The long bike ride: An advanced 3.5hr bike session for experienced triathletes

A long bike ride with shifts in cadence and intensity will help you cope with fatigue, says British Triathlon head coach Ben Bright


The long ride is part of the staple diet for any triathlete serious about improving their performance, especially in the off-season when base aerobic conditioning is so important.


The session that follows takes the long ride and adds another couple of dimensions to it, giving you base and muscular endurance, as well as neuromuscular and lactate threshold conditioning all in the same ride. It’s between 2.5 to 3.5hrs long, depending on how you plan it.

How fit do you need to be to do a long ride?

I would prescribe this ride [see The Long Bike Session bottom of the page) to an athlete who has plenty of experience with longer bike sessions (3hrs and longer) and only after a good four to six weeks of base training.

I wouldn’t normally give this ride to someone in their first or possibly even second year of the sport, mainly because of the additional stress it places on the body over a normal long ride. If you’ve had, or have, knee or back problems, this probably isn’t the session for you.

A mainly flat-to-undulating route should be chosen so you can hold a consistent effort and cadence. Also, try to plan a route that means you have as few stops as possible, and leave the cafe stop until after the ride; otherwise much of the benefit will be lost.

Because most of these rides will be done in winter, make sure you’re prepared for the elements and take all the usual tools you’ll need to fix a flat, as well as your phone in a plastic bag. Take two large water bottles with you – one with your normal sports drink mix and the other with water – as well as two or three sports nutrition bars and a couple of gels. Aim for between 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour, slightly less if you’re trying to drop some weight.

How to warm up for the long bike ride

The session begins with a 45-60min warm-up. Start at a ‘Very Easy’ intensity (around 6-7 on the Borg Rate of perceived exertion or RPE scale) and gradually build up, so by the last 5-10mins or so you’re riding at a ‘Steady’ intensity (12-13 RPE).

Once warmed up you can begin the low cadence, or Over Gear (OG), part of the ride for between 30-45mins. Holding a steady intensity (12-13 RPE) and pedalling at around 70-75rpm cadence, really work at being smooth and holding good form. The golden rule with the OG section is that you should not be rocking on the saddle. Hold yourself as stable as possible – if you’re not able to do that, increase your cadence until you can.

The OG part of the ride will work on stressing your muscular endurance so that by the time you’ve finished, your legs should feel pretty tired – a bit like you’ve been to the gym and done plenty of endurance weights. Conversely, your heart rate should remain slightly lower than normal at that intensity, so your cardiovascular system will be slightly less stressed.

Once you’ve completed the OG section, ride for another 30-45mins at an ‘Easy’ intensity (10-11 RPE), making sure that you stay smooth on the pedals and you’re looking after your hydration and nutrition.

Now move into 10-30mins of ‘Tempo’ to ‘Hard’ riding (14-15 on the RPE scale), holding a cadence of between 90-100 rpm or ‘Race Gear’ (RG). Again, be as smooth and consistent as you can during this part of the ride. There’ll be a higher neuromuscular and cardiovascular cost to this part of the ride over the OG section.

The benefit comes from learning to ride smoothly and efficiently with the additional fatigue you’ve accumulated from the OG section. Finish off with another 30mins of easy riding back home or to the coffee shop.

The first time you do this session I’d advise to do only 30mins of the OG section and build this up by 5-10mins each time you go out, up to 60mins. Build up the RG part of the ride as well, starting at 10mins up to 30mins.

Do this ride every three weeks or so over the winter and into your pre-season training with your normal long ride in the weeks between.

The long bike session breakdown

Here’s a breakdown of how you should tackle the 3.5hr bike session…

0mins: Check your equipment is ready, including any monitoring device(s) you use.

15mins: Stop for your first wee. You should be stopping every 30-45mins if you’re properly hydrated.

30mins: Build intensity so you’re ready for the OG section. Don’t forget to start eating and drinking.

1hr: Steady (12-13 RPE) OG section starts. Be smooth and consistent.

1:45hrs: Settle back into an easy pace at your normal cadence but keep pedalling smoothly.

2hrs: Stand up and stretch the back out. It might be a bit tight after that OG riding

2:15hrs: Check your nutrition – you should be more than halfway through it by now.

2.30hrs: Move into your Tempo to Hard section (14-15 RPE). Try to employ your aero position.

3hrs: Into a very easy spin.

3:25hrs: Keep eating and drinking because the recovery process begins now.


3.30hrs: Which cake do I want? Decisions, decisions.