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.

Performance Ultra SL Jersey and Shorts Review

Riding cobbles is kind of the ultimate test for not only a rider, but for their equipment. It’s a crucible that tests everything from the bike to clothing. If any piece of gear isn’t up to par, you’re in for one miserable day on the bike.

When we headed to Belgium to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo gran fondo, which included several cobbled sections and four cobbled climbs, we knew we would need some great bikes—which Ridley graciously supplied us for the day, but it also struck us as the ultimate proving ground for our new Performance Ultra SL bib shorts and the Ultra jersey. Ultra is Performance’s line of performance-oriented clothing, designed for riders who expect the very best from their clothing, in all circumstances. If it could survive a day on the cobbles, then it was certainly ready for the prime time back at home.

The new Ultra kit is an evolution of last year’s break out redesign of the Ultra line, and is engineered to be lighter, fit better, and help you perform better on the bike. Constructed using our Physiodynamic design, made with lighter weight Eschler fabrics, coldblack treatment, and Aerocool technology to help you stay cooler and perform better, this pair of short and jersey are designed for long hard days. The all-new SL shorts feature a less bulky chamois, a finer mesh on the upper for better breathability, and a slimmer cut than the standard Ultra shorts.

The Jersey

Our first impression of the newly redesigned Ultra jersey was that it is unbelievably airy and light. On our ride to the ride, we actually needed a jacket in addition to our usual baselayer and arm warmers, because the jersey held in so little heat. The Aerocool fabric is definitely that—cool. In fact, the faster you ride, the more it seems to suck air in and channel it under the jersey. The fabric has an almost silky feel to it that wasn’t clingy like some other jersey’s we’ve tried. The high collar is a nice touch, since a sun burned neck is something we’re usually keen to avoid on long rides, and the arm bands were a fan favorite. As cyclists we’ve generally let our arms wither away to nothing, so it was nice to find a jersey that had sleeves that actually felt snug around our arms. The fabric was a little on the stiff side, but it seemed to loosen up a little as the day went on.

Performance Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders

Riding in the Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

The locking zipper was also a nice feature. The day we rode the Ronde Cyclo ended up being fairly hot and sunny, so it was crucial to be able to easily open up the jersey to get more air, especially on the longer climbs.

Another nice benefit we noticed was the bellowed rear pockets. One of them is apparently sweatproof, but we didn’t know that at the time, and didn’t get an opportunity to test it. The pockets proved more than able to pack in everything we needed for a long day. We filled ours up with 2 tubes, multitool, tire levers, mini pump, iPhone, wallet, packable jacket, 3 gels, 2 stroop waffles,  and a route card, and we still had plenty of room. One of the real tests—and one seldom mentioned—for a jersey though is how well it performs with fully loaded pockets. Many race-fit jerseys feel great until you load up the pockets, and then they just end up stretching and drooping as the day goes on. The Ultra jersey though seems to have hit that sweet spot of being light enough to keep you cool, but with enough structure in the back panels to keep the pockets from sagging or bouncing around as you ride. Definitely a solid touch.

The Shorts

As great as a jersey is, the shorts are really the center piece of any clothing line, and if they aren’t up to snuff, you’re in big trouble. Especially when riding on cobbles, which feels a little like riding a bike with a jackhammer for a seatpost. We were a little apprehensive about riding a new shorts that we’d never before worn before – hoping against hope the chamois would be worthy of the challenge. It turns out that we had nothing to worry about!

The TMF Skyve chamois found in the Ultra SL shorts was more than equal to the cobbles. Normally this reviewer is not a big fan of multi-density pads—it’s just a personal preference, but in this case it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The different densities did a really a fine job of soaking up what could have been some…ummm…uncomfortable cobble hits. We definitely knew we were riding over the rough stuff, there’s only so much your shorts and bike can do, but we shudder to think what it would have been like with a lesser chamois. And the pad didn’t just excel in the cobbles either—we spent about 5 hours in the saddle that day, and never had a single complaint. No chaffing, no rubbing, no issues. At no point did we ever really think about the chamois—which is one of the highest compliments you can give to a pair of shorts. If you don’t notice them, they are doing their job.

Peformance Ultra Kit

Testing the Ultra kit in Belgium

The overall construction was also really nice. The contoured Eschler gridded fabric construction moved easily with us, and provided a nice snug fit without too much compression, or the ever-irritating stretching out that sometimes happens. The leg band was nice and snug, and held the shorts in place—even when wearing knee warmers, which is fairly unusual.

The Verdict

The Ultra jersey and Ultra SL shorts were definitely the right tools for the job. The distinctive styling didn’t have us feeling out of place amongst the ever well-dressed Europeans, while the high performance features kept us comfortable and helped us ride well during one of the toughest rides we’ve ever done.

Testing the Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

Our testers at the finish of the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

Whether you’re racing or going for a longer-distance ride, the kit provides a nice aerodynamic fit that can help you gain an advantage in the paceline, and had all the comfort features you would want for long distances.

Now that we’re home, this is definitely a kit we’ll be reaching for again for some other adventures we have coming up…so check back for more soon.

Check out our all new digital Spring Clothing Catalog to see more spring clothing from Performance Bicycle.

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