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How to complete the Festive 500: Top tips to conquer 500km this Christmas

Jack Elton-Walters
16 Dec 2021

Prepare yourself and your bike properly and the Rapha Festive 500 can be an enjoyable way to spend time cycling this Christmas

The Rapha Festive 500 returns for its 12th year this Christmas and if done right it can be a great way to maintain your cycling fitness over the festive period.

However, if approached incorrectly it could see you fall out with family and friends, do yourself or your bike harm, and – worst of all – potentially not complete the challenge.

Words such as moderation and balance might sound like something a corporate suit would come out with but when it comes to completing the Rapha Festive 500 and logging all those kilometres on Strava, these words go a long way to setting you up for success.

Setting up your bike for winter

Rain and mud can already be problematic enough when you're riding outside but, if you live somewhere prone to frost or snow, you can add road salt to the mix, which attacks every metal part of your bike. 

As the above video shows, cleaning and relubing your drivetrain doesn't need to be too much of an ordeal. In fact, as long as you're not too cold and wet when you get home it might pay to just get on and clean the bike as soon as you hop off it and then go for a shower once it's done.

Remember to check and clean brake pads and rims too (or pads and rotors if on a disc brake bike), as debris on the pads will soon make its presence known on the rims. Inspect your tyres and remove any embedded flints, stones or thorns.

Even if you went heavy on the lube before the first ride of the Festive 500 and you're convinced it'll do until the end of the last ride, remember that all the muck sticking to that lube and gumming up your rear derailleur is making every ride that little bit harder.

If it gets too clogged up, it could affect your shifting quality which is sure to undermine your experience as you near the 500km finish line.

Getting the kit right

There's nothing heroic about going out with bare legs (and even arms) when it's -1°C and there's a frost on the verge. Dress properly for your own comfort and to avoid distracting other riders who might glance across incredulously at the sight of your goosebumped lower legs.

As well as the obvious winter jacket and bib tights for your limbs, it's essential to keep your extremities warm so a decent pair of gloves and a pair of toe covers or overshoes should be donned for winter cycling.

If it's really cold, consider a neck warmer and thermal cap to keep your throat and head warm and out the wind.

Additional items such as a lightweight wind or waterproof jacket can be stuffed in a jersey pocket for emergencies or to throw on while changing a tube or queuing for coffee at an outdoor kiosk.

Also given the length of the rides you'll probably be doing, consider a handlebar bag, larger saddle bag or even a rack with lightweight panniers to carry extra bidons, snacks and a fresh outer layer.

Routes

A route planning app plus a GPS bike computer is a winning combination. You might know every road, lane and climb in your local area but it's very annoying when you think you're 10km from home but actually the distance is nearer 5km and you have to go up and down the road a few times to meet that day's target distance.

Head in early and you could leave yourself a lot to do on New Year's Eve.

Plot a course using something like the Route Planner on Ride With GPS and you can be sure of the distance you'll be riding. Sync that route to a head unit such as the Wahoo Elemnt Roam and you can get on with enjoying the ride without wondering if you've gone far enough away from home before looping back.

Pre-planned routes also have other advantages such as the pure joy of planning what is likely to be a fairly epic undertaking in the middle of winter, the avoidance of repetition by including less familiar roads in your routes and a fair idea of how long you might be away from home so you can better plan your cycling around other commitments.

Cutting a ride too short is a risk, but so is underestimating the length of a route causing you to get home 90 minutes later than planned, resulting in a missed family dinner.

At its most basic, the Rapha Festive 500 can be done in five separate 100km rides on, for example, 24th, 27th, 28th, 30th and 31st. This gives you Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, plus a rest between the two sets of two consecutive days.

Better still, go big on Christmas Eve – 150km or more – with a similarly long day on 27th. This will stand you in good stead towards the end of the challenge. Plan it well and you could be done before New Year's Eve, or at least build in some contingency in case icy roads or non-riding commitments rule out planned riding days.

Of course, be ready to push back your start time or amend rides on the fly if ice or poor weather conditions are factors on the day.

Nutrition

Making no claims about its actual nutritional value, we all know that cake goes with cycling – it just does. Have you noticed how great a chunk of Christmas cake tastes when pulled, slightly squished, from a jersey pocket when the temperature is near to freezing and you've got a good 50km left of your pre-planned route?

All that fruity, boozy goodness will do wonders for ticking off the kilometres that lie between you and Festive 500 glory.

Cake praising aside, staying fuelled and hydrated is essential but sometimes harder to keep on top of when the temperature drops. Drinking enough can be a conscious effort when you haven't got sweat running down your face and sun-dried tongue to remind you to take a swig from your bidon.

Bonk (run out of energy) on a cold ride and you'll know about it as your body is forced to work even harder to stay warm. Eat enough, drink enough and most of all enjoy getting out on your bike over Christmas.

Plan properly and it doesn't need to be at the expense of time spent with family, friends and whatever BBC One is churning out this year (fingers crossed for back-to-back Wallace and Gromit).

Training indoors

Don't forget that the Festive 500 can also be completed from the comfort of your own home as indoor kilometres are also counted towards your total.

That means none of the faffing around with route planning, bag packing and layering as you can just let Zwift – or other platforms – do the business and you can get a ride or two in when the kids have gone to bed.

If you need to make 500km in the pain cave a bit more interesting, try one of our carefully curated turbo training playlists.

Need some help and inspiration? Head to our winter cycling hub for in-depth winter kit, bike and training advice from Cyclist's team of experts.

Additional contributions by Will Strickson.

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