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  1. #1
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    A Tale of Two Centuries

    This summer I did two century rides...it was an eye opening experience as to how not all "organized" rides are built equal. (I use the term "organized" in parentheses to refer to the second one). I'll do more research next time into the actual event. Anyhow, my tale is as follows, and will illuminate the sharp differences.

    May '06: Banzai's first century! After having bike commuted for a year, and not riding much longer than that, it was time to do my first century. I signed up for the Cycle Salt Lake Century, the proceeds of which go to Mayor Anderson's bike advocacy and transportation council. (A good cause!) I was excited, and nervous. It turned out to be a HUGE event. Hundreds and hundreds of riders...the police blocked off the intitial route, an our huge peloton wound through the city with kids waving out on the lawns. There were rest stops every twenty miles, with amazing support. The route was thoughfully chosen, and the smiley face arrows guided my path cheerfully. It was an incredible and very positive experience for me, both from the personal accomplishment of 100 miles, and from the community perspective. The funny part is I was so worried about the support I packed like a commute, so I would be prepared for anything. I could have traveled with nothing but a water bottle, it was so well supported.

    Aug '06: The Cycle Salt Lake century was such a great experience, I signed up for the Cycle For Life Century, the proceeds of which goes to help pay the medical bills of cyclists hit by drunk cagers. (Another good cause!). I was a bit worried when I showed up and there were all of 20 cyclists. It would be generous to estimate that 40 total ever made it there. Of course such a small crowd meant that they were likely going to be cyclists of much greater ability than me, which would mean riding alone most of the route. Great. There were two rest stops, one of which we went through twice; at miles 13 and 65. The other was at about 50. The staff, all 8 of them, were very nice and friendly...did I mention all 8 of them? There was essentially zero mechanical or SAG support. Because of my experience in the Salt Lake Century, I packed VERY light. That could have gone badly. The route itself, well...some of it was the best and most challenging cycling I'd ever done...and some of it was just stupid and scary. When I saw the state highway with no shoulder, pavement roughly akin to gravel embedded in asphalt, and 60 mph traffic, I stopped and pulled out my map, thinking "no f@#&ing way!" I should have let my commuter instincts guide me rather than my will to finish; I've never been that stressed out and scared on my bike, and as a regular commuter I'm very comfortable and capable with traffic. 15 of the last 20 miles were frightening. If this had been my first century, I may have never done another one.

    So...in your opinion/experience, which of my tales best typifies a century for you?
    Good night...and good luck

  2. #2
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    Ah yes, I feel your pain.

    The first big ride I did was the MS150 here in Ohio just north of Cincinnat last July. It was great and I had a fantastic time. I have compared EVERY organized ride (about 15) since then, to it. Nothing has compared - they really knew how to treat you. Don't get me wrong, all of the others have been nice (other than the Morning Glory ride benifitting the Sierra Club where you had to pay extra for breakfast (which we did) and they had run out of food by the time we got in. They had all the distances start at the same time and we chose to do the longest one.... heard later that people made such a stink that they started handing out refunds! Never got mine AND wrote a note complaining!!!

    My friend and I had this discussion not too long ago. We equated it to food. :-) She had lemon chicken at a resturant a few years back and loved it, she's been disappointed with every other restaurant's lemon chicken since then. None live up to it. For me, it's like my stepmom (now deceased) oven baked chicken. I never mastered her technique and have tried countless recipes trying to get it right! Oh well.

    Hang in there, you'll find another one you like!

    Jeni

  3. #3
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    I've done a local century ride a couple of times and experienced similar problems. The first year it was high humidity with a heat index of over 100 degrees. At one point it was 30+miles between SAGs, and we ran out of water. We flagged down SAG trucks twice, and they didn't have water. Part of the 30 miles between the SAGs was on blacktop that had been laid that week, which was super smooth, but super hot. We did finally make it to the SAG, and the people manning the station, which was inside a park shelter, were smoking cigarettes. Nothing like a smoke-filled room to host a SAG.

    We did the century again the next year, and when we hit the 50-mile SAG, they had run out of food (peanut butter sandwiches) and drink. Why not make sure you have enough? It's not like peanut butter and Gatorade powder are going to go bad. We were able to go to a volunteer fire station and get water from a garden hose. And when we arrived at the next SAG, the volunteers were smoking cigarettes again.

    I'm very thankful for volunteers, don't get me wrong, but I have to wonder what the organizers were thinking when they put those rides together.

    Now when I do a long ride, even if it is organized, I bring a Camelback and stick in a few energy bars. You never know what you're going to find (or not find) when you are 50 miles from your car. I've learned that even when I'm on an organized ride to bring water, food, and maps.

  4. #4
    You need a new bike supcom's Avatar
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    Most of my centuries are either solo rides or randonneuring brevets with no sag or staffed rest stops. It's about expectations. In your case, your second century did not meet your expectations based on the first. However, it's usually best to equip yourself assuming there is no sag support and be prepared to handle most mechanical problems yourself. Even with good sag support, you can wait quite a while for a sag wagon to come your way.

    As far as routes go, it never hurts to familiarize yourself with a route before you show up for the ride. While this is not always possible, many organized rides publish route maps on their web site prior to the ride date. This is especially important if you travel to the event and are not familiar with the local roads.

  5. #5
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by supcom
    As far as routes go, it never hurts to familiarize yourself with a route before you show up for the ride. While this is not always possible, many organized rides publish route maps on their web site prior to the ride date. This is especially important if you travel to the event and are not familiar with the local roads.
    I would have done this, but they didn't publish a route map. Perhaps I should have gotten a little suspicious when all of the info on their website was for the 2005 ride...to include no route map. Hmmmm. Also to include the bike shop sponsors that weren't there this time.

    A map probably wouldn't have told me just how dangerous a couple of stretches or route were, unless I went out and drove it...something I feel I shouldn't have to do.

    You're right though, it's about expectations. My first ride set those pretty high.
    Good night...and good luck

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by banzai_f16
    So...in your opinion/experience, which of my tales best typifies a century for you?
    Most of my organized century experience have been with medical fundraiser events (Multiple Sclerosis, AIDS, etc.) and it's been closer to your first event -- well-supported, good route planning, decent SAG wagon support, etc. I've done a couple of regional fundraiser centuries, where it's intended to raise money for bike advocacy or conservation, and those generally seem to be less supported and more barebones.

    I think part of the difference is that large medical advocacy organizations (National MS Society, Jimmy Fund) tend to have more resources in place to provide the necessary support, and they frequently have professional staff members whose fulltime jobs is to organize and coordinate fundraising events like bike centuries or charity walks. Whereas smaller civic groups tend to have much tighter budgets and usually rely on folks working on a part-time basis, so they generally won't do things like scout the route thoroughly, or mobilize an entire corps of volunteers to help out.

    Nowadays, though, like supcom, most of my 100+ mile rides are either brevet runs, training or part of a self-guided regional tour.

  7. #7
    littlecircles bmike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spokenword

    Nowadays, though, like supcom, most of my 100+ mile rides are either brevet runs, training or part of a self-guided regional tour.
    +1
    Compared to the MS events I did a long while ago, long, personal rides and brevets can be like going back to the stone ages when comapring SAG, etc... but I like it that way.

    "Organized" centuries are great for people who want to try a few - but there really is no need to be organized for it - after you ride a few more you might just find you can leave the house on any given weekend and get a century in...

  8. #8
    Senior Member howsteepisit's Avatar
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    I have done centurys with minimal support and full support. My preference is minimal support. I figgure if I ride myself out there I ought to be able to ride myself back. Plus, I really dislike the concept of having to hustle up donars to pay per mile for my efforts. <Rant on> If I put out the energy to ride the hundred to 150 miles somebody else can find the donars. Just my take on a steady stream of hand out for never ending donations. <Rant off>. So I usually do my long rides on my own self supported.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member robow's Avatar
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    I always ride as if there won't be any support available, again that's easy if you're used to riding distance on your own. I've always found it helpful to try and find out if the event is being put on by cyclists for cyclists rather than a fund raising group of non-cyclists that hears about being able to gain donations by putting on a ride. Case in point: One time we attended a ride and instead of always marking on the road directions, they decided to use signs stuck in the ground with arrows. Well you knew what was going to happen, the wind picks up and blows them down and they had cyclists all spread out over a couple of counties and were picking them up into the evening, what a mess!

  10. #10
    Senior Member bernmart's Avatar
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    I just did my first century--organized or otherwise--last month. The Cool Breeze Century was completely manned by volunteers, had a reg. fee but no money-raising requirement (to which I object on principle), a wonderful route and terrific sag support, great food, etc. I had a great time, but I admit that my standard for any organized century is now pretty high.

    It does seem, though, that if you can't count on the support or the atmosphere of an organized century, you'd do better to go solo, or best of all, with a small group of friends whose abilities are like your own.
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