5 Tips for Your First 100 Mile Bike Ride and Gran Fondo

Jan Poshenko
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1. Ride the Distance

The most effective way to handle a long endurance event is to ride the distance, not the meter. When you do this you buy yourself the ability to take an approach to your goal that is slower and more methodical, and, from a psychological perspective, you’re less likely to let yourself down.

By taking your lead from how far you can ride rather than how fast you can ride, you’re effectively setting yourself an easier and more manageable, yet ambitious, target. Also, when you’re chasing minutes per kilometer it’s very difficult to measure progress when you are doing things in traditional increments. Keep in mind that you’ll be riding the same way you do every day, just for longer.

Once the event starts and you are out on the road, things may not go as planned. This type of riding is very different from what most amateurs are used to, you may well come across issues and things that hamper your progress, whether that's a mechanical problem or something as simple as tiredness.

Endurance Training

If there's something that can help you succeed during this type of event that would be endurance training. Of course, you could take the same approach you would for any long bike ride, but don’t forget that the end of the event is just the beginning.

High Intensity Training

According to bike racing legend, Eddy Merckx, “Racing has given me everything I’ve got in life and everything I am in life. I would not be who I am without racing.”

Competing isn’t hard, but racing is. That’s why you need to train. However, training for a 100-mile bike ride, like a Gran Fondo, is a unique challenge.

The most important aspect of training for a long event is building up a strong foundation of endurance which can be gained through consistent high-intensity cycling. So you need to be as consistent as you can with your workouts but also with the time you spend riding.

Set a goal for the number of miles you want to ride on the bike each day, preferably with a heart rate monitor to make sure you stay in an aerobic zone. You should also look at adding in a second workout during the week. Usually, this will be in the form of an interval-based or a weight-lifting workout.

2. Eat Well

Your body needs to be fully nourished from head to toe in order to withstand the physical demands of any long ride, so eating is as important as hydration for performing well and avoiding pain.

Be sure to eat a moderate amount of high calorie foods to supply your body with the energy it needs to get the most out of your climb.

If possible, try to eat healthy but not exotic foods. The more familiar foods you take with you, the easier it will be to eat them when you need to.

Unless you have specific dietary restrictions, take foods that are high in carbohydrates that are easily accesible to your muscles.

Watch What You Eat

While you are prepping for and training for a Gran Fondo you need to pay attention to what you are eating. Most cyclists tend to focus on the number of calories they have burned and not on the quality of the calories they have consumed. To be fair, Gran Fondo is all about endurance and you have to take into account what your body is giving you in terms of energy. You also have to pay attention to the timing of your food intake concerning your exercise schedule. A majority of professional athletes recommend pre-workout snacks in addition to post-workout snacks. The important thing to remember here is that different athletes have different needs and you should consider that your body is not the same as other athletes and therefore might require additional support and attention.

Fuel with Carbohydrates

As a matter of fact, the best way for you to fuel is to eat fruit during the ride. It tastes good and helps to replenish your body. If you are looking for a sugar replacement you can choose something with natural sugars.

While there are sports drinks that have ideal ratios of sugar to salts make sure they fit into your overall nutrition plan.

Aim for A Balanced Diet

You will be sitting on a bike seat for many hours so your diet has to be balanced. This is why you should load up on complex carbohydrates and protein. Don’t get caught up in eating “healthy” foods all those foods like apples, carrots, soy, rice, pasta and so on.

Instead, make sure you have at least one of these three things at every meal:

  • complex carbs
  • protein
  • dairy products

The other thing concerning diet is your fluid levels. Roll with the fizzy drinks. This is lighter and will give just the right amount of caffeine. Too much caffeine will jiggle your nerves and make you tired quicker. Another good idea would be to have a Gatorade or a Powerade every 45 minutes to an hour. This product is formulated to help replace the electrolytes you are losing while you sweat.

The last diet tip has to do with what alcohol you are allowed to drink. Beer mixed with lots of water is a good choice. All alcohol has a dehydrating effect but beer will have the less negative effect on your fluid levels.

Hydrate Before, During and After

When you go out for a practice ride, you will need to carry water with you. Many cyclists will only ride with water bottles. But you can also rent a hydration backpack that allows you to carry up to two liters of fluids and you can simply put it on your back.

As you get on the bike, keep drinking the water. It is important to continue drinking water throughout the ride. You will need to drink about 500 – 600 ml every hour to keep hydrated. This could be as much as four times more in hot conditions.

Be sure to put ice in the bottles that keep your water. It will keep it cold and will make it easier to drink. You do not need to use a special drink. Many professional cyclists drink water mixed with glucose.

Remember that during your rides that last more than an hour, it is also important to hydrate well before the race. If you do not drink anything during the race, you are exposing yourself to a high risk of dehydration.

3. Have A Proper Bike Fit

The Bike Should Fit You, Not Vice Versa

Most of us begin cycling for health reasons. It’s a low-impact activity that allows your heart and lungs to work better and keeps you fit. If you already cycle, you should know that it’s easy to become addicted due to the fact that not only it is an activity that you can enjoy year-round, but it also gives you a sense of freedom.

That is why, cyclists come in all shapes and sizes, and to make sure that you are safe and comfortable while you ride, you should choose a bike that’s designed for you. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune on a bike with all the latest features, but it does mean that you should spend time trying on several before you make your purchase.

A bike that matches your frame will give you a smoother ride and make it easier to control. A bike that is too large or too small may cause injuries to your back and neck as you struggle to hold the handlebars securely.

4. Dress for the Occasion

Depending on the weather, you’ll want to layer up with light clothes to maximize your range of motion. Hot weather or high humidity will not be fun to start with, so prepare ahead of time with hydration and food.

If you’re just starting, don’t eat too much, especially on empty stomachs. It’s a long day and you don’t want to feel logy or bloated. But don’t let that stop you from having a tasty breakfast snack.

Gran Fondos generally give out food on the course, but there are usually only a few stations. This will often be enough to keep you going, but don’t count on it for all your meals.

Most gran fondos provide plenty of water along the course, but you’ll want to have some water with you at all times too.

Cycling Kits

There are cycling kits to suit all budgets and purposes. The kits are designed to help you perform at your very best and are ideally suited for everything from sports and online training to commuting and recreative riding.

Whether you prefer a short sleeve lycra jersey and shorts or a lightweight bibless vest, the kit you want will be available.

Be Prepared for Tricky and changing Weather Conditions

No matter where you live, there is a good chance you will have some type of weather to contend with while cycling. Maybe it rains, maybe there is a thunderstorm, maybe it’s really hot and humid, maybe it’s just plain windy. It may not always be super extreme, but you are likely to have to deal with these at some point during your ride.

Pack accordingly and be prepared for everything. Most importantly, make sure you have a handlebar bag or something similar to put your rain gear in. I also recommend having your rain jacket in a separate pocket on your back.

While you don’t want to be the one riding in a full rain suit, you will want to have the option to put it on if it starts pouring down with no immediate signs of it stopping. Also make sure you have room for basic supplies like a spare tube, air pump, and tire levers.

Really think about what you might need and pack for those conditions. It’s important that both you and your bike are properly equipped for anything the weather might throw at you. I realize it’s not as fun as planning what you’re going to wear, but keep it in mind as you get geared up for your first 100-mile bike ride and Gran Fondo.

5. Know the Route

Like anything new, the first time you try something, you want to have a clear understanding of what you are getting into. With that in mind, take the time to look at the route and study it on the map prior to the event. Once you have a clear idea of where the route is taking you, how many hills will there be and where will they be, then put more time into studying the elevation of the route. As you study the route remember to look at the hills on the map vs. the profile, which will give you a much clearer picture of what you're up against.

A lot of cyclists will say that the time to find out how tough the ride will be is on the second or third climb. Unfortunately, that is probably a little late for you in advance of your event, but at least you will have a more realistic expectation of what will happen when you will have to ride.

Whatever you do, don't overtrain in the lead-up to the event. This is not the time to be entering local races, track sessions, or standing around a coffee shop talking about how hard the ride will be. Make the most of your time before the event and nail your long training rides. If you are doing all the training, then you really don't need to be doing any of the talking.

Study the route, religiously

Hopefully, the organizer has a cue sheet, and if you’re smart, you’ve memorized those turn-by-turn directions. But if you hit a certain blind/roundabout/cul-de-sac, it’s good to verify. I did this countless times throughout the race, and if I knew the organizer wasn’t following me closely or didn’t have time to verify, I would backtrack to the last control for a re-confirmation. It’s worth it to take the extra few seconds (if not minutes) to confirm. The wrong turn (or direction) at the wrong time could mean the difference between a sub-23 ride and a 25:30 ride.

Have the Route at Your Fingertips

As a beginner, having the course at your fingertips might seem like overkill. But if you’re just starting, familiarity with the course and route will make the ride less stressful, and may even remove uncertainty as to which turn to take.

The only problem is that if you don’t have a GPS watch or a smartphone, you may not be able to access the course. But if you’re a navigator-type then a good map is all you need. After the start, you can ride ahead of the packs to get a feel for the course and landmarks.

Practice Riding with a Pack

Especially for the first-timer, riding in a pack will ease some of the nerves that you might inevitably feel before the start of a big race. Not only that but you’ll also get to know and understand the common cadence that everyone else will be riding at.

Once you feel comfortable with the cadence, find out if there are any draft zones and try to avoid them for as long as you can. You may even have a chance to pass someone and impress your racing partners and teammates.