Julia Arnold was just a casual bike rider until about six years ago. That’s when a friend suggested that they team up to do a mountainous ride in the Peaks Challenge series – and the subsequent training introduced her to the Australian biking community. Soon she had graduated to races and other group events, and now she’s the event coordinator for the not-for-profit organisation Bicycle Network.

“It’s a really nice way to see our country,” she says. “You’re getting outside and able to take in what’s around you. I go out on a weekend with some of my friends and tick off hours of fresh air, scenery, socialisation and exercise. It just ticks all the boxes. And environmentally, riding a bike is a very low-impact hobby and a good mode of transport.”

To help spread public awareness about the latter points, Bicycle Network has initiated behaviour change programs including the Ride2School and Ride2Work and established a dedicated women’s community, dedicated to empowering more women to ride. The organisation also advocates for riders and provides member services. Arnold’s role sees her help bring together such ambitious undertakings as the Great Victorian Bike Ride and the upcoming Newcrest Orange Challenge in Orange, NSW. That involves not only working on event day, but also leading a warm-up ride the day before the big event in Orange on September 10.

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With a skillset that covers both riding and organisation, we asked Arnold to share some of her most useful preparation tips for a long bike ride. So, whether you’re dusting off your bike after a long time, or wanting to graduate from casual riding to something more serious, here are a few pratical tips for success.

Initial preparation

“Lots of bike riding” is the short answer here, although Arnold acknowledges that it all depends on where someone is starting at and what their goal is. But either way, you want to take it slow.

“You want to do a nice gradual build-up to that goal,” she says. “So it’s all about increasing how far you’re riding a week, or how often. But also wanting to practise with your gear and get used to your bike. You’re going out and testing your shoes and helmet and bike clothing, making sure it’s all comfortable. You don’t want to debut a pair of shiny new shoes on event day and find out that they rub your feet.”

Building endurance

You’ll need a to have ridden a fair few kilometres to comfortably complete a ride that spans several hours (and sometimes most of a day). If you try to skip a step, you’ll definitely feel it. “People often sign up for an 80-kilometre event and go out and attempt an 80-kilometre ride [beforehand] to see if they can do it,” says Arnold. “That will probably leave you in a heap for a week. So you’re better to do slightly longer rides [than usual] and add in a midweek ride on top of your weekend rides. And just get your body used to spending longer and longer on the bike.”

Bicycle Network offers free 12-week training courses online, including one in the lead-up to Orange. That way you’re taking some of the guesswork out of that crucial preparation.

Choose a route (and level) that best suits you

Once you’ve got a handle on the physical training, you’ll want to stick to a route that matches your current skill level. In the case of the Newcrest Orange Challenge, there are two different routes to choose from: the original 170-kilometre ride, which involves climbing more than 2000 vertical metres , and a shorter 88-kilometre ride.

Both rides begin and end in Orange. The longer one is generally expected to take between five and eight hours, while the shorter is suggested at somewhere between three and six. So have a think about not just what distance and terrain suits you, but also the amount of time you want to spend on the bike.

Keep an eye on the forecast

Being out all day on your bike is absolutely freeing, but you don’t want to be caught without rain gear, sunscreen or other crucial weatherproofing. “You definitely want to keep an eye on the weather and pack and dress appropriately,” Arnold says. “At an event like Orange, I believe it’s going to be relatively fresh in the morning and end up being a nice sunny day hopefully. So you want to have a raincoat or a couple of layers you can take off, so you’re not boiling in the afternoon. Arm warmers and leg warmers can be really good options too.”

Be mindful (and respectful) of fellow riders

You can put in all the hours of practice you want, and still be unprepared if you’ve only ever done solo rides. Being surrounding by other riders can take some getting used to, especially when it comes to anticipation and body language. “Some people have ridden around other riders a lot, and some haven’t,” says Arnold. “So you just have to be mindful that anyone can move anywhere, so you never want to get too close to, or behind, someone – particularly if they don’t know you’re there.”

Plan your intake of food and drink carefully

A fully supported ride such as the Newcrest Orange Challenge means that there’s food, water and toilets around the course – and this one even culminates in a free barbeque lunch. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pack your own casual provisions. “I’d always recommend taking some of your own food,” Arnold says, “because you never quite know what your body’s going to feel like at a particular point. So, if your body tends to like bananas or muesli bars, it’s always good to have some of that with you.”

And on the drinks front, she advises bringing two bottles on your bike for a big ride: one with plain water and one with either carbohydrates (think sugar) or electrolytes.

Make use of the support on hand

Organised events typically offer first aid and paramedic support, while the Newcrest Orange Challenge also features both DIY tools and a team of roving mechanics. And if you’re out riding on your own, a crucial kind of support involves having an accurate, up-to-date map of your route. “You always want to map out how long it’s going to take you and where it will take you,” says Arnold. “And picking roads that are safer and have nicer views. When the road opens up, it’s amazing.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Bicycle Network.