Salsa Cycles (United States) - Endurance riding and racing are in vogue these days, with people signing up to do 200+ mile gravel races, bikepacking events, and multi-day rides. Not everyone is into racing, but training and gaining fitness to tackle long endeavors on the bike makes them much more enjoyable.
I haven’t always been an endurance racer myself. I happened my way into it when a sponsor once asked me, “Hey, would you be interested in doing this 200-mile ride in Kansas?!”. I had done many century rides, some 100-mile MTB events, and was interested in long days in the saddle, but 200 miles seemed a bit far-fetched.
Fast forward to present day, and I’ve tackled many 200+ mile gravel events, two editions of Unbound XL, Trans Iowa, and the entire lower peninsula of the MORE route in one go (545 miles!). Being successful at rides of that magnitude didn’t happen overnight — lots of sweat and brain power went into making them happen. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to cover that kind of mileage and I’d like to share a few tips that can help anyone ride farther.
1. Get a high-quality bike that fits!
You don’t need to break the bank when it comes to buying a bike for endurance riding. There are many great options at reasonable price points, such as the Salsa Journeyer. It’s important to get a bike that fits you well and is designed to cover the types of terrain you aim to ride the most. Work with someone knowledgeable to get the bike fitted to you and set up for your needs.
The touch points (saddle, grips, and pedals) are critical for endurance riding, and there are many great options out there to customize the bike for your needs. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to get a seat that works well with your body type, grips or handlebars that feel good in your hands, and pedals and shoes that don’t create pressure points on your feet. Take the extra time to make sure your bike is comfortable and pedaling feels natural. While a long stem and “slammed” handlebars might make you seem faster for 10–20 miles, it probably will not feel so great after 100 miles. Don’t get too hung up on how your friend’s bike is set up or what Tour de France riders are using. The most important thing is that your bike works well for YOU and that it’s enjoyable to spend long hours in the saddle.
2. Find good riding friends:
Riding solo is a nice way to relax, process your thoughts from the day, and just get away from the hustle and bustle of life. But while it’s good to get out and spend time by yourself, it’s also good to have friends to pedal miles with! Finding a crew of riding friends can help the miles fly by on those long weekend rides. These people will draft with you on those windy days, boost your morale when you’re not feeling it, and crack jokes with you when a ride goes awry.
Riding with people more experienced than you is a great way to learn more about cycling in general. If you’re into racing, learn from those who have been out there at events for years or even decades. They can help you learn techniques and strategies to make the most of an event. You’d be surprised what kind of tricks you can learn from experienced riders (using latex gloves under cycling gloves for an added thermal layer, using embrocation cream to help keep muscles warm, and even the best bakeries in your area to grab a hot coffee and pastry, to name a few). I’ve been fortunate to gain some wonderful friendships through cycling and there’s nothing like 10 or 20 hours in the saddle to get to know someone.
3. Find terrain and routes that interest you:
When you’re training for endurance riding, you can quickly get tired of all the roads within a 20-mile radius of your home. Riding the same routes over and over can lead to burnout and kill the excitement that comes with rolling out the door for a ride. Thankfully, apps like Strava and RidewithGPS can help you discover new routes and see where other people are riding.
Not everyone is into riding trails just like not everyone is into riding pavement. Explore your area and find the type of riding that interests you the most. Just because you’re planning to do a 200k paved event doesn’t mean you can’t get out on dirt roads or singletrack for those long rides. I personally enjoy riding more remote terrain and feeling like I’m out in areas where few people ride. I really enjoy using my long rides to go explore small towns, new trails, and see new parts of the country I might not otherwise visit.
Mixing up your routes and terrain helps keep things fresh. If you’re fortunate enough to have a few bikes to choose from, such as a road bike, gravel bike, and mountain bike, try riding different bikes from day to day. It’s easy to get stuck riding the same bike when you have an event or race coming up that calls for said bike. I primarily race gravel and mountain bike events, but I do quite a bit of my training on paved roads and smooth terrain because it helps reduce the wear and tear on my bikes and body.
4. Add strength training and recovery work to keep your body happy:
When you start piling on miles and riding lots of rugged terrain, it can take a toll on your body. Cycling can be time consuming, and if you have a family or a busy work schedule it’s not easy to stack up the hours needed to prepare for a big event. What I see happen all too often is that people prioritize just riding as much as possible and neglect doing any type of recovery or strength work to balance out all those miles. I keep some simple recovery tools, such as a foam roller, resistance band and lacrosse ball, right in my office and by the couch so that I can grab them for a little recovery here and there when I’m busy or watching shows.
You don’t need to head to a gym for good core strength work. Simpler items, such as a kettle bell and resistance bands, can go a long way with the proper exercises. There’s no lack of informative workout articles for cyclists on the internet and good references for stretches and yoga poses that can help offset the aches and pains from hard rides.
If you talk to any experienced racer or endurance cyclist, they will most likely tell you about their favorite chiropractor, stretches, and recovery tools that help fight off injury. Take the extra time or cut your ride 15 minutes short to get those strength and recovery exercises in and it will help maximize the hard-earned saddle time you’ve scraped together throughout the week. There’s nothing worse than logging weeks and months of hard training only to get sidelined by an overuse injury before that big event.
5. Choose events and rides that genuinely interest you:
There is no shortage of awesome cycling events, routes and experiences in the world today. With cycling genres such as gravel booming these days, you have your pick of the litter. Some people (like me) really enjoy having a big event or goal ride to work toward.
It can be easy to get caught up in the hype about certain events or “bucket list” races because you hear everyone else signing up or talking about them. Be sure when you set your sights on a ride that it’s something you really WANT to do. If it feels a lot like work and a sense of dread creeps into you, then maybe it’s not what you really are interested in doing. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t push yourself or step out of your comfort zone, but rather to invest your time and energy into something that truly excites you.
I like to choose races and events in areas I’ve never visited or ones that cover trails and terrain I’ve always wanted to see. Even when I’m serious about a race and want to perform well, I still make the time to look around and take in the scenery. Choosing a race or event that has you up late Googling pictures of the terrain or talking to your coworkers until they’re sick of hearing about it is a good sign. It’s even better if you can scheme with your riding crew to make a trip out of the event. Regardless of what you choose to do just keep in mind that FUN should stay at the center of your riding pursuits, even if you’ve got sponsors and benefactors to keep happy. Finding your own happiness and enjoyment while cycling is what helps nurture a long and prosperous relationship with the sport!