Every week, I do a 50-mile bike ride. Sometimes, it stretches closer to 60. Either way, I’ll be out there awhile.
For some people knocking out 50 miles on a bike is easy. Really fast locals can probably do it in two hours. I’m usually closer to 3 hours.
So 50 miles isn’t exactly an easy ride for me. But it is routine, and I have a system down.
I’ve noticed some recent posts from friends about hitting their longest distances or ramping up their mileage. I thought it might be helpful and fun to break one of my 50-mile rides down so they can borrow some ideas or just get an idea of what the riding is like in a different part of the world or country.
Anatomy of a 50-Mile Bike Ride in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Phoenix area isn’t a great place to ride a road bike. Our bike infrastructure is a work in extremely slow progress.
Some of our key bike areas have been shut down for months: One of our most-valuable car-free segments has been out of commission since March thanks to a fire on a bridge at 7th Street and the Rio Salado. A segment in Dreamy Draw is closed for some sort of water line project. We have few protected bike lanes, and the state of the ones we do have is often deplorable.
As an example of a local 50-mile bike ride, here’s my cue sheet for a trip to South Mountain. And here’s a link to a Strava segment that I created; it’s similar, if not quite identical.
64th Street to Center Parkway
This is a decent stretch of road recently made worse by the City of Phoenix. They “upgraded” the light system going into the Phoenix Zoo. The result is a ridiculously long light cycle that’s equally frustrating for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. On the good side, this segment also takes you along one of the few protected bike lanes.
Center to Rio Salado
Center eventually merges into Mill Avenue. You’ll take a bridge over Tempe Town Lake, which is always pleasant.
Rio Salado Drive to the Rio Salado Path
Take a right at Rio Salado Drive; it’ll curve right along the railroad bridge and then back to the left to take you west. There are multiple points to connect to the Rio Salado bike path. Take whichever one suits you.
Rio Salado Path to 24th Street
Ahhhhh, sweet, sweet car-free riding. Enjoy it! At this point, you’re still close to Tempe Town Lake. That means more people, many of whom only have a passing notion of situational awareness. Use caution.
24th Street to Riverview
Once you hit 24th street, turn north to Riverview.
Riverview to 7th Street
Follow the excellent bike lane on Riverview. It’s hardly scenic, but it’s lightly traveled. Especially on a weekend morning.
7th Street to Sunland
Good news: 7th Street got a nice re-paving. Otherwise, it’s nothing special.
Sunland to 15th Avenue
A nice sidestreet. The worst you’ll see is the occasional overly loud pickup being driven way too fast.
15th Avenue to Southern
This segment isn’t great because Southern is a major road, and you need to make a left turn at 19th Avenue. I’m searching for a better option.
Southern to 19th Avenue
And here’s that left turn.
19th Avenue to Dobbins Road
Prado Park is one of the benefits of riding on 19th Avenue. Great place if you need to top off a bottle or use a bathroom.
Dobbins to Central
Dobbins is lightly traveled, so that’s nice. I’m also a bit curious about a juicy hill if you don’t make this turn. May investigate later.
Central to San Juan Road to End
There’s lots of fun to be had here. You’ll log much of your climbing here. The park is going through some construction. Follow the detour signs as well as the many other cyclists. Most drivers are on fairly decent behavior here.
Since we’ve covered most of this already, I’ll break it down simply. Take San Juan to Central, Central to Dobbins, Dobbins to 24th, and then 24th to the Rio Salado bike path. You can follow the same route back to the point of origin. There are also many other options to get back.
Eating and Drinking on a 50-Mile Bike Ride
I roll out with two 24-oz bottles and one 16-oz bottle. The big ones have a scoop of Ultima Replenisher and a Gu Hydration Tab. The little bottle gets a single Nuun tablet.
Some people will squawk that this is unnecessary and excessive, especially outside of a pro-level race.
That may be true for them. They may live in a climate that doesn’t suck the life out of you.
I live and ride in a desert. I’m challenging myself and trying to get faster. Those factors call for electrolytes.
Keep in mind: Every single year, people are injured or die in Arizona because of dehydration. Most of these incidents involve people without homes. But visitors who underestimate our hot, dry climate have also had problems while outdoors, even in the winter months. None of their deaths or injuries have ever been attributed to a surplus of electrolytes.
In the summer, I bring some extra electrolyte tabs and sometimes even a tiny bottle of pickle juice. I’ll also have to refill all the bottles at least once; in the winter 3 bottles is sufficient.
What About Food?
I like something solid in my stomach. Three hours on just gels makes my stomach feel like it’s collapsing.
I typically take 4 fig bars and two gels – typically one Muir cacao-almond and one Gu (the Gu is usually one of their extra-salty Roctane series during the summer months). I eat one of the fig bars every 45 minutes. If I wind up going extra-far, the gels are my backup.
On a side note: I can’t believe how many grown-ass men react to gels like a toddler throwing a fit about eating mashed carrots. My intent isn’t to have a Michelin-star rated meal while I ride.
Yes, some gels are gross. But most are perfectly fine. They’re also compact and get into your system quickly.
For an event like the Tour de Tucson or anything longer than 60 miles, I have a few extra of the Muir gels. I like them since they have a more substantial, real-food texture and heft. They also pack more calories — about 150 to a Gu’s 100.
What About Breakfast?
I keep it simple before the ride. I eat a Perfect Bar and drink a glass of milk. I’ll also drink about 16 oz of water.
That gives me the calories and liquid I need to get a good start.
I don’t drink coffee or anything. I love espresso, and I save that for after the ride. Here’s where you can often find me after a ride.
Other Random Thoughts
- There are plenty of possibilities for a 50-mile bike ride in the Phoenix area. Even leaving from the same spot, you could also go south to Ahwatukee, east out to Usery Mountain Park or north toward Scottsdale (and through the hilly bits of Paradise Valley).
- There’s a bit of “pick your poison” with almost every route. For example, the eastern route I mentioned means plenty of traffic lights. I’m not the hugest fan of North Scottsdale — the drivers are some of the worst around, and there’s seemingly no plan to connect bike lanes.
- Bathrooms and places to refill water bottles can be a challenge, especially for solo riders who don’t want their bike out of sight.
- One of the best things that could happen to local riders is for the Central Arizona Project to ramp up its way-too-slow efforts to use the CAP Canal as a cycling route. That would open up a wealth of possibilities for ultra-long rides.
This post just might contain affiliate links. Fear not, they’re non-spammy and benign. Hey, I have to keep this thing running somehow!