5 Top Spots to Paddle and Bike Along the Erie Canalway Trail

New York’s Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is an adventure-seekers dream. With more than 500 miles of interconnected canals, rivers, and lakes, and 365-miles of Canalway Trail, you can paddle or cycle your way across the entire Empire State.

You’ll find beautiful scenery, fascinating history, and truly unique cycling and paddling along the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this living waterway adds distinctive flavor in the form of canal structures like locks and lift bridges, working tugs and other vessels, friendly vacationers in boats of all stripes, and canal communities that are intriguing and fun destinations.

And with more than 140 paddling access sites, as well as several boater-biker-hiker facilities that allow overnight camping at canal parks, it’s easier than ever to enjoy the waterway and trail. For cyclists, more than three-quarters of the Canalway Trail is off-road and relatively flat. On-road segments are well marked, making it easy to ride longer distances. For paddlers, it’s all about the experience of being on the oldest, continuously operating canal system in America. You’ll navigate century old locks, pass stunning stone aqueducts, paddle alongside tugboats and cruisers, and experience narrow flatwater stretches and wider river segments. You can also expect to see a diversity of birds and wildlife, unique geology, and varying terrain.

Pro tip: When you come, be sure to participate in the Canalway Challenge. Choose a personal mileage goal—15, 90, 180, or 360 miles—and track your progress on the water or trail to earn rewards, including discounts from EMS! Here are several best bet trips for cycling and paddling (listed west to east), guaranteed to take you on an unforgettable journey along the Erie Canal.

Picturesque Lockport. | Credit: Robert Dunn
Picturesque Lockport. | Credit: Robert Dunn

Buffalo to Rochester

Distance: 90 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: Cycling

This 90-mile stretch in western New York boasts some of the best cycling along the Erie Canal. Plan a long weekend, so you have time to poke around the many canal villages along this route, each with their own unique shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. The trail is off-road and flat, so it’s great for families, as well as experienced cyclists. You can easily break the route into a series of day trips.

Along the way, be sure to make time to stop in Lockport. Here, you’ll find a staircase of five locks used in the 1800s alongside two towering locks that replaced them in 1918. Lockport’s canal historic district includes the Erie Canal Discovery Center, with fun canal exhibits for kids, as well boat tours, paddling rentals, a cave tour, and a zip line over the canal for the adventurous. There are good dining options nearby, including an urban winery and premium local ice cream.

Twilight on the Erie Canal in Fairport. | Credit: Keith Boas
Twilight on the Erie Canal in Fairport. | Credit: Keith Boas

Pittsford to Fairport (just east of Rochester)

Distance: 13 miles round-trip
Recommended Activity: Cycling

Here’s a short cycling trip that will give you a taste of all that the Erie Canal has to offer. It’s a 13-mile round trip that is entirely off road. Start at Schoen Place in Pittsford, a lively waterfront destination with numerous specialty shops and restaurants. Cycle east to Fairport, another popular summer spot for canal travelers. You’ll find lots of choices for food, ice cream, coffee, and craft beer on both ends, as well as in Bushnell’s Basin, which you’ll pass about 3 miles east from Pittsford. If you want to sample both cycling and paddling, cycle to Fairport and rent a kayak there to get out on the water for an hour or two.

Cycling over the Old Erie Canal in Dewitt. | Credit: Kristin Mosher
Cycling over the Old Erie Canal in Dewitt. | Credit: Kristin Mosher

Cycle the Old Erie Canal

Distance: 36 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: cycling

This cycling trip takes you along the section of the Erie Canal that was used throughout the 1800s, but was abandoned in 1918 when the canal was enlarged and the route moved north of Syracuse. The old canal still has water in it and will give you a firsthand sense of the scale and character of the canal that opened a continent. You’ll cycle east on the former towpath through the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, which runs for 36 miles from DeWitt to Rome.

You can cycle this route in one day, but making it a two-day trip will leave more time for you to enjoy all there is to do along the way without rushing. Just 5 miles from the start, take a hike or swim at Green Lakes State Park, which boasts two deep, aquamarine glacial lakes. At 11 miles, visit Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, where canal boats were once built and repaired. Further on in the Village of Canastota (mile 18), you’ll find everyone’s favorite cycling fuels: ice cream and craft beer. When you arrive at the endpoint in Rome, visit Fort Stanwix National Monument, and refuel again at one of several outstanding Italian restaurants.

The Erie Canal in Little Falls. |Credit: Bart Carrig
The Erie Canal in Little Falls. |Credit: Bart Carrig

Little Falls

Distance: 6.2 miles round-trip west or 10.6 miles one-way east
Recommended Activity: paddling

The town of Little Falls is a historic gem on the Erie Canal. It was once a hub for shipping local cheeses throughout the world. Now, it is home to antique and boutique shops and an arts center, and is known for its rock climbing, annual cheese festival, and boating and cycling opportunities.

You can rent a canoe or kayak at Little Falls Harbor or launch your own and paddle west to Lock E18 through a beautiful part of the Mohawk Valley. At Lock 18 you can paddle for some distance up the Mohawk River to get a sense of what the river looked like before it was canalized. You’ll travel with the current back to Little Falls for a 6.2 mile round trip.

You can also paddle east from Little Falls through the largest lock on the Erie Canal, Lock E17, stop at the home of Revolutionary War General Nicholas Herkimer, pass through Lock E16, and end at a place with warm showers at the Saint Johnsville Municipal Marina. This is a 10.62 mile one-way trip, best suited to experienced paddlers.

Paddlers in the Waterford Flight. | Credit: Stephanie Obkirchner
Paddlers in the Waterford Flight. | Credit: Stephanie Obkirchner

Waterford Flight

Distance: 2.7 miles one-way
Recommended Activity: paddling

Erie Canal Locks 2 through 6 make up the Waterford Flight, a set of five locks with a total lift of 169 feet in just over 1.5 miles. Until recently, these locks were the highest lift in the shortest span in the world. Paddling through the flight makes an outstanding half-day trip, with dramatic scenery, towering locks, and pleasant, easy paddling.

You can rent a kayak or launch your own at the Alcathy’s Boat Launch at the top of the Flight and take out at the Waterford Point Boat Ramp at the end. You’ll want to leave a vehicle or arrange for a ride at the take-out point to facilitate your return. This trip takes you through two guard gates, past the Waterford Canal Shops where canal boats are repaired, and through five locks. Each lock takes about 20 minutes. This is an excellent trip for beginner to experienced paddlers.

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Video: Why Mountain Biking At Night Is Better

“Mountain biking at night is downright magical.”


A Bostonian's Guide to Fall Foliage

For Bostonians, there’s no need to travel far this fall to find the foliage. In fact, whether you’re looking to hike, climb, mountain bike, or paddle, the Greater Boston area has something to satisfy everybody’s cravings for yellows, oranges, and reds. To begin, start with these five great activities, all within an hour of the city, for a quintessentially fall experience.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Boulder at Hammond Pond

It’s strange to find great bouldering, much less an idyllic fall getaway, behind a mall. But, somehow, Hammond Pond pulls it off. Tucked behind The Shops at Chestnut Hill, just minutes outside of Boston, the puddingstone walls, the pond’s gentle waves, and the rustling of hardwood leaves as they fall to the ground—and the occasional grunt of a boulderer working a problem—combine to make you forget just how close you actually are to civilization.

In addition to the wonderful setting, the season’s cool temperatures are perfect for climbing classic Hammond Pond boulder problems, such as Hammond Eggs (V1), Breakfast of Champions (V3), and Hermit Cave (V4). You’ll find the highest consistency and most classic problems in an area called the Alcove, a steep semi-circle of Roxbury Puddingstone. This type of conglomerate rock resembles pebbles thrown into a still-wet concrete wall and is only found in the Greater Boston area. The Alcove’s orientation protects climbers from cool autumn winds, while the rock receives a lot of sun, keeping it pleasant even on the crispest fall days.

Linking a combination of cobbles and cracks, the Alcove’s most difficult problems are found in the middle of the wall, where the angle is the steepest. The easier problems, meanwhile, are located along the outsides, which are angled more vertically. Because of the Alcove’s short height and limited amount of rock, however, make sure to check out traverses that increase the challenge and volume of climbing. Boulderers beware: Many of the problems here were established decades ago. Thus, given the close proximity to Boston, they possess an ego-deflating blend of old-school grading and slick holds.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Climb Rattlesnake Rocks

Tucked just down the road from Quincy Quarries’ graffitied walls, Rattlesnake Rocks is a classic destination for fall foliage. Rather than the Quarries’ vibrantly colored walls, however, the forest surrounding Rattlesnake Rocks delivers a canopy of gold, auburn, and crimson, while cool autumn temperatures ensure the area’s short, coarse granite walls are at their best.

Consisting of smaller crags spread out over a cliffline, Rattlesnake is much quieter than its multi-use neighbor, giving you some freedom to make the most of your “Rocktober.” And, while moving from crag to crag may be an inconvenience, the autumn-hued forest is made for ambling amongst Rattlesnake Rocks’ various walls and routes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Bike Around Vietnam

No, not that Vietnam.

For Boston-area mountain bikers who prefer to race through colorful fall forests rather than idly admire them, Vietnam—located in Milford, roughly an hour outside the city—is an ideal outing. Infamous in the mountain biking community, Vietnam holds the distinction of being the first land purchased by a bike association. The New England Mountain Bike Association, or NEMBA, bought a 47-acre parcel to protect it in 2003, and today, it contains notorious singletrack, drops, and jumps. Even better, NEMBA’s parcel connects with other conservation land in Milford, Hopkinton, and Holliston to create an approximately 800-acre area. Legendary for its technical riding, Vietnam’s trails are best known for their rock gardens and steep rollers, as well as their natural and manmade drops and jumps.

Fall is the perfect time for a trip to Vietnam. Its often-soggy, low-lying areas are finally dry, and brisk temperatures enhance traction on the area’s steepest lines. While the forest’s changing colors and the rustling of leaves under tires can produce a meditative calm, don’t let your guard down too much. Fallen leaves add another challenge to Vietnam’s already-taxing trails, as they may hide in-trail obstacles.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Hike the Blue Hills

Hikers in Greater Boston anxious to explore brilliantly tinted fall forests need look no further than the Blue Hills Reservation. Just a short drive from the city, the Blue Hills deliver the perfect place for hiking, as the area’s rocky and once-lush prominences transform from dense grays and greens into a cornucopia of yellow, orange, and red shades.

Although the Blue Hills might not have the elevation found among its northern neighbors—the highest point, Great Blue Hill, stands at just 635 feet tall—the area boasts an impressive 125 miles of hiking trails and 22 named hills. All and all, it’s more than enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fall hikers busy. Proving you needn’t drive north, the various high points offer incredible views of everything from Boston’s skyline to the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, New England’s iconic fall foliage makes these views even more spectacular.

Hikers looking to get a quick foliage fix should head for the summit of Great Blue Hill, a roughly mile-long round-trip hike. On the summit, climb the Eliot Tower for an unrivaled view of the city’s skyline and Boston Harbor. On a clear day, hikers can see as far as New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. So, take a minute to reflect on the leaf-peeping madness (and heavy traffic) you’re missing out on by staying close to home. Or, have a picnic on the open summit, or continue touring the park’s expansive network of trails.

Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA
Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA

Paddle the Charles

For taking in the foliage around Boston, don’t restrict yourself to land. Another option, the Charles River delivers a different perspective for viewing the season’s leafy spectacle. Whether from the comfort of a kayak or balanced on top of an SUP, you’ll find the river’s calm waters offer a multitude of trip options for leaf-peeping. Along with the awe-inspiring autumn colors, expect to encounter everything from old forests to city skylines, as the Charles snakes from Hopkinton to the Atlantic Ocean.

With ample put-ins and numerous places to stop for a picnic or to merely enjoy the scenery, the Charles River has an adventure for every level. And, while an out-and-back trip requires the least amount of logistics, it’s easy to stage a shuttle for a one-way trip with a little planning.

What’s even better than lazily floating on the calm waters to soak up New England’s stunning fall sights? Through the russet-colored forest, the occasional rumble of the highway lets you know others are fighting their way out of, or back into, the city to look for something you’ve already found.

 

Do you have a favorite fall trip around Boston? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your favorite Boston-area fall trips in the comments.


Newsflash: Carrabassett Valley's Mountain Bike Trails Will Double By 2022

Big plans are in store for one of Maine’s top mountain biking destinations. By 2022, the 74-mile bike trail system in the town of Carrabassett Valley will expand by 50-percent, according to the Carrabassett Valley Trails Committee’s (CVTC) development plan released in March. Comprising the CVTC are representatives from the town of Carrabassett Valley, the Carrabassett Regional Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, Maine Huts & Trails, and Sugarloaf ski resort.

The 12-page document outlines a long-term plan to grow and improve the already-popular mountain biking locale in western Maine. The CVTC seeks to double the size of the existing trail system within 10 years. As the first step, they’ll add 37 miles of new trails by 2022.

“The mountain bike trail system developed to date by the CVTC partners has already been a significant success,” the report states. “Nonetheless, the network and riding experience need additional development to solidify our position as a regional leader.”

Trails and Signs Coming Soon

Carrabassett Valley is roughly two-and-a-half hours north of Portland. But, the town of about 500 residents is best known as the home of Sugarloaf, the Northeast’s second-largest ski resort. When the snow melts, a vast network of rideable trails emerges. In fact, on singletracks.com, Carrabassett Valley is currently Maine’s top-rated mountain biking trail system. Singletracks.com bases its rankings on average trail rating, number of members who have ridden the trail, and the number who want to ride it.

Despite the system’s popularity, the CVTC sees room for improvement, specifically in how its paths are marked.

“Significant effort has been made by relative few to address the challenge of signing our complicated system,” the report states. “Nonetheless, it remains a confusing system to navigate in many areas.”

Currently, the Carrabassett network overlaps with two nearby trail systems. In response, the development calls for planning and funding a signage system. Ideally, they’ll have the signs ready by the 2019 riding season.

The proposal also touches on funding trail development. For previous projects, the town of Carrabassett Valley and the CRNEMBA primarily paid for all trail construction. Maine Huts & Trails and Sugarloaf have also made contributions. Yet, according to the report, funding the ambitious expansion will “undoubtedly be an ongoing challenge.”

To fund the new trails and system upkeep, the CVTC will develop a plan that projects how much each of the four stakeholder groups can contribute. The CVTC may further form its own subcommittee to focus exclusively on funding.


Video: Our First Time Bikepacking

“Does anyone have room for beer?” A quintessential bikepacking question.


The Best Beers After Every Adventure

There are a lot of things to love about being outdoors in the summer. Days are longer, so you have extra time for adventuring. Temperatures are warmer, so you don’t have to worry about how many layers to wear—and how many extra ones to pack. And, even though the après scene is strong in the realm of winter sports, few things are more satisfying than an ice-cold beer at the end of a hot summer day spent in the wild. So, to make this your most refreshing summer yet, begin with these beer and activity recommendations. Just remember to drink and play outdoors responsibly, please. Cheers!

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Beers for Backpacking

Whether you’re the type to save a little space for a can or three in your pack or someone who leaves a six-pack in a cooler in your car, there’s no denying that a strong brew and backpacking go together like peanut butter and Nutella. Pitch-A-Tent Double IPA from Hobbs Tavern & Brewing Co. (8% ABV; 76 IBU) is the perfect way to wind down from a high-mileage day while you wait for your freeze-dried meal to “cook.” And, it’s still just as good if you wait to imbibe until you’re back in the parking lot—or your backyard.

Beers for Mountain Biking

If you’re anything like my husband and his friends, you throw back a beer at the end of a hard ride, because you totally crushed it, bro. If you’re like me, you probably have a few new bruises, so you crack open a cold one in an effort to dull the pain that both your body and ego are suffering. Either way, New Belgium’s Fat Tire Belgian Style Ale (5.2% ABV; 22 IBU) is an ideal choice for your post-ride recovery beverage. As an added bonus, New Belgium is a member of 1% For the Planet, so each Fat Tire you drink also helps support amazing things like bicycle advocacy, clean water, and reforestation.

Beers for Climbing

Nothing soothes tender tips better than an ice-cold beer after a day of cragging. As soon as your rack is stowed away, your rope is coiled, and you’ve traded in your approach shoes for your flippy-floppies, it’s time to treat yourself to a parking lot Monkey Fist from Shipyard Brewing (6% ABV; 50 IBU). This delicious West Coast-style IPA is named after a knot (for sailors, but still), and according to Shipyard, it “starts smooth and finishes with a…subtle bitterness,” which is likely also how your day of climbing progressed. I dare you to find a more appropriate brew to wrap up a day on the rock.

Beers for Trail Running

Hitting the trail for a tough sweat session is one of those things I love as an afterthought but really only tolerate as it’s happening. The post-run beer, however, is not only something I love in the moment, but it’s also often what motivates me to even put those miles under my feet in the first place. And, in this instance, Rock Art Brewery’s Ridge Runner (7.2% ABV; 23 IBU) always hits the spot. Ambiguously classified as a “Bold Vermont Ale,” these strong suds easily help you forget about those lung-burning climbs, quad-killing descents, and all the roots and rocks you nearly face-planted.

Beers for Hiking

Day-hiking is great, because it’s just backpacking for a few hours instead of a few days and doesn’t involve carrying all that stuff. There’s no denying that a day of hiking deserves a beer, but since it’s not quite as demanding, I like to end my treks with one that’s a little less intense. Trail Hopper from Long Trail Brewing Co. (4.75% ABV; 40 IBU) is a slightly fruity, super-refreshing session IPA—and an excellent way to end a hot summer hike.

Beers for Paddling

All of these summer sports are tiring, but spending a day in a kayak or on a paddleboard has a particular knack for wearing you out. I don’t know if it’s because of all the sun, or if it’s just because I always forget how much of a workout paddling actually is, but whenever I head out, I’m totally beat when I get back on solid ground—and super thirsty. Dogfish Head’s SeaQuench Ale (4.9% ABV; 10 IBU) is a mixed bag of styles (Kolsch, Gose, and Berliner Weiss) with some lime and sea salt thrown in. Men’s Health dubbed it “the world’s most thirst-slaying beer,” and overall, it’s a great complement to your aquatic adventures.

Call It a Day

Some summer days are so nice, you end up enjoying more than one activity. Maybe you hit the trail for an easy run in the morning, and then, go to your favorite lake for an afternoon paddle. Or, maybe you head out for a little alpine endeavor, like Henderson Ridge. Whatever your multi-sport adventure of choice may be, there’s one beer that’s perfect for the end of a day spent outdoors: Call It A Day IPA from Moat Mountain Brewing Company (8% ABV; 75 IBU).

 

Now, you tell us: What’s your favorite beer, and which activity does it pair with best? Let us know in the comments!

 

Credit: Lauren Danilek
Credit: Lauren Danilek

3 Great Early Season Mountain Bike Rides South of Boston

Spring can be a challenging time for mountain bikers. We’re anxious to resume riding, but unpredictable weather often leaves trails muddy and impassable. Thankfully, some popular destinations dry faster than others. So, if you have the need to ride but your local spot isn’t quite ready yet, check out these locations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Trail of Tears

With sandy, dry soil and mild winters, Trail of Tears in Cape Cod’s West Barnstable is the perfect place for logging early-season mileage. Offering a 20-plus mile trail network on a large parcel of conservation land, it features fun, mostly fast, and flowing non-technical singletrack, with twists and turns through a classic Cape Cod forest. Riders will also come across occasional boulders to roll over and small rocks to jump off along many of the trails. Just be ready for the occasional short, steep hills, which often leave even the fittest riders gasping for breath at their crests.

As you cruise around Trail of Tears, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and forget you’re even on the Cape. The woods are immersive, and stopping at the observation deck at the top of the North Ridge Trail reinforces this, as no beaches, traffic, or roads are in sight. It’s almost as if you’re in the woods of Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost, you shouldn’t be. NEMBA hosts rides on both Wednesday and Friday nights, allowing you to get a free tour. However, if you can’t make it, here’s a map. And, because Trail of Tears is the home turf of many Cape Cod NEMBA members, the trails are impeccably maintained, so you can let it rip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Otis

Located a short drive over the Bourne Bridge, Otis is one of New England’s best early-season riding destinations. While nicknamed after its proximity to Otis Air National Guard Base, the spot is actually located within the Town of Falmouth’s conservation lands and the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area, rather than on the base itself. And, if it weren’t for the hordes flocking to the Cape between late May and August, Otis could be a bonafide summer biking destination.

While very similar to Trail of Tears, Otis takes everything up a level. The singletrack is slightly rootier, rockier, and more challenging. More so, in riding up, over, and in between a series of drumlins, you’ll encounter a surprising amount of steep climbing that leaves many rethinking the Cape’s supposed flatness. Throughout the trail network, look for rock gardens, drops, and jumps, some of which add an extra layer of fun and may take a few tries to send cleanly. The cherry on the cake is the Gravity Trail, built in a natural half-pipe reminiscent of some of the classic trails found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Don’t leave without checking it out.

Since space is tight, Otis has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Indeed, the trails twist and turn, almost on top of each other at times. Fortunately, Otis hugs Route 28, providing an easy landmark and a bailout back to the car. If you ever doubt your location, just head toward the sound of traffic or pedal west, and then, take Route 28 South. Of course, this is easier said than done. Did we mention these trails are twisty?

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wompatuck

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, is another great location. Built on land formerly occupied by the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex, it’s a bit closer to Greater Boston than the other two options and home to miles of fantastic mountain biking on single- and double-track.

Wompy has trails for riders of any ability. Ones around Prospect Hill are a must-do for those seeking out singletrack. From the park’s lower left quadrant, riders can take either a moderate (but steep) doubletrack or one of the four singletrack trails to the top. There, they can swoop back down the same fast and flowy terrain as it winds down the hill. Definitely worth checking out, the section between the S4 junction at the top of the hill and the S2 at the bottom offers some of the state’s longest switchback singletrack. Also, consider the descent between the S5, S7, and S10 junctions.

Wompatuck is full of surprises. As such, think about exploring the rest of the park’s trails. Around some corners, you’ll find abandoned military buildings dating back to the 1950s, many of which aspiring artists have spray-painted. Off to the sides, you may spot training sites, with ramps, jumps, and logs to play around on. And, near Wompy’s Visitor Center, you’ll find the Pump Track, an all-ages training course packed with berms, bumps, and jumps.

Although many of Wompatuck’s trail junctions are marked, the many intersecting trails make it easy to get disoriented. To plan a ride that sticks to the area’s singletrack, check out the Friends of Wompatuck’s interactive trail map. Then, keep it open as you ride to ensure you don’t get lost.

Do you have a favorite place to ride early in the season? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Leave your favorite early-season riding destination in the comments, so others can explore.


How to Prepare for Your First Century Bike Ride

Spring has finally sprung, and with it comes one of my favorite times of year: Century Ride Season. If you find yourself gearing up for a big bike ride this spring or summer—whether it’s a “true” century (100 miles), a metric century (100km/62 miles), or one of the shorter distances often offered at big bike events—here are nine tips to make sure your event is a success.

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1. Commit to a Training Plan

If you stay reasonably active year-round, you may think you don’t need to follow a training plan because you’re already fit. Personally, I fall into this trap often. You may also be turned off by training plans, because you think following one means you won’t be able to do the other activities you enjoy for eight to 12 weeks.

But, these plans exist for a reason. And, when you have a century ride on your horizon, it’s super important to find one—and stick with it. A quick internet search will turn up tons of potential plans. Look for one that puts you in the saddle for a minimum of three days per week, increases ride mileage and/or duration steadily each week, and leaves room for you to keep up with other physical activities. After all, activities like running and hiking are great for cross-training. And, as you don’t want to sacrifice strength training, either, keep your favorite boot camp or power yoga class on your schedule, too!

2. Hit a Spin Class (or Invest in a Trainer)

A lot of people love spin classes, but I also know many who can’t stand them. On one hand, spin classes help you mix up your routine and work on drills that are really good for you but that you’d never do on a real ride (I’m looking at you, Figure 8s). As well, you still get your workout in when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans.

On the other hand, I get it: riding in place can be boring. But, you know what else is sometimes boring? Century rides! Sure, the start and finish lines are always exciting. But, an hour or two into the ride, when the pack has dispersed, spectators are few and far between, and there’s no more music, you’ll need a strong mental game to keep going. Spin classes, and even trainer rides, are the best way to work on your focus. 

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3. Practice Fixing Flats

Most organized bike rides have a Support and Gear vehicle (often referred to as a SAG Wagon) or two on course at all times and bike techs at all the rest stops. Thus, knowing how to fix flat tires and make minor bike tweaks isn’t completely necessary. But, you should still know how to do it, and on the side of the road mid-century ride isn’t the best time to learn.

Practice fixing flats in your garage, so you can do it efficiently in the event that it happens on century ride day. Additionally, know how to handle chain issues, in case yours starts to give you trouble on the course. And, if you do end up having to perform a fix, be sure to have a tech at the next rest stop give it a once-over to ensure it will make it to the finish without any more problems.

4. Body Glide is Your Friend

Chafing may not be much of an issue when you’re just out on the bike for an hour or two. However, during a century ride, it can become a pretty big pain in the butt pretty quickly. Enter Body Glide, your new best biking friend (BBF). Before you ride, a quick application to high-chafe-risk areas—where the edges of your bike shorts’ chamois rub against your skin and upper inner thighs—prevents a lot of discomfort later on. And, if your feet are prone to blisters, Body Glide also takes care of that problem.

Courtesy: New England Parkinson's Ride
Courtesy: New England Parkinson’s Ride

5. Know Your Body

You’re going to be on your bike for a long time on century ride day. Plan for at least four hours, and that’s if you happen to be the fittest rider on the starting line. As such, it’s super important to know your body inside and out. Use your training rides to experiment with fueling options, so you know what foods and drinks your stomach tolerates the best. If you notice that one or both of your knees (or any part of your body) consistently hurt afterwards, take your bike into your local bike shop to make sure it’s properly fitted to you.

Do your hands get super sweaty while you ride? Bring an extra set of bike gloves to avoid palm blisters. More importantly, if you get to the check-in table and don’t feel like you can make it through a 100-mile ride, listen to your body, and ask if you can switch your registration to one of the shorter courses.

6. Know the Course

The influx of GPS-enabled watches and bike computers and apps like Strava means that even if ride organizers don’t provide course maps on their website—which is pretty rare these days—you should still be able to find a map of it somewhere on the internet. It’s good to know what kind of a ride you’re getting yourself into, especially regarding the elevation profile. Find out how hilly the course will be, and try to find training routes that are similar to set yourself up for success. If you live near the century ride route, or at least part of it, get out there, and train on the course itself! The more you know ahead of time, the more strategic you can be, since you’ll know where you can push yourself and when you should reel it in and conserve some energy.

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7. Know Your Gear

From the bike to your clothes and shoes to everything packed in your bike bag, there’s a lot of gear involved in 100-mile bike rides. Plan your outfit carefully, being sure to choose the bike shorts and jersey that will keep you the most comfortable for four to seven hours in the saddle. If you use clipless pedals, make sure the tension on them is set just right. Make sure you can click in and take off from the rest stops quickly, and get out of your pedals in a hurry, in case you have to stop unexpectedly.

Pack your bike bag thoughtfully, including a bike multitool, tire levers, spare tube(s), and a pump, in addition to anything else you may need, such as those extra gloves mentioned earlier or a travel stick of Body Glide, in case you need to reapply. Above all else, avoid using anything new—clothes, shoes, or pedals—on event day. Stick to the things you know and have been using during training to ensure a successful century ride.

8. Take Your Bike for a Check-Up

This one should be a no-brainer, but it’s one that a lot of people—myself included—often skip. Bring your bike into your local shop for a quick check or tune-up a week or two beforehand to make sure it’s as ready for the big day as you are. After all, while it’s great to have the tools (and necessary knowledge) to fix minor issues yourself, as well as access to rest stop bike techs, not worrying about having a mid-ride breakdown is even better.

9. Have fun!

Everything discussed above is important, or else, I wouldn’t have brought it up. But, perhaps the most important tip is to enjoy the experience. Most century rides are charity events, not races, so there’s no need to push the pace all day. Relax, make new friends, stop to take pictures, eat all the PB&Js you want at the aid stations, and just enjoy the ride—literally.

 

Did I miss something? If you have more tips for aspiring (or returning) century riders, let us know in the comments!

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