Five Minutes With... Stefan Barth
4 March, 2023
Stefan Barth is a Sports Scientist with a passion for ultracycling. After being introduced to endurance cycling at a young age he was hooked on adventure. Combining his love of the sport and his scientific knowledge he's created a guide to the discipline "Ultracycling and Bikepacking - All You Need to Know" which has just launched on Kickstarter for its English translation.
This book is for anyone who is planning to go on a long-distance ride. It doesn't matter if you are hunting after ambitious new best times or just want to have fun and adventure in the outdoors.
The three pillars of endurance, efficiency and strategy are used to not only describe the strict training theory of cycling but focus on the special features of long-distance rides. Including specific endurance building, prevention of health issues, handling of pain and sleep deprivation, proper nutrition, strengthening the mindset and much more.
Each subject is presented from a sports science perspective to provide the necessary background along with it. Moreover, the world's leading athletes are going to give you insights into their very personal strategies and experiences.
1. How did you get into bikepacking and ultra-cycling and what is your best adventure so far?
Actually, it´s my uncle´s fault. When I was something like 12 years old, he asked if I would accompany him on a trip around a Danish Island. So this was my first century ride. Afterwards I simply was hooked. There followed lots of trips on my trekking bike in Germany. When I started to study, those became longer and longer and led me through most parts of eastern Europe.
When I first read an article About the Race Across America, I realized there actually is a real racing scene. So this is when I started to be more competitive. Several 24-h and supported races later, I was at my first Bikepacking races. One of the highlights was definitely riding the European Divide Trail from Germany down to Portugal last year. At the same time, this was my first Bikepacking tour on a mountain bike – since I'm more of a roadie – or at least was. This year, I'm looking forward to completing the EDT by riding up north to Norway.
2. Your book, "Ultracycling and Bikepacking - All You Need to Know", is joining Kickstarter for its English translation. The book involves a lot of very high-profile athlete interviews. Where did this idea come from?
The idea developed over time. And it was not planned right from the beginning to publish a book. During my studies to become a Medical Fitness Coach, I wrote down all the aspects that are relevant for long-distance cycling. Mostly for myself. After some conversations, it became clear that many other athletes would be interested as well. So this was when the idea was born. I started to have the first interviews, and these really helped to determine the most relevant topics. Then followed a quite extensive search through the whole existing body of literature and in the end some more interviews with the really big names of our scene, like e.g. Christoph Strasser or Ulrich Bartholmös. Because background knowledge is important, but at the same time you need a proof of concept.
3. Have you got any really great insights or stories from the interviews that you'd like to share?
All the interviews were exceptional and every athlete had a couple of tips I never heard of before. Most important for me was to see that all those world class athletes did a lot of things pretty well, although they sometimes could not tell why but just did it based on trial and error or intuitively. So it was nice to see that my theoretical research complements these approaches. One example would be Lael Wilcox. She rides her ultras without cushioned bibs. For most of us unimaginable. But if you do understand how our skin barrier works and how important this is to prevent saddle sores, you totally get her point.
4. By trade, you're a sports scientist. Could you tell us how you integrate your knowledge with your endurance training?
In my training programmes as well as in this book, I try to educate. Because I´ve made the experiences, that athletes change their behaviour only if they really understand the benefits and how they will work out. So the incorporation of scientific proof is very important for me. In my own training I focus on being efficient by training smart rather than hard. Writing this book as a side project, didn't leave as much time for riding my bike as I sometimes wished.
5. One chapter of your book is about pain perception and management. This is a real problem in ultra-cycling, with many athletes ending their races early due to numbness or pain, can you tell us a little about this?
This really is my favourite chapter. It starts with an excursion into pain perception from an evolutionary perspective. Thus, you already learn that the pain we feel and 'real' pain are two different things. But due to my profession, I really want everybody to be as well prepared as possible when coming to the start line. So yes, it's not just about perception but also explains some techniques to reduce pain. For example there are two different nerve flossing exercises to mobilise the nerves in your arms. Thus, you can prevent numbness in your hands or at least recover more quickly. The focus on longterm health is of major importance for me, and you will probably notice this while reading the book. Riding ultras can be pretty harsh on our bodies. And sometimes we tend to neglect this. Consequently, I try to incorporate easy to implement methods to preserve longterm health, so that we can still ride our bikes after retirement.
6. The dreaded cross-training, tell us if you could pick one single off-bike exercise to do, what would it be and why?
Picking just one, it would be the lateral lunge with a single kettlebell. Cycling is a strictly forward motion limiting our joints to flexion and extension. So the best thing you can do is to add a more-dimensional movement like the lateral lunge. Thus, you promote all those super important muscles around your hips and pelvis. Adding the weight of a single kettlebell to one side of your body, forces your core muscle to stabilize the torso at the same time. Thus, you have trained most relevant body regions with one single exercise.
7. Quick answer - in one sentence, tell us where your favourite place to train is.
Best place would probably be Andalusia in Spain - riding through it on the EDT was amazing!