Essential Items for a Training Ride

Let’s cover all the essentials.

Cyclists, more than anything else, train on their bike. Some 90%+ of all rides are training rides and there’s a good reason for that. Training rides give us a chance to work on specific aspects of our cycling and hone those skills for race day. The protocol for a training ride is fairly simple: go out on your bike, do the prescribed training, and come home. Let’s make sure we have everything we need to ensure the workout goes smoothly.

Basics

We all need a few key items to go on a bike ride… like A BIKE! Other important items: appropriate athletic clothing, socks and shoes, and a helmet. All training needs to be done with a helmet due to unlikely, but still possible, chance that you’ll be thrown off your bike. Back in the old days, as in the 90s, cyclists didn’t wear helmets often. You’ll even see old guard bike racers (60+ year olds) going out for training rides without a helmet in the modern era. At some point during the development of cycling, people started to notice an unusually large number of people with their heads cracked open after crashing on their bike. And from that, the bike helmet was born with the intention of preventing your dome from breaking. It’s a small discomfort for a big protection. Since May 2003, the UCI has made helmets compulsory in all events. 

Flat Kit

Just a bog standard tube from any bike shop will do.

A flat kit is needed in order to get home in the event of an unexpected flat tire. There are only three pieces to a flat kit: a tire lever or two to remove the tire, a tube to replace the tube that flatted, and a pump to reinflate the new tube. Go to a bike shop and get a tube that fits your bike’s tires and then go online and buy a 6 pack of them for training. Since we’re training, the tube doesn’t really matter as long as it fits. There are latex, thin butyl, and other fancy tubes. Just get the thick standard ones, they’ll help you avoid flats more anyway. There’s not much to explain with getting a tire lever, other than the importance of getting a thick sturdy one. Some bike shops sell dinky thin tire levels, we don’t want those. We want the chonky ones. If you’re new to replacing tires, get two, but know that elite riders will usually only bring one. 

My CO2 and nozzle. Old but gold!

The pump you bring can be one of two options: a CO2 canister (16g) and a nozzle or a hand pump. They both have their pros and cons. A CO2 canister will be able to fully inflate the tire in a matter of seconds, but is a single use item. Not only that, if you mess up putting the tire on, well, you wasted your CO2. Typically, riders will bring two canisters of CO2 in case they fail to fix their flat with the first one. There is also the recurring cost of CO2 canisters, although they are only some $3 each when bought in bulk online. A hand pump on the other hand, is a surefire way to guarantee the flat tire will be fixed, but the achievable tire pressure is insufficient to finish your ride. A hand pump can only get the tire up to 60psi or so while a CO2 canister can get up to 90psi on road tires. 60psi is enough to get home, but not enough to continue training. Hand pumps can also be bulky and all your friends will make fun of you as you bend down to pump it for 5 minutes. It’s up to you to decide which is best for you, but I use a CO2 canister and a nozzle. I have the same one I bought some 9 years ago. The O-ring isn’t great, but it fixes every flat I’ve come across (except that one time…).

Multi-tool

I prefer a mountain bike multi-tool

A multi-tool is important for any repairs that may be needed on a ride. The most common repair is a change to the saddle. Saddles can slip in all directions and even the seatpost clamp can come lose, dropping your saddle down to the top tube. Bringing a multi-tool ensures these issues can be fixed in a jiffy. While not essential for some, it’s a good idea because they are relatively lightweight and can decrease the chance you have to call someone to come pick you up. I would recommend one with a few different hex sizes (2.5mm-6mm) and both a Phillips and Flathead screwdriver. 

Saddle Bag

A saddle bag is a convenient way to carry your flat kit, multi-tool and you may even have a little space left over. Saddle bags normally attach under the saddle and around the seatpost. I recommend getting a small saddle bag because the bigger bulkier ones look dorky and can sometimes get in the way of the pedaling motion. Also, a big bag can cause your flat kit to jumble around inside and you can feel that when you are riding. Keep the bag snug, with just enough space for your flat kit and multitool. A decent saddle bag can last a while, but be aware. They’ll get kind of gross. Since they sit under the saddle, they are in a perfect position to be sprayed by water, dirt, sand, and debris. It’s ok to have a dirty saddle bag, it’s still doing it’s job, which is to make sure you have your tools in case of an equipment malfunction. Put it on your bike and forget about it… until you need it.

Water

Water is required to maximize the body’s capacity to complete the prescribed workout. Throughout the entire ride, sweat and respiration cause water vapor to leave our body. Insufficient replacement of that water results in loss of performance. Some research suggests decreases in body weight of only 2-3% can result in 5-10% reductions in performance capacity. Others noted that elite athletes can withstand higher losses in body weight without loss of performance. For the rest of us, maintaining our hydration status during exercise is essential. A good rule of thumb is one bottle per hour AT LEAST, with optimal results at around 2 bottles per hour. 

One of my Purist water bottles. Scuffed on the outside, but who cares?

2 bottles per hour is a lot and unrealistic for a rider going for a 2-3 hour ride right? Well, if you plan ahead and note the key locations where water bottles can be filled at public water fountains or at local shops/stops, it is realistic to maintain a consumption of about 2 water bottles per hour. On this topic, it’s also possible to over-hydrate. Excessive consumption of water without matching sodium can cause hyponatremia, a condition where the body lacks salt. Water is not a nutrient where “more is better”, the right amount is best, which is 1-2 water bottles per hour. For some, there is a performance benefit to adding electrolytes to their water, but this is certainly not essential until your rides start to get very long (3+ hours).

These 1-2 bottles of water you’re drinking an hour need to be stored somewhere, and so enters: the bidon. Ok, in the USA, it’s just a water bottle, but in Europe they call it a bidon for some reason. The purpose of the bidon is to hold the water a cyclist needs, but it’s usually designed to fit into the frame of the bike more easily than a standard water bottle. When it comes to water bottles, the rules are simple: it needs to not leak too much, and the water needs to come out when you squeeze. So, almost all bidons follow these basic rules, but there is one in particular that could be considered industry standard at this point. Specialized’s Purist line are some of the best bottles out there. The best part is that they do the job and are cheap and abundant. In bulk, these bottles are $2-3 each and at a store they are some $10-15. When you lose one, no sweat. When it gets a bit musty on the inside, no sweat. When you have to chuck it on the side of the road in the middle of a race, no sweat. Just get another one. Please don’t get some fancy $40 no drip blah blah bottle, just get a Purist. I prefer the MoFlo caps.

Food

Food is essential for training as long as your workout is longer than an hour. Carbohydrate rich foods are needed to replace the sugar in our blood and muscles to be used by our energy systems to fuel our rides. Ensuring sufficient sugar is needed to maximize force production, but excessively low blood sugar levels can also cause a bonk. A bonk is when blood sugar levels drop so low that your body starts to dramatically reduce energy production. You end up slow pedaling all the way home, only to collapse on your floor until you manage to get up and get some food in your body. Obviously, bonking isn’t good for your training. So pick a food you enjoy, make sure it has some sugar in it, and shove it in your back pocket.

Start munching on your food at about an hour into your ride. A good consumption rate goal is about 60g/hr for moderate exercise. Sport specific bars and gels are available, but in general their cost is excessive and lack the justification over other food sources. It’s popular to eat rice cakes, boiled potatoes, cookies, whatever you can manage to stomach during your workout. The body’s ability to absorb and process the food is amazing; there’s no need for the fancy food, especially in training. My personal go-to training food is rice krispies treats. Lots of simple sugar, easy for me to eat and digest, SUPER CHEAP in bulk. My only complaint is their total size as my cycling jersey looks distended from shoving 6 of them in my pockets.

Glasses

My cycling glasses, wear them everyday. The lenses are very nice, but the glasses were not cheap!

The main purpose of glasses for cycling is to prevent debris and bugs from getting in the eyes of the rider. Imagine descending at 40mph and a fly hits you right in the eye! Not ideal. Another benefit of glasses are their protection from the wind. One of my old teammates would race without glasses and every night his eyes would be red and swollen from the allergens and dust embedded in his eyes. Another advantage of sunglasses is their ability to help with changes in brightness. Specifically, mid-level and above cycling glasses have polarized lenses. Polarization is a technique where a filter is placed on the lenses to control the light passing through the lenses and the net result is a decrease in glare. High end cycling sunglasses have even more sophisticated lenses which aim to improve the capacity of the rider to see in adverse conditions. Nice cycling glasses can make every day look like a nice sunny day if they are tuned correctly. 

The biggest visibility issue is seeing where the road is going. When the light level changes from shade to sun or when sunlight is spotty due to the trees above, it can become difficult to see the direction the road is moving. You don’t want to have to navigate around potholes or other road debris when you can’t barely see where you are going and the last thing you want to worry about during a hard interval is trying to see where the road is turning. I consider sunglasses an essential addition to a bike ride and refuse to ride without them. From both a safety and enjoyment perspective, a good pair of sunglasses goes a long way. 

Phone and Credit Card

Phones should be brought on rides as a safety precaution. Having the ability to call a friend/family member for assistance, or even emergency services if needed. Some put their phone in a plastic bag, others don’t. Just make sure it’s somewhere where it won’t fall out onto the ground. Credit cards are also important for training. We are privileged enough to live in a time where essentially every market has the capacity to accept credit cards. If you messed up your route, took the long way home, and ran out of food and water, stopping at the local convenience store can be a lifesaver. Just lean your bike up outside the door and quickly walk in and grab some food and a bit of water. A credit card ensures you have the money you need to buy these goods and get home safely.

Conclusion

So there it is. That’s everything you NEED for your training. There are certainly other items that you could bring, but from a safety and functionality perspective, these are the most important items. What else do you bring on a training ride? Let me know in the comments down below.

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