For seasoned pros and beginners alike, there is nothing like long distance bike rides to bring an enjoyable sense of accomplishment. Now, if you are relatively new to biking or you are yet to attempt a ride longer than 2 hours, it is easy to feel intimidated.
The good news, however, is that successful, long distance cycling generally comes down to planning, strategy, and not just your cycling fitness. To help you enjoy a good long day on your MTB saddle, we have prepared tips to help you with your planning and to keep you from suffering on the trail.
Professional Long Distance Cycling Tips
1. Build-Up Your Endurance Before the Ride
Long biking trips require a certain endurance level, and it is best to work on gradually building riding intensity and distance before getting involved in long distance bike rides. If your weekend rides are generally 2 hours long, consider adding approximately 30 minutes to each ride over 8 weeks. Within 2 months, you will be ready to take on a century ride.
Also, consider adding some time in your saddle – for example, sneak one or two rides of at least 45 minutes during the week. When training for a long-distance trip, it is worth noting that every ride shouldn’t be a quad killer. For building your fitness base, recovery rides are also important.
2. Pace Yourself
Riding a long way, for an extended period, means that you will need to think about the pacing strategy. Ride too fast and you will end up cooked, too slow, and you could be in for an unenjoyable ride or out of your hardtail mountain bike.
When you initially set off and your adrenaline is flowing, going hard can be tempting. However, this is not ideal, as you will end up burning all of your matches within a short period – you will pay for this mistake hours down the road.
Focus on listening to your body signals. For example, if you cannot talk because of heavy breathing, then you are going too fast. Similarly, if you can feel your legs burning with lactic acid constantly, you are also going too hard.
Shift to a slightly easier gear that features a higher cadence. By maintaining an average cadence of about 90 RPM, you will be able to give your muscular and aerobic systems a break. Think of lifting a 15-pound bench press ten times instead of one rep of 150 pounds – you will lift the same amount but you will need less overall effort.
Lastly, super-long biking trips are all about your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which feature more endurance. For this reason, avoid surges and hard accelerations while riding, as this will end up using your energy (glycogen) stores quicker.
3. Beat the Bonk
Depending on how far you intend to ride, you will need to adjust your food intake following both effort and distance. To beat the bonk on long distance bike rides, you will need to eat more carbs than any other type of food.
Muscles utilize sugar (glycogen) for energy and this needs to be replaced. If you fail to replace it, you may suffer from hypoglycemia – this is the deficiency of glucose in your bloodstream – which is commonly known as “the bonk”.
It is, however, worth noting that the need for sugar does not mean you need to overload your jersey pockets with chews and gels to rack up miles. Though the calorie burn from long hours on the saddle is significant, it may not be as great as you might believe.
Start your day with a good breakfast. Keep in mind that a heavy breakfast won’t do you any favors while on your touring bike. Proteins and fats take longer to digest and during rigorous rides, the body will be focused on fueling the lungs and the heart, not digestion.
Instead, consume a breakfast that is aimed at keeping your glycogen stores full – this could be whole grains and fruit. For example, you can eat breakfast made up of whole-wheat toast with some almond butter and berry-and-banana smoothie.
On the ride, you can start eating food after your first hour on the bikepacking trail and continue every 30 to 45 minutes. You won’t need to eat endless pieces of cake when riding your mountain bike, half an energy bar or a banana should help top up your glycogen levels.
Your goal is not to replace every calorie you burn. However, aim for approximately 170 calories per hour of moderate pedaling effort and then keep adjusting accordingly.
4. Stay Hydrated
Water is just as crucial – if not more important – as food. Before you swing a leg over your road bike, you will need to ensure that you are well hydrated.
Dehydration can reduce muscular endurance by up to 15 percent – this can easily make long distance cycling trips unbearable. This tells you that you will need to have enough amounts of fluids with you. Remember to take a good glug every fifteen minutes or so.
Under normal conditions, aim at consuming 1 water bottle every hour. If you are getting a sweat on, you may need to consume more than 1 bottle every 60 minutes.
Water is the best option for hydration. However, if you are low on food, low-sugar sports drinks should help you with both hydration and adding some fuel to your body.
5. Ride in A Group
Most cyclists prefer to work solo when taking on epic challenges. However, if this is your first time or you are not confident you can make it through the ride, riding in a group may be an ideal way to boost your chances of succeeding.
Riding with a group helps you save energy. It is estimated that riders save between 20 and 30% of their precious energy by simply drafting behind a friend on the biking trail. This relative period of rest can help you get through difficult patches.
Having partners on long distance bike rides also means that you will have more people to help if you end up having bike-based or navigation problems. This is especially important when fatigue starts to knock and your mind starts to wander.
6. Divide it by Two
Irrespective of the distance you are aiming for, it is always a good idea to approach the challenge as two halves. This will keep you from going all out when you are feeling fresh and then making your second half a tough grind.
Take into account the current cycling speed and at the halfway point, evaluate yourself to see how you feel, taking into account eating and pacing advice we have already looked at. You should avoid specific efforts on the initial half of your long distance cycling trip – this will eat into your energy supplies.
If you are feeling fresh in the second half, you can go harder on the MTB pedals. However, do not go too hard such that finishing your ride becomes tough.
7. Change Your Position Often
Sure, long-distance bike rides are going to be hard on your legs, but it is the butt, neck, shoulders, and hands that will hurt much more during the adventure. The only way to reduce this pain is to give these muscles some exercises. This means moving as often as you can.
Shrug and change the position of the hands on your MTB handlebars. Shrugging is supposed to be constant. Hence, try not to go a full minute without giving your hands some minuscule movement. Also, keep moving your hands from the top of the bars to the drops and the hoods, getting used to all the positions.
As for your butt, start with wearing some padded mountain bike shorts. Also, be sure to choose a comfy saddle – you will need this so that you do not feel the agony every time you hit pebbles on the road.
On your saddle, shift forward and back to find the comfiest position. When riding uphill, stand to stretch the legs out.
8. Watch the Wind
The wind can be your enemy or your friend, depending on its direction of travel, relative to the direction you are traveling. It is recommended that you start with a headwind when you are fresh and your muscles are not tired – dealing with the resistant force will be much easier. This should give you a tailwind when you are exhausted and heading home.
If you are riding in a group, stick together during the headwind stretches so that you can take turns at the front, working to shelter your partners. This will make the ride a lot easier for every member of the group.
9. Plan for Trouble
With long distance bike rides, comes greater odds that something might go wrong. The trip will likely be smooth, but you need to be prepared regardless – it is always better to be safe than sorry.
At a minimum, pack gear to fix at least two flats, your cell phone, a mini tool, some cash, and your ID. Also, consider following this code of the road: Stop for any cyclist in need. The good deed is destined to come around one day.
10. Ready Your Bike Before the Ride
Failing to prepare, prepares you to fail. As noted above, when riding long-distance, the chances of something going wrong with your bike increase since you will be spending more time on your equipment.
For this reason, before you set off, be sure to take a good look over the downhill mountain bike to ensure that everything is working perfectly. Consider answering the following questions in the process:
- Do your mountain bike tires look okay?
- How are the bike gears, are the chainrings or the chain itself worn out, and will you need to replace them before the ride?
- Are your brakes functioning properly or do you need to adjust the disc brakes or bleed your Shimano brakes?
- Is your saddle set at the correct height or do you need to adjust it?
Avoid skimping on ensuring that your bike is immaculate. Mechanical failures have been known to kill many epic challenges.
Be sure to consider the spares you might need on the trip. Easily forgotten are the extra chainlinks, gear cables, and spare brake pads. You wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle of the wilderness with no gear to fix your bike and get it going again.
Q: What is Considered Long Distance Cycling?
Long distance rides will vary from cyclist to cyclist. For example, for a beginning cyclist, 20 miles will sound like a long ride. However, for enthusiastic, seasoned pros, 100 miles might be a long ride. Some cyclists often cycle much bigger distances – for example, the stages on Tour de France are often 140+ miles.
Q: Is Long Distance Cycling Good for You?
Long distance rides help with muscle building and weight loss. While you won’t lose weight and build significant muscles in a single ride, regular rides will make you fitter. In addition to burning fat, long rides will build your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Q: What Bike Is Best for Long Distance Cycling?
A hardtail mountain bike happens to be the most versatile choice for long rides. It offers relative comfort for off the road rides, with thinner tires to offer descent ride on the paved roads. Choosing a bike that has locking front suspension is useful – you can look out on the smooth roads and then engage suspension when you are on rough patches.
Globo Surf Overview
For bike riders, there is nothing like the feeling that cruising along country roads on 2 wheels brings. Inevitably, you will want to ride further to reach new places, explore new lanes, and to tick off important distance milestones.
However, launching into some big rides without being properly prepared could leave you struggling by the roadside. This guide carries some important long distance cycling tips. These should help you succeed even in the longest rides.