Organised rides are a fantastic way to get the miles in without having to worry about anything but turning your legs – routes will be way marked, feed stations brimming and mechanical support isn’t too far away.
There are hundreds of fantastic sportives out there – with ride distances and difficulties varying from beginner friendly 20km events which promise to be welcoming and friendly to mega monsters which sell themselves on being terrifying.
If this is your first sportive, you probably don’t want or need ‘all the gear’ – you don’t even have to wear lycra if it’s not your thing (though it is a lot more comfy over a long day out in the saddle).
Over the next few pages we've rounded up the important pieces of kit which could make all the difference to your day...
Food & Drink
On a ride longer than 90 minutes, you need to keep your body topped up with adequate hydration and enough carbohydrates to fuel your efforts.
Nearly all sportives provide feed stations – points on the ride where you can fill up on flapjacks, jelly babies, often energy bars and energy drinks.
However, it’s best to use these as pit stops, and bring your own food and drink unless you really want to keep your pockets light, and know that the feed station food will agree with your stomach.
Make sure you have two bottle cages and two large bottles of energy drink or electrolyte drink and enough energy gels, bars, or carby snacks to keep you going – take more than you would for a ‘normal’ ride as cycling alongside other riders, you might find you push the intensity higher, burning more calories than on a steady ride on your own.
Puncture Repair kit & Multitool
On a sportive, mechanical assistance is often provided. However, you’ll generally have to call someone to come and help you, then wait for assistance, so really it’s best to be self-sufficient when it comes to flat tyres.
Pack a saddlebag with a set of tyre levers, one or two inner tubes, and a patch repair kit. It’s usually easier to swap the tube, the patches are just in case you’re unlucky enough to suffer a double puncture.
Hopefully your bike is all set up so that it’s comfortable for you, and you won’t need to make any adjustments as you go – but a multitool is always a useful addition to your saddle bag.
Padded Shorts & Comfortable Saddle
Long rides give a new meaning to ‘sitting on your bum all day’ – and though a sportive is a lot more fun than staring at the telly on your sofa, without the right equipment it can be less comfortable.
Padded shorts are designed to provide comfort – they’re carefully engineered to ensure that the padding is distributed in all the right places, and there is generally no stitching across the pad, to ensure no chafing. It’s important not to wear underwear with your shorts, as this counters all this careful design.
You don’t have to go all out in lycra on your ride, and if the idea of lycra shorts fills you with dread, you can opt for padded underwear and comfortable gym wear – just make sure the ankles are tapered so they don’t flap.
You can make the shorts work even harder by applying chamois cream, which further prevents chafing and also has antibacterial properties to keep you fresh and prevent saddle sores.
No amount of padding or cream, however, will cover the evils of a poorly fitting saddle – so try to find a saddle you like, and complete a few training rides on it, before you set off.
Changes to saddle height, position, or the saddle itself are best avoided before an event, unless absolutely necessary, so try to get most of that dialed a few weeks before your first event.
Sweat Defeating Cycling Top
A lycra jersey isn’t a must for a cycling event – you just need a top that has good wicking properties – meaning sweat is drawn away from the skin – and plenty of breathability. Running tops will work as well, though steer away from baggy material that will flap around on descents.
Cycling jerseys do, however, have a number of benefits – grippers or elasticated hems will keep the jersey from riding up as you lean over, traditional three pocket designs provide space for inner tubes and food, and a central zip is handy for unzipping on climbs and zipping up on descents.
Beneath your jersey, a base layer will sit against your skin, pulling away moisture and keeping you from cooling down when you get sweaty.
Packable, arm and leg warmers, gloves
Over a few hours, weather can change – especially in the UK. Not only that, but over changing terrain, you may find you heat up a lot as you climb, then cool down.
Arm and leg warmers are great because they will keep you warm on an early start, on a long descent, or if the temperature drops, but can be easily removed or rolled down if the sun appears.
A light packable will also be a life saver if you’re unlucky enough to suffer a little rain – look for one that bundles into a tiny package to fit into your jersey for the rest of your ride.
On a sunny day, some riders choose to leave gloves at home, but fingerless mitts can provide relief from fatigue caused by riding over bumpy roads and resting on your hands over long periods. They’re also great for wiping sweat and anything else your face decides to produce (sweat wipe, snot wipe – it’s all the same, right?!)
On a chillier day, you might want to opt for long fingered gloves to ensure your digits are kept toasty warm – a day out with numb fingers is never nice.
Sunglasses, sun cream, money, phone, keys
We might be in the UK – but we can dream! Sun glasses with photochromic lenses – those that grow darker in the sun and lighter in cloudy conditions – are best, otherwise opt for dark lenses on a sunny day and clear lenses if it’s not so bright.
It’s a good idea to apply a layer of sun cream, too – just to be sure, and don’t forget your arms and legs if you’re wearing warmers, as you may strip off later!
Hopefully you shouldn’t need to whip your phone out (except to take pictures) but it’s a good idea to have the phone number for someone at the event HQ tapped into your phone, in case you do need some help, and make sure you’ve got an emergency contact under ‘ICE – In Case of Emergency’.
You shouldn’t need to buy too much, either, with feed stations along the way, but a ‘just in case’ bit of cash and a debit or credit card is always helpful – best stored in a clear bag. You’ll also probably want to get back into your home or car, too – so don’t forget the keys!
And - that should be it! If you're getting ready for a big sportive - check out our guide on How To Ride And Enjoy Your First Sportive.