How to cycle longer (and easier)
We recently blogged about a new route planner that will help cycle tourers to find the best route for the easiest bike ride from A to B. But this is still in development and in the meantime you might be wondering how you can ride further but without becoming so exhausted. Perhaps you have just started cycling and you want to up the mileage a little. Or maybe you have entered a sportive that you know will push you to your limits. You might also be keen to book a cycle touring holiday but worry about whether you can cope with day after day of riding. With all this in mind we’ve compiled a list of tips to enable you to ride longer and further but without burning up all your energy.
Train wellYou can't expect to suddenly get on your bike and ride 50 to 75 miles, or more, without feeling pain and tiredness. So the key to riding longer and further in one outing is to build up your fitness and mileage. Start within your comfort zones and then add no more than 10% extra miles in training each week. Add a recovery style week every four weeks. In the most general terms, the advice is to ride a little further and for a little longer as you build up slowly over many weeks and months.
Good foodIt’s all too easy to forget to eat properly. This might sound strange but most cyclists know how this can be. You are happily cycling along one minute and then the next you suddenly feel drained and empty. The key to good long-distance cycling is to eat small and often – and don’t forget. A snack, such as a cereal bar, flapjack, small sandwich, fruit cake, banana or dried fruit, every 40 minutes works well. Every two to three hours you should stop for a bigger meal. Also remember to start early with your carbohydrate snacking and keep it up throughout the ride.
Stay hydratedEven in cool conditions you will sweat a lot as you cycle. Sometimes it’s difficult to see how much water is lost to sweating because it wicks away as you ride. But you will need to drink water and energy drinks throughout the ride Again, start early and sip your water every 10 to 15 minutes for s long as you ride. And never let yourself become super thirsty.
Smoother pedallingThe key is to turn the pedals faster in an easier gear, rather than pushing hard through harder gears. The number of revolutions of your pedals is called cadence and it’s far better to have a faster, easier cadence than to have a slow and hard cadence. Watch how the professionals ride in the races. You’ll need to learn how to increase your cadence because it doesn’t always come naturally but if you think about riding comfortably and never forcing the pedals round you should be fine.
Pull up, as well as downAnother area of pedalling efficiency is learning to pull up on the upstroke. You may have clipless pedals but are you pulling up on the upstroke? You don’t have to pull up hard, but just be conscious of how you’re moving yourself forward on the bike. Using the whole of the pedalling circle will help with efficiency.
Great gearingIt’s import that you have plenty of “easier” gears. This allows you to spin your legs easily on the flats and the hills. So you should make sure you have rear sprockets as large as a 27 and even a 30. If these are combined with a front inner ring of 38 or 39 you should have enough easier gears to get you up even the steepest hills. If you have no idea about gearings ask your local bike mechanic/shop to help you. Lots of easier gears will allow you to sail along more smoothly over dozens of miles so the accumulated effort and impact on your leg muscles is less.
Learn to draftBy sheltering and following closely behind a rider (drafting), you can save up to 30% of your energy. Whether you are out in a group ride or simply riding along behind a friend, this saving could be significant over a long day of cycling. Remember that if you have taken a draft from someone else you should pay them back by taking to the front as well.
Bike fitComfort counts for a huge amount over a long ride. If you have aches and pains this will sap your energy and leave you flagging in the final miles. Ask a keen cycling friend to look at how you fit your bike. If you still find yourself in pain while riding it cold be worth investing in a professional bike fit. The areas to look for are seat height, arm stretch to the handlebars and how upright (or not) you are on the bike.
The right kitPadded Lycra shorts, bibbed shorts rather than waist high shorts, neat fitting cycling jerseys, arm and leg warmers, a buff to keep the wind from your ears, padded gloves, cycling shoes with cleats and gender specific bike seats. This list goes on... Although you might think that your usual running kit and a bike helmet will "do" for a bike, the right kit and clothing will make you feel better and aid comfort on your ride.
Do stretch yourselfWhenever you get off the bike make sure you stretch out your muscles. Legs are important but so are arms, back and shoulders. If you get stiff on the bike you’ll use up vital energy because of the feeling of discomfort. It’s also worth moving about on the bike every so often. So you could put your hands in a different position on the handlebars and get out of the seat to pedal uphill etc. Staying on one position for 75 miles will lead to all sorts of aches and pains.
Good working orderIt’s also important that you have the best bike for your ride. Choose a bike to suit the terrain and make sure it is in good working order. If you are heading off for a cycle holiday make sure the bike is serviced by a professional mechanic before you go. Tell us about your top tips for cycling further and easier...
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