I recently started long distance cycling and went on my first 60km trip. And I’d be lying if I said that it was totally effortless or that I never thought of giving up! As a beginner, I was initially scared and had self-doubts. But the effort paid off and I was very proud to complete the trip. So here’s my two-cents on all you need to know for going on –
Your first long distance cycling trip:
1. The most important thing to remember is that it’s more of a mental challenge, not so much a physical one. You just need to keep encouraging yourself and telling yourself that you can do it, and that you cannot give up.
2. Try to leave early in the morning to beat the city traffic. This will also help you get back before it’s too sunny, so you’ll be biking in cooler temperature.
3. Use multiple alarms, because I found that waking up in the morning for my ride was literally the most difficult part of the whole trip! That’s also the time you need to motivate yourself the most.
4. Find a route that you know or mark it in your smartphone, so you know where you’re going. It’ll make you more confident because you’ll know how far you are from home and you won’t panic feeling lost.
5. The ideal route is on a quiet highway without much traffic. Bonus: it should have nice scenery so you can enjoy while biking.
6. It’s really nice to have a cycling partner, but it’s even more important that they are not too much slower or faster than you. I went biking with Guy, who’s athletic and encouraging. He’s a long-distance cycling veteran but was nice enough to bike at my slow speed! (And also clicked these nice pics of me.)
7. Take short 1-2 minute breaks every 10-20 kms. During my 60km trip, Guy and I took four breaks. Hydrate yourself during those breaks and stretch yourself. Have some water or Gatorade, a bite of chocolate.
8. Go at a pace you are comfortable with. Don’t try to go unnaturally slow or too fast.
9. Try to maintain the same pedalling pace throughout the trip by shifting gears as necessary. Shift to lower gears during climbs, and higher gears while biking on flat-land and descents, much like driving a car.
10. Check the weather before you plan your trip, pick a non-rainy day.
11. Make sure your bike is in good order and ensure its tyres are inflated.
12. Don’t overdo your distance tracking, else it’ll tire you out. If you begin to worry about how you’ll get back or how tired you’ll be by the end of it, you won’t be able to do it any more. Guy’s tip: “Never think about how much distance is left- always think about how much you’ve already biked!”
13. The last 5-10 kms will be the worst, and hardest. Don’t think too much. If you find yourself worrying, try listening to music or humming, or chat up to your cycling partner.
14. Keep your elbows lose and shoulders relaxed. Your arms should never feel stiff while biking.
15. Always bike slightly leaning forward, not too straight. This will distribute your body weight evenly over the bike.
16. Before starting your trip: Adjust your seat position so that your knee is directly above the center of the pedal at the three o’clock position as shown in this diagram:
Bike Gear you’ll need:
1. A decent bike with reflectors, it need not be a professional bike, but it’s good to have a hybrid (city) bike with gears whose frame fits you perfectly. Ask your local bike shop to advise you on how to find a good fit. The saddle should be comfortable, and neither too hard nor too soft for your beginner rides.
2. Spare tube, mini-pump and mini-tool-kit in case of a flat
3. Biking gloves to protect you from numbness
4. Well padded cycling shorts for comfort
5. A comfortable tee or cycling jersey with back pockets
6. Cycling helmet with a good fit
7. Sunglasses or clear biking glasses- I wore clear glasses in the beginning while the sun wasn’t out, and then switched to sunglasses on my way back.
8. Sipper in a bottle-holder. Carry water or Gatorade/electrolyte for hydrating yourself
9. Chocolate bars/ health or granola bars
10. Your smartphone with a fitness-tracking app. I used Strava that keeps a track of your biking/running/other fitness activities and monitors your progress. Also: keep a good playlist to keep you from being bored.
11. A good sun-screen to protect your skin. Apply once or twice mid-way if you’ve perspired a lot.
12. A good and comfortable pair of shoes that can catch a grip on the pedal.
Harvard University Logo Tee-shirt: The Coop, Harvard Sq
Black Leggings: Forever New
Bike Helmet: Bianchi
Biking Gloves: Btwin
Clear Biking Glasses with changeable lens: Orao by Btwin
My sipper: Cannondale
Grey Leopard print socks: Aldo
Running Shoes: Nike
So, all in all, I think the takeaway is that you need mental strength more than physical. You don’t need days of practice, just some self-motivation. Don’t give up. Yes, it will be tiring – I was dead tired by the end of the trip. But will I do it again? Hell, yeah!