15 Long Distance Bike Riding Tips
Nothing can be compared to a long distance bike ride in the countryside with your cycling friends. If you feel that you are ready for your biggest ride yet but you are not sure, read our list of 15 long distance bike riding tips. Many of us prefer to be self-sufficient for the multi-day cycling tours, but if you think that you’re not ready, you should be fully supported. I found that the Adventure Cyclings’ fully supported tours are the best in the US for this service. You should definitely consider them for your first really long-distance tours. Also this way you will meet many new friends and cycling buddies.
Let’s start with the 15 Long Distance Bike Riding Tips:
Carb-loading normally starts two days before the long distance bike ride. Rest during these days and your muscles will build plenty of glycogen stores if you eat properly. On carb-loading days you should eat at least 10 mg of carbs per kg of body weight.
The most important carb-loading meal is the one in the night before your long distance bike ride. All kinds of pasta with bolognese sauce or maybe some fish with potatoes and good options. Any kind of rice dishes is also very good way to add carbs in your meal. You can check here the top 10 meals for cyclists.
2.Start With Shorter Distances
This one is common sense but a lot of cyclists out there disregard it. They directly go for a super long ride unprepared. Even if you feel that you are in great physical shape the long distance bike riding can be a challenge for you. If you plan to make 100 miles-ride start with 50 miles around your home or maybe in the city.
You have to gradually increase the distance of your rides and slowly get to the point when you can make your big century ride. Before the ride, you can try a few times 50% or 75% of the planned distance. If you are OK with that most probably you are ready for the long distance ride.
3.Use GPS Bike Computer With Heart-rate Monitor
At first, I was not very sure how this thing could help me in my rides but only after my first long distance bike ride, I realized that it’s a great tool. Looking at the stats on the go can be very motivating and rewarding.
Typically I check time, distance, speed, average speed and heart rate zones. With all this information I can cycle smarter and be more motivated. If your cycling computer can connect to Strava and Strava segments live you will be even more motivated and competitive.
Checking your heart rate zone in the big climbs and staying into the right zone is crucial. You can always buy a good dedicated GPS bike computer with a heart rate monitor and become a better cyclist.
Maintaining a cadence of around 90 RPM is crucial for your long distance rides. In these zone, you give your muscles and aerobic system a break. It is scientifically proven that 90 RPM is the most efficient cadence speed. You should consider this in your cycling. If you don’t have a cadence sensor on your bike finding the right cadence speed is a little bit tricky.
You have two options: buy a cadence sensor or to count until you get accustomed. Take 15 second time interval and as you pedal tap your knee each time at the top of the pedal stroke. Count how many times you tap. 15 = 60 RPM , 17-18 = 70 RPM. 20 = 80 RPM , 22-23 = 90 RPM , 25 = 100 RPM , 27-28 = 110 RPM.
5.Eat And Drink a Lot During The Ride
This one is one of the most important long distance bike riding tips. Your target should be eating one piece of food every 15-20 minutes. One bottle of water ( around 1 liter ) every 1 hour also should be OK. Of course, this depends on heat and exertion level as well and you should adjust adequately. If you don’t eat enough you can hit the wall and feel the so-called ”bonking”. means that you haven’t taken enough carbohydrates while cycling and have exhausted your body’s glycogen reserve, leaving you with very low blood glucose levels. You will feel extremely weak and tired and most probably your ride will get to an end.
To bonk while cycling is something that you should NEVER experience and you should avoid at any cost. So eat enough every 15-20 minutes and this will never happen to you. Usually, I carry 1 energy bar for each 20 minutes of my ride and in the middle, I make a big meal in some countryside restaurant. Just in case always get some extra food and water supplies.
“Bonking” means that you haven’t taken enough carbohydrates while cycling and have exhausted your body’s glycogen reserve, leaving you with very low blood glucose levels. You will feel extremely weak and tired and most probably your ride will get to an end. To bonk while cycling is something that you should NEVER experience and you should avoid at any cost. So eat enough every 15-20 minutes and this will never happen to you. Usually, I carry 1 energy bar or energy gel for each 20 minutes of my ride and in the middle, I make a big meal in some countryside restaurant. Just in case always get some extra food,
6.Use The 20-40s Technique
When you try to improve your speed and stamina you can try this technique which is called 20-40s. Sprint for 20 seconds then rest for 40 seconds and repeat that sequence four times for one set. You can do this drill as many sets as you want and you will definitely improve your fitness and speed during the process.
The technique is introduced here by Laura Trott in her interview for The Telegraph.
7.Check The Wind
The hardcore cyclists always say that the wind is either your enemy or your friend. If you cycle with a tailwind you are going to be faster and will use less energy. If you are going against a headwind you will need much more energy and most probably you will cycle slower.
When you are in a group stick together and take turns at the front working to shelter the others. When you experience tailwind just use it and increase your average speed because you don’t know when the wind will change direction.
8.Ride In The Right Gear
The key to using your bike efficiently is finding the right gear for each situation. If you ride in a gear which is too small your legs will be working too hard, your cadence will be very high and you will get tired easily. If you ride in a gear which is too big the effort will be enormous and you will get yourself down.
In general as mentioned previously in the article you should be able to maintain 90 RPM cadence relatively easy. Always remember that the low gears are for climbing and you should switch down to the correct gear before you hit the hill.
This way you will be able to climb slowly but steadily and will maintain good average speed. The medium gears are good for flat-out terrains or very small hills. The biggest gears are generally for descending or when you want to accelerate.
9.Always Plan For The Worst And Hope For The Best
Most of the times your rides will be smooth sailing along the hills but sometimes the bad things happen. You should ALWAYS be prepared when it happens. In my opinion, this is one of the most important long distance bike riding tips. Always carry at least two spares of inner tubes, tire levers, a good multi-tool, reliable bike pump, cell phone, ID, and some cash. You can alway stash a $20 bill somewhere apart from your money just in case.
10.Check Your Bike Before The Big Ride
Giving your bike a quick mechanical check before you go for a big ride can save you a lot of troubles. First, you have to check your wheels if they are tightened correctly and you can also spin the wheels to see if they spin well and without touching the brake pads. After that inspect the tires.
They should be with adequate air pressure and most of the tires have a print on the sidewall with the correct range. For the majority of road tires, a pressure of 110 – 120 pounds per square inch is best. Always check for any cuts or nicks in the sidewall or tread of the tires.
You can also make a quick brake test spinning the wheels individually and applying the brakes. If needed you can lube the chain before a big ride because it can make a huge difference. Always lube with the correct lube for the weather and road conditions and you should be fine.
11.Slice Up The Course To 3 Parts
Divide the ride into three equal distances. For example, if you plan for a 90-mile race divide into 3 parts of 30 miles. The first part should feel easy and your goal must be to feel the road and warm up your muscles. During the second part you will feel your muscles really working hard and in the last part, you are ready to go for the final sprint and exhaust your body to a maximum.
Never start too quickly jumping on the first climb pretending to be Lance Armstrong. This tip is also very good because mentally you will feel better each time you make it to the end of the parts. It will feel like three medium distance bike rides instead of big and scary one.
12.Use The Science Of Aerodynamics
Another entry from our list of 15 long distance bike riding tips is the aerodynamics. Aerodynamics in cycling is something that the professionals improve and use all the time. For the casual rider it’s not a big deal but why not use the techniques on your long distance bike ride.
You should always aim to stay in the perfect aerodynamic shape and it is even more relevant on your fast downhills. Try to ride on your drops, tuck in your elbows, arm, and head and stay as compact as possible. Never disregard safety and if you ride on bad roads just make a balance between aerodynamics and stable position.
13.Bike Set Up
On your short rides the bike set up is not so meaningful but on a long distance bike ride, it could be crucial. Getting a bike which is the right size for your is the basic thing but some of the riders still disregard it. If you don’t understand it just go to a local bike shop ask for the perfect frame size for you and they should help you.
The saddle height is also underestimated setting which can change the whole game for you. If the saddle is too high, to maintain the full power at the end of the downstroke the pelvis has to tilt laterally also causing a side bend at the lumbar spine.
This repeated lateral side bend and pelvic tilt can cause sacroiliac joint and also lumbar spine problems in the long term. If the saddle is too low on the other hand, the knee doesn’t go through as large a range of movement increasing the pressures going to the knee cap and thus increasing the chance of knee pain. Also, it may cause a back pain.
More on the bike set up you can find on: here
14.Clothing And Equipment
You have to be comfortable and safe during your long distance bike ride. The helmet is the number one in your list and you should buy a basic helmet from a good producer with a lot of ventilation. Don’t go for the cheap and colorful helmets because you are not going to look like Alberto Contador anyways.
The second most important thing in your list is the shorts. Bib shorts may look ridiculous but with their inbuilt padding they are the most comfortable option for your big ride and your butt will be thankful. The gloves are also decisive because after a few hours of cycling you will feel every bump in your hands.
Having a good pair of sunglasses is also crucial because they will not only protect you from the sun but also from bugs and wind. Also if you plan to ride your bike in the summer you should buy good cycling jersey for the hot weather.
If you plan to ride in the dark you have to consider some lights. Front bike light and a backlight are the first options. Also wearing reflective clothing is a must. The rest of the clothing and equipment is optional and in my opinion not so crucial for you long distance bike ride.
Riding frequently in my experience is the best way to improve your stamina and fitness level. Thus you will prepare for a long distance ride. It is one of the best long distance bike riding tips in my opinion. If you ride let’s say once every two weeks for 50 miles is worst than cycling every day in the week for 5-10 miles.
You just get in better shape and maybe once a week or every two weeks you can make a long distance ride gradually increasing the miles. There is no other tip which can help you more than this: just get out, hit the road and cycle.
About the Author
I'm a passionate cyclist and an adventurer. Writer and editor of Yes Cycling.