QUESTION: How often should I take a break on long bike rides? I usually ride about 20 or 25 miles, so I don’t stop at all. I’ve been riding for about a year. But I’m going to start doing some longer 50- and 60-mile rides and try for a century ride in a few months. —Larry J.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question because your fitness, the weather, the terrain, the type of bike you are riding, the temperature, your goal for the ride (e.g., getting done quickly vs. enjoying the ride) and even things like mental attitude that day and the availability of suitable break locations can affect how often to take a rest stop.
But if you are looking for a rule of thumb that applies to riders of varying abilities, breaking about every 15-20 miles is reasonable. You can go 25 miles without a stop because those miles bring you to your destination and you’re not planning to continue to ride that day.
That said, some fit cyclists who are riding a known route and are planning only to ride about 40 miles may do so without a stop some days, but on very hot days or when dealing with strong winds, the same riders may break once or twice on that route.
If you are participating in an organized event, such as a charity fundraiser ride or a sponsored tour ride that is open to everyone from experienced cyclists on high-end bikes to beginners on clunkers, break stops are usually provided at intervals suited to average riders, typically every 15-20 miles. These stops often include snacks, water refills and portable toilets.
The beginning riders and those who are out of shape are likely to break at every one of the provided stops, while the fitter riders may skip many or most of the stops. However, if you are pedaling your first organized century ride, it’s likely wise to stop briefly at each of the provided break locations, even though you are feeling strong at the earlier ones, so you can stay fueled up for when you start to tire later.
If you are riding regularly and have built up endurance, you might be able to pedal half of a century ride without stopping, but then take breaks more frequently during the second half of the route.
Generally, the breaks should be short, no more than about 15 minutes, so that you don’t stiffen up or lose your gumption to keep going. You might take a little longer at a lunch stop.
When riding alone or with friends on your own routes, it’s important to listen to your body and take breaks as you need them. And that need may be different from one ride to the next, depending on any of the factors mentioned above.
Regarding those 50- and 60-mile rides you are intending to tackle, I recommend you plan on taking a break somewhere in the middle of those routes, whether you think you need it or not.
Readers, what’s your personal strategy for taking breaks on long rides?
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.