Adventure Cycling: Training for a Long Bike Trip

If you are just getting started in Adventure Cycling, the first thing to consider is your training needs. How far do you want to go and how many days do you have to travel?

I am currently planning a four day Bicycle Touring trip of about 220 miles. I’ll be carrying 30 pounds of gear and averaging 55 miles each day. That means before I set off, I need to have ridden similar distances on a bike weighed down with equipment. Like any physical activity, you want to slowly build-up distance and stamina. To guarantee a miserable bike tour, hop on your ride with the intention of riding 50 miles a day for a week, when your longest ride in a year was a leisurely 20 miler. 

Getting Started: Training for a Cycling Adventure

I’ll be going on this trip with friends, one of who has been riding regularly over the past year, and another, let’s call him Larry, who hasn’t done any serious riding in over a year. Larry will be our guinea pig. Now if you’re like Larry and you’re starting from scratch, the most important thing you need to do is just get time in the saddle. Forget about pace, time or distance. Don’t even look at your bike computer. Just get used to pedaling your bike.

At this point, the most important thing is to ride as often as you can, preferably 3-4 rides a week, building up to 30-40 minute rides. Finding ways to work a ride into your schedule can be the toughest part and you may have to get creative. Consider taking your bike to run errands or for a quick jaunt to the store. Maybe commute to work once or twice a week.

Past the Saddle-Soreness: How to Deal with a Sore Ass

Once Larry reaches the point where he can ride his bike for an hour and not suffer from a sore ass, it’s time to really start training. How long this will take depends on your previous biking experience and how many weekly rides you can get in; could be a couple of weeks, might be a month

During this time it’s important to get in as many bike rides as possible in order to develop a strong base on which to build and expand training. Larry is still going to want to cycle 3 or 4 times a week, but one of those rides needs to be a long trip that pushes past any time he has done before. The goal should be to build up to the point where he can ride the average daily time for the planned bike trip. In our case, we expect to travel 55 miles a day at about 13 mph. That means we are going to be riding for somewhere between 4 and 5 hours daily.

Now if Larry tries to go from 1 hour to 5 hours in a week or two, he’s going to hurt himself. The way to reach that goal is to add about 20 minutes each week to the long ride. Don’t be concerned with pace and distance just yet. Just work on increasing cycling time until he’s riding two hours.

A note on terrain: don’t avoid those hills. The odds of going on a 4-5 day cycling trip and not encountering a hill are very slim. Find hills during your training so you’ll be ready for them on your trip.

Setting a Pace for Cycling

bikesignNow that Larry is riding his bike all over town, grooving long rides and thinking about getting rid of his car altogether, it’s time to think about pace. As I said, we are expecting to travel at about 13 mph. When he reaches the point where his long ride is a 2-hour jaunt, it’s time to start using that bike computer as more than a stopwatch. Whatever pace you plan on riding, here is where you start training at that pace. In Larry’s case, he wants to make sure he’s averaging 13 mph over the 2 hours. Before he adds another 20 minutes to his ride, he needs to hit this goal. Then, he can start adding time until he can ride 4-5 hours at 13 mph.

At least once before the bike trip, Larry should try to cycle for two consecutive days on long rides that mimic the conditions of our trip. I wouldn’t say this is an absolute necessity, but waking up the day after pedaling 55 miles and doing it again the next day isn’t as easy as you might think. If Larry’s body recuperated over 5 days before the next long ride, he is going to be better off if he trains it to recuperate overnight.

Riding Loaded: Training for the Long Haul

No, no, it’s not what you think. When I say loaded, I mean the bike, not Larry. One place where adventure cycling is different than any other kind of riding is the weight. You aren’t just carrying yourself, but your clothes, tools, tent, sleeping bag and whatever else you want to carry along with you. Anywhere from 30-60 pounds of gear.

Once Larry’s weekly long bike ride hits 55 miles at 13 mph, it’s time to do a few of those rides with the actual gear he’s going to carry. (Adventure Bicycling, Part 3 will deal with specific equipment.) The most important reason for this is the fact that his bike is going to handle significantly different when it’s weighted down — especially downhill, braking and into a headwind.

The other reason for doing this ahead of time is that extra weight makes it harder to move that bike. If you train light then ride heavy, you are in for hurt. Don’t even think about making the first day of your trip the first time you ride your fully loaded bike. You will find yourself lagging, in pain and trailing so far behind your comrades that they are going to be seriously pissed off with you.

Trial Run: Cycling Close to Home

If possible, try to do a overnight ride as a trial run. This offers the opportunity to try out all the gear and discover anything that doesn’t work or that you may need but hadn’t thought of. The other advantage in a short bike tour, is it would give Larry the opportunity to ride consecutive long rides and train the body to recover as well as how to ride a bit sore.

Two Weeks Before: The Final Preparations for a Long Bike Trip

Two weeks before Larry’s bike tour, he should get his bike tuned up if it hasn’t been in the last six months. Make sure the bike is out of the shop a full week before the trip to allow for any mechanical bugs to be discovered. This last week Larry should skip any long rides and stick to a couple short rides. This allows the body to completely recover and store up as much energy as possible so that when he launches on his trip he’ll be as fresh as possible.

If you didn’t tune in last week, be sure to read part 1, Adventure Cycling: Getting Started with Green Travel.

Front Page Photo Credit

About Peter Dopulos

Peter Dopulos is an avid cyclist and the author of Where to Bike Orange County. He is also the co-host of the Long Beach radio talkshow Swoop's World and a co-founder of GreenWorld365.com.

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