Boosting your cycling endurance takes more than just an iron will. You need the right kit capable of enduring those miles with you.
A major element of professional cycling is the gargantuan distances participants have to endure. While incredible fitness regimes and ever lighter bikes have played a role, top riders and teams also spend a lot of time on improving the bike's comfort, and the durability of the equipment and touch points. The good news for riders everywhere is that much of this advancement has trickled down over the years, becoming accessible for those outside the upper echelons.
Take a look at some of the key areas where cyclists have pushed endurance technologies and find out where you can take advantage of these solutions and improve your mileage overnight.
Endurance and comfort
Unfortunately, there's no secret to riding long miles and no quick fix. It takes work, dedication, and time to build up the slow-twitch musculature needed for those epic miles. However, there are ways of making this developmental process easier, ensuring you remain comfortable enough on the bike to reach these immense distances.
Being uncomfortable, sitting in the wrong position, or using the wrong size of equipment or frame can make long rides incredibly difficult or even impossible, and can lead to injury. Professional race teams take bike comfort extremely seriously and go to great lengths to ensure every part, component, element of the frame, and piece of clothing or equipment is perfect for the rider. Discomfort will impinge on performance and limit your ability to improve your endurance.
When trying to improve your fortitude, you should consider the bike's touch points - the saddle, bars, and pedals - and ensure your clothing is ready for the long rides, particularly your bib shorts.
Below, we'll take a look at these areas individually.
Getting the right saddle
Your bike saddle is fundamental to an efficient and comfortable riding position. You should ensure it's correctly aligned, at the right height, and the right shape for your sit bones.
How to check saddle height
Get on your bike, and place your heel on the pedal. Rotate the crank backwards to the six o'clock position. At this point, your leg should be locked out. If your knee is still bent you may need to increase the height of the seat. Do this in small adjustments until your leg is straight while your weight is on the saddle.
How to check your saddle angle
Your saddle should be within a few degrees of perfectly flat. A minority of riders can find a minor tilt backwards or forwards is beneficial for their physique, but tilting the saddle too much can lead to problems. A downward pointing saddle can cause unnecessary pressure on the knee and upper body, as you try to stop sliding forward. A saddle angled upwards can cause lumbar pain as your pelvis is tilted backwards, forcing you to stretch for the handlebars. In general, however, if the saddle is flat and causing you discomfort, you most likely have the wrong saddle.
Try a different saddle
One rider’s perfect perch can be torture for another. Finding that Goldilocks saddle can take a long time, but the search will be well worth it. A key thing to remember is more padding does not necessarily mean more comfort. Far more important is the shape of the saddle’s hull and its fit relative to your anatomy. The width of the saddle’s tail will be matched as closely as possible to the distance between the sit bones, providing perfect pelvic support.
There is no substitute for trying a number of different models, and most riders will go through a several - if not more - saddles before finding 'the one'. Also remember, a saddle that feels uncomfortable just out of the box may well fit perfectly a few weeks down the line. Alternatively, an instantly-comfortable seat may feel like a pain in the proverbial after a while.
Saddlemaker Fizik's spine concept is increasingly influential as an assessment of which style of perch best suits an individual cyclist. The video below provides a full explanation and may help your decision making.
Fizik's Antares shape is wide and slightly curved in profile, best suited to those with a 'bull' riding position. The R1’s carbon thermoplastic composite shell and carbon braided rail reduce weight and increase saddle stiffness.
Getting the right handlebars for endurance
The geometry of your handlebars will dictate much about your posture and comfort on long rides. The first thing is to check you have the correct width of bars compared to the broadness of your shoulders.
To measure the width of bars you need, start by finding the bony protrusions on the front of your shoulders and measure the distance between these with a tape measure. Now add two centimetres to account for your arms naturally rotating outward in your riding position.
Some bars have flared drops, making them slightly wider than the hoods. If buying flared handlebars, match your shoulder width to the distance at the hoods, not the drops.
Bar widths can vary from 36cm wide up to 46cm, so there should be the perfect set of handlebars out there for you. If you're between sizes, go for the wider option.
Once you have the width of the bars selected, you need to choose the aggressiveness of the drop. Some bars come as 'compact' or 'shallow', with a shorter distance between the top of the bar and the drops. This makes for a less extreme change in position when moving from the hoods to the drops, which can be better for riders with less flexibility.
Like the saddles, Fi'zi:k have shaped their handlebars to suit the three main body types; bull, snake and chameleon. Made from high-modulus carbon, this is the lightest and strongest Fi'zi:k handlebar.
Double wrap bar tape
To add comfort, some pro riders add a second layer of bar tape. This is especially useful for roads with uneven surfaces or cobbled sections.
Lizard Skins' DSP (DuraSoft Polymer) bar tape is being used by a number of pros in the world's top competitions. It was created for superior comfort, optimised feel and better control. It's ultra lightweight at only 56g per set (including plugs) and provides increased shock absorption and superior grip in all conditions.
Check your reach
The length of your bike stem will determine your reach. It's important not to over-stretch while riding long distances, which can lead to back and neck pain. Riders looking for a long, low, aerodynamic position on the bike, such as competitive racers, will opt for a longer (120mm+) stem to achieve a streamlined cycling position. However, you can't ride for long in discomfort, no matter how aerodynamic you are. If you're not a pro, a deep riding position may not be sustainable over long miles, so using a shorter stem to facilitate a more upright riding position will make sense. Strike your balance between low and upright in favour of feeling comfortable.
Riders who don’t like to be too stretched on the bike may find that a stem 10mm shorter, or a rise of a few degrees more, can result in a more upright riding position that may suit them better. Conversely, budding racers looking for pedalling efficiency and better aerodynamics may wish to add a few millimetres to the stem length or drop the cockpit down a few degrees. Experimentation will reveal what’s right for you.
Many professional riders use the sturdier one-piece cockpits with only a slight rise, an aerodynamic profile, and lightweight materials.
The Easton EA90 Stem is an ideal balance of stiffness and lightweight, with very little rise, facilitating that deep, aerodynamic riding position.
Check handlebar height
Pro cyclists will often have a significantly higher saddle compared to their handlebars. This helps put the rider in a low, aggressive position that's ideal for maximum power and an aerodynamic advantage. However, what's most important is the ability to remain in position for long periods of time, and capable of generating your maximum level of power. Adjusting your handlebar height is easy, so experiment with incrementally different heights until you find the perfect setting for your riding style.
Pedals and shoes
Your pedals and shoes play a vital role in ensuring you stay comfortable on the bike. It's important you have set-up your cleats correctly, have the right amount of 'float', and quality shoes with a stiff carbon sole for maximum power transfer.
View our Pedals and Cleats buying guide for a complete description on getting everything right from the feet up.
Choosing the right cycling shoes
If you want to follow in the pedal pushes of the pros, then using clipless pedals is a must. Going clipless ensures you can deliver power on the upstroke as well as the downstroke, and aids stability and bike control. Check out our guide on going clipless if you haven't already made the switch.
The Shot is the latest top-of-the-range shoe from Sidi and worn by many stars of the pro-peloton. Packed with pro-level features and a full-carbon base, these shoes will be pedalling their way through the toughest terrains in competitions around the world throughout this year.
The pedals to go the distance
As with everything else on the bike, you can shave off some precious grammes with a lightweight pair of pedals.
At only 248g, these pedals feature a satisfyingly wide platform so you still benefit from a high level of power transfer.
In the professional tiers, quality bib shorts offer protection, breath-abilty, and even some aerodynamic advantages. The benefits of well-made shorts will make a big difference to your cycling experience, allowing you to cycle harder and for longer with the extra comfort they provide. Poor shorts causing chaffing or lacking sweat-wicking properties, meanwhile, will put a painful brake on your endurance ambitions.
Once you have an excellent pair of bib shorts, consider using a quality chamois cream to keep you cool and lubricated, especially on a long ride.
The Castelli brand will be a common site at many of the world's biggest races throughout this year. These endurance shorts are designed for long rides and feature Castelli's famous Progetto X2 Air seatpad, delivering superior rider comfort as the miles roll by. The newly engineered bib strap construction is also great on a wide range of body shapes.
There are two main ways pro cyclists optimise their tyres for comfort. The most common is reducing tyre pressure, providing a smoother ride. While it might seem counter-intuitive for a softer tyre to be more efficient, testing has dispelled many of the long-held dogmas about stiffer rubber.
Another method increasingly employed by top riders is to use wider tyres. Again, it had been thought the extra rubber in contact with the ground meant more friction and less rolling efficiency, but thinking has changed in recent years with real world testing finding in favour of a larger contact area.
Check out these tests at different pressures and widths by Continental, which gives a rigorous insight into the benefits of softer, wider tyres.
Endurance and nutrition
Just like the configuration and timing of fuelling in Formula One racing, nutrition plays a gigantic role in road cycling at the elite level. How much to drink and eat, and when, is of paramount importance to top team, and huge efforts are devoted to getting it right.
For endurance, cyclists pay most attention to their hydration, carbohydrates, and electrolytes, to ensure they have the necessary stock of energy and the chemistry needed to change it into power.
Another commonly equipped commodity on the pro peleton, OTE's gel pouches are perfect for a quick energy boost during a tough endurance cycle, containing 20g of carbohydrates and electrolytes to help replace those important salts lost during sweating.