The North Shore Century offers incredibly scenic, late summer biking. You’ll experience luxurious neighborhoods, view unique architectural treasures, pedal down tranquil tree-lined streets and feel the refreshing breezes of Lake Michigan. Open it up in the flat to rolling countryside between Chicago and Wisconsin. There are a variety of routes for cycling enthusiasts of all ages and abilities – everything from a quarter century to a full century.
This is a special time of year. The long summer days are waning. There’s a crisp chill in the air, particularly in the early morning. Daylight hours become increasingly precious.
We woke up Sunday to an especially beautiful day. The sun was out; the skies were clear. And it just happened to be the day of the 29th North Shore Century, a ride put on by the Evanston Bicycle Club.
Why not take advantage of this beautiful day by going for a ride? And why not take advantage of a supported ride, while we’re at it?
The North Shore Century, is a staple here in the northern suburbs. While the ride begins only blocks from where we live in Evanston, we’ve never been able to participate – though in the past, while out running, we’ve witnessed the scores of riders making their way through the northern suburbs. This Sunday, we would be counted among those scores of riders.
We recently participated in the Wrigley Field Road Tour and my husband had just completed his third full IronMan. While we’re both fit, we were in no hurry to jump out of bed and onto our bikes on this cool morning. Instead, we enjoyed hot coffee and a leisurely home-cooked breakfast before pumping up our tires, loading up our bikes and making our way over to registration.
We were too late to consider the full century ride, but that was fine with us. We opted for the metric century instead – a distance we decided would suit us just fine.
We detoured from the planned route and instead (semi-purposely) opted for a route up to Tower Road that was familiar to us. That turned out to be a fortuitous decision, as we were able to assist a solo rider (not with the NSC) who didn’t know how to make his way through the ravines. Once on Tower Road, we were able to connect back with the official route. We’re familiar with rides straight north, but we rarely venture west, so this took us to streets we know by car, but not by bike.
Riding parallel to the Edens, with cars zooming by at highway speeds, I couldn’t help but compare the ride to the Wrigley Field Road Tour we had done just a month prior. The northerly routes, though they cover the same general area, were definitely a point of distinction. I didn’t like the busy roads we were on, but, thankfully, we escaped them soon enough.
And then the two rides themselves felt very different. Having hundreds of people doing five different routes and leaving up to five hours apart meant that riders were very spread out for the North Shore Century. We passed a lot of solo riders, who were content on going it alone.
The WFRT had a more communal feel. Even those who were riding solo tended to mix in with groups from time to time. For most of the day Sunday, my husband and I often felt like we were just out on a Sunday ride by ourselves – albeit with supported rest stops and on an unfamiliar route.
We had to pay close attention to markings in the road. Intersections weren’t manned by cheering volunteers. We didn’t have motorcycle escorts to help us navigate heavily trafficked intersections. And, the one glaring absence (in my opinion), was how does one do a full century without a full gourmet lunch stop?
But I realized quickly on that the two rides are completely different. They’re in completely different classes, as their cost of entry indicates. It wasn’t fair to compare the two. I needed simply to relax and enjoy the ride. So I did.
It wasn’t too long before we reached the first rest stop. I tried not to look at my Garmin, imagining that we rode much farther than it would say. Sure enough, we were only about 18 miles in to the day.
A brief loop – that brought us back to the same rest stop – gave us the extra miles that would take us from a 50 mile ride to a metric century. On the loop, we were sure we were the only two riders in the world out there. We witnessed some spectacular scenery on this portion and felt badly for anyone who decided to skip ahead to get 50 done quickly.
A quick pit stop at the rest stop we would see for the last time that day and we were off towards the northerly portion of our day’s route. We did a loop through Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, enjoying the spectacular homes and the views of Lake Michigan, before heading south towards home.
For a brief time, we got caught up in a paceline with the fabulous Spider Monkeys cycling team, out of Chicago. We got to pick up our speed while benefiting from the draft. We were enjoying the pace so much that we almost missed the final rest stop of the day. Since we were in need of sustenance – our pancake breakfast long worn off – we left the group to stop for food.
While I was pining for a gourmet lunch, or at least one with vegetarian and healthy options, I made do at the stop with lots of carbs. (How much watermelon could I eat?!) I was grateful we hadn’t done the full century when I learned that the rest stop further north for that route served hot dogs. (I might have lost my lunch if I had been there!)
As we were about to head out, we ran into a friend who was riding with someone doing her first century. We took too long of a break, but we were enjoying the conversation and, frankly, we weren’t in any hurry.
We got back in the saddle, rode past the backside of Higher Gear’s Highland Park shop and headed south, on a route with which we are quite familiar. My husband took me on a little detour to point out the north shore house made famous in Ferris Bueller. Then we popped back on Sheridan Road and headed south, past Higher Gear’s Wilmette shop and down into Evanston.
We again took a little detour in Evanston to do some needed shopping on Central Street, but quickly jumped back on the route and followed it back to Dawes Park in Evanston to pick up our finisher certificates. While our certificates read “62 miles,” we managed to get in an extra few with our personal little detours, finishing up at home after 66 miles of riding on a beautiful fall day.
Later that evening, as I headed north on my run, I saw the last of the cyclists heading toward the finish line. I saw the last SAG vehicle driver – happily, with an empty vehicle – gleefully turning into Evanston. As with all rides, this one wouldn’t be possible without the generous time donated by volunteers. The Evanston Bicycle Club did a great job with the ride. It was certainly worth the cost of entry and it was a great way to spend a beautiful day.
- For more about the North Shore Century, visit the Evanston Bicycle Club’s website.
- Read about the Wrigley Field Road Tour.
- Considering riding a century? Your century begins here.
- Higher Gear has all your century riding essentials.
- Check out our customers’ stories. Many have century riding experience and advice.
- Pack a flat kit and know how to use it! Check out our Cycling Essentials.
- Our group training rides will continue into the fall. New to group riding? Higher Gear welcomes new riders.
- Before your first group ride, check out our Group Ride Rules.
- Not sure if you need a tune-up? We explain why you want your bicycle in the hands of a professional before you tackle your next century ride.