Reliability rides, or trials as they are often known, are organised rides that take place in the new year, or when the depths of winter training is done and road cyclists want to test their form ahead of the upcoming season.
Traditionally they were used to test the reliability of equipment and the ‘safety bicycle’ back in the 20th century. The roads (if you can believe it) were in even poorer condition back then, and there wasn’t much in the way of communication devices if you needed rescuing.
Nowadays, they are a test of a cyclist’s fitness, with a time limit imposed for the completion of your ride. These rides are not signposted, but in the modern era of GPS devices, a GPX file is often sent out beforehand so the countryside doesn’t end up with groups of very lost and very cold riders.
They vary in length and some come with varied length options, like the Yorkshire reliability rides – a series of 10 rides across the counties. Local clubs might take turns hosting the events if there is a ‘series’. They often cost a small fee, but it’s important to note that these are not races or sportives (although if you’ve been on one you might think not everyone has got that memo). There are no feed stations, signposts, nor timing chips, and everything is run on open roads. Simply turn up, sign on, ride the route, and go home.
So why ride one?
Riding 80 miles in freezing weather at stupid o’clock in the morning instead of staying in bed? You must be mad. Well, yes and no. The beauty of the reliability ride is that there will be tens if not hundreds of other people there, all having had the same internal monologue but still deciding to turn up.
It’s a great time to catch up with all the clubmates you might not have seen much of since before Christmas, and to make new friends. If you don’t have a club yet, you can use these rides as a sneaky way of getting to know the local ones before buying a membership and committing to rides.
Of course, the biggest reason to ride one is because of the fitness boost it’ll give you – particularly if you’ve not been doing many long rides as of late. Depending on where your fitness is at, you can choose a route to either push yourself or ease back in. Get some base miles in the legs or rip them off completely with the faster people at the front of the ride.
As they are promoted by local clubs and not big named cycling outfits, they’re often more friendly, similar to Audax organisers or the groups who put together local time trials. This makes them great first events to go to if you’ve been off the bike for a while and get you used to riding in a group. Of course, it always helps to brush up on your signalling and etiquette before you go, but there will likely be some more experienced riders there happy to show you the ropes.
What do I need before I ride one?
Any road bike will do. If you have a dedicated winter training bike then bring that, or if you have the one all-year-round carbon machine, bring that instead. It’s up to you, just make sure that mechanically everything is sound and running well.
Being self-sufficient is also important in a reliability ride – no broom wagon or mechanic is bringing up the rear. If you puncture, you need to be able to fix it yourself or hope there is a kind rider willing to help you out. Ideally, you’ll have a saddle/bar bag or a tool roll to stash all your necessities. We recommend at least one inner tube, a pump, patches/tyre boot, small multi-tool, a chain tool and a quick link in case your chain decides to make a bid for freedom.
Naturally, there may be some rigidity around how big a group should be so as not to upset the local drivers too much. There are also time limits, and no mechanical assistance, but try to enjoy yourself – it is, after all, not a race. And I hear that quite often there is cake available at the end…
Whatever type of riding you do this winter, make sure you and your bike are protected. Our specialist cycling insurance covers theft, accidental damage, and more depending on your level of cover. Grab a free no-obligation quote from our site here.