Marcus Nicolson is an adventure cyclist based in Glasgow, Scotland. He is no stranger to long-distance bikepacking events and has successfully completed Badlands, Dales Divide, the Hungarian Divide and Italy Divide to date. In October he’ll take part in the 2nd edition of the Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco. When he’s not out riding he is busy working on completing his PhD in migration studies.
Recently Marcus set a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Badger Divide route between Glasgow and Inverness. The 340km off-road route includes a knee-shaking 5800m of elevation, taking in some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery through the Highlands. We thought it would be interesting to learn about what it takes to complete a fast time on such a challenging route.
Here are Marcus’ 5 top tips for riding FKTs.
1. Know the route
Having a good knowledge of the route; the trail surfaces, hardest sections and biggest climbs is essential when planning to take on a challenge like this. I’ve ridden the Badger a few times over the years and had a good idea of which sections would be the slowest and toughest, where to reserve energy and where I could push a bit harder.
The Badger Divide is a mix of gravel, single track, and quiet road sections so selecting the perfect bike is always going to be a gamble. I opted for the Pelago Stavanger gravel bike as it is the one I am most comfortable on. I knew that on some of the more technical single-track sections I would be slower than on an MTB but decided that overall it would be the best tool for the job.
2. Be self-sufficient
This might surprise you but I took a lot of supplies for the trip! I had all my regular Straight Cut bikepacking bags, with the exception of the handlebar roll. As usual I took all my puncture repair supplies, including extra tubeless sealant and a tube for emergencies, but thankfully didn’t need to use those! It’s always important to be prepared for any mechanical issue you might face, as well as carrying plenty of water and snacks to keep yourself hydrated and energy levels up. I like to use a hydration pack and cargo bibs so that I have snacks easily reachable throughout the ride.
I also carried some non-riding clothes and flat-soled trainers strapped to my saddle-bag so that I’d have something more relaxed to change in to at the end of the ride. In this regard, I was more concerned with being fully self-sufficient than with any extra weight I might have been carrying. My bike is fitted with dynamo front and rear lights, which made the short sections of night riding considerably easier. I took an extra headlight to give me greater visibility and light up the trails through the night.
3. Prioritise your strengths
I am not the fastest rider out there and knew that I wouldn’t be able to push out a ridiculously fast average speed on the overall route. However, over the past few years I have been building on my endurance capabilities and consistency on the bike. I therefore decided to prioritise minimising my stopped time. I knew where the most easily accessible shops were on the route where I could stop quickly to refuel and continue eating on the bike. This meant I was able to ride fairly conservatively on the downhill sections, without having to risk a puncture or mechanical, while keeping to a reasonably fast schedule.
On the day of the ride my overall stopped time was around 33mins, with around 18hrs 5mins riding time which I think is a testament to this strategy. If you are a faster rider you may want to factor in longer breaks to account for using more energy.
4. Comfort on the bike
On a long off-road route it is likely you are going to give your body a proper battering throughout the day! Having your bike set-up dialled is essential for maintaining comfort. Thick bar tape, a comfortable saddle and a more relaxed riding position are things I always look for before setting off on a long ride.
If you are preparing for a bikepacking event or long FKT, I’d really recommend having a bike-fit done professionally. Having had a few fit-related injuries over the years I wish I had gone to a professional bikefitter much earlier!
There are sections on the Badger route which will be un-rideable no matter what bike you take so it’s important to have shoes that are comfortable for hiking and pushing your bike up rocky gravel paths! I found the QUOC GTs to be perfect for hopping on and off the bike during the ride, and keeping my feet mostly dry when riding through the big puddles and bogs!
5. Enjoy the ride
Yes, you are pushing yourself very hard with a specific goal in mind but don’t forget to enjoy the ride, take in your surroundings and greet the other cyclists and wildlife you meet along the way. There is nothing I love more than riding through the Highlands of Scotland on my gravel bike. It was tough to get up to the 3am alarm clock but to take in a sunrise at the foot of the Highlands and sunset over Loch Ness in the same day is something truly memorable.
You can follow Marcus’ adventures here: https://www.instagram.com/marcusnicolson/