Riding the distance: your first 50km, 100km and 100 mile rides (and beyond)
22 March 2021 19:06
Riding the distance: your first 50km, 100km and 100 mile rides (and beyond)
As spring approaches in it’s fits and starts of teasingly warm days/half days/hours interrupted with the occasional week or two of freezing, stormy, rainy horror the desire to get out on the bike in the sun and work on those tan lines naturally increases. Whether you’re new to cycling or have been at it for years you’ll recognise springtime as one of the most exciting times to ride. If you’ve been slogging away all winter out on the wet and windy roads the prospect of riding in possibly minutes of dazzling sunshine is enough to convince you to go that extra mile. If you’ve been holed up staring at some sort of avatar of a cyclist you’d like to look like miraculously riding straight through other cyclists whilst sweating all over your nicely varnished, now (less) nicely tarnished wooden floor on a stationary bike you’ll be keen to get out there and see if you can stay upright again.
If it’s all a bit new to you, the idea of riding 50k can be pretty daunting, I can remember my first ride of around that distance. I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, I was working on a touring musical that was parked in Bristol for a few months when one of my colleagues suggested bringing my bike down from home to go and cycle to some of the cider farms and pick up some of the good stuff to imbibe in on our return back to the digs after work. It all started with a 10 mile round trip (with ample tasters to keep us rehydrated). 2 weeks later and we’re heading to further farms, a 15 mile trip (in belting rain) and then a 20 mile trip. As my confidence grew I decided to buy a new bike and do this cycling thing a bit more often. I came back to my folk’s place in Letchworth for a break from the tour and got on the bike, an early ride in clipless pedals. I had all day to go wherever I wanted, it was sunny and I could vaguely remember driving to friend’s houses near Whitwell/Kimpton way so decided to cycle those roads. I rode out on the country lanes past Hitchin, out to Gosmore, Preston, Whitwell, Kimpton, Wheathampstead then out towards Luton and back through Offley etc. When I got home I sat down with a map and a piece of string (although I’m not that old I just didn’t know about all the gadgets yet) and figured out how far I’d gone. 45 miles! I celebrated by falling asleep on the sofa in a dribbly mess for a few hours. I think my dad took some pictures for the family album.
Within three years of that ride I’d ridden Land’s End to John O’Groats, Santander to St. Malo and all of the big Alpine climbs near D’Huez. Within another 3 years of that I was riding road races as a 2nd cat and time trialling vaguely seriously (as serious as you can be whilst trying to fold yourself into a skinsuit that gives you cleavage on your wrists). My longest single ride to date was (and still is) a hugely enjoyable 252 miles with another club member riding the Dunwich Dynamo. We rode Letchworth – London – Dunwich – Letchworth. I’ve ridden to Wells-next-the-sea and back with the club a couple of times (pretty much exactly 200 miles from Letchworth) and pub crawled from Letchworth to the Col de Tourmalet with a mate in 5 days to watch Le Tour/eat chocolate and banana pizza/experience hangovers at 2000 metres. These days I’ve found myself working in Cambridge as a cycle courier for a company there (as my usual profession has shut down during Covid) so most of my riding is commuting to and from Cambridge and riding around on a cargo bike/trike all day delivering parcels.
Riding 50k is a completely feasible distance for a beginner cyclist. Make sure you’re in no rush and aim for a couple of coffee stops to break up the ride. When the cafes open back up again, this will be a lot easier to do on the fly, but for now it’s sensible to check to see where you can get a coffee and a bit of cake and what their opening hours are. Your check list of things might look something like this:
- Water/food: Take plenty and eat/drink often. When I’m riding distance I will start the day with a big bowl of porridge then eat something every 30 mins and drink every 15 on the ride. The idea is that you eat before you start to feel hungry and drink before you start to feel thirsty. This is generally thought of as the best way to get around long days. Both water and food can be topped up easily on the route if needed. Save the sugary stuff till the end of the ride, real food like a savoury sandwich will be best when you’re not pushing too hard. An emergency gel can always help those last few miles go by quickly if you’re feeling your energy dropping, but lots of sugar too early can lead to a big energy slump.
- Route: if you know where you’re going then you won’t find yourself stopping all the time to look at maps/figure out directions. Have a plan, or if you have one use a GPS unit, they’re really useful. If you don’t own one, see if you can borrow one to try (and then go and buy one, because we’re cyclists and we love an expensive gadget). Why not try some of the club recommended routes? You can always alter them slightly to bring the distance down, but this is a good one to start off with: https://www.plotaroute.com/route/528788 . Some good flat roads and a few very pretty little hills enough to be a challenge towards the end of the route.
- Comfort: This is a general thing, so it starts with a bike that fits and that you like to ride. Everybody has different preferences so whatever you’re used to riding the most is good for long rides. I usually run the widest tyres I can on the frame at 50psi which gives plenty of comfort. A good pair of padded shorts (again everybody has their own favourites due to us all having different bottoms), something comfortable at the other contact points if you want. Some people like to wear padded mitts to soften the road buzz through the bars a bit. Stick a packable jacket in too if you have one, always good if the weather changes. I’d personally recommend a helmet too and some sunnies as well. Safety first!
- Pace yourself: One of the biggest mistakes people make when planning to ride all day is going off too hard at the beginning of the day. If you’re planning to ride further than you have done before, take it easy! Don’t go smashing up those hills as hard as you can, drop down a gear and spin your legs a little quicker, freewheel down the other side and save your energy for the end of the ride where you may be feeling tired. Split the ride up into shorter blocks, have a coffee stop or two to give yourself a rest and re-energise!
- Essentials: Whenever you go anywhere on a bike you should make sure that you have a pump, spare inner tubes (or whatever you’ll need to fix the tyres that you’re running), a multitool and a chain tool with a spare link and the knowledge on how to use these things if you need to. Punctures are pretty common; you will need to know how to change an inner tube at the side of the road. It’s good to practice this in the comfort and warmth of your own home so when it happens on the road you know what you’re doing. If visibility is poor and you’re riding on the road, some flashing lights will always help too.
- Rest up! Once you’ve completed your long ride, give yourself a break. If you’ve pushed yourself harder than before it’s always good to let your body recover fully till you head out next on the bike. Fill yourself with protein and beer to celebrate your glorious achievement!
Stepping things up to 100k and 100 miles are just an extension of what you’re doing for your first 50k. The more you do it, the more manageable you’ll realise these distances are. Have a look on the routes page of the website for some suggestions of local 100k and 100 mile routes: https://www.ccashwell.co.uk/106/Local-Routes. Once you know you can ride 50k, try riding the same route or a similar route a bit quicker, push yourself a little harder. Add another loop to your route so you have a few more miles under your belt, keep doing this and before you know it you’ll have ridden 100k.
As long as you’re comfortable on your bike and manage your eating and drinking well you will be surprised at how long you can spend on that saddle. In my experience the best rides where the miles fly by are those when you’re out with good company having a natter about nothing/everything and gossiping about who’s not shaved their legs even though the sun’s out. When restrictions lift and we can ride with each other again you’ll be finding yourself reaching out for even more miles with friends, hitting distances you never thought you’d be able to hit without even realising it!
We’re lucky in CCA that we have such a large variety of riders, from mile munchers to super-speedy track racing youths, riders who just want to get out for a nice sunny couple of hours at the weekend and riders who train hard all week to race throughout the season. All of whom are more than happy to share their knowledge and experiences. Joining CCA and riding with the club was the biggest jump I made in my cycling, speaking to the more experienced riders and finding out what you could do with cycling on the club runs was a huge eye opener. Being involved in a such a friendly and welcoming sport that is getting more accessible by the day is such a wonderful thing too. Cycling is as much a solo activity as it is a team activity, if you’re putting in the miles on the road on your own then why not come along and find out how the other side of it all works? If you’re worried about joining a club, don’t be. My only regret about CCA is that I didn’t join sooner!