As a cyclist, there’s nothing like a long ride to bring a sense of accomplishment, for beginners and seasoned pros alike. Now if you’re relatively new to the sport, or have yet to attempt anything longer than two hours, there’s no need to feel intimidated; successful, long-distance cycling often comes down to strategy and planning, and not just fitness.
Alex Stieda knows just what it takes to make it through a long bike ride: He was the first North American to wear the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, with team 7-Eleven in 1986. He currently offers skills camps and tours through his website, stiedacycling.com.
Of course, long bike rides do require a certain level of endurance, and it’s best to work on gradually building the distance and intensity of your rides. “Say your weekend ride is two hours. Over a period of eight weeks, add about a half hour to each ride; in two months you’ll be ready for a century ride,” Stieda recommends.
He also advises adding more time in the saddle. “Be sure to sneak in another ride or two of at least an hour during the week,” he says. When you’re training for long distance cycling, not every ride has to be a quad-killer. Recovery rides are just as important for building your fitness base.
So, you want to survive your first 60-mile (or longer) ride? Try our metric century training plan, and check out more of Stieda’s tips below.
If you want to last long on a ride, you can’t go all out right from the start. That includes pedaling in an efficient gear—one that isn’t too hard and won’t fry your legs. Opt for a slightly easier gear with a higher cadence versus one that’s lower because the pedals are harder to turn over.
“By maintaining a cadence of at least 90 RPM, you give your aerobic and muscular systems a break,” Stieda says. “Think of lifting a 20-pound bench press 10 times instead of one rep of 200: You lift the same amount but with less overall effort.”
Eat and Drink Lots
When you’re out on a long bike ride, nutrition and hydration are key for sustaining your effort. Stieda says to aim to drink about one bottle per hour, depending on heat and exertion level.
“Don’t worry so much about what you mix with the water; the water is what’s most important,” he says. “Eat a bite or two of food every 15 minutes—consistency over the day is crucial. If you’re out beyond two hours, plan a stop to refill bottles and have a snack.” (These raspberry bars are a crowd favorite.)
Use the Rule of Thirds
If a long ride still seems overwhelming, divide it into three more or less equal distances and have a plan for each of those segments: “The first segment should feel easy, just spinning along. During the second, you should start to feel your muscles working. If you have any jam left, show it in the last third. Nothing screams “rookie” like jumping away on the first climb only to bonk and need to be babysat to the finish,” Stieda says.
Watch the Wind
The wind can be your friend, or it can be your enemy. “If you start with a tailwind, roll easy—you’ll have a headwind on the way home. In a group, stick together during headwind stretches so you can take turns at the front working to shelter the others,” he says.
[Find 52 weeks of tips and motivation, with space to fill in your mileage and favorite routes, with the Bicycling Training Journal.]
Plan for Trouble
With longer rides come greater odds that something will go wrong. It’s likely your ride will be smooth sailing, but you should be prepared regardless. At minimum, carry gear to fix at least two flats, a mini tool, your cell phone, your ID, and cash.
“I stash a $20 bill under my shoe insole,” Stieda says. He also recommends following the code of the road: “Stop for any rider in need. The good deed will come around one day.”
More Quick Tips
Aches and pains crop up during long rides. To minimize them, move.
• Periodically change hand positions, keeping your thumbs wrapped around the bar or brake lever for security.
• To relieve your neck and shoulders, shrug for 5 to 10 seconds.
• On a clear stretch of road, reach one hand up between your shoulders for a few seconds, then swap hands.
• Stand up and drop one pedal so your leg is straight. Let your heel sag below the pedal. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch legs.
You Might Also Like