Challenging ride blog 2: What to take on really long rides

If you’ve caught the cycling Kit for long ridesbug then you’re probably looking for your next cycling challenge. Preparation is key on really long rides and here are some tips on what you should take.

How long is a piece of string

Let’s start by sorting out the elephant in the room. Those pro cyclists who whizzed round the Tour of Britain sometimes go out for 3 hour recovery rides and probably cover 100 km in that time. Their long rides are very different to our long rides. Moreover, the distance of a ride is only one indication of a ride’s difficulty; a very hilly route can throw a spanner in the works.

50 km / 3 hour ride

If you only normally cycle to your local shops, in the park or have short commutes into work, 50 km will be a good challenging distance to aim for (for comparison’s sake, a 3 hour ride if your route is short but very hilly).

  • Unless you are at a cycling sportive, you need to plan your route and figure out if you will come across places to buy food and water. If in doubt, take all the food and drink you need for the whole ride.
  • Choose either your fantastic memory, paper or a GPS device for navigation; or a friend who has one of these things.
  • Be self sufficient with tools: multi-tool, tyre levers and spare inner tube are the bare minimal. Don’t forget you need to know how to use them!
  • Always take a phone with you just in case.

100 km / 6 hour ride

You should have some experience of riding 50+ km with no trouble before trying this. It’s probably a good idea that you also have more experienced cyclists with you.

  • On top of what you bring for your 50 km rides, you should think about bringing more layers incase the weather turns. For a more dismal weather forecast, put a waterproof jacket and gloves in your jersey pocket or bag. For more mild weather, look into arm warmers, leg warmers and a gilet instead.
  • Either have storage systems on your bike, yourself or plan your food and drink stops very well.
  • A set of front and rear lights should make an appearance on your bike. Either the ride takes longer than expected or visibility deteriorates: either way, you’ll need your lights ready.

160 km / 10 hour ride

Now we’re talking! Let’s hope there’s something waiting for you at the end of this ride by way of celebration, be it a bottle of champagne, a crowd of friends and family or a homemade meal.

  • Everything from the previous category becomes essential for this kind of ride.
  • Hope for the best and prepare for the worst, plan your route carefully but also take note of options to cut the ride by riding a shorter loop or taking a train back home.
  • Sorry for another negative note but did you know there are cycle rescue services should you get a mechanic breakdown beyond repair?
  • You may have entered a sportive abroad for your first 160 km to make it extra special. You may want to think about taking out an insurance. You should also find out what the emergency number is in the country (for example, 112 is currently the pan European number for contacting emergency services).

Even longer rides

This is the point where we tell you to check with your doctor before tackling big, extreme challenges.

devils-staircase-2-resized

If you are just starting out with challenging rides and are setting yourself some ambitious goals, look up any of these: Audax, Trans Am Bike Race, Tour Divide, Transcontinental and Indian Pacific Wheel Race. Everesting is an odd one out where the logistics of route planning and refuel is simplified. For any of these, you will need to bring your determination, a sense of humour and possibly friends who can tolerate your singing.

Challenging ride blog 1: Planning

So in the spirit of ‘something for every cyclist’, we’re moving from a few weeks of Beginners’ blogs to a few on the longer, more challenging ride. (That’s not to say we suggest going straight from one to the other; just that the part in between is a little more self-explanatory.) Planning your first long, challenging ride might seem daunting but knowing someone with experience will certainly help with the planning, not to mention the ride itself. What follows are some straightforward tips to fast track your planning.

Route planning

We’ve published a blog on the basics of route planning already which you can find here. However, for a long ride through a rural area, there are other preparations which will help.

You will probably want to pass through villages rather than potentially busy towns to restock provisions. If you think you’ll be really strapped for time, look at passing through linear rather than clustered settlements where you can simply ride slowly through and shops, etc, will be on your route.

By: MindsEye_PJ

Then there’s the question of gradients. There are a couple of things you can see clearly on maps which indicate potentially flatter roads or cycleways. Most railways tend to follow flat terrain as trains don’t do too well on steep gradients. Look out for cycleways that run alongside railways if you’re after a relaxing, flat cycling experience. Similarly, if you spot meandering river on a map, look at the topography of the surrounding roads carefully. The river is either snaking between hills or through a canyon so nearby roads could be very hilly. On the other hand, it could’ve eroded the river banks to form a floodplain, making the surrounding landscape is as flat as a pancake. Applying year 6 physical and human geography in real life; stay in school, kids.

Refuelling stops

Jot down town or village names and the distances into the ride where you will find them. It can be reassuring (or vital) to know when the next refuelling stop will come up if you decide to skip or miss the nearest one.

If you are travelling by yourself then you may need to do more research if you want to leave your heavy bike lock at home. Use Google Street View to find cafes or pubs with outdoor seating so you can refuel in peace with one eye on your prized bike. At a pinch, you can always dig into some fish and chips outside the shop.

By: Max Froumentin

Contingency plans

Have a few contingency plans in the bag if you can. Are there train stations along the way and do trains run regularly around the time you expect to pass through? Is your ride a loop and, if so, can it be shaped like a figure of eight or butterfly shape? You can then decide along the way if you want to cut out a big chunk of the ride.

Do you have a supportive friend or partner who owes you a favour? Perhaps you can call them for a lift home in desperate times?

Keep your eggs in different baskets

This rings particularly true for multi-day rides. A good start is having more than one method of navigation, preferably include one that does not need any batteries. Perhaps consider riding in an area with plenty of road options so if there’s flooding or a landslide for example, you can always make a minor rather than a 30 km diversion.

Try to plan plenty of refuelling stops or if you are only passing through one town, make sure there are a few shops there or you’ll be in trouble if a shop doesn’t exist anymore or is shut one day a week exactly when you need it to be open.

All the tips in this blog are collated from experience and we hope our past misfortune can be your gain. As with anything, the more you practise, the better you get. We won’t let you go just yet as next week’s blog will be about what to take on your really long cycle rides.

Beginner’s blog 4: How to avoid a puncture

vittoria rubino failIt’s the cyclist’s scourge, the spanner in the works (if that’s not mixing metaphors). The moment when being your own boss, master of your own journey (not to mention time keeping) goes out the window. But take heart! There’s a surprising number of things you can do to prevent yourself falling prey to the dreaded P-word.

Puncture resistant tyres

Most tyre brands offer options with puncture resistance. They will have features to resist cuts to the tyre side walls and / or resist sharp objects penetrating the entire tyre tread. Depending on where you anticipate cycling, these might be worth investing in.

Check your tyres

Whatever tyres you’ve got, you will still find little flints or stones stuck in them from time to time. Remember that a puncture isn’t about damage to the tyre but to the inner tube inside it. So check your tyres regularly and prise out any flints or other detritus to minimise the chance of them eventually working their way through.

Check your inner tubes

The inner tube doesn’t normally get taken out to be checked on so if you’re changing your tyres and the tubes are coming out anyway, give them a quick visual once over. You may find some abrasive marks that haven’t caused a puncture yet but are a useful warning about debris that has found its way into the rim or tyre. You’ll be far better off sorting out the problem in the comfort of your home rather than by the side of the road on a cold February night.

Get skilled up on changing your tyres and inner tubes

Believe it or not, not changing the tyres and inner tubes correctly is a common culprit of repeated punctures. Do it right to avoid pinching or ripping the inner tubes; make sure there is no debris on the inside of the tyre or rim; check that the offending “puncturer” is out of the tyre and make sure you have the correct size inner tubes to compliment the tyres or vice versa. Treat yourself to our subsidised bike maintenance course here.

Line choice

Think about the common causes of punctures: sharp objects going through the tyres and pinch puncture from hitting potholes. You can avoid these by choosing the line you take on the road or trail carefully. Avoid riding through a gutter full of road grits and often unseen glass and other debris, and be better prepared to steer away from potholes by focusing your vision sufficiently far ahead.

Solid tyre

If there’s nothing to puncture, then it’s job done. Solid tyres is aptly named, they are solid unlike normal tyres which are pneumatic systems. The ride quality will normally be different though so don’t rush to get a pair and think they will ride exactly the same. Some brands are now calling the tyres “airless” tyres instead of solid tyres.

track pump gaugePump up your tyres

This is not guaranteed avoidance advice and probably only really makes a difference if your tyres are really under inflated. But without enough air in the inner tubes, if you hit a pothole, the tube will be pinched between the tyre and the rim. This usually results in a pair of small, clean cut slits on the tube, hence its nickname, the snake bite.

Don’t mention the word p***ture

Call us superstitious but mention the p-word and it will come for you. Don’t gloat about how you haven’t had a puncture in 10 months because you just might wake the sleeping beast.

Don’t ride your bike

100% puncture proof and 100% no fun.

Beginner’s blog 3: How to plan a cycling route

We’re all for cycling more often and more safely. At some point, you’ll need to plan a route and these pointers should help you find your way.

Goal, ability and realism

Have a clear goal for the route you’re planning. Are you looking for the shortest route, fastest route or quietest route? Do you need to cycle via certain locations to pick up shopping or avoid a closed bridge, for example? Perhaps you are planning a challenging ride in the countryside or trying to draw a dinosaur with your GPS?

Whatever you’re looking for, you should gauge your own ability and experience. Be realistic with the difficulty and the complexity of the route.

Distance, elevation and turns

You’ll be in for a shocker if you gauge your ride simply by the distance and ignore the elevation you gain. Your riding time can quickly double if you didn’t factor in the hills.

hilly elevationHow often do you have to make a turn along your route? Making more turns will slow your average speed down and you will have to accelerate after the turn so your use of energy is not as efficient as it could be. This is mostly applicable to urban areas. If you’re spoiled with a few options, consider taking the route with less turns.

Unless you have a GPS device to guide you (or an incredible memory), less turns means less chances of getting lost too. For a first time route in a city, it’s also much easier to stick to the route when the turns are at T-junctions that will force you to choose a direction rather than having to remember when to turn off into a side road.

Resources

There are four main types of resources to help your route planning: people, hard copies of maps / guidebooks, online maps / photos and mobile apps. Cross referencing between a few resources usually yields the best results.

  1. Find people who can help you:
    British Library map
    By: The British Library
    • In your circle of friends and family
    • In a local cycling group / club
    • Perhaps a stranger in the next village on your 1000 km touring cycle
  2. Hard copies of map / guidebook
    • OS maps are always a good bet although can have too much unnecessary info for cycling
    • Your local / transport authority may have a cycling specific map
    • There are plenty of cycling guidebooks with pre-planned routes and points of interests to look out for
  3. Online maps / photos
    • Sustrans has an online interactive map mainly of the National Cycle Network with useful keys for traffic-free / on-road sections and warnings for walking sections, steep hills and busy roads, etc.
    • Opencyclemap.org is a comprehensive website of National, Regional and Local Cycle Route / Network. It does mean the map will sometimes look a little cluttered but it’s certainly a good place to start to consider all your available options.
    • Google Street View is no doubt a game changer when it comes to accessing really useful information from the sofa. Use this strategically to check if the road is multi-lane traffic, if there is a cycle only contraflow lane or if there is a traffic island to stop right turns into side roads. Remember this isn’t a live feed so road layouts may have changed since the photos were taken.
  4. Mobile apps are great backups for when you are en route (although we don’t advise using your mobile while cycling).
    • OsmAnd is a great app with free cache maps (limited quota) so you don’t have to worry about your data usage especially if you’re abroad. It can also be used as a sat-nav with turn by turn directions and remain offline.
    • Bike Hub is an “old” app that was a pioneer of its kind and is able to route plan for you using a mix of roads and cycleways. It was relaunched recently in mid December. We haven’t checked out the new user interface and functions yet but keep an eye on this app as we expect to see continual improvement and bug fixing in the coming months.