Most cyclists will tell you their favorite way by far to discover the world is from the saddle of a bike. Riding roads in an unfamiliar place gives you a chance to take in more than just the sights of a place. Being outdoors you see more, hear more, and breathe in the smells to give you the richest possible experience.
Organized cycling events are a way to go to someplace new and encounter the local roads in an ideal circumstance. Your entry fee gets you a course planned to the last turn and mile, food and water stops along the way, and generally the best of the local beauty and terrain. Follow it up with the inevitable post-ride barbecue and you have a recipe for a great day, especially when you share it with friends. The stock-in-trade for cycling events is the century – the 100-mile ride. To complete a ride of that length you need some serious fitness.
Kinds of Events
Organized cycling events can generally be broken into two groups: destination rides and charity rides. The distance of the ride can vary quite a bit and some events are organized around riding a specific course with a particular set of challenges.
Destination rides have no purpose beyond the destination itself, while charity rides are organized to raise money for a charity or other good cause. While the riding itself can be identical, charity rides differ from destination rides by virtue of the fact that to enter you have to meet a pledge goal. Doing the ride is your reward for raising funds for a good cause.
Each year charity rides draw thousands of new riders into the sport. Nearly everyone has friends or family who suffer from AIDS, cancer, diabetes, or other diseases. Raising funds to research a cure can be just the impetus many people need to get back into cycling. Many of these events not only help riders meet their pledge goals with sophisticated Web sites that can help you contact friends and family for pledges, but frequently they help you meet your own fitness goals with clinics, training rides, and expert advice. Charity rides help more than just those who are sick.
Because not everyone can or wants to ride 100 miles in a day, most events will offer a few different menu items. You will likely see a few different repeatedly. Broadly speaking, you have short rides, medium-distance rides, long rides, and then ultra-distance rides.
When considering events, it is important to note that almost no event is exactly the distance advertised. Most centuries run a few miles long; the point of the ride is the enjoyable course, not a precise distance; try not to be surprised when you hit the 100-mile mark and are still riding by farms.
For newcomers getting their feet wet with their first organized ride, many events will offer an option of between 20 and 30 miles. It’s long enough to see some sights, but for cyclists unaccustomed to pedaling for three hours or more, it’s still short enough to avoid a day-ruining bonk. If you can average 12 miles per hour while riding, you can finish a 25-mile ride with one stop in 2:30.
The metric century – 100 kilometers – is a 62-mile ride. It’s also one of the most popular formats for a ride. A metric century is a great stepping stone toward longer rides for cyclists whose longest excursions haven’t exceeded 50 miles. While new riders might require five hours to finish a metric century with stops, experienced riders in a peloton can knock one out in under three hours.
The century – a 100-mile ride – is the standard-bearer of organized rides. The ability to complete a full century is a confirmation of real fitness. They can range from kitchen-floor flat to Tour de France mountainous with more than 10,000 feet of climbing. As a result, riders might finish one in as few as four hours or as long as 12 hours if there’s lots of climbing.
Double centuries were made for folks who don’t like to finish a ride. They come in both double metric (124 miles) and just plain double (an amazing 200 miles). While a double metric can be finished with an additional hour or two of riding, a double century requires riders to mount up while dark and frequently finish in the dark as well. Twelve to 14 hours in the saddle isn’t for everyone.
Where to Find Events
The Internet has usurped all other resources for finding organized cycling events. There was a time when the best way to find out about an event before it was over was through your local club or bike shop. Notwithstanding the needle-in-a-haystack power of Google, once you join a club, your fellow club members will be one of your best sources of important insight. Let your friends’ experiences be your guide.
Many events will have spotty information on course difficulty and rest stops. The more difficult the event, the more likely there will be detailed information regarding the course and location of the rest stops. If you are accustomed to stopping for food and water every 10–15 miles and the event you are considering only has stops every 25 miles, you will need to factor that into your training. Of course, if you don’t find that out until mile 25 of the event, it could be a long day.
If any of your friends have done the event, they will be able to tell you how many rest stops there are, what foods and drinks they stock, and how difficult the course is relative to the roads you ride locally. This insight is invaluable, and if an event was particularly well-organized or well-supported, they will go out of their way to tell you.
Any ride that doesn’t leave from your front door requires planning and packing. This may seem obvious to the point of redundancy, but showing up to an event with everything except your cycling shoes can wreck your day.
Depending on how far the event is from home, you’ll need to decide if you can get up early and drive out the morning of the event or if you’ll need to leave the night before and stay in a hotel.
Organized events aren’t for late-risers. If you are accustomed to riding once the sun is well up or after work, you’ll need to train your body to perform early in the day with a few morning rides prior to the event.
The morning of the event, some riders will get partially dressed, putting on their shorts and then putting loose-fitting street clothes on over them. If you’re inclined to use chamois cream and/or an embrocation, you need to plan on dressing at the event.
New riders frequently underestimate how difficult it can be to change discreetly both before and after an event. In your car is difficult, but standing next to or behind your car risks giving folks an unwanted show. The long lines for portable toilets generally make them too in-demand to be used as a makeshift changing room. Wrapping a beach towel around your waist is a popular strategy for al fresco changing that avoids offending most sensibilities.
After the event is over you will likely be too sweaty a mess to get in your car and drive away. Baby wipes or a jug of tap water and a wash cloth can help you wipe away the worst of the sweat and road grime—enough to change into street clothes and feel comfortable while you get some lunch.
The week of the event:
• Preregister for the event (some events require registration months in advance)
• Tune-up and clean bike
• Gas up the car
• Check the car’s fluids
• Make a motel reservation
Make sure these are in reach in the car:
• Directions to event (many events feature them online)
• Motel reservation confirmation number
• Directions to motel
• Map of area
• Good tunes (your favorite station only reaches so far)
Pack in your gear bag:
• Base layer
• Cycling shoes
• Cycling gloves
• Arm and knee warmers (you never know)
• Vest, windbreaker, or rain cape
• Heart rate monitor (HRM)
• Toilet paper (portable toilets run out of it)
• Basic toiletry kit
• Post-ride clothes
• Beach towel (for discreet on-site changing)
• Water bottles and/or hydration pack
• Drink mix and/or energy bars/gels
• Hand wipes for post-event cleanup
• Safety pins
• Alarm clock
Pack with car:
• Spare tubes and tire
• Floor pump