Every year there are several mass participation bike races around the country. Events like the Cape Argus cycle tour, The 94.7, The Amashova or The OFM classic comes to mind. As handcyclists we are often attracted to all the hype created around these and ultimately we want to join the fun in taking up the ultimate challenge of endurance cycling.

I’ve spoken to a few riders of different levels to find out what they have experienced riding in these events and any advice they have for first timers.

Training and Preparation

To attempt to cycle any event of around 80 – 110km using only your arms takes a serious amount of training. It’s not something you are just going to decide on doing and then enjoy the ride. In my own experience I would say that for a well-trained individual the time frame to prepare for a ride like one of the SA classics is a minimum of 12 weeks. During this time you will need to do different types of training rides starting off with long slow distance (LSD) rides as the foundation of your preparation. Completing the LSD rides will condition your body to simply be able to go the distance and get to the finish line. We normally spend around 4-6 weeks doing LSD rides and we try to get as close as possible to the distance you will attempt to race. Ideally you should try to go a little bit further that your actual race distance during your preparation. Once you got the distance covered you will need to start doing some specific things like hill work, speed work and intervals. All of these workouts or drills combined with the LSD rides will help to complete your physical preparation and readiness to take on the race. There are many of these 12 week programs available online and the nice thing is that as handcyclists we can pretty much follow most training programs designed for abled bodied cyclists with minor adaptations.

With most of these big events you are going to find yourself sharing the road with thousands of cyclists of different levels. It’s important to be comfortable with this aspect and I advise that you try to hook up with a cycling group similar to your level and doing a few long LSD rides with them. This will help you to develop some crucial group riding skills and on the day save you a great deal of energy by riding in the slip stream behind some of the cyclists and allowing the “peloton” to drag you along to the finish line.

Check your bike and be prepared!

In the previous issue we discussed in great detail how to maintain your bike so that you can have faith in it. The week before your big event is a good time to check all those aspects and to make sure your equipment is as good and ready as you are. Make sure you check your spares and carry two or three spare tubes for a long event. The wheel size we use for handcycles are not a common size for bicycles so after one flat tire and only one spare you will be in trouble should you have another flat.

Also make sure that you carry enough fluids and food. Through your longer rides you would have learned how much fluids you need and also how often you need to eat to make sure you keep your body fuelled up to complete the race. Make sure you dress appropriately and be prepared for anything.

Carry anything you might need with you to look after yourself medically. People forget things like inhalers, medication for allergies or even something simple like a catheter – 6 hours is long time on a bike should you need to go.

Know your event

It’s important to know as much about you event as possible. Find out if there are special parking arrangements in place for the handcycles. When 20 000 people show up looking for parking, it does become very complicated! Find out where you are in the starting order and what the best route is to get there from your parking area. Make sure you are well in time to be able to negotiate the masses to be on the start in time for your group start.

Know the course! There will be maps out which clearly indicates at which kilometre markers you will find water, technical assistance and medical support. Print one of those maps and carry it with you on the day just in case you might need it. Also make a list on the back of it of the emergency contact numbers just in case you run into trouble where you can’t reach one of the aid stations. Remember your phone!

Have fun

Doing an ultra-event can be great fun. You will discover some new things about yourself through the journey and most probably meet some nice new people. Just be prepared, do your homework and the rest will follow.

Some wise words to consider:

Aye-Htun Ohn – Newbie on the block but fast making inroads.

  • Eat and sleep well before the day.
  •  Know your bike mechanically and carry spares.
  • Hand pump are useless during the race. Use those pressurised CO2 canisters.
  • If you don’t ride with the catheter, like me, careful of liquid intake. And TAKE your catheter with!!!! Big lesson learned in 94.7
  • Eat before you get hungry.

Hillary Lewis – handcyling veteran.

  • Train for the distance and terrain you intend racing. It’s no good training on the flats if you want to ride 94.7.
  • Know your body – have enough food and fluids available and eat/drink earlier rather than too late
  • Stick to what you used in training; don’t experiment with any ‘new’ products on race day.
  • Check all nuts and bolts on the bike, rough roads tend to work them loose = disaster on race day.
  • Don’t leave stuff to the last minute…don’t pitch up at the start and start looking for someone to pump your tyres for you…everyone is busy.
  • Ride the pace your body can handle, especially at the start, don’t try to be a hero.