Rapha’s Festive 500 is becoming an established tradition within cycling. It was created by former Rapha designer Graeme Raeburn as a 1,000km challenge to ‘experience the life of a pro cyclist’, though it turns out pro cyclists rarely ride 1,000km a week. Still, the concept proved successful and the following year the inaugural Festive 500 challenge was set. Now in its 11th year, the Festive 500 has grown into a worldwide celebration of cycling.
The Festive 500 has always been open to interpretation, whether you choose to do long or short rides, on- or off-road, solo or with friends, and, for the first time, virtual Zwift mileage will also be counted. While the spirit of the challenge was to encourage people to get out and ride, it’s understandable in this unprecedented year that cycling outside may not be a viable option for everyone. No matter how you wish to tackle the distance, your experiences on the bike, enjoying the time either solo or with friends, and knowing that you are part of a community enjoying cycling is what’s important.
Of course, it’s called the Festive 500 for a reason and for many the goal of 500km will be the final challenge to finish the year on a high. As the well-known saying goes ‘if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’ and with cold, dark and rainy winter days ahead, it can be hard to find the motivation to get outside and ride.
That's why we've called on our past Festive 500 experiences to bring you our top five tips for completing the Rapha Festive 500.
1. Plan your days
On paper, splitting the Festive 500 distance over the allotted eight days is only 62.5km a day. Which for many is a very doable distance. From our experience, this is a risky move as unpredictable weather and overindulgence of festive cheer can sweep even the best riding intentions to the side and leave you on the back foot playing catch up. Trying to maximise mileage early on can also be a risky tactic as you don’t want to burn out. We recommend starting with longer, but manageable rides to bank some early distance and create a buffer for any potential unforeseen change of plans.
Not everyone has an empty calendar and longer miles may not be feasible. If you have a busy schedule it’s amazing how quickly short rides can add up. Picking a longer route for your regular commute or going for an early morning/evening ride will help top up the distance.
2. Plan your routes
Once you know what distances you need to do on what days it’s time to plan your routes. Having a selection of routes ready will streamline the process of getting out but having backup routes is also very handy. When the weather is unpredictable and self-inflicted festive fatigue kicks in, it’s useful to have some shorter routes prepared. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to not go out when you have an epic ride planned but motivation is low. The opposite must also be said, should we be graced with fresh legs and a crisp bluebird winter day, you may want to bump the mileage up.
We don’t need to tell you how to dress for the weather in your local area, however, for us northern hemisphere riders, there are a few considerations that will make back to back days of cold weather riding much more pleasant. Having the best winter cycling jacket at your disposal is obvious, so are some winter cycling gloves and a warm cap or headband to protect your ears. If you don’t have winter cycling shoes, neoprene or waterproof cycling overshoes aren’t expensive and can easily make the difference between winter wonderland and sheer misery.
Seasoned winter riders will likely have a range of winter kit to call upon but if you don’t, make sure everything is washed and ready for the next day. Nothing is a more effective roadblock than the prospect of putting on wet and dirty kit from the day before. If you need any last-minute pieces of clothing check out our cheap cycling clothing page to grab some deals, we also have a page of Rapha deals if you want to truly get in the spirit of the Festive 500.
4. Prepare your bike
You're preparing to ride your bike a lot in some potentially horrible conditions so a little TLC will go a long way. Give the bike a clean and inspect parts for wear as you don’t want to be stuck at the side of the road in poor weather with a mechanical. Special attention should be paid to the drivetrain and a fresh set of brake pads won’t do any harm either.
For those that want to really kit out their bike, proper mudguards are a must. They look a little dorky but the best road bike mudguards are full-length ones. Not all bikes have the fittings that are needed, luckily there are plenty of decent clip-on options that do a decent job too. A robust set of winter road bike tyres aren’t a necessity but will certainly reduce the chances of having to repair an innertube with frozen fingers. We also recommend some extra bike storage whether that be a saddle bag or trendy handlebar pouch, plenty of storage for multitools, extra snacks or layers will be very welcome.
Finally, it is likely that you will be riding in dim or dark conditions so a set of the best bike lights are vital. Make sure these are charged ready for each ride, this goes for your GPS device as well because as we all know, if it isn’t on Strava it didn’t happen.
5. Stockpile spares and food
So you have planned everything to minute accuracy from which days you're riding to routes and cosy kit. Your bike is prepped and loaded with riding essentials and waiting at the door. But what if you finish your snacks, need an extra inner tube or new brake pads? Deliveries won’t come in time and nipping to the shops isn’t a smooth process as they’re either packed with shoppers or closed for the holidays. To save hassle when you should be enjoying your Christmas there is no harm in stocking up on extra essentials that you might need.
Ultimately flexibility and limiting unplanned down-days is the key to a successful Festive 500. While the challenge is measured in distance, the reward is measured in happiness. Ride some of your favourite routes, spend time with friends and family (in a COVID-appropriate manner, of course) and most importantly have fun because that’s what riding bikes is all about.
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