If you’re planning some long distance riding for the first time, then this article is for you.
Cycling for a long distance requires preparation; you’ll want to do some training, get set up properly and think about practical matters like food, hydration and where you’re going to ride!
From how to set goals and put a training plan in place, to how to prepare your bike for a long ride, the kit you’ll need and what to wear, it’s all detailed right here. The tips you’ll read for preparing for long distance bike riding are based on the hard-won knowledge we’ve gained over our years of riding, cycling abroad and taking part in long distance events.
Read on so you can be all set for the long distance cycling challenges that await!
1. Define your long-distance cycling goal
The first of our long bike ride tips is to set a goal. Like all objectives, it’s best if this is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. Where exactly do you want your riding to be and when? Is this realistic? How will you measure your progress along the way?
What long distance means to you
When we talk about cycling and distance, what qualifies as long distance? To someone just starting their cycling journey, 20 miles may seem like an average cycling distance for beginners to aim for. An intermediate cyclist might cope with 50 miles, while a more experienced cyclist may manage 100 miles without too much trouble.
Cycling sportives tend to range between 50 and 150 miles. So you’ll need to be an intermediate or advanced level cyclist to cope with one of these. If this is your long distance cycling goal, then you may need to work towards achieving this fitness level.
You may also have heard of ultra distance cycling. We tend to think of this as a ride of over 100 miles, or a century, but the World Ultracycling Association – cite a longer distance of 125 miles or more. Probably best to work up to riding ultras!
Choose somewhere inspiring
Of course, we’re biased, but choosing an awesome location or event for your big ride can really help with motivation while you’re training and preparing. Our inspiration or destinations pages make a great start.
How are you going to achieve your goal?
Do you need to add in some intermediate objectives on the way? It can help to write your goal down, tell your friends and family or even commit to achieving it with someone else. These things can make it more likely you’ll actually do what you say you’re going to do.
Will you need help to achieve your objective? What time have you got to dedicate to it? Do you need any equipment like a power meter (more on power meters here)? Might you need a professional to guide you – a coach who can help you create a training plan perhaps (more on coaching in this article)? These are some of the things to think about when planning out the “how” part of achieving your objective – read on for more.
2. Train for long distance cycling
Having a training plan is a top tip for having a long distance cycling objective that succeeds.
Following a structured plan that works towards the goal already set ensures you’ll get the most out of your more prolonged rides.
If you have a plan in place when preparing for a long bike ride, your overall level of fitness will improve. You’ll be able to ride more quickly and efficiently while maximising your chances of performing well. This all means you can enjoy your sportive or cycling holiday to the full too.
We’ve got so much to say on the subject of training for long distance rides, that we’ve written this separate article on the subject of long distance training. Enjoy!
3. Check your bike is suitable for long-distance cycling (with a good saddle!)
Get a bike fitting
Another of the key cycling tips for long rides concerns your comfort. An uncomfortable ride is never pleasant. Any discomfort is also likely to hamper your performance and may even lead to injury.
If you’re preparing for long distance cycling events, it’s a great time to get a bike fitting. Arranging one can pay dividends. You can be sure of riding the right size bike – and sitting on the most comfortable saddle possible.
A professional bike fitting can ensure the best size bike, and tailoring your position to suit how you ride. It can also improve your power output, and even reduce your risk of injury.
Having a bike fitting at the early stages of your long distance training also means you have more time to adjust to any changes – in advance of tackling any long distance cycling events you have planned.
Picking out a comfortable, supportive saddle is paramount when it comes to how to bike a long distance successfully. Though it’s very much a matter of personal preference, ideally the saddle should feel like a natural extension of your body.
A professional saddle fitting can form part of a general bike fitting.
Things to look for include the shape of the saddle. An endurance saddle is typically V-shaped, with a shorter nose than the average road bike saddle, and rounded edges.
Finding a gender-specific fit can play a part. Women’s saddles are typically shorter in the nose than those of their male counterparts. Any channel or cutout will be shaped to fit the male or female anatomy.
Finding the right shape and level of padding can also be subject to a bit of trial and error. So buying a good saddle in advance of your challenge gives you plenty of time to get it right if you do feel that improvements could be made!
If you’ve been training towards a big ride, the last thing you want is for your bike to suffer a mechanical which means you can’t complete it. It’s a good idea to schedule in a service a few weeks before your goal ride/event.
4. Wear the right clothes
Clothing is another thing to think about when planning long distance cycling. What to wear will vary depending on whether you’ll be riding in spring, summer, autumn or winter. Items you may not have thought of, for example, could include a neck warming buff, arm warmers, a gilet and windproof items such as jerseys or gloves.
Where you’ll be going for your cycling holiday or taking part in a sportive will also play a huge part in what to wear. You’re going to need different clothing for the French Alps than for a tropical island, for example!
Which brings us neatly onto the weather forecast. What are the skies likely to have in store? This will depend again on the destination – and the season. One of the key factors when planning how to ride long distance cycling is to dress appropriately and be prepared for inclement conditions. (We share our favourite weather forecast app in this article!)
Cycling shorts are classic riding apparel for a reason. A good pad is key to an enjoyable long ride. Shorts reduce friction when in the saddle, and the streamlined shape makes the rider more aerodynamic. Cycling shorts are also very flexible, and can even help to keep the muscles compressed.
Chamois cream can be applied directly to the skin, or to the inside of your cycling shorts. It’s applied to the areas that come into contact with the saddle to reduce friction. This turn will improve comfort, which for a long ride is even more important! It’s certainly one to consider for your list of long distance cycling essentials.
Wearing the right cycling shoes can really enhance your comfort level on the bike. Not to mention improving your performance. Whether to go for velcro straps, laces or dual dial fastenings is personal, but we’d say always invest in the best cycling shoes your budget will stretch to.
Go for the best quality and fit you can
Our advice for long distance cycling is not to skimp when it comes to clothing and accessories. A good fit and technical fabrics can make a world of difference, wicking away moisture and ensuring continued comfort. We love the Stolen Goat range and always recommend it.
Know your kit
No one we’ve ever met would advise riding a long way in a brand new, untested piece of kit. So if you’re planning on an upgrade, do it well before the big ride!
5. Bring the right kit
Once your big day gets closer, it’s time to think about your long distance cycling checklist for packing. What you’ll take along depends on whether you’re taking your own bike, or hiring one.
The clothing you’ll pack depends on how long you’ll be away and the climate. You’ll also need casual wear for when you’re off the bike. Plus any personal items, electronics and documents for your trip.
How many water bottles will you need and how big should they be? You should be taking a few sips every 10 to 15 minutes.
For a long ride, you’ll certainly want two water bottles with you. If it’s going to be hot, it’s also worth finding out in advance where you can refill these along the way. Size-wise, you need enough to keep you hydrated between refill points – but not overly heavy bottles that will weigh you down. We tend to do long rides with two 750ml bottles.
There are certain tools you’ll need to take along on long distance cycling trips. Rear pockets in your jersey and/or a saddlebag are the best places to carry these – which you choose is a question of personal preference. Some people hate riding with full pockets. Others hate the look of a saddlebag and are happy to put up with bulging pockets instead!
Items to include are repair patches and inner tubes, a pump, lightweight plastic tyre levers, a quick release chain link and a multitool.
If you’re riding in a group, don’t be the one that relies on everyone else to bring the tools they need. Trust me, they’re never popular!
Phone (and apps)
Make sure your phone is fully charged before setting off. If you use the GPS, this will use a lot of battery life, so you may need a power pack too – or get a cycling computer instead so you don’t use your phone for GPS.
In case of emergencies, protect your phone from the elements and add an emergency contact number.
Don’t forget to load/reload any cycling apps you might want to use, in advance of your epic ride.
How are you going to plan your route? If you’re using GPS, do be aware that this will drain your phone’s battery very quickly. A paper map is always a good back-up in any case. It could get you out of trouble if technology fails!
You might need cash or a card for a cafe stop, a full meal or even a taxi ride if you do get stuck, so don’t go without packing some cash and/or a card!
6. Get your nutrition right
While one of the benefits of long distance cycling can be weight control, it’s also critical to eat and drink properly. We’ve got a whole article dedicated to nutrition, but here are a few of the main points to consider.
What you eat and drink
Drinking regularly as mentioned above is important – and in advance of the long ride too.
You don’t have to load up on carbs in advance of the ride. Light protein such as fish or chicken plus rice, pasta or potatoes makes a perfect meal. A breakfast of porridge or omelette is also ideal.
While you’re on the road you’ll also need to take in nutrition. Gels and bars are ideally suited to on the go refuelling. We suggest taking along a mix of types, such as natural, sugary, protein-packed or caffeinated snacks. You’re riding a long way; eat good stuff, it will fuel you for your ride and it’ll have benefits for your mind-game too (more on that below).
When you eat and drink it
There are lots of different strategies for when you eat. Some people like to program exactly when they’re going to eat. Some like to wait until they are a bit hungry.
If you opt for the latter, just don’t wait until you’re too hungry – it might be too late and you’ll already be well on the way to running out of juice!
Most cyclists agree that it’s best to eat a little and often. But again, this is another thing to practice in training.
7. Ride well
Completing a challenge ride is not just about raw fitness. Things like pedal stroke and pacing make a big difference too.
Once you’ve had that bike fitting, another of the pro long ride cycling tips is to perfect your pedalling. It’s all about the position. Your knee should be above the ball of your foot when the pedal is at three o’clock, with the knee slightly bent when it passes the six o’clock mark.
Like long distance running, long distance road cycling requires you to pace yourself. Practice makes perfect here, so working on this is something to add to your training schedule. Don’t go off too hard!
The French call it “souplesse”, the Italians call it “sprezzatura”. The nearest English-equivalent is probably elegance. Your aim should be to be smooth, graceful and effortless on the bike. Not only will it mean you don’t waste energy, but you’ll look good too!
Don’t waste time
Don’t get me wrong, photos and coffee stops are important, but if you’re on a long ride, you should always have one mind on the clock. If you’re riding an event, know when your cut-off times are; know when dusk is going to fall and how far it is to where you’re staying that night. Don’t waste time faffing around, queuing unnecessarily or taking your millionth photo if you don’t have time and you’ll regret it later. Remember the bigger objective!
8. Use your brain
Cycling is both a physical and a mental game. Often a cyclist’s head will give up before their legs do. So a bit of self-belief and a good dollop of determination go a long way.
Half way through your first mega ride, you might start to wonder why you embarked on this crazy plan at all. “Remind me, why are we doing this anyway?!” It would be surprising if you didn’t have that thought at some stage!
If you’ve picked right, your ride will be hard, you will get tired, you will get hungry. But if you can accept and deal with that, then it’s all part of what will make your ride the incredible adventure and challenge you were looking for.
Play mental games
Good preparation can be a big part of winning the mental game. If you know your route really well, if you know your elevations, where you’re going to stop, where you’ll be able to rest your legs on a long downhill – and so on – this can really help you feel you’re going to be able to complete the challenge ahead of you.
Some cyclists like to break up a long ride into chunks. Perhaps based on where they’re planning to stop for a break or food. This can make what seemed like a huge distance at the start of the day, much more manageable.
Another good tip if you’re feeling negative is to think about all the hard rides that you’ve completed previously and all the training you’ve done to be on this ride. This can be a major motivator.
Benefits of long bike rides
It can also be helpful to remember the physical benefits of long bike rides!
Cycling is typically a good idea for your body. The exercise strengthens your heart and other muscles, reduces fat levels within the blood and lowers your resting heart rate. Cycling can also improve coordination and balance.
Long distance cycling on a bike can build on this. Endurance riding can also make for a more efficient aerobic energy system as your fitness levels improve. This enhances your chances of completing a race – and performing well.
Other long distance cycling benefits include improved mental health, effective weight control, a stronger immune system, better brain power, and more satisfying sleep.
Keep thinking while you’re riding
When the going gets tough, don’t switch off your brain. It can be worth having a regular check through a list of points to ensure you haven’t zoned out of the important things that will let your body keep going. For example
- Am I hungry? Am I thirsty?
- How far have I gone? How far have I got to go?
- Does anything hurt?
- Am I going too fast? Could I go faster?
9. Other practical long distance cycling tips
Boring but true – don’t forget to check the rules of the road for wherever you’re riding.
For more tips on how to plan an overseas holiday, read our full article on planning a cycle holiday.
Preparation for long distance cycling is key to success. Getting your clothing, kit and bike just right can be every bit as important as putting a training and nutrition plan in place.
But with a little forward planning, preparing for a long cycle ride doesn’t have to be difficult. It can even be fun!
We hope this article has inspired your long distance ride preparations. Do share your tips below!
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