect Circles. It has all sorts of things in it. It’s not just anecdotes about crossing Europe. It’s also all the lessons that I’ve taken from doing it, how to cope with adversity, how to deal with difficult situations. And you can get that from pretty much anywhere you’d expect to get books. In reality, the fastest place to get it is Amazon, who have it in stock and can get it to sort of next day, or obviously the Kindle version, you can get instantly anywhere else that sells ebooks will have it so Barnes and Noble nook, all of those other places. They all have it Kobo or have it Immediate download, in principle, any physical bookshop can get a copy that, yeah, because it’s independently published, they might not have it in stock, but they can order it. If you ask. Alternatively, if you can find me on Twitter, where I’m @Ianwalker, I can probably send you a copy directly. But you might be to be honest, especially if you’re not in the UK, you’re probably going to find a bookshop the easier way. So yes, I’ve where I am @IanWalker, on Twitter, or at Iancyclesalot on Instagram. Or everything’s pulled together in one place at my website, which is drIanwalker.com, which has links everywhere. And finally, you do want to find that article about parking. That’s on my old blogspot thing, which I have not updated for a long time but does still exist and it’s bamboo badger.blogspot.com Which was a name that just popped into my head when I had to think of one very quickly. But if you go to bamboobadger.blogspot.com and search back to 2008, then I think you can find that article about parking cars.
Carlton Reid 1:25:13
Yes, or just follow me cuz I certainly send that one out on Twitter quite a lot. I think it’s a very apposite and timely and perennial, sadly perennial piece. Ian Walker, Dr. Ian Walker, thank you ever so much for being on today’s show that has been absolutely fascinating as the book is entertaining and fascinating in equal measure.
Ian Walker 1:25:40
So thank you. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Carlton Reid 1:25:45
My thanks to the one and only Dr. Ian Walker for taking the time to talk with me there. I hope you enjoyed listening to today’s episode as much as I enjoyed recording it. The next show will probably be a roundtable with our usual suspects, attorney Jim Moss and my co-host David Bernstein. Meanwhile, get out there and ride..