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Sonoma County is known not just for vineyards and mountains, but for amazing bicycle rides with challenging routes through stunningly gorgeous terrain. And many of the organized rides raise money for good causes.

Some benefit rides are known as “century” rides, with routes covering 100 miles of back roads. These include Incarnation 100 on June 9 which benefits homeless services, and Tour de Fuzz, in September, which benefits law enforcement chaplaincy programs.

Riding a century in Sonoma County feels great. The crisp morning blooms into warmth as pastures dotted with sleepy cows fly by and the smell of the air shifts from light mist to apple orchard. The climbs are intense and the descents are thrilling. Time runs differently on the road. It is measured by breath, and beat and stroke.

Century rides are also a great opportunity to get involved with the local community. Incarnation 100 century rider Chris Beauchamp describes the experience. “You can feel the passion of the supporters at the start and the rest stops, reminding you that not only are you doing something good for yourself, you are also helping the homeless.”

For long rides, a road bike is the best option. Be sure to have your bike tuned (typically around $85 for a basic service) and have the fit checked for comfort and to prevent repetitive stress injuries. To learn more about bike maintenance, Santa Rosa Cycling Club offers free clinics for members. At the very least, you should know the rules of the road, and how to change a tire tube.

Among the other musts is a high-quality, well-fitting helmet. This is not a time to go cheap. A good helmet can save your life. You’ll also want comfortable cycling clothes and a tube of chamois cream to relieve chafing.

Eris Weaver at Sonoma Bike Coalition reminds riders to follow the rules.

“Ride on the right side of the road,” she said. “Stop for lights and stop signs. Be predictable. Signal your intentions. Don’t make sudden moves or weave in and out of parked cars.”

Having lights and wearing reflective clothing will also help drivers see you so they can navigate around you safely in dim light. You can learn more about cycling safety by taking Smart Cycling Classes through Sonoma Bike Coalition ($10 for members).

While riding, carry plenty of water (two bottles) with flavorings that include electrolytes. Review your route so you know where the refill stations (and bathroom stops) are located. Carry nutrition bars, Gu packets or chews. Drink and eat small amounts often to reduce the risk of indigestion and keep your energy level up.

According to Bridgette DeShields, president of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, “It is a misnomer that, in order to do a century ride, you have to ride 100 miles. You don’t. You want to be fairly comfortable at 50 miles.”

Build incrementally. Split up your weekly mileage into varying length rides with increasing difficulty. Physically train and stretch to prevent injuries. DeShields suggests core workouts especially and yoga for flexibility.

She also recommends taking it easy the week before your ride. “Make sure you’re hydrated and well rested.”

See more close to home getaways here.

Your support team plays a critical role in training. It’s so much more fun to go out riding with a group. The camaraderie and encouragement of the bicycling community is a major part of the fun. Santa Rosa Cycling Club and Sonoma Bike Coalition both have great group ride programs. Echelon Cycle and Multisport also has shop rides every Wednesday (women’s) and Thursday at 5:30 pm. When the big day comes for your first century ride, relax and have fun.

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