The Complete Pre-Ride Checklist for Your Next Big Cycling Event
When it comes to preparing for a big cycling event, the old saying proves true: The devil is in the details.
Once you get close to the big day, you’ve already done a lot of work to prepare your body and mind to endure for 100 — even 200 — miles on a long, strenuous Saturday ride. But there’s still a lot more work to do to make sure the ride goes smoothly. And much of that work involves small, seemingly minor details. They’re not minor, though; miss a couple, and your ride could go sideways.
Lucky for you, we know a guy who knows a thing or two about pulling off a successful ride day. Coach Darryl MacKenzie has been riding centuries and double centuries for over 35 years, so he’s honed his pre-ride prep list to perfection by now. Here’s his ultimate checklist for the last two weeks before a big cycling event.
14 Days Out: The Biggest Practice Ride
Two weeks ahead of your ride, you should have your final hard training push. This will be the longest ride of training, and it should reach about 60% to 80% of the total distance you’ll go on the ride. For a century, aim for 80 miles. For a double century, shoot for around 130 miles. It’s important to time this ride two weeks out, as you’re going to start tapering down to let your body recover a bit before the big day.
10 Days Out: The Final Tune-Up
A week and a half before the main event, it’s time to make sure your bike is in tip-top shape and road ready. This is your chance to take it in for a tuneup to ensure cables, shifters, derailleurs, and any other components are operating well. It’s a good time for a chain cleaning, too.
But, more than anything else, it’s a critical time to check your tires and change them if needed. If the front tire has more than 1,500 miles on it or the back tire has more than 1,000 miles, it’s time for fresh tires. This will help prevent flats and make you faster for ride day.
You may be wondering why you wouldn’t wait to make these adjustments until right before the event. It’s a fair question. By doing so now, you’ll still have a chance for two more rides to make sure all new equipment is functioning properly and break in your new tires just a bit. In practice, most mechanical issues happen with equipment that’s either brand new or near the end of its life, so it’s important to give yourself a window to make sure all is well.
“Unless absolutely necessary, make no optional changes to the bike within 10 days of the event,” says Darryl.
7 Days Out: Tapering Down
One week before your big ride, it’s important to keep training. But now, it’s time to start tapering down to let your body recover a bit. Aim for a ride that covers between 30% and 40% of your target distance. So, that’s about 35 miles for a century or 75 miles for a double century.
This is also a good time to start cutting unhelpful things from your diet. Start by setting aside any alcohol for at least the next seven days to help your body hydrate well.
If your ride is long enough that it will start before dawn, then make sure this practice ride starts while it’s dark, too. That will help you get accustomed to riding in low light and even give you a chance to practice getting your things together in the dark.
As Darryl notes, “If you don’t have practice doing this, it may take you far longer to get ready on ride day, and you might forget things.”
4 Days Out: The Final Ride
Your focus at this point is shifting primarily to resting and restoring your body for the ride, but it’s a good idea to pedal one last time to keep your muscles fresh. This final ride should be relaxed and low key — aim for 10–25 easy miles.
After that, resist the temptation to ride again until the big day. Give your bike a final light cleaning, put it away, and charge any necessary accessories so they’re ready to go. This is also a good time to make sure your GPS backlight is set to low so you can preserve battery life, especially for a double century. You can also download the updated route map for your ride so you can review any changes.
Before you wrap up this prep day, make sure you wash any clothes you’ll need for the ride.
2 Days Out: Preparing Your Body and Bags
Now you’re entering the final stages of physical prep. Ramp up your salt intake, consume more carbs, and drink plenty of water (without over-hydrating) so your body is energized and well hydrated come Saturday morning. This is also the time to cut back on protein, as this takes too long to digest and won’t really help you on the ride.
Assuming your event is out of town, tomorrow will be your travel day, so this is packing day. Gather all your cycling clothes, gear, accessories, and anything else you’ll need for the trip so you’re ready to go.
Finally, and most important, get a good night’s sleep. Tonight’s rest is even more critical than tomorrow’s, as research shows this has a bigger impact on performance.
Day Before: Crunch Time
Once you’re within 24 hours of the ride, it’s crunch time. Now, it’s time to prepare in earnest, and it’s helpful to break up your day and organize your goals.
Registration for most cycling events happens the afternoon or evening before the ride, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. If you’re traveling far, make sure you account for any rush-hour traffic, hotel check-in times and more.
If you get there early enough, check in to your hotel and get settled, then give yourself plenty of time to get to the event registration. When you check in, you’ll receive your event bracelet, final route map, jersey and any other ride swag.
This is your last chance to stock up and get organized for the ride. Swing by a grocery store for any last-minute breakfast food (carbs!) and extra water, then head back to the hotel to prepare your things. You’ll need to:
- Prep your water bottles and put them in the fridge.
- Lay out your cycling clothing for quick access in the morning.
- Prep your bike, including the red rear light.
- Plug in lights, phone, shifter battery, GPS and any other accessories to top off the battery charge.
- If you want to hand off your lights after the early part of the ride to have them transported to a later destination, mark a paper bag with your name and ride number to make it easy to spot among dozens of other bags.
- Pack your glasses case if you’ll be switching from regular glasses to sunglasses as the sun comes up.
- Set your alarm.
- Review the course route for any surprises.
Once you’re all set, head to bed early for one last night’s rest!
The Big Day
It’s finally arrived! Ride day is here, and you’ll need to move quickly. You’ll have to dress, eat breakfast and drink plenty of water. Before you start putting on your cycling clothes, be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen all over (and well above where your sleeves and bike shorts end to prevent any sunburn rings).
Before you head out, consider an extended bathroom break. Lines for the restroom can be long at the ride start, and you’d likely rather avoid the call for an extended mid-ride bathroom break. Once you’re ready, grab a six-pack carrier for your water bottles so they don’t tip over in the car, and head to the ride start. Be sure to get there with plenty of time to spare so you can get situated and prep with your ride group.
Finally, you’re ready to ride. All that hard work and prep will pay off as you enjoy the day ahead. Happy riding!
After a long ride, it’s important to eat plenty of calories to help your body jump-start its recovery. Find out more about what to eat after a long day of cycling.
As always, you can look for more of Coach Darryl’s tips and insights at his website.
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU at Pexels