5 rules for preparing your first 200+ km bicycle ride

Cycling your first long distance ride - a distance above 200 kilometres is not trivial. You don't want to be in pain or ill for the next week after a long distance ride. Good prep is everything. Following the rules below will allow you to ride well throughout the day and get up fresh and with minimal discomfort the following morning.

A cycling group out for a spin by David Hagwood via Wikimedia Commons

1. Give it time
Don't decide that you'll do your first long run this coming weekend. Plan ahead, set a date at least 2-3 months ahead. This will give you time to train, prepare, plan the details of the day, gather tips and experiences from other riders and build confidence for the ride.

2. Plan and share your route
Cycling route map By Adert, via Wikimedia Commons
Unless you are riding 200 circles around your apartment block, a long distance ride will take you on the open road. You can plan your route on several sites like Strava Route Builder or Bikemap or use someone else's saved route. Either way - plan your exact route, and mark the optimal rest and refuelling stops - car parks, gas stations etc.

Assume an average speed of 22 km/hour (14mph) for a group of riders, and calculate the total time of riding the planned route. If you think that you can ride a lot faster than 22 km/hour, remember that this is your first long distance ride and you'll have to pace yourself. Also, there maybe slower riders in the group, or you may hit a particularly nasty climb on a hot day. You are planning a ride - not a race, you want to prepare with buffers for  a lot of issues.

Plan a rest stop approximately for every 1.5 hours of riding, with minimum 15 minutes of rest time per stop. Add one large rest stop of 1.5 hours for lunch and recovery in the middle of the ride. Add up the total time of riding the route, rests and lunch. Then add 1.5 hours of spare time for mechanicals, longer rests and unforeseen problems. The total time is the most probable time of completing your long ride.

Once you have your total ride, plan for the finish to be in daylight - you'll be tired and with slower reflexes, so it's not wise to add dark in the mix. It's better to start in the dark but finish in daylight.

Write everything down and share the entire plan, start times and route in advance with everyone who'll be riding with you as well as any persons you may call for help in case of an emergency. Stick to the plan as much as possible!

3. Prepare your body
Nobody just gets of their couch to ride 200+ kilometers. You need to train riding long distances, train for power and train your core. Assuming you can ride a maximum distance of 100 kilometers, preparing for your first long distance ride should take at least 8-12 weeks. There are multiple training programs online, like this one.

Cycling training by Chelsea Flowers, U.S.M.C.
via Wikimedia Commons
Whatever your training plan is, finish the hardest training at 2 weeks before the ride - use the final 2 weeks to recover, and ride shorter distances with lower effort. Sometimes it will be too easy - don't overdo it just because you can.

Apart from cycling you need to focus a lot on your core muscles: For 12 weeks before the ride do daily 30-40 push-ups, 20-40 squats, 20-30 crunches, 20-30 lunges and side lunges, 10-20 plyometrics (squat-jumps) and plank for at least 1 minute. A strong core is the difference between a happy and a miserable rider on the 200th kilometre.

4. Prepare your mind
Riding a distance of 200+ kilometers takes time. The body movement during cycling is more or less automatic, so your mind has a lot of 'free time'. An idle mind can be a deterrent to your success, since it's very easy to start thinking about how much more you have to ride, how tired you are, how boring this stretch of road is. 
During your training, apart from training your body, train your mind: 

To fight the boredom and distance give yourself constant tasks 
  • talk to other riders if you are riding in a group.
  • analyse the road quality and look for optimal safe lines for your wheels. 
  • be mindful of the traffic if you are on a road.
  • pay attention to the surroundings - look at the little details like trees, bushes, insects. This is especially helpful on long climbs
  • replay the route and review your plan for stops
  • visualise reaching a point which is at least 20 kilometers from your current position.
  • listen to radio - but at low volume and with one earbud only - this is quite unsafe, so avoid it if possible

5. Prepare your equipment and stuff
Just as yourself, your equipment needs to be in top condition. You need to set up your bike, clothing, tools, food, spares etc.

Cycling equipment via CyclingEurope.org
  • Bike selection - It's ideal to train on the same bike that you'll be riding on the long ride. Your body will adjust to the bike, and you'll have time to adjust everything to work as well as it should. 
  • Bike fit - you bike should be well fitted, and you shouldn't have any pain during riding - there are many How-To and help on bike fit like this one on Bicycling.com. If you don't like to fiddle with the bike, every descent bike shop will be able to do a good bike fit for you. 
  • Service the bike - 2 weeks before the ride, do a full service of the bike at a trusted bike shop. Check that the wheels are true, tyres and tubes are in good condition (or replace them), check and service or replace cables and brake pads if worn, chain is in good condition etc. Then you can ride the final 2 weeks on the serviced bike to fix any possible niggles after service
  • Clothes - Ride in the same bib shorts that you trained in - even if old, you are comfortable in them. Plan to carry an base layer and a foldable rain jacket in one of your pockets, so that you can layer if you get hit by cold or rain. Carry an extra pair of socks in a ziplock bag - after a rain, put on dry socks, then the plastic bag over the dry socks and the wet socks over the bag. This way your feet will be dry and you'll be able to continue riding. Helmet and cycling eyewear go without saying, no need to describe them. 
  • Food and liquids - plan to have a sports bar or small sandwich every hour. You should carry enough stuff for the first 4 hours, then you can replenish at a gas station along the way. Carry two bottles of water, drink often. Here is a detailed set of instructions on nutrition on long rides
  • Spares and tools - Carry two tubes and a portable pump. Even if you use gas canisters, a pump may be needed sometimes. Better to have one. A portable toolkit with chain breaker is a must. Learn how to break and connect a chain with your chain breaker ahead - practice on any old and discarded chain. Have a front (white) and rear (red) light on your bike, with fresh batteries.
  • Other stuff - Money and ID, several strips of adhesive bandages, 4-6 pain pills (ibuprofen or similar), glucose tablets (if you forget to eat regularly and your glycogen drops), magnesium powder packets - good for preventing an onset of cramps. A charged cell phone - if you have it, bring a spare charged cell phone. Several small ziplock bags, to keep things dry if it starts raining.

Extra rule - Help your fellow riders in their prep
You'll ride with other people. It's good to help them (or at least offer help) in their prep.
This way you'll get to know them better, get to train with them and everyone will be up to the (more or less) at the same level of prep for the long ride.

There are only five (albeit large) rules to a great first 200+ km ride. Follow them for a great day riding. 
Tell us about your first long distance ride in the comments.

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    There are more and more opportunities to attempt this distance with the support of an organized ride. While the tips in this post are critical for success at this distance, you can still have the peace of mind that there is literally people behind you if you need them.
    Some of these rides even have amazing food during the ride as well as after the ride. And let's not forget about the beer!
    This accomplishment puts you in the club so to say. It makes you a part of the community of people who have done the same, and it feels good.

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