An Introduction to Cycle Sportives


Posted Monday 14th May 2012 –

We’ve been meaning to write a first timers introduction to cycle sportives since we first launched Sportive Scene but never seemed to quite find the time so we’re very pleased to welcome guest author, Thomas Dibley, Sportive Rider and Cycling Marketing Manager at Wiggle for his comprehensive guide to riding a sportive.

I’ve been riding road and mountain bikes now as what I would call an enthusiast level for almost 20 years. It started out when I bought my first mountain bike from Halfords, an Apollo that I quickly rode to destruction before saving long and hard as a kid, selling my Super Nintendo and Game Boy to be able to afford a Specialized Hardrock GSX. My love for mountain bikes soon spread to road and I would frequently be found riding all day on my road bike or out on my mountain bike.

My level of enthusiasm meant I was often riding on my own, when friends weren’t up for it whether it be a short burn or an all day ride. Although I did race from time to time on my mountain bike, I wasn’t as concerned about getting a top place as I was about having fun. I always tried to get to the top of the hills fastest though. A personal challenge and the joy of feeling that little bit smug.

Fast forward to 2012 and I’ve recently completed my 10th Sportive ride. Sportives are mass entry bike rides that offer fun cycling along quiet, way marked roads with plenty of opportunities for rests and refuelling at supplied rest areas. This environment is perfect for offering any cyclist a personal challenge or simply a reason to get out on the bike.

Unlike racing, you can just turn up to a sportive and ride, so long as you wear a helmet and have a bike that works safely. Of course it helps a great deal if you have a bike suitable for the purpose. Every time I take a friend to a sportive, they express how much fun they had and how friendly the environment is. If you want to ride fast against the clock (you are timed for your own information) you can or just trundle along with your friends making the most of the feed stations.

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers to help guide you to riding a sportive:

Do you need to be a semi-pro to ride a sportive?
Absolutely not! You just need to enjoy riding a bike. Ride fast or ride slow, it’s totally up to you. There are no first place prizes and no last place commiserations. Most sportive rides have a target time for you to beat. Something like a Gold, Silver and Bronze time. If you wish, you can try and hit one of those time brackets, but it’s all about participation and not beating anybody.

I don’t think I can ride 100 miles, are there any short sportive rides I can enter?
Don’t worry, not all sportives are 100 miles long. Most events have multiple distances for you to complete. Most of the Sportives have at least two distances, a standard distance of around 60 miles and an Epic distance of around 90-100 miles. Many even have a short or beginner distance of about 40 miles to ride. Enter which ever distance you think is right for you. Furthermore, if 40 miles still sounds a lot, you should go and give it a go. The miles quickly pass by when you’re riding in a group or around other people and have all the time you need to do it.

Do I need to do lots of training before hand?
It’s wise to get a few rides under your belt before undertaking a big ride, but that’s why most events offer shorter options. Still, it’s wise to get used to your bike and used to sitting in the saddle for a few hours at a time.

Will any bike do the job?
In theory yes, so long as it is safe and functional. However, by the very nature of sportive rides being on the road, a proper road bike (skinny, slick tyres with dropped handlebars) is ideal, or a sporty hybrid bike as the next best. Riding a mountain bike with knobbly tyres would be arduous over the miles and make the ride feel much harder than it need be. If a mountain bike is all you have, try buying some slick mountain bike tyres and pumping them up nice and hard. That should see you by just fine.

Do I need any special clothing?
A helmet is a must. Whether you think it’s required or not, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Don’t be afraid to wear Lycra, cyclists do so for a very good reason. Lycra wicks sweat away from the skin and avoids chaffing. Paired with an antibacterial pad, a pair of padded cycling shorts and jersey will keep you comfortable for many hours in the saddle. Those wearing baggy clothing are often the odd ones out, not the other way around. But dress comfortably and sensibly and worry a little less about how you think you look. Gloves help with comfort as well as warmth, so you’ll often find cyclists wearing different kinds of gloves in the winter and in the summer. Finish off with a jacket. Weather can change quickly in big hills and exposed areas, so take a light weight shell, even on a dry day, just in case you need it.

Do I need any special equipment?
Always carry a spare inner tube or two, a patch kit, tyre levers, Allen keys and a good pump. You may think you never need them until the day you do! Other things like a cycling computer or GPS, like the Garmin Edge 200 is ideal for measuring your pace. Often event organisers may lay out the course in a downloadable GPX file that you can download to a GPS device so you know where you are against your target time. Great feature and does help improve your fitness by pushing you on.

How much does it cost to enter?
From £20-40 depending on length of ride and what’s included. £25-£30 is the most common rate but some more prestigious rides, like the Wiggle Dragon Ride may charge a little bit more for a much larger event, often with closed roads.

Do I need to book?
It’s normally a good idea. Most sportive rides can take entries on the day, but are often limited by local councils and facilities as to the number of participants, so it’s wise to book ahead of time if you can just in case. You normally get an incentive for doing so, like a box of energy bars and gels.

Where can I find an event near me?
A quick Google search will locate many events up and down the country, but it’s always worth visiting the Wiggle cycling events page where you can see all the latest Wiggle Super Series events taking place throughout the year.

I’m a mountain biker, are there any off road versions of a sportive?
There sure are, many event organisers also have an off road events calendar.

3 thoughts on “An Introduction to Cycle Sportives

  • 5 June 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I’ve been cycling a couple of times a week for several years but always on my own. I generally do only about 30-40 miles a session but at a reasonable lick so I’m looking for company and something a bit more challenging. I’ve been thinking about sportives for a while but didn’t know anything about the sort of ability level required or distances involved. I found this information really helpful. All I need now is to find an event or two that aren’t at the other end of the country – I live in Aberdeenshire!

  • 16 August 2012 at 12:38 am

    I’ve just started cycling about three months ago, I usually cycle 25-30km a session about four times a week. I would love too start sportive cycles but I don’t think I am ready to start just yet. do you have any introduction rides of that sort,starting in September/October and any age restrictions? – I live in Bromley as well

  • 3 November 2012 at 5:08 pm


    Ive taken up road cycling quite keenly since watching the Olympic male and female road races in the summer, I was wondering if there is any information about the Sportives as want to ride with other people and as a group starting at the lower levels and progressing, any websites I can use to look at the different events and the way it runs, closed roads etc?

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