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:
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!
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.
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?