We chat big miles, TransAtlanticWay 2018 training and why you should always avoid a warm cheese and ham wrap with adventure cyclist AJ Hill
Over the past decade, ultra-cycling events such as the Transcontinental and the Trans Am Bike Race have skyrocketed in popularity. They’ve changed the way many now think about what it means to race and be a “proper” cyclist.
Meanwhile the tough, motivated, hardy adventurers who take on these epic events are - while inspiring - still slightly elusive to those of us looking in from the outside. So what does it take to push yourself to ride thousands of kilometres over a matter of days? How do you find the motivation while you’re up against the clock, no food stations for support and no cosy bed to jump into at the end of a tough day on the road?
In our new documentary series, Endurance, we follow three cyclists who are doing just that. And explore what they can teach those of us who aspire to take on bigger, bolder challenges.
Once an archaic cycling discipline, audaxing has had somewhat of a resurgence in Britain in recent years.
More and more younger riders now see the long-distance cycling events - which are run and overseen by Audax UK - as a great avenue for training for multi-day endurance events.
Adventure cyclist AJ Hill is one such rider.
In the three and a half years since he first took up cycling, AJ hasn’t just hit the ground running, but rather sprinting (up a 15% gradient, carrying a 10kg bike bag).
This year he achieved his Super Randonneur award after completing a 200k, 300km, 400km and 600km audax in the same season. All of which he’s been using as training rides for his next big challenge - the 2,500km unsupported TransAtlanticWay Race.
"I was quickly drawn to audax riding not long after I first began cycling, and it was basically what I was doing every week anyway, but on my own," AJ says.
“The rides can be really challenging, and for me it’s a great way to bank long miles and lots of climbing, while working towards something at the same time.
We head out with AJ on one his regular training rides in North Wales
“Previously when I thought about audax, I would imagine steel bikes, panniers, slow cycling, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are still elements, but the range of ability and equipment would surprise you.
“And one thing that was apparent right from the start was how open and friendly regular audaxers are at helping you out. They really are a friendly bunch of cyclists always willing to help.”
A former sponsored skateboarder, AJ admits he’s always got a buzz out of testing his body.
But it wasn’t until he found road cycling that he began itching to finding out just how far he could push it. And as we join him on his final training weekend in North Wales before the TransAtlanticWay, it’s clear to see he’s only just getting started in testing those limits.
“When I do something, rightly or wrongly I take it to the enth degree,” AJ admits.
“It’s something that’s been ingrained in me, this drive to just be as good as I can within the limits of my physical ability. It used to be skateboarding, and now cycling has become another avenue to chanel that drive into.”
For me it’s about exploring what my body can do to the point where it almost breaks
With the stunning hills of south Shropshire, mid and north Wales on his doorstep, it’s perhaps not surprising that he’s become Hill by name, hill by nature.
(In hindsight, we should have known that the “not that hilly” training rides he’d lined up for us after our chat would, in fact, be quite hilly!)
AJ takes us up to the stunning Stwlan Dam in Snowdonia - and instantly wins 'my local ride' top trumps
Speaking about completing the High Rouleur challenge, he said: “It was of just riding until I couldn’t ride any more. There were times I was hallucinating in the middle of the night… it really sewed the seed for testing what my body can do.
“It was incredibly difficult, but also amazing because after that I felt like I could still go out and do some cycling, which has lead me to want to do bigger and bigger events. For me it’s about exploring what my body can do to the point where it almost breaks.”
He says riding with his camera is all part of enjoying being on a bike and seeing the world for a different perspective
His challenges haven’t always come off without a hitch those, as he admits his most embarrassing moment on the bike was getting food poisoning on his first High Rouleur Society attempt.
“I made up a load of ham and cheese wraps and decided stupidly to leave them in the car whilst we got on with riding,” he explains.
“After eating two or three wraps early afternoon, at around 7pm I started to feel pretty unwell - and eventually had to sack it off. But I watched my mate Lewis complete it and I got to go back, give it another crack and complete it. I definitely won’t be taking those on a ride again though!”
AJ says the pure joy of riding trumps training for him
But as motivated, driven and meticulous as this cyclist clearly is, what comes across most about AJ is that he’s mainly just in it for the love of being on a bike.
“I don’t ride really to accomplish anything, I just love riding my bike. I can put my head down and do the training, but I think if it every gets to the point where I’m thinking more about my training than cycling, I’m doing it for the wrong reason.”
UPDATE: AJ smashed the TransAtlantic Way - finishing in 20th place out of a field of 145. Check out his ride data here.
NOW WATCH: Endurance: Part One | The Adventurer