How To Get Better At Climbing Hills (For Cyclists)

Hills are the biggest challenge for cyclists. It is easy to go too hard on a hill and leave yourself winded and with trashed legs. Do that too much, and you can completely ruin your ride.

One of the first things you must learn is to pace yourself. If you ever watch a bike race on TV, they’ll talk about how a rider is “riding his race.” In the mountains (or hills!) it is important to do that. Let the skilled riders get away from you, maintain a steady effort that will still leave you some power when you hit the top. And swear that you are going to get faster for next year.

Hills are where I begin to regret every donut I have ever eaten. Weight matters, and if you are serious about being fast on the bike, you will have to get serious about weight loss.

Before you tune me out, consider incorporating an added seven servings of vegetables every day. Broccoli, salads, fruit. I shoot for about three servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables, especially in the evenings when I am tempted by the ice cream.

It is amazing how fast the weight starts to come off on a vegetable-heavy diet. Don’t believe me? It’s because you haven’t tried it!

Hill repeats are also essential. This is where you ride up a hill, coast down it, and then ride back up the hill.

My variation is to choose a hilly loop where I have several hills to climb, about 10 minutes to ride “around the block” to get back to the hilly section where I climb them again. This provides a nice balance of climbing + recovery similar to what you would hope to see on your century ride.

Hill repeats allow you to practice all of the proper climbing techniques over and over, and helps you get faster and build more strength.

I haven’t met a rider who didn’t practice hills which weren’t saying they “loved” them by the end of the season.

Nutrition For A Century Ride

Ok, guys, let’s get serious for a second about fuel. You are planning on doing your first century. You got a bicycle, and you’ve been training. But how do you make sure you are eating enough? And can you eat too much?

First off, there are huge side effects to eating too much. Your body can only process about 30-60 carbohydrates every hour, and the excess carbs hang out in your belly and give you the worst gastric ache.

So newbie cyclists who constantly stuff their face with power bars find their power to be erratic and their stomach to be painful.

So you want to meter your intake. I find that if I can do one gel pack every 40 minutes, I stay pretty much on point. Sometimes I swap out a banana for one of the gel bars since the potassium can always help.

I also mix one of my water bottles to 50% Gatorade and leave the other one with water. This means that I am getting salts to prevent cramping and a little extra sugar, but also plenty of water.

For me, drinking 40 ounces of water every hour is the bare minimum. In fact, the day before, I also drink 32 ounces of Powerade and a gallon of water. I want to be as hydrated as possible.

There is nothing wrong with using a timer to get it right. After all, it is easy to forget about your needs until the hunger signals and the bonking hits you. And then it is too late to recover.

Three Of The Best Midwest Bike Rides

What better way to accomplish the American Bike Challenge than by completing some of the most memorable bike rides in the nation?

You can make memories and raise money for a good cause.

Katy Trail

This rails to trails project run from Makins Missouri (near Saint Charles) up along the Missouri river to Clinton Missouri. It is 240 miles of gravel goodness.

Many people complete the trail on mountain bikes or gravel bikes, but a road bike that can accept 28c tires can get the job done. You have a choice of tent camping along the trail or taking advantage of the many hostels that offer beds.

The trail is open all year, but you might plan to do your ride between memorial day and labor day to take advantage of the most active season.

 

Ride For The Arts

This is the largest one-day sporting event for the arts, and it is set against the beautiful backdrop of Wisconsin.

It supports the United Performing Arts and has over 6,000 riders. They cross the Hoan bridge which is a rare and unique event. It gives you a rare view of the Milwaukee skyline.

Everyone comes out to have a good time. It is not uncommon to see costumes and themes as riders celebrate the arts together.

This is a short event, but a memorable one.

Bike The Drive

This is an event held along the shoreline in Chicago and is at the top of my list to complete.

Chicago was recently named the #1 most bicycle friendly city and this event gives them a chance to show off that friendliness. You get 30 miles of car-free roads to ride along, soaking in the urban river views and revelling in your sport.

The cars may rage, but, for this one moment of one day, we get to celebrate the roadway as cyclists.

 

How To Train For A Century Ride

So you’ve checked out our training guide, you’ve bought a bicycle and now you are ready for the big event.

Training

Don’t underestimate the impact a consistent training schedule will have on your ride. I like to be riding 80-100 miles per week in the 6 weeks leading up to the event. At 12miles per hour, that is a 7-hour commitment every week – twice the minimum recommended time.

But I can tell you that a century, while doable, is much more fun when you are in shape for it.

Weight Loss

We all carry a little extra weight, but around the 80 mile mark, you will be cursing every donut you have ever eaten (and simultaneously be craving a dozen donut holes).

Even dropping 10 pounds can make a night or day difference on the average rider. Drop 20 or 30 pounds and your event will be unrecognizably better.

Sustainable weight loss is key. Eat your veggies, reduce sugars and overall calories… you know the drill. I’ve been skinny, and I’ve been fat, and the only secret to weight loss I’ve found is that it comes off faster when I’m eating five servings of raw veggies a day (head of lettuce, anyone?)

Hydration

Get used to being hydrated. Get used to listening to your body while working out and drinking frequently.

I just set a timer. Every 40 minutes I drink 20 ounces. This guarantees that my body stays hydrated on even the hottest days.

If my timer goes off and I haven’t drunk enough, I just guzzle an entire bottle right then and there. Hydration fuels your system and whether you finish your century on a bike or in an ambulance depends entirely on your ability to stay hydrated.

On longer events, I also drink 1 Gatorade for every one bottle of water to keep my electrolytes up.

Sugar

Your body needs energy. Just not too much of it, or it can slow your digestive system down. I like to use a gel packet every hour to keep a steady stream of energy.

On a supported ride, you can take advantage of the bananas and the cookies. Keeping your energy up makes all of the difference

How Hard Is It To Complete A Double Century?

Ah, yes. The double century. For those of us who have something to prove.

The Century is surprisingly easy. You either have the fitness to complete it, or you don’t Weirdly enough, after riding enough centuries, it starts to become “old hat.”

I know many people who ride at least one century every year as a gauge of their fitness. It keeps them motivated throughout the year to watch their diet and to train a little bit. They refuse to let their fitness drop below this basic level.

After enough years, you begin to feel stale and are ready for the next level.

Enter the double century. A whole new set of bragging rights.

The double century is typically held over two days. You ride a century on day one and a century on day two.

It’s difficult. My experience is that the first century gets the best routes with the flattest course. After all, more people will ride it. The second century is a lonelier course with fewer riders on it. It also tends to have more hills and worse roads.

But, it is worth it. Completing the double says that you have reached a new level of fitness. And for those of us who want to make sure we are going forwards and not backward, that is essential.

How To Train?

Fitness-wise, I like to be doing at least 60 miles per week before trying a double century. I know that sounds like a lot, but it is only about 4-6 hours a week on the saddle.

With a regular century, you can get by with a lot less mileage. I’ve seen folks complete a century while only riding 3 hours a week in their preparatory workouts.

How To Ride A Double Century

The trick here is to pace yourself on day one. Don’t dawdle at rest stops, but stay hydrated and keep your average a mile and hour slower than you did on your last century effort.

You want to make sure that you are keeping some in the tank for the next day.

That night, focus on hydration and stretching.

The next morning it is all about riding at your own pace.

The double century should not be intimidating. It is one of the most rewarding events you can complete.

 

How Long Does It Take To Complete A Century Ride?

The fastest century is going to be the flattest century. There is a reason why land speed records are always set out in the Utah salt flats.

The length of time required to finish a century is going to depend on the course and how many hills incorporated in it and the headwind (or tailwind!) you face that day.

A time trial is a race against the clock. For a cyclist, it is the penultimate pinnacle of suffering.

The 100-mile time trial record was set in 2003 by Michael Hutchinson. 3:23:33 on the Cleveland Coureurs’ 100-mile course. This is probably the fastest a solo athlete can complete an event like this (the record will one day be broken, but only incrementally, I imagine).

Riding in a group of cyclists or a ‘peloton’ can help you achieve new records. Like a flock of geese, these riders can take turns blocking the wind for each other and help keep each other’s legs fresh.

It’s considered a right of passage to complete a century in under 4 hours, and many amateur racers will join groups that specifically train at pace and practice together to be able to crush this record.

Then, these groups travel to events that are notoriously flat like the Hotter Than Hell Hundred to pedal their brains out and see if they can’t create a personal best record.

However, most cyclists finish a century somewhere in the 6 to 10-hour range. If the day isn’t too hot, organizers might allow the gates to stay open for the 12-hour finishers, but often, they have a time cutoff that doesn’t allow the riders to finish if they aren’t fast enough.

The fewer the rest stops you have to hit, the faster you can go.

Whatever time you finish in is a reflection of your preparation level and the weather conditions and course conditions of that day. The fun part is trying to crush your record with the effort you make on your next ride. And your next.