The End of the Ride

Years ago, shortly after I moved to New England, I got a piece of advice from a friend. He looked down at my bare legs and chuckled. I asked why he was laughing. I pointed out that it was pretty warm out, despite the fact that it was a fall day. He pointed to a ridge and the setting sun.

“Once the sun drops behind that ridge, the temperature will, too.”


He then told me, “Never dress for the beginning of the ride. Dress for the end of the ride.”


He then explained how on a cold morning, if I dressed for 40 degrees, I’d be burning up three hours later when the temperature hit 60. And if I rolled out on a warm afternoon in shorts and a jersey, I might be hypothermic by the time I struggled home at nightfall. He also pointed out that dressing for five hours at 40 degrees was different than dressing for two hours at 40 degrees, that the longer I was out, the slower I was likely to go and the need to wear a bit more clothing because I wouldn’t be generating as much heat.

In time, he and more experienced teammates would also explain that eating for a training ride was not like eating for a race. With a ride, I could eat just enough to get me home and then if I bonked going up the stairs, it didn’t matter; I could inhale a peanut butter sandwich over the sink. But in a race, I needed to eat more not only because I was working harder, but because I needed my tank topped off for that final sprint, whether I was likely to win or not.

It’s a mindset that even applies to bicycle maintenance. Going on a gravel ride with lots of rock and plenty of opportunity for a flat? Don’t bring just one tube. Similarly, when you live in a place with either lots of dust or mud, don’t lube the chain enough to make it quiet, lube the chain until you’ve made the links shine before wiping it down.

That old adage has returned to me. I now live in a place where the temperature can vary more than 40 degrees over the course of the day in summer and sometimes 30 degrees in winter. Dressing for the end of the ride, and not the beginning, is harder than ever before. And while I may find myself debating long-sleeve jersey vs. arm warmers as I dress, it’s that application concerning food that has me thinking. Now that I have kids, when I get home from a ride on the weekend, I don’t get much down time. I need to shower, eat and be ready to head off to do something with my favorite people.

If I walk in the door having fallen into the ravine of a bonk, I’m useless. Not just to me—I’m useless to my wife as well as my kids. And as they grow, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with them. Recently, I found myself downing a bar less than two miles from home. Lunch was less than a half hour away. That bar vanquished the desperation I normally feel when I walk in the kitchen.

But maybe this is a more elemental lesson returned yet again. Plan for the whole of a day, not just the ride.

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  1. DaveinME says

    Great piece Padraig. I know I sometimes struggle with clothing choices. Summer is easy, but the rest of the year takes some strategizing. I typically dress in layers so I can tweak what I have on throughout a ride.
    As for food, I always carry a lot, plus money for emergencies. As a type 1 diabetic I eat roughly every half hour. When I’m on a fast group ride that interval will shorten to every 15 minutes. Bonking isn’t an option because that would likely mean an ambulance ride. The two times I got very close to bonking I had the good luck to be very close to convenience stores.

  2. TominAlbany says

    Padraig, This is just perfect. You dress for ‘success.’ In this case, success looks like a civilized human being AFTER the bike ride!!

    I try to arrive home not starving as well. Wouldn’t want to ruin my dinner!

  3. scottg says

    On a winter ride up to Youngs Dairy, one of the riders got very cold on the way to
    the Dairy. He bought nice thick Youngs Dairy sweatshirt, a much happier rider on the way
    back. Why do you ride to an ice cream shop on a 28 degree day?, instead of a warm summer
    day, damn if I know. Nobody bought ice cream of those rides. They did have a good breakfast.

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