Long rides are an essential part of cycling training and what draws many people to the sport. Hours spent chatting with friends while ascending long hills is a gratifying combination of social and grueling — and it’s what we wait for all week! These long rides comprise a major chunk of our cycling training time, but they also keep us away from family, friends and the never-ending pile of errands, so making sure we do long rides right and avoid common missteps is important for every cyclist.
THE PRE-RIDE MEALS
Aim to allow 2–3 hours between your pre-ride meal and your ride. It sounds like a long time, but this allows your body to digest the food and ready itself to put energy toward pedaling. Since many weekend rides start early, this could mean a really early wake-up call — and the inevitable sleep versus fuel debate. If sleep wins, try a very small meal an hour before you leave, making sure it digests quickly and easily. If you opt for a smaller breakfast, it’s important to start fueling early in the ride.
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FUELING ON THE BIKE
It’s common for people to think cutting calories during a long ride helps them burn fat. There may be a place for fasted rides for some athletes, but for most of us, it’s important to fuel our work capacity. That is, fuel a higher output during the ride, perhaps even a longer ride so you are practicing at a higher level and putting a better stimulus into your body. Hormonally, or for the sake of recovery, avoiding a highly depleted state helps avoid overeating after the ride, extended recovery and a high risk of illness or prolonged fatigue. Aim for 200 calories and 16–20 ounces of water during your rides and adjust based on how you feel and perform. Easier rides can be fueled with solid foods like sandwiches, bars or other snacks.
Many riders use too low a cadence. Your long ride provides an opportunity to practice many repetitions of a higher rpm. On the road, this is typically around 90 rpm but depends on a variety of factors. Adding a cadence meter that can show your current and average cadence helps you quantify what your cadence is and perform intervals where you focus on increasing your cadence up by 5–10 rpm. Coasting, where your cadence is 0, should be avoided so you’re spending more of your ride pedaling and less time resting. Learning to feel when your cadence is getting too low or if you are spinning too much can help you ride efficiently, climb faster and be ready to accelerate smoothly.
POSTURE AND FORM
Endurance rides can be a great time to practice and improve the elements of form and style on the bike. Cadence is part of this, but so is a smooth pedal stroke and strong position on the bike. Riders who slump over or who pedal in a choppy fashion have often ridden in this position for many years. A slumped position can mean riders are slower to get out of the saddle, less effective at pedaling in the saddle or their breathing is restricted.
To avoid bad form, progress the duration and intensity of your rides gradually. Focus on your form in the last half of long rides, or the last couple of intervals on hard days, to build your ability to hold an athletic position and a smooth pedal stroke. High cadence drills, one-legged pedaling and ensuring you are standing periodically to climb, accelerate and adjust position helps you interact athletically and dynamically with the bike.
CHOOSING THE ROUTE AND SURFACES
Choosing your route to fit the goals of your ride is a concept many riders are unfamiliar with. If you want to do an endurance ride where you pedal the whole time and avoid any maximal efforts, then picking a rolling or flat route makes hitting your ride goal easy! Since going up hills is beneficial, you could plan your hilly, hard ride for a Saturday and then take the long, rolling ride for your steady endurance ride Sunday. Mixing surfaces by riding some gravel and a variety of different types of routes helps you hone skills like descending, cornering, pedal stroke, position and shifting so you are ready to perform regardless of the challenges presented.