EC Notebook #29: Maintaining the Bike’s Engine –You!

by ECIs Richard Corbett, Bill Hoffman, and Bonnie McCIun

Maintaining your bicycle is a routine requirement for a safe ride. A bicycle which works properly will be ready for any challenge you give it and will not let you down. However, we need to remember the bicycle doesn’t go far without an engine–You! You power the bicycle. You have the responsibility to keep the engine running smoothly for an enjoyable ride.

Eat before you are hungry! Drink before you are thirsty! This motto, a basic philosophy ofEffective CyclingTMwill serve you well while riding. If you wait until your body sends you signals of thirst or hunger, then it is already too late to maintain your energy levels for an enjoyable ride.

Several days before a very long ride, begin to “hydrate” and “carbo load.” Your body will release large quantities of fluid during a long ride, especially on very hot, humid days. It will also use larger than normal amounts of the carbohydrates your body stores for energy. You should prepare for this extra usage by building extra stores of these vital energy sources.

The Day before a long ride:

Plan to have the traditional high carbo dinner of most cyclists-spaghetti (or another pasta with a low fat topping). Try adding grated cheese; this will add some extra salt to the meal and encourage your body to want to drink more. Some additional salt may be added to the cooking water for the pasta which will also encourage you to hydrate. You know what is normal hydration for your body. Try to consume additional water the day before a long, hot ride.

The Day of the ride:

Do not deceive yourself into thinking that today you will burn off lots of extra calories so it is okay to consume a larger than normal breakfast. Breakfast should be consistent with your normal eating habits. A change in what’s normal for your body just before exertion can cause some very unpleasant digestive problems. Plan to have cereal or pancakes and limit the intake of fats. Avoid caffeine since it is a diuretic and will cause your body to expel fluids that you will need during your ride.

Know your body’s limits. Over hydrating prior to the ride will prepare your body so that you can enjoy the ride. Begin with at least two large (24 oz.) bottles filled with water. Do not use a sport drink that you have not been consuming regularly. A long ride is not the time to find out that your system doesn’t like them. Fill your water bottles every chance you can. Always have a minimum of one full bottle. Drink incrementally during the ride. Consume an entire bottle at least every hour depending on your body’s normal consumption and the heat/humidity conditions of the day. If you ever feel thirsty, you are already entering dehydration!

While riding you will want to provide a continuous fuel to your engine. Food choices should be items which are easily digested. Bananas, grapes (freeze them first for a cool snack), apples (cut in bite size pieces), and fig bars are traditional choices. Avoid large amounts of dehydrated fruits as they may counter your hydration efforts. Also, avoid fatty snacks that are difficult to digest and may counter hydration.

Keep food stops brief and make them frequent. If you maintain your body consistently through your ride, a “formal” lunch should not be necessary. You are likely not to want to eat during the final stage of the ride but it is very important to remember to drink. You want to be able to enjoy the after-ride festivities and reward yourself for your accomplishment!

Steady and even food and fluids make for a well-running engine and a great ride!

Reprinted here by permission of Bicycle USA Magazine. Bicycle USA is a member benefit of the League of American Bicyclists. For further information on the League go to

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