Rubber Side Down: Tips for Your First Century Ride

The Century ride. The one hundred miler. One hundred miles not by car, or train or motorcycle but by that sweat-powered, two-wheeled apparatus that we all love so dearly. Even the strongest riders have faltered and been broken by the challenge, yet it still seems within reach for the great majority of us. It seems to call out to every cyclist, beckoning us to accept. And we do, because we idolize the distance. We let it roll off our tongue with a smile. One. Hundred. Miles. Such a great round number don’t you think?

The century has been known to turn the most pristine, most adored bicycles into objects of supreme woe and hatred but at the same time, it is a beautiful, triumphant achievement. The 100-miler is a right of passage that every cyclist should attempt and should attempt more than once throughout their cycling career.

Whether you struggle to ride a hundred miles in a week or you’re still recovering from your latest double century weekend, throw on your reading cap, grab your mouse and scroll through a few tips to make your first, or next, century ride one you won’t forget.

Tips for Your First Century Ride 

Be sure to add on a few extra miles for good measure.

  • Preparation is key. Tune up your bike beforehand. Lube the chain, check your bolts, check your tire pressure and look for any large gashes in the tires themselves. Make sure everything is shifting properly and that the brakes are functional. If you need help with some of this basic maintenance, check out our 7 Essential Tips for Proper Bike Maintenance. 
  • Get your gearing right. Swapping out cassettes may be advanced for some riders but getting the right gearing for the terrain you will be riding can be a ridesaver. If you are doing 15,000 feet of climbing over a hundred miles, you may want to ditch that 11-25 for a more friendly 12-28. I am currently learning this the hard way.
  • It’s not ALL about the bike. Not only should your bike be ready, but your body as well. Have you trained enough to be attempting a century right now? If the honest answer to this question is no, it may be best to swallow your pride, sit this one out and get get back to training. We all know how great cyclists are at swallowing their pride, amiright?
  • Eat a good breakfast. Eat a nutritious breakfast of at least 500 calories so that your body is adequately fueled for the task ahead. You will be eating a lot throughout the day to fend off the bonk but it is essential to get a good nutritious base before the ride starts. This past weekend we had homemade blueberry scones and that did the trick nicely.
  • Get an early start. Some friends and I rode from Carmel to Cayucos last weekend (~107 mi) and we did not get an early start. We finished after the sun went down and it put a bit of a damper on the otherwise great day. If you’re not doing an organized century, be sure to get out on the road before 9am. Drink some coffee if you have to but this way you can enjoy yourself throughout the day and have time to spare for unplanned stops and the like.
  • Nutrition. Nutrition.Nutrition. Think this through, 100 miles at approximately 15 miles per hour equates to between 6 and 7 hours on the bike. Even if you weren’t working your butt off (which you will be) you would still be eating at least two meals in that amount of time. Bring more than enough food and water and plan a water stop half way through to refill bottles!

    Rad wagon is more like it.

  • Two words: Sag wagon. This may not be a necessity for riding 100 miles but it makes the ride so much better. You don’t have to carry all the food and water at once, you have a full set of tools and a pump if anything goes wrong, and if anyone in your party calls it quits, you don’t have to leave them on the side of the road.
  • Gear. If you are unable to convince, pay off or hold hostage a friend to drive a sag wagon, make sure you come prepared with all the right gear. Flats are a real concern when you’re this far from home.
  • Ride with a friend. Or two, or seven.  
  • “If you love it, lube it.”  One of my riding partners last weekend, Anthony, gave this advice for conquering the century and I have to agree with him. For long distance riding, it is important to properly apply chamois cream to minimize hot spots and chafing. It is even more important to share butt butter application techniques while doing so in an attempt to get one of your buddies to gag. Remember:
  • Pacing. Ride with people close to your same level and don’t go too hard. It is difficult to recover from blowing up half way through a century. Draft in a paceline to speed things up and get some rest but make sure you take a turn at the front.
  • Keep it loose. A hundred miles of pavement is bound to have its bumps and rough patches. Putting some bend in your elbows, relaxing your shoulders and moving your hands around on the bars can all prevent your body from locking up and getting beat up by the road.
  • Location. Pick a scenic route, somewhere beautiful like Highway 1 along the coast through Big Sur (Wink). A point to point is preferable to an out and back and a big ol’ loop is always good too. At some point in the ride you will want to hang your head in defeat but remember to enjoy your surroundings! Cycling is fun.
  • Know the route well.If you’re riding in an unfamiliar place, bring a map or directions, or keep that smart phone handy.

    Burger good. Beer good. Lunch stop good.

  • Plan a lunch stop. A burger, some fries, the greasier the better. You are burning so many calories that you might as well fuel the fire. Don’t stop too long or you may not want to get back on the bike. Actually I can guarantee you won’t want to get back on the bike. Drink a beer at lunch, it may take the edge off those inner demons you’ve been battling… and the saddle sores.
  • Call out road hazards. You are likely riding on unfamiliar roads in varying stages of delirium. Alert everyone in your group to potentially dangerous situations. And remember you are not the only people on the road, be alert.
  • Learn to pee while riding. Or don’t. One of my fellow centurians succesfully completed this tricky procedure and it did help him stay with the group. Although we gladly would have stopped if he had asked.

    Let Ritte bicycles teach you how!

  • Finish strong. Push past the noodle leg syndrome at mile 80 and finish strong. You can do this.
  • Celebrate. Eat, drink, celebrate your achievement. You are pretty cool.
  • Recover. Stretch right after the ride and then hit the foam roller or use the stick for a little massage action. You may want to run a bath complete with 20 pounds of ice to reduce the inflammation in your legs. I swear, as painful as it is during, it feels that good afterwards. If you can handle it, take a couple days off the bike to rest and recover. Your body will thank you.

Seriously, check out Highway 1.

Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor Jerald Westendorf is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.