There is something uniquely satisfying about the mechanical trilling that a well-maintained bicycle makes when it glides down a favorite road or bike path. It is a reaping of your own physical effort, and on a bright but not-too-warm fall day you feel like you could ride a hundred miles.
To many a non-cyclist, pedaling 100 miles in a day sounds preposterous. After all, that's nearly four marathons strung back-to-back--a considerable jaunt, even behind the wheel of a car.
Maybe that reaction is a big reason why the 100-mile spin, called a century ride, holds an almost magical appeal to cyclists. And increasing numbers of them are falling under its spell.
Scratching the Surface
Fifteen years ago, the League of American Wheelmen awarded patches to 2,000 riders nationwide for completing a century ride. Last year, LAW awarded 20,000 cyclists with century patches. And those numbers barely scratch the surface of cycling enthusiasts.
For every ride sanctioned by the league this fall, there are many more mass participation rides being promoted with big-name sponsors that draw thousands, and "invitational" rides presented by cycling clubs that draw hundreds.
And for every hearty cyclist who attempts a century (or that strange, dedicated breed who attempt a double century), there are many more who opt for shorter distances: 62 miles (100 kilometers, called a metric century), 50 miles (a half century), 31 miles (a metric half century) or 25 miles (a quarter century).
Some of the events are more than rides; they're happenings. Last year's Rosarito-to-Ensenada Fun Ride drew 13,000 people on everything from $2,000 custom-built racing bikes to rusted single-speed beach cruisers on its 50-mile route through the Mexican countryside.
For today's ride, hotel rooms in both Rosarito Beach and Ensenada were sold out by June and ride organizer Dave Dickson is gearing up for a turnout of 15,000. Dickson attributes the ride's success to its length ("significant, but not impossible") and the appeal of Northern Mexico. "Once you get past Tijuana, the area is mostly unspoiled," he said. "You get 50 miles without any stoplights or cross streets."
The route also steers clear of cars, which are to cyclists what sharks are to ocean swimmers. Cyclists will go to great lengths to ride on courses where automobile traffic is nil, and there are ride promoters like Duane Hickling who are there to accommodate them.
Hickling's Dec. 5 Death Valley by Moonlight ride offers a virtually car-free environment. "Last year, I counted four cars in seven hours," he said. "For once, we controlled the highways."
Most rides, of course, don't feature routes worthy of National Geographic. But on most weekends this fall, one or more rides of varying distances and intensity will be offered in the Southland. And even casual cyclists can set their sights on some of the shorter events.
Cycling is a good entry-level physical activity for those of any age, according to Dr. Herman Falsetti, a cardiologist and sports medicine physician to members of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Bicycling Team.
Less Trauma Than Running
"The trauma to the joints is much less than with running," Falsetti said, and "the intensity is a lot easier because you can shift up and down."
Nevertheless, he suggests that anyone over 40 or who has high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure or who smokes should be examined by a doctor and have an electrocardiogram performed at rest and during exercise before undertaking a cycling program.
For cardiovascular development and to burn fat, cyclists should try to maintain 60% to 85% of their maximum heartbeat while riding, Falsetti said. That can be roughly determined by subtracting one's age from 220. A 40-year-old, then, would have a maximum heartbeat of 180.
To build stamina, Falsetti recommends that cyclists train a minimum of three days a week--starting with a distance that is comfortable and increasing that distance by about 10% each week.
Watch your diet, especially before and during a long bike ride, Falsetti said. He recommends "carbohydrate loading" the day before the ride by eating pasta, bread and other high carbohydrate foods, and decreasing consumption of meat, dairy products and alcohol.
During the ride, cyclists should make sure they drink enough water and eat numerous small snacks consisting of carbohydrate-rich foods and fruit.
A poorly maintained bicycle can make a long ride harder than it needs to be, said Gregg Stokell, a bicycle mechanic who teaches a bicycle maintenance and repair class in Santa Monica. Virtually all bicycle tires are labeled with a recommended inflation level. Tire pressures should be checked once a week and before all major rides, and should be inflated with a bicycle pump rather than with a gas station pump.
Bicycle chains should be relubricated after 15 hours of riding with a Teflon-based lubricant, Stokell said. Many cyclists wrongly use lubricants that build up and attract dirt.