Cycling: six ways to survive that long ride

A good, long day in the saddle is one of the most enjoyable cycling experiences – and these simple tips will really help you make the most of it

There is nothing quite like the feeling that propelling yourself along country roads on two wheels brings, and inevitably you will want to ride that little bit further, explore new lanes, reach new places and tick off some of those all important distance milestones. But a cautionary word before upping the ante – launching into some big rides without taking heed of a few simple rules may well leaving you struggling at the roadside. So here are six great ways to prepare yourself for those longer rides.

Good shorts

It might seem obvious, but decent quality bib shorts will make a lot of difference to your enjoyment of the day. You’re after a good, tight fit from the shorts, nothing baggy but nothing restrictive. The key is a well-positioned and comfortable feeling chamois (the pad), you want it to cover your sit bones and protect your undercarriage.

Avoid padded shorts if you can – full bib shorts with straps keep the shorts in place and are thus more comfortable. Chamois cream is also an option; it might seem like a strange ritual to be applying cream to your particulars but it does make the interaction between skin and shorts all the more comfortable.

Practise that pace

Pushing those miles up is all about endurance, and that means finding an optimum pace. This will be approximately 70% of your max heart rate so it might be time to invest in a heart rate monitor if you want to be precise. If not, then conversation is a good measure of effort. If you can chat to fellow riders, the pace is probably sustainable without issue. If it becomes an effort to complete sentences without needing to suck in a lungful of air, then ease off a little.

Beat the bonk

Depending on how far you plan to ride, you’ll need to adjust your intake in accordance to distance and effort – and this means food. More specifically we’re talking about carbohydrates. Muscles use glycogen (sugar) for energy and that needs to be replaced. If you don’t replace it, you’ll suffer from hypoglycaemia (a deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream), more commonly known as “the bonk”. This need for sugar, however, doesn’t mean you need jersey pockets overloaded with gels and chews to rack up the miles.

Though the calorie burn from a day in the saddle is significant, it might not be as great as you believe. Start with a good breakfast (porridge with fruit, for example), then you could start eating some food after the first hour of your ride and continue every 30-45 minutes or so.

But we’re not talking endless pieces of cake here, a banana or half an energy bar is all you really need. You’re not trying to replace every calorie you burn, but aim for around 170 calories per hour of moderate effort and then adjust accordingly (ie eat when hungry).

Just as important as food, before you even swing a leg over your bike you need to make sure you’re well hydrated. Studies by the American Physiological Societyfound that dehydration reduced muscular endurance by 15%, so make sure you ride with suitable amounts of fluid and take a good glug every 15 minutes or so.

You’re aiming at a bottle an hour under normal conditions – more if you’re really getting a sweat on. Water is of course the best option, but if you’re low on food, too, then a low-sugar sports drink will help do the job of hydrating and adding some fuel to your system.

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