12 Tips for Your Next Century

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If runners happily go all the way to New York, Paris, even Antarctica to run a marathon, is it so strange to suggest that cyclists plan a vacation around a great century ride?

Of course they would. A century—a 100-mile ride—is a rite of passage for a cyclist. And a destination century is a right to become a passenger—to cash in those frequent flyer miles and clip into the out-of-state dream bike tour that you've always fantasized about.

Here are some tried-and-true (but not often followed) rules to help you get through any century, anywhere, in comfort and style.

12 can't fail century-day secrets

No matter how high-tech your bike, how well you've trained and how stocked your seat bag is with tools, inner tubes and CO2 cartridges, any century can become a death march if you bonk, get chafed so bad you bleed or have your hands go numb. Here are a dozen insider mega-miler tips for game day that'll keep you lovin' life at Mile 92:

  1. Lube up: Riding all day can rub you the wrong way, so don't be shy. Before you start, slather on Vaseline or new sports lubes like Sportslick where the sun don't shine, then carry more along for touch-ups.
  2. Eat like a pig: The bonk comes quickly if you don't replenish the calories you're burning -- nearly 1,000 an hour with hard riding. Keep granola, peanuts, energy bars or fruit where you can reach it quickly: in a handlebar bag.
  3. Drown your sorrows: Dehydration will ruin your day. Old rule: one water bottle an hour. New rule: hydration backpack. On a hot, hilly day, you'll drink the equivalent of two bottles an hour, at least. Be sure to make half of those fluids electrolyte-replacement energy drinks, like Gatorade.
  4. Get a standing ovation: Your nether regions will cheer if you stand up off the saddle once in a while -- straightening out crotch kinks and re-establishing blood flow down under.
  5. Use an aero bar: They're not just for triathletes. You'll go two to four miles per hour faster and avoid numb hands with an aero bar. The aero position helps cut headwinds down to size and takes pressure off the hands and shoulders. (And it's a good place to keep a map.)
  6. Vested interest: Long downhills can chill a soaked torso, even on a sunny, global warming-certified day. So zip on a windfront vest when you reach the summit. Some ultra-light vests wad up into tiny balls that slip into a pocket until needed.
  7. Add visor: As the ozone thins, long rides will increasingly leave you sunburned to a crisp. Old roadies think visors are geeky and strictly for mountain biking, but look at their skin -- all blotchy and sun-cracked. Good skin is made in the shade.
  8. Candid camera: A long ride will show you flowers you've never smelled before, people you'll never see again -- and sometimes a drunk driver who'll try to make you a hood ornament. Carry a camera to capture all three for your photo album -- and your insurance agent.
  9. Take a map: Everyone spaces out and misses a cut-off sometimes. You know that map they give you at the start of the ride? Don't chuck it and count on blindly following the herd. Fold it up and tuck it in your pant leg; or, better yet, clip it to your handlebars. It'll keep you more involved in the ride and reduce anxiety levels.
  10. Bring money, honey: At the end of a long day, when your bike is falling apart, you crave a Twinkie. But you're miles from a checkpoint and find yourself at a remote store that doesn't accept a credit card. Better have a nice, crisp Andy Jackson ready. Nothing's sadder than a sweaty, wasted guy in tight shorts begging.
  11. Give it a (quick) rest: Take frequent, short breaks off the bike. This isn't a race -- it's a tour, and you paid for it. So milk every second of it. Have a feeding frenzy at the rest stops. Kick back with your feet up to drain the lactic acid out of your legs. Re-fill your water bottles and hydration pack. Stretch, drain your bladder and stretch your hamstrings and quads. But do all this in 10 minutes or less to keep your momentum going and reduce the risk of getting stiff.
  12. Catch a draft: Century riders, especially newbies, are notorious for going it alone, toughing it out to the bitter end, willing the last few miles into solitary agony. Well, screw that. Just draft off everyone in sight. Find someone who rides at a near-sustainable pace (avoid long pace lines that can often result in crashes), hop on his wheel and never let go. If the pace is too much (or you feel uncomfortable), drop off and catch another bike train. Who knows, you might even make a new friend that day.

Sign up for a century ride today.