Get the most from your upcoming cycling event.
I recently had a careful look at my cycling clothes. It’s been a while since I replaced any of my bike shorts, and as it happens, I needed replace a couple of them. I ordered replacements. I’ve been collecting these items for years, and it got me thinking about all the things that I take for granted as I prepare for events, because what you wear is a part of the process. That process starts with training, but it also includes what to do just before you go and how to manage your ride once you get started.
I’ve ridden events held from May to October, but for me, the best time for event rides is in the autumn, and this year I’m riding centuries in both September and October. These are warm months where I live, but not usually hot. Ideal conditions for a long bike ride. 2020 locked riders out of events, and a lot of people have been looking for events to return to in 2021. Some haven’t ridden a century before and want to test themselves. Some riders may be enjoying their “pandemic bike” and want to see what an event is like. There are a lot of things to think about apart from training. Preparation and strategy can make your event a success. Lack of them can cost you. Here are a few tips that may be the difference between a great event and a difficult one.
The first thing to prepare for is the expected weather. What you wear can make or break your ride. The key is to bring the right clothing to keep you comfortable. The events I’m riding this year come in places where the daytime high during the event will be in the upper 60’s to upper 70’s, though early in the morning, when these centuries start, the temperature can be in the 50’s. That can create some problems. Know what weather to expect.
- Dress for mile 5, not for mile 0. I have seen people who wore a warm jacket at the start of a century, only to find it too hot once they warmed up. Then they found themselves carrying it with them for over 90 miles. That initial comfort was offset by the need to carry the jacket. Be prudent about what you take with you.
- Arm and leg warmers are great accessories, and they pack small for your pockets. They’re great for that extra bit of comfort as you set out. If you can get away with taking less, you’ll be more comfortable in the long run if the weather will warm up during the ride. Centuries take hours, so take the temperature changes into account.
- Century day is no time to break in new clothing. You should know what your shorts and jersey and shoes are like before you set out on a century ride. It’s a good idea to break them in beforehand so you know you won’t be uncomfortable or chafe.
- Speaking of chafing, chamois cream is a good idea. 100 miles is a long painful distance if your shorts are chafing you!
- Think about post-ride. Can you change out of your cycling clothes? Bring a bag to put your cycling gear in. I like to use 2.5 gallon size plastic storage bags to put my cycling laundry in when the ride is done.
Another thing to think about is your bike. Before the event, here are a few things to consider. Remember that you may have to get your bike into the shop a few weeks before the event.
- Make sure your bike is tuned up. It should shift smoothly and run quietly without squeaking or rubbing anywhere. Nothing can ruin a ride quite like a bike that needs maintenance.
- Wheels should be trued. Wheels that aren’t true can cause brake rubbing and wear your tires quickly.
- Lubricate your chain. It seems obvious, but a clean and well lubricated chain is easier on your gears.
- Check your tires. Replace them if they’re worn out. Nothing will interrupt a good ride like a flat tire. Anything you can do to prevent one will pay off on event day.
- Charge all your electronics. Computers, lights and if you have electronic shifting, charge that.
Some preparation for your ride begins the week before ride day. Here are a few things to consider:
- Last minute training will only wear you down. Ride easy the week before your event and come in fresh. Your training should be complete a week before the event. Harder rides just before the event won’t help you. Rest will.
- Most people aren’t fully hydrated day to day. The week before your event, drink an extra glass or two of water per day. Also, be careful with alcohol. I’m not saying abstain, but be careful to moderate! Going in well hydrated means you’ll get a good start. Those two extra glasses of water every day can help, particularly if your event is on a hot day.
- Try and get good sleep. This makes sense, but often the best night to get good sleep is the night prior to the night before your event. Sometimes you can be too excited or worried the night before to sleep well, and good sleep leading up to your event can mitigate that somewhat.
- Make a complete list of things to take, and check them all off before you leave! Even things you may think are trivial. Forgetting an item you need can be a nightmare on event day. It may seem paranoid, but better safe than sorry. Worry is best handled well in advance.
Finally, what can you do on Event day to make your ride a success?
- Go in with a plan. Think about packet (number) pickup, where you’ll park, when you’ll start, and have an idea of when you’ll finish. Know where your keys, phone and ID are.
- Remember to ride at the pace you’re trained for. Too many riders get excited and draft faster riders on event day. That means you’re burning too much energy. You don’t want to burn out in the second half of your event. If you want to stay out of the wind a little, find riders who are riding at your training pace and ride with them.
- If you can, use the buddy system! Riding with a friend is social. It helps to share the experience. You’ll have a partner to draft with, and the company can come in handy in many ways. Riding partners motivate each other.
- Eat when you can. Over 100 miles, you’ll need extra calories to get you through. If you have rest stops that offer food, take advantage. Don’t gorge, just eat when food is available. Take an energy gel or two with you in your pockets. Take one if you’re feeling drained. I have a friend who describes gels as “instant will to go on”. It’s good to have one for yourself or a friend in need.
- As a guideline, you should drink one bottle of water or electrolytes per hour. I like to take a drink every time I see someone else drink. Remind yourself often. I like to keep electrolytes in the bottle on my down tube and water in the bottle on the seat tube. If you’re hot, the bottle of water can also be used to spray your head and neck to cool down on a hot day. Many events use powdered drink mix to create their electrolyte drinks. That commonly means they’re mixed “strong”. Often I find them too sweet, so I fill the electrolyte bottle half full and then dilute it by filling up the rest of the bottle with water. You can’t get the benefit if you’re not willing to drink! Drink smart on event day.
- A typical century will have 4 rest stops. They may vary in the distance between them, but when you’re out on the course, it can help to think of a century as 5 separate 20 mile rides strung together. Breaking the ride into segments helps make a very long ride manageable.
After many years and a lot of experience with riding centuries and other events, I’ve come to see the points above as second nature. Still, you have to start somewhere, and even if you’re experienced, you can still learn more. I know that I’m still learning myself. I hope that reading this will prove useful for your next cycling challenge.