Tips for Cyclists
See below for tips to make sure you are well prepared for any ride you set out to achieve but particularly over long distances.
Ahead of a ride stretching over days or weeks get comfortable with your bike, learn its nuances through training rides.
I’m fortunate to have plenty of ‘endurance’ in me. I can ride for hours no problem, but I find doing hill climbs ahead of a long ride is great for building up additional strength and stamina.
When you’re carrying your own gear it’s easy to forget that you need that additional strength in the saddle.
I’ve customised my cycling gear with reflective tape and material to ensure I’m seen on the road after being hit by a truck while cycling across America. I’ve sewn reflective fabric into my arm warmers, stuck tape everywhere and I’ll cover my panniers with my reflective waterproofs when I’m not actually wearing them.
Riding a long way for a very long time means you’re going to have to think about a pacing strategy. Too fast and you’ll end up cooked, too slow and you could be in for a long day or more out on the bike.
When you first set off and the adrenaline is flowing, it’s tempting to go too hard, however this isn’t ideal, as you’ll burn all of your matches and pay for it hours down the road.
Instead, listen to your body and the signals it’s giving you. If you can’t talk due to heavy breathing then you’re definitely going too fast. Similarly, if your legs are constantly burning with lactic acid, then you’re riding too hard.
We like to think of correct endurance pacing as a slow burn of suffering that comes on gradually. You’ll feel great when you start out, but as the hours wear on the discomfort gradually starts to seep in, and whilst this will eventually get tough, you’ll be in far better shape than if you’d set off like a scolded cat.
Lastly, super-long rides are all about the slow twitch muscle fibres, which have more endurance. So try to avoid hard accelerations and surges whilst you ride, as these will use up your precious glycogen (energy) stores quicker.
I’ve put together a homemade toolkit with the tools best suited to my bike. Generic ones are fine but if you’ve adapted your bike make sure you can fix it easily when on the road.
I’ve got a first aid kit too with essentials such as caffeine tablets to keep me awake, paracetamol to ease the pains and a selection of plasters, just in case.
If you like eating, then you’re going to love ultra long-distance riding. In fact, many of the best ultra long-distance riders also seem to be champion eaters. A rough guide is that the body can absorb around 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour to use as fuel, and obviously plenty of water, depending on the temperature. Whether this fuel comes in the shape of dedicated sports nutrition such as gels, bars, chews and electrolytes, or something more ordinary, like jam sandwiches, cereal bars or jelly babies. It doesn’t matter; you just need to keep piling it in to prevent the dreaded bonk.
You can store/carry lots of food on your bike, but if you’re riding for a whole day, or multiple days, at some point you’re going to run out. This could mean a trip to a petrol station, local shop, or any other place that sells food.
Obviously, it’s doubtful they’ll sell dedicated sports nutrition, so get used to eating whatever energy rich food you can find. If you’ve been riding for a seriously long time this is a chance to pig out, so we say enjoy it!
And always remember, never try out a new type of energy gel on the day of a big ride. Trust us from bitter experience, your stomach will thank you.
It’s a classic saying and one you’ll have heard many times before – fail to prepare, prepare to fail. In the world of ultra long-distance cycling, the chance of something going wrong with your equipment inevitably increases as you’re spending longer on the bike. Before setting off have a good look over your bike to make sure everything is in working order. Do the tyres look ok, do they have any tears in them? How are the gears, are the chain or chainrings worn and do they need replacing? Don’t skimp on having your bike immaculate, as mechanical failures have been the death of many an epic challenge. Remember to consider the spares you’ll need to carry for such a ride as well. Easily forgotten are extra chainlinks, a gear cable and some spare brake pads, amongst all the other essentials needed to keep you riding in the event of an unfortunate mechanical error.
Possibly the most important factor to affect your performance in an ultra long-distance ride is the mental game; basically, how your mind handles the inevitable difficult moments you’ll encounter along the way. Whilst pushing on through a nasty injury such as severe knee pain, bad sunburn, and painful saddle sores is something we’d never recommend – chances are, no matter how bad you’re feeling, you can keep going a little longer, as the mind usually gives out well before the body.
How you cope with these tough moments is up to you. Many riders have a positive mantra they keep saying in their head, some use nutrition rewards, e.g. ‘if I can do another 10 miles I’ll have that piece of cake I’ve been saving.’ Others are just stubborn and keep going, even when their mind is screaming at them that the endeavour is futile and it’s time to stop. A final tactic is to focus on short term goals, e.g. getting through the next 5 miles, and not think about the mammoth task ahead. Then when you’ve done those 5, try and do another 5 more.
There’s no doubt these moments come to challenge even the most hardened of riders, and how you cope will largely define the success of your ride. So be prepared, and accept that how you deal with the suffering will make a huge difference to your overall success during your epic adventure.
Many cyclists prefer to take on epic challenges solo, but if it’s your first time or you’re unsure if you’re going to make it, then riding with others could be a way to boost your chances of success.
If your ride is taking place on the road then drafting behind a friend will obviously save you some precious energy (up to 30% depending on who you ask), and this relative period of rest may help you get through a difficult patch. Riding in a group also means there are more people to help if you have any navigation or bike-based issues. This is a godsend when fatigue has really kicked in and your mind has started to wander.
Finally, as you’ll learn in the next paragraph, the mental side of long distance riding is as important as the physical, and having a good friend there to cheer you up during a bad patch cannot be underestimated.