Wanting a longer bike ride, now that winter is over? Unfortunately spring here in Australia means we move straight into magpie season! It’s not the best time for cyclists. However there are a few big events coming up and it’s time to start some serious training.
If you are anything like me, you have been doing shorter rides (maybe indoors on the trainer) over winter to stay out of the cold. Now it is time to start putting in some longer sessions to get ready for Fitz’s, Le Tape, Peaks Challenge or some other suffer fest that will occur over summer.
There are some simple tips to making this transition from short rides to long rides more comfortable.
Get a bike fit for longer bike rides
If you haven’t done this before it is well worth booking in for, particularly if you’re going for longer bike rides. A short ride will be tolerable in most positions. Longer bike rides will really highlight any biomechanical inefficiencies or poor postures. Think of it like a workstation assessment. You wouldn’t sit at a desk all day with the screen and chair at the wrong height.
Sadly cycling requires quite a static posture. Your posture can be compromised by poor bike position, weak muscles or tight muscles/joints. A comprehensive bike fit should check all these things so is a great place to start.
Start strengthening your back
Putting up with leg pain is kind of a given when riding. Putting up with back pain can be demoralising. Again, check your bike position first, but once you’ve got this sorted we are looking more at back extensor muscle endurance which is needed on longer bike rides.
The reason is fairly simple. Often on our short rides we still give our legs and cardiovascular system a good workout but the postural stabilisers aren’t working for long enough to hit serious fatigue. When the rides get longer often your back muscles will start to hit exhaustion.
A good way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to start some extra back extensor muscle strengthening. “Roman extensions” are a great exercise for gaining some extra endurance in your back musculature without having to spend hours sitting on the bike. You can do this on a swiss ball or a “roman chair” at the gym.
Like most strength exercises 3 sets to fatigue 3 times per week is ideal and pay particular attention to technique.
Fix the “contact points” on your bike
On long rides the contact points on the bike can become far more irritable. There are some simple things that can help stop them being a limiting factor for you. Again, a bike fit should alleviate any positional issues, but these are some other practical tips.
Hands – Gel handlebar tape is great for decreasing contact point pain. Gloves also sometimes come with padding in areas that you may be having issues. For mountain bikers, when was the last time you had your forks serviced? Forks that work smoothly are far easier on the wrists and way more fun to ride.
Saddle – The type of saddle your bike has can be looked at in the bike fitting process and whether it is correct for you. Good knicks also make a considerable difference to your long ride comfort. However different knicks have different padding in both type and shape.
Because of this, I always save my most comfortable knicks for the longer bike rides on weekends and try to use the less comfy ones mid week on shorter days. Also, don’t discount the effect of some good chamois cream. Chaffing is very hard to stop once it starts so prevention is far better than the cure.
Feet – I’ve met many cyclists that complain of foot pain on longer bike rides, particularly on the climbs. Often this is purely a pressure point issue in the shoe itself. Cycling shoes by design are quite unforgiving which is great for transferring force into the pedal, but not so good for comfort.
If you are getting contact point pain (often round the balls of the feet), then you may benefit from some custom made orthotics to create a more even pressure across the whole foot.
Hydration for longer bike rides
Pretty simple really. The longer you ride for the more dehydrated you can get. How much you need to drink is very dependent your body type, intensity of activity and weather conditions.
A simple way of figuring out how much fluid you’ll need in a ride is to weigh yourself before and after a ride (with no clothes on because sweat will soak in them and skew the results). If you haven’t changed then well done, you drank enough.
If you are lighter than when started then you know how much more you need to drink next time. It has been proven that once you lose 2% of your body weight you will decrease in both physical and mental performance.
For recovery purposes you need to drink about 1.5 times the amount fluid you lost to get back to even. Sports drinks do provide better hydration than pure water due to the electrolyte mix (in the correct ratios if you use the powdered versions), and can also help with some extra energy consumption. Which brings us to the next point.
Nutrition for longer bike rides
A short ride is easy to get through without having to eat. The longer the ride the more energy you will consume and need to replace whilst on the bike. Otherwise you’ll likely “hit the wall” which is where you run out of glycogen stores and start relying on burning fat for energy.
Burning fat is not pleasant and can lead to a significant drop in performance. Similar to hydration, the amount required is based on your body, how long you are riding for and at what sort of intensity.
It can be anywhere from 30-90g of carbohydrate per hour. I personally need up around the 90g to keep feeling good which can be a struggle in itself if you don’t have a good plan around what to eat. A Sports Dietitian like Holly, who consults for us on some Saturdays at Gungahlin, can figure out this balance for you.
Recovery from a longer bike ride
On long rides little niggles can become big niggles. So get your post ride recovery done and start the next ride fresh and healthy. The main aspects of recovery are eat, drink, sleep and stretch any muscle groups that have a tendency to become tight from riding.
Usually we’d recommend stretching quads, hip flexors, glutes and hamstrings as they have a tendency to become tighter in cyclists. A good massage can also help loosen up these muscles.
Find some friends
This seems silly, but suffering in a group is often less unpleasant than suffering alone. Boredom can become your enemy on very long rides. Having someone to talk to can make your day far more enjoyable. There is also the added benefit of having more spare tubes and air canisters if something goes wrong.