The challenges of bike riding and cycling events take many forms. For some, the call of more speed, more distance or more hill climbing inspires them. For me, building up to epic distances is even more satisfying than improving top-end speed.
Endurance cycling, both on- and off-road, is a great way to build fitness, lose weight and develop as a bike rider. Building up to your first long ride can be a rewarding process. Do it right and you’ll see gains in strength, speed and endurance every week. You’ll need a goal, a bike and a body.
It’s also good to have buddies.
The first step is to have a goal. Mass start endurance cycling events like the Bupa Around the Bay, the Sydney to Gong or the Brisbane to the Gold Coast Cycle Challenge can be a fantastic motivation to get yourself started and keep yourself riding. Most of these rides offer different ride distances and options, so you can tailor your target. A full list is below. For many riders, 100 kilometre is the first big milestone. However, these tips will apply to longer and shorter rides as well.
The next step is getting your equipment ready to roll.
You don’t need an expensive bike to conquer distances. The most important thing is that it fits well. I’ve done a 150 kilometre rides on a $150 fixie. The fit was right, but the ride was tough. Generally speaking, a good quality road bike like the Reid Falco Sport or Elite or a cross-country endurance mountain bike like the Granite 2.0 would be a better place to start.
When assessing your bike, remember three things:
1. It has to fit very well - talk your your local bike shop about bike fit
2. It has to have a low enough gear to let you conquer the biggest hill of the day
3. It has to be able to carry enough water and other bits and pieces
You need enough water and food to get your through the day, plus any spares and tools you think you might need. Check out our article “What to know and what to bring” for more details on this.
It’s also important to have appropriate clothing, particularly cycling shorts. Well fitting shorts with a good quality chamois (called cycling knicks) will make the hours in the saddle the much easier. They don’t need to be expensive, either. The Reid Cycling Shorts are a good low-cost option. I recently worn these on a 125 kilometre riding through the hills. They stood up against pairs costing 3 times as much.
No matter your goal, you should build to it gradually by specific training, cross training and resting. You also need to become a champion eater and drinker.
Specific training means riding in a similar way to your goal event. If you’re aiming for 100 kilometres in 20 week’s time, you should probably be aiming for around 40 kilometres a week now, including one longer ride of at least an hour. This could be as simple as commuting to work plus tapping out a longer ride on the weekend.
This chart gives you a guide:
|Time||Riding each week||Long ride|
|20 weeks out||40 kms||20 kms|
|10 weeks out||75 kms||45 kms|
|5 weeks out||110 kms||70 kms|
|1 week out||130 kms||100 kms|
Good cross training options during this building period including stretching, yoga, pilates, swimming or other low-intensity exercises that relax your body while building core strength and flexibility.
Resting is also crucial. The distances and saddle-time are going up, so it’s important that you take the time out to recover, stretch, relax and rebuild. Little niggling injuries or strains will slow you down and make you less comfortable on the big day. Get your bike fit and set-up perfected during this time and avoid pushing too hard, too soon.
The ability to eat and drink effectively is a crucial skill for endurance riding. Figure out what you’re going to eat and drink on the big day and practice it on the shorter rides. You don’t want to try anything new on the day. You need to have the confidence that you’ll be able to digest (and enjoy) whatever you’re planning to eat. It doesn’t have to be complicated either. Water, bananas, white bread and vegemite sandwiches have been enough sustain me for hilly rides over 100 kays.
Riding buddies make a long ride more fun. There’s probably a local cycling club or riding group near you. Contact your state-based cycling organisation or event organising if you need a point in the right direction.
The patron saint of long distance riding is a fellow called Pau de Vivie (also known as Velocio), born in the south of France in the 1850’s. He completed tens of thousands of kilometres each year. At the age of 59, he could still hundreds of miles in a day. He coined the following mantra for long distance riding, which still holds true today:
- Keep your rest short and infrequent to maintain your rhythm
- Eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty
- Never ride to the point of exhaustion where you can't eat or sleep
- Cover up before you are cold, peel off before you are hot
- Don't drink, smoke, or eat meat on tour
- Never force the pace, especially during the first hours
- Never ride just for the sake of riding
Follow his advice, take advantage of new cyclist technology and you’ll conquer that 100 kay ride with ease. It won’t be long until a 200 kilometre ride is on the horizon.
Alex - Tenax Ride
Some great, well-supported endurance riding events from around the region:
Victoria - Around the Bay
New South Wales - Sydney to Gong Ride
Queensland - Brisbane to the Gold Coast Cycle Challenge
Western Australia - Great Bike Ride
Tasmania - Western Tiers Cycling Challenge
New Zealand - Lake Taupo Cycling Challenge