Long Distance Cycling: Tips and Training Guide
Are you ready to go long? Not sure what to pack, or how to go about training for a long ride?
Veloforte Creative Director, Gareth Winter, knows a thing or two about long distance cycling, having ridden with icons like Bradley Wiggins and Eddy Merckx. We got his insight into the best ways to prepare, train and fuel for a long ride.
Read on for a comprehensive guide to stronger, happier long rides.
10 crucial tips for long distance cycling
- Pace yourself
- Build up gradually
- Pedal smarter, not harder
- Go together
- Get your gear right
- Prepare don’t repair
- Protect your assets
- Fuel. A lot.
- Break it into sections
- Don’t neglect your post-ride recovery
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Let’s start with the obvious. You’re not going to be able to go all-out for six hours, and if you set off all guns blazing you’ll probably find yourself flagging long before you reach the finish line.
Don’t burn all your matches in the first quarter. Aim for a steady flame — you’re endurance pace, also known as Zone 2 (for those who ride and train with data), feels relatively comfortable and you should be able to hold a conversation.
You will have to dig a little deeper on the climbs, but you can recover on the descents to even it back out. If you pace it right, you can light your final match in the last hour and burn the box to the finish line.
Build up gradually
We’ll go into more depth on how to train for long distance cycling below, but the golden rule is: build up to it gradually. Adding on the miles to your training too soon is a one-way ticket to overtraining and injury.
Instead, try adding 10% to your weekend-long rides to develop leg strength, aerobic fitness and the all-important mental toughness to go long.
Pedal smarter, not harder
When you’re going long, you’re going to get to know your bike pretty well. So it’s important that you work with your bike — choose efficient gear to save your legs.
It’s wise to pedal with a higher cadence in a lower gear, which will cause less resistance — and less muscle soreness over the duration of your ride.
A 100km cycle isn’t just a challenge on the legs. It can be a real test of mental strength too. So it’s always good to go together, especially if you’re new to long rides. Don’t underestimate the mood-boosting properties of having somebody to share the experience with, and drafting other riders will save you a lot more energy.
Going together is also great insurance against things going wrong.
Get your gear right
“Bike fit is everything”, is Gareth’s motto.
Comfort is speed, especially over long distance. If your bike fit is optimised — saddle height and position, reach, stack, bar width, crank length, cleat position, etc. — you won’t be tortured by numb hands, stiff shoulders, sore saddle area or, worst case, develop a knee strain.
Wider tyres with lower pressure are much more comfortable over long-distance, they are also proved to be faster when paired with a wider rim — aerodynamically and with a lower rolling resistance.
Personally, I ride a 28mm tyre with a 30mm (externally) wide rim. Now you need to decide on how tough your tyres need to be. Generally speaking, a lightweight tyre will have lower rolling resistance and lower rotational weight. This is great if you’re on beautiful smooth roads all day, but if you are riding on heavy roads, gravel sectors or cobblestones, you will need a tougher tyre, otherwise you will lose time and patience fixing punctures all day.
Saddles get a bad reputation, many people that have a bad experience with saddle discomfort blame the saddle. In most cases, the issue is with the saddle position:
- too high or low
- excessive rotation up or down
- or too far forwards or back.
Again, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting your bike fit right.
Write a list of everything you are going to need a fortnight before your ride, so you have time to keep adding to it, and if you need to order anything - it will arrive in time (such as a Veloforte top-up). A few nights before, lay it all out. I use the notes app on my phone, so I can add a tick box next to each item.
Prepare, don’t repair
“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Of course, mechanical issues, punctures and technical issues happen. But you can limit them from happening by regularly checking your equipment before you set off. To save yourself from standing on the side of the road fixing your companions' bikes, don’t be afraid to give their bikes a little glance when you meet for a pre-ride coffee.
For example, the night before a big ride, I inspect my tyres — you’ll often find little pieces of glass or flint buried in the tread. Pick them out with tweezers, otherwise they will slowly work their way deeper.
Long distance is all about efficiency. A clean, freshly lubricated drivetrain is far more efficient than a dirty one. Otherwise, you are wasting watts turning gritty gears.Make sure your brakes are working, whether you use rim brakes or disk, make sure they are clean and the pads are in good condition. I clean my brake bads and rims with isopropyl alcohol to make sure they operate at full stopping power without any grease or dirt contaminating the brake surface.
Protect your assetsPerhaps surprisingly, it won’t be your legs that bear the brunt of a long distance ride. Sitting in one position all day, your shoulders and upper body will absorb each bump in the road. So make sure to periodically check in and practice shrugging or rolling your shoulders.
You’ll also get intimately acquainted with your saddle, which means your rear end will likely develop some aches and pains throughout the ride. Practice shifting your position, and taking regular standing breaks to take the pressure off. And padded shorts go a long way.
Fuel. A lot.
Gareth works to a simple principle: “If you’re hungry, it’s too late”. Make sure you’re properly fuelled with a carb-forward breakfast before you start, and keep regularly topping up during your ride to avoid the bonk down the line.
Your body will need around 30–60g of carbohydrates per hour, with some people needing even more, so aim to eat every 30 minutes. And don’t neglect your hydration too.
Before I found Veloforte, I used to make my own date and almond energy balls. Halfway through my ride, they would turn into mush, due to the heat from my body. With Veloforte, I can eat delicious, natural, high-performance energy without all the mess.
My favourite ride snack is the Veloforte Avanti bar. It tastes incredible, is conveniently packaged into perfect pocket-sized portions, and holds its shape, unlike my homemade energy balls.
You need a lot of carbs. Sometimes it’s hard to keep eating, so don’t be afraid to drink your carbs too.
The most effective way to top up your engine is with a gel, our Veloforte gels aren't like others on the market. They’re made with natural ingredients, taste fantastic, and are easy to digest. I flush them down with plenty of water for absorption. Also, our Vivo hydration powder has 22g of carbs and will replenish your electrolytes.
Stick something savoury in your pockets too, my favourite is a cheese roll.
We’ve got an in-depth breakdown of nutrition for long distance cycling here.
Break it into sections
60km, 80km, 100km or more. It can sound like an impossible distance, especially if you’re new to long distance riding. So mentally break down your ride into sections.
Three equal parts is a good rule of thumb. Working towards a mental checkpoint 10km or 20km away can give a huge positive boost. Checkpoints are also a great time to check-in: how am I feeling? How am I fuelling? Do I need to make any checks or changes?
Don’t neglect post-ride recovery
You’ve ridden all day. You’re exhausted, hungry and hopefully feeling pretty good about yourself. Your next ride is probably far from your mind right now, but don’t neglect your recovery.
For cycling recovery, make sure you’re restoring your body’s carbohydrate stores and taking on protein within 30 minutes of your ride. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow.
Training for long distance cycling
Your long ride starts way before you get in the saddle. Here are our top tips to get you to your long ride feeling strong and confident.
Where to start
The key to long ride training is to build up your aerobic capacity and tolerance for heavy mileage. That means increasing your long, steady rides at the weekend.
To avoid overtraining, gradually build up your Saturday or Sunday ride by 20-30 minutes each time. These sessions aren’t about bagging Strava segments, so focus on riding easy and getting miles in your legs.
Spend time properly planning out your route. Take note of the terrain, elevation, what kind of surfaces you’ll be riding on. This will help you visualise your day in the saddle and also help you tailor your training to best replicate the kind of conditions you’ll be riding in.
Prepare for hills
Even if you’re not attacking mountains on your long ride, you’re going to end up covering some hills. Over several hours that elevation gain can add up — even on a seemingly ‘flat’ ride — and if you’re not prepared for it your legs won’t thank you.
To be well prepared for the terrain, incorporate hill sessions into your training. You’ll thank us later.
Train with your fuel
You’ve heard the expression, “nothing new on race day?”. Well that goes for your long ride fuelling too. An all-day adventure on the bike isn’t the time to be experimenting with new fuels and flavours (especially if you’re miles away from the nearest toilet).
Train with your fuel. Get used to opening and eating your energy bar or gel while pedalling. Find your favourites and learn how frequently your body needs to fuel.
Wear in your gear
You should make sure to wear in your gear too. You don’t want any unexpected chafing from new clothes on the day of your long run. Find the best combo for you and make sure you practice riding in it. And don’t neglect the little things — like cutting your toenails.
Exercise off the bike
You knew it was coming. Enduring a long ride will be a whole lot easier and more comfortable if you’re focusing on strength and conditioning. Make sure to factor in one or two strength and conditioning sessions a week.
Don’t neglect your core, as this will give you balance and stability in the saddle and help prevent any weird posture, which can hurt down the line.
Don’t leave recovery to chance. Restore your body’s energy supplies after exercise and take high-quality protein on board to give yourself the best chance of recovery.
What to pack for long distance bike rides
Preparation is key to peace of mind on a long ride. Here’s what you should be packing:
- A minimum of two spare inner tubes
- Tyre levers
- A bike multi-tool
- A pump (CO2 inflators are handy too, but we’d always carry a pump)
- Emergency cash or debit card
- Plenty of cycling nutrition (and a bit extra for emergencies)
Sufficient clothing including warm layers
What to eat for long distance cycling
Nutrition can be the difference between a successful long ride and a disappointing failure. Get your fuelling right and you’re already halfway there.
We’ve done a deep dive into nutrition for long distance cycling, but here’s some wisdom from Gareth:
- Keep your fuel natural
- Train with your fuel so you know how your body will respond
- Don’t be afraid to drink your calories
- Make time for savoury foods. A cheese sandwich can work miracles a few hours into a ride
- Tags: Cycling