Century cycling – An increasing number of people are opting for 100-mile bike rides | TheUnion.com

Century cycling – An increasing number of people are opting for 100-mile bike rides

Three years ago, Mary Walker got jealous. Meeting her daughter and husband at the end of an eight day charity ride, she was captured by the joy of the riders at the finish line.

Never mind that her family trained for months, cycling regularly and participating in long distance rides. Mary decided it was time to get on a bicycle.

And so, at 53, she started riding, one mile at a time. Now this Grass Valley resident regularly ticks off 65 miles with friends and family at least two weekends a month.

One-hundred mile bike rides, known as Centuries, are a staple of the cycling community. Almost every weekend local riders head out to places like Napa, Chico or Lake Tahoe to ride their bike for six or seven hours (or more). Sounds crazy?

“It’s the camaraderie,” Walker says. “And the huge feeling of accomplishment.”

Supported rides

Centuries are organized events produced by cycling clubs, civic organizations or professional outdoor event companies. Many are fund-raisers, with money raised benefiting specific non-profits.

Riding a bicycle for 100 miles makes a long day, and with some rides gaining serious elevation, riders take full advantage of support offered along the route.

Ride organizers set up rest stops, water stations, snacks and usually lunch. Some rides offer more elaborate food options – gourmet dinners or appetizers at rest stops. It’s clear that some riders eat to ride, and some ride to eat.

But with cyclists burning between 3,000 and 5,000 calories during an event, taking advantage of food is critical.

“You basically eat your way through the day,” says Connie Strawser, owner of Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop in Nevada City, and a frequent century rider.

“You don’t ride seven hours straight. You take breaks, get off your bike, walk around.”

The fact that rides are so well supported may account for the growing popularity of the sport. That and the fact that rides usually happen in lovely places. Many riders make a weekend getaway of their events, bracketing the ride with overnights or camping, or extended trips along California’s backroads.

The options

Most Centuries offer route options to accommodate riders of different abilities. Not up for the full 100 miles? Organizers will typically offer a Metric Century option, which is about 60 miles, and a shorter route of 35Ð50 miles. All riders in an event usually start from the same line, but participants choose their route length.

Route options allow beginners and advanced riders to challenge themselves within the same venue. They also appeal to families or groups who like to participate together, but ride at different paces or abilities.

JoAnne and Ron Ban of Nevada City, who complete at least six Centuries a year, take advantage of the options. Ron rides the 100 mile routes, and his wife JoAnne typically prefers the 65 mile option.

“But don’t think it’s a male-female thing,” Ron Ban adds. “Plenty of women ride the 100 with their husbands opting for the 65. It is all about fitness level and having fun.”

Both members of the Sierra Express Bicycle Club, the Bans consider this one of the best aspects of the sport.

“We have lots of couples in our club who ride centuries, but don’t necessarily ride together. You tend to meet a lot of people out there.”

Up for a challenge?

For those looking for a challenge, the season’s Century roster delivers. Consider rides called “The World’s Toughest Century” – now the Auburn Century – or “The Death Ride” out of Markleeville.

These difficult rides require cyclists to gain between 8,000 and 12,000 feet – sometimes more -, and of course come back down again. The Shasta Summit ride demands 10,000 feet of elevation gain over 100 miles, most of that in the last half.

“If you are a beginner,” says Ban, “you don’t start on Shasta. You start somewhere relatively flat and work up.”

Taking up the challenge of harder rides inspires many cyclists. While many beginning riders are intimidated by a 100 mile ride, peddling 30 or 45 miles the first time can be more feasible. Often after one or two rides, many new cyclists gain the confidence to go a longer distance.

In the off season, most riders keep in shape with group cycling classes at local gyms. Cycling clubs in the area schedule rides all year long, weather permitting, and group rides can be found at local bike shops throughout Nevada County.

But, underneath it all, what is the real motivation?

“It’s the jersey,” says Walker.

It seems riders wear their loyalties on their sleeves, literally.

“We love to wear our club jersey, or the jersey from the ride we just completed. It’s a great conversation starter, and we can show off where we’ve been.”


K. Ryan Hodgkin is a resident of Grass Valley. She can be reached by e-mail at ryanh@ theunion.com or by telephone at 273-1801.


WHAT: Century ride produced by the Sierra Express Bicycle Club, Nevada City

WHEN: Saturday, October 9 2004

WHERE: Routes follow Hwy 49 out to North San Juan and back 100, 60 and 34 mile route options

COST: $35 – $40 per rider

INFORMATION: Sierra Express Bicycle Club; http://www.sierraexpress.org

Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop, 265-2187



– Ride with more experienced cyclists at first

– Find a club or group to ride with

– Learn bike etiquette

– Any bike will do – just ride!

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