5 things you need to know before taking on your first 50-kilometre ride

Riding 50 kilometres is a milestone distance in cycling, if you are looking to take on a ride of this length here are some of the things you should consider

Clock14:28, Thursday 30th May 2024

When you are getting into cycling there are certain milestones that are worthy of celebration, whether that is your first 10-mile ride, using clipless pedals for the first time or joining a cycling club. Once you are into the swing of things it can be great fun to push yourself and test your endurance by riding greater distances. You might have the goal of reaching 100 kilometres or 100 miles but the first test is being able to ride 50 kilometres.

This is a sizeable ride and will likely take around two hours or more to complete depending on the terrain and your fitness level. With that in mind, there are a few things to consider that will have you riding 50km without issue.

1. Fuel and hydration

If you have not ridden for longer than an hour to 90 minutes before the likelihood is that you haven’t needed to fuel on the bike. As the ride heads over the 90-minute mark, it is important to think about taking on some form of energy to keep your muscles fuelled for the whole duration of the ride.

There are plenty of sport-specific energy products on the market that have a high concentration of carbohydrates that are easy to consume on the bike. Energy gels and chews are easy to fit into a jersey pocket and can keep your energy levels topped up across the ride.

You don't need sport-specific products though. Most snacks will work well such as a banana, flapjack, jam sandwich or anything else that takes your fancy. Try to find foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates and relatively easy to digest.

On a long ride, it is important to start eating before you get hungry in order to prevent what cyclists call the 'bonk', which is when your body gets low on sugar and your performance drops through the floor. Try to eat something at around the 45-minute point and then every 30 minutes from this point onwards.

Read more: Mastering nutrition and recovery: what should you eat while following an indoor cycling plan?

Of course, fuel is only half of the picture. Hydration also plays a crucial role in your performance over a long ride. Aim to carry at least one bottle on your bike but ideally two, filled with an electrolyte solution rather than just plain water. This will keep you topped up on salts and minerals, a vital part of staying hydrated.

2. Know your basic bike maintenance

If you are planning on heading out for a 50-kilometre ride the chances are that you will be heading a fair way from home. In the unfortunate event that something goes wrong with your bike it is worth knowing how to get yourself back on the road.

You don’t need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of bicycle mechanics but knowing how to remove your wheels, fix a puncture, tighten a headset and adjust your gears can all save you from getting stuck.

Spend a bit of time familiarising yourself with the mechanical basics of your bike at home so you can set off confident in your ability to tackle whatever mishaps your bike may throw your way.

Carrying a few spares and tools is also worthwhile. We'd suggest two inner tubes, a multitool, a pump, tyre levers, zip ties and a small bottle of chain lube, and we've got a guide on how to pack it all here.

Having these with you means that you will be able to fix all the most common mechanical issues. Make sure that you bring tools and spares that are correct to the specifics of your bike, so check that the inner tubes are the correct size and that the multitool has all the tools on it that you need for your bike.

3. Track your rides

As the saying goes, if it isn’t on Strava then it didn’t happen. Not only is tracking and sharing your rides a great way to show off your training to all your cycling buddies but it also allows you to keep a record of all of your historic ride data. This means that you can see your improvements over time and look back at previous rides to help with pacing strategies in the future.

Read more: 8 Strava features everyone should know about

Strava is a free-to-use mobile app that allows you to record and share your rides, if you record your rides with your phone it will use its inbuilt GPS to record, speed, elevation and distance with other devices such as heart rate monitors or power meters also able to be connected.

When you are planning a 50-kilometre route it can be hard to think of exactly where to ride, if you are heading out for your first 50km ride it is likely that you will be venturing onto new roads. For premium users, Strava has a route-planning feature that allows you to plan a ride based on which roads get the most cyclists riding them. It also allows you to see the 'heat map', which shows which roads are the most popular for cyclists. It means you are less likely to end up riding down a dual-carriageway that came as a surprise halfway through the ride.

Another great feature of using Strava as a tracking app is the live beacon function that allows you to share your location in real time with a nominated person. This can help give both you and your loved ones peace of mind if you are heading out for a solo ride.

4. Pace yourself

50km is certainly a marathon, not a sprint and it should be treated accordingly. Heading out full gas for the first 30 minutes will likely leave you struggling to keep the pedals turning towards the end of the ride. On your first ride of any distance, you are heading into the unknown and as a result, you should plan to ride conservatively at least for the first half of the ride.

Riding at a pace you know you can sustain for multiple hours will save you from fatigue before the end of the ride. At the halfway point you can asses how you feel, and decide if you want to go a bit faster for the second half.

For your first 50km though, always ride within yourself. Once you have a few rides of this distance under your belt you will have a better idea about how hard you can ride. That's when you can start to try and up the pace and push yourself.

5. Ride with friends

Riding on your own is a great way to clear your mind and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of daily life, but on long endurance rides, it can also leave you with little to focus on other than the daunting prospect of what you are undertaking.

This is where the group ride has a real advantage. Heading out for a long ride with friends gives you the chance to catch up and chat for kilometre after kilometre. The social aspect of riding with friends can have the effect of time passing by without you even realising and before you know it you are 40 kilometres into the ride.

If there is a more experienced rider in your group of cycling buddies they can be a valuable addition. They can point out the best roads, climbs and cafes, but they can also help with route recommendations and offer you a handy draft if the going gets tough.

Completing your first 50-kilometre ride is no mean feat and it will take some consistent training to achieve. With regular rides building up to the distance, there is no reason to be afraid of taking on a ride of this milestone distance. With a bit of prior planning and preparation heading out for 50 kilometres is an achievable goal for any cyclist.

Are you looking to ride your first 50km this year or do you remember your first long ride? We would love to hear your stories in the comments below. For more handy training information, make sure to head to the dedicated training section of the GCN website.

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