Double Century: What's it like to cycle over 200 miles in one day?
From the novice to the seasoned rider a 200 mile bike ride, otherwise known as a double century, can be a challenging landmark to surpass for any cyclist. For some, spending well over 10 hours (likely closer to 16 hours) cycling in one day, may sound like pure torture. For others, however, the feat proves to be irresistible and all too alluring not to attempt. By no means am I an expert having only completed one double century ride thus far. My hope is to provide some insight and perhaps some motivation for someone else to accomplish this landmark ride.
So what is it really like to cycle over 200 miles in one day? In one word, demanding, even though many other words come to mind as well. Imagine getting up somewhere around 4-5 am, pumping up the tires on your bike, strapping on your shoes and helmet, stuffing your jersey pockets with as many Clif bars and other forms of caloric dense food as possible, and setting out on the road in the quiet darkness with nothing but a route, many many miles, and your mind’s wandering thoughts running through your head.
What kind of preparation is required? Preparation can be categorized under three main areas: physical training, gear preparation, and route planning.
The most variable aspect of these three areas is the amount and time required for physical training. This is highly dependent upon an individual’s current physical condition and cycling expertise. A very general idea of being prepared would be the ability to complete a very strenuous 125 mile ride involving high effort and/or a high degree of elevation gain. Another way to gauge readiness would be the ability the complete century rides on back to back days without significant ill-effects. How one main attain this level of fitness is a topic for much debate and again, depends on each individual rider. For example, a former professional cyclist in decent condition by their standards is likely able to complete a double century ride on any given weekend given they have enough time. Conversely, a novice rider who has ridden a maximum of 40 miles in one day should expect a longer course of gradual training similar to that of a person who has run a 5k at most and is planning to complete an upcoming marathon. In this case, there should be months of progression towards endurance and strength in order to successfully accomplish the task.
Secondly, gear preparation is of utmost importance. Obviously, if your bicycle is not up to the task of being able to go the distance or if it is prone to numerous mechanical failures each ride, attempting a double century on it will make for one very long and frustrating day. On the other hand, having a bicycle that functions reliably and properly will be the peace of mind needed to endure the many miles ahead. On top of function is fit and comfort. Simply being able to tolerate the numerous hours of constant saddle time required for this long of a ride is a great help toward winning the battle.
Lastly, taking the time beforehand to map out a well planned route is vital to accomplishing the task. Factors such as elevation gain, traffic, road conditions, and previous experience with the route all play large roles in a successful double century ride. It can also be helpful to have a couple friendly local bike shops along the way just in case something malfunctions on your bike that you’re not able to repair on your own. See the route I selected below for an example of a straight forward out and back route. Keep in mind that I was relatively familiar with most of this route having ridden all sections of it in the past. Other fun aspects of route planning worthy of consideration include the scenery along the route and stops available for water, coffee, food, and restrooms. Food for fuel is crucial for completing a ride this long!
Indeed, taking in enough calories could be easily overlooked during a ride of this duration. A person such as myself could expect to expend somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 calories during a double century day. This is an astonishing number of calories, so hopefully this highlights the importance of consistently taking in sustenance throughout the day in addition to copious amount of fluids. High quality carbohydrates are generally recommended to comprise the greatest percentage of caloric intake, however, fuel of choice is highly individual. It is also a good idea to consume calories approximately every hour rather than less frequent larger meals. I happen to prefer a steady intake of Clif bars, peanut butter, bananas, donuts, coffee, and water :) To each their own!
Hopefully, this short blog post at least provides some helpful considerations for anyone seeking more knowledge about this cycling topic. For anyone seriously considering embarking on their own double century ride, I have faith you’ll make it happen. All it takes is the desire to go and perseverance during the ride. Feel free to email me for any questions or discussion - firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, enjoy the ride!