Cyclist rides his bike up a steep hill Photo Credit: mikkelwilliam (iStock).

File photo. Photo Credit: mikkelwilliam (iStock).

Ever-curious about endurance sports, the idea of taking on a 100-mile bike ride has long been on my mind. The only problem – I'm not a road cyclist and never have been, terrified by the idea of clipping into pedals and competing with 3,000-pound machines for space on the pavement. However, when a friend announced that he was selling his old bike for much cheaper than the $1,000-plus entry point I'd been staring at for years, I couldn't pass up the chance to see if 100 miles was a distance I could hit.

Author's Note: This piece is split up into two parts – the story of the ride and what I learned. If you're only looking for the condensed tips, scroll toward the bottom.

I quickly snapped up by buddy's 2010 Specialized Allez Double road bike, valued at about $200. It came with the 11-year-old tires and brakes, the former of which I would upgrade prior to shooting for 100 miles and the latter of which, I would wish I had switched out, too.

I took the bike on a 20-mile spin around the neighborhood to make sure it worked and that I could clip in and out of the pedals without falling over. With that ride self-evaluated as a moderate success, I put a date on my calendar for the following weekend for my first attempt at a full century ride.

When the day arrived, I clipped in and took off. I didn't have much of a plan aside from trying to link up various roads and trails that I had traveled on foot or on a mountain bike previously. I knew that if I averaged around 14 miles per hour, the ride would take me a little over seven hours, so I checked out my start time – 9:40 AM – and knew I would finish around 5 PM, if successful.

My first destination was set to be a lap around Garden of the Gods, but when I found a detour was in place, I ended up heading to the base of the Manitou Incline in nearby Manitou Springs. From there, I found my way to a different entrance of the Garden – one by Balanced Rock. This let me get my undulating loop in around the scenic spot, shooting past tourists in a wide bike lane that delivers a sort of race track feeling.

A cyclist at Garden of the Gods. File photo. Photo Credit: SWKrullImaging (iStock).

A cyclist at Garden of the Gods. File photo. Photo Credit: SWKrullImaging (iStock).

My brakes squealed as they gripped the tires down steep grades, taking a little longer to slow the bike than I was comfortable with. I knew I would need to stick to fewer hills for the remainder of the ride.

Leaving Garden of the Gods, I set my sights on the Air Force Academy via a popular paved trail, but another detour had me turning toward the city-centric Palmer Park.

I took the scenic route there, traveling uncrowded neighborhood streets and enjoying the sunny fall weather along the way.

Eventually, I made it to Palmer Park and started my climb to the top – much easier than it had been on any bike I'd taken to the top before.

As I reached the scenic overlook at the summit of the park, I took my last swig from the now-empty single 20-ounce bottle I brought along – I don't know what I was thinking. I checked my mileage on the GPS unit I was running – exactly 62 miles, roughly a metric century (100 kilometers).

The night before my ride, I told a couple friends about my plan for the following morning, all with one of my favorite IPAs in hand. They didn't call me crazy, but it was close. They suggested I set my sights on a metric century, still an accomplishment in the cycling community, but less than two-thirds of the distance I was shooting for. After all, they knew I was no cyclist.

I let their feedback give me an 'out,' should I not be able to reach the full 100 miles I wanted to hit. At least I could be happy with 62 miles, I told myself.

From the top of the overlook, at 62 miles, I was confident I had more left in the tank. I sucked down a GU Energy gel and plotted a route that took me farther from home. At least then, I'd have to get the extra mileage on the way back, making it a little more difficult to quit.

During this portion of the ride, I knew I just needed to grind through about 20 more miles. Then, the nearing finish line would be enough to keep me rolling.

My body felt fine, though I did wish I had invested in better padding for my glutes, as well as gloves to protect my hands – two rookie mistakes, as both had started to rub raw around mile 30.

I ground through the next 20 miles at a comfortably slow pace before pushing back toward my home. Once within a mile or two from my house, I found a smooth road with a big bike lane that I could lap, too exhausted to put up with route-finding, stop-and-go travel, aggressive vehicles, or surprise potholes.

After another hour of riding, I hit mile 99 and headed home, pulling up to my cul-de-sac as my GPS read 101.33 miles in seven hours and 18 minutes. It was a long, slow grind, but I had hit my mark.

As a beginner road biker tackling a big ride for the first time, here's what I learned:

Note: If you're a road biker already, you probably won't find these tips too helpful. This tip guide is really designed to cater to someone making the same jump into the sport that I am.

1. Clipping in isn't THAT scary... once you get the hang of it.

Once clipped in and moving, your body really starts to feel like it's a part of the bike in a great way. It's immediately obvious that this is far more efficient compared to standard pedaling, as both legs are working to push your bike forward with every stroke compared to just the leg pushing down.

While great for efficiency, this does mean an extra step before stopping. I found that planning ahead was the simple solution to this, popping one foot off of the pedal as I approached a potential stop, ready to catch myself.

I do have to admit, once I started getting tired, this got a little annoying at times. I almost ate it around mile 95 after clipping out my right foot and leaning left while I slowed down.

2. Picking the right road matters

Just like mountain biking down a certain trail, each road has its own set of hazards that cyclists need to be aware of.

For starters, I never realized how many cracks there are in the pavement around Colorado Springs. It's easy to miss crumbling roads from behind the wheel, but in the saddle with narrow tires and no suspension, every inconsistency seems to matter. Prior to plotting a new route, be on the lookout for smooth roads without much stop and go.

On top of having to constantly focus on the road itself, nearby vehicles add another layer of complication. Thankfully, wide bike lanes are present on many roads in Colorado, though that's not always the case. I found that sometimes, you just have to grit your teeth as a vehicle roars up from behind, doing your best to stay predictable while also hoping you don't get smacked. I hated those moments during my ride and in the future, I'll do a better job of sticking to roads that are designed for safe cycling.

3. Bring more water than you think you'll need

I was stupid on my ride, assuming that I would only need a single bottle of water and if I needed more, that I would easily be able to find a water fountain for a refill.

I was able to find three water fountains, all of which were shut off. Finding water soon became a distraction, which resulted in me running into a gas station for a Gatorade I could quickly chug without getting behind on my schedule.

Had it been a hotter day with stronger sunlight, I would have likely felt the symptoms of dehydration in a way that would have prevented me from finishing. Thankfully, I lucked out.

On the same note, nutrition is important. Personally, I've never been big on eating while mid-exercise, but I was able to force down a GU Energy gel with some caffeine. I found this key to a nice mood boost about two-thirds of the way through the ride.

4. Thinking in terms of time, not mileage, helped

The idea of traveling 100 miles seemed daunting, but traveling for seven hours... still daunting, but not so much. That's less than a day at the office, after all.

Thinking in that mindset helped me stay positive without feeling the need to constantly be checking my distance. I figured that if I can sit behind a computer for more than seven hours every work day, I can also sit on a bike for that long.

I knew what time I started and prepared myself to ride until the time I had estimated I would be finished, and then I did just that.

5. You don't have to blow your bank

There's an idea that cycling and mountain biking means spending $1,000s on gear. Sure, that makes things a little easier, but cheaper options do exist.

Buy a used bike and find starter gear on Amazon or the local used gear shop. From there, replace items as you need them to be replaced. I'll definitely be getting better-padded bike shorts, but the saddle bag I used was perfect – for half the price of what I'd find in-store. The headlamp was also perfect – and also half-price.

In total, I spent around $500 on all of the gear I needed for this ride. I'm not going to pretend like that's not a lot of money – it is – but it's not the $3,000 to $5,000 many assume it takes. And now I have a new sport I'll be able to take on during the winter.

6. Drivers are also scared of you – so be predictable

In my opinion, the scariest aspect of road cycling is watching out for vehicles (and animals) on the road.

I already noted this in another tip, but I can't stress enough how much being a predictable rider is when it comes to preventing an accident.

Use hand signals, don't swerve in a lane, and be prepared to react defensively.

7. Be prepared for hiccups

Whether it's a flat tire or a slow ride that means coming home in the dark, it's important to be prepared for a variety of situations you may encounter.

My ride lasted a little longer than anticipated and a daylight savings time shift had the sun dropping out of the sky at about 4:45 PM – while I was still on the road. Thankfully, I was ready for that with a headlight and taillight, allowing me to stay safe and keep pushing.

In conclusion

Road cycling is a dangerous sport that's not for everyone. With any new sport, it's always best to take your time and test the waters prior to diving in. In this case, I'm a confident runner now and years ago, I was a confident mountain biker. Pulling experience from both sports is what gave me the confidence to tackle this challenge. Know your abilities and don't be afraid to take it slow if that's the safest call.

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Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run. He's on a mission to summit all 58 of Colorado's fourteeners and has already climbed more than half.


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