Category Archives: How to’s

Century ride – The logistics

So, your route is laid out. Now comes the pre-fun! Planning out your century logistically can make or break you when the day comes. So, here’s a few tips I’ve come up with to help you on your way.

hydration, hydration, hydration

Any cyclist can tell you, hydration is by far the most important part of endurance rides. Nothing else out there can make you hit the wall faster than the lack of water. So, it would behoove anyone to plan out how much water they should be drinking on a ride as long as this.

A quick note – water is by far the best hydrating liquid. However, each person may or may not need some extra harrumph in their chosen liquid. Depending on whom you talk with, energy drinks are a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes in the form of newly (and quickly) found energy for your legs. The curse comes from the fact that the energy comes from mostly sugar. Why is this bad? Sugar and water are buds. The more sugar you intake, the more water your body will need (on top of regular fluid replacement). So, be careful with those energy drinks. If all you’re looking for are electrolyte replacements, they make those without sugar and might be a better alternative to energy drinks.

Another quick note – caffeine is a substance that is highly argued over by some people in the athletic business. As a nurse, I can tell you one important fact about caffeine: it aids in your body’s ability to burn carbohydrates. Why am I bringing this up in the hydration topic? Carbohydrates (sugars), as I said before, are very buddy-buddy with water. It is, in fact, important to burn the carbs we no doubt will consume on our ride so that our bodies don’t need more fluid. Caffeine, therefore is something that I’m beginning to appreciate in my cycling meals. Coffee before the ride, caffeine additive in your gels/bars, anything…give it a shot, thank me later. I immediately noticed an improved energy level as well as diminished hydration needs once I started consuming caffeine during my rides.

So, now that I’ve cleared the air some, let’s really get down to business. You need water. Lots of it. I’m not going to split hairs about ounces or sips or what not. Your body will definitely let you know if it needs more water. Hopefully you’ve figured out where your hydration needs have been before you set out on a century. Again, each person will be different, but the same principle applies – you need to continually be taking in water throughout your ride. Century rides can take a long while. I am planning on mine being somewhere just under 6 hours. I’m expecting to drink a lot of water over those 6 hours.

A good rule of thumb – drink a bottle each hour. If it’s hot, drink more. If you’re working against a head wind, drink more. If you’re solo, drink more. If you notice your mouth is dry, drink more. The trick is spreading it out. I have a hard time with this when I’m really getting into my ride. So, I set a timer to vibrate my phone every 10 minutes to remind me to take a drink. Figure out a way to keep the water coming in steady. Fail to do so, and you could be hitting the wall very hard.


Food is a close second to water in importance. If you watched the Men’s Elite Championships, you probably remember seeing the pros munching on food even with less than 20 km to go in the race. Us amateurs are no different. In order to keep your energy levels up, food should be regularly consumed every 45 mins to 1 hour. Many different options are out there from energy bars to homemade recipes. For those of you who are lazy like me, I’ll get some Cliff Bars, granola bars (not the crap kind) and some energy gels. The occasional banana is a good thing to eat as well.

As with water, it’s important to not engorge all at once. It’s completely alright and recommended to take a nibble every half hour. On a century ride, it’s a must. Allowing your body to deplete its energy stores is a tough mistake to mend. So, remember to get a good mixture of foods with some carbs and small amounts of protein. If you’re not using electrolyte replacements in your water, remember to pay attention to those things in your diet and compensate as needed. As I mentioned before, caffeine may be something you want to look at as well.

Maintenance Needs

Any ride needs tools. For a century ride, you may want to double check your equipment to make sure you’ve got exactly what you need. Here’s a quick list of things you may want to bring along.

  • enough storage to fit the food/water and the stuff listed below (under-saddle bags, jersey pockets, frame attachments)
  • helmet
  • gloves
  • other clothing (depending on where you are, you may need arm/leg/head warmers and another set of gloves)
  • tail light and charger cable (regardless of time of day, I always put my tail light on) – I use a chargeable battery to cut down on space/weight.
  • 2 spare inner tubes (or at least 1 and a patch kit)
  • 2-3 tire levers
  • 1 hand pump
  • 1 multi-tool
  • long piece of duct tape (I wrap this around my hand pump – you’d be surprised what you can fix with duct tape)
  • cell phone
  • identification – in case of an emergency – always keep on you, not on the bike!
  • credit card – for monetary emergencies

For those that can pull it off (yours truly), get someone to loosely follow you in a car if you’re solo. They can top off water bottles, hand you food, charge batteries, take your trash, etc. Thank the maker for spouses!

The Action Plan

Time of departure, speed and effort are some things to consider before the big day. Don’t expect to get your top average speed on this ride, and don’t plan on riding your current average speeds. This ride will take it out of you. But, it’s important to know exactly how to ride for your style. I’m a more slow at the start, burning legs in the middle and a slower burning legs at the end kind of guy. To each their own. Figure how to best utilize your style of cycling into the century. When are your energy levels highest? Will your food intake be better at a certain point of the ride? Think of these things before the ride and during to make sure your body can handle what your asking it to do.

Planning when and where to take your breaks as well as what to eat/drink during those breaks is a bit of guesswork if this is your first century (as it is mine). Again, don’t drown yourself with liquids or over-indulge on foods during breaks. Be smart when it comes to the breaks, stay loose and keep moving. Sitting down is fine, but don’t just stand up and hop back on the saddle right away. Long stretches and breathing exercises go a long way to better cycling. When you’re good and stretched, get going slow to warm up just like the beginning of another ride. Working too hard too quickly can quickly turn into anaerobic exercise and very sore legs.

The End to a wall of text

I tried to find video of this year’s Men’s Elite World Championships (eating on the road) so this wasn’t such a long wall of text, but alas, I could only find the last 10 km. These guys rode for over 6 hours and went a lot further than 100 miles. Someday… In any case, here it is:

Century ride – The route

So, you want to take a century ride? Nothing says fun like a nice long ride (with friends)! Before you go out and ride a random route, it is important (probably the most important) to scope out the roads and test the waters. What’s that mean to a cyclist? Glad you asked!

Picking a route

When you get down to it, unless you’re familiar with all the roads around you, you’re going to have to do some guess work when you first lay out your route. The most important thing to remember here – pick roads/paths that are built for your bike! The last thing you want to do is to ride on dirt paths built for cyclocross on a road bike. Municipalities and cities sometimes have links on their homepages for commonly used routes for cyclists of all kinds. This is probably the first step for those people who live in such a place. Clubs may also have some resources for locals to pick out routes. Just ask around and see what you find. They may not have maps, but most cyclists know quite a bit about the surrounding area. Failing all of this, Google Earth can be surprisingly helpful. Zoom on in on your road to see what it’s made of and go from there.

Things to consider

It is important to know that if you can ride 50 or so miles, you can most likely ride 100 miles. It just depends on how you pick your route in line with your skill level. Don’t pick a mountain ride if you cannot climb efficiently and for extended amounts of time. Then it all comes down to your execution (coming in a later post!).

It’s also a must to place your hills in your ride where you think you can handle them. Each rider is different here. So, here’s my example: I made most of the hills I’ll be riding a good chunk of distance after my warm-up distance, but before my midpoint. This is where I’ve found I can muster up the most power to get up those climbs without draining myself for the rest of the ride. Some people might want them early on when their energy is highest or much later when the adrenalin is really pumping.

We also have to keep in mind temperatures and winds. Right now, I have a difficult time riding in headwinds and 85ºF and above. For me, this requires massive amounts of water (due to my body fat levels) and it bogs me down further. While winds are unpredictable, you can attempt to leave in the early hours when the winds are more likely to be calm if not absent. You can also look at weather reports for the areas you’ll be riding in to see average wind speeds as well as their common direction (Floridians, we’re screwed – winds all over the chart, Easterly, Westerly, Northerly, Southerly – we’ve got it all!). However, the reason I’m riding my century in November is no accident. It is the month in Florida that has the most moderate temperatures without being too cold in the AM as well as the lowest wind speeds on average. Temperature I don’t think needs an explanation.

Go for a drive!

One of the first things I did after my route was set was drive it! It gives you a close look at the condition of the roads as well as gives you an idea of what traffic might be like at that time of day. I timed up my drive so that we’d arrive in the unknown territory right around the time I’d be arriving on my ride. Now if I could just keep to that when the time comes! See what the traffic looks like. Some people don’t like driving around 18-wheelers. However, if you’re like me, you might find them more trustworthy than your average texting driver.

Pay special attention to the mileage in conjunction with your habits. I tend to get close to a sugar drop right around 40-45 miles. Make sure you have a place to stop, rest and eat right around your dips! If you have someone coming with you, this might take some coordination. Always remember, some people can’t take the long breaks, as it might chill them down and make that wall come a lot quicker.

The biggest necessity here – note the shoulders of the road. How clean are they? How wide are they? Are they covered by canopy or wide open? Are there places to drop off in case of maintenance needs? What’s the most important thing about the road for you on your ride?

Test rides

It may behoove you to take segments of the route and ride them before the century. This is obviously the best way to experience the route in all its glory, or lack thereof. While some may think this may spoil the ride, you should not get sick of a route after 1 ride. However, the route itself may not be to your liking, so then again, you may get sick of it. But this is good! You can now go do some digging around about alternatives for your route and start over again. Tedious, I know. But it will make the century all the more enjoyable.

As the date approaches

Check for updates with the Department of Transportation for road closures and dates of construction along your route. Nothing would suck more than getting halfway thru your ride only to be turned away from your chosen route because they decided to resurface the road.

The day of, you should do the same. You never know if a 20-car pile-up happened the night before and the road’s closed now. Although, why this would happen on a road suitable for cyclists is beyond me…you never know what might happen the night before of the morning of your ride.

The route is by far the most important part of planning the ride – without it, there would be no ride! Hopefully this is a good starting point for anyone attempting their first century.

How do you plan your century routes?