You’ve signed up….now what?
You may be riding a bike for the first time since your childhood paper round, or you may just be a newcomer to the sort of distances that a charity ride entails. Whatever your situation, we have some useful tips to help you prepare the best you can for the challenge ahead.
What Type of Bike?
Walk into your local bike shop and you will be faced with a whole range of different bikes. A sedate city bike, a rough & tough mountain bike, a tricky little BMX bike, a sleek & svelte road bike. The choices are many, and options almost endless once you have chosen what type of steed you need.
For your first charity ride there are a couple of main considerations – comfort and weight. If you are going to be spending more time on a bike than you’ve ever done before, then you need something that’s not going to have you back aching within half an hour. However, the most comfortable bike you can find may be better suited to bringing your weekly shop home from the supermarket than covering long distances, and possibly climbing significant hills. So you also need something that is fairly light.
In our view, the best bike to start out on, unless you plan to do a lot of rough off-road riding, is a Hybrid. These are relatively light bikes, with fairly upright (thus comfortable) seating positions, and usually come with lots of gears to help you on the hills too. They’re a great all-round bike for other days too. Look for an aluminium frame, and a budget of about £300 – £500.
An alternative you might consider is a Cyclocross (CX) bike. This looks very much like a road bike, but tends to be a bit stronger to cope with rougher conditions. CX bikes are very much at home on dirt roads and towpaths, as well as smooth tarmac.
What to Wear?
Newcomers to regular bike riding are often initially intimidated by the vast amount of lycra in the typical cycling group. However, you shouldn’t dismiss it too quickly as it has a couple of great properties that make it the ideal cycling attire.
- It’s thin
In the middle of winter, when the thermometer is hovering around freezing point, this may not seem like the ideal attribute for your cycle clothing. But as any mother in a cold country will tell you, it’s better to have lots of thin layers than one thick one. Thin fabrics trap layers of warm air inside, acting as a very effective insulator. Plus, should it warm up, it’s much easier to regulate your temperature by shedding a thin layer or two.
- It’s form-fitting
Yes, like you I’ve looked at bits that are wobblier than ideal and wondered at the wisdom of not hiding them from the world. But the first time you ride your bike into a strong headwind (you will have to do this at some point), you will be glad that you don’t have a flapping spinnaker pushing you in the wrong direction. Plus, it’s a great incentive to work a bit harder at losing those wobbly bits!
If you have existing, tight fitting activewear then there’s no reason why they can’t be used for cycling too. Cycle-specific padded shorts are definitely worth considering, though. Trust me on that.
You essential starter kit should include – helmet, padded shorts/tights, jersey, rain jacket and gloves. In time there will be many more items to spend your money on!
What to Eat?
On a typical charity ride you will spend anywhere from 3 to 8 hours on your bike. In doing so, you will also be expending more energy than usual. If you don’t eat and drink during your ride, you will quickly find yourself running out of energy, and will struggle to carry on. In cycling parlance, this is called ‘bonking’. Crazy cyclists, eh!
Training properly (which we will cover next) will help to some extent. Your muscles will get used to cycling for longer periods of time, and so work more efficiently. But it is still important to eat and drink during a ride if you are to reach the finish, and enjoy the experience.
There is a lot more information on our rider resources page, so we’ll just cover the absolute basics here.
On the day, start by having a good breakfast at least an hour before you start cycling. Porridge is a great option, or any other slow-release food.
Ensure you have plenty of liquids with you, particularly if you are going to be self-sufficient on a Virtual Ride. You can buy isotonic drinks, or simply mix up a weak squash drink with a small pinch of salt to achieve the same effect. Electrolyte tablets can be useful to carry, allowing you to turn a mid-ride top-up of water into an isotonic drink.
Food-wise, bananas are a great mid-ride snack as they contain a good mix of carbs and minerals, and give you a fairly quick energy boost. Dried fruit, jelly sweets and flapjacks are other common sources of energy during a longer ride. Ultimately, though, eating food that you find easy to digest is important. Cycling with a grumbling tummy is not a lot of fun.
How to Train?
The most important aspect in preparing for your charity ride will be the training you do beforehand. Train properly, and you can approach the day knowing that you are ready and able to complete your chosen distance. It will still be a challenge to complete, of course, but you can be sure that it is within your capabilities to do so.
We have a number of links to great training plans on our rider resources page, and would encourage you to have a look at these to see what suits you best. Things to bear in mind include:
- Start early enough, especially if you are new to regular cycling. It can take some time for your body to get used to this specific type of exercise.
- Train on the type of terrain you will ride. There’s little point in training on very flat rides, then attempting a long hilly ride.
- Use the same bike for training as for the ride. Or at least the same type of bike, as switching riding position between training and the ride itself will likely lead to a lot of discomfort.
- Practice good feeding and drinking habits.
- Variety is great. Different training routes, different distances, even mixing up activities so that you are not just cycling.
- Consider finding a local group to help with motivation and give you someone to talk to whilst spending hours in the saddle.
- Use a tracking app such as Strava to record your training rides and share on social media. You can also join our Strava group and see what other Virtual Riders are doing, for extra motivation.