Going The Distance: A Guide To Long Distance Cycling

Riding a century is one of the most challenging, and rewarding, things a cyclist can do

Riding a century is one of the most challenging, and rewarding, things a cyclist can do

 

Long distance cycling is some of the most challenging, and rewarding, riding that a cyclist can do. Nothing compares to the feeling of satisfaction of setting yourself a goal that seems difficult—if not impossible—and reaching it, exhausted, tired, but full of pride.

Everyone’s definition of what a long ride is will be different, but for the sake of making this easy, we’ll say a long ride is 100 miles, a type of ride also called a century. It sounds daunting—and it is, but there are few things as defining and rewarding for a cyclist as riding your first century.

But before you start thinking “how hard can it be?”, and go off to jump on your bicycles, bear in mind that long distance cycling puts unique demands on your body, and it’s something you need to work up to and prepare for.

 

So here are some tips for that first big ride—whether it’s the first century you’ve ever done, or if you’re just putting in some base miles for the season ahead.

 

1. Work Up To It

First things first, you need to make sure you’re in shape to ride this kind of distance. Just hopping on your bike and trying to set out to ride 100 miles without any preparation is not a smart thing to do. Set a date on the calendar at least 6-8 weeks in advance (if you’re doing an organized ride, then you’ve already got a timeframe to shoot for), and do multiple weekly rides, trying to increase your mileage by 10-20% every week (depending on your fitness level).

 

2. Plan Your Route

You should have a definite route set before you head out the door. Even if you have a GPS or a smartphone, make sure you bring a cue sheet so you can always find your way back. Also ensure that your route will include plenty of places to stop and top up on water, pick up some food, use the bathroom, and just get off the bike for a few minutes. Ideally, your route should include a rest stop every 20 miles.

If you’re a little uneasy about getting stranded in the middle of nowhere if you bonk or have a mechanical issue, try finding a 20-30 mile loop near your home that you can ride repeatedly. This way if something goes wrong you can always make sure you can get home.

Lastly, plan a “B” route that will get you home faster in case of a mechanical problem, bad weather, or an emergency.

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A GPS computer like this Garmin 810 can help you stay on your route

 

3A. Have The Right Gear

Depending on your speed, riding 100 miles means you can be on the bike anywhere form 4-8 hours. That’s a lot of time for the weather to change or something to go wrong. Always make sure you have the follow with you when you set out on a long ride:

Remember though that tools are useless if you don’t know how to use them. Before you set out, make sure you know how to repair a flat tire, fix a broken derailleur, or adjust loose brakes. To learn more about basic bike maintenance, check out the How To page on our Learning Center.

Commuter Kit (carried in messenger bag): Tire lever, multitool, patch kit, spare tube, pump

A comprehensive tool kit, like this one, can save you some trouble down the road

3B. Pick The Right Clothes

This also isn’t the ride to wear your “B” gear. Wearing the shorts with the ok-but-not-great-pad, a pair of ill-fitting shoes, or a jersey that is either too thin or too warm will have you hating life somewhere around mile 55, if not sooner. For your big ride, break out your best shorts, favorite jersey and make sure your shoes fit properly. You’ll thank yourself later.

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Choosing the right clothes, like the Performance Ultra shorts and jersey, can help make the miles a little more comfortable

 

4. Fuel Up

Inadequate fueling is the biggest reason most failed attempts at a century ride don’t succeed. You need to start eating before you even leave the house, with a good breakfast that includes plenty of carbs and protein. The second you get on the bike and start riding, start eating. Gels and chews are essentials to bring, since they pack plenty of energy in a small package. But you also want to avoid having a belly full of nothing but sugar, so ensure you’re eating real food too, like bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers, and other high-energy, easy to digest foods.

You also need to make sure that you are drinking. Drink one bottle of plain water the first hour, then a bottle of hydration mix the second hour. Keep alternating water and hydration mix every other hour.

If you find yourself cramping, that’s usually your body’s way of telling you you need more salt, so make sure you pack some chews (Clif Shot Bloks margarita flavor is a delicious choice) or other snack with plenty of sodium.

And the biggest thing to remember: bring twice as much food as you think you’ll need.

For more tips on cycling nutrition, check out our guide.

Picking the right nutrition items, like these salt-filled energy chews, will help keep you fueled up and avoid cramping

 

5. Sit Up and Stand Up

Most professional riders can spend 6-7 hours on the bike no problem, but they’re getting paid to suffer like that. When riding a century, make sure you take plenty of stops to stand up, get off the bike, walk around a bit, and stretch. This will help restore blood flow, stop muscles from cramping, and help you feel better during the day.

You also don’t have to hammer all day. Riding a century is more about your ability to endure than to go fast. Take it easy, spin in an easier gear than normal, and really take the time to enjoy the sights you’re riding by.

Check out this article to learn more about preventing fatigue.

 

6. Mentally Prepare

There’s no two ways about it, no matter how fit you are, riding 100 miles is tough. You need to mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable aches, pains, and defeatist thoughts that are going to come to you. Things are going to get sore, weird muscles are going to cramp up, you’ll be riding into a bad headwind at some point, and you’ll probably reach some dark places where you think you can’t do this. You may even get chased by a dog or two.

Just remember that this happens to everyone, and our minds and bodies are much more resilient that we give them credit for. Riding through those aches and pains and low moments are part of what makes riding long distances so rewarding—overcoming our own perceived limitations and doing things we thought were impossible.

 

7. Don’t Go It Alone

What’s harder than a century? A solo century. Being alone with your thoughts for 100 miles can undo even the hardest of cyclists. If you have other friends who ride, see if anyone is up to going for the 100 with you. Not only will it be fun to get out and train together, but doing a long distance ride is much easier when you have someone else with you. You can talk to each other to take your mind off the miles, help keep each other motivated, and draft off of each other if the wind picks up. Plus, in case of an emergency you’ll have someone around who can get help if needed.

 

Riding with a friend is a good way to help the miles go by a little easier

Riding with a friend is a good way to help the miles go by a little easier

 

Have you done any long rides lately, or do you have any planned? Do you have any tips or tricks that we missed? Let us know in the comments section.

Product Profile: Nuun Active Hydration

nuun active hydration

You may have seen one of the tubes of Nuun active hydration (pronounced “Noon”) in one of our local Performance Bicycle stores and wondered what was up with these tiny tabs that you drop into your water bottle. Nuun was originally the brainchild of a professor from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. An avid cyclist, he longed for a lightweight, easy to use hydration method that didn’t involve a sticky high-calorie mess. His research led to the creation of the sugarless, dissolvable, and portable tablet called Nuun – separating electrolyte replacement from carbohydrates. You get the electrolytes your body needs during a hard ride, without the sugars or carbohydrates that can cause stomach upset or inhibit absorption.

Nuun Active Hydration

Nuun Active Hydration Drink Tablets

Nuun Active Hydration Drink Tablets

The original Nuun Active Hydration drink tabs are portable, taste great and deliver a fast-absorbing electrolyte blend without the sugar or waste of bottled sport drinks. Just pop out a Nuun tablet from the tube, drop it in your water bottle, toss the tube in your jersey pocket and you’re ready to go. It also contains 4 essential electrolytes that when combined with water, give you optimal and balanced hydration — sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Plus the refreshing flavor with a bit of fizz reminds you to keep drinking.

Nuun All Day Hydration

Nuun All Day Natural Hydration Drink Tablets

Nuun All Day Natural Hydration Drink Tablets

Nuun All Day Hydration drink tablets are a vitamin enhanced formula to help you stay hydrated throughout the day. They’ll keep you healthy, energized and focused, with a crisp, refreshing flavor that goes down easy. With zero sugar, all natural ingredients, and under 8 calories per serving, you can add more water to your daily routine with Nuun All Day.

Nuun Energy

Nuun Energy

New Nuun Energy tablets

The newest member of the Nuun family is Nuun Energy drink tablets. Nuun Energy takes their essential electrolyte mix and elevates it with a caffeine boost, and energizing B Vitamins. There is still no sugar, just the same light and refreshing Nuun flavors with the electrolytes you need to make the most of your water, but enhanced with B Vitamins to turn carbohydrates into accessible fuel and caffeine to energize your mind and body without the crash.

You can buy Nuun online at PerformanceBike.com and in your local Performance Bicycle store.

 

Check out our Learning Center for more info from our Advanced Guide to Hydration.

Real Advice: How To Properly Clean Your Water Bottle

We all use water bottles every day. Taking the time to really clean them is very important to your continued health. A dish washer will get them mostly clean, but every once in a while it’s a good idea to pull the bottle apart and really clean it. Here’s how we recommend cleaning your water bottle.

For this example, we’re using a Polar Insulated Water Bottle (one of our favorites).

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We’re starting with what looks like a clean bottle.

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It looks fairly clean at first, but there’s mold growing under that nipple.

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See the black notches? They’re the key to getting that nipple out in one piece.

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Firmly grasp the nipple and give it a good twist.

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The notches should slide behind the columns. This will allow the nipple to pull right out.

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It’s pretty easy to pull out, actually.

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See all of the nastiness? And this bottle has been through the dish washer!

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Thoroughly clean out the nipple.

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Carefully clean out the bottle lid as well.

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Don’t forget to scrub down inside that bottle!

For this example, I’m using scrub brushes from a Camelbak Cleaning System to get all of the gunk out. When you’re done cleaning, pop the nipple back in and enjoy your thoroughly cleaned water bottle!

How to Deal with Weather

It’s been kind of a weird summer, weather-wise. It seems like most of America is either baking in a heat wave or underwater with heavy rains— all of which can make getting outside to ride seem less than appealing. But don’t let the weather get you down. While most of us prefer to get our riding in when it’s 80 and sunny, sometimes rides in challenging weather can be more rewarding. You just need to make sure you’re properly prepared.

“There is no bad weather, just bad clothing” is a saying that has been variously attributed to World War II Norwegian commandos, Eddy Merckx and Gaynor from our tech department, but no matter the source, it’s as true now as it has always been. Clothing technology has come a long way in the last few years, so making the right clothing choices can turn what would be a miserable ride into a great one.

 PointLoma_2011-154If it’s a little wet out there, then staying dry is your first priority. Rain jackets are no longer the non-breathable pieces of plastic from days of old. Nowadays space-age fabrics like Gore-Tex and eVent provide highly breathable water- and wind-proof protection from the elements, while lighter weight, packable jackets have Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finishes that are low volume and pack easily into a jersey pocket or hydration pack, but don’t breath as well and offer more limited protection. It’s also important to keep your feet as dry as possible to avoid blisters, hot spots and athlete’s foot. A good pair of water-resistant overshoes can help your feet stay nice and dry, without overheating, in all but the most torrential downpours.

A packable rain jacket can provide lightweight, comfortable protection from light rain or high winds

If you’re riding with a group, or want to keep yourself (relatively) free from grime and road spray, then fenders are a must. There are many options available, from the much beloved “beaver tail” rear spray guards, to removable clip on fenders, and full bolt-on fenders. Your choice will depend on what kind of bike you have and what level of protection you would like. Lights are also a necessity when the weather is rainy, since visibility is reduced and many drivers may already be distracted by the weather. For optimal safety, try combining a medium brightness blinky headlight with a very bright rear light. If it might be getting dark, consider adding in a 1000+ lumen headlamp to light your way.

Fenders like this one from SKS are easy to install and remove

And hey, don’t forget to wash that bike after a good soaking. Nothing is harder on a bike than wet weather conditions. Taking a few minutes to wipe away the dirt, clean your chain, and re-lube all the moving parts can save you some headaches down the road.

_MG_2266But what if it’s blazing hot out? Here again proper clothing, equipment and common sense become the best tools to ensure you enjoy your rides. Many jerseys now are available in super lightweight fabrics that help shield you from the sun’s rays and breath extremely well to help you stay cool. Wear light colored fabrics or jerseys made with coldBlack to help reflect some of the heat. On very hot days you can also opt for a sleeveless jersey or use a few simple tricks that’ll help you cool down. Unzipping your jersey as much as possible is a time-honored way of cooling off and is one of the most effective. Loosening your helmet a little bit and removing your sunglasses also seems to help most people feel cooler. And, of course, splashing yourself down with some water will provide relief.

The Ultra jersey from Performance combines lightweight fabrics and ColdBlack technology to keep you cool

When it’s hot, the most important thing is to be smart and be prepared. Don’t ride during the hottest parts of the day, or if you decide you simply must, then choose routes with plenty of shade and plenty of places to top up on water along the way. Staying hydrated is probably the most difficult thing to do in extreme heat, so make sure to bring more water than you think you’ll need. Hydration packs offer the ability to carry up to 3 liters of water, which should be enough for most rides. If you prefer to use bottles, try using an insulated bottle like Polar, and carrying a third bottle in a jersey pocket. To replace lost electrolytes, bring some hydration tablets or powders like Nuun, Skratch Labs or Hammer.

Insulated water bottles help keep your drink cold on hot days

For more ideas on how you can beat the heat, check out our article in the Performance Bicycle Learning Center.

Spin Doctor Tech Tip: Hydration 101

Spin DoctorProper hydration is key to your optimal cycling performance, as all bodily functions depend on good hydration. Sweating out as little as 2% of your body weight reduces your body’s ability to pump blood and cool itself!

Dehydration is a serious problem for us as cyclists, especially when temperatures & humidity rise. On those hot days that critical 2% can be lost in less than an hour! For safety and optimal performance, we need a balance of fluid, energy and electrolytes before, during and even after exercise.

Staying hydrated is a big and coordinated effort of your stomach, intestines and circulatory system.

Stomach: The stomach’s job is to prepare food and fluids for the intestines where absorption into the blood takes place. It adjusts the saltiness of food to match that of the intestines and blood, to speed absorption. Sport drinks are isotonic, which means that they are formulated at just the right saltiness so they move more quickly to the intestines.

Bottom line: Isotonic drinks move faster through the stomach than water alone.

Intestines: Fluids, food, electrolytes and energy molecules have to pass through the intestinal wall to reach the blood stream. The key constituents of sport drinks are designed at the molecular level to move more easily and quickly through the intestinal wall.

Bottom line: Sport drinks accelerate the passage of energy, select nutrients and water.

Circulatory System: The blood stream transports oxygen, fluid and fuel to the muscles then moves metabolic wastes and heat away. To work it needs fluid and salts, and isotonic sport drinks supply them and more.

Bottom line: By providing fluid, energy molecules and some salts isotonic sport drinks support the circulatory system and exercise performance.

Skin: The skin protects us, on cold and hot days. During hard exercise and exercise in the heat, your body loses necessary moisture and blood salt levels rise.

Bottom line: Sport drinks replace water and help to balance critical salt levels in the blood.

Kidneys: The kidneys function to maintain blood volume and saltiness, but during exercise, blood flow is diverted to muscles, heart and skin and so the kidneys are basically off line. After exercise the kidneys work to normalize blood fluid volume and saltiness.

Bottom line: Drinking sport drinks right after exercise can speed recovery from exercise.

Bottom Line Overall: To stay hydrated during the hottest days and hardest workouts, you need a sports drink made up of water, energy (from carbohydrates), and electrolytes (salts).

All of the sport drinks we carry feature a blend of these important nutrients, but, as always, if you have questions about any cycling nutrition & hydration products (or anything else we carry), give our in-house Spin Doctor Technical Support team a call at 800 553-8324 (TECH), or send your email question to spindoctor@performanceinc.com.  They’re ready to answer your questions and offer advice 5 days a week.

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