How to Survive a Long Bike Ride

Last weekend, following the Interbike cycling industry trade show, I saddled up with a group of friends for the Viva Bike Vegas Gran Fondo, a ride that kicks off before dawn on the famous casino-lined strip and loops 104 miles through the desert to the west and south of the city.

It had been a while since I had ridden an organized event of that distance, so I found that my experiences yielded useful reminders about how to survive a long bike ride. Here are 10 tips to help get you to the finish line of your next big event. (Note that this post assumes you have already completed training for a 60- to 100-mile ride):

Get a tune-up: Nothing will spoil the big day faster than a mechanical problem. Get your bike checked out by your local shop to make sure your brakes, gearing and tires are ride-ready. A mechanic’s inspection of my bike revealed a stretched chain that needed replacing.

Dress for the long haul: Check the weather, and pick your layers accordingly. If you’re unsure, use this temperature-based clothing selection tool from Bicycling Magazine. Additional comfort tips: Make sure the closures on your cycling shoes aren’t too tight, wear gloves with gel inserts to protect the palms of your hands from road buzz and don’t skimp on the chamois cream.

Lay it out: Avoid the frustration of having to search for arm warmers or socks on the morning of the ride. Lay out all clothing and gear the night before, secure your race number to your jersey, helmet and bike frame, and if you’ve got an early start time, don’t forget lights.

Plan now for next season! Registration for the Ride to Montauk 2014 goes on sale at a discounted rate on Tues., Sept. 24. Click here.

Pack a pump: If you and your bike traveled to an event by air, you’ll have had to remove CO2 cartridges from your tool bag for the flight. And, you may not remember to restock at your destination. Pack a mini-pump as insurance. I was glad that I did when I hit a pothole on a downhill and punctured my tube during my ride. Here’s my favorite mini-pump.

Our starting wave rolls on Las Vegas Boulevard as the sun comes up.

Bring some pocket food: Better-organized events, like the Vegas Fondo, post a list of food and drinks offered at rest stops. But many rides don’t. So, if your stomach is accustomed to a certain sports drink or bar, and that’s what you tolerate best during a long effort, you might end up disappointed. Pack a PBJ or a few bars that you like into a jersey pocket or top tube case. Focus on easily digested selections at rest stops, and don’t overdo the sugary snacks.

Hydrate: Experts recommend downing one water bottle per hour – and more if you’re riding in extreme heat. Temperatures topped 95 degrees F during our ride, so it was critical to keep ahead of thirst and hydrate steadily. (My personal preference is to dilute sports drinks with water.)

Plan to re-group: If you’re riding with friends, but not necessarily all at the same pace, designate rest stops in advance for regrouping.

Keep your ear to the ground: Listen at aid stations for intelligence about what’s ahead. For example, we learned that a tricky sharp left turn on an upcoming downhill had been the site of a serious crash earlier in the day. We slowed down because we knew what to anticipate.

A gradual, 4.6-mile climb in Red Rock Canyon leads to this scenic overlook.

Reapply sun protection: Most people remember to cream-up before the ride, but not to reapply. Also, don’t forget lip balm with at least 15 SPF; wind on the bike can turn your lips into parchment.

Carry on-board pain relief: While the emergency medical services tents at some events offer a jumbo jar of pain reliever, you can’t count on it. Wrap pills in a piece of foil and stow them deep in your jersey pocket in case of aches while riding.

Do you have practical tips from cycling events you’ve participated in? Please share them in the comments section below.

Photos: Top and middle, Adam Johnson. Bottom, velojoy. 

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