I love massive days out on a road bike. There is simplicity to life in the saddle that is impossible to find elsewhere. Pockets stuffed with food and a phone, a couple of bidons and a spare tube or two on the bike, a pair of legs and the intention for slow drawn-out suffering...what else is there in life necessary for happiness? With these thoughts in mind I have laid out some simple points about riding long distances.
Check your bike. I always start by looking over the tires and removing any small stones or glass that the tread picks up. This prevents them from becoming embedded, working their way slowly through the casing and puncturing the tube. Then, put in plenty of air! Follow with a quick clean and lube of the chain.
A mini pump or CO2, tubes, levers and a mini tool are essentials.
Porridge made from wholegrain oats (Amaranth or Poha if you are gluten intolerant) and some fruit mixed through is ideal for a big day out riding. It is a great idea to have a good breakfast, but don't overdo it...ideally it's the bike that rolls out the door, not you.
Photo: Bicycles Outback Racing
The truly committed don't care about the weather, sure it's raining now, but out in the hills far, far away in four hours, chances are it will be hot and dry and I'll be crying out for a relieving shower of rain. Or maybe the other way; blue skies on departure and hitting a torrential rainstorm out back of beyond...We've all experienced both. A key to planning a massive ride is checking the long range weather forecast of a neighbouring state.
It is common knowledge where I live that as soon as you cross the state border to the south the roads deteriorate in an alarming fashion. Whenever I ride in that direction I always pack an extra tube and tire patch.
4. Planning a route
While I love long rides, spending five hours riding pancake flat roads through farm lands can get immensely boring. Plan a loop, rather than an "out and back", it is more interesting and negates the choice to turn around early. I enjoy mixing up the flats and hills and maybe throw in a decent climb if your local terrain makes this possible. This way you work your heart, lungs and all sorts of muscles in and out of the saddle.
Alone or with friends? Cycling is always more fun with others and seriously helps with motivation, especially when you're rolling around in bed at 4:30am...When someone is waiting for you on the corner it's easier to get up than to make that shameful phone call!
Spin, spin and more spin. I try to avoid going into the red, even on a climb. You can use a heart rate monitor, but I prefer the tried and tested technique: If I can't hold a conversation out loud than I'm working too hard. This is an interesting practice when riding alone...perhaps give your bike a name and talk to it!
Avoid powering big gears and burning up your legs; remember you're out here all day. I have a spot just on the cusp of painful effort, and I know from experience I can hold it all day, providing I pay attention to...
Photo: Thomas MacDonald
7. Eating and drinking
Little and often is best. There are many viewpoints regarding nutrition, but I just eat a small amount regularly and it keeps me on a level. I enjoy wholesome and homely: Bananas, fruit cake, peanut butter sandwiches on white bread with the crusts removed and squashed into an interesting gooey cake - yum!
Sugary sweets are good for late in the day when more complex carbs aren't quite doing the trick and save the caffeine for the closing miles, it will give you a lift, but can seriously compromise endurance if taken too early.
You arrive home at midday from a ride that started at 5am, your eyes sting with sweat, you've been bitten by the sun, you're hungry, thirsty and your legs feel...well, great...but they don't really want to be legs anymore. It is best to plan ahead for this... allow yourself time to recover properly. A warm shower or, if you're like me, a dip in the ocean followed by a mellow cup of tea is a perfect way to re-enter normality, i.e. a life that doesn't involve being perched on a narrow saddle eating out of a back pocket while pedalling.
9. The next day
It is easy after a big day out riding to become complacent, all full with pride at having knocked over a 7 hour day in the saddle. "I won't have to ride again for a week". These are dangerous words, because every week you say that, the big ride gets harder and harder and motivation can wain. One of the joys of a big ride is going out a day or two later and doing some soft riding despite the sore legs...it feels great! Just remember to then have a break and look after yourself and your weary body.