Century Riding:
Technoweenies Welcome but not Necessary

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in California Bicyclist, June 1991

Here's the big secret: centuries can be ridden on anything from beat up commuter three speeds to full blown off-road machines to state of the art time trial speedsters! While the degree of technoweenieness can play a role in determining your comfort and speed over the hundred miles, the distance is also manageable enough that nearly any good bike will do. However, there are a few technotidbits worth considering, if you're interested in some free speed and comfort.

First off, be sure your steed of choice is in top running order. Take it in to your local shop for a checkup of the braking and shifting systems, wheel trueness, tyre condition, and overall roadworthiness. Better to spend a few bucks and some time now getting it set up right, then to spend your century day riding in the sag wagon with a broken down bike while everybody else has the ride of their life!

If you're going to ride your century on your beat up commuter, a few changes might be in order. You could lose some of the extra weight of fenders, racks, packs, and other assorted "free loaders" for starters. You could also run narrower, higher pressure tyres or install toe clips or step-in clipless pedals if you don't already have them. Otherwise, just get out and ride those 100 miles!

If a mountain bike is your vehicle of choice, then some streetifying may be in order. First off, unless you plan some detours or short cuts involving gnarly single tracking, swap in some hi pressure slick tyres like the Specialized Fat Boy 1.25" or Ritchey Tom Slick 1.4". These tyres will roll faster, more easily, and more quietly than your standard knobbies. If you've got a pair of the new generation of ultra-narrow rims, you could even opt for a pair of Specialized Turbo ATB/S 1" tyres, hi-tech road tyres which happen to be only available in 26". Assuming you've already got toe clips, you might shave some weight by running clipless pedals and/or road style cleated cycling shoes, which are far lighter and more comfortable than standard off-road clodstompers. Some extra hand positions would be helpful and fatigue reducing over the 100 miles as well. Try a pair of the now very popular bar end extensions available from at least a dozen companies or even a set of multi-position handlebars like the Scott USA AT-4, so named for its four hand positions, including a modified aero tri position. One note: if you start really roadifying your ATB, you may find that your gearing is getting too easy and widely spaced for street riding. A bigger big chainring or closer ratio freewheel may be in order. Of course, don't overdo all of this or you may never want to ride off-road again!

A few techno upgrades can be helpful as well for an already speedy road bike. As mentioned above, narrow, hi pressure tyres and clipless pedals are good upgrades. Extra hand positions are always good, and for this I'd suggest the Scott USA Drop-In handlebars which are like standard drop bars but at the ends they turn ninety degrees and point inward. This "drop-in" position is extra comfortable because of its inherent small amount of flex, and is also ultra aerodynamic. Even more positions and aeroness can be gained from full-fledged "triathlon style" aero bars, but never ride in this arms forward and together position in a pace line. Braking reaction time is reduced and you'll most likely ride in a wobbly, unstraight line, making it impossible and unsafe for others to draft behind you. (Aero position pace line riders are the fredliest of freds in my book!) If you really want to get techno about your century steed, consider bladed spokes of lesser numbers than the standard 32 or 36. This costly but speedy upgrade should only be performed by a pro shop or wheel experts like Wheelsmith Fabrications. By the way, don't even think about using a disc wheel or wheel covers in a big organized century. Trust me, you don't look like an Olympic team rider, plus a gust of wind just might throw you off the road or cause a pace line pileup.

A few techno items apply to all of the above: a bike computer is helpful for keeping track of your location on the route slip, and can also give your brain something to ponder. Some new ones even have altimeters, power output wattmeters, heartrate monitors, biorythymn meters, cosmic vortex finders, and miniaturized pacman video games!

If your butt gets to you, try a gel saddle, or better yet, a Regal Girardi, the most expensive but most comfortable saddle made (P.S. neither of these require Maynard Hershonian break in techniques). In addition to extra hand positions, hand fatigue and numbness can be avoided by using gel bar padding or gloves, like those from Spenco.

As drinking frequently is imperative, carry extra bottles behind your saddle with one of those bottle holders like triathletes use or consider using a CamelBak. This personal fuel back pack carries almost four normal sized bottles worth of your favorite drink. I fill mine with 1,600 calories worth of ProOptimizer, carry two bottles of water on my frame, and never have to put my foot down to refuel or refill during a century. Talk about saving time!

At any rate, don't get too caught up in all of this technostuff. Centuries are the ultimate fun rides for the masses and are ridden for their innate grin factor, fitness benefits, and social opportunities. In other words, do them for fun, fitness, and camaraderie, not to play Greg LeMond or Dave Scott technoracer! Besides, what better way is there to spend a day than out in the sun stuffing your face and hanging out with lycra clad bikie people? It doesn't get any better than that, does it?