While most of us cyclists don't race, there is an increase in the popularity of gran fondos and other semi-competitive timed events.
Even though such events require participants to obey all traffic laws, there is still a desire by most cyclists to record as fast a time as possible. Since all the rules of the road must be obeyed, running red lights and stop signs are not part of the equation when trying to go as fast as possible. That leaves three major ways of minimizing your riding time:
- Training hard
- Finding a fast group with which to ride
- Having efficient rest stop technique
Of the three areas mentioned above, being quick and efficient while at rest stops is the easiest way to improve your finishing time. And you don't need to spend extra money on boutique carbon components or slog through long hours riding in the rain to be fast through the rest stops. Focus and concentration are key.
Plan What You'll Take
The first and most important aspect is to have a plan. While the riders unconcerned with their finishing time treat a rest stop like a buffet lunch, if you are planning on going fast, you should have a very good idea exactly what you want to eat to keep the fire burning.
That usually means generic rest stop food such as bananas or cookies. It is all about carbohydrates and a little bit of fat, so you don't need to be picky; just choose foods that are easy to digest and keep down.
Next, when it comes to liquids, make sure you know what you are putting in your bottle. Personally, I prefer plain water, but if you need electrolytes make sure the brand being offered is one that doesn't upset your stomach. Fill your bottles quickly and put them back in their cages. You can drink from them when you are on the bike heading down the road.
Hydration packs are more difficult to fill and should only be used if the distance between rest stops is so great that you can't make it on two full bottles.
Keep Your Lid On
I used to think that this next point was pretty obvious, but I see people taking off their helmet and gloves at every rest stop. This is an unnecessary waste of time. A properly adjusted helmet should fit almost as if it wasn't on top of your head.
If you take the time to make sure your helmet is properly adjusted, you can keep it on your head for the entire ride. Removing one's gloves is also a time waster. There is no need to take your gloves off to eat and fill your bottles. Again, if your gloves are properly sized and well-fitting, you should be able to wear them all day.
Anticipate Nature's Call
Answering the call of nature is another potential time waster. Anticipate the need to relieve ones self and make every effort to do so at a rest stop. Having to search for cover out on the road can cost you a lot of time and is illegal in most instances. Also, if you have to drop out of a fast group in order to relieve yourself you can lose some really major time.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, don't forget to take the time to thank the volunteers manning the rest stops. These people are giving up a day to make your ride more enjoyable. Putting a few ducats in the karma bank can't hurt when you are slugging up that final climb before the finish.
Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. Find the latest news, rumors and more on his Active Expert blog. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Europe.