Bike 101

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Long-Distance Cycling: Three Helpful Tips Before You Go

Nothing feels more rewarding than pushing your body to the limit and navigating down a winding mountain path or cruising down the open highway on your bike. You’ve been training for a while, and now you’re thinking about taking things to the next level—your first long-distance trip. Centuries—or 100-mile treks—are considered a milestone for serious cyclists. If you are ready to take the plunge and dedicate yourself to completing your first century, or just spend the weekend out on the trails, then here are some tips to make sure your ride is a successful one.

Training Your Body and Your Mind

When you prepare for your first long-distance trek, you will need to hone both body and mind to work together in tandem. This means setting a date for your ride months in advance and giving yourself time to train for the moment. Setting off tomorrow with little to no prior training is a foolish idea. Even if you are in peak physical shape, you will need to prepare your body as well as your mind for a long-distance bike ride. Most training programs will have you begin your training 6-8 weeks before your trip. The kind of physical exercises your training demands will depend on the nature of your trip. If you’re looking to go off road in mountainous terrain, your training will demand a different level of exertion than cruising on pavement. Complete some practice runs in areas with similar terrain to the area you will be riding so you can address any issues or challenges now while you are closer to home. Either way, you will be expected to gradually increase your distance until you reach 60-80 percent of your target distance.

These programs will not only get your body in shape to handle the distance, but also prepare you mentally for the challenges that come standard in a long-distance trek. Subjecting your body to physical exertion over a long period of time will demand mental toughness. Gradually upping your distance will condition your mind for the ride and prepare you for the natural and physical obstacles you face along the way. No matter how tough you are mentally, sometimes you hit a mental roadblock, so come up with a powerful mantra to repeat to yourself when you hit a particularly difficult stretch of your ride. You might also find it helpful to focus on small milestones, such as making it to that next tree, to keep you pedaling forward.

Getting the Right Gear

The last thing you want for your first biking trip is to realize you left behind something essential two to three hours into your ride. During your ride, you will want to wear something comfortable that also keeps sweat away from your body, however keep in mind that your outerwear will change depending on the outside temperature. For example, when it’s a chilly 30 to 40 degrees, it is best to start with a thermal layer and vest and remove layers as necessary as your body inevitably warms up, but for warm days you’ll opt for lightweight options and extra sunscreen. Wearing the correct shoes will make a world of difference during your trip too, so make sure they are broken in and ready to last for the long haul ahead. There are multiple elements to take into consideration when investing in the perfect pair of cycling shoes, such as the fastening mechanism, soles, cleat style, and of course, the proper fit. No two feet are the same — some are wide, some are narrow — so no two cycling shoes will be the same either. If all the different options are overwhelming, visit your local bike shop or athletic store for assistance.

Subjecting yourself to the natural elements means that you have very little control over what might happen, so you need to be prepared for a wide variety of conditions. Bring along a rain jacket in case the weather turns sour, and be aware of the weather forecast to know how warmly to dress and what to expect. If you plan on stopping overnight to rest while biking, you will want to pack sleeping gear and a change of clothes. The goal is to pack as lightly as possible to spare your body from carrying more weight than it needs. Try to cut back on what you bring by investing in camping multi-tools and plates and bottles that are easily washable. Finally, you will want to pack a toolkit and extra mechanical supplies for your bike such as a patch kit, pump, multi-tool, pump, and the ever trustworthy duct tape just in case something breaks mid-ride. Bringing the right tools for your trip is only effective if you read up on how they work.

Before You Leave

Of course, just like any time you leave your home for a vacation, you will not want to advertise your absence on social media. Lock your doors and windows and draw your blinds down so peeking eyes can’t see no one is home inside. Have friends or family check up on your home, bring in mail, and perhaps keep your lawn tidied up. Taking these steps will ward off potential wrongdoers from taking advantage of you while you’re on your biking trip.

Lastly, you want to prepare yourself for having the time of your life. Taking on your long-distance bike ride can be a grueling experience. Your muscles will ache, your body will sweat, and you will feel absolutely exhausted halfway through. But once, you get out there and experience the outdoors from the vantage point of your bike seat, you will want to come back and do it again and again. Nothing will feel as challenging or rewarding as long-distance biking.

Jason Lewis writes for StrongWell and enjoys creating fitness programs that cater to the needs of people over 65.

Photo Credit: Pixabay


Chain Stretch

How to avoid chain stretch

One of the most common problems that comes into our workshop is issues with shifting or chain skipping. Chain skipping is when the pedals slip forward as pressure is applied resulting in a sudden jerk forward of the feet. One cause of chain skipping is a stretched chain. Believe it or not, bicycle chains actually stretch! A stretched chain will wear down the sprockets causing them to become sharp. The teeth then have less to grip the chain with and under load can lose the chain causing chain skipping. There is no way to repair a stretched chain you can only replace it.

Keep you chain well lubed. Shifting gears puts a lot of strain on the chain. Give your chain a head start by allowing each link to move freely.

Ride your bike with a straight chain line. The picture below shows a bent chain line. You can see the rear derailleur is set to the easiest gears (to the left) and the front derailleur is set to the hardest gears (to the right). This results in the chain running slightly bent which over time stretches the chain.


By riding in a straight chain line, as pictured below, the life of the chain is lengthened.


Don’t put too much pressure on the pedals when changing gear. This is particularly common when cycling up hill! Try to change down the gears before you hit the hill so there is less pressure on the chain when you shift.

Finding the Perfect Tire Pressure

We’ve all had that moment when you’re about to get out on a bike you haven’t ridden in a while and the tires seem underinflated or even flat. You get out your pump but then ask, what is the correct pressure to inflate the tires to? Does it even matter? If I push my thumb on the tire and can’t press in, is that high enough? The pressure in your tires will determine several factors of the ride quality of your bicycle, namely the performance and the amount of grip. Generally speaking a road clincher tire will take anywhere between 80-120 PSI while a mountain bike tire will take between 30-60 PSI.

On the road, there is a misconception that the higher the pressure, the better the performance. The theory is that a tire with higher pressure has a lower rolling resistance as the tire will ‘flex’ less and thereby have a smaller surface area touching the road. This is only true up to a point however and most research now shows that the performance gain becomes negligible after a certain point. The ‘sweet spot’ for pressure is when the tire has a 15% drop under load. This is the amount the tire compresses when you put your weight on it. When the pressure increases beyond this point, the performance gain is negligible AND the ride of the bike becomes much more uncomfortable. The amount of drop is affected by several factors including the tire volume, the rim width and the weight distribution between the front and rear tires. The reality is that riding at optimal tire pressure is never ideal as road surfaces are rarely perfectly smooth and you should adjust your pressure as per where you are riding and the comfort that you want from the ride. A rougher road with a tire at a higher pressure will cause more fatigue on your body and likely slow you down even more than an under inflated tire.

IMG_2538For trail riders with fatter, higher volume tires, the opposite is usually true: how low can I get my tire pressure? A lower tire pressure off road can be beneficial, as the tires will absorb more bumps in the trails and act as suspension leading to a more comfortable ride. With lower pressure also comes a greater contact area of rubber to the ground meaning more grip! While maximum tire pressure test the tire and rim strength, when tire pressure is too low it could cause the tire to feel ‘squirmy’, roll of the rim or cause a pinch flat (AKA a snakebite). The tire needs a certain amount of pressure to keep it clinched to the rim but also to keep the rim coming into contact with the ground and pinching the tube giving you a flat tire. A growing trend in mountain biking is to see tubeless wheel systems that clinch the tire straight onto the rim without a tube, usually with a sealant running inside the tire. These can be run at much lower pressures as there is no tube to be pinched! However, if the pressure is too low, the tire might burp out air in tight cornering and also add rolling resistance. Tubeless tires can run as low as 25 PSI.

The reality is that tire pressure needs to be set on an individual basis for both road and mountain bikes. The type of terrain you wish to ride on plus the desired handling characteristics of the bike should determine what pressure you set. Always start in the middle of the recommended tire pressure (found on the tire) but don’t be afraid to experiment next time and find the right pressure for you!