Things to Remember when Biking Long Distances
I lead a very active lifestyle, and summer means warm weather and long days to spend outside. My favorite activity du jour is biking, and my newest undertaking is to bike to and from my gym whenever possible, a 23 mile roundtrip that involves navigating both country roads and city streets (entirely different in terms of traffic). In the hours I have spent on my bike over the last few weeks, I have come up with some suggestions for a happy and safe trip:
Plan your route beforehand. While it is nice to imagine wandering aimlessly on your bike, the reality is that there is nothing nice about getting lost, encountering unexpected obstacles, or underestimating the number of miles you will be travelling. You can map your route online, or drive it once to become familiar with speed limits, hills, etc. I recommend choosing roads that have low speed limits and frequent stops for motorists; cars tend to drive faster on roads where they aren’t inhibited by stop signs and lights or lower speed limits, and this isn’t safe for cyclists.
Make sure your bike is in good shape. Bikes often fall into disrepair when they are not in use. Before heading out, check your tires and brakes and make any necessary repairs. Also be sure that your chain is well-oiled and your seat is at the right height. Finally, make sure that your bike is comfortable to ride for long distances; I invested in a padded seat cover to alleviate a sore posterior, and found this to be a wise choice.
Pack light. Other than water, there is precious little that you need while biking. I prefer to bring my cell phone in case of an emergency, but that’s about it. Sporting goods stores sell pouches that fit under your seat, and their size limits what you can bring. In the event that you have to bring more than the essentials, use a bicycle basket or saddlebag, or a bag that can be strapped secure to your back.
Water, water, water! Staying hydrated is one of the most important considerations you can make for your health. I recommend one bottle of water for every ten miles you are cycling. And remember: drink water whether you feel thirsty or not. By the time you feel thirst, you are already becoming dehydrated.
Wear appropriate clothing. If you are travelling during the day, wear a brightly-colored shirt; if you will be on the road from dusk on, make sure that you are wearing a white shirt, or one made of reflective material. If you will be out when the sun is overhead, wear a hat or bandana to avoid sunburn on your scalp, and remember the sun when choosing your shirt, as well. While the law doesn’t require that you wear a helmet, you should base your decision upon the safety of the roads you will be travelling, and your personal preference.
Eat a well-balanced, but light meal beforehand. This will give you energy without making you feel sluggish or heavy. Be sure to eat protein and carbs; protein is important for nourishing your muscles, while carbs will give you a boost of energy. My favorite meal before leaving for a bike trek is a hardboiled egg, a banana, and a glass of ice tea. Also, if you will be gone for a long time, I recommend packing another light meal to sustain you throughout your trip.
Once you have covered all of your bases, it’s time to take off. Remember to pace yourself, and be aware of any pain or feelings of excessive fatigue. If this is your first ride, or you haven’t biked in a while, be reasonable with your expectations, and don’t be embarrassed if you have to turn back before you have reached your destination. You will build up endurance over time. Unlike driving a car, biking allows you to absorb your surroundings and notice little things that would otherwise be overlooked by a blaring radio and higher speeds, so above all, relax and enjoy yourself!