According to a recent poll, the top five New Year’s resolutions for 2014 are: lose weight, get organized, spend less/save more, live life to the fullest and stay fit, and healthy. As you probably already know, riding your bike can definitely help you achieve four of the five. If someone knows how bikes can help you get organized, please let me know. Mine cause more clutter in my garage than they solve.
Resolutions are only as good as the plan you set up to achieve them, and it seems every other sports or fitness magazine or web site offers detailed plans. Most of them offer a strong framework for success, but for me, a training plan alone was never enough. I need deadlines to keep me accountable, and the best way for me to create them was to insert organized group rides into my training plan.
There are bike events almost every weekend here in the Bay Area, from shorter fun rides to “century” rides that cover 100 mile in a day. Often the same event will offer routes in a variety of distances and difficulties so you can choose what fits your training plan. By working up to higher intensity events over a season, I’ve seen people progress from their longest ride being 35 miles to completing a 100 mile century. Actually, that would be me, back in 2003.
Most Bay Area bike clubs host a century rides that include metric century (62 mile), half century (50 mile) or 30 mile fun rides in addition to the classic 100 mile routes. Some even offer double-metrics (124 miles) or double centuries (200 miles). They’re organized by volunteers which keeps their costs down, and unlike charity rides, you won’t have to fund raise to participate.
The event web site will list the routes by distance and usually have a chart with the elevation profile and total elevation gain for the ride. Pay close attention to the elevation gain. A 50 mile ride with 3,000 feet of elevation gain is harder for most people than a 60 mile ride with 1,000 feet. One smart strategy is to choose a flatter ride when increasing your distance, then do the same distance at your next event on a hillier route. String together event rides and you’ll be surprised how far you’ll go by the end of the season.
Over the years, century rides develop reputations. Some are known for jaw-dropping scenery and tummy-filling delights, others for gut-busting hills where you’re working too hard to enjoy much. The ride name gives a clue: fruits and flowers tend toward the former, and you can guess what “challenge,” “devil” or “death” in a name mean. Here are some of my local favorites and what they’re famous for.
Best Early Season: Solvang Century (March 8)
If you want to get a jump on the season, head south to the wine country on the central coast. The Solvang century offers three distances (50 mi, 63 mi, 100 mi) on rolling terrain with less climbing per mile than most. Fans of the movie Sideways will recognize locations from the movie along the route, including the ostrich farm. My friends and I shared an inexpensive room in the windmill motel in Buellton where Jack and Miles stayed.
Best for Power Foods: Tierra Bella (April 12)
The Almaden Cycle Touring Club has been sponsoring this South Santa Clara County ride with four moderate to hilly route options (35 mi, 60 km, 100 mi, 200 km) for almost 40 years. Since local cyclists plan not only the routes, but also the food, the quantity is abundant and quality is exceptional. One bite of the salty boiled potatoes at the top of Gilroy Hot Springs and you’ll forget the climb up there.
Best Kept Secret: Primavera Century (April 27)
Many long-running century rides sell out months before the event, but not the Primavera. Sponsored by the Fremont Freewheelers bike club, it tours the backroads of Southern Alameda and Northern Santa Clara County. If you’ve never ridden the twisty road above Calaveras Reservoir when the wildflowers are out in springtime you need to do this ride. Five distances from 25-100 miles with moderate climbing.
Best Apple Pie: Strawberry Fields Forever (May 18)
Head over the hills for a choice of three rides that tour the Santa Cruz coast, and climbs up to the ridge line on the 100 mile route. The rest stops have international themes from French to Greek, but my favorite is the good old American apple pie at Gizdich ranch. So fresh you can rest in the shade under the apple trees.
Best for Hill Lovers: Sequoia Century (June 1) By June you’ll be ready for a bigger challenge, right? Sign up for the Sequoia Century sponsored by our local bike club, Western Wheelers. With the exception of the 30 miler, all routes cross the hills to the coast and include steep climb up Redwood Gulch, Highway 9 and Tunitas Creek. To put it in perspective, the Sequoia’s 100 km (62 mi) route has more climbing (8,000 ft) than most 100 mile routes. If you’re training for the Death Ride, the Sequoia is a great way to prepare for the challenge.
Best for Bragging Rights: Death Ride (July 12)
Its official name is the Tour of the California Alps, but it’s called the Death Ride for a reason: 129 miles and five mountain passes for a total elevation gain of 15,000 feet in the thin air of the Sierra Mountains. Complete all five passes of this ride and you’ll get to sign the official event poster, and earn national-scale bragging rights. Registration opens every December, quickly fills and then closes. But it’s not too late. In April, they open up for a brief registration period again.
Best Death Ride Alternative: Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge (July 26)
Missed the Death Ride or want more of the pain? At 133 miles and 18,063′ of climbing, the 200 km route of the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge exceeds the Death Ride by more than 2,000 feet. If that’s too much, there are 100 and 66 mile routes that also include the climb up Jamison Creek Road that delivers a punishing 14% grade in long stretches. Even their 35 mile route racks up over 100 feet of climbing per mile. Ouch!
Best for Procrastinators: Holstein Hundred (August 16) & Napa Century (August 17)
If you got a late start on your training, there’s a double header of centuries in the North Bay in August. The the Holstein Hundred ranges from foggy coastlines to sunny valleys with yes, lots of cows in rural Western Sonoma County. That same weekend, the Napa Century rolls through vineyards and wineries with longer routes climbing out of the Napa Valley. The morning chill is gone by that first climb and before long you’ll be relaxing with a glass of your favorite vintage. For a challenge, you can stay in Petaluma or Santa Rosa and ride both centuries in one weekend.
Do you have a training plan or a cycling challenge for the new year? We’re over two weeks in, how’s it going?