QUESTION: How difficult is a century ride? I’m 35 years old and not overweight, but I don’t really exercise regularly. An older friend from work has invited me to do a century ride with him in a few months. I own a hybrid bike. Will I be able to do it cold, or should I train for it? He says I need a training program, but I’m more than 10 years younger. —Alan R.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: A lot of cyclists view completing their first century ride as a significant milestone in their cycling life, because riding 100 miles in a single day requires, at minimum, endurance and determination from the rider.
The difficulty of the ride varies widely depending on:
- the terrain — is the route mainly flat, hilly or mountainous?
- the wind — riding into an unrelenting headwind is real energy sapper, and you likely won’t know what the wind is going to be like until the day of the ride.
- how tolerant you are of physical discomfort — the fact that you are normally comfortable throughout a two-hour ride is no guarantee that you will be comfortable after several more hours in the saddle (depending on your fitness and training, a century can take up to 6-8 hours to complete). Expect aches and/or cramps in your butt, your hands, your shoulders, your neck, your legs and elsewhere.
- the weather — riding in a cold rain or on a high-temperature day can cut your endurance by half or more.
- the bike you ride —if the century is on paved roads, that hybrid may require a bit more effort to pedal than the bike made for road riding. Over the 100 miles, that bit more effort will add up and contribute to how much the ride tires you.
- the support services — will there be regular rest stops with refreshments, bike mechanics and first-aid workers or do you have to self-support the ride?
The fact that you are 35 and not overweight is in your favor, but even so, I don’t recommend that you attempt the ride “cold” without any training. Normal good health and grit count for a lot, but they do not compensate for a lack of training.
That said, training does not necessarily need to be a highly disciplined regimen, but there does need to be some consistency. Since you have a few months before the ride, take the time to build base fitness by riding, if possible, three times a week, gradually increasing the distance until you can do about 70 miles on your weekend ride. If your total mileage for the week usually equals 100 or more, it’s likely you’ll be able to finish the century.
Here is some further help from RoadBikeRider:
Assuming the century ride is on paved roads, you can make the hybrid work more in your favor by switching from the hybrid tires to road tires, using a comfortable saddle and making sure that the bike fits you well.
Readers, feel free to weigh in below about your experience (or that of your friends) preparing — or failing to prepare — for a century ride.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.