Tag Archives: Cycling tips

Century Day – Preparation and Strategy

Get the most from your upcoming cycling event.

I recently had a careful look at my cycling clothes. It’s been a while since I replaced any of my bike shorts, and as it happens, I needed replace a couple of them. I ordered replacements. I’ve been collecting these items for years, and it got me thinking about all the things that I take for granted as I prepare for events, because what you wear is a part of the process. That process starts with training, but it also includes what to do just before you go and how to manage your ride once you get started.

With friends at a rest stop on a local century ride. I’ve ridden a lot of them, and I’ve learned a lot about preparation over the years.

I’ve ridden events held from May to October, but for me, the best time for event rides is in the autumn, and this year I’m riding centuries in both September and October. These are warm months where I live, but not usually hot. Ideal conditions for a long bike ride. 2020 locked riders out of events, and a lot of people have been looking for events to return to in 2021. Some haven’t ridden a century before and want to test themselves. Some riders may be enjoying their “pandemic bike” and want to see what an event is like. There are a lot of things to think about apart from training. Preparation and strategy can make your event a success. Lack of them can cost you. Here are a few tips that may be the difference between a great event and a difficult one.

The first thing to prepare for is the expected weather. What you wear can make or break your ride. The key is to bring the right clothing to keep you comfortable. The events I’m riding this year come in places where the daytime high during the event will be in the upper 60’s to upper 70’s, though early in the morning, when these centuries start, the temperature can be in the 50’s. That can create some problems. Know what weather to expect.

  • Dress for mile 5, not for mile 0. I have seen people who wore a warm jacket at the start of a century, only to find it too hot once they warmed up. Then they found themselves carrying it with them for over 90 miles. That initial comfort was offset by the need to carry the jacket. Be prudent about what you take with you.
  • Arm and leg warmers are great accessories, and they pack small for your pockets. They’re great for that extra bit of comfort as you set out. If you can get away with taking less, you’ll be more comfortable in the long run if the weather will warm up during the ride. Centuries take hours, so take the temperature changes into account.
  • Century day is no time to break in new clothing. You should know what your shorts and jersey and shoes are like before you set out on a century ride. It’s a good idea to break them in beforehand so you know you won’t be uncomfortable or chafe.
  • Speaking of chafing, chamois cream is a good idea. 100 miles is a long painful distance if your shorts are chafing you!
  • Think about post-ride. Can you change out of your cycling clothes? Bring a bag to put your cycling gear in. I like to use 2.5 gallon size plastic storage bags to put my cycling laundry in when the ride is done.

Another thing to think about is your bike. Before the event, here are a few things to consider. Remember that you may have to get your bike into the shop a few weeks before the event.

  • Make sure your bike is tuned up. It should shift smoothly and run quietly without squeaking or rubbing anywhere. Nothing can ruin a ride quite like a bike that needs maintenance.
  • Wheels should be trued. Wheels that aren’t true can cause brake rubbing and wear your tires quickly.
  • Lubricate your chain. It seems obvious, but a clean and well lubricated chain is easier on your gears.
  • Check your tires. Replace them if they’re worn out. Nothing will interrupt a good ride like a flat tire. Anything you can do to prevent one will pay off on event day.
  • Charge all your electronics. Computers, lights and if you have electronic shifting, charge that.

Some preparation for your ride begins the week before ride day. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Last minute training will only wear you down. Ride easy the week before your event and come in fresh. Your training should be complete a week before the event. Harder rides just before the event won’t help you. Rest will.
  • Most people aren’t fully hydrated day to day. The week before your event, drink an extra glass or two of water per day. Also, be careful with alcohol. I’m not saying abstain, but be careful to moderate! Going in well hydrated means you’ll get a good start. Those two extra glasses of water every day can help, particularly if your event is on a hot day.
  • Try and get good sleep. This makes sense, but often the best night to get good sleep is the night prior to the night before your event. Sometimes you can be too excited or worried the night before to sleep well, and good sleep leading up to your event can mitigate that somewhat.
  • Make a complete list of things to take, and check them all off before you leave! Even things you may think are trivial. Forgetting an item you need can be a nightmare on event day. It may seem paranoid, but better safe than sorry. Worry is best handled well in advance.

Finally, what can you do on Event day to make your ride a success?

  • Go in with a plan. Think about packet (number) pickup, where you’ll park, when you’ll start, and have an idea of when you’ll finish. Know where your keys, phone and ID are.
  • Remember to ride at the pace you’re trained for. Too many riders get excited and draft faster riders on event day. That means you’re burning too much energy. You don’t want to burn out in the second half of your event. If you want to stay out of the wind a little, find riders who are riding at your training pace and ride with them.
  • If you can, use the buddy system! Riding with a friend is social. It helps to share the experience. You’ll have a partner to draft with, and the company can come in handy in many ways. Riding partners motivate each other.
  • Eat when you can. Over 100 miles, you’ll need extra calories to get you through. If you have rest stops that offer food, take advantage. Don’t gorge, just eat when food is available. Take an energy gel or two with you in your pockets. Take one if you’re feeling drained. I have a friend who describes gels as “instant will to go on”. It’s good to have one for yourself or a friend in need.
  • As a guideline, you should drink one bottle of water or electrolytes per hour. I like to take a drink every time I see someone else drink. Remind yourself often. I like to keep electrolytes in the bottle on my down tube and water in the bottle on the seat tube. If you’re hot, the bottle of water can also be used to spray your head and neck to cool down on a hot day. Many events use powdered drink mix to create their electrolyte drinks. That commonly means they’re mixed “strong”. Often I find them too sweet, so I fill the electrolyte bottle half full and then dilute it by filling up the rest of the bottle with water. You can’t get the benefit if you’re not willing to drink! Drink smart on event day.
  • A typical century will have 4 rest stops. They may vary in the distance between them, but when you’re out on the course, it can help to think of a century as 5 separate 20 mile rides strung together. Breaking the ride into segments helps make a very long ride manageable.

After many years and a lot of experience with riding centuries and other events, I’ve come to see the points above as second nature. Still, you have to start somewhere, and even if you’re experienced, you can still learn more. I know that I’m still learning myself. I hope that reading this will prove useful for your next cycling challenge.

Getting Started in Cycling

You have a bike – this will help you form good habits to make the most of it.

Bicycle sales in 2020 were so strong that manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand. Most of those bikes were intended to be ridden for fitness during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. The bikes selling the best were inexpensive models designed to get you riding comfortably. The shops were sold out. As I write this, 2020 is nearing an end. It looks like there may be a Covid vaccine ready by spring. Now it’s time to take that new bike you bought in 2020 and make the resolution to ride it in 2021. How do you start? Everybody knows that there is nothing more crowded than a gym in January, when the resolutions are fresh in people’s minds and their resolve to do something is still strong. You have the bike. You have the motivation. What you need now is a plan, and you need to start forming good riding habits. Here are a few tips to help you get the most from that new bike and keep your resolutions.

Before you get on the bike, stretch your legs. Learn a few simple stretches to loosen up a little. This is a habit that I have to develop. I may be one of the least flexible people on the planet – at least it feels that way. It always feels good when I stretch though. A little stretching warms up the muscles and helps prevent injuries. You don’t have to do more than you’re comfortable with. Just a few simple stretches will help. When you stretch, don’t bounce your muscles. Slow, sustained stretches are best. You’re not looking for a pain point, just enough to feel the muscle stretching. The more you do it, the more flexible you’ll become, so don’t worry if you’re not flexible now. Just do what you can. Hold each stretch for a minute and balance your stretches for both legs. You can find useful stretches for all of your leg muscle groups and advice for stretching safely online. Stretching is an excellent habit to get into before you ride your new bike.

How much time do you have to ride? Most of us have busy lives and riding seems like a big commitment. Don’t make it one. When you get started, don’t think about how far you’re going or how fast. Just use the time you have. In the summer, you might have an hour after dinner before sunset. Use that hour. Ride for 50 minutes, 25 out and 25 back. If you need to stop and rest, stop and rest. Build a little rest into your riding time. If you don’t need it, fine. If you do, take a break. If you have half an hour to ride, ride out for 12 minutes, then turn around and come back. Ride finished. Ride whenever you get the chance. As you get started, consistency is more important than how far you go or how fast. Those things may become important to you later, but until you’re in the habit of riding, they don’t mean much. It’s nice to have a computer so you can know how far or fast you’re riding, but they’re taskmasters. They focus you on speed and distance, when the most important thing to start with is just to keep moving. Most people start by fitting rides into their lives. After you get used to them, you’ll be able to schedule more time for them. When you get started, turning the cranks is the important thing, If you push yourself too much, it might start feeling too much like work.

Keep pedaling. Don’t coast too much. Part of riding is knowing how to apply pedal power efficiently. Learn your gears and when to change from the big chainring to the small chainring, what gear to be in for riding along on a flat road and what gear is better for climbing. If you’re starting with clipless pedals, practice using them and expect to fall at least once. Everyone does! If you’re using flat pedals, upgrade when you feel comfortable on your bike. Clipless pedals are efficient, and if you enjoy your cycling they make a great first upgrade. In the meantime, get used to pedaling consistently.

Use the buddy system. Do you have a spouse or friend or neighbor who has a bike? Invite them to ride with you. Make your ride social. If someone else is riding with you, you’re less likely to skip a ride. There is also safety in numbers. Riding alone is great, but for most of us, a riding buddy is incentive to ride more so you can get the most out of your bicycle. If you don’t have one, look for a local cycling club. Most clubs welcome beginners and they’re a great source of information you’ll want.

Look up. Be aware of your surroundings. This is important for safety on the roads and trails you’re riding. Situational awareness is the key to being safe. It also helps you to look at the world you’re moving through. You’re out in the fresh air, why not take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery? Explore new areas by bicycle. Don’t go the same route day after day. Look for new places to see, even if they’re close to home. Mind and body work together. Keep them both engaged and you’ll get more from your rides.

Learn basic maintenance. Know how to fix a flat tire and make simple adjustments. Your local bike shop can help you there. Learn how often to lubricate your bike’s chain and get your bike serviced every year. A dependable bicycle is a terrific companion and you’ll enjoy your adventures more when your bike is in tune.

Treat yourself. On Saturday morning, ride to the coffee shop. Sit down to a coffee and a croissant. Then ride home. Bring your riding buddy. Take the long route to get there when you have the time. Cafe stops are great motivation. Make your rides part of something else you look forward to. Eventually the rides themselves may be the important things, but even then, the Cafe stop is part of the experience. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone. That can be adjusted. If you treat yourself, the bike isn’t just a workout, it becomes part of the experience.

Set a goal. If you have something to look forward to, you will get more from your bicycle. I ride a lot of local cycling events. While you might see them as too much for you, many events have courses that are less than 30 miles long. I have seen some events with family style rides as short as 5 or 10 miles. Sign up for one. Search for Century Rides near you. Most local cycling clubs hold events. The important thing to remember about cycling events is that they’re not races unless they specifically SAY they are. Lots of people who ride events look like racers, but it’s surprising how many people at events don’t look like racers or even athletes. You don’t need special equipment. Ride the bike you have. Racing bikes aren’t required. Bring your riding buddy to share the experience. If you don’t like bike shorts, wear whatever you want to wear. The way you look doesn’t matter. Ride the way you train. How fast you go doesn’t matter. Pin on a number. Go out and push your limits a little bit. Get a T-shirt to commemorate your ride. If you like it, go back the next year with new goals. Goals motivate you. Once you get experience, you can do more and know what kinds of changes you want to make.

All these things will help you get out on the roads to use that “pandemic bike”. Maybe you’ll be inspired to do more with cycling. The important thing to remember is that your bike can be so much more than a garage ornament. It has the capability of changing you. Take small steps at the beginning. That bike can take you farther than you ever imagined.