6 Must-Have Tips For Tackling An Event Ride

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If you’re looking for a fun way to spice up your riding routine, you might consider signing up for an organized  event ride.

Organized rides, like gran fondos, fun rides, and charity events can be a good way to motivate you to ride more, help you meet other riders, and give you a goal to ride towards.

Earlier this year, we had the chance to participate in the organized ride of a lifetime: The Ronde van Vlaanderen Sportif. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is one of the most important bike races of the year, and the Sportif gives every day riders an opportunity to ride the route that the pro’s take.

The ride is tough, with long distances, cobbles, and some of the hardest climbs around.

It was one of the toughest rides we’ve ever done, but read on to find out how we prepared for it, and some tricks and tips for getting ready for your next ride.

1. Pick Your Ride

A simple Google search can help you find a ride you would like to do in your area. From challenging gran fondos (timed non-competitive rides) to local charity events, there are plenty to choose from, and most offer multiple distances for riders of different levels. Most do charge an entry fee or require you to raise donations, but don’t worry—it goes to a good cause and helps fund the ride for next year.

It’s important to pick one that suits your fitness and experience level though. Check the route map to see if there are any difficult hills or tough sections. Be realistic about what you can tackle.

For us, we knew we would need to deal with 4 cobbled sectors, 4 cobbled climbs (the Koppenberg, the Steenbeekdreijs, the Kwarmonte and the Paterberg), plus one ugly cobbled descent. This was a big part in our pre-ride training and equipment choices.

The addition of some tough climbs, like the Kanarieberg, influenced our training and equipment choices

The addition of some tough climbs, like the Kanarieberg, influenced our training and equipment choices

2. Train Up

Don’t be put off by the word training. Think of it more as getting out, riding your bike, and challenging yourself. Even charity rides or fun runs can be difficult if you’re not used to spending time on the bike. Prepare by riding several times a week, and slowly increasing the total distance ridden by 10-30% each week (depending on your fitness level). If you will have to tackle any hills, then introduce some gentle hill work into your riding routine (check out our article on climbing here). If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to start preparing 6-8 weeks before your event.

If you’ve never ridden with a group before, now is the time to start. You need to get the hang of the etiquette and nuances required to ride with a group before showing up on the start line. Try visiting your local Performance store and going on our Great Rides group rides to get some practice.

Before your ride, it's essential you get some practice riding with a group, so you can be safe and feel comfortable

Before your ride, it’s essential you get some practice riding with a group, so you can be safe and feel comfortable

When we were preparing for the Ronde Sportif, our biggest concern was the cobbles. We’re pretty experienced cyclists and decent climbers, so the distance and the hills didn’t worry us as much as riding on the unfamiliar cobbled roads with cyclists of varying skill levels. To prepare, we spent several afternoons on Flemish farm roads riding up and down the worst cobbles we could find until we learned the tricks to finding a line, negotiating the transition areas, and how to hold your body so you can ride and still see (the shaking from the cobbles can make it difficult to see where you’re going).

We spent several afternoons riding cobbled farm roads to get ready for the Sportif

We spent several afternoons riding cobbled farm roads to get ready for the Sportif

3. Tune It Up

As you do your preparation rides, pay attention to what feels good and what doesn’t. If you’re having chaffing or saddle sore issues, it may be time for a new pair of shorts or a different saddle (you might also try some chamois cream). If your back, neck or knees feel sore, you may need to address your bike fit (check out our article on addressing knee pain). Use this time to test out new equipment and fine tune everything. The last thing you want to do is throw a new piece of equipment on your bike right before the big ride.

The weekend before the ride, it might also be a good time to take your bike to your local Spin Doctor for a quick check and tune up.

We rode the Ronde Sportif on a pair of borrowed Ridley Heliums. Every evening, after the work day was done, we took the bikes out for a ride to fine tune the fit. It took 3-4 rides to get the saddle height, saddle fore/aft position, and bar height right. We carried tools with us during our rides, and would stop a few times during the ride to make a quick adjustment until it was dialed in perfectly. Check out our guide to fitting a road bike for more detailed instructions.

During our training rides, we stopped frequently to adjust saddle height, handlebar height, and more

During our training rides, we stopped frequently to adjust saddle height, handlebar height, and more

4. Gear Up

Make sure you have the right clothing, equipment and gearing for your ride. A good pair of cycling shorts, a jersey, packable jacket, repair tools and tubes, and food are all a must for every ride. If you ride clipless pedals, you may also want to check out how worn your cleats are. If there’s plastic hanging off them, might be time for some replacements. Depending on the course, you might also want to visit your local Performance shop to discuss gearing choices. If the route is very hilly, you might want to consider choosing a different cassette for the back.

Food is usually provided on organized rides, but you’ll want to make sure you have some emergency gels, chews and anything else you think you’ll need. Depending on the distance, you should aim to consume about 1 bottle of fluid and 100-200 calories of food every hour.

If you’re doing a long distance ride (62+ miles), you should bring all your own gels and hydration mixes. Even though stuff might be provided for free, it might not agree with your system. Stick with what you know to avoid GI distress that can derail a ride. Go ahead and eat any real food provided though—that stuff usually won’t affect you as much as some unknown gel or chew.

The Ultra SL shorts and Ultra jersey were the perfect tools for the job

The Ultra SL shorts and Ultra jersey (rider on right) were the perfect tools for the job

For the Ronde we chose to use the Ultra SL bib shorts and Ultra jersey. The chamois pad in the shorts and the features on the jersey were perfect for the weather conditions and cobbled roads. We also asked Ridley to adjust the gearing on our bikes. Normally we ride a 52/36 with an 11-25 cassette, but for the Ronde Sportif we opted for a compact 50/34 crankset with an 11-27 to make handling the steep hills (some in excess of 22%) and cobbles a little easier.

We fueled our ride with Skratch Labs Exercise hydration mix, Clif Shot gels, and the delicious, delicious stroop waffles that were provided.

Make sure you avail yourself of the rest stops, where food, drinks, and bathrooms are provided

Make sure you avail yourself of the rest stops, where food, drinks, and bathrooms are provided

5. The Day Before

There are five important things to do before every big ride:

  1. Make sure your stuff is ready the night before
  2. Eat a good dinner
    • Aim for plenty of carbs, some veggies, and lean protein. Good ideas are chicken fried rice, pasta with chicken or turkey meatballs, etc… Avoid heavy or greasy foods that can weigh you down and tax your system.
  3. Hydrate
    • Drink plenty of fluids the night before. Alternate 8 oz of water with 8 oz of fruit juice or some everyday hydration mix like Nuun or Skratch Labs every hour to top up electrolyte and water levels in your body. But remember, there’s a fine line between properly hydrating and overhydrating (which can be very dangerous). A good guideline is to drink as you feel thirsty and your urine is clear. If you reach a point where drinking more seems unpleasant, then stop—your body is telling you you’ve had enough. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  4. Sleep
    • Get to bed early, and aim to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep. You’ll wake up feeling better, and you’ll ride better too. Stay up all night playing poker, and this could be you.
  5. Breakfast
    • We know, the morning is going to be rushed. You’ve got to get dressed, pack up your stuff and your bike, drive or ride to the start line, get registered, etc… There’s a lot to do. So make it easy for yourself. The night before, make a breakfast like a bagel with some peanut butter and banana or some granola with yogurt. Make it something quick, with plenty of carbs and some protein. Things will not go well if you start the ride with an empty stomach.

Before the Ronde Sportif we did none of these, and paid for it the next day. We were out late on a photo shoot the night before, basically skipped dinner, went to bed late, woke up early with only about 5 hours of sleep, and ate a sad little hotel breakfast before hopping in the car. The result was that we didn’t ride our best, and took forever to really get going. After finally being forced to do a shorter distance than we hoped, we went back to the hotel and proceeded to feel terrible the rest of the day. Don’t make our mistake.

Thanks to a late night, no dinner, no sleep, and no breakfast, we were not exactly feeling our best the morning of the ride

Thanks to a late night, no dinner, no sleep, and no breakfast, we were not exactly feeling our best the morning of the ride

6. Recovery

Most of us don’t have a professional soigneur to massage us out at the end of a long day, but there are some things you can do to help yourself. Before you head out, it’s probably a good idea to pack a “recovery bag” to keep in the car, or some events let you check them at the start line.

Here’s what we put in ours for the Ronde Sportif:

To prevent soreness and make sure you adequately recover, you should eat a mix of carbs and protein within half an hour of finishing your ride so you can begin to replenish the glycogen in your muscles. We start by going with the Coke and stroop waffle to replenish blood sugar, then mixing and drinking down the Recovery drink to get protein and some more substantial nutrients.

Next we wrap up in the towel and use wipes to try and clean up as best we can, and then get dressed in our regular clothes. After we’re changed, we eat the chips and some water. We also always make sure to eat a meal of real food no more than 1 hour after finishing the ride, even if it’s just a turkey sandwich or something.

There are few better feelings than finishing a ride and enjoying a good meal

There are few better feelings than finishing a ride and enjoying a good meal

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments section.

Training With Power

Over the last few years you have probably heard a lot about power meters and how cyclists are using power to train. We all know that cyclists produce power when we ride, but why is that useful to us? As an everyday cyclist, why is power important? And, most importantly, what is a power meter?

What Is Power?

Power is a measurement of the work the cyclist is doing, and it’s measured in watts. Power meters use small sensors called strain gauges to measure the amount of power, or watts, you’re putting into the bicycle to make it move forward. The sensors send this information to your cycling computer, which gives you a read out of your power stats. There are a few different kinds of power meters, and each have their pro’s and cons.

Power Meters

  • Real Wheel Hub Power Meters, which place the strain gauges in the driveside of the rear wheel. Generally this is the simplest type of power meter to install and use, since all you have to do is replace the rear wheel. They are fairly accurate, but generally can’t give you some of the finer points of power measurement, like if you’re generating more power with your right or left leg.

Rear wheel power meters, like our exclusive PowerTap G3 Reynolds Assault Wheelset, are an easy and convenient way to add a power meter to your bike

  • Crank Power Meters, which place the strain gauges on the crank spider. These power meters are a little trickier to install, since they involve replacing the entire crankset and sometimes the bottom bracket. They are also more expensive, but some experts argue that they give a more accurate picture of power output, since they are closer to the source of the power output (your legs) than the rear wheel.

A crankset power meter like this one from Quarg is a great way to add a highly accurate power meter to your bike

  • Pedal Power Meters, which place the strain gauges in the pedal spindles. These are probably the most accurate power meters available, since they can measure directly how much you’re pushing and pulling with each foot—and they can also tell you if you’re power output is unbalanced. Another advantage is you can swap them from bike to bike or travel with them fairly easily.

Pedal-based power meters, like the Garmin Vector, are the most versatile and portable way to get power readings

Why Is Power Important?

Power is important because it gives a more dependable measure of your fitness and your ability. Average speed is ok, but it’s too dependent on variables like wind, how hilly your route is, etc… and doesn’t really tell you how hard you’re working. Heart rate is fine, but again it’s too subject to variables. Don’t believe us? Try strapping on a heart rate monitor and then think about your heart rate. We’ll guarantee you it goes up. Heart rate also doesn’t really give you a complete picture of what’s going on, since a high heart rate doesn’t always translate into increased work. This isn’t to say that these training tools are without value. Heart rate and average speed are both very valuable indicators of your fitness, and have a place in any cyclist’s arsenal. But unlike these other, more mercurial, measurements, power is a raw measurement of how much energy you are putting into the bike at any given moment. Even if it’s a terrible day, with the wind against you, and some vicious hills that produce an average speed that makes you want to hang your head in shame, you will still get consistent power readings that will tell you the true effort you were putting into the bike.

Training With Power

Training with power is also an improvement over old methods, because it yields more consistent results. You can’t really train to lower your heart rate—it just happens as a natural byproduct of becoming more physically fit. But you can train to improve power. Training with power opens up a whole can of worms that will be the subject of future blog posts, but there’s some rough things to know.

When training with power, there are generally two important numbers to look for:  maximum power output and maximum sustained power output. Maximum wattage output is a measure of your all-out, everything you got power. Generally, you can’t sustain this for more than a few seconds—think the end of a sprint. This is the maximum amount of power you are capable of transmitting into your bike. The second number, maximum sustained power output, looks at how much power you can put out for a prolonged period of time. Generally riding at this threshold should be uncomfortable, but doable—think slogging up a long hill or mountain. There are specific tests you can do to find out each number, but we’ll get into that in another post.

No matter how long you’ve been riding, or what your end goal is, a power meter is the best way to help you improve your training. We have plenty of options for you to choose from, and for almost any budget.

Zach’s Training Diary: Getting ready for the Gran Fondo

It’s almost time to see if our web merchant Zach has what it takes to ride hard in Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo in Virginia. If you’ve been following on the blog, Zach has been training all summer to take on the hardest Gran Fondo in the US – 104 miles, over 11,000 feet of climbing and dirt road climbs thrown in for good measure! So now it’s time to see how he’s feeling and what gear he’s picked to take on the challenge.

The big ride I’ve been training for is in just a couple of days!  I’m ready for it.  I feel like I spent the entire summer training for it and thinking about it.  I got burnt out on training for a while, right after I peaked too early and then fell off the wagon a bit.  Since then I have rested up, done some active recovery, and come back a bit stronger and more prepared.  I’ve got everything lined up and dialed in!  The only thing that’s bothering me is a brutal allergy attack, but I’ve been getting plenty of rest and come Saturday morning I’ll be riding no matter what condition I’m in!

Zach’s training log

Over the summer I’ve had the pleasure to ride a few bikes from Fuji to try out and see which one was the best for me, given the riding conditions of the Gran Fondo.  In an earlier post I talked about the Fuji Altamira and the Fuji SST.  I was able to test out two more bikes over the summer, the Fuji SL1 Comp and the Fuji Gran Fondo.

The SL1 Comp was a very comfortable bike, and would be the perfect bike for someone transitioning into their first carbon road bike, or doing long group century rides.  For me, though, it wasn’t quite as responsive as the Altamira during the long climbs. Since there will be 11,000 feet of climbing in the Gran Fondo, I may need to pass on this one.  Otherwise, the bike did great on long training rides with rolling hills around the Piedmont of NC.  I could easily get 80 miles in on it and feel great afterwards.

Zach riding the Fuji SL1 Comp

The fourth and last bike was the Fuji Gran Fondo.  This bike is designed for exactly what it’s named after, riding long and hard during a Gran Fondo, or any other similar style of ride.  The bike is a very fast machine, climbs great, is comfortable, and absorbs potholes and gravel easily to give a smooth and plush ride.  The upright geometry gave me no problems while reaching for energy gels, a water bottle, or getting my phone out of my back pocket to text my wife that I was OK while riding (just kidding on the texting part).  Plainly put, the Fuji Gran Fondo delivers!

Fuji Gran Fondo 3.0

So which one did I go for?  It was a hard choice. The SST and SL1 Comp were ruled out as top contenders for a Gran Fondo.  They’re great machines for what they’re designed for, but not great at long ascents on gravel roads.  The Gran Fondo would seem to be the obvious choice, but given that I also had the option of the similar Altamira that’s decked out with Shimano Dura Ace electronic shifting, I went with the Altamira!

There was just something about the Altamira that felt better for me.  It’s quick and snappy on the climbs, is very comfortable, it delivers optimal power transfer with its oversized bottom bracket, and at the end of the day was lighter than the rest of the choices. I’ve been riding it for quite some time now, and have made a few changes to prep it for the gran fondo riding conditions.  The Altamira came with an Ultegra standard 53-39 double crankset and an 11-25 cassette on the back.  I swapped those out for an Ultegra 50-34 Compact Crankset paired with an 11-28 cassette.  With that low of a gear ratio, I should be able to ride the hills of the Gran Fondo with no problems! For tires I chose Continental Gatorskins in a 700X25 size, that, when paired with Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher wheels, actually measure out to about 26mm in width. Running this set up at about 90 psi gives it all the cush and grip needed for those long gravel climbs.

So that’s the bike!  It’s a very important part of the puzzle, but there’s plenty more that’s needed for the fondo.  After testing several products over the summer, I’ve come up with my own personal checklist of things that have worked the best for me from head to toe:

  1. Shoes: I use Sidi Ergo 3 shoes (similar to the Sidi Ergo 2 Carbon Lite Road Shoes) as the adjustability and control of personal fit on these shoes is unmatched!  They’re light, stiff and make for great climbing shoes!
  2. Socks: DeFeet Air-E-Ator HiTop Honey Badger Black Socks are sooooo nasty!!  Defeet has stood the test of time, miles, sweat, rain, multiple washes, and continue to be at the top of the sock drawer.
  3. Kit: Louis Garneau Mondo Evo Bib Shorts and Team Short Sleeve Jersey - This kit is the absolute most comfortable kit I’ve ever had.  It’s light, breathable, and it wicks and dries sweat away in the blink of an eye.  Our Garneau Custom Cycling team from Performance wears this combo for our team kits.
  4. Jacket:  Depending on the weather report, I may be packing my Cannondale Pack Me Jacket.  It stows away into my jersey pocket nicely and is a welcome addition if the rain starts pouring.
  5. Gloves:  Pearl Izumi Select Gel Gloves because they fit great, are comfortable, and my hands don’t go numb after four hours in the saddle.
  6. Eyewear:  Smith Pivlock V2 Max – I’ve never in my life owned a better pair of cycling glasses than these.  The tapered lens tech is no joke, and after riding them I’ll never go to another brand.  They’re very lightweight, and extremely durable.
  7. Helmet:  Giro Aeon Helmet – I switched to this after riding a Specialized Prevail for a long time and I have to say, the Aeon feels lighter and it fits my head better.  The red and black also match my kit.  DONE!
  8. Nutrition:  I thought I had this dialed in, but at the Gran Fondo training ride, I had some severe cramps despite staying hydrated and eating.  Since then I’ve started taking GU Brew Electrolyte Drink Tablets.  They’re packed with plenty of sodium and seem to be doing the trick!  For solid food I’ve always enjoyed the multiple varieties of Honey Stinger Waffles, and margarita flavored Clif Shot Blocks Energy Chews!  I also take some supplements here and there such as SportLegs or Endurox Excel, depending on what I’m doing.  Lastly, I love Endurox R4 for a recovery drink.  The chocolate flavor is my favorite, but they’re all good.
  9. Inflation:  The Spin Doctor Rescue HP mini pump will be tagging along with me.  With all the gravel I stand the chance of having to change multiple flats, and I’d rather not carry a bunch of CO2 cartridges.
  10. Pocket Essentials:  The Blackburn VIP SL Ride Wallet will be carrying my ID, credit card, phone, etc.  I’ve been using this thing for months and have been caught in downpours and sweat through my jerseys.  Everything inside stays completely dry.
  11. Computer:  Garmin Edge 500 with H/R monitor and the BarFly computer mount.  All around I think this is the best GPS device out there.  I love the compact design and that it’s fully customizable to give me everything I want to know.  The BarFly makes it a quick glance of the eye to view the Edge 500, instead of having to tilt my neck all the way down to view the stem mount.
  12. Water Bottles: CamelBak Podium ChillJacket Insulated Bottle – I dismissed these until I forgot my bottles on a training ride and ended up having to buy water bottles.  Now, I’ll never use anything else.  It keeps your water cool and that goes a long way both mentally and physically when you’re out there grinding it out.

Well, that’s the gear.  The only thing left to do is head back up to Harrisonburg this weekend and ride the Gran Fondo!  I can’t wait to get back up there and do it.  Hopefully this allergy attack will subside and I’ll have a strong ride come Saturday morning.  I’ll have a full report after I get back. Thanks for reading!

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