Riding the RockiesI imagine this is what it must feel like to ride 100 miles timed, no less--a feat I have never attempted, and certainly have no desire to do. But for many, century rides are a welcome challenge, the true test of physical strength and endurance and the epitome of exhilaration.
Century rides are bike rides of 100 miles or more within 12 hours. It is unknown when exactly these races began, but long-distance races have been going on for what seems like forever. Cycling has been around for centuries, mostly as a means of transportation before the invention of cars. Bikes were a replacement for horses--though I think I would have preferred a horse. It wasn't until the 1860s that cycling became an official sport. It began with a short race between major landmarks, and then grew to longer races between cities, mostly in European countries. The trend crossed the pond to the U.S., where cycling became an immensely popular sport.
The League of American Bicyclists--orignally Wheelmen--began in 1880 and became the leading organization for cyclists in the U.S. It thrived for years, especially with the advent of the chain-driven safety bike in the 1890s. But soon amateur racing fell off with the rise of professionals, and the league dissolved in the early 1900s. It wasn't until the Great Depression when it was revived, but it went into decline again after WWII. Finally, in 1965, the league reorganized for good. It mostly existed as a social organization, holding annual rallies with mapped routes. In 1994, it changed its name to the League of American Bicyclists, to appease the female members, and slowly became more focused on advocacy and is now the voice for cyclists at the national level.
Under this sanctioning body, a number of bicycling coalitions now operate, providing education, social gatherings, organized rides and official races for amateur bikers. It is through these groups that many of the best century rides can be found.
RAMROD. Seattle TimesThere are hundreds of century rides across the country--and around the world--one could not possibly pick the best, or even the top 10. But I found a few that I think sound either super challenging or super fun.
- Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day (RAMROD) is a 154-mile ride around one of Washington State's most famous natural national icons. Riders can enjoy the scenery of the mountain and the park while climbing nearly 10,000 feet of elevation in two mountain passes.
- The Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic is a one- and two-day ride and considered one of the 10 biggest recreational races in the country. It is approximately 202 miles, and most riders finish in two days, but some get it done in one, if you're up to the challenge.
- The Tour of the Scioto River Valley, better known as TOSRV, started back in 1962 as a father-son outing before becoming one of the biggest touring weekends in the U.S. It begins in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday and riders spend the night in Portsmouth and return to Columbus on Sunday, for a total of 210 miles.
- Escape New York starts in Manhattan and crosses the Hudson River and leaves the city to explore other regions of New York. Riders can choose to go 25, 50, 65 or 100 miles along some of the best roads of the West Hudson Highlands.
- Chile Pepper Challenge in El Paso, TX is a 100-mile ride that tours Mesilla Valley. It starts and ends at La Vina Winery--post race wine party, anyone??
- Santa Barbara Century runs along the Pacific Ocean. It is a super challenging, 9,600-foot elevated ride of 100 miles. Luckily, beautiful views will make it worth the effort.
- Savage Century takes place in Newark, Delaware, and spans three states--Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is a bit of a hilly ride, with three that have an average grades of 8%.
- Ride Westcliffe is one of the most difficult century rides in Colorado, but also one of the most thrilling. It runs from Westcliffe to Colorado City via the Frontiers Pathways Scenic Byway.
- Hot Doggett 100 takes place in Mars Hill, North Carolina, and takes riders through the mountains of Madison County with 9,600 feet of climbing. For less of a challenge, there's the Devil's Fork Metric, a 100k or 60-mile ride.
- Red Poppy Ride is held in conjunction with the Georgetown Red Poppy Festival in Texas. It runs through scenic Eastern Williamson County. Not only do riders enjoy a pleasant spring race through country roads, they also get an impressive jersey designed with the flowers the ride is named for.
- Old Kentucky Home Tour (OKHT) is a two-day ride through the rolling hills of rural Kentucky. You have the option of a 55-mile, 72-mile or 102-mile ride, but not matter what distance you ride, all are encouraged to bring cookies for the famed "cookie stop."
Old Kentucky HomeWhile physically, I am more of a runner than a biker, many of these races make me reconsider hopping back on that bike and getting in gear. If for no other reason than to experience some incredible sites of our great country. There are so many places I have never visited, and to see them from the vantage point of a bike would certainly be a memorable experience. I would definitely have to train for a long time before attempting one of these, even the shorter rides, but part of me thinks I would be up for the challenge. Who wants to join me on the ride of the century?