70 flat miles: too much for a fit, beginner cyclist?
June 6, 2012 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Should my sister do a 70 mile bike ride with me?

I'm planning to ride the 70 mile course in the Ride to Montauk June 16. My sister had been planning to do the 30 mile course, but after a friend canceled, she's now thinking of doing the 70 mile route. The route is very flat.

She is not an experienced cyclist. I don't know if she's done more than a ten-mile ride. She owns a hybrid, but we're both renting road bikes for the race (we live out of state and don't want to deal with flying with a bike). On the plus-side, she's pretty fit. She recently completed a half-marathon in about 2 hours and works out / lifts weights regularly. She's also just a generally tough person. I'm not a super-experienced cyclist; I've gotten into it over the past year, and have worked up to doing 55 miles. I'm confident I can complete 70 miles, but I don't have a good sense of what it'll feel like at the end.

I'm bringing a bike computer, so she can get a feel for cadence early on in the ride, and I have padded bike shorts to lend her. My question is, does this ride sound like the kind of thing a fit person can just show up and do, or is she likely biting off more than she can chew with this?
posted by pompelmo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so jealous! I wanted to do that ride but will be traveling! Enjoy it!


It sounds like she would be fine as long as you take it easy and take breaks frequently. Make certain you're both keeping hydrated and are taking in calories during the ride as well.

FWIW, I am a runner and a few years ago essentially showed up at a 1/2 century and was fine following this philosophy.

Keep your speed around 13-15mph average and you'll be fine if it's flat. Enjoy!
posted by floweredfish at 10:23 AM on June 6, 2012

She will likely experience hand, neck, back and butt pain but from your description of her and assuming the bike is fitted properly she should be able to complete without any major issues.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:24 AM on June 6, 2012

She is likely fit enough to complete this. In my opinion the limiting factors will be 1) bike fit and comfort, and 2) nutrition. Even on a bike that fits very well, she may get pretty uncomfortable by the end of the ride if she is not used to it. If the bike does not fit well, it could be hell on her wrists, elbows, knees, toes, etc. As far as nutrition, I am talking about eating at least 100 calories/hour during the ride.

Spending time (but not too much) stretching/eating at the rest stops (I'm sure there will be a few) and all should be A-OK. Have fun!
posted by aganders3 at 10:25 AM on June 6, 2012

Sounds like her cardio fitness is sufficient, but she may have problems with comfort and core/posture over that long of a ride. Her butt won't be used to long hours in the saddle, and her upper body/arms/wrists will get sore.

Make sure the bike shop fits her carefully and bring an allen key for adjustments on the road if it turns out the saddle is just a little low, etc. Remind her not to lock up her arms and keep her weight supported by her core, butt and feet as much as possible. If something starts to hurt will the ride support staff let her bail or provide help so she can finish? If it would be impossible to cut the ride short, she might think twice.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:31 AM on June 6, 2012

I would not encourage someone with the level of experience you indicate your sister has to do this ride with *me*, because I don't think they would enjoy it, and I think it would hurt my enjoyment of the ride to spend half my time waiting around.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:37 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's really really flat, she will be fine. The ride's page on hills shows that there are a few at the beginning and then flatness up to the 70 mile mark. It doesn't take much strength to keep a decent speed on flat terrain.

I agree that butt and hand pain will come into the equation, but if she's tough she will be fine. Seriously bring a lot of food though. You will burn several thousand calories on the ride!
posted by scose at 10:43 AM on June 6, 2012

She will not be able to do this if she's never spent much time on a road bike, regardless of fitness level.

70 miles is a decent haul on flat roads, but the geometry differences between riding a hybrid and a road bike are going to knock her out in the first ten miles.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 10:45 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it could be a challenge for her (her heart may be in shape for it); being on a bike seat for that long can take its toll, especially when you are not used to it. If she goes for it, I would definitely add butt Buttr and maybe Body Glide to make the experience more comfortable.
posted by anya32 at 10:55 AM on June 6, 2012

Experienced cyclist here, and I have done this with two different people at different times, as in taking people with me on a 60+ mile ride when they are used to only doing less than 10 miles at a time.

In both cases, my partners rode the whole distance without any problems at all, but they were on bikes that they were used to. In our case, they had their own hybrids.

I totally agree with chrisfromthelc in that if she is used to a non-road bike and wants to ride these 70 miles on a road bike, then no, she won't be able to do it. She will be done for rather soon.
posted by TinWhistle at 11:07 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've done this ride before. It is very flat.

If she is in good physical condition, she will be able to complete the ride, but as some others have mentioned, her posterior may get sore over the course of the day.

It would be in her best interested to go on a couple rides in the next week, maybe 15/20 miles at a stretch, to get accustomed to spending time in the saddle. While the bikes you rent may be a different geometry than what she's accustomed to, anytime is better than no time. (though, see what TinWhistle has to say above)

One alternative is this : you check in early for the 70 mile route (right at 6am). She checks in later (8am) for the 30 miles. You ride reasonably hard at the outset, she waits for you at the 30 mile start (you'll pass it on your route) and you two ride together for the remainder.

Other things of note: there are stops every 20 miles or so (there's at least one on the 30 mile route), stocked with massive amounts of food and drink. Take advantage of these to stretch and loosen up areas that may be sore.

If she's really hurting, there are volunteers who can take her to the end (though it may take time for that to happen, best to try to make it to a rest stop first).

Also, keep in mind that this is not a race, there are no medals or awards, and you should both pace yourselves as such.

Enjoy yourselves, it's fun and pretty and people are nice, and there's beer at the end.
posted by tip120 at 11:12 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was 16 at the time, but I went from basically no miles a day to 60+ per day for five weeks (bike tour around Ireland) and I was sore as hell the first few days, but it was doable.

But I was 16. And I was riding a bike that I'd been riding for a couple of years. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to do it now, especially on an unfamiliar bike.

Are there sag wagons for this ride?
posted by rtha at 11:14 AM on June 6, 2012

70 miles will hurt a lot, if she haven't spent a long time in the saddle. Have her start riding now. Do at least 30 miles this weekend, and see how she feels afterwards.

Read the section on their website marked S.A.G. Service - "S.A.G. stands for Support and Gear -- these are the wonderful folks who will help you if you can't finish the ride because your bike breaks, you pull a muscle, or you're just too tired to pedal." Essentially, if it's really bad, she can call someone to pick her up.

That ride is supposed to be great fun! There's pie and beer. Enjoy!
posted by hooray at 11:14 AM on June 6, 2012

Take along a bunch of chamois lube. Advise her to spread it liberally. Also: padded gloves. Required.
posted by notsnot at 11:21 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

70 miles flat is pretty simple. Just about anyone could do it. Get up at the crack of dawn, ride for 10 miles, fall over nearly dead, hydrate, nap for 10 minutes, repeat until the day is done. Sure, you won't win any prizes for time but you'll have the satisfaction of doing what a lot of people can't imagine completing.

One product to bring along is "Bag Balm". It will save your friend's ass, literally. It's basically an ointment originally designed to ease the skin on cow's udders. But works absolute wonders on saddle sores from an extended bike ride. It's saved me countless times when doing the cross-state RAGBRAI each summer. That's ~550miles total over the course of a week, over pretty varied terrain (Iowa is NOT flat). Some folks are partial to another product; Udder Butter, but it never worked as well for me as did Bag Balm.

A good blob of the 'balm at the start of the day and then some reapplied after the evening shower will soothe the discomfort. We joke, "you know you've applied enough when it squishes when you sit". You'd think that's TMI but if you've ever suffered the 'sitting on a flaming campfire' pain of soreness from a long duration on a bike saddle, you'll remember how grateful you were when someone shared secrets on helping alleviate the agony.

You do not need a special bike. I've done many rides on all manner of bikes. Yes, some bikes are more comfortable than others. But unless you're actually pushing for a fast time it's pointless to obsess. Ride something comfortable, familiar and known to be reliable.

Nor do you need to be in perfect cardio-vascular shape. Just be prepared to take it easy. Ride, hydrate, rest, repeat and you'll get there. I've seen hilariously unfit people stopping for chainsmoking breaks doing all-day rides, and still getting to the finish line, every day for a whole week. Granted, their day is a lot longer than the ultra-fit whipping along to a 3 hour finish (or shorter). But they get to SEE a lot more along the way. To me that's a lot more fun than racing the clock.

If you have the time it's my suggestion you both get as much time on a bike saddle as you can before going. And you might want to seriously consider bringing that saddle along, or checking ahead to find out what kind will be on the rental bikes. It really helps to be sitting on a familiar saddle. That and break in your shoes ahead of time. You really don't want to be grinding along wearing brand new shoes or sitting on an unfamiliar saddle type.

It sounds like the two of you would have a fine time of the experience. Do it. Just take your time and enjoy the whole experience.
posted by wkearney99 at 12:00 PM on June 6, 2012

I have a 12 mile round trip on my commute and went from that to a 60 mile hilly (1,000m of elevation) bike ride direct 10 days ago. I am not in the slightest bit fit, and was dragging a fair bit of excess weight up those hills. It was ok. Well, in honesty, I did hate those bastard hills. I did it without padded shorts. I wouldn't recommend it, but my arse wasn't in bits by the end thanks to some tactical moisturising on the way. It took, including the breaks, 5h30.

70 miles on a flattish course for someone who is cardio fit should be ok. She needs to get some saddle time in so it's not a complete shock, but basically as long as the bike is the right size for her and she has the saddle at the right height she should be fine. Check this carefully or 70 miles really will feel like a long way.

Plan for 3-4 breaks, 10-15 minutes minimum each. That way things that get sore, like arse cheeks, shoulders, back, feet get some recovery. Hydrate. Take energy bars.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:11 PM on June 6, 2012

As others have mentioned it above, I expect trying to do it on a strange bike is the thing most likely to get in the way. I've been in pretty lousy shape and been able to do that kind of distance on flat terrain on my perfectly fitted bike that I've been riding on and off for 12 years with relative ease. Hell, I haven't ridden in 6 months and I'm almost certain I could do 50 miles tomorrow - on my bike. 25 five years ago in my mid 20s and racking up 60 miles a day 5 or 6 days a week I would have thought twice about trying 70 mile on a strange rented bike.

On the other hand, if the rental is decent quality and is fitted properly see the first paragraph of wkearney99's answer two up.
posted by Carbolic at 12:13 PM on June 6, 2012

When I was in my early 20s, I did a very flat, 160 mile, 2-day ride. I trained by doing a hilly 10-mile loop a few times a week, with little to no other exercise. I think I did one 15-mile ride, but with an hour break in the middle.

On the second day, and for a week or so afterwards, my legs hurt a lot, but I did no permanent damage.

Your sister just did a half-marathon; I think she'll be fine.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:52 PM on June 6, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all for the tips! I ordered some Chamois Butt'r, so we'll give that a try.

Question: would you recommend she rent a hybrid rather than a road bike, since she's not used to riding a road bike? The store we're renting from has both. I have a set of allen wrenches, which I'll bring so we can make adjustments as necessary.
posted by pompelmo at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2012

I think she will probably be fine. I might consider renting a touring bike or something with a less aggressive geometry if she has never really ridden a road bike....70 miles is a long way to go for your first time on an aggressive road bike.
posted by mjcon at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2012

Question: would you recommend she rent a hybrid rather than a road bike, since she's not used to riding a road bike?

Yes. Absolutely. If you don't mind pulling up a little on your road bike so she can keep up with you comfortably, I think that would be the biggest thing you could do/change to make this fun for both of you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:24 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If she doesn't know what drafting is you should explain it to her, too I imagine that drafting someone on a flat track for miles ain't even gonna be a thing.
posted by sibboleth at 3:00 PM on June 6, 2012

The biggest advantage of a road bike is that the drop handlebars give you wide variety of hand positions - that will be very important on 70 mile ride. If there is headwind she will also greatly benefit from being able to tuck down to a more aerodynamic position. I suspect that the road bikes you can rent will come with adjustable stems and can probably be adjusted to be almost as upright as a hybrid. This will give you the hand positions of a road bike with the upright "comfort" of a hybrid.
posted by ChrisHartley at 3:03 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to add that you could easily bring a gel seat cover for the rented road bike if you/she are concerned about butthurt. Have fun!
posted by floweredfish at 4:27 PM on June 6, 2012

Can you take her on a 20-mile ride this weekend, to see how she deals with something slightly longer?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:35 PM on June 6, 2012

Gel seat covers are a waste. The gel moves away from the points of pressure and you're left with no benefit. Save your money. Same thing goes for the pants with gel in them. Pants with the chamois ARE worthwhile, they provide a less irritating surface that just plain bike shorts. You DO want to wear biking pants as regular clothing has seams in places that will be uncomfortable over a longer ride. I'll defer to lady mefites as to underwear suggestions (or lack thereof).

Variability in riding positions really helps for long rides, especially if you're not gung-ho about the pace. Road bike drop handlebars do provide options (down, center grip upright, hands over the brake, or in-between resting your forearms near the center). But the steering geometry on a road bike is a lot different than that of a hybrid. This may be tricky for someone not used to it. That and the tire profile is considerably smaller. This may lead to accidents that wouldn't happen with the wider tires and slower steering of a hybrid. It would depend on the skill of the rider as to whether that's an issue or not.

I've ridden on a variety of styles for long rides. A mountain bike with street slicks was great because it offered a comfortable ride. But I had to really gear it up to get better speed (new front ring set and longer chain). A speedy road bike wasn't as comfortable due to the skinny tires and steering. I went with a touring bike and got the best of both worlds. Good gearing, comfortable tires, a frame that absorbed some bumps and I added triathlon-style center bars for some additional grip and riding positions. Obviously you won't be able to customize on a rental. But a touring bike is certainly something to consider.

Pedals are important too. It really helps to have the pedals with cleats, but only if you're already accustomed to using them. I prefer to use half-and-half pedals and mountain bikes shoes with the cleat up in the tread (iirc, mine are shimano spd style?). This gives you the advantage of being able to pull up with the cleat, for power during the whole stroke. But then you can clip-out and use a different pedal position for comfort now and then. And with the recessed cleat you can walk into stores without walking like a duck and scuffing floors. Again, you want to be breaking these shoes in WELL BEFORE the ride. Same thing with getting used to riding with the cleats.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:03 AM on June 7, 2012

And yeah, drafting is great, especially if you're behind a tandem.

But BE CAREFUL. If you're not used to drafting you can get seriously injured if things go wrong. You really have to understand how to ride in such close proximity with others and be mindful of how to get in and out the peloton without accidents. I would strongly caution you to AVOID a group of any more than 6 or so, especially when they're all strangers to each other. As the group gets larger the risks increase dramatically. With a small group you've got a much better chance of being able to bail out quickly should things go wrong. With a larger group you're trapped and will get run over by everyone else behind you.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:13 AM on June 7, 2012

Sounds to me like she's more than strong enough to ride 70 miles. It's only 6 or 7 hours at a touring pace on a bike, after all.

Best preparation she can do beforehand is to make sure the bike is as comfortable as possible. For novices that means raising the bars getting the seat back as far as possible. The bike she knows will be better than some rental and the performance difference between a hybrid and a road bike in these circumstances is negligible ay best.

Stop often, stretch, eat, drink plenty, no problem.
posted by normy at 7:08 AM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: FYI: we did the ride and had a great time. My sister did really well; her energy started to flag around the 60 mile mark, but taking an extra break, eating snacks and finding some ice water helped a lot. When I checked the GPS on my iphone and realized we were 7 miles from the end, she took off in a blaze. Thanks for all the advice and good wishes!
posted by pompelmo at 12:49 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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