The End of the Ride

The End of the Ride

Years ago, shortly after I moved to New England, I got a piece of advice from a friend. He looked down at my bare legs and chuckled. I asked why he was laughing. I pointed out that it was pretty warm out, despite the fact that it was a fall day. He pointed to a ridge and the setting sun.

“Once the sun drops behind that ridge, the temperature will, too.”

“Oh.”

He then told me, “Never dress for the beginning of the ride. Dress for the end of the ride.”

“What?”

He then explained how on a cold morning, if I dressed for 40 degrees, I’d be burning up three hours later when the temperature hit 60. And if I rolled out on a warm afternoon in shorts and a jersey, I might be hypothermic by the time I struggled home at nightfall. He also pointed out that dressing for five hours at 40 degrees was different than dressing for two hours at 40 degrees, that the longer I was out, the slower I was likely to go and the need to wear a bit more clothing because I wouldn’t be generating as much heat.

In time, he and more experienced teammates would also explain that eating for a training ride was not like eating for a race. With a ride, I could eat just enough to get me home and then if I bonked going up the stairs, it didn’t matter; I could inhale a peanut butter sandwich over the sink. But in a race, I needed to eat more not only because I was working harder, but because I needed my tank topped off for that final sprint, whether I was likely to win or not.

It’s a mindset that even applies to bicycle maintenance. Going on a gravel ride with lots of rock and plenty of opportunity for a flat? Don’t bring just one tube. Similarly, when you live in a place with either lots of dust or mud, don’t lube the chain enough to make it quiet, lube the chain until you’ve made the links shine before wiping it down.

That old adage has returned to me. I now live in a place where the temperature can vary more than 40 degrees over the course of the day in summer and sometimes 30 degrees in winter. Dressing for the end of the ride, and not the beginning, is harder than ever before. And while I may find myself debating long-sleeve jersey vs. arm warmers as I dress, it’s that application concerning food that has me thinking. Now that I have kids, when I get home from a ride on the weekend, I don’t get much down time. I need to shower, eat and be ready to head off to do something with my favorite people.

If I walk in the door having fallen into the ravine of a bonk, I’m useless. Not just to me—I’m useless to my wife as well as my kids. And as they grow, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with them. Recently, I found myself downing a bar less than two miles from home. Lunch was less than a half hour away. That bar vanquished the desperation I normally feel when I walk in the kitchen.

But maybe this is a more elemental lesson returned yet again. Plan for the whole of a day, not just the ride.


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11 comments

  1. Michael

    I only sort of agree with the dress-for-the-end-of-a-ride, in that when it is 15 degrees F when I leave and 45 degrees F when I return three hours later, I am not willing to dress for the end of the ride, as I might not make it that far! I find myself sometimes even pulling off a polypro undershirt and stuffing it in a jersey pocket, next to the shell I already took off (this is about the time that those with flexible schedules are heading out). Covering the knees is key, so I tend to leave the tights on until May, when it breaks 60 degrees F. Mine may be a special case (high altitude and dry when it is not snowing), though, and most times of the year and most places your friend is right. And food – absolutely Arriving home in bad shape is a non-starter, literally!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      The admonition to dress for the end of the ride isn’t quite as literal as that. It means that you should dress in a way so that you can make/keep yourself comfortable on a ride. So if I was to ride with you, I’d make sure that I could take a layer or two off once the ride hit 45. I’d dress in a way that was adaptable, which isn’t how I’d dress if it was doing to be 35 all day. When I roll out and it’s 55, but I know it’s going to be 80 by the end of the ride, I’m in arm warmers, not long sleeves. That’s dressing for the end of the ride.

    2. Michael

      Sorry, Patrick. I agree – I meant to show how, at some times of the year at some times of the day, it simply isn’t possible to be comfortable the whole ride. Either you are too hot or too cold for a while, or carry clothing tucked anywhere you can find. But I got lost in the detail.

  2. Lyford

    You’re not eating late in the ride — you’re starting your recovery refueling early!

    That’s why I like to carry food that has some protein. Homemade rice bars made with egg & cheese or peanut butter are right in that 3:1 – 4:1 carb/protein ratio that’s recommended for recovery, and I’ve never had trouble digesting them when working hard.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I envy you that. If I try to eat anything with more protein than a Clif Bar has (while going any harder than recovery pace), my stomach gets hinky. “Hinky” is a technical term that describes the malaise one feels when trying to digest a golf ball while racing the Madison.

  3. Grego

    “Never dress for the beginning of the ride. Dress for the end of the ride.”

    Best. Advice. Ever.

    –someone who rides at sunset on the Pacific coast.

  4. Jeff

    Great post. I do most of my riding in Houston, so there’s only about 2 months out of the year where the weather varies enough that I have to worry about clothing layers. And I keep it simple and eat 1/2 pack of chews or equivalent every 45 minutes during training rides. But down here, not hydrating properly can kill a whole day — headaches, slow recovery, general malaise. In summer months I’m usually packing 2 insulated 22 oz bottles, plus a smaller bottle in the jersey. I hate carrying extra weight in my jersey, but if I don’t I will be miserable both during the ride and later in the day.

  5. mrt2

    An interesting way to frame the problem all cyclists who are not professionals face, which is how to balance cycling with work and and family responsibilities. And it is absolutely true. You might get away with so many hours a week of riding, but how some of those guys with wives and young kids get away with races like Ride the Divide or The Transamerica Bike Race is amazing.

    When my son was a little younger, I had some success bringing him along on some of my rides. The last two years, I managed to work some riding in by bringing my bike to my son’s mountain biking team practices, and heading out for a ride while he did his mountain biking thing. Actually managed to up my yearly mileage total by hundreds of miles by squeezing in an extra 50 miles a week this way.

  6. Bart

    My wife puts up with my riding because she knows it makes me happy. But, if I ever were to use the excuse “I’m tired from my ride this morning” to try to get out of parenting duties I would get an ear-full. I have to plan for the “whole day” when doing anything be that working, riding, yard work, watching TV, etc. No excuses allowed at our house!

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