Sometimes a sportive is all those things all at once.
There’s more to riding a bike than you think.
Some of you were born to express your freedom by throwing a leg over a bike and setting off for a few hours or a few days on your way to better fitness, a more active lifestyle, and a richer social life. Yet once you’ve ridden all your favourite routes backward, forward, solo, with friends, and throughout all seasons, there’s more! A cyclosportive (or sportive for short) can be what you want it to be: a new adventure, a physical challenge, a social outing, or a personal test. Sometimes a sportive is all those things all at once.
Sportives are most frequently mass participation, non-competitive cycling events. They are usually signposted rides that last from 20-100 miles or more and feature support in the form of feed stations, mechanical and medical assistance, a goody bag, and a medal, or a certificate of completion. There is often a competitive element to sportives, which almost always feature electronic timing if you want to test your efforts without all the stress of racing.
You can challenge yourself without having to get a racing licence, and you can do a sportive without having to train too hard. Sportives also showcase routes that may not be part of your roster of routine rides so there’s more to take away from a sportive than just a fun experience, some hard-earned hardware, and personal satisfaction.
The UK is home to hundreds of sportives that happen throughout the year. Most of them are road sportives but there are also mixed surface cyclo-cross and gravel sportives, which feature a mix of lanes, cycle tracks, and bridleways. Many sportives are part of a series although the ones that are stand-alone events outsize their series peers by boasting longer, harder routes, with extra participant perks. Some sportives also double up as charity events that donate a portion of your entry fee to a charity partner so there’s one more thing to be proud of once you finish a sportive.
To ease yourself into the sportive culture for the first time, you and your bike may benefit from a bit of preparation. Here are a few tips to help get you rolling.
When you bring your A game to your first sportive, you’ll want your bike to perform at its best as well. To make that happen, first clean it well — a bike that’s free of drivetrain-clogging contaminants will run better from the beginning. Next up check your tyres to make sure they’re free of nicks and cuts and that they aren’t worn. Make sure your tyres are pumped up to the proper tyre pressure. Check your brakes to make sure that the pads still have enough material to supply sufficient stopping power and adjust them for optimal braking force. Give your wheels a spin to check and see if they are centered evenly between your fork (front) and your chain and seat stays (rear). Gently squeeze together two spokes at a time to check spoke tension. Each spoke should yield about the same amount of resistance so if anything feels off, check for loose or broken spokes. It’s not a bad idea to tighten your handlebar and seat stems but there’s not need to tighten them to the point of no return. Tighten the bolts enough to secure the stems in place without stripping the bolt threads. Lastly, lube your chain by applying a thin stream of lube while rotating your chain around the drivetrain so that each link gets lubed. Run your chain between your fingers to work the lube in between the links; wipe away excess lube with a clean, dry rag and you’re ready to go!
There’s no glory in suffering — in fact a bad ride experience is good way to have you hurling your bike into the rubbish pile after your first sportive. The best way to a good great ride is to do a little advance training. First get familiar with the ride route to see where there might be challenges (climbs, route changes and so on), and where the feed zones are located on your ride. Even if this isn’t your first sportive but rather the first sportive of the season, start with the Beginner’s Training Plan from British Cycling. Follow that up with the end of training plan guide during the final week before your sportive. If you consider yourself to be an advanced or intermediate rider, British Cycling has a modular plan for you to orient your training around specific events. A sportive is all about the experience and even just a little pre-event training will set you up for a successful and enjoyable ride.
For more information, check out British Cycling’s “The Final Build Up to a Sportive”
Sportives are so much more than just bike rides through scenic countryside or iconic urban settings. Sportives are commitments pinned to calendar dates that give you something more to do on your bike, like explore a different area, meet new people or take your training seriously…or all three. Given that there’s no singular reason for doing a sportive, neither is there only one type of sportive. So you should definitely do a sportive because you can be sure that there’s a sportive that’s ideally suited to you.