I'm not talking about Stone Temple Pilots
January 30, 2009 12:55 PM   Subscribe

How to prepare one's body, mind and bicycle for a 200 mi bike ride?

If I can get ready for it, I'm interested in doing a 200 mi bike ride this summer (specifically the STP, or Seattle-to-Portland Bicycle Classic). Go big, or go home, right?

So I'd like to ask your advice on getting ready for such a ride. I commute between 5 and 12 miles a day, depending on which "office" I go to. The longest ride I've been on was an easy-peasy flat run of about 30 miles.

1. What are good, long and safe (low-traffic) bike rides that I can go on around the Seattle or neighboring areas, which are reasonably non-hilly? I've been on some of the Gilman-Burke, which has me dodging cars and walkers in the middle of the bike lane, which I'd like to avoid.

2. Are there "centuries" or other 50-100 mi rides being organized around the Seattle area before the STP, that might be good preparation?

3. I would be using my bike, a hybrid. I take pretty good care of it. Would that be usable for this kind of ride? How do people prepare their bikes, in general, and what do they bring with them?

I'm a complete noob, so if I'm out of my element and should take longer to prepare or not do it, I'd like to hear that honest advice, too, or any other tips. Thanks in advance.
posted by Blazecock Pileon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Sammamish River Trail is 14 miles long and extremely flat (it used to be a railroad line). It connects to the Burke-Gilman on one end and Marymoor Park on the other. It's fairly wide, just look out for idiot families taking up the entire width of the trail (especially near apartment complexes). You're not going to find any trail that lacks both cars and stupid pedestrians. If you're in that area you can also bike around Lake Sammamish (22 miles); I'm not sure how this trail is.

I haven't personally done STP but I've heard of people even doing it sans clipless pedals. From a fitness level you're probably fine - if you start at 30 miles as your longest ride and increase that number 10% each week, you'll be doing 100 mile rides in a mere 13 weeks. There are probably tons of cycling books on "Your First Century" with training plans.
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:14 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Bring instant carbs (Gu) and something to keep your electrolytes up with all the perspiring you will be doing- to prevent cramping.

If you haven't already, I highly recommend going the clipless pedal route so you can spin instead of push- it's much more efficient.

While you train over the next several months experiment with different cycling shorts/ padding until you find the ones you are pretty sure you can stand for 200 mi.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 1:26 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: 2. I'm not local to Seattle but Chilly Hilly is coming up. It's run by the same organization that produces STP. They'll probably have other organized rides and semi-organized training rides before STP itself.

3. I have a couple of friends who've done it on hybrids more than once, so it's certainly doable. I haven't (yet) done STP but I have done other multi-day long rides. It looks like there's very little climbing so that's something in your favor.

In my experience it's probably not a question of whether you can pedal your bike for 7 hours two days in a row. It's more of a question can you sit in your saddle for 7 hours times two days in a row without some combination of discomfort in your behind, back, arms, neck, knees, feet or brain driving you to throw your bike in a ditch and climb in the SAG wagon.

If you're already doing 30 to 60 miles per week and can squeeze in longer weekends ride of increasing length, you shouldn't have any problem with the endurance aspect. IMHO you're probably already in better shape than the saturday/sunday only lycra crowd. You will need those longer rides to gauge how well your body holds up with your current bike fit. Little tweaks to saddle height, reach, stem length, saddle fore/aft position, etc. can make or break your comfort level over the long haul. The two best things I ever did in terms of comfort on the bike was get a professional bike fit and ditch my cushy saddle for a severe looking racing saddle that is drastically more comfortable (YMMV).

It shouldn't be too hard to find century training guides. Make sure you find one that includes how much eating and drinking you should be doing (short answer, a lot).

As for what to bring, on the bike I'd have a little saddle bag with a tire patch kit and spare tube. I usually leave my frame pump at home and try to flag someone else down who kept theirs if I flat. Two water bottles on the frame. Road cycling kit I think will help. Three pockets for snacks, cellphone, etc. is handy. I usually bring a couple of bars (and gels on a harder ride) for just-in-case, but STP should keep you fed during the day at rest stops.

What to pack for the off-the-bike part, I'm not sure. Hopefully others will chime in.
posted by turbodog at 1:31 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: The biggest thing is to make sure your seat is comfortable. At least do a few centuries to make sure it's going to work for you.

I don't think you need to bring anything. These rides should be fully supported. Even centuries I've been on have plenty of food and water along the way. It isn't in a promoters best interest to have riders dropping like flies along the route. Otherwise start your training now and try to start doing 30 miles/day with much longer rides on the weekend.
posted by JJ86 at 1:37 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I don't know if they have support vans or that sort of thing, but it may or may not be obvious to have a backup bail-out plan in the event that you get too exhausted to go on, or have a mechanical failure that you're unable to fix or MacGyver with the common tools you'll be carrying.

When I was riding longer distances, maybe 70 miles in a day on a mountain bike, I found what helped build-up endurance was to basically ride away from home until I started to get tired, then turn around and ride back. Getting back home is a great incentive to keep riding despite burning quads and drained energy.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 1:43 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Agreed that the biggest obstacle you will face is whether your butt can handle 8+ hours in the saddle for two consecutive days. Getting a good saddle for this will help significantly, and also just going on longer training rides.

I've ridden a Trek Multitrack hyrbrid for the last 12 years or so on a myriad of 50-80 mile day rides (150 mile weekend rides) without a problem. While heavier than an actual road bike, I love my Multitrack, and I'm a slow rider anyways. I would consider getting bar ends, or an aerobar (might look goofy on a hybrid, but whatever if it works for you) or drop handle bars if you don't already have them so you will be able to change postures and hand/wrist positions throughout the day. This is a big thing for me. Also invest in a good pair of cycling gloves and cycling shorts if you haven't already. I have a rear rack on my hybrid, and in my little trunk bag I usually carry: a jacket, cell phone, camera, energy bars of your choice, sunblock, small first aid kit, patch kit or extra tube, CO2 shot/canister or small air pump. Put important things in double-thick plastic baggies in case of rain. I have two water bottle cages, but you might want to consider a Camelbak if that strikes your fancy.

I've only done a day of RAGBRAI in Iowa and other charity rides around the Midwest, so I have no idea on the scope/craziness of STP. (Nor do I have an idea about the hills.) If it is even half as big as RAGBRAI, there will be tons of people on the side of the road schlepping snacks and water in addition to race-organized rest stops. It wouldn't hurt to have a few friends to keep in touch with, and maybe a lazy and/or kind buddy driving a support vehicle for you and several others. There's nothing like having personal support just a cell phone call away when you're really struggling. Also, beer hydrates amazingly well after a long, hard climb. These are the things we learn on RAGBRAI. :) Have fun!
posted by sararah at 1:46 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wouldn't do a double-century without having done at least 100mi beforehand, either organized or on my own. Even when I was averaging 150mi per week (~30-40% climbing) in near-daily riding, an 80mi ride was not a walk in the park. Your body reacts to the bike differently after you've been on it for a few hours, particularly in the seat-area.
posted by rhizome at 1:46 PM on January 30, 2009

I rode a 100 mile ride with a friend last summer, having previously maxed out at about 50 miles. It felt pretty much the same, just longer. I think as long as you try out a couple long distance rides (they don't have to be big organized events, just get on your bike and go), you'll probably be fine, if a little uncomfortable after 200 miles in the saddle.

The only thing I'd worry about is your hybrid bike, which likely positions you more for comfort and less for pedaling and aerodynamic efficiency. While there's nothing wrong with a hybrid, it's just not set up for a 200-mile ride, IMHO. Such a bike is likely considerably heavier than most of the other bikes you'll see on a ride like that, though I've seen people do half and full centuries on Next mountain bikes from Wal Mart. Maybe I'm just being a bike snob.

If you have no choice but to ride the hybrid, you might at least consider replacing the knobby tires with higher-pressure road slicks.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:49 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Finding some local riding groups to go with should help out with your training, provide motivation, some additional comfort and safety on the roads (so long as you avoid colliding with any of them!), and also help you learn of new riding routes to take later on your own.

The hydrid should be fine. Assuming it only has flat bars, put bar ends on it to give you some more hand positions for comfort on those long days.
posted by exogenous at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I will chime in again to disagree with a few things. I wouldn't say you absolutely had to do 100 miles before doing STP. If you can do 75 to 85 times two days in a row and you're feeling OK at the end, you'll be fine at 100x2.

Bike weight won't matter much at all on the flat STP course. A shock absorber fork would. A fixed fork would be better.

Seconding bar ends. Having lots of hand positioning options is pretty important.
posted by turbodog at 1:58 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Gel pad gloves, if you don't already ride w/ them.

A helmet with good ventilation.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:09 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Sounds like you live near downtown? The Burke-Gilman is really crowded through Fremont and the U District, but if you stick with it past there you get a nice long stretch out to Lake Sammamish and beyond. You can do an easy, flat 50 mile ride along the entire Burke from the Ballard area out to the Red Hook brewery (stop and have lunch/beer) and back, or try to hook up with the Sammamish Lake trail, or any of a number of options.

Another excellent long ride would be to jump off the Burke (or whatever it becomes in Bothell) and ride up Juanita Hill and continue down the east side of Lake Washington, ultimately looping around the south end and back up Lake Washington boulevard to the Montlake area, then home (wherever that is) -- the lake loop itself is about 60 miles, I think. Ride it twice, or throw in a couple of laps around Mercer Island to bump up the mileage.

Re: your bike -- do yourself a favor and get some high pressure road slicks (as well as a comfy seat, if you don't have one already). There are some good choices for slicks for hybrid/mountain backs and the decreased rolling resistance, while not as good as a road bike, will make it a lot easier.

Drink lots of water. Eat lots of food. You'll do fine -- it's a pretty flat ride.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 2:12 PM on January 30, 2009

Mr 26.2 does centuries and brevets. (He's thinking about trying to qualify for the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris ride.) I've done a few longer rides myself.

Are you planning to ride with a group? Good pace line skills make a huge difference on long rides, because you get to draft and rest.

As to gear/food - most rides are fully supported, but you'll need to deal with your own flats, etc. You'll need your standard maintenance gear for the bike. I'm not a fan of Gu, but do carry electrolyte tabs, protein bars and nuts/raisins. Always carry your own food. You don't want to bonk between SAG stops. I'm more of a marathon runner than a century rider, but I generally got hungry on the bike.

The hybrid is going to be fine until you get into long mileage. Are you planning this as a two day ride? If you're thinking of completing it in one day, you should really think about a different bike.
posted by 26.2 at 2:21 PM on January 30, 2009

Response by poster: If you have no choice but to ride the hybrid, you might at least consider replacing the knobby tires with higher-pressure road slicks.

I have road tires and clipless pedals. I'm breaking in a leather seat. The frame is hybrid but is kitted for day-to-day commuting (panniers, mud guards, etc.), not for mountain riding.

I tried a racing cycle when my last bike was stolen, but I always felt like I would tip over. The brake and gear shifts were difficult to reach and the prices were simply exorbitant. I don't think a racing cycle is very practical for me, so is a city-commuting cycle out of the question?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Previously.
posted by TDIpod at 2:35 PM on January 30, 2009

Nope, sounds like you're perfectly well setup as is.
posted by turbodog at 2:41 PM on January 30, 2009

People have done the STP on unicycles and full suspension downhill bikes. They may not have enjoyed it, mind you, but it's been done. I think your bike will be just fine, though if it were me, I'd ditch the pannier-rack and the mudguards, etc, at least on the day of the ride.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 2:43 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: As others have said, go for longer and longer and longer and longer rides to make sure that your bike is right for you for that distance. Your daily 12-mile ride probably takes you around an hour to complete. How long did your 30 mile ride take? Did your body (all of it, from neck to toes) feel ok after the ride?

If you could show us pictures of your bike that would help us determine if any upgrades or changes are necessary. I'm a big believer in slick tires for roads (knobbies are absolutely unnecessary until you're off pavement). If you have 26" tires, know that the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tire has excellent flat resistance with only a relatively slight penalty in rolling resistance. The Continental Town and Country is a less expensive and slightly faster option, but the flat resistance isn't as good as the Marathon. If you're running 700c tires, my favorite tire for everything but racing is the Continental Ultra GatorSkin. I've had a lot of luck with that one.

Even the best supported ride won't have a van right behind you, so if you have a flat tire you could potentially wait a looong time before help arrives. Be self sufficient, and you'll be able to lend a hand to other cyclists as well. I've tried a lot of frame pumps, and the best one by far is the Topeak Road Morph pump (get the road version). It has a flexible hose so you don't have to hold the pump on the valve, and a little foot pad that flips out so you can pump like a regular floor pump. Awesome, and it's the only frame pump I've seen actually get over 110psi. Carry a tube or two and a flat kit. Learn how to patch a tire (hint: sand, sand, and sand some more until there are no seams in the tube to create an air channel in the patch).

Will you be riding at night? There are tons of light solutions, from cheap flashies that work for being seen, to very, very expensive setups that will make it seem like a thousand suns descended upon the road. I just upgraded from my $130 NiteRider TrailRat 2.0 to a $40 P7 flashlight from DealExtreme.com, and I couldn't be happier. I hit 39mph going down a hill last night and I still didn't outrun the output of that light. Awesome. The Planet Bike SuperFlash tail light is the best bang for the buck. Get two.

Hyrdration: Do you have two water bottle cages? If not, get a cage that can strap to the bike. I personally hate riding with a backpack or CamelBak, but if you don't mind it then consider that.

Nutrition: You have to train your body to process calories while it's under stress. This is more true if you were trying to race 200 miles, but even at a leisurely pace you'll want to be able to take in calories without shutting down your GI system. Practice eating on your longer rides. I don't mean learning how to eat PowerGel without falling, I mean find out if a PB&J sandwich wants to make you throw up after 5 hours on the bike with 1 hour to go. Does Gatorade still taste palatable after a long day in the sun? You don't want to find out the day of your ride. Practice nutrition.

Pedals: Clipless pedals make a world of difference in efficiency. I love Speedplay, but the cleats are definitely not made to walk on pavement. You might really like Crank Brothers, which are very easy to walk around in. Another great option is the Shimano PD-M324 pedals, which have clips on one side and a platform on the other, so you never have to worry which shoes you're wearing. You'll get cleats when you buy clipless pedals, and those will mount on your bike shoes. You can get bike shoes that look like street shoes and are just as easy to walk around in, like this one from Shimano.

Mostly, my first suggestion would be to go out and just do longer rides. You'll figure out what works for you and what doesn't. Good luck! Have fun! Feel free to PM me if ya want, I will completely geek out on this shit.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:56 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: you already commute 12 miles a day,
you already have a more-than-adequate gear setup,
you could do this tomorrow.

Ride a century or two for kicks if you like, and definitely shop for food with a partner, and practise patching tires in the muck and rain, but you will have no physical problem pushing for 2 days until you get there.

If the issue is keeping pace with some buddies, ride with those buddies on the weekend so that nobody's pace is a surprise to anyone else. Practise drafting each other and notice how much easier things get when you do that. Ride hills steeper than you expect to find on your big ride, and learn to sit down for the whole climb.

fact: you'll go faster if you have a yellow hat under your helmet.
posted by Acari at 3:22 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: All the recommendations about a comfy seat - soft does not mean comfort especially on long rides in my experience (I've done at least 20 centuries). I would recommend something like this. The cut out portion makes a world of difference especially once you get tired and your form breaks down.

I've never done 100 mile two days ion a row but I would recommend using something that cuts down on lactic acid build up especially at the end of the first day. This is what I've used for years. There may be better out there now that I don't know about.

Back to the seat issue. My ass has never been the problem on long rides so long as I make sure I'm correctly positioned on the seat and the bike is fitted correctly. When I've had them, my issues have been with calf and hamstring cramps but I ride in a much hotter climate than Seattle.
posted by Carbolic at 3:28 PM on January 30, 2009

You know what I would do if I were you. I'd drop into an REI and head over to their cycling section. Just browse stuff till somebody comes to help you out. Ask them about this, and they will have TONS of answers for you. I swear, they wait for these kinds of questions. People there love what they do, and can't stop talking about it.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:12 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I did STP about five years ago. It was my first (and second) bike century. I did it in two days, but finished the first half at about 1 in the afternoon, so all in one day wouldn't be completely out of the question.

It is the most excessively supported ride I have ever done. There are stops (with port-o-potties) every 30 miles or so, all with food and manned volunteers.

One thing you didn't mention is if you're planning to do this all in one day, or in two days. There's a big difference.

One thing that you didn't mention you had any experience in is riding in close proximity to other people for an extended period of time. It's going to be very boring and slow riding by yourself the entire 200 miles. I would highly recommend riding with other people and in groups, because STP is going to be crowded as hell. Learn how to draft, how to ride in a straight line with people whizzing past you at twice the speed only inches away, how to climb without wandering all over the road as you shift gears.

Rest when you get tired, but don't let your body get completely down (no half-hour stops).
posted by meowzilla at 5:22 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: STP is a Zoo... there are skateboarders, unicyclists, tandems, beginners, your grandma and handlebar dogs. If you want to have a good experience, do RSVP. When I did STP, i forgot to train for the amount of energy it takes to have eyes in the back of my head... ever vigilance takes a lot of energy.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:15 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: >Bring instant carbs (Gu) and something to keep your electrolytes up with all the perspiring you will be doing- to prevent cramping.

don't. they'll be provided and you'll just end up carrying extra crap.

other than that, there is no more important factor in preparing for this than spending as much time on your bike as you can. long, extended, exhausting stretches of time. the more physical training you have, the more you'll enjoy this. otherwise you're going to spend most of the time fighting your inner demons trying to accomplish the task.

on the weekends, and get your body (especially your pedal- and saddle-contacting areas) prepared to handle the physical abuse.

start now.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 3:15 PM on January 31, 2009

You already have plenty of good advice, but if you're looking for training rides, check out the Cascade activity calendar. Looks like there's an STP training series, even.
posted by hades at 11:29 AM on February 2, 2009

no useful advice, but i wanted to comment that i am planning the same thing and i barely know how to ride a bike (never learned as a kid), don't commute by bike, etc... so trust me, you will be far from the biggest "n00b". ;)
posted by groovinkim at 6:09 PM on February 4, 2009

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