Hints for Distance Riding Success!
By Ian Buchanan
If you have not ridden much distance or ridden with a big group, riding your first long organized ride can feel overwhelming. However, you need not be worried! If you ride your bike regularly leading up to the event, and learn some “insider” hints, you will be well prepared on the day of the ride and virtually guaranteed to really enjoy it! Below you will find some of those “insider hints” that experienced riders know that makes riding a bike easier and more fun:
- Proper Bike Fit: No single variable that you can purchase has more of an effect on your comfort and performance while riding than your riding position. Work with a professional fitter and get your position dialed in and enjoy the benefits for as long as you ride.
- Good Cycling Shorts: Contact points where your body and bike interact are not good places to compromise or save money. A well made short can make a world of difference. Look for a high quality chamois and Lycra combined with a high percentage of flat seams for best results. Prices for good shorts start around $80. Also, bulky seams in sensitive areas are usually not a good thing; cycling shorts are designed to be worn without underwear.
- Nutrition: If you are hungry, you are already late on eating while riding. You need to keep the right amount of water and sugar in your system during a long ride or you will run out of energy. On a very general level, drink at least once every half hour and take some form of nutrition (energy bar/raisins…) every hour. There is a wide variety of food and drink that can work well; ask other riders and/or a coach for ideas and experiment in advance to figure out what works well for you.
- Saddle: Hey, you have to sit on it all day, so make sure you have one that works. As people ride more frequently and greater distances, they will often do better on a firmer and more supportive and anatomical saddle. Basic gel “comfort” saddles are designed for riders who ride infrequently and thickly padded gel saddles can actually become a liability as they can break down with use and create uncomfortable “balls” of gel in some areas while leaving other areas hard and exposed. There are even pressure sensing systems now available to help make the saddle selection process more reliable.
- Cycling Shoes & Clipless Pedals: Clipless pedals connect you to your bike and use shoes with stiffer soles that are more responsive and can help disperse pressure over a wider area of the foot, thus enhancing comfort. With a little practice, you will find that you can actually get out of a clipless pedal system faster than toe clips and they are actually safer in the event of an accident than a toe clip. If you plan on walking a lot in your cycling shoes, get mountain bike style shoes and pedals, otherwise look at a road bike specific combination if you want to cut weight out of the equation and have the most stable connection. Make sure you get a high quality shoe that fits your foot and use well – comfy feet at mile 70 are hard to put a price on.
- Gearing: Many people never think about gearing and just ride what came on their bike. For some riders, this means they are forced to pedal at a low cadence and muscle through things. Not only is this not particularly efficient, it can also be very tiring! If you find yourself in your lowest (easiest to climb) gear regularly, it may be an indicator that you should see if there are wider/lower gearing options available to you.
- Tire Selection: Few single pieces of equipment affect the comfort and performance of your bike more than the tires. If you have a hybrid or mountain bike you will be using on the road, see if you can install a higher pressure and smoother tire on your bike as it will save you a lot of energy compared to a wider and knobbier tire. Conversely, most road bikes come with a 700×23 tire (the 23 is the width in mm), consider going to a slightly wider 25mm or 28mm tire. You will likely actually decrease (yes, decrease…) rolling resistance and you will simultaneously improve the comfort of your bike on our less than perfect New England pavement. Tires with extra flat protection are also available if you are concerned about flatting.
- Bike Tune: Making sure your drivetrain is in good condition and your brakes, shifters and wheels are all in proper adjustment can make your bike work so much better. At the least, tires should be inflated before every ride to the recommended pressure and your chain should be lubricated regularly. You wouldn’t leave for a long car trip with a quarter tank of gas, not having changed the oil in 10,000 miles, and worn out tires and expect everything to go smoothly, so don’t do the same with your bike.
- Appropriate Clothing: Be prepared for the weather you are likely to encounter. Eye protection should not be considered optional. The latest generation of photochromic sport lenses adjust to changing light conditions and work really well in both bright sun and dark rain. You may encounter both conditions on a long ride. If temperatures might vary widely, arm, leg and toe warmers are great as they will keep you warm when it is chilly and you can roll them up or take them off as temperatures rise and a high quality breathable rain jacket can make a world of difference on a cold and rainy day. Helmets should be used for no more than five years (manufacturer recommendations are 3-4 years) as exposure to the elements and your sweat breaks down the protective foam and decreases the protection. If you have not owned a quality modern helmet, try one. Helmets today are light, comfortable and ventilated in ways that older and basic helmets just can’t compare.
- Ride your Bike: Don’t forget to ride! Running and other cross training is great, but there is no substitute for just riding your bike. If you want to improve your bike handling skills and speed, find a local group to ride with regularly.
Spending a little bit of time in advance getting your equipment set-up right for your use can make a world of difference on a long ride. Take care of some details ahead of time and then you can enjoy the success of having a great ride!
Note: Charity event riders are eligible for $25 off bike fittings at either Fit Werx location (MA or VT), just mention this article… Fit Werx has a Team Fit Werx for Charity Event Riders with great benefits – just contact [email protected] for information. All bike, equipment and service purchases at Fit Werx qualify for the Fit Werx Gives Back program which will donate up to $100 a year in your name to your ride and this amount is doubled for Team Fit Werx members.
Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx, Road & Triathlon Cycling Specialists, a bike shop with locations in Waitsfield, VT and Peabody, MA. Fit Werx was ranked the “#1 Bike Shop in the USA” by The Active Times and one of the “Top 100 Bike Shops in the Nation” by Bicycling Magazine. Fit Werx works with riders of all experience levels and offers a full selection of bikes, cycling products, service and bicycle fitting services. Fit Werx can be reached at one of their locations or through the Web at www.fitwerx.com.