Autumn century rides are fantastic events, meeting the needs of several different rider types.
For example, these rides offer a great goal for late-summer-blooming riders. If the spring held your calendar hostage and there weren't many riding miles until mid- to late-summer, enjoying that fitness while taking in the fall colors is a perfect way to celebrate warm days and cool nights.
Riders that enjoyed a full summer of riding or racing can use a late-season century to enjoy what is left of high fitness from a long season. While some riders are ending long seasons, others are just beginning. Athletes with races or events in February or March might use a fall century as part of an early season preparation plan.
No matter what your motivation is for riding a fall century, these ten tips will help make that ride more comfortable and safe.
1. You still need to hydrate. In hot weather it is easy to remember to hydrate. Sweat rolling down your face and arms is a visual and tactile reminder that you are losing fluids. You may not sweat as much as you do in mid-summer heat, so you may need to consume less fluid. Or, you may not notice sweat due to extra layers of clothing.
Adjust your fluid intake according to your ride intensity, the ambient temperature and your sweat rate. A good place to start is to consume 4 to 8 oz. of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. If you are off the bike in the port-a-john every 30 minutes, back off the fluids a bit. If your eyes or mouth feel dry or you start to feel cramps, bump up the fluid rate.
2. Ask permission to draft or offer to work together. It is usually pretty easy to find someone that rides the same speed as you do. It is also relatively easy to find someone that rides slightly faster than you do and it is very tempting to draft that person. (If you are inexperienced at drafting, this is not the time to learn.)
Before you lock yourself on the wheel in front of you, ask the person if it is okay for you to draft them. You can offer to take a pull as well, offering to work together. This can be a saving grace in heavy head winds.
3. Chose your wheel wisely. If you decide to ride with another person or a group of people, there is some risk involved. Watch the people you are riding with and take some mental notes. If they are weaving and unable to hold a straight line; speeding up and grabbing brakes; pulling off without looking over their shoulder first; or pulling into the lane of traffic with no regard for automobiles—consider bidding that person or group farewell. One dicey rider in a group can take several people down.
4. Avoid overlapping wheels. If your front wheel is overlapping the rear wheel of the rider in front of you and that person needs to make a quick move to avoid an obstacle in the road, more than likely you are going down. Avoid overlapping wheels for your personal safety and everyone behind you too.
5. Chamois butter. If this is your longest ride to date and you have noticed some hot spots or chaffing on shorter rides, consider using a skin lubricant. There are several types and brands of lubricant, finding one you like may take some experimentation. Many bike shops have chamois butter or crème in the small sample sizes so you can give them a try before buying big quantities.
6. Check the weather. There are several good online weather services. Check the hourly weather forecast for your event so you can make informed decisions about clothing. If the morning is cool and mid-ride temperatures are predicted to heat up, these are perfect conditions for removable arm and knee or leg warmers.
For cooler temperatures, consider adding a vest. For potentially wet conditions, carry a rain jacket. Some jackets have removable sleeves. With this arrangement you can have both the vest and jacket option while minimizing the stuff you have to carry.
7. Hope for the best, expect the worst. Checking the forecasted weather is wise, but weather forecasts are not 100-percent accurate. The fall weather in some locations can be somewhat unpredictable. If the weather on your ride takes a turn for the worse, consider carrying a little extra clothing and have a contingency plan.
8. Old school tricks. If you ride long enough, you'll be caught in weather worse than you expected. Most organized century rides have plans for bad weather. In some cases, they do not. If you need to be self-sufficient, keep in mind some old tricks.
If you need to descend and it is cooler than you expected, put a few layers of newspaper under the front of your jersey to block the wind. For wet conditions, I've offered convenience store attendants money for a couple of the clean trash bags used to line their under-counter waste baskets. I've poked or cut three holes in the bag to use it as a rain poncho. You can use sandwich baggies as a liner between your shoe and sock.
9. Achieve the results you want. Don't be at the mercy of other riders' actions. You might be out for a nice easy ride and your intentions are to enjoy the other riders and the scenery. Know that other people may not have that same goal. In fact, for some riders—this is a race.
You can choose to participate in these incidental races or not. If you decide to push your speed to try to catch the person in front of you or to keep away from the person trying to catch you, it can be a good way to get more intensity out of the event. You may end up riding that hill faster than you thought possible. At the same time, don't let your ego take over your good sense. Ride the event so you can achieve the results you want.
10. Be an ambassador. Organized rides are really fun and there are obvious fitness benefits as well. If you want to keep these events alive and welcome by the host city, be a good ambassador for the event. Thank police and aid station support. Do your best not to impede traffic flow and gently encourage fellow riders to do the same.