A Beginner’s Guide to Riding Longer Distances


How To Ride Faster

A Beginner’s Guide to Riding Longer Distances

By Janis Connell, League of American Bicyclists, LCI #3713

Are you relatively new to cycling? Do you want to conquer 30+ miles on a training ride or even on Mamma Jamma ride day (Sep 26th)? If fitness allows, you can do it, but you need to master a few things first.

Tips for Not Getting Lost:

You shouldn’t need to worry about getting lost on ride day, our routes are well marked and all you do have to do is pay attention to the arrows on the road and be sure to follow your route color. However, you DO need to worry about it on training rides. Getting lost wastes valuable time and can be dangerous in the summer heat. Nobody wants to do it. Do you consider yourself directionally challenged? Well, maybe I can help.

  • Learn to read a cue sheet. Even though we have Ride Guides on the Mamma Jamma Ride, you shouldn’t depend on that person for directions. Most of us ride guides are perfect, but sometimes we have an off day. So, take control of the situation and learn to navigate. It’s very rewarding. I am a fan of the cue sheet and all the maps for the Mamma Jamma Ride have cue sheets in addition to an overview map. Cue sheets show each individual turn in a line by line format. Here’s an example from a RideWithGPS.com map:RidewithgpsColumn 2 shows you the total mileage where the turn takes place, Col 3 shows the direction of the turn, Col 4 shows the name of the road or other notation, and Col 5 shows the distance to the next turn. So, to interpret line 5 above, at mile 5.7 (total mileage) turn left onto Co Rd 281. After you finish a turn, take note of the name of the next turn, the direction of the turn, and the distance. For example, to continue the example of line 5 above, the next turn will be a right in 2.7 miles onto Co Rd 282. Once you feel comfortable reading a cue sheet, you can find route maps all over the web at sites like RideWithGPS.com, MapMyRide, etc. This opens up a whole new world of riding! I use it when I head out of town with my bike for weekend vacations.
  • Review the Route Beforehand. The Mamma Jamma Training Rides are run completely by volunteers. Because of this, we do not have the manpower to post the training ride maps on the web ahead of time. So, what can you do? Come early to the ride start, get a map, and familiarize yourself with the route.
  • Get a map holder. This is a really simple thing that will save lots of time. If you have your hardcopy map in your back pocket or otherwise inaccessible, you have to stop to take a look at the map or the cue sheet. Having a map holder enables you to reference the route directions while riding the bike. Just make sure you are in a safe place when you reference the map/cue sheet if you tend to wobble a bit when distracted. You can find map holders at your local bike shop or any cycling gear supplier website.
  • Even Better, get a bike computer or use a cycling app like MapMyRide or RidewithGPS on your phone. Having a bike computer or a mounted phone with a cycling program running enables you to monitor total distance, which in turn, enables you to follow the cue sheet better. Just remember using the GPS sucks up your battery.

Other Easy Things to Save Time:

  • Minimize the time spent at rest stops. If you are averaging 12 MPH and you spend 10 minutes at a rest stop each hour, you drop your average MPH to 10. If you want to tackle 100 miles that day, that’s 10 hours on a bike. Ouch. That’s a long time to be out any time of the year, especially in the summer. And don’t undress at rest stops. Seriously, don’t take off your helmet and gloves. Don’t take off your shoes. Remain as ready to ride as possible. Refill your water, grab a quick bite, use the facilities, and then be on your way. Do your socializing on the bike. That’s how I got to know my now husband. And I’ve made many a good friend while pedaling along a country road.
  • Make sure your bike is mechanically sound. A mechanical failure is a big time waster. Always do an “ABC Quick Check” before you take off for a ride:http://bikeleague.org/content/basic-bike-check-just-remember-abc-quick-check.

    Better yet, do this a day or two before the ride so you can catch any problems before the training ride. Remember Sun & Ski at Anderson & Burnet is offering registered MJ riders 35% off bike service. If you want to learn more about bike maintenance, ask an MJ Ride Guide. We often have bike mechanics at our training rides who can help.

  • Ensure that you bike fits you properly. Bike fit is critical to having an enjoyable ride. If your bike fit is causing knee pain, back pain, etc., you’re going to ride slower. Again, a bike shop like Sun & Ski will counsel you on bike fit.
  • Hydrate on the bike. Stopping to drink takes a lot of time. If you can’t drink out of a water bottle while riding, learn how to do it. Here are some tips on how to practice on a quiet flat road:
    • Move your left hand closer to the middle of the handlebars. Not right in the middle, but on the top of the bar, close to the middle o Coast with your right leg straight o Reach down with your right hand and remove your bottle from the holder
    • Don’t look down if this makes you swerve. Feel for the bottle.
    • Resume pedaling and drink
    • Coast with your right leg straight
    • Reach down with your right hand and replace your bottle
    • Move your hands back onto the hood
    • If you are still can’t drink on the bike after practicing, get a hydration backpack like a Camelback.
  • Learn how to use your gears. Using your gears properly will make riding easier and you will ride faster. It’s something that takes practice, but here are some basic things to know:
    • The right side of your bike runs the rear of your bike. The gear and brake controls on the right hood run the back brake & rear gear cassette of your bike. The rear gears are for small changes in gearing. You will use these gears the most.
    • The left side of your bike runs the front of your bike. The front gears are for large changes in gearing.
    • When looking at the gears, the gear closest to the bike is the easiest. This is true for both front & rear chain rings. Understanding how this works enables you to look at your gears to determine what gear you are in. Then you can decide what gearing changes you need to make to ride more efficiently.
  • Learn to ride comfortably in traffic. You must follow all traffic laws and learn how to “take the lane”. Being confident in traffic will keep you riding longer and more efficiently. If you have questions on this, find me at the next training ride and I can coach you. Or, attend one of the monthly beginner clinics we offer at our training rides. Commute Orlando is an excellent resource for learning to ride in traffic. The animations are extremely helpful in understanding some of the concepts. http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/

Longer Term Ways to Improve Speed: 

Once you’ve mastered all the points above, you can start to work on things like:

  • Increasing your overall fitness by increasing strength and endurance, and (ugh) losing weight
  • Efficient Pedaling
  • Hill climbing and descending
  • Fueling your body for longer distances

This list can go on and on and there are resources galore on the web about increasing you cycling speed. Bicycling.com (Bicycling Magazine) is a very useful source. There are lots of little things you can do to increase your overall speed. Try these out and see if they work for you. If you need more help, ask a Ride Guide or find me at the next training ride. Until then, get on your bike and ride!

Janis Connell
Training Ride Leader

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