It’s Not About Being Fast, It’s About Not Being Slow
Competing in ultra-distance events or simply cycling long distances, there is an old adage that being fast is more about “time in the saddle” than riding harder. The most successful racers aren’t only fast cyclists, they have something we call the efficiency mindset.
No matter how slowly you ride, as long as you are on the bike, you are making progress. Outside of obvious limits, such as falling asleep on the bike or becoming so fatigued that you can barely pedal, the best use of your time during a race is riding. Similarly, on a more casual long ride, cutting down on your time off the bike will give you longer to enjoy the scenery, set up camp and avoid having to shorten your route when you run out of time.
Being efficient doesn’t mean not stopping at all and riding until you can’t turn the pedals anymore. It means making sure your time off the bike is purposeful. Think about the times you stop during a ride – the food stops, water bottle refills, toilet breaks and punctures. Over a long ride, each short stop can add up to many hours spent making no forward progress at all.
If your goal is to cover greater distances without dramatically increasing your fitness levels, making your time off the bike purposeful is the single greatest change you can make. You can strip as much weight as possible from your bike or make your position more aerodynamic, but it will only make you faster when you’re actually riding.
Usually, stopping mid-ride is centred around a single activity – you’re hungry, thirsty or something’s wrong with the bike. Being efficient means taking a few moments now to evaluate how much food and water you have left and check your messages to save minutes later down the road when you don’t have to stop a second time to deal with another distraction. Developing a routine of checking the essentials every time you stop will help you cut down on additional stops – and also prevent you ever running out of supplies!
Even with a routine in place, it can be easy to lose track of time at a stop. The food might be labelled in a language you can’t understand and you might be tired and simply more likely to dawdle or daydream. Some riders like to set themselves a time limit, maybe even going so far as to set a timer on their watch. At the very least, having a pre-conception of the things you’re likely to find in service stations that you’re happy to eat and avoiding sitting down anywhere too comfy will help keep you on the move.
In a race, you might want to focus on food that can be eaten on the bike, rather than sitting down to eat. Snacking on the move will save significant time. This doesn’t need to mean eating only sweets – sandwiches, pizza and all sorts of more substantial foods are easy to eat on the go. Similarly, you might want to think about other activities you can get away with on the bike, such as brushing your teeth (although we certainly don’t recommend attempting to brush your teeth while riding on a public road!).
Another area where many riders lose a lot of time is packing and unpacking their bike. The easiest way to make your kit faster to pack is to carry less. Try to pick items that can serve more than one purpose and reduce your kit list to the absolute minimum you need for the duration of your ride.
Next, develop a system for where you keep things. Try to keep items you’re likely to need regularly where they can be accessed easily and consider whether any items need to be kept separate (such as wet and dry clothes). You also don’t want to have to remove every pack from your bike when you stop for the night – try to limit your overnight gear to a single pack and get into a habit of removing it from the bike in the evening so you don’t have to go back for it later.
You should also think about the things that need to happen overnight to help you get back on the road quickly in the morning. If you’re relying on a GPS for navigation and also want to charge a battery bank or phone, get a plug with several outputs so you can charge everything overnight from a single plug socket. If you have spare clothes, shower with your riding clothes on and then dry them out by wrapping them tightly in a towel before you go to bed. Your goal should be to make it so that in the morning, all you need to do is gather your belongings, put them back on the bike and start pedalling.
In the morning, rather than sitting down to enjoy the complimentary breakfast buffet, grab some pastries for the road, get straight on your bike and start riding! And remember, it’s not about being fast, it’s about not being slow.