For some people, a charity cycling event or sportives, may be their only cycle ride each year so it is essential to prepare for the event well in advance if you are to get the most out of it and ensure the day remains enjoyable.
The key is preparation, not just of yourself but of your bike, your fundraising, your safety and of those who plan to ride with you. This guide will help you to prepare for every aspect of the ride, which in turn will hopefully lead you to want to do it again next year and perhaps cycle on a regular basis.
How to Prepare for a Charity Bike Ride
We’ll look at each of the following aspects of preparation but if there’s something specific you want to look at, just click on that heading to jump ahead to that section.
The Bikes.org.uk website has a wide range of articles that can help you in your preparations, some of which are included in this guide. If you don’t see what your looking for, either use the search box at the top of the page or leave a comment in the box below the article.
|Fitness||Bikes||Clothing & Footwear||Sponsorship & Publicity|
|Safety||Bike Gear||Food & Drink||Route & On the Day|
Whilst most charity events are designed for the casual cyclist, there is no substitute for good preparation.
Yes, you can just turn up on the day and get on with it but a little bit of preparation is important to ensure all goes well and you get the most out of the event.
Fitness training doesn’t have to be something you dread, it can be as fun as the day itself.
For those who haven’t been on a bike for a while, simply getting the bike out of the garage and going out for a few short rides is a good start. Why not make it more fun by getting the whole family to go with you and include a mid-ride picnic?
The key to fitness training is to stretch the muscles, build stamina and get used to riding a bike again. Cycling is a great way to burn calories and lose weight so there are some added benefits too. Before you go anywhere near your bike, there are some basic warm-up exercises you should do to ensure you avoid muscle injuries or post ride stiffness.
- Neck Stretch
- Upper Back and Shoulder Stretch
- Wrist Stretch
- Glute Stretch
- Hip and Quad Stretch
- Achilles and Calf Stretch
Our Guide to Pre-Ride Stretches gives lots of great advice on what stretches to do before cycling.
So now you’re ready but what about your bike? Make sure you read the next section about preparing your bike before setting off.
We are all at different stages of ability so it’s important to know where your own comfort levels are. For example, on your first ride, take it easy and simply do what you can. This may be 20-30 minutes or perhaps longer. Whatever it is, keep a note of it and aim to beat it the next time but without over-doing it. Our advice is to start at least six weeks before the event so you have plenty of time to prepare. Consider doing the following;
- Week 1: 30 mins on the flat
- Week 2: 45 mins on the flat
- Week 3: 60 mins on the flat
- Week 4: 60 mins on the flat with one gentle climb
- Week 5: 60 mins on the flat with several gentle climbs
- Week 6: 90 mins on the flat with several gentle climbs
It would be great if you could do this twice a week but simply doing the above, starting six weeks before the event, should be more than enough for you to enjoy the day. Other than the most arduous of charity rides, by the time you can comfortably do 90 mins combining flat surfaces and gentle hills, you’ll certainly be ready for your charity ride.
For those of you who are little more experienced and are riding on a more regular basis, our advice is to complete at least half of the distance you’ll be doing on the day several weeks before the event. As the day gets nearer, try to build up the distance to around three-quarters of the distance and ensure you include the appropriate amount of climbs.
Each charity ride, and route, is different so it’s important you plan your preparation based on the actual length of the route along with the complexity, ie. road vs off-road routes, climbs & descents vs flat routes. Ideally, you should try to cover some, if not all of the route before the actual event.
If you are new to cycling, it’s important that you slowly build up to the distance you’ll be covering on the day. Just remember that this is a fun event and speed is not important, however, distance is. One of my local charity rides is the Wirral Bikeathon, held every June, it encompasses a figure-of-eight course that splits the 28 mile route into two 14 mile circuits. Most riders complete the first half, with more experienced cyclists completing both halves.
The Wirral route is predominently flat although there are a few gradients that take new cyclists a bit by surprise. They’re not difficult but if you haven’t prepared for the inclines you may find yourself having to get off and push (no one will mind but a little preparation may give you a massive boost of self-confidence if you can get to the top without pushing).
Preparing the BikeThere is a slight assumption here that you actually have a bike. If you don’t then we’d encourage you to read our beginners guide to buying a new bike and what to look for when buying a second-hand bike.
If you’re bicycle hasn’t been out of the garage or shed for a while, it’s important to check a few things before going for a ride.
If it’s been there for too long, we’d strongly urge you to ask your local bike shop to give your bike a basic service. It won’t cost a lot, or take too long and will be worth every penny.
However, if you prefer to do your own bike checks, here are our top tips;
- Tyres: Tyres should be properly inflated, have good tread and devoid of cracks or any signs of damage. The correct tyre pressure to use is usually on the side of the tyre itself.
- Wheels: Nuts or quick release mechanisms should be tight and securely fastened. Spin the wheel to ensure it moves freely.
- Seat Post: Check to make sure that the stem is fastened tightly and that your seat is set at the correct height (see below).
- Handlebar Stem: Ensure your handlebars are set at the correct height and position (see below).
- Chain: Check that your chain turns smoothly through your front and rear sprockets and doesn’t rub against the derailleurs or make a grinding noise. Ensure the chain isn’t covered in rust or excessive grime.
- Gears & Shifters: The chain should move freely when moving between gears. Check this by turning the bike upside down and turning the pedals whilst changing gears. Any clunking sounds or chain slippages should be dealt with by your local bike repair shop.
- Brakes & Levers: Test your brakes by gently squeezing the brake lever, the brake pads should apply pressure quickly and smoothly to stop the wheels turning immediately.
Tyres: As a rough guide, mountain bike tyre pressures should be around 45 pounds per square inch (PSI) at the rear and 35-40 PSI at the front. Road bike tyre pressures on the other hand are a lot higher, with some modern racing tyres requiring up to 130 PSI, although 105 PSI is more normal. Halfords have produced a useful Guide to Tyre Pressures.
Saddles: First, check that the saddle is horizontal. This may sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many are set at some crazy angles. Next, ensure the seat is sufficiently tightened so that it doesn’t move when you are riding. The height of the saddle is important too. If it’s set too low you’ll have less power when pushing down on the pedals and your legs will lose energy.
As a guide, adjust the saddle height until you can stretch your leg right out and comfortably place the ball of your foot on the ground. In turn, this should allow you to have your leg slightly bent when it’s placed on the pedal at it’s lowest position.
Handlebars: With your saddle now set in the correct position, you can now adjust your handlebars to the correct position. Start with the top of the handlebar stem slightly below the top of the saddle, then adjust slightly to what is a comfortable position.
Next, ensure the seat post and handlebar stem are both tightened before taking your bike for a brief ride (a quick two minute ride). If it feels comfortable, you’ve finished, if not adjust the position slightly until it suits you.
Chain: If your chain is covered with excessive grease or grime, wipe it off with a soft dry cloth and consider using a degreasing agent. For a chain with rust, add some cycle lubrication or remove it completely and soak overnight with a rust removal agent.
Food & DrinkAn essential part of your preparation should be what you eat and drink. We’re not trying to turn you into elite athletes here, just trying to ensure you eat well in preparation for the day itself.
What you eat, and drink, will play an important part of how you perform and feel out on the road.
Breakfast remains the most important meal of the day, particularly if you are going to be spending most of it on your bike.
You may wish to have something as simple as a banana or some wholemeal toast, although you can also go for items that are a little more delicious, like a smoothie that uses yoghurt as its base. Personally, I go for porridge or an oat based cereal.
One thing to remember while you are riding is that you should not leave it too long between eating, because this can leave you hungry and might encourage you to go on a food binge after a session, which is not always helpful.
Snacking regularly while you are cycling can help to alleviate hunger pangs and allow you to stick to a reasonable size post-ride meal in the evening, so that you are not messing with your insulin levels or going through peaks and troughs throughout the day.
Were you surprised to see Snickers bars on the list? They aren’t the best option but they are a very good option due to them having the right balance of protein, fat, and carbs. Our Guide to Protein Bars gives further info.
Perhaps the most important element is the one we haven’t even mentioned yet, water. It is uber important that you drink plenty of water, however, don’t take too much at any one time as this will make you bloated and uncomfortable. Instead, take small sips on a regular basis. I drink at least one litre of water about half an hour before my ride and take around one litre for every hour of cycling. The rule of thumb here is that if you become thirsty, it’s too late as you’ll have started to dehydrate by them so keep topping up.
Most charity bike rides have feeding stations, or rest stops, which often have water available. However, it is important that you take at least one bottle of water per person with you.
Clothing & FootwearWe’re not talking about Tour de France style wardrobes here, simply the right clothes to ensure you stay comfortable.
In this context, comfortable means staying cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s not. In other words, wearing the right clothing for a) cycling, and b) for the weather conditions.
Staying Warm: The key to staying warm is layers. If the weather is a little cool, it’s likely to be somewhat cooler when you are riding into a head-wind.
However, before you rush off to knit an extra jumper, remember that you’ll be exercising and as such producing body heat – complex isn’t it? So, we return to layering. Weather changes and you’ll want to be able to adapt you’re clothing to how you are feeling.
Start with a base layer, Helly Hansen & Under Armour are perfect but a pure cotton t-shirt is just as good. Next, add a mid-layer, something like a sweatshirt or cycle jersey. These two layers should suffice for most Spring or Autumn mornings.
Shorts or Trousers: With regard to the bottom half, this is very much down to you as an individual. As an experienced cyclist, I always wear shorts, even in Winter, as I find it more comfortable.
Wearing shorts when it’s raining is so much better too as it’s your legs that get wet rather than your clothing. Wet clothing is heavy, legs aren’t. If you’re unsure, start with shorts and take a spare pair of longer trousers with you in case you get cold.
From a safety aspect, long trousers should be narrow at the base to avoid being caught in your chain. Whilst not the most fashionable of looks, using bicycle clips or tucking your trousers in to your socks, is a sensible precaution.
Staying Dry: In addition to your base and mid-layers, we would also advise you to take a top layer, this being a lightweight jacket which is shower and/or waterproof for those infrequent showers we sometimes get.
Staying Cool: If the weather is warm, you’ll probably only want to wear one layer. Our advice is to wear a cotton t-shirt or a modern cycling jersey that wicks-away the moisture, and thus helps to keep you cool.
Footwear: Most of us own a pair of trainers, so this is a good place to start. Ideally, they should be well-fitting, in good condition and have a flat rubber sole so that your foot doesn’t slip off the pedal. Please remember to tuck long laces into your shoe to ensure they don’t get caught in your chain.
Gloves: Regardless of the weather, cycling gloves are a good idea as they will help to stop your hands chaffing and give you a good grip on the handlebars. In cooler weather, the tips of your fingers can get quite cold and as such, gloves will help to protect them.
Bike Gear, Accessories & ToolsOh Lordy, where do we start? There are hundreds of items we could suggest but we’ll try to limit ourselves to the essentials.
Bike gear is generally there to help, this might be help to carry things (panniers), help to see in dim-light (lights), help to repair things (punctures) or a whole host of other things.
The most important tool however is probably your mobile phone, so make sure the battery is full before you set off and carry it in a plastic bag in case it rains.
Remember that on a charity bike ride you’re never on your own, there are plenty of other riders, most of whom will stop to help, and also marshals and stewards are on-hand to offer assistance too.
Pump: Pretty obvious, pumps your tyres up when they need it. Most are lightweight these days and fit on the side of your bike frame.
Puncture Repair Kit: Essential. Don’t even think about setting off without one. They cost a few pounds and will get you home. You’ll need a set of lightweight tyre levers as well as the patches and preferably a spare inner-tube.
Panniers: If you are cycling with a family, you’ll need something to put the kids jackets in and perhaps somewhere to carry the snacks. Whilst your first instinct may be to use a backpack, we’d strongly advise you not to do this as the weight distribution may cause you to lose your balance.
Rucksacks are designed to funnel the weight onto your hips but this can’t happen in the same way when riding a bike and as such, the weight is carried entirely on your back which may lead to back ache.
Multi-Tool: Guess what these do? Yep, they offer you multiple solutions to fix stuff. Not essential for the casual cyclist, especially on a charity bike ride as you’ll be surrounded by other riders but are vital for the rest of us.
Lights: From a safety aspect, we’d recommend all cyclists have a set of lights. Pre-ride preparation would include checking that they work and that the batteries have sufficient charge.
GPS: Really? No not really but you may wish to invest in GPS if you decide to do more cycling and adventure further afield.
SafetyThe number one item is not a helmet, it is actually, awareness.
Carelessness or not paying attention to other cyclists, road conditions or other road vehicles are the shortest ways to an early finish to your cycle ride.
Our basic advice is simply to be aware of your surroundings, watch what others are doing and try to anticipate their next action.
Using mobile phones is a no-no. Wearing headphones is a no-no. How can you be aware if you’re not paying attention?
Helmet: A strong, lightweight helmet when cycling will help protect your head when cycling. However, some cycling organisations are against the compulsory use of cycling helmets. It might not look terribly cool but if you fall off and hit your head it may well save your life. Should you choose to wear a helmet, the image on the left shows the correct way to wear it.
Listen: Be aware of what’s going on around you.
Signals: Make drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists aware of your intentions, giving them plenty of warning and in a safe manner.
Assertive Positioning: As a cyclist, you have as much right to be on the road as any other vehicle. However, we are more vulnerable and as such we need to take a positive approach to road behavior. Make sure others can see you and know what your intentions are. Remember things like blind spots.
Potholes: Look out for these and plan ahead to avoid them. If you swerve at the last minute it doesn’t give other road users a chance to react.
High Visability Jackets: See and be seen leads to lights and reflector strips, especially for children.
First-Aid Kit: Like insurance, we never want to have to use it but glad of it when it’s needed.
Sponsorship & Publicity
So now you’re ready for the big day but don’t forget that this is a charity event and collecting sponsorship is an integral part. Here are some top tips on collecting sponsorship money for your charity cycle ride;
- Sometimes, collecting sponsorship money can be harder than taking part in the event itself! To prevent this, try getting people to give you cheques ahead of the event or perhaps post-dated to a date shortly after the event (but no more than six months).
- Always carry a pen and sponsorship form with you.
- Don’t be shy in asking, we are a very generous nation and people are often willing to give money to good causes.
- Give sponsorship forms to friends, family, workplaces and get them out raising sponsor money on your behalf.
- On most sponsorship forms there is a ‘Gift Aid’ option, this allows charities to claim an additional 25% on top of the original pledge.
- Ask your employers to match your sponsorship pound for pound, that way you raise twice the amount and your employers can get some publicity – get them to get in touch with the press on your behalf.
- Invest some money in a prize and hold a raffle at work and put the proceeds towards your sponsorship amount.
- If you are self-employed, your clients might respond to a humorous letter asking them to support you.
- Other people might want to help or might know someone who could – always ask around.
- Write to local companies asking for their support – address letters to the Chairman or Managing Director. Again, try to make it humorous, it will stand out more.
- Contact your local press. People who know you or know of you may get in touch and support you.
- Do you belong to any clubs or groups? Have a chat with some of your fellow members and see what ideas you can come up with together.
Charity bike rides are fun but as we’ve said before, a small amount of preparation will help to make the day go even better.
Some rides are simple routes around a park, flat land with no inclines and just a few miles long. Others are much longer, sometimes over 100 miles and over several hill climbs. Whichever ride you’ve chosen, you should familiarise yourself with the route.
For shorter rides, a simple look at the route on paper or via Google Maps should suffice. Rides that are longer may require a little more surveying, either on your bike or for longer routes, in your car.
There isn’t one set of advice here, other than, take a little time to consider the route, it’s length, it’s complexity and the number of inclines.
Finally, on a practical note, consider how you are going to get-to and home-from the ride. It may not be as straight forward as you think.
On The Day
So, at last, the big day has arrived. Excited? You bet you are!
Sleep: First things first, make sure you get to bed reasonably early the night before so you wake refreshed and eager to get started. Don’t be a hermit but you may want to minimise your alcohol intake the evening before the ride as riding with a hangover or slightly dehydrated aren’t much fun.
Breakfast: Get up in plenty of time to have a decent breakfast (see the above section on food & drink) and try to drink at least one litre of water 30-40 minutes before setting off.
Bike: A quick check over your bike to ensure it’s as ready as you and you’re off – no. Take your time to check the things we listed above, especially checking your tyre pressures.
Weather: A quick check outside to check the weather will help you to determine what clothing to wear and what to pack.
Clothing: Clothes should be freshly laundered and shoes should be clean. Depending on the weather, you’ll either be wearing your jacket or packing it in your panniers (remember, no backpacks). Once you’re dressed and ready to go, grab your gloves and helmet.
Bike Gear: The minimum gear you’ll need to take is a pump, puncture repair kit, first-aid kit and a multi-tool. Other items are optional but don’t overdo it as you’ll be the one carrying them around all day. If you take your phone, remember to put it in a plastic bag in case it rains.
Food & Drink: A few suitable snacks are advisable, high energy bars, fruit, gels and of course plenty of water. One litre of water weighs 1kg so bear that in mind.
All that is left for me to say is good luck and I hope you enjoy the day! Please feel free to leave a comment below if you’ve enjoyed the article or have any suggestions, as I’m sure wecould have missed something!