Shedding Light on Bike Lights

Last Saturday, September 22nd, was the Fall Equinox which for cyclists is a harbinger for dwindling daylight. Daily commutes may no longer entirely take place in brilliant sunshine and what was once plenty of time post-work to ride in sunshine is becoming a more precious commodity. Which makes now the perfect time to discuss bike lights and which ones will fulfill the needs of your riding endeavors.

Outdoor photo of a bicycle stopped on the side of a road with the bicycle featuring a headlight and tail light.

Whether you ride day or night, dawn or dusk, it’s a very good idea to outfit your bike with both a headlight and tail light.

In general, lights fall into two categories: lights that help you see and lights that help you be seen. And of course there’s then the million dollar question – which do you need?

Much will depend on when, where, and how you ride, but one thing is consistent: every cyclist should own at least one set of lights to help ride safely. While many bikes come with reflectors, and a lot of cycling clothing and gear is reflective as well these days, you still need to use lights for safe cycling. In fact, most states require that lights be used when riding at night. Our home state of North Carolina requires a front light that can be seen from at least 300 feet in front of the bicycle and offers a choice for the rear of either a red light visible from at least 300 feet behind or clothing/a vest that’s visible from 300 feet behind.

Safety Lights/Daytime Running Lights

Quite simply, every cyclist needs to own at least a set of safety lights. These smaller, inexpensive LED lights have become much brighter and have longer battery life in recent years. They take up a minimal amount of space on the bike, attach easily to the handlebars and seatpost, and are bright enough to help you be seen. Even if you don’t plan on riding at night, having a set of these with you during the fall and winter is important in case something unexpected happens and your ride makes an unplanned transition into darkness.

Going beyond having safety lights for use when it’s dark, it’s just a good idea to use them as daytime running lights to maximize your visibility to motorists, fellow cyclists, and pedestrians. Even in broad daylight, a set of front and rear safety lights can create bright pulses and flashes to snap other road users, especially motorists, out of the haze and malaise of the day and alert them to your presence.

Axiom Lazerbeam 180 Tail Light

The Axiom Lazerbeam 180 Tail Light makes an excellent choice for the safety-conscious cyclist.

The Axiom Lazerbeam lights are popular in our office and are especially effective for daytime cycling. As a died-in-the-wool roadie who’s all about a minimalist aesthetic when it comes to accessories on my bike, I’ve personally become a fan of the Knog lights as they’re well-designed, exceptionally compact, and – like many lights in this category – conveniently re-charge via USB. They’re on every time I’m out on a ride.

Commuter Lights

Packing more of a punch than safety lights, commuter lights make an ideal choice for commuters and road riders. Commuter lights are brighter than safety lights, and typically have an output in the 50-375 lumen range (lumens are a measure of how bright a light is – the more lumens, the brighter). These lights are capable of putting out enough light to illuminate the path in front of you with some help from a street light or two.

They’re typically very convenient to mount on the handlebar – most utilize a tool-free system – and they feature an internal, rechargeable battery that helps keep the weight down and re-charges via a USB cable. Commuter lights are also moderately priced and won’t bust your budget.

NiteRider Lumina Micro 550 Headlight

The NiteRider Lumina Micro 550 Headlight is a popular, value-packed option for commuters and road riders.

NiteRider lights are exceptionally well-made and in the realm of commuter options their Lumina Micro 550 Headlight is a very popular choice. In its brightest mode, the Lumina Micro 550 provides 550 lumens of illumination, bright enough for riding in near total darkness. But keep in mind that the running time for the brightest option is of course the shortest (in this case 1.5 hours) before the light needs to be re-charged.

However, this light – and lights of this category – include a range of brightness options (in this case five, including a daylight flash selection and a walking mode for use when you’re a pedestrian), so it can run for up to seven hours at a lower, 125 lumen output or 20 hours in walking mode. Keep in mind that the brightest option may be overkill for the amount of darkness you encounter while riding. With experience, you’ll become a Jedi master in terms of using enough light for safe cycling while maximizing the run time of your battery before a re-charge.

Bring-On-The-Night Lights

Packing high-powered LEDs in the 500-2200 lumen range, these are the lights that are used to light your way during full-on night rides in pitch black darkness. At the lower end of that brightness range the lights are still relatively compact, self-contained units, while at the upper end of that brightness range they can be fairly big, and some even require external battery packs. And they can be priced in the several hundred dollar realm. But what you get is a bike light that is so bright if feels like you’re riding with your own, personal sun – such as the brightest light Nashbar currently sells: the NiteRider Pro 2200 Race Headlight.

NiteRider Lumina 950 Boost Headlight

The NiteRider Lumina 950 Boost Headlight will be your best friend when riding in darkness on roads or trails.

If you ride on trails at night, like to do some road cycling at night, or commute down unlit country roads, these are the lights that can show you the way home. The NiteRider Lumina 950 Boost headlight is a perfect choice for riding in these conditions, and is also an exceptional value.

Tail Lights

Basically, these are flashing red lights that mount to the back of your bike — either on the seatpost or seat stay, or by clipping onto a saddlebag or backpack. Their purpose is to make you visible to traffic approaching from the rear, while some tail lights also offer a wider radius of illumination and can also help you be visible from the side.

NiteRider Solas 100 Tail Light

The NiteRider Solas 100 Tail Light – don’t leave home without it!

Most are pretty inexpensive, and they go a long way toward helping you stay visible and safe. The most powerful tail lights can be seen from over a mile away, while smaller “blinky” lights are more suitable for city or suburban streets that aren’t totally dark. The aforementioned Axiom Lazerbeam 180 tail light is a great option, as well as the NiteRider Solas 100. They’re compact, durable, easy to use, and are USB rechargeable.

Tail lights are also required of cyclists riding at night in almost every state, city, and municipality in the United States, but independent of the law, we just think they’re a very good idea to enhance your safety – in daylight as well as night.

 

Safety Made Simple: Reflective Clothing, Parts, and Accessories

Reflective jacket

Reflective cycling gear enhances visibility and safety in low-light or dark conditions.

With the fall equinox tomorrow (Saturday, September 22), the specter of diminishing daylight becomes more and more a reality. Visibility is always a primary concern for cyclists, and more so when your early morning or early evening rides more frequently experience low-light conditions or even darkness. And that’s where reflective clothing, parts, and accessories come into play.

First, when we refer to cycling gear with reflective properties, that means the material becomes super-bright from exposure to direct light, which for cyclists typically entails a vehicle’s headlights. The light bounces directly back to the driver and alerts the motorist to your presence. Otherwise, in the absence of direct light, the material is subtle and unobtrusive, seamlessly blending into the gear it’s on. A factor to consider in reflective cycling clothing and gear is utilizing a combination of reflective elements (a full ensemble of clothing tops and bottoms, packs/panniers, and tires) to provide sufficient, collective visual cues to identify you as a cyclist out on the road.

The great part about utilizing all of these reflective items is that the reflective properties are built right into cycling gear you’ll use anyway as part of your regular routine. You don’t have to think twice about it or have to take an extra step to make sure your safety is optimized.

CLOTHING

Clothing is a fundamental means of adding reflectivity to your daily cycling routine. And with cooler fall weather approaching, you can both prepare for the conditions as well as enhance your safety. There are basic, staple options such as the Bellwether Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey as well as the Canari Spiral Women’s Tights. There are plenty of jacket options for a variety of conditions beginning with the super-versatile Canari Optimo 2 in 1 Jacket that features removable sleeves to it can be used as either a jacket or vest.

Canari Solar Flare Windshell Jacket

In addition to being a superb choice for cool, blustery conditions, the Canari Solar Flare Windshell Jacket sports reflective logos and piping to enhance your safety out on the road

For wet weather conditions there is the Castelli Sella Rain Jacket, while for straightforward blustery, windy days there’s the Mavic Cosmic Pro Wind Jacket or the Canari Solar Flare Windshell. All of these clothing items feature strategically placed reflective logos, piping, and accents that are subtle in daylight conditions, but provide superb reflectivity from a variety of angles when you’re riding in low-light or dark conditions.

And don’t forget other clothing items such as gloves (such as Pearl Izumi Cyclone Gel Gloves) and shoe covers (such as Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Barrier WxB Shoe Covers) to further enhance reflectivity and provide further visual cues to motorists, particularly with items such as shoe covers that are in motion as you pedal.

Helmets with reflectivity are an important way to complete your kit, with the Bell Z20 MIPS Ghost Reflective Road Helmet a superb option. The helmet is treated with a durable, reflective coating under the helmet’s clear coat that glows with eye-searing intensity when hit with direct light. And it’s also a super-subtle treatment that has no effect on the helmet’s aesthetics in daylight.

PACKS & PANNIERS

The trusty seatpack is a perfect means to add reflectivity to your bike with options such as the Nashbar Waterproof Saddle Bag, Topeak Survival Tool Wedge II, or the BiKASE Momentum Seat Bag all featuring reflective logos and piping that are readily visible to motorists approaching from behind.

The Nashbar Waterproof Saddle Bag

The Nashbar Waterproof Saddle Bag features a reflective logo and accents for enhanced rear visibility

 Commuting and running errands around town means you’ll need panniers to carry your gear, so why not choose something like the TransIt Metro Grocery Pannier or BiKASE Reggie H20 Proof Pannier with reflective elements that are visible from both the side as well as behind.

TIRES

When it comes to parts of your bicycle, tires with reflective striping on the sidewalls make perfect sense for the safety-minded cyclist. The venerable Continental brand is noted for just such a feature, and the sidewall reflective striping is prevalent on a variety of tires such as the Town Ride City Tire, the Sport Contact City Tire, and the Top Contact II City Tire.

The Continental Town Ride City Tire

The Continental Town Ride City Tire features a reflective strip all the way around the sidewall for enhanced visibility

Of course, reflective clothing and gear are only one part of being a safe cyclist when you’re riding in low-light conditions or full-on darkness. Lights, both headlights and tail lights, are a must-have item to illuminate your way and also provide critical visibility to motorists, pedestrians, and fellow cyclists. And Bike Nashbar has plenty of lights to choose from to fit your budget as well as illumination demands.

Stay safe, stay vigilant, and enjoy your rides during this transition into fall cycling.

 

Gravel & Cyclocross Bikes – What’s The Difference?

Gravel bikes. Cyclocross bikes. The latest buzz in bikes and its venerable mixed-surface cousin. Striking a super-versatile middle ground between dedicated road bikes and dedicated mountain bikes, these steeds deliver the zippiness and efficiency of a road bike that makes it easy to cover plenty of ground, all the while relying on the toughness and dirt-friendly tread patterns drawn from the mountain bike realm that make them at home when venturing off the beaten path. And both are just flat out fun to ride.

There are plenty of options for gravel and cyclocross bikes at Bike Nashbar, but what category of bike do I need? And what exactly is the difference between a gravel bike and a cyclocross bike anyway?

Cyclocross – The elder statesman of drop-bar bikes on dirt

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike in action at a local 'cross race.

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike in action at a local ‘cross race.

At its essence, cyclocross is about racing. The sport has its roots in Europe as a means for road pros to stay fit in the off-season, and in the mid-20th century cyclocross evolved into its own dedicated competitive discipline with a race season encompassing the fall and winter months. ‘Cross is a sport that’s been dominated by Europeans, with Belgium the current world power and spiritual homeland, but North Americans have made inroads, particularly on the women’s side with riders like the USA’s Katie Compton a perennial superstar.

Cyclocross races are roughly one-hour, multi-lap events over a course typically no more than two miles in length, with a variety of surfaces (dirt, grass, asphalt/concrete), plus features such as barriers and short, steep climbs that force riders to dismount and carry their bikes. It is a thing of beauty watching world-class ‘cross racers approaching obstacles at speed and their subsequent super-smooth dismounts and remounts.

And as a fall/winter sport, weather conditions play an enormous role. It’s not uncommon for cyclocross races to take place in frigid rain (or snow) that turns the course into a literal sea of mud, and riders must switch to clean bikes, sometimes every lap, when the accumulation of muck, slime, and ice renders bikes barely rideable.

Within these general parameters of cyclocross racing evolved bikes specific to the sport’s needs. Tire clearance on a cyclocross bike is generous, to allow for wider off-road tires, typically but not exclusively in the 700x30c-ish range (pros are limited to a max width of 700x33c). There’s a range of tire tread patterns available, ranging from minimalist file treads to aggressive, mud-oriented treads, to dial in the bike’s traction needs to the course at hand. The wheelbase is longer, too, which provides more stability when riding over non-firm surfaces (even sand!).

Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike

The Nashbar Carbon Cyclocross Bike is ready for ripping or racing with its carbon frame & fork, Shimano 105 components, and Tektro Spyre mechanical disc brakes.

If you become a devoted racer, you’ll find that carbon fiber is king regarding frame (and fork) materials, with Bike Nashbar’s own Carbon Cyclocross Bike a remarkable value. For the more budget-conscious, aluminum frames provide nearly as light a material as carbon that’s much friendlier to the wallet. And even steel, such as our super-fun Nashbar Single-Speed Cyclocross Bike, is still a viable, very affordable option.

Nashbar Single-Speed Cyclocross Bike

One gear to rule them all. The Nashbar Single-Speed Cyclocross Bike is the essence of simplicity.

 ‘Cross bikes position the rider more upright, with a higher center of gravity, a geometry that makes it easier to navigate unsettled terrain plus ensuring more pedaling clearance. The frames are designed with steeper headtube angles to handle the demands of sharper turning. There’s plenty of changes in speed and direction on a ‘cross course and a cyclocross bike is optimized for aggressive riding and accelerating out of every turn to maintain a speedy tempo.

Traditionally, cyclocross bikes have been set up with drivetrains featuring double chainring cranksets, but in recent years single chainring, 1x set ups have immensely increased in popularity. A 1x configuration is lighter in weight, is a mechanically simpler system (less likely to be affected by sloppy conditions), and delivers super-intuitive shifting (very important when you’re deep in the pain cave and don’t have the mental acuity to work with both front and rear derailleurs).

Gravel – The new kid on the drop-bar block

Gravel bikes, on the other hand, are less about racing (although gravel races are definitely growing in popularity) and more about enjoying riding for riding’s sake on the road less taken, and having the capacity to keep you comfortable and well-equipped for tackling extended-length adventures over pretty rough terrain. Possibly multiple days in duration.

Durability, reliability, and comfort are hallmarks of a well-made gravel bike. While there are full carbon fiber steeds for the dedicated gravel racer, for riders of a less competitive mindset who may be interested in long-distance adventure rides or bikepacking, rugged frames made of steel or aluminum make perfect, practical sense. The legendary Breezer brand, of Joe Breeze fame (one of the originators of the modern-day mountain bike), provides fantastic steel options in their Inversion and Radar models. Additionally, the Fuji Jari gravel bikes are available in steel and aluminum frames while the Diamondback Haanjo (men’s version) and Haanjenn (women’s version) gravel bikes are built around aluminum frames.

2018 Breezer Inversion Pro Gravel Bike

The 2018 Breezer Inversion Pro gravel bike breaks down the barriers of what a “road” bike can be. Featuring a butted chromoly D’Fusion frame, carbon fork, Shimano 105 components, TRP hydraulic disc brakes, and 700×32 WTB Exposure tires.

Gravel bikes tend to have a taller headtube and thus situate you in a more upright position than cyclocross bikes, befitting their call as an all-day ride. Lower bottom brackets are all about stability and a lower center of gravity while longer wheelbases are there, too, featuring longer seatstays than ‘cross rigs for additional comfort on the back end as well as more easily accommodating racks and panniers.

Gravel bikes are noted for the proliferation of braze-on mounts to facilitate extended rides away from readily available provisions. It’s normal for a frame and fork to sport braze-on mounts to handle five water bottle cages, front and rear packs & racks, as well as a top tube-mounted bento box. Contrast that with my personal ‘cross bike that’s only equipped with a pair of water bottle cage braze-ons.

2018 Fuji Jari 1.5 Gravel Bike

The 2018 Fuji Jari 1.5 gravel bike is your ticket to adventure. Featuring a butted aluminum frame, carbon fork, SRAM Apex 1x drivetrain, TRP mechanical disc brakes, and Clement X’Plor USH 700×35 tires.

Gearing is generally more forgiving on a gravel bike, befitting their endurance orientation and the demands of scaling lengthy, steep ascents. Climbing in cyclocross racing is short and punchy, and if the terrain is too steep you simply get off and run with the bike on your shoulder. In my days as an elite ‘cross racer, I ran a 42T single chainring with a 12-25T cassette. That’s fine for ‘cross racing and training, but my legs would explode in mere minutes using those gears on rides in Pisgah Forest in western North Carolina.

If you’re off the beaten path taking on an extended stint of National Forest fire roads, you may encounter steeply pitched climbs that are many miles in length and you need gears low enough to pedal up them – especially if your bike is loaded up with packs and bags. Which is why a bike like the Breezer Radar Expert gravel bike sports 48/32T chainrings plus an 11-36T cassette. You’ll thank your lucky stars your low gear is lower than a 1-1 ratio. Speaking of gearing, you’ll find a healthy mix of both double chainring and single chainring drivetrain configurations on today’s gravel bikes.

Befitting the demands of long rides on rough dirt/gravel roads, with “road” often used in the loosest possible manner, gravel bikes are designed with more tire clearance than ‘cross bikes so you can run plush, forgiving rubber. My ‘cross bike can barely clear a 700×38 tire, and I’ll only use that width in dry conditions, while at a minimum a gravel bike is expected to clear a 700×40 tire, with tire widths often running close to 50mm. Minimally maintained roads coupled with the possibility of gear for multiple days in the woods make running wide, higher volume tires a necessity.

But What Bike Do I Need?

It really comes down to the style of riding you’re more inclined to do. If you’re interested in ‘cross racing and/or riding fast and light on mixed surfaces over rides lasting up to a few hours in length, then a cyclocross bike is the logical choice. If you’re more comfort-minded, are more interested in the journey itself, and in particular are inclined to undertake rides that entail packing extra gear/provisions, then by all means look into a gravel bike.

And the beauty of both ‘cross and gravel bikes is there is a blurry middle ground. You can certainly race ‘cross on a gravel bike or add a sizable seatpost pack and handlebar bag to a ‘cross bike for longer rides. The bikes are fully capable of crossing boundaries, but are best able to handle their own specific genre of riding.

Don’t forget that ‘cross bikes and gravel bikes are remarkably versatile and it’s amazing just what they can do with a simple change of tires. My ‘cross bike has logged plenty of super-fast road group rides with simply a change of tires from 700×33 knobbies to zippy, 700×25 road rubber, and another switch to Continental Gatorskin tires and a set of platform pedals converts my ‘cross bike into a bombproof, around-town commuter. And a gravel bike transforms into the ultimate comfort, endurance road bike with a similar outfitting of slick road tires. And you can run them wide, too, – REALLY wide – and discover the beauty and comfort of 700×30 and wider slick road tires.

And no matter which bike you ultimately choose, there’s just no end to how much fun you’ll have when the pavement ends and the dirt begins.

 

ECON 101: The Opportunity Cost of a Parking Permit

College is expensive. Skip the parking permit, save a little money, avoid the freshman 15, and have some fun — ride a bike.

Tuition, housing, food (/drinks), books – it goes on. Each one less palatable than the last. Then they hit you with the parking permit – a price usually so high it should warrant daily valet service. And it’s not like you even get any good parking spaces, unless you’re in the unlucky crop of kids with an 8am class you’re probably still walking (or running if you’re anything like me and always just a little late) quite a bit to your class.

Contrast that with biking to class: no permits, no gas, no searching for a spot, healthy living, and park it right next to your class.

For the cost of parking on campus for just one year you can get quite a good bike set up for class. And this doesn’t even consider the cost of the car, insurance, parking off campus, or the countless favors and errands you’ll be asked to do from all your mooching friends with neither a car nor a bike.

Here’s what you could get for your bike commute just by skipping the parking permit for 1 year at a few colleges across the country:

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, NC

Permit Cost: $599 per year

Located in the idyllic Southern cycling town of Chapel Hill, UNC is ideal for a simple bike — the aptly named Bike Nashbar Campus Single-Speed ($179.99).

The steel frame and fork will almost definitely far out-last that long distance relationship you brought along from high school. And while we can’t offer anything to protect you from that inevitable heartbreak you will want a helmet ($44.00) to protect your head and a lock ($24.99) to protect your bike.

 

 

Total: $248.98 — Savings: $350.02

Then you’ve got $350 left over to put towards a down payment on a text book!

Temple University – Philadelphia, PA

Permit Cost: $800 for a two semester pass

If you’re going to school in Philadelphia, then you better get a bike. In the past decade Philadelphia has become one of the most bike friendly big cities in the US. If you want something affordable and stylish, take a look at the Nichibei Collection from Fuji Bikes (a Philadelphia company). With steel construction, classic styles, comfortable geometry, and reliable drivetrains the Nichibei Collection is great for riding around Philadlephia year round. Check out the Cambridge ($206.99)and Sagres ($199.99).

With all the leftover money you may want to consider upping your backpack game. Showers Pass ($214.99) makes some high-quality, professional bags that will take you from Philosophy 101 to your first job interview and beyond. The bags are perfect for any weather to keep you pricey laptop and even pricier books dry.

Finally you’ll want to get a helmet ($44.00) and a lock ($24.99). Some schools will actually give you a lock when you register your ride with the campus PD, so you may want to check that out before buying one.

Total: $490.97 — Savings: $309.03

University of Miami – Coral Gables, FL

Permit Cost: $1,062 for a two semester pass

South Beach is a place to show off. So if you’re planning on biking anywhere near there, then you may want to consider a bike from SE Bikes. Loud, brash, fun, and colorful, you’ll be sure to stand out (even in South Florida) on a Big Ripper ($599.99).

Looks good next to a palm tree doesn’t it?

As good for rides around campus as it is for wheelies in South Beach, the Big Ripper will not disappoint.

Beyond that a good lock ($24.99) and helmet ($44.00) and you should be all set.

Total: $668.98 — Savings: $393.02

George Washington University – Washington, D.C.

Permit Cost: $2,060 for a two semester pass

With a permit cost like that you’ve got plenty of options. Washington, D.C. is another great cycling city with plenty of dedicated and protected bike lanes and just outside the city offers tremendous trails you ride for many, many miles. A great option for both riding to class and longer weekend rides would be the Cavalo 105 Alloy Road Bike ($799.99).

For a complete review of why this is a great bike check out this review from Bicycling Magazine.

Beyond that, you’ll want to decide on your specific riding gear. If you’re riding for fitness

and commuting you may want some dual purpose pedals ($99.99). These clever pedals from Shimano allow you to ride with flat sole shoes when you’re just riding to class

and then slip into your cycling shoes ($75.00), shorts ($29.99), and jersey (27.99) designed for road cycling — when you want to ride out to Mt. Vernon.

Beyond that a helmet ($89.99)and lock ($24.99) and you should be all set.

Total: $1,147.94 — Savings: $912.06

Then you still have enough money left over to buy a 4-year’s supply of Ramen Noodles.

University of California Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz, CA

Permit Cost: $2,416 for 4 years

Okay… we’re cheating a little on this one. We’re basing our budget for this one on 4 years of buying a parking permit. Once you see the mountain biking trails there you’ll understand exactly why we wanted to plunge all our money into a bike there.

If you’re brand new to mountain biking there are plenty of great options. But if you’re headed to UC Santa Cruz and want to get into the very serious business of riding the trails on their campus, then we highly recommend skipping the parking permit (and maybe selling the car) to invest in some serious MTB gear. First the bike:

The Breezer Thunder 27.5+ Team ($1,549.99) mountain bike is a fantastic hard-tail mountain bike that will serve double duty on the trials and on the commute to class. This thing will tackle any trail you can find and then get you to class on time.

Next up is a helmet: The Giro Switchblade MIPS ($174.99) mountain helmet is great for downhill riding but with the removable chin guard it can be used on XC trails as well as to class.

Next get the shoes, pedals, and clothing (~$250) to properly complement your new rig.

Total: $1,974.98 — Savings: $441.02

Opting for a bike in college is the fiscally responsible decision, and we didn’t even get into the positive externalities of cycling or the negative externalities of driving a car… next time in Cyclonomics 201. Until then, let us know what you think. What are you riding to class? What bike do you recommend for a college student? What did you ride in college? Know of any college with more expensive parking than George Washington?

 

 

Why Would Anyone Bike 100 Miles?

There are few logical reasons someone would bike 100 miles. It’s impractical. It’s slow. It’s exhausting. To non-cyclists: it may seem pointless — to many cyclists even: it may seem pointless — but to one, it is a tradition going back decades, a rite of passage to Summer.

PJ has ridden this century – a cycling term for a 100 mile ride – every year since 1971, from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore to kick off each Summer. This year, for his 60th birthday he brought along 6 riders for what would be his longest century – a 12 hour ride with temperatures hovering near triple digits. Here’s what 3 of those non-cyclist tag-alongs thought and why they did it:

Juliet

PJ’s daughter-in-law-to-be, spin instructor, and total cycling novice

Is indoor spinning different from riding outside? Well, I found out… the hard way. I teach spin 4–5 times a week so I thought riding a century down to Cape May, NJ would have to somewhat equal the number of miles I put in during a week of classes. Well, I was somewhat right. Could my legs handle it? Yes! Could my endurance keep up? Yes! Could my upper back and lower back side? Not so much — about 10 miles into the ride I started to feel it, but I took my own advice from spin class: JUST DIG! About 45 miles in, when I was just about at a breaking point with my back pain, my future brother-in-law zip-tied a Bluetooth speaker onto the back of my saddle… GAME CHANGER. I set my mind to the beat of a spin class and we crushed through to the end.

This was my first-ever century ride! And, may I add, my 2nd time EVER being on a road bike.

My advice? Hop on a road bike a few times before completely switching from indoor cycling and outdoor cycling. Your body is not used to being in positions for that long in an indoor cycling class compared to being on the road! Oh, and grab that Bluetooth speaker and get a very, very, very long playlist.

Would I do it again? Heck yes!

Stephanie

PJ’s Daughter-in-law, occasional fair-weather cyclist

It was my second time doing a century. My first go-round ended rather unceremoniously with a crash at Mile 99: I went down on a slippery metal grate after it torrentially poured for the last 30 miles. Heading into my second century, I hoped for a better finale.

No rain in the forecast, thank god. But as we set off at 6:00 AM, the heat was already palpable. Temperatures were expected to hover near 100 degrees. I’m admittedly a fair-weather cyclist. Did this count as fair?

My preparation for this century, I would say, was rather abysmal. First off, I broke my toe three weeks earlier and had to stop pretty much all cardio. But the 45-minute SoulCycle class I did days before would surely make up for all that lack of training, right?

I also hadn’t been on my road bike for more than a year. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I adored riding my Fuji Supreme all over the city — but especially along the Mt. Vernon trail. I recently moved to Los Angeles and am still in search of a place I actually feel comfortable riding (happily taking suggestions!). I have a Tuesday August cruiser I ride along the Strand, but I haven’t shipped my road bike out yet.

So, as we departed for the 100-mile journey from Jenkintown, PA to Cape May, NJ, I wasn’t exactly feeling confident…

Our first stretch was urban sprawl. It was an easy start, physically (so much stop and go with the traffic lights). But it was mentally intense since we were constantly on the lookout for potholes, errant pedestrians, cars making blind right turns, or blindly opening their doors to oncoming traffic. I was relieved to be in a group of seven – each of us looking out for each other and commanding a presence on the road.

The highlight was a trip over the Ben Franklin bridge. I’ve crossed it dozens of times by car, but this was simply so much cooler — remarkable, towering views and so much in the landscape I had never noticed before. Doesn’t that epitomize cycling? Ordinary experiences turned extraordinary.

 

Our first full stop was about 20 miles in at a bakery in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Perhaps some would advise against eating tater tots and a hearty egg and cheese sandwich on an everything bagel. I vote yes. It was magical. If you need the calories and protein, why not make them something you actually want to eat? And it’s the one time you don’t have to feel bad — you’re quite literally going to burn it all off.

Our next 20 miles meandered through some gorgeous, quiet New Jersey suburbs, including a stretch on the lovely Gloucester Township Health and Wellness Trail. We then hit Route 42 and 40, which were packed the Friday before 4th of July. But the wide shoulder and flat, straight roads allowed us to pick up some speed before stopping for lunch.

While generally I’m not a fan of slowing momentum, on such a long day, I think the stops are critical. I remember getting a wicked charley horse my last century, so I knew I needed to pay even greater attention to my father-in-law’s sage advice this time around: “Eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty, rest before you’re tired.” The stops give you time to run through this checklist. I also used the time to stretch as much as possible and slather on more sunscreen.

For me, the stops are also crucial to my sanity. Biking 100 miles is super daunting. Biking 20 miles: less so. Breaking the day into 20-mile segments: approachable, doable.

When we returned to the pavement, the sun was scalding. Finding a sliver of shaded road was glorious. There was no breeze to be had. We refilled our water as much as possible, aiming to drink at least a bottle an hour. Our group started to splinter a bit, each of us riding at a different speed. My legs at this point felt really good. I didn’t feel tired. But the heat was taking its toll on me.

By the time we arrived at our next stop, Tuckahoe Bike Shop, I was feeling light-headed and drained. As I experienced during my last century, it’s this 60–70 mile mark where you feel like you hit a wall. 50 miles in, you’re feeling on top of the world. You’re a superhero capable of anything. You could ride 200 miles if you wanted to.

Then, it all falls apart. Your butt hurts so much you can’t possibly sit on the saddle for 30 more miles. Your legs are cramping. Your neck and back are stiff. If you’re anything like me and grip just about everything too hard, your hands are red, blistered, and sore.

But you must go on.

Even though I wasn’t hungry, I ate two Cliff bars and I downed a bottle of water and Gatorade. Thankfully, that helped enormously. The air conditioning and friendly staff at the shop were an awesome bonus.

The next 30 miles hurt, a lot. The pain was punctuated by three flat tires for the group, including one of my own. We were incredibly fortunate to have our hero Jerry. He was our SAG. He met us at each stop and several in between, where we would quickly refill our water. He’s a bike mechanic, so he had our flats fixed in minutes. He was also a phenomenal morale boost, always telling us how great a job we were doing.

The countdown was on. 10 miles to go. 9 miles to go. 8.5. Wait, those signs aren’t for Cape May. Add 2 miles. It was brutal, every bump sending painful vibrations up my whole body. 5 miles on the Middle Township Bike Path was a nice respite from the busy roads but still oh so painful. It was at least comforting to commiserate as a group.

We could smell the ocean, feel the salt. One more stop: to a liquor store to get tequila, of course. We climbed the bridge into Cape May and arrived at my in-law’s house on the bay. VICTORY!

Was it the finale I was hoping for? It was better than I imagined. No crashes, a jump into the bay still wearing all my gear, and a margarita — plus an immense feeling of accomplishment.

It was all worth it. I had done the century as a 60th birthday gift for my father-in-law. What a way to celebrate together.

If you’ve been thinking about doing a century, I hope this gives you some insight into how it can go, how worthwhile it is, and how really anyone can do it.

Pat

PJ’s son, prefers beach cruisers to road bikes

I’ve done a couple of century rides, all with my dad who has done literally many hundreds of them. Fortunately, he has a set of rules that keep every ride manageable: Eat before you get hungry; drink before you get thirsty; rest before you get tired. If you do that, he says, you can ride all day.

Well, turns out, we did ride all day. It was by far the hottest ride we’ve ever had, with temperatures soaring near 100 degrees. And the route was slightly longer than usual, topping 107 miles.

To prepare, my wife and I fit in a quick SoulCycle class a few days before because we did not have our road bikes. On the rides — aside from two late flats — the only problem I encountered was that I wore cycling shoes I hadn’t worn before and they must have been too small, because both of my big toes are now pretty badly bruised. So, my advice would definitely be to wear and use the gear you are comfortable with!

So… why would anyone bike 100 miles?

The sense of accomplishment? The work out? The camaraderie? Tradition? The margarita at the end? The margarita at the end.

Why would you?

 

 

 

 

 

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