A 120 bike ride for a simple daily commuter: absurd goal?
July 17, 2010 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Bike/sport enthusiasts: can a daily bike commuter but otherwise not sporty person hope to finish a 120 miles bike ride in one go?

I commute to work using my bike - 26 kms a day, 5 days a week. Takes me roughly 45 mns to get to work (that's central London). I would say I'm a slow-to-average cyclist.

Apart from this and occasional longer week-end rides, I don't do sports. I don't think I'm an endurance-loving type, I don't run, I don't lift, etc.

I however would love to participate in the Dunwich dynamo ride next week-end - a 120 miles ride, overnight, with minimal elevation.

What would you say are my chances to cross the finish line? Does it sound like an absurd and unrealistic goal? The website says the ride is completed by many commuters, but not knowing much about exercise, I have no idea if this is a herculean effort, or a do-able one.

Is it sheer craziness? Thought appreciated.
posted by Sijeka to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your muscles can almost certainly handle the ride. Your ass might not. Make sure your seat is aboslutely perfect, make sure to slather on the nut-butter. Also, make sure to keep some clif bars or the like with you, in case your sugar crashes.
posted by notsnot at 4:34 AM on July 17, 2010

It sounds fine to me. I've done a couple of 100+ mile rides, and I've never been what anyone would call super-fit. Fitness will only really determine how fast you do it. The times I've done that sort of distance I've managed an average of about 10mph / 16kph, which is on the slow side.

You'll definitely cross the finish line, although possibly with serious jelly-legs. Make sure you've got plenty to eat and drink, as well as spare batteries or a dynamo and some decent bright lights. Those little token flashing LED things are no good for proper night-time cycling.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:38 AM on July 17, 2010

Response by poster: nut-butter ---

lol! should have said I'm a woman.
posted by Sijeka at 4:38 AM on July 17, 2010

I've found that even just a couple miles every day prepares you quite well for really long rides, so long as you're not actually racing.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:44 AM on July 17, 2010

I think there are two questions here: "can I finish a 120 mi bike ride?" and "should I do the Dunwich dynamo?". My answers would be "yes" and "no". I skimmed through the Dunwich website. It looks like a fun ride, but I also see it starts at 8 or 9pm, and is unsupported other than food and drink at the halfway point. So besides the issue of riding 120 mi for the first time, you are riding in a large group, riding at night, and riding unsupported. Night and unsupported means you are also managing lights, food/drink for five or six hours of riding, and tools to fix any basic mechanical problems. I'd suggest you do a couple of daylight, supported rides first and maybe try for the Dunwich next year.
posted by kovacs at 4:46 AM on July 17, 2010

Women have at least as much need to prevent crotch chafing as men do, so the nut butter chamois cream recommendation is important. That presumes that you're wearing padded bike shorts -- padding is called chamois even when it's synthetic, and some kind of cream can go on it for your extended comfort.

Your legs can indeed probably take it, but ass and wrists/hands are your potential trouble areas. Perfecting the adjustment of your seat and handlebars will help a lot with this, but most people usually end up getting shorts and also bike gloves -- and even with bike gloves, a longer ride will get me numb fingers from keeping my palms on the handlebars.

Do it! Even if you crap out at 80 or 60 miles, it'll be a great experience.
posted by xueexueg at 4:54 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

So you're used to biking 8 miles twice a day, with a long rest in between. 120 miles with only brief breaks is going to feel like a whole lot of riding. I might try it, but be careful to have a plan B in case you need to stop.
posted by jon1270 at 5:38 AM on July 17, 2010

SijekaPoster: "nut-butter --- lol! should have said I'm a woman."

Begging your pardon! I don't know what else to call it. What's more hilarious is that the stuff I use is from a company called Assos. It pretty much removes chafe-age from the equation.
posted by notsnot at 7:36 AM on July 17, 2010

I strongly suggest you go for some longer rides before the Dunwich dynamo ride - perhaps one this weekend, if you have time, of at least half the mileage of the Dunwich. (Obviously, don't do this a day or two before the ride; give yourself some time to recover.) Your legs are probably fine, as other commenters have said, but what you really need to worry about are your ass, knees, back, and hands. Going on a longer ride will give you a chance to discover if you need to make any fit adjustments to your bike, and will give you an idea of how your body reacts to being on the bike for long periods of time.

If you're not used to long rides, your head will be a factor too. I become a cranky terror around mile 90 of most rides, which I was lucky to discover without anyone else around. Now that I know, I can make sure to save up chocolates and stuff, and plan to ride at the front or rear around that period, to keep from losing any friends on group rides.

Also: I'm female and I swear by chamois cream, especially when I'm not conditioned for long periods in the saddle. It's cheap - you can usually get little single-serving ones if you don't want to shell out for a whole bottle - and it's a total lifesaver.
posted by yomimono at 8:43 AM on July 17, 2010

120 miles at night does put a different spin on things. I don't want to say "don't do it," but I would be cautious—this ride will have some unusual considerations.
-Lights. Duh. Make sure you've got ample lighting, and extra batteries to get you through the night. Make sure you can't outrun your headlights: they need to cast a beam far enough that at your riding speed you'll have time to react to whatever they reveal before you hit it.
-Stress. Following the small bright spot your headlight casts on the road will get mentally taxing and will have the effect of wearing you out faster.
-Cold. The human body usually gets a few degrees colder overnight, so you may start feeling unaccountably chilled around 3:00 AM. Be prepared for that.

You'll need to be alert to your own lack of alertness, if that makes any sense—the combination of riding when you should be sleeping, and the exertion, could make you stupid.
posted by adamrice at 8:44 AM on July 17, 2010

So you're used to biking 8 miles twice a day, with a long rest in between. 120 miles with only brief breaks is going to feel like a whole lot of riding.

Enh, maybe not. All last summer I was doing a similar commute and at the time I had no problem with rides of 50-60 miles. 120 miles is obviously a lot more than that, but after those 50+ mile rides I was barely even tired, not sore the next day, etc. I probably had a century in me, at least.
posted by Sara C. at 9:11 AM on July 17, 2010

lol! should have said I'm a woman.


Take it from someone who just finished commuting 16 miles a day, 4 days a week!

(Which reminds me, if you haven't already, obtain undergarments which, how shall I say, finish somewhere not your crotch? I'm a woman too, and I really wish I'd picked up a few packs of boxer-briefs or something to wear on cycle-commuting days.)
posted by kalimac at 9:54 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Usually, when I have a large ride coming up ,I do more than the ride will present to me, just to be prepared. Sounds crazy, but it's the easiest way to know you'll make the actually ride.

One small idea that may be more realistic is to tally up all the mileage you've done in a week. That's about how much you can do in a day, if you stressed your body. So, if you can do 20 miles/day for a week, you'd be set for a 120 mile ride.

And also, strength is very much second to what you really need: endurance. So, if you train, don't skip any days of your training - try for 6 days/week. Pace yourself - not too fast and force yourself to go the next day. Even if your sore - riding will alleviate the soreness. Even after an epic ride, the advice is to take a ride the next day.

I'm the worst trainer for long distance stuff - but it's my favorite thing to do. If I had any secret, it's just that I don't do anything, without doing it on a bike. The mileage adds up, but really it's just consistently being on the bike - not missing a day.

Have you also thought about doing this with a bunch of buddies? Helps with moral support - as well as allowing you to form a small peleton. When you're tired, you can go to the back, where it's more efficient to be, before going to the front, and helping pull everyone else.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:48 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

After I had been commuting about 14 miles/day for a few months, a co-worker convinced me to sign up for a 180-mile group (charity) bike ride spread over three days (60 miles/day). Leading up to the ride, I did some longer rides on the weekend, but never got much beyond 30 miles at once. I actually had no problem doing the ride, but it sounds like there are some major differences compared to your ride:
  • it was during the day
  • it was supported in case of breakdown/just not being able to make it
  • all our stuff was carried by support to the nightly checkpoints, so nothing to carry on the bike
  • multiple rest stops along the way with plentiful food, water, bathrooms, etc.
I think you can do this ride, but you should gear up as needed and do some test rides at night to see how your gear and you perform in the dark. Also, I'd arrange my own support, i.e. someone willing to drive out and pick up me and the bike in the middle of the night in case of mechanical failure too severe to fix yourself.
posted by mikepop at 6:19 AM on July 19, 2010

The two major issues are time in the saddle and food/drink.

For 120 miles you are probably talking about 10 hours or more on the bike. If you aren't used to that, your bum will be sore. Your muscles won't likely be the problem as much as your sitting comfort level. Good cycling shorts with a thick chamois will help, but it's still a long time.

An unsupported ride for that long will likely require stops to buy fluids at a minimum. You simply can't carry enough water/energy drink for the full ride. You can carry enough gels/bars to keep your energy up, but if you aren't used to eating them, they can wreck your digestion. On my longer rides, I take real food, like a ham sandwich along so my belly stays happy.

Good luck & have fun!
posted by Argyle at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2010

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