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Long Distance Cycling – Tips and Preparation

Robbie Ferri

Long Distance Cycling - Tips and Preparation

There’s nothing like a long day out on your bike, and in recent years long-distance cycling has become very popular.

Long-distance cycling is challenging, and there’s an art to getting it right. In this article, were going to tell you how to ride long distances easily.

Long rides typically don’t come from just being fit, there are multiple aspects to think about to get it right, and once it all comes together, you will find a long-distance bike ride much more straightforward.

 

Using the Correct Bike

Typically, when you first start riding bikes, many cyclists focus on being fast, and the right bike can quickly improve your speed. Those bikes usually are not the best for long-distance cycling, and it takes the right kind of bike to make a long ride work.

The most used bike for longer rides are road bikes, these are truly made for distance rides.

When we start thing about bikes for cycling long distances, we need to focus more on comfort than anything else. Riding fast will get you further quicker, but you will end up stopping more due to just being uncomfortable.

In long-distance cycling, comfort is king, and there’s much more value in being able to sit on a bike for a long time comfortably than to ride fast.

 

What Makes a Bike Comfortable?

Riding geometry

How do we judge a bike on comfort? Is it a gel saddle? Is it suspension? No, these will help, but it comes down to geometry.

Each bike has a specific geometry, and this is the bike’s design.

Some bikes are designed to put the user into an aggressive position which won’t be comfortable, but it will be aerodynamic. Others are designed for user comfort and put the rider in a position where you can sit for much longer comfortably.

Read more: Different Types of Road Bikes

How do we judge if a bike has a good long-distance geometry? The easy way to look for a comfortable geometry is to look at the saddle height compared to the height of the handlebars.

If they are level, this will be pretty comfortable. If the handlebars are lower, the bike will be aerodynamic and will quickly cause you discomfort on big rides. When the handlebars are higher, the bike will be very comfortable but less aerodynamic.

We all knew we were going to speak about saddles at some point. I wish I could tell you the right saddle for comfort, but unfortunately, it’s unique to the user. We all are very different in our bodies, and you might need to try a few saddles before you find the right one for you.

Then you have a few other factors worth taking into account, such as the bike’s frame material. Carbon bikes are very stiff, and you will find them much harsher on bumps than steel bikes. Also, your tires, tiny skinny high psi 23c tires, will give you much less comfort than a larger endurance tire like a 30c.

Learn more: Tire Pressure Explained

 

Bike Fit

Now you know what to look for in a bike. The next thing you have to think about is getting it set up correctly for you. A bike fit is where a professional fitter will adjust the saddle height, foot angle, handlebar reach, and some other metrics, so the bike is in tune with your body.

Having a bike fit will help you so much. It will help prevent injuries such as severe knee pain, and you will be a lot more comfortable on the bike, making you much more efficient as a cyclist. A bike fit for a long bike ride is vital and the best money you will ever spend.

 

Clothing

Cycling clothing, like saddles, is a very personal thing, and you will find some kit that works for you and other kits that doesn’t. Is cycling clothing important for riding? It’s vital in my opinion for a long bike ride and makes a huge difference.

The most essential clothing for long-distance cycling is shorts and shoes.

 

Padded Shorts

Padded shorts or bibs are good for long hours on the saddle

The first thing you are going to want to get right is padded cycling shorts. They’re just incredible, and getting the right set can sit you in the saddle for hours without any issues.

I believe with padded cycling shorts, you get what you pay for. If you buy a cheap set, then you will find that more than likely, you will get some discomfort eventually, and they will wear out very quickly. A decent set will give you much more comfort and last for a long time.

 

Shoes

Road cycling shoes

Then we have cycling shoes, typically cyclists tend to have clip-in pedals on many of their bikes.

These fix your feet to the bike, and not only do they help improve your riding and increase the efficacy of your pedal stroke, but they can make your feet much more comfortable.

Getting the right pair will make riding much more comfortable, and I personally would recommend trying some on at a shop before you buy them.

The right shoes will help you ride long distances and can help you avoid issues such as hot foot, which can feel awful.

As far as the rest of the clothing goes, all I can say is to dress appropriately for the situation that you are going into.

If it is going to be cold, make sure to take enough clothing to stay warm, if it’s going to rain then a rain jacket, and if you’re riding at night, then being visible is the key.

A great bit of advice is it is better to overdress than underdress, as you can take layers off. If you don’t take enough clothing, you’re stuck being cold.

 

Nutrition and Hydration

A lovely quote I have always said to anyone looking at getting into long-distance cycling is to be prepared to eat a lot of food. It depends on how fast you’re riding, your body weight, where you’re riding, your heart rate, and even the temperature.

Getting a heart rate monitor and using an application such as Garmin Connect or Strava can give you a rough idea of the calories you’re burning. You won’t be able to replace them all, but getting about half of what you’re burning in will be a good start.

Related: Best Smartwatches For Cycling

 

What foods?

Bananas are good for energy

Eating the right foods goes a long way too. You want to focus on carbohydrate-rich foods to keep the muscles powered and make sure they are not things that will make you poorly.

A common problem I see is people purely just eating energy gel. Not only is this awful for your system, but you might also find yourself in a hedge halfway through the ride.

Keep supplements like energy gels in moderation.

 

Drinking

Electrolytes

Like eating, drinking is also vital to a long bike ride, and the key is to stay hydrated.

Again it is very personal to the person riding how much they drink. It comes down to temperature, how hard you’re working, how much you sweat, and many other factors.

I aim for 500ml per hour at a good work rate. I also do advise every so often to have some electrolytes to replace any lost salts. These come in the form of a powder you put in your water, a tablet, or even a sports drink.

Most cyclists aim to drink a little every half hour to help with longer distances or a big ride.

 

Tips and Advice

Mental preparation: It is vital before any ride to understand the challenge you are taking on. It’s often easier to break it down into small chunks. If I am to ride 100 miles, I tend to break it down into 20-mile sections and just focus on each section. It’s much better for your head, and any great cyclist of long distances will tell you it’s a mental game, not a physical one. Try not to feel like you’re suffering.

Pacing: When it comes to long-distance cycling, pacing is everything. Make sure not to work too hard and enjoy the process. Riding fast will only burn you out quicker. Being at roughly 65% of your max heart rate is a great place to ride long distances and hold a decent speed.

Safety: Always be safe, wear visible clothing, ride on the correct roads, use lights at all times, and take a cell phone and some kind of a patch kit. The roads are getting busier and busier. We need to make sure we protect ourselves.