Riding one hundred miles is considered a milestone achievement for cyclists and has been for some time.
It may be considered a random number, especially since Canada has long switched over to the metric system. Other sports have milestone achievements that are also quite random. The marathon, at 26 miles and 385 yards, is a totally random number, even when converted to a metric measurement of 42.2 kilometres. In fact, the distance from Marathon to Athens is more like 40 kilometres. The shift to the standardized distance we have today is rumoured to be at the whim of the British Royal family. I digress.
The point is, that every sport, from hockey to cricket, has some sort of milestone achievement attached to it, which ends up being a measure of an aficionado’s skill or ability. So, one hundred miles, it is. For those on the inside, it is called a century.
My cycling friend Olav was always one to dive into a sport or hobby with as much academic passion as his studies. According to his reading about cycling, if we wanted to be considered cyclists, we would have to do a ride of at least one hundred miles. After some consultation, which may have involved fortified beverages, a plan was hatched.
My sister was attending the University of Western Ontario in London, as well as working as a manager in campus security. Not only would she be there to meet us, but she could also provide accommodations, free of charge (we were both students, after all). London, Ontario, we both believed would fit the bill, as it was more than one hundred miles away from Brampton. So, I made the arrangements to leave Brampton on a sunny Saturday morning in 1980.
Olav was riding a 1977 Raleigh Competition GS that he had purchased used through an advertisement in the newspaper. His biked oozed European cool, with its Reynolds 531 double butted frame, Campagnolo drive train, Weinman brakes, Weinman ultra thin concave rims, and a Brooks professional saddle.
I, on the other hand, was riding one of the better bikes in the CCM line up: a 1979 CCM Seville. With its long wheelbase, I believed it rode like a Cadillac Seville. CCM stood for Canadian Cycle and Motor, a company like Raleigh, that could trace its lineage back to the early days of cycling. My bike was constructed of an unspecified alloyed steel tubing and equipped with the first iteration of Shimano 600 componentry, with non-heat-treated Araya rims.
We got away early, by 7:30 a.m., I remember. The weather was nice, with very little wind, great conditions for a bike ride. My preparations, for unsupported touring, consisted of a cheap nylon handlebar bag, with everything in it I thought I would need for two days. I had put the tools I might need, an Ontario road map, toiletries, wallet, and a spare T-shirt in the bag. Once loaded on the bike, I had doubts that the sagging bag was going to hold up for the entire journey. My solution was to wind a length of cotton rope around the bag and the handlebar. This limited my hand positions and meant I would have to take it all apart to access anything in the bag, but at least it kept the rattling to a minimum.
We made our way south, zigzagging through rural concessions with little traffic, before reaching our main vector, Highway 5. Things became concentrated on this more heavily traveled road, as we ran a two-man pace line. This was a practice we were both used to, and would run our tires within millimetres of each other, to take full advantage of the draft. Cycling in the slipstream of another cyclist can reduce your effort by a large percentage. Of course, you take your turn at the front, but overall, two cyclists working together will be faster than a cyclist on their own.
Our break spot, which was preplanned, was the quaint town of Paris, Ontario. Once we were both fortified with submarine sandwiches from a local shop, I searched out a variety store to find a Paris postcard. I wrote a clever message on the back and we both signed it. I addressed it to a mutual friend of ours, Karen, with the inscription, “We will always have Paris”.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, just grinding out miles, well within both of our capabilities. We met up with my sister and had a tour of the campus, which was relatively unpopulated for the summer months. We met some of her friends and socialized for the evening, probably going to bed too late.
The next day, the weather was again sunny, to my relief. However, we were going to be headed into the wind. Not a strong wind, but a head wind, none the less. In these conditions, drafting became more crucial than ever. It was a long grind into the wind and the effort began to take its toll on both of us.
At the Oakville/Mississauga border, miscommunication at an intersection, combined with incredibly close drafting, led to a crash between us. I came out of it without a scratch on myself or my bike. Unfortunately, Olav ended up with a broken rear drop out adjustment screw and a tear in his cycling shorts. The shorts were practically brand new. We had a few words, as to who was responsible for the crash, before continuing on our way in silence. Even when we reached our parting point, we barely mumbled goodbyes.
I remember dinner that night never tasted so good and my bed was so comfortable, I slept like a log. As for Olav and me, we had been friends for so long, the next time we spoke, we were able to joke and laugh about the crash. To this day, I still feel badly about his brand new cycling shorts getting ripped.
One thing we will always share is our transition from bicycle riding pretenders, to serious wheelmen, who have completed a century.
by Steve Stoller
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