Most regular cycle commuters can comfortably complete a sportive, charity ride, or other long day ride – given the right equipment
You don't have to be super fit to ride a long way on your bike. It's only like doing your normal commute, then doing it again and again. The two most important factors in successfully completing a long bike ride are to be comfortable on your bike and to keep your energy levels topped up by eating and drinking.
It's nevertheless worth increasing your mileage in stages before the event, so you're not stepping up the distance by more than half as much again. If you've already ridden 40 miles, that 60-mile sportive will feel more achievable. Practice rides will also tell you whether you need to change anything in terms of your bike or equipment. A word of caution: change nothing on the day itself; use only tried-and-tested components, clothing and nutrition.
Travel light to make the journey easier. The essentials should fit in your jersey pockets, a seatpack, and one or two bottle cages.
Preparing your bike for a long ride
Your bike needs to be set up so that it's comfortable for you. Comfort comes from a combination of bike fit, which you can read about in issue 11 of Cycle Commuter and bike components, particularly the handlebar, stem, and saddle - see issue 14 of Cycle Commuter.
Many cyclists make the common mistake of setting the handlebar too low, resulting in aches and pains in your hands, lower back, shoulders, and neck as the mileage rises. Many riders also lack sufficiently low gears. If you find cycling up hills hard, ask your local shop to fit a wider-ratio cassette. Most road bike derailleurs will cope with cassettes up to 30 or 32 teeth, while mountain bike derailleurs will handle sprockets as large as 40.
What to wear on long bike rides
We’ve covered what to wear when cycling to work in another post, but what’s best to wear on a long bike ride?
Bib shorts. Padded Lycra shorts come into their own for a long ride. They're designed to be worn next to the skin, without pants. Bib shorts are more comfortable than waist shorts because the shoulder straps keep them snug against your body, and they don't dig into your belly. If you suffer chafing, apply a layer of Sudocrem to your nether regions before donning the shorts.
Jersey. Cycling jerseys are close fitting and stretchy so don't flap about, and they don't get clammy like cotton T-shirts. Three rear pockets will hold snacks and spare layers, while a front zip allows ventilation. On any but the warmest days, you'll probably want a short-sleeve base layer underneath.
Eyewear. Tinted glasses stop you squinting on sunny days and also keep wind and insects out of your eyes.
Mitts. With comfortable bar tape or grips you might not need mitts, but they provide a bit more padding to your palms, and the fleecy thumbs can be used to wipe sweat – or your nose.
Windproof top. A gilet is a sleeveless windproof that'll keep chill breezes off your body but will fit into a pocket when it's not needed. Arm warmers - stretchy tubes of material – are the ideal accompaniment. Alternatively, some windproof jackets pack small enough for a jersey pocket.
Neckwarmer. Often known by the brand name Buff, this is a stretchy tube of material that can be worn as a scarf or head covering (it'll fit under a helmet) to keep the cold or sun at bay.
Tools and spares to take on a long bike ride
Tyre levers. Take two - good ones.
Spare innertube. Make sure it's the right size and valve type for your bike and your pump. If you've room in the seatpack, take two tubes.
Patches. If you puncture after fitting your spare tube(s) you'll have to fix one. Self-sealing 'glueless' patches take up the least space in your seatpack but traditional glued patches will last longer.
Pump. Racer-types carry compressed air cartridges, but a pump is reusable. Mini-pumps are super portable but traditional, long frame-fit pumps are easier to use. Mini floor pumps are a good compromise.
Multitool. It needs to have any Allen and Torx key sizes your bike uses, plus a Phillips head screwdriver and a chain-splitter.
Chain 'quick link'. Make sure it matches your chain. Quick links go by various names including MissingLink and PowerLink.
A few cable ties. Can be used for various temporary repairs.
Food and drink for a long bike ride
Water bottle. One large (750ml) water bottle will be enough if you can refill it. Otherwise, take two. You can fit two water bottles to any bike – behind the saddle on a bracket if nowhere else is available. Plain water is a good option in bottles as you can also wash hands or cool your head with it.
Snacks. Take some snacks that will give you a sugar hit of instant energy when you need it. That could be energy gels or bars, flapjacks, cereal bars, bananas, a bag of Haribo - whatever you enjoy. If you get the chance, eat some 'real' food en route too. Sugary stuff gets sickening after a while.
Cash or plastic. You'll want this for a meal during or after the ride. It's handy to have if things go wrong too. Take just one card and/or a couple of £20 notes in a tiny plastic bag.
Sunscreen. Apply before setting out, paying attention to your nose, ears, and the back of your neck, or take a sachet of sunscreen with you.
Mobile phone. In a waterproof bag in a pocket or seatpack. If you don't want to take your fancy smartphone, get a cheap pay-as-you-go phone. On the other hand, a smartphone can stand in for the next two items – if its battery lasts long enough.
Cycle computer. It's useful to know the distance travelled, so you know how far you have left to go. Even the most basic cycle computer will do this.
Navigation aid. If you take a wrong turn, you'll ride even further than you planned. The lightest navigation aid is a cue-card with instructions written on it. Other options include a page torn from an atlas, a smartphone, or a GPS cycle computer with mapping.