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3,333 KILOMETERS IN SEVEN DAYS
How many kilometres do you usually ride in a week?
What is your personal record for a week’s riding?
Most of us probably know these stats, more or less.
Many of us may wish they were higher.
Bruce Berkeley wanted his week’s figure to be higher. In fact, he wanted it to be significantly higher than anyone else in the world. So he raised the bar, setting it 417 kilometres higher than the previous record holder.
A glance at his Strava account confirms that for the past two months, the Australian has put in some big distances on the bike.
One week stands out in particular.
3,333 kilometres in seven days. 111 hours and 43 minutes riding at an eye-watering 29kph average. To put that into perspective, it’s only 32 kilometres less than the total distance raced over the three weeks of the 2019 Tour de France. Whichever way you look at this one, it’s big.
“I don’t reckon more than 2 people in the world have ridden 500-plus kilometres each day for five days straight. On previous attempts I regretted stopping early. This time I set myself a goal of 3,000 km that was achievable. In my head I wanted to ride 2,000 miles [3,218 km] — that felt like a significant benchmark.”
The idea of riding as far as you can in one week is somewhat juxtaposed to the common mindset in cycling, where weekly totals are stacked into monthly ones, then into yearly ones. In our sport, consistency is key, whether you’re a pro or amateur.
Bruce’s story goes like this: A UK-based Aussie, he lives in London and works as a bicycle mechanic. Having spent years racing, he now clocks massive distances around Bushy Park, Windsor, and Richmond. Other than just loving cycling, ultra long-distance riding has become a way for him to deal with periods when he has struggled mentally with depression and alcoholism—addictive traits that some argue lend themselves to big distances in solitude. But Bruce isn’t a typical lone ranger; he’s also one of the friendliest and most open guys we’ve ever ridden with.
“I ended up in hospital at the end of September 2019 after more struggles, and when I came out after three days, I was ready to work hard for the record. For the first time ever I introduced core strength to combat neck issues that I’ve had in the past–this made a big difference.” He’s sat in the lobby of a cyclist-friendly hotel in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, a few days after completing his new record.
“I’ve been coming to Thailand for three years in a row, and each year I’ve intended to attempt the record. Last year I couldn’t find the headspace, and then when I was ready, burning season had already begun and the air quality had dropped too much.” He talks quickly, full of enthusiasm for the region.
Bruce is no stranger to record-breaking distances. He previously held the week and the month records. Then he embarked on attempting the most kilometres ridden in a year, as well as the Land’s End-John O’Groats-Land’s End record. We’re curious about his latest record, which he did covertly—not telling us, nor the Strava community—until he was comfortably four days into the 7-day challenge.
“Going low-key was definitely the right decision this time around. I learned from doing the earlier records that when fatigue levels increase, even the smallest comment gets in your head. When you’re doing something extreme like this, with just 2-hours sleep per night, the background chatter really gets to you. This time around I uploaded the rides privately for the first four days before making them public. I couldn’t face negativity echoing around me; you don’t want that when you’re out pedalling on your own for hours.” We recall the failed Year Record attempt back in 2016; the scene on tenterhooks charting his distance, and ultimate fall from the pace. He smiles: “Last time I spent every ride calculating what remained, but that wasn’t healthy.”
This time around, Bruce spent around 18 hours on the bike each day, picking routes that he had grown familiar with on his frequent trips to the area and breaking them into “biteable chunks.” From the way he talks now, he’s turned into something of an expert on cycling there. “I created 100-mile loops in my head and followed those. Over the past three years I’ve really got well acquainted with the area. Thailand’s roads are brilliant; they’re really amazing and wide with big shoulders. But you have to be aware at every moment; there are mopeds and push bikes coming in both directions so you can’t ever zone out. The roads towards the south are where I did most of the record. They’re bigger, faster and avoid the hills.”“The thing people forget with cycling is that rough roads fatigue you. When you’re riding 18-hour days, this takes its toll. You simply don’t get that level of fatigue here.”
After a short sleep, Bruce would head out shortly after midnight and stick to well-lit circuits in the centre of town. “Around 10 a.m., I went back to my hotel for a second breakfast. Usually there’d be guests in the foyer and I’d have a chat. This gave me a break and then it felt like I was just going out for a second ride. That’s when I’d go where I wanted: the roads here are better than anywhere else I’ve ever ridden. And the fact that the weather is so consistently good is amazing; it saves you so much time. I didn’t need to carry anything other than spares and extra water. No arm warmers, no shell. You can’t imagine how good this is. Over the period of a week, this is unreal, and makes a difference too.”
He shows no sign of fatigue. In fact, there’s a buoyant energy in his voice. The day after we speak he’s got over 260 km to cover — “I’ve got to nip up to the border with Myanmar for a new visa, and back.” He laughs: “People ask why I’m not backing off now that I’ve got the record, but you know my answer: I’m in cycling paradise. So why would I?”