The mechanics of a successful sportive are shared between you and your bike. Not only do you need to have prepared and practised, but your bike too needs to be sharp and ready for the road.
In sport, nothing is more frustrating than failing due to an unforced error – those mistakes and oversights that could be put right with just a little attention to detail.
In this edition of The Hub’s Sportive Training Guide, we’ll help you spot and fix those common mechanical problems that can ruin your event, and give guidance on servicing your steed to ensure it rolls without a hitch on the day.
We’ll also look at pre-event planning, and provide you with a last-minute checklist to ensure you’re all set.
Making pre-sportive repairs, and modifications is for many cycling enthusiasts the most enjoyable part of the event.
After all, an afternoon spent fettling with mechanical components isn’t just about enjoying the zen of the art of bicycle maintenance, it’s also a huge part of your sportive preparations.
But beware – while The Hub encourages general tinkering and bike optimisation, you should be careful not to change your bike’s ride position; avoid making any changes to saddle height, bar position just before your event. A maladjusted cockpit can lead to injury over the course of a long ride, so seek professional help if you’re unhappy with your set-up ahead of the event.
With that in mind, you’ll still want to service, check, and optimise the rest of your steed before your event, so where should you focus your attention?
Here’s The Hub’s top tips on areas that need some considered care.
Look over the bike chain. Add chain lube if it looks dry and wipe off any excess. Brush out the links with a firm brush (an old toothbrush also works), or use a chain cleaning tool, such as the Park Tool Cyclone Chain Scrubber. Also, if your chain has covered significant mileage, it might be worth checking it hasn’t stretched. Stretched chains will be on the verge of breaking, which can be disastrous for your sportive. Checking for chain stretch can require some precision, so it’s best to use a device such as the Park Tool Chain Checker CC2 or the KMC Regular Chain Checker to ensure your measurements are accurate.
As slick road tyres have little to no tread, it can be difficult to detect wear. Fresh tyres will have a rounded profile at its contact point with the ground, while worn tyres will have flattened rubber along the centre of the tyre. Bikes are rear wheel drive, so unlike most cars, the back tyre is likely to be the first to wear out.
After checking the tyre’s surface, move onto the the sidewall. Check for nicks or damage and replace. As the sidewall wears, you should start to see the threads from the carcass showing through.
If you have time, check the bead for any signs of damage.
Finally, check your tyre pressure and ensure you recheck it on the day of your sportive. Wide variance can be caused by changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure.
First clean the cassette so any wear is clearly visible. Look for teeth flattened near the top. This will indicate you’ve been using a stretched chain for too long, so you’ll need to replace both.
Look for excessive wear on particular cogs, especially those you favour while riding. If there are big disparities in wear between your most-used cogs and the rest of the cassette, it may be time to replace the lot.
If your rim brakes feel a little unresponsive, take a look at the rubber. If it’s smooth, and the teeth, grooves, or original grip pattern is worn away then it’s time to replace.
For those with disc brakes, you need to remove the wheel and pull the brake pad out of the calliper to judge if they’re worn. Disc brake pads start out with about 3-4mm of compound and need replaced once down to around 1mm.
Check all brake and gear cables and cable housings for fraying, breakage, rust, or corrosion. If your gear or brake levers are returning to their neutral positions slowly, they could be filled with crud and need cleaned. If you spot any fraying or damage, don’t risk it and replace them.
If you find the connection between the pedal and the cleat has become less predictable – either jamming occasionally, or allowing your shoe to pop out – it’s probably time to freshen up those cleats. You can tell the level of wear on SPD-SL cleats by checking the coloured portions of the underside. If these have worn away, exposing the cleat body underneath, then you need to replace them. If they look fine and you’re still having problems, then adjust the binding mechanism on the pedal with an Allen key.
Using a wrench, go around the bike and test the tightness of all the moving parts and connecting joints. Pay particular attention to the crankarm, chainring, stem, and handlebar bolts. Also check your pedals, seat and seatpost bolts, and all any other mounting bolts/screws.
Check out this video from the guys at British Cycling on some of their pre-event checks.
After all your preparations over the past few months, you don’t want to be caught out by a foolish oversight. But with so much to remember, leaving behind a vital piece of equipment or documentation is a trap to which many fall pray.
So, to ensure you haven’t overlooked anything, check out our sportive checklist below to so you can head to your event with nothing to worry about except your performance.
Hopefully you’re in good enough time to pick up whatever you’re missing before the big day.
Bike repair and maintenance
Packing a multi-tool is good practice in general, especially for a long ride such as a sportive.
Another item only a novice would leave home without. Even if you have an existing kit, make sure you check it thoroughly and that you haven’t used all the glue or patches.
Again, over the course of a 60-200 mile sportive, there’s little point taking a risk by foregoing essentials like a trusty bicycle pump. Make sure yours is in working order.
Spare inner tubes
Again, a sportive essential to ensure you can keep going even if you hit a nasty snag.
Unless you have hulk-like wrists and fingers it’s a challenge to change a tyre without a tyre lever.
Extra sportive equipment
Second water bottle and cage
Yes, there will be water and food stations along your sportive but don’t leave anything to chance – they have ran out in the past, and they’ll run out again in the future. Yes, it’s a little extra weight, but running out of water is just not worth taking a chance for an extra few seconds of time.
Organised cycling events will require you to wear a lid at all times, so if you’ve waited this long to get one, now’s the time.
Surely you want to share your time, route, and distance with your cycling friends, then print off the route and hang it in a decadent gold-plated frame above your mantelpiece? OK, maybe that’s just us…
Sun block and lip salve
Often neglected, make sure you’ve brought sun block and leave with a good slathering, even if the sun is fairly weak.
The only thing fuelling your ride is calories, so make sure you bring enough. You don’t want to have come this far, made all these checks, carried out all this maintenance, and completed all this training only to bonk half way through having neglected to bring some energy gels.
You’re going to be in that saddle for a while, so make sure your chamois shorts are generously lubricated with good quality cream. Riding with chafing thighs is intolerable and could even end your event prematurely.
Weather relevant clothing
Make sure you check the weather carefully beforehand and dress appropriately. However, even if the forecast is resoundingly good or poor, it’s good practice to be prepared for anything.
Check out our Sportive Training Guide Part 5 for tips on quality cycling clothing and its benefits, and read on for a checklist of essential items.
Sweat-wicking and breathable materials are essential.
Some padded cycling shorts are important to avoid any chafing along the way.
A fly in the eye is no laughing matter, and neither is being blinded on a particularly bright day. Some quality eyewear is a sportive essential. It’s also worth bringing clear lenses should the day remain overcast.
Arm and leg warmers
The advantage of decent arm and leg warmers is that you can make adjustments to suit the exact temperature. Never a bad idea…
Don’t get caught out in the rain without a packable waterproof jacket. Four hours of riding in the driving drizzle does not a happy sportive experience make.
If you’re travelling abroad for your sportive, make sure you’ve got up-to-date bike insurance. It’s cheaper than you think.
Wrap your phone in a plastic bag and secret in your bike storage. Better safe than sorry should the unexpected happen.
If you there’s an unfortunate incident, it’s best to have some ID just in case.