Testing Equipment for Long Rides
Equipment should not be a showstopper for a long ride if everything is tested and perfected well in advance.
by Warren McNaughton & John Hughes
© Warren McNaughton & John Hughes, All Rights Reserved
Warren McNaughton is a veteran cyclist having completed numerous centuries, double centuries and multi-day rides including Paris-Brest-Paris. John Hughes, the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.
Equipment on a century or double century, multi-day tour or randonnée or a similar ride should not be a show-stopper. Therefore, primary goals of the brevets, or other long-distance training rides, are:
- to develop your personal list of equipment,
- to fine-tune its setup,
- to try out each piece of equipment, under as many conditions as possible, to make sure it does the needed job.
- Decide on your support strategy well before the event. Will you rely on the organizers rest stops? Or will you have a crew to meet your periodically on the course? Will you be able to ship a drop bag to one or more rest stops? Will you have to carry all your equipment and supplies with you? How should spares and replacements be distributed among the drop points/controls?
- Experiment early, finalize, then practice with all the equipment you intend to use in the event. Use the early training rides to make selections among alternative pieces of equipment (saddles, shorts, rain gear, etc.). Then practice with all the equipment you are going to use for your main event (double century, multi-day tour or randonnée) through the longest training rides.
- Dont make last minute changes to equipment, food, clothing, mental preparation, or other key aspects. Set your training ride schedule, objectives and feedback so that by the last couple of rides everything is set. Use the last two rides as a full run-through of your event (albeit somewhat shorter). Make no equipment, food, clothing, etc. changes for these last rides and particularly for the event.
- A pound of equipment on day one feels like 10 pounds by day three. Use equipment that is foremost durable, then if possible also lightweight. If spares will be available for sale at controls, or en route, carry cash instead of spares. We once rode Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) carrying two, very heavy 6-volt lantern batteries. Dumb! The French sell batteries at controls; our lights now run off standard, disposable, lighter-weight batteries.
Make sure your bike setup is comfortable and durable. These are the two key watchwords to long-distance equipment. Start with the proper sizing of frame, seat post and stem and then fine-tune the exact setup that works best for you.
- Have your bike fit checked by a professional. Sore knees or a stiff neck, while tolerable on a century can be show-stopper after three days of nearly continuous riding. If you have not completed multi-day rides, have your position on the bike checked by a competent professional who understands comfort on long rides.
- Document your bike setup, particularly before shipping to the event. Fix dimensions preciselypencil marks rub off, tape falls off, paint chips offuse measurements. We have taken photographs of the setup with a tape measure in the picture and the exact measurement (from fixed point on the frame to fixed point on the seat, handlebars, etc.) written on the back of the photo and carried it to major events to make sure that the setup was just right.
- Get the contact points perfect. Pedals/shoes, saddles, gloves/hands/ handlebars are always potential showstoppers. Each point of contact must be well tested by training rides.
- Ride durable tires and tubes. Use 700 x 23 - 25 mm tires pumped hard to prevent rim cuts. Few things are more demoralizing than multiple punctures the second and third days into an event.
- Put on lower gears. Most randonnées and many tours are all hilly-to-mountainous. Instead of the gears you normally use on a one-day ride in this terrain, mount a cassette with a 2 - 3 more teeth on the largest cogyour knees will thank you on the second and third days.
- Train all year with your bike equipped for the event. For example, aero bars are not allowed in PBPget used to riding without them.
- Before the start, make sure that everything on your bike is in excellent condition. Two weeks prior to the event, mount new tires and a new chain (these are not places to try and save a few bucks.). Take a couple of short rides to ensure that your new chain doesnt slips with your old cassette! All nuts and bolts should be tightened down, perhaps with a bit of Loctite to keep them from vibrating loose.
- Prepare for repairs under unfavorable conditions. Any kind of repair is an almost insurmountable task once you get tired, even changing a flat tire. Have the tools and knowledge to handle all the emergency repairs you are likely encounter (repairs at least to let you limp to the next control or bike shop). Examples include changing a flat, booting a cut tire, replacing spokes and truing a wheel so it is rideable, adjusting rubbing brakes or a skipping derailleur, and replacing broken cables.
Inevitably, temperatures will range from the 40s to the 90s and rain is likely at least once during a multi-day event. Dress in layers so that you can adjust to changing conditions. Staying warm at night becomes more difficult as you fatigue. The table at the end offers suggested clothing. Use this list as a starter to develop your own equipment list.
- Fine-tune your clothing selections. Every piece you carry should be well evaluated prior to your event. Know from experience what shoes and socks work bestdo you need larger shoes because your feet will swell? Which bike shorts chafe the least? What jersey is warmest in the rain?
- Test each piece of clothing works under as many different conditions as possible. Hot, cold, dry and wet weather all offer different challenges and the proper clothing can make the difference between misery and relative comfort. Train in adverse conditions and learn how to dress for the conditions.
- Find out the interactions between clothing. Make sure that rain gear, for example fits over all the layers you might have on. Neoprene shoe covers for the rain may cause a change in the way your shoes fit. If you normally carry food in the back pockets of your jersey, what happens when you put on a reflective vest or rain jacket?
- Train with your rain/cold weather gear.. On a multi-day ride, conditions will change and you will need more clothes. Get used to carrying the gear on the brevets.
As with other equipment, understand the effect on your riding of panniers, handlebar bags, hydration packs, fanny packs, extra-large seat bags, etc. For example, handlebar bags are great for snacks, but some make it so you cant see your front tirepotentially dangerous in a pace line. A fanny pack can cause more aching of the lower back and severe lower back pain by day two.
- Practice packing your baggage and use them on the qualifying rides. Although it is tempting to leave at home the big bags and extra gear, take everything you are going to use in the event for at least the last two long training rides (or brevets).
Selecting equipment is challenging. You need the necessary gear, but if you take everything that you might need, youll probably DNF from frustration and exhaustion. Use the brevets/training rides to test and refine your individual equipment selections.
A comprehensive eBook on Eliminating Cyclings Showstoppers is available, which covers training, nutrition, equipment, technique, common ailments and injuries, dealing with tough times and other topics.
Sample Inventory for brevets and randonnées (on bike)
2 large water bottles
Silk balaclava (very light) or winter hat
Short cycling gloves
Poly-pro glove liners (light weight) or long cycling gloves
Polypro or silk long underwear top
Rain jacket and pants
Wool leg warmers (or tights)
Short sleeve jersey
Wool socks (warmer when wet)
Toe covers (lightweight) or booties
Reflective tape on shoes, helmet, bike, etc.
Front headlight (battery or generator powered)
Rear taillight (battery or generator powered)
Mountaineers headlight (or pinch light)
Powder for liquid drinks
Several anti-bonk energy bars or gels
Large seat pack
Hydration pack, fanny pack or handlebar pack
Spare tubes - 3
Extra brake and derailleur cables
Electrician/duct tape (small piece)
Cable ties (amazing what you can tie down with these things)
Spokes and nipples (4-6) - front and back are most likely different
VII. Pharmacy (choose among items such as:)
Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory
Nupracanal (to numb saddle sores)
Salve for chafing
Space blanket (if you anticipate sleeping by the road)
Originally printed in UltraCycling May 1998