Brevet Tips

Endurance cycling can present a number of challenges that must be overcome to achieve a successful outcome. Some of the more common include:

  • gastrointestinal problems;
  • physical ailments;
  • fatigue;
  • mechanical problems;
  • improper navigation; and
  • poor decision-making.

Here are some tips to reduce their occurrence.

Preparation

Boy scouts aren't the only people that benefit from being prepared. Endurance riders that emphasize preparation are more likely to enjoy a successful outcome.

Bike Positioning

The current consensus is that endurance riders benefit from a slightly more relaxed bike position than racers. This is usually achieved through a lower saddle height, smaller saddle-handlebar drop, and a more rearward cleat position that places the ball of the foot in front of the pedal spindle.

Bike Configuration

Consider these items for endurance and overnight riding:

  • electronics: cycle computer, front and rear lights;
  • gearing: compact cranks and/or larger cassette to facilitate climbing;
  • hydration: bottle cages and/or hydration pack;
  • navigation: cue sheet holder, gps mount;
  • rain: fenders;
  • safety: mirror, reflective tape on moving parts, e.g. rims, pedals, crank arms;
  • storage: handlebar pack, bento box, frame pack, saddlebag, trunk bag;
  • tires: wider rear tire to increase comfort and durability, both tires should be in excellent condition to reduce flatting.

Mechanical Skills

Since mechanical support is not provided you should have the ability to make common repairs, e.g. fix a flat, repair a broken chain, and true a wheel. It's also important to learn to perform basic adjustments, e.g. brakes, derailleurs, etc. You should also be learning to improvise when the right tool or parts are not available.

Note: randonneuring can accelerate wear on the drivetrain and bearings so regular maintenance, especially after riding in wet conditions, is recommended.

Base Training

Base training should be the primary focus of any brevet rider's training program. The training year can begin with several weeks of relaxed riding and then progress to a program focused on steadily increasing long ride duration.

Opinions differ on the proper amount of base training however a common recommendation is to build to a long ride that is 75% of the event duration, e.g. six hours for a 200k, a few weeks prior to the event. This would take six weeks if the program began with a two hour long ride and increased duration 20% per week. The minimum recommend intensity for effective base training is around 60% of VO2 Max, about 75% of maximum heart rate. Other training rides should be done at varying intensities, from recovery to tempo.

Many riders find that riding with a local club can provide some additional motivation and enjoyment that compliments a high-mileage base program.

Clothing

Clothing plays an essential role in rider satisfaction. Since carrying capacity is limited, the best clothing strategy is usually to wear versatile and comfortable primary items, i.e. shorts, jersey, and socks and carry compact and light weight secondary items.

Multiple light weight layers provide the most flexibly in adjusting to prevailing conditions. Three layers are common, they are:

  • base layer

    The base layer draws moisture away from the skin and provides some thermal protection. When moisture has moved from the skin into nonabsorbent base fabric it is spread over a larger surface area and will evaporate faster. Base items include: wicking or wool shirt and socks, skull cap.

  • mid layer

    The mid layer works with your base layer to wick sweat and insulate your core. It should be more loose-fitting than the base layer, however very loose-fitting layers can allow more removal of moisture (and heat) via air circulation. Mid layer items include: jersey, shorts, arm and knee warmers. Note: jersey choice depends on conditions, with plenty of options for fabric, thickness, sleeve and zipper length. Wool has several desirable properties including good moisture transfer and the ability to insulate when wet.

  • shell layer

    The shell layer provides protection from rain and wind. Ideally the shell layer is breathable while not letting wind and water pass through. Shell items include: rain/wind jacket, vest, shell mitts, helmet cover, toe covers, and booties.

A good combination for an early spring ride might include wool socks and gloves, knee warmers, a long-sleeve wicking or wool base layer, and a lightweight shell jacket.

If rain is forecast it's helpful to bring a few extra items and decide before the ride which ones to carry. These can include:

  • grocery store produce bags for supplemental protection, e.g. hands, feet, chest;
  • a waterproof helmet cover or shower cap;
  • a waterproof cycling cap and toe covers;
  • Gore-Tex mittens; and
  • a packable rain jacket.

Embrocation can be useful for providing additional warmth and moisture protection in wet weather.

It's always a good idea to test clothing items in conditions that are similar to what you might encounter during the event, especially rain gear. Do some practice rides so if you are caught in the elements you will be prepared.

Pre-event Timeline

  • one month prior:

    Test and refine hydration and nutrition strategies on endurance training rides. This is also a good time to insure that positioning and contact points are comfortable. Minor annoyances on short rides can become major inconveniences on long rides.

  • several weeks prior:

    Attempt to duplicate as many ride-day conditions as possible on remaining endurance training rides, e.g. pre-ride routine, clothing, nutrition, intensity or duration.

    Test equipment to insure it's in good working order, e.g. lighting system and reflective gear if there's a possibility of riding at night. Allow ample time for necessary maintenance or repair. Brevets are generally not appropriate for testing new equipment or clothing.

  • one week prior:

    Begin, or continue, a substantial reduction of training volume while maintaining intensity. Download and review the route map and cue sheet. Use this information to plan hydration, nutrition and pacing strategies. This is also a good time to review the event rules and finalize logistics. Inspect tires and if necessary, wash clothes.

  • two days before:

    Increase carbohydrate intake. Charge all electronic devices. Inspect and inflate tires, lubricate drivetrain. Gather everything you plan to take, e.g.

    • registration form, floor pump;
    • helmet, eyewear, gloves, shoes, water bottles;
    • casual clothing, recovery drink;
  • to minimize last minute scrambling. Get a full night's sleep.

  • morning of:

    When possible, have a full breakfast several hours before the start that has limited amounts of protein, fat, and fiber. Check the weather forecast before finalizing clothing, hydration and nutrition strategy. Review pacing strategy with respect to the forecast temperature, wind speed and direction. Plan to arrive at the start at least a half hour before the scheduled departure time. After bike assembly inspect tires and check pressure, verify that wheels are centered, quick releases are secure and brake cable release levers are closed.

    Brevet length, weather conditions, and personal preferences determine what items you'll need to carry. Here are some suggestions grouped by category:

    • event: brevet card, cue sheet, map
    • wallet: cash, credit card, ID, insurance card, emergency information, keys
    • medication: prescription, antacid
    • personal: sunscreen, lip balm, chamois cream, moleskin, band-aids, towlettes, lens wipes, cleat covers, special needs
    • electronics (fully charged): cell phone w. in case of emergency (ICE) contact, gps
    • nutrition: fluids, energy bars, gels, snacks
    • weather: rain gear, helmet visor, cold weather gear, chemical hand/foot warmers
    • tire repair: pump, CO2, tubes, patch kit w. unopened glue, tire levers, tire boot, spare tire
    • bike repair: multitool, chain tool, master-link, spoke wrench, fiberfix spoke, groove joint pliers, penknife
    • nighttime: reflective vest & ankle bands, LED flashlight, spare bulbs & batteries, clear lenses, space blanket, chewing gum
    • multi-purpose: electrical tape, produce bags, super glue, Tyvek sheet, zip ties, zip-lock bag

Event

Hydration

Attempt to maintain a regular hydration interval, e.g. 20 or 30 minutes. A typical baseline is 1 oz. of water per hour per 10 pounds of body weight, i.e. one small water bottle per hour for a 160 lb. rider. The optimal amount is a function of weather conditions, rider weight, individual physiology and effort level. Considerably more is needed in warm conditions when sweat rates are elevated.

Nutrition

Most riders should attempt a minimum of 0.3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weigh, i.e. 40-60 grams per hour. This won't meet your energy needs completely but will help sustain performance. It's possible to train your digestive system so don't be discouraged if you're not able to achieve the minimum rate initially.

What form of energy is best? Solids (real food or energy bars), liquids and gels all work, so it's your choice. If it tastes good, chances are you'll use it on a more regular basis. Some riders find solids difficult to eat while riding wheras sport drinks containing 6-10% carbohydrate have the advantage of meeting fluid and energy needs at the same time. A standard water bottle of sport drink provides about 37-50 grams and a large bottle about 45-60 grams. Many riders find sport drinks to be less appealing after 6-8 hours, so getting some variety throughout the ride is advisable. Controls are a good place to eat some solid food and satisfy your cravings.

Strategy

The ride pace should be relatively steady and at a level that will enable you to complete the event in a manner consistent with your goals and conditioning. It's usually advantageous to moderate your pace in the early part of the ride so that it can be maintained later on. It's more common, and less enjoyable, to begin at a pace that can't be maintained.

Brevets have a generous time limit but the clock is always ticking. Experienced randonneurs are very efficient at the controls. They will get their brevet card signed, purchase supplies, refill water bottles and use the restrooms in 5-10 minutes. This allows them to bank time in case they take a longer stop later in the ride, e.g. for lunch or to repair a mechanical.

Brevets are long rides and thinking about the total distance can be overwhelming. It can be helpful to break the ride down into stages and focus on completing each one separately. Finding other riders who ride about the same pace can make the miles go by faster.

Along the way, don't forget to have fun. You are getting to spend the day on your bicycle riding on rural roads with other people who share the same passion. What could be better than that?