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8 Tips for Long-Distance Cycling

By Megan Flottorp

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, there’s nothing quite like the euphoria you experience after crushing a long bike ride. A rite of passage for any avid cyclist, pushing that two-hour mark is a significant accomplishment that warrants celebration. Like many cycling milestones, though, it can be an intimidating undertaking to pursue. It shouldn’t be one that is off-limits though, even to beginners. If you plan a reasonable route and prepare properly, there’s no reason you can’t tackle a longer ride even if you only have what you’d describe as a “moderate” level of fitness. Here are some tried and true tips to help you feel more confident setting out.

1. Use your pedalling power wisely

You’re eager and motivated to put the miles behind you, right? We understand—it can be hard to contain your excitement. If you want your legs to last though, you can’t go full tilt from the get-go. Especially on a long bike ride, you need to focus on staying in an efficient gear that allows you to maintain a steady cadence and input of effort. The pedals should be moving smoothly beneath you, and you should look to maintain a cadence of at least 90 RPM. At this pace, your aerobic and muscular systems won’t get too stressed, and you’ll be able to keep your overall effort steady. It can take a little patience off the bat, but you’ll be thanking yourself later in the ride.

2. Fuel well and often

Geraint Thomas Eating
Fuel like Geraint Thomas. © Profimedia

To keep yourself feeling strong throughout a long bike ride, it is essential to put some thought into nutrition and hydration before heading out. Exact fluid amounts will be influenced by heat and exertion level, but you generally want to aim to drink around one bottle per hour. You can mix something in the water if you prefer, but it is really the H2O that your body needs to maintain a sustained effort. You should also eat consistently throughout the ride, taking a bite or two every 20 minutes or so.

3. Keep your pre-ride meal carb-heavy and easy to digest

Speaking of fuel—a plate of bacon and eggs might be just what the doctor ordered for a post-ride recovery meal, but before heading out, you want to take it easy on the protein and fats. They both take a bit longer to digest and can be an added drain on your body. Prior to riding, top off your glycogen stores by sticking with plenty of whole grains and fruit.

4. Make segments your friend

The mental challenge of taking on a long bike ride can be the better part of the battle (more on that below), so it’s helpful to break your route down into more manageable chunks. Working each segment individually will help you stay focused and avoid getting overwhelmed. Have a plan for each segment and be willing to adjust your goals accordingly. Everyone’s legs let them down from time to time, and there’s no shame in going back to the drawing board.

Winter cycling
Adopt breaking the distance into segments. © Profimedia

5. Focus on RPMs and cut yourself some slack

Hills and winds can be friends or foes, but it’s important not to lose your cool when they get together to gang up on you. Remember that you’re focus should be on maintaining RPMs rather than speed. Don’t hesitate when it comes to dropping as many gears as you need to to keep the wheels in motion. Remind yourself that it won’t be long before the wind shows up at your back to help you out.

6. Avoid aches and pains with a few simple moves

You might notice that your legs are the least of your problems on longer rides. All sorts of other aches and pains can present themselves if you’re not careful to introduce a bit of movement into the rest of your body. Periodically change hand positions, shrug or roll your shoulders to make them and your neck happy, and stretch out your legs by standing up and dropping one pedal, so your leg is straight. Hold for several seconds before switching legs.

Outdoor ride
Remember to stretch. © Profimedia

7. Don’t underestimate the power of the mind

Cycling is both a mental and a physical feat. You take everything going on inside your mind and body onto the bike with you, and sometimes this can mean a predisposition to frustration or defeat. Make a promise to yourself before heading out that you’re going to focus on generating positive energy. Enjoy your surroundings, congratulate yourself for doing something healthy, and push yourself to get to that next rest point. You have the power to banish those negative thoughts!

8. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst

Positive thinking can go a long way, but longer rides also come with an increased chance of an incident. Most of these can be quickly dealt with if you’re prepared for them, though. You should ensure you have the gear to fix at least two flats, a mini tool, your cell phone, ID, and a bit of cash for any longer ride. Remember that it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around.