Cycling challenges come and go but riding 100 miles (161km) remains a symbolic feat.
A century ride is considered a cyclist’s right of passage for good reason.
Pedalling a distance that takes hours in a car delivers a dopamine hit. Nudging the mile count into three figures satisfies an innate desire for neatness.
But not even the fittest rider can set out on a 100-mile route without forethought. Conquering a century requires preparation, planning and a big effort on the day.
Our guide to riding 100 miles or further will help you accomplish your goal and look back fondly on the experience in years to come.
Who knows, maybe you’ll catch the ultra-endurance cycling bug in the process.
Plan the right route
Riding 100 miles is hard enough without accumulating thousands of metres or feet of elevation gain.
A flatter route is advisable for your first century. That said, the odd climb can add interest and boost your sense of satisfaction.
Spending all your time on major roads will be fast, although not that enjoyable or safe with traffic whizzing past.
Your progress will be slower on winding lanes, which are often poorly surfaced, so you won’t want to ride exclusively on these either.
Don’t head too far off the beaten track when you ride your first 100 miles. Consider a bailout option, such as a railway station, that will enable you to get home if your legs or bike pack up.
You’ll need to pass through some form of civilisation anyway to refill your bottles and energy stores if you’re not carrying all your food.
In fact, riding from cafe to cafe is a time-tested way of covering long distances on two wheels. It’s how many audax routes are structured.
You could trust in other people’s route planning, by borrowing an established loop from more experienced club mates or entering an organised ride such as a sportive.
Once your route is sketched out and uploaded to your bike computer, it’s time to prepare your body for its demands.
Your training plan should help you meet the demands of the route.
Better top-end fitness means a higher average speed and less time in the saddle on a century ride.
Zwift, Wahoo X and TrainerRoad, for example, enable you to create a training programme specific to your goals while addressing your strengths and weaknesses.
The workouts can be done on the best smart trainers or on the road.
In the latter stages of your training, you should ride a significant chunk of your goal distance at or above your target pace.
This dress rehearsal should be far enough in advance of the real thing so as not to compromise your performance on the day.
As well as the physical form, you’ll need the willpower to push yourself further than you have before.
Having a clear reason in mind to ride so far will provide motivation when the going gets tough – and it will do.
This is why riding in a group is an excellent way to tick off 100 miles. If you begin to struggle, your riding pals can shelter you from the wind and dispense encouragement.
Get your bike in order
Specifically, the best endurance road bikes will enable you to cover the distance reasonably quickly and comfortably.
You can adapt your existing bike for long-distance cycling with a few cheap bike upgrades or free adjustments.
A relatively relaxed road bike position offers the best balance of comfort and speed for beginners.
Positioning issues lead to the most common kinds of pain caused by cycling. Make sure you know how to get your bike saddle height right and adjust your handlebar height, or consider having a professional bike fit.
In the run-up to your century ride, safety check your bike or have it serviced by a professional bike mechanic.
Long rides quickly become miserable once your back and bum are soaked. So, unless you live someone bone dry, we’d suggest fitting mudguards or fenders in case the weather turns.
On really long rides, you might need a pannier rack and bags to carry your gear.
Fuel for success
Much myth and hearsay surrounds long-distance cycling nutrition. Some successful (and less successful) riders advocate the precise opposite of established sports science norms.
What to eat and drink on a century ride is personal to an extent, but there are general rules to follow.
Your principal fuel source on long, low-intensity rides is your body’s near-unlimited fat sources, followed by its finite carbohydrate supply in blood glucose and muscle glycogen.
You don’t really need these macronutrients on bike rides and they’re much harder to digest than simple carbohydrates. Therefore, ‘real food’ could increase your risk of gastric issues.
The answer is to trial event-day nutrition in training to prepare your gut to consume large amounts of carbs and see which foods work for you.
Also, try to find out your favourite pre-ride breakfast so you start out fully carb-fuelled.