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  • Writer's pictureJason Ryser

Relay Racing Secrets: How To Train for Your First Bike Relay

Updated: Jan 13

Bike relay racing is a unique cycling event that combines endurance, strategy, and teamwork. A bike relay typically involves teams of cyclists, each taking turns to cover portions of a set course. Unlike individual races, relays require collective effort and strategy.

One of the unique challenges of a bike relay is the need for consistent pace and coordination among team members. Each cyclist must understand their strengths and how they fit into the team's strategy, like a sprinter taking on the flatter sections or a climber tackling the hills. 

Riders must also be prepared for the handoff zones. Precision and timing are crucial to maintain momentum and avoid losing precious seconds.

Bike relay races offer an incredible sense of camaraderie and shared purpose. Training with a team, sharing the highs and lows of preparation, and ultimately pushing each other toward a common goal create a bond unique to relay racing. 

Whether you're an experienced cyclist looking for a new challenge or a newcomer eager to dive into the world of competitive cycling, a bike relay is an exciting and rewarding experience. So gear up, gather your team, and get ready to embark on a journey that's as much about friendship and cooperation as it is about speed and endurance.

Understanding bike relay racing

Bike relay races vary widely in distance and format, but they typically involve teams of cyclists, each cyclist taking turns to ride sections of a course. These segments range from short, intense sprints to longer, more grueling legs, depending on the race's overall length and difficulty. 

Common distances for bike relays are anywhere from 50 to several hundred miles and are segmented into portions that suit different strengths and abilities within the team.

In most relays, teams have a set number of riders, and each must complete one or more legs of the race. The transition between riders is a critical moment that often occurs in designated areas where one cyclist finishes their portion and another begins theirs. Smooth transitions are crucial for maintaining the team's pace and position.

Team aspect and how it differs from individual cycling events

Unlike individual races, where the focus is solely on personal performance, bike relay racing emphasizes collective effort. Each member's performance directly impacts the team's overall result and fosters a deep sense of unity and shared responsibility. Riders must be aware of their own capabilities and limits and also understand how their efforts fit into the team's broader strategy.

What’s even more unique about relay racing is how it cultivates a supportive environment where riders motivate and encourage one another, celebrate each other's strengths, and work together to overcome challenges. The camaraderie in bike relay racing is profound, as teammates share the entire experience of the race together. 

Setting your goals

Embarking on your first bike relay with clear, realistic goals is a fundamental step to create a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Personal goals provide direction and purpose to your training and enhance your motivation as you prepare for and participate in the event.

For your first relay, set achievable goals that align with your current fitness level, experience, and lifestyle. Overambitious goals lead to disappointment or burnout, while realistic objectives keep you motivated and set the stage for a positive experience. 

Assessing your current fitness level

Understanding your current fitness level is crucial in setting appropriate goals and choosing the right distance for your relay leg. Consider factors like your usual cycling distance, intensity, and frequency. If possible, consult with a coach or experienced cyclist to objectively assess your abilities.

Ensure you're medically cleared for the intensity of relay racing, especially if you're new to endurance sports or have any underlying health concerns. A physical check-up provides peace of mind and informs your training approach.

Choosing a suitable distance

Consider starting with a shorter distance to build your confidence and enjoyment. Shorter segments offer a sense of achievement without the overwhelming pressure of longer distances.

The difficulty of your relay leg is about more than distance. Consider the terrain, elevation changes, and typical weather conditions. A shorter mountainous leg might be as challenging as a longer, flat one.

Discuss with your team to understand how your leg of the relay fits into the overall strategy. Your teammates' experience and goals can also help guide your choice.

Building a training plan

A well-structured plan prepares you physically, boosts your confidence, and ensures you're race-ready. 

Key components of an effective bike relay training plan:

  • Endurance Training: As the backbone of your plan, endurance training involves long, steady rides that build your capacity to cover distances comfortably. It's important to train your body to efficiently use energy and recover while cycling.

  • Speed Work: Intervals and tempo rides help improve your speed and cardiovascular fitness. These shorter, more intense sessions push your limits and increase your ability to maintain a higher pace over time.

  • Strength Training: Incorporating strength training, particularly for your core and legs, enhances your power and stability on the bike, which ultimately leads to more efficient pedaling and reduced risk of injury.

  • Flexibility and Mobility: Regular stretching and mobility exercises improve your range of motion and flexibility, leading to better posture and reduced muscle tightness and soreness after long rides.

Balancing endurance, speed, and recovery

A typical week should include a mix of long, slow rides for endurance, shorter rides at a higher intensity for speed, and some moderate rides to maintain a balance. Overloading on any one aspect without sufficient recovery can lead to burnout or injury.

Recovery is as crucial as the training itself. Your muscles need time to repair and strengthen, so ensure you have rest days or lighter, active recovery days within your plan. Listen to your body; if you feel overly fatigued, it's okay to take an extra rest day.

Engaging in activities other than cycling, like swimming or running, can enhance your overall fitness and prevent burnout by giving you a mental break from cycling-focused training.

Remember that flexibility is key. Life events, weather, and physical condition all necessitate adjustments. Regularly assess your progress and be willing to tweak your plan as needed. With a well-rounded approach to training, you'll be on the right path to relay success, ready to face the challenge with strength, speed, and a resilient body and mind.

Team coordination and strategy

Mastering team coordination and developing a solid strategy are as crucial as your physical preparation for a bike relay. A well-coordinated team is one in which each member understands their role, strengths, and how to support one another.  Aim to assemble a diverse group that complements each other to effectively navigate different parts of the race. 

Training together is beneficial; it builds team spirit and helps you understand each other's strengths, pacing, and riding styles. Clearly discussing and assigning roles according to each member's strengths ensures everyone knows their responsibilities, from who will power through the climbs to who will lead on the flats, making for a cohesive and strategic race effort.

Nutrition and hydration for endurance cycling

Proper nutrition and hydration are the linchpins of successful endurance cycling, especially for events like bike relays that continually test your energy and endurance. It’s crucial to understand how to fuel your body and maintain hydration.


To fuel long-distance training and racing effectively, follow a balanced diet that includes a mix of carbohydrates for energy, proteins for muscle repair, and healthy fats for sustained performance. 

Timing your meals is also key; consume a carb-rich meal a few hours before your ride to ensure energy availability, and follow up with a combination of carbohydrates and protein soon after to aid recovery. During the ride, opt for easily digestible carbs like energy bars or fruit to maintain energy without digestive discomfort. 

Practice your nutrition strategy during training to discover what works best for your body, ensuring no surprises on race day and optimizing your performance and recovery.


Effective hydration starts well before the event. Consistently hydrate to ensure your body is adequately prepared. During the race, drink regularly, following a strategy honed during training that considers your sweat rate and the climate. Replenishing electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium is crucial to maintain bodily functions and prevent cramping. 

After the event, continue to hydrate actively — even if you're not feeling particularly thirsty — to effectively replenish any fluids lost and aid in your recovery.

Gear and equipment check

Choose a bike that suits the relay's terrain and your comfort — typically a road bike for speed on paved roads or a gravel bike for varied terrains. Ensuring a proper fit is essential for efficiency and injury prevention, so consider a professional bike fit. Essential gear includes a helmet, gloves, and suitable clothing to keep you comfortable throughout your leg.

Maintenance tips to keep your bike in top condition

  • Regular checks: Regularly check your bike for any signs of wear or damage, especially before intensive training sessions and the race. Pay attention to the brakes, tires, and gears.

  • Cleaning routine: Keep your bike clean. Dirt and grime wear down components over time, reducing performance and lifespan. A clean bike is also easier to inspect.

  • Lubrication: Properly lubricate the chain and other moving parts. This reduces wear and ensures everything moves smoothly, which is vital for efficiency and safety.

  • Professional service: Consider getting a professional service, especially if you're uncomfortable doing technical maintenance yourself.

Pedal with purpose in the Saints to Sinners Bike Relay

The Saints to Sinners Bike Relay is a test of endurance and teamwork; it's also an opportunity to be part of something bigger. By participating, you're challenging yourself and contributing to a noble cause — raising awareness and support for those affected by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). It's a chance to turn your miles into a meaningful journey, riding for a purpose that extends far beyond the race itself.

Get ready to pedal with purpose, embrace the spirit of teamwork, and be part of a community united by a common goal. Register for the race as a rider or volunteer, and we will see you at the starting line.

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