Training for long-distance bicycle touring
Bicycle touring is an excellent way to see new places. Riding long-distance is physically demanding, however, and requires gradual condition following a training program such as this:
Modern lightweight, multi-speed bicycles make long distance bicycle riding more appealing than ever, and many people who get into bicycling may dream of taking long weekend rides or even much longer tours through the countryside. The bicycle is a low-cost and unobtrusive means of travel that can get a tourist out there on the level of the people living in the area, especially in quaint, Third World countries where many bicycle tourists go. Because of the technological advances of today?s bicycles, which are indeed far easier to ride than earlier models, many new riders might be tempted to bite off more than they can chew when it comes to long rides.
Bicycle riding is a strenuous activity that requires a conditioning period for full enjoyment, even if you are already an athletic person with a good all around level of physical fitness. Riding a bicycle is an aerobic activity, and you will have to develop the lung capacity to keep from running out of breath on long rides, especially if the ride involves climbing steep hills or mountains. Long-distance riding also requires developing your legs, of course, as they will be under considerable strain to keep the pedals turning. But perhaps the most difficult aspect of riding, especially for new riders, is the pain in the rear end you will experience from sitting on a narrow bicycle seat for long periods of time. This pain can only be overcome by gradually increasing your time in the saddle over a period of weeks or months.
If you?ve never ridden long distance before, don?t make the mistake of hopping on a new touring bicycle and heading out on a 50-mile ride, even if you are athletic enough to make it that far without training. Because of the above-mentioned factors, especially saddle-soreness, it is much better to start out modestly and work your way up to longer rides. Begin with short rides of 15 to 20 minutes in duration and see how you feel after that. After the first week you should be able to ride an hour or so at a time. It?s best to alternate your riding days so your body has time to recover between longer rides. You could ride 15-20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and ride an hour on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Try riding faster on the days when your rides are short, but take it easy and enjoy the scenery on the longer days. After the first week or two, you can gradually start pushing a little harder and may even be ready to extend the length of your rides.
In moderate terrain, you should be able to average about 15 miles per hour on paved roads, so once you work up to doing three rides a week of at least 20 miles, you won?t have to spend more than about an hour and twenty minutes on the bike on those days.
On the alternate, shorter ride days, try riding 10-12 miles at a much faster pace. This will quickly build up aerobic capacity and increase your overall fitness level. On this schedule, you will be riding close to 100 miles per week. This is still not enough to be prepared for long-distance touring, but you are getting to a good base level of cycling fitness.
Over a period of several weeks, gradually increase your mileage at your own pace, which will vary according to your age and general fitness. You should now try to make one much longer ride one day each week. Now is the time to shoot for that goal of 50 miles, non-stop, or even further. Work your base mileage up until you are riding about 30 miles at a time three days a week and 15-20 on your fast-paced days. At this level, you are now averaging 200 miles per week and should be getting used to the saddle, as well as developing strong legs and lungs.
If the tour you dream of taking on two wheels is going to involve mountainous terrain, you must try to do at least some of your training on hilly roads. It?s very difficult to prepare for climbing on a bicycle if all your riding is done on flat terrain. Likewise, if you plan to carry a lot of luggage on your bicycle in touring panniers, before the trip you need to start riding some with this additional weight to more closely simulate the conditions of your trip.
Bicycle touring is a rewarding way of seeing new places and it has the excellent side benefit of getting you in great shape. You?ll enjoy it more and not get discouraged if you take it easy in the beginning and follow this training plan. Remember, not everyone is the same. Some new riders may reach this level in a few weeks, while others may require 6 months or more. And out on the road on an actual tour, some riders will poke along at the rate of about 30 miles per day, while other will average 100 miles per day or more.