Every year since 2010, in that weird bit between Christmas Eve and New Year, the cycling clothing brand Rapha has challenged cyclists to ride 500 kilometres in eight days. The effort is a great way to bank some winter miles, burn off a bit of festive food... or simply escape the house for a few hours! Here are our top tips to make your life easier and the challenge just a little bit more manageable...
Ok, so you have eight days to tick off the 500 kilometres (that's 310.7 miles for you old school lot) which averages out as 62.5km, or 38.9 miles, a day.
The challenge, to a seasoned cyclist, probably sounds like a relatively doable task; but there are some things working against you, such as the fact that the festive season is a time of many beers, which of course will cause hangovers. Family and friends are often visiting or hosting you, and so disappearing off for a ride might not be socially acceptable.
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And, unless you’re based in the Southern Hemisphere, you'll have some rather grotty winter weather to deal with. Let’s plan how to tackle this challenge and look at some tips that we’ve picked up in previous years...
Do it all in one go
If you’re feeling super keen, you could just go and get it all done in one go like our Brad did last year, and Matt Page the year before.
> The Festive 500 in one ride... cycling's new Everesting?
Hmmmm, maybe not.
Plan your potential cycling days
Surprising your relations with an unexpectedly long bike ride isn’t a good idea at the best of times, but during a holiday where one of the base intentions is to spend time with loved ones, you risk making yourself a very unpopular elf.
For many of us, Christmas day itself is off the cards when it comes to potential cycling days, but if you are able to get out on the 25th, it can be one of the nicest days of the year on the roads as most people are having a lovely lazy morning in bed with a bit of bubbly and presents.
The key thing is to plan ahead by finding out when your potential pockets of time for riding are. That will make it a lot easier to fit your riding around socialising and other festive commitments with the added benefit of allowing you to pre-plan your routes.
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Another good piece of advice would be to avoid planning a massive ride on the morning after any big parties. Be realistic and take it from us, a hangover and the prospect of 160km into a headwind do not mix well!
Keep an eye on the weather
There’s no point in making the challenge more difficult by committing to the longer days in the saddle when the worst of the week’s weather is being chucked at you.
As well as building a solid fitness base ready for the new year, the Rapha Festive 500 is supposed to be an enjoyable way of spending the holidays. If riding in the rain isn’t your thing, then don’t subject yourself to hours on end in these conditions.
Be prepared to rearrange your plan slightly so you can ride when the sun is peeking through. Although you don’t want to go crazy at the start, slightly front-loading the eight days and having some buffer is worthwhile just in case the weather does take a turn for the worse in the latter half.
Prep your bike
Riding 500 kilometres at this time of year is going to be an arduous task on your trusty steed, as well as your body. Make sure that your bike is prepped in plenty of time; it's no good heading down to the garage and finding a snapped gear cable five minutes before your first scheduled ride!
Also make sure any parts or spare components that you might require are ordered in plenty of time, as we all know the reliability of the post around Christmas.
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Good things to check are: that your gears are charged (if they're electronic), mudguards are fitted and not rubbing, your wheels are true, your bearings move freely and there are no annoying squeaks that could harm your morale!
Designing a selection of routes is a great way to ensure that you don’t get bored of riding the same roads every day.
A great way to do this is to jump on something like komoot or your mapping app of choice and pick five or six destinations. They don’t have to be the same distance away from your starting point, but make sure they’re in different directions so that you hit different roads.
> Get started on komoot
Once you’ve got a destination, komoot allows you to choose the roads that others have recommended in the past, which is a great way of riding roads and to places that perhaps you don't normally, thus reducing the monotony.
Of course, if you want to make your life easier then pay attention to the elevation of these routes. The miles/kilometres will clock up much quicker on bigger and flatter roads but a balance needs to be found.
Get in a group
The weather is going to be potentially rather grim, but one of the best ways to get out of the door when faced with inclement weather (or a hangover) is to know that your friends are going to be waiting for you at the start point.
If you don’t know any cyclists in your area then fear not, the local cycling club could be a great place to meet people for a spin, even if you only head out with them for one ride. If their rides maybe aren’t what you’re after, then you could try apps such as Link My Ride.
Clothing is key
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, clothing is going to play a crucial role in getting you through a block of riding in the depths of winter. We can’t tailor our advice to everyone’s specific location, but starting with a good base layer is always a strong way to start.
After that, you’ll need to have a good jacket, and if rain is forecast then you can find our recommendations of the best waterproof cycling jackets in our recently updated buyer's guide and accompanying video.
Potentially add an extra layer up top, something to keep your head warm, tights that will keep your legs turning and protection for your extremities in the form of overshoes and some of the best winter cycling gloves will go a long way to improving your ride enjoyment.
You’ll likely need to work out a solution for washing and drying your kit overnight, a process that will quickly make you realise why the pros have soigneurs... Shoes are often the trickiest thing to get dry when the roads have been wet, and damp kicks are also probably the most depressing thing to put on.
Wash your shoes out if they get soaked, then remove the insoles and have a stack of old newspapers ready to stuff in there. You should come down in the morning to perfectly dry shoes.
You might be tackling the Festive 500 with the intention of burning off a lot of those Christmas calories, but don’t forget to fuel those miles. You’re going to be riding through some challenging conditions and the consecutive days of cycling can really hamper your immune system, which is something that you’re going to need with lots of socialising to do.
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Ensure that you've had a good breakfast before you head out of the door. Warming porridge is always nice on a chilly morning, then take some food for the road. My personal favourite is a turkey, stuffing and everything else sandwich. Not the easiest to eat, I’ll admit, but it is incredible for morale.
In fact, all Christmas food and treats are fair game. Turkey and stuffing sandwiches are a personal favourite, although perhaps not the tidiest.
As ever, a cafe stop is highly recommended but you will need to double-check opening hours. Once you get home, a nice cup of tea and a mince pie or three will help you to recover for the following day.
Control the booze
If you’ve got a big ride planned with friends the following morning, then try to take it easy when going for drinks. Alcohol is annoyingly bad for your ability to ride bikes and it can seriously suppress your immune system, which could increase the chances of you getting ill.
As someone who sampled many alcohol-free drinks during England’s Euro 2021 run thanks to some very fun concussion, I can say that they make for a very tasty and genuinely hydrating alternative if you’re looking to cut down, or trying to avoid booze altogether!
Keep the effort steady
It is very easy to start the challenge with fresh legs, smash it on the first ride, then be grovelling through seven more days because your fitness is nowhere and you’ve overdone it.
Remember, it is the middle of winter. The form that graces us in the summer won’t be there, so take it steady and ride within yourself. After all, if in the final few days you're still feeling like Wout Van Aert then you can always open up the taps.
Some of the shortest days of the year happen around this festive period, and that can mean some very dull days. A decent set of lights allow you to get out early or ride past sunset, and we'd always recommend using them to also add to your visibility during daylight hours. You can check out our guide to the best bike lights if you could do with something brighter before you begin your Festive 500.
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Whatever you have, with consecutive days of riding on the cards, you’ll need to remember to charge them up regularly, so have a charging station set up ahead of your first ride.
Put the challenge in context of your longer-term goals
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Look at these eight days as a block of training that help you on your way to your spring and summer goals. This can help the kilometres fly by and if the going gets tough it gives you an extra incentive not to give up.
14. Ride indoors
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Rapha says that virtual rides, which can be completed on platforms such as Zwift, can count towards the total distance. Riding indoors may seem to be against the spirit of the challenge as you won’t have to endure the harshness of the winter weather but if it's safer, more popular or more attainable then it's a great way of still getting the miles in.
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If you are unable to complete the distance outdoors for whatever reason, remember that you can hook your bike up to a smart turbo and screen to continue pumping the pedals on your way to the 500km target.
Don’t stop riding after the challenge ends
Whoop whoop, 500 kilometres done and dusted. What next? Well, it is very easy to just put the bike to one side as you recover from this increased training load which your body isn’t used to. But make sure don’t have such an abrupt switch to nothing, no matter how tempting it is. Active recovery is sensible in order to avoid injury.
Are you ready?
You can read more about the Festive 500 including how to join the Rapha clubhouse rides, purchase the limited edition kit and read Festive 500 stories over on the Rapha website. And, if you've got all of that info above nailed down, then make sure you're signed up for the challenge on Strava using the link below. Anyone who finishes the challenge will earn a digital roundel and entry into the prize draw to win an OPEN U.P. bike equipped with Campagnolo Ekar groupset.
Let us know whether you'll be attempting the challenge and any top tips that you have in the comments section below...
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