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.

Diamondback Podium Optum Pro Cycling Team Edition Road Bike

Painted in team livery colors, hung with SRAM Red 22 and rolling on HED wheels, this is one serious machine

Painted in team livery colors, hung with SRAM Red 22 and rolling on HED wheels, this is one serious machine

It’s not often that most of us get to ride the exact same machines that the pro’s do. While we can buy team replica frames, most often they don’t come with the same parts that the pro’s actually ride. Sure you may end up with a bike that may have the same color scheme, and some of the components may look almost right, but when you see a close-up of the pro’s equipment you realize that what you ended up with is indeed just a replica. It’s not the same race-ready gear that is built to hold up to the rigors of the upper echelon of pro cycling.

But Diamondback set out to change all of that in 2014 when they announced that the Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team was going to ride Diamondback Podium bikes. The Podium is one of the finest bikes we’ve ever had the opportunity to ride. Stiff, fast, responsive, and drop-dead gorgeous, these are bikes that can help Optum, and you, take the win. And this is no “team replica” bike either. The light Continuous Fiber Technology frameset is painted up in team livery colors, hung with pro-level SRAM Red 22 components, and rolling on stiff HED carbon tubulars – in short it’s the exact same bike the Optum pro’s will be riding in the Tour of California and other top races in North America and Europe. And the best news is, it’s now available at Performance Bicycle.

To see more, check out the gallery below.

Top 10 Things For 2014

This year saw a lot of innovation, but coming out of all the trade shows, blogs, and our own meetings, there are a few things that really stand out and have us all kinds of excited for 2014. But these are just our thoughts – post a comment below with what cycling gear or rides you’re most pumped to try out in the new year!

1. Disc brakes on road bikes: we’ve had a chance to play around with these a little bit lately, and we’re excited about the performance advantages we’ve seen so far. Hopefully, we’ll see more manufacturers offer a bigger range of bikes with disc brakes.

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We love the performance of disc brakes on the Diamondback Century Sport Disc

2. 1×11 drivetrains for MTB: Who knew that losing a front derailleur could be an improvement? OK, so many folks have already gone down this path of simplicity, but the improved gearing range of 1×11 makes it a possibility for almost any mountain biker. They’ve proven to be a reliable, durable and quiet – we can’t wait to see it come stock on even more bikes. SRAM’s XX1 and (more affordable) X01 systems are the only one’s available right now, but you can go part way towards this system with a ‘narrow-wide’ single front chainring to ditch the front derailleur on your current bike.

We love the new crop of 1×11 MTB drivetrains

3. Hydraulic brakes for the road: The unfortunate SRAM recall aside, we’re excited about the potential for improved braking power. The idea is there, and the applications and benefits are obvious, it just looks like it needs more refining. We’ve been using the TRP HY/RD mechanically actuated hydraulic system the last few weeks, and are pretty impressed, so we’re looking forward to more innovation in 2014.

TRP Hy/Rd mechanically actuated hydraulic brake calipers drastically improve braking performance

TRP Hy/Rd mechanically actuated hydraulic brake calipers drastically improve braking performance

4. SRAM electronic drivetrains: Hey, we’re suckers for new technology! Spotted at the Illinois State CX Championships, it looks like SRAM is finally set to introduce an electronic shifting system to compete with the tried and true systems from Shimano and Campagnolo. Since SRAM seems to like names like “New Red” and “New Red 22″, anyone want to venture a guess about the product name? Click here to learn more from Bike Radar.

5. 27.5” wheels: 27.5″ (aka 650B) wheels on mountain bikes were huge this year, and we bet that next year they’ll gain even more prominence as more folks upgrade their rides. As a mountain biker you owe it to yourself to test out one of these ‘in-between’ bikes if you’re in the market for a new off-road steed – they really do combine some of the best traits of a nimble 26″ bike and a roll-over-anything 29er.

27.5″ wheeled mountain bikes, like this GT Force Carbon, were all the rage this year

6. Giro Air Attack Shield helmets (black, size medium): Literally the only thing on my Christmas list and I didn’t get one. Hopefully one will find it’s way to me in 2014. They make a great Valentine’s Day gift (and that’s a science fact, you guys). But seriously – aero bikes, components and gear will continue to make inroads into more every day rides. It’s free speed with very little trade-off when it comes to weight or comfort.

Maybe next year…

7. New power meter designs: The Garmin Vector and our new completely awesome, formerly super secret wheel project are making power readouts more accessible to cyclists, improving the way we ride and train. Hopefully, the designs will continue to get more affordable and easier to install.

Innovative new power meter designs are bringing power to the masses

8. Fat bikes: Fat bikes are the new fixies, but more fun. Want to experience a trail in a new way? Power through snow? Roll over boulders like it ain’t no thang? Then you need a fat bike – if you have never tried one, then you’ll be blown away by how much fun they are!

Go anywhere on a fat bike. Seriously…you can pretty much go anywhere.

9. Some exciting new stuff added to our bike and clothing lineups: We’ve got some awesome new stuff getting ready to fill up our bike inventory, including some exciting new brands. We can’t say what yet, but we’re really excited. And our clothing team is hard at work improving our already amazing high-value Performance brand apparel – we think you’re going to like what you see!

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More great Performance gear is on the way.

10. More great rides with friends: Whether it’s a lunch time hammerfest with coworkers at the office, an epic Gran Fondo, a ride with the family, or a leisurely weekend excursion with your best riding buddy – we’re here for the ride, and we hope that 2014 brings all of us even more great adventures on 2 wheels!

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Here’s to great rides in 2014!

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