The Country's Best Century Rides
If you're not a cyclist, then when someone asks you what the best century is, you'll be tempted to say, "The one when television was invented." But for serious riders who have already etched thousands of miles into their calf muscles, completing a one-hundred-mile century ride is both a bucket list kind of goal and an accomplishment worth bragging about.
"The interesting thing about the century is that every cyclist who becomes serious about the sport has completed one," says James Nord, a rider for Rapha Racing NYC. "So in that way it is different than a runner's relationship to the marathon. A century is something that all cyclists share in their riding history."
If you're a serious cyclist who is looking for a reason (or just an excuse) to settle into the saddle for 100 miles, here are a few of America's best.
Assault on Mt. Mitchell
This race covers both Carolinas, starting in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and climbing to the top of North Carolina's Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The always-popular ride covers 102.7 miles with 10,357 feet of climbing, but the unbelievable scenery might be enough to distract you from your screaming thighs and burning lungs. The course includes almost 20 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a rhododendron-studded route that North Carolinians commemorate on a license plate.
The Death Ride
The less-terrifying name is "The Tour of the California Alps," but that ignores the fact that the ride's 2012 logo is a rib cage filled with leering skulls. The ride, which earns either name, covers five mountain passes in the California Alps and promises "15,000-plus feet of lung-busting climbing." Didn't know that California had Alps? At 8,730 feet above sea level, Ebbetts Pass and its equally steep siblings will gladly tattoo themselves on your memory.
Maine Lobster Ride and Roll
Think Maine was just about crustaceans and Stephen King stories? You're only half right. (We kid! We kid! Now please don't unleash a demon dog or evil clown on us.) In May, Bicycling magazine named this stunning course, complete with lighthouses, rocky coastlines and lush fields of purple lupines, one of its top 10 century rides in the United States. When participants finish, they'll be greeted by the queen of the Maine Lobster Ride and handed a fresh lobster roll. That's pretty much all the motivation we need.
If you're looking for a way to see New York City that doesn't involve a Frommer's guide or shuffling slowly down the sidewalk behind a group of Midwestern tourists, this is the ride for you. Participants can choose whether to start and finish in Central Park or Brooklyn's Prospect Park, and they'll cover four of the five boroughs in between (you're on your own for Staten Island). The route changes every year, but it's always designed to highlight the unique neighborhoods that bump up against each other as they fill the spaces on that visitor's map you're not using.
"I think it took me a week to stop talking about it the first time I finished one," Nord admits. "I remember rolling over the George Washington Bridge 95 miles into the ride and being completely empty, and completely happy."