The sport of cycle racing has been around even since the age of the Penny Farthing – people have always been captivated by the prospect of being the fastest, no matter what the cycling discipline. But today we see the arduous and (to some people) brutal, nature of mainstream bicycle racing being arguably diluted. Though still incredibly demanding events, grand tours such as the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia carry a much less primal spirit than that of their earliest editions. The longest ever stage of the Tour de France was 482km in 1920, with the winner, Firmin Lambot, completing it in 19 hours 44 minutes. Stage lengths like this are unheard of in the 21st century, but the desire to go as far as possible as fast as possible is still very much a thirst that a good chunk of the global cycling community looks to quench.

The world of Ultra Endurance/Ultra Distance cycling events and races thrives in the shadows, way outside of the secure but rigid, bureaucratic cocoon of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). Some ultra events have fairly relaxed rules and operate on a loose ‘self supported’ basis, while others command much more cut-throat discipline, even forbidding any contact with family members or friends, ruling out any chance of advantage gains through moral encouragement. Sometimes controversial, the use of such rules has been highlighted in the Ultra Endurance cycling community. An example of event organisers pushing the envelope on course rules happened in 2019, where renowned Ultra Endurance Cyclist, Lael Wilcox, was attempting a FKT (Fastest Known Time) of the Self Supported Tour Divide event across the USA. During the event, Lael’s progress was documented via video and photography, and to many of the community, this was seen as ‘support’, during a strictly ‘self-supported’ event. Regardless of one’s opinion on whether this method of race documentation could be viewed as support or not, what is undoubtedly highlighted here is the sport’s dogged pursuit of outright purism, the yin to the yang of commercial cycle racing. 

But tough rules like these are not a new manifestation in competitive cycling. These rules hark back again to the very earliest days of the Tour de France, where riders were offered no support from their teams, nor were they allowed any interference from public spectators or family relations. A notable example of this happened during the 1913 Tour de France when Tour favourite, Eugene Christophe, was forced to attempt to repair a broken fork in a forge, employing the assistance of a seven-year-old boy to pump the forge’s bellows. Christophe was consequently penalised by 10 minutes, which was salt enough in the wound after having lost four hours of race time due to the incident.

Where in today’s world, most repair work can be undertaken without the aid of a smithy, the strict nature of discipline of these toughest events has well and truly been resurrected, and although sometimes controversial, organisers go to brutal lengths the maintain the purity of the sport.

But how does one find their self wanting to dip their toes (or more suitably, their cleats) into the murky waters of Ultra Endurance cycling? This time we catch up with Jona Riechmann of @TalesOnTyres, long term bicycle nomad turned Ultra Endurance athlete, and we ask him a few questions about how he views the nature of the sport, and how he discovered the grueling but rewarding world of Ultra Endurance Cycling. Jona is still in the early days of riding the discipline, having taken part in three out of five of his planned programme of events in 2023. But make no mistake, Jona’s reputation precedes him, and his talent as an ultra rider shines. He achieved a 5th place out of 35 at the 2023 edition of the Hellenic Mountain Race, as well as a 13th place out of 124 finishers at the 2022 Badlands race in Spain – bear in mind that this was his second ever event, and the HMC, his fourth.

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SEIDO: “When thinking about the nature of the rules associated with this kind of racing, do you think their strictness is justified, or are there aspects that you think could be seen as ‘old fashioned’?”

Jona: “As ‘self-supported’ is individually defined, what matters most to me is the clear communication of event rules, ensuring that participants are well-informed of the kind of event and specific rules they are committing to. Once these rules are established, strict enforcement becomes crucial in my opinion, as this is what transforms the event into a race and ensures comparability and competitiveness in the end. However, it's important to acknowledge the diverse range of participants with varying intentions. For those aiming for a competitive top 10 or 20 position, stringent adherence to the rules is in my opinion absolutely essential. On the other hand, for participants who are less concerned about competition, there may be no need for extensive track checking. It makes sense to focus on strict measures for those who prioritize racing, but it's also essential to recognise that many participants are motivated by factors beyond competitiveness. They should still have the opportunity to enjoy and partake in these events.

I am not in the position to prescribe the definitive 'self-supported bikepacking rules,' but I have, of course, my own understanding of the rules. It involves following the route precisely, without external food/ material drops, or the use of performance enhancing substances (though a distinction needs to be made – what substances are under discussion – amphetamines, painkillers, caffeine tablets…?) I am also an advocate of the disallowance of personal media crews. Checkpoints, if included, could offer services such as food and accommodation. As long as these guidelines are clearly communicated to all participants, with well-known cutoff times, any changes to the route during the race are challenging but should be communicated as effectively as possible.”


SEIDO: “Some events are structured as all out races, where others are marketed more so as ‘challenges’, what is your opinion on this distinction?”

Jona: “Be it a challenge or a social ride versus a race, for me it probably starts when there's tracking and time measurement involved. I think it can make a difference when people are not riding with a ticking clock in the background. But in the end, it's up to the individual how they ride; you can take your time in a race too until you can't make the cutoff time, if there is one. But even then, you could still continue following the route. These qualities may help people to get started in the first place, and to have this as a 'race' they are participating in. I think reasons to ride a race or event are as diverse as the riders themselves.”

SEIDO: “Can you tell us about any instances where you witnessed the race rules being broken by other competitors, and how it made you feel? Do you think further measures could be taken ensure that rules are followed and the field is kept as fair as possible?”

Jona: “Unfortunately, even in the few races I have participated in, I've observed several rule violations. I won't go into detail here, but they mainly involved people deviating from the designated course, taking shortcuts, and reacting without a sense of wrongdoing when confronted. Additionally, there are instances of race directors not properly enforcing the rules, or not penalizing known rule violations. Overall, this leads me to the conclusion of not taking these situations too seriously. These certain races lack any formal regulations, and the participants are mostly hobbyists. For me, it's about pushing personal limits, and in that regard, these races are great. What baffles me more is not the absence of strict oversight, but rather the behavior of some of the participants. In my opinion, these races should be built on trust and sportsmanship since it's impossible to control everyone and everything, and I have the impression that not everyone sees it the same way.”


It’s intriguing to wonder how an Ultra rider might first discover an interest in this discipline. Many world-exploring cyclists find themselves unintentionally attuned to a notable condition of strength and determination. A level of fitness and character is quite often attained that would be desirable by most endurance athletes, a product of spending countless days on the bike, hauling the equipment and provisions necessary for four season travel across unknown topography.

“Were there any specific points while exploring the world by bike that made you think ‘What if I tried an Ultra race’?”

Jona: “Not necessarily during my travels by bike, but upon returning to Germany. After an extended period of bike travel, I discovered a newfound passion for cycling as a sport. I enjoy riding my bike, pushing myself to the limits and discovering the capabilities of the human body. Bikepacking races became an ideal outlet for me to combine these elements, so I decided to give them a try.”


Although not much in the way of spirit and ethos has changed when it comes to these challenging events, there is no ignoring the great advancement we have seen in the technology being used by the riders involved. As mentioned in a previous article, the use of new tech, such as the GPS system, has opened up the doors to a completely new world. The introduction of modern and exotic materials such as carbon fibre and titanium is only a natural development, but they have paved the way for riders to go further and faster. Where early racing cyclists would have ridden a steel framed bike, which might not even have had butted tubing, had only two ‘fixed’ gears, and often had only one rudimentary brake, these days we see a hugely varied range of finely tuned set-ups, as unique as the riders they carry. It is not uncommon to see an Ultra Endurance cyclist on a top spec. mountain bike, riding a long route with unknown terrain on the horizon. They value comfort over speed, and taking physical fatigue into consideration, this can sometimes tip the balance between completion and ‘scratching’. Thus, features such as suspension and hydraulic disc brakes are often a must for the endurance cyclist.


SEIDO: “When at the start line of your first few events, what examples of bike spec. were you surprised to see?”

“A cargobike for an MTB race - wow!

Besides that, narrow tire choices and higher gear ratios, and perhaps obviously, using new and unused/ untested components and gear. I'm still undecided about electronic groupsets in bikepacking races; I haven't ridden with one yet. However, I plan to explore them in the future. For now, I'm sticking with mechanical groupsets for races.”

SEIDO: “What can you tell us about your current race bikes - what important choices did you make to determine your set-up with them? Were there any instances where you felt you needed a change in set-up? What was the cause/ outcome of any adjustments made?”

“As the events I participate in are off-road races, I've been using either my hardtail, built around the Bombtrack Cale AL, or the Bombtrack Hook EXT C, which is a gravel bike. Depending on the terrain, I would weigh the considerations between weight and comfort. The Cale AL is more comfortable and better for technical or rough riding, equipped with a 100mm suspension fork and 2.25-inch tires, plus the aluminum frame, making it about 2kg heavier than the Hook EXT C. It is debatable whether bike weight advantages outweigh comfort in these ultraraces, especially when observing some riders on full-suspension bikes due to them being gentler on their bodies.

My Cale AL is also equipped with a dynamo lighting system from Supernova, which is one less worry as it's super reliable, and I prefer not having to manage batteries. Another crucial feature to consider with both bikes is their contact points. I use ergonomic saddles, grips, and innerbarends from SQ Lab. For the Hellenic Mountain Race in 2023, I also had a dropper post installed. In general, I like having the option of dropping the saddle when going downhill, even when it might not be "necessary" riding-wise. However, with the challenging weather we had during the HMR, the dropper post and suspension fork were not working properly for maybe half the race. I missed the fork but not the dropper, so I won't use it for future races, shedding off some weight from the build.

In comparison, the Hook EXT C is much lighter, stiffer, and feels more race-oriented. With wide tires, it can take you pretty far in terms of technical riding, especially if you enjoy riding with drop bars too.

Generally, as the races I enjoy involve lots of climbing, and because I prefer high cadences, the gearing can never be small enough for me (32t chainring with a 9-50t cassette on the Cale AL, 36t chainring with a 10-51t cassette on the Hook EXT C). So far, I've experienced minimal mechanical issues, and moving forward, my adjustments will prioritize enhancing comfort. My main focus is on minimizing post-race problems, such as numb hands. Therefore, I'll be trying out a Vecnum suspension stem on the gravel bike this year. I'm also experimenting with aerobars, as I'm already convinced they significantly enhance overall comfort and efficiency, especially on flat terrain. Depending on the race profile, I plan to use them for future races as well.

Bike parts aside, you can always go lighter and smaller with the rest of your gear – sleeping system, clothing, etc. However, this usually comes with a high price tag. Because those races account for only a small part of my gear’s usage, I try to find a good compromise between minimising weight and durability trade-offs, together with price so that the gear can be used effectively outside of the racing calendar too.”

SEIDO: “To tie things up, can you tell us about any plans you have for future events? Will you look further down the competitive path, or can you see yourself looking to enjoy more non-race orientated adventures?”

Jona: “I am currently trying to prepare sustainably for potential races. After facing significant knee and achilles problems last year, which led to a period where I couldn't cycle at all, my goal is to avoid causing any excessive harm to my body. The cost last year was too high, and I am not willing to pay such a price for these races. The plan is to cautiously assess my body with longer rides in the spring and then decide whether or not there will be races for me in 2024. If that's the case, I have my eye on two exciting off-road races; we will see how it goes.”



Ultra Endurance cycling may be the answer to the cyclist who wants to push theirself to limits previous undiscovered, and in many ways it is potentially more accessible than conventional forms of cycle racing. One does not need to be flush with UCI points to race, nor does one need to be signed to a top level team to brush shoulders with the biggest names in the discipline. But this freedom can come at a price. The inglorious physical and mental suffering with little to no back up if something goes wrong, and cut-throat rule structures designed to distill the athlete down to the most primal of competitor both come as standard. Not forgetting opponents’ wild-west style values whose actions may be met with scant resistance. But with all this, we can be sure that the quintessential spirit of bike racing is very much preserved within these types of events. It is encouraging to see that there still exists an observation of the fastest human from A to B that is not a purely commercial spectacle.


We extend our gratitude warmly to Jona Riechmann for sharing his insight into the shadowy world of the Ultra Endurance event. We hope his words inspire ambition in other cyclists to jump on their bikes, and ride as far as they can, as fast as they can!

Header photo and above photo by @juananfotografia for Badlands


SEIDO Components
March 2024 
By Peter Skelton