My first long ride was 100k. For others, 50k might be the magic milestone, on the other hand I know of others who jumped right in at 200k or even 300k. Each to their own.
Many people embarking on their first long ride seem to be motivated by an upcoming "event", be it a big one like Around the Bay in a Day or Sydney to the Gong, or (as in my case) an Audax club ride. The common thread here is riding for enjoyment and sense of achievement rather than racing.
Regardless of the target distance, almost everyone wonders how best to prepare for their first long ride, so here I offer three tips from experts.
Eddy Merckx: "Ride lots."
If the distance of your regular weekly rides (e.g. to/from work) totals to about your target distance, then I reckon you probably have the leg fitness to ride it in one day. If your weekly mileage is a bit short, start gradually extending the distances and/or try a few other ways to improve your cycling fitness.
Even if your mileage is OK, there's also the question of bum-saddle familiarity, so it wouldn't hurt to test your on-bike comfort by building up to rides close to your target distance as the event approaches.
So, tip 1: Ride lots.
Baden-Powell of Gilwell: "Be prepared"
You don't want any surprises on the day of the event—everything should be tried and tested on your preparation rides: all food, all drink, all clothing, all gear. Nothing should be new or specially added or changed for the big day.
Also, make sure your bike is in good condition. If necessary, book it in at your local bike shop in the week before the event. But take it for one or two rides after its maintenance check—even with the best care, sometimes things need readjusting.
Prepare your own abilities too. At the very least, know how to carry out the most fundamental of repairs: fixing a puncture. Do a test run on the bike you'll be riding, and carry the tools and parts (e.g. spare inner tube) necessary to carry out basic field repairs.
Tip 2: Be prepared.
Velocio: "Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty."
On the day of The Ride, take it easy and enjoy yourself. Concentrate on chugging along at your own pace, keeping up your supply of food and drink, and having fun.
In big events there are always people who will treat it as a race. Don't join in, no matter how tempting. Look for people riding at about your cruising pace and stick with them. If you're with a bunch of like-minded friends, so much the better. It's not really necessary (or even safe in large public events) to ride in tight formation, just ride together for the company and mutual support.
Take breaks when you need to but keep them brief: while you're kicking back in the cafe enjoying your double decaf soy chai latte and death-by-chocolate cake, your muscles will be cooling.
Tip 3: Follow Velocio's Seven Commandments for the Wise Cyclist.
- Keep your stops short and few.
- Eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty.
- Never get too tired to eat or sleep.
- Add a layer before you're cold, take one off before you're hot.
- Lay off wine, meat and tobacco on tour.
- Ride within yourself, especially in the first hour.
- Never show off.
So, ride lots, be prepared, and enjoy that first long ride and it won't be your last. And before you know it, you'll soon be ready for another (even longer) long ride.