Tips From The Back Of The Pack

wpid-FxCam_1272290632827.jpgSome race for the glory of the podium.  Some race for the thrill and challenge.  A lot of us are just racing the cutoff times and for the satisfaction of a strong DFL* finish.  I am a one of those types who tends to live in that neighborhood of riders that cause checkpoints to be staffed until the very last minute, a place called The Back Of The Pack.

The Back Of The Pack isn’t a glorious place, but it doesn’t have to be without its good times and fun.  I’ve put together a few tips and tricks here to help those of us BOTP’ers be more successful at last place.

  • Ride your bike: You don’t have to have a personal coach or even a HRM (although monitoring heart rate/power is pretty helpful for distributing physical resources during long distance riding), you really need to simply ride your bike. Ride as much as you can, take a rest day or two here and there.  If you are planning to do a 200 mile event, work your endurance up by riding longer hours in the saddle. Once you can put in a couple 80 mile or more days in a row, you can probably finish that DK200.  The main point is that if you don’t ride your bike, you aren’t going to be any good at riding your bike.
  • Navigation Is Salvation: If you are off the back and relying on cue cards for direction, PAY ATTENTION to what is going on around you.  Riding solo, or even in a group of folks who are having their own struggles, can end poorly if you aren’t practicing the three R’s for yourself: Reading the Cue Card, Remembering The next turn or sequence of turns, Reacting to the landmarks.  It’s easy to sit on someone’s wheel and hope they are navigating properly, but face it: self supported means you are on your own. Too many times racers have taken wrong turns and added to their race mileage because of trusting the person up front, not having a proper light to see road signs, or simply spacing off.  Remember that these events are difficult enough without adding to the challenge with your own personal bonus mileage.  Pay attention to navigation at all times.  Getting lost sucks.

READ, REMEMBER, REACT. Learn it, Live it.

  • Conserve Energy:  It’s REALLY tempting to go hard off the line.  This is probably one of the biggest fails.  You’ve prepared for your event, your legs are feeling fresh, and there is a veritable Excitement Buffet buzz buzzing around the start line feeding your confidence level. The signal happens. It’s go time. Do you:
    • A) Take off like a jackrabbit with the lead pack and blow up shortly after starting?
    • B) Stick with the middle of the pack until you can’t maintain pass and drop off the back or
    • C) Ride your own pace?

It’s always best to ride at your own pace, especially if keeping up with whatever group you’ve opted to ride with is draining your physical resources. Ride smart and if you are feeling fresh at the half way or past, kick it up and burn it on in!

  • Know What To Wear: Some of these events span the course of 24 or 36 hours, and you will see temperature drops and possibly erratic weather changes.  This kind of goes back to riding your bike. When you are doing said riding, do some in shit conditions. Make note of what clothing/shoes/gloves/eyewear works for what temperature/conditions.  I have a mental log of temp ranges and which base layers/outer layers/socks, etc work within those ranges.  I also do a stupid thing I call Training Cold, which involves long rides in cold weather being purposely under-dressed for the conditions (I pack extra layers in a seat pack for safety sake – in case my mom is reading this). This prepares me for sudden unexpected weather changes out on the road when maybe extra warm gear didn’t get packed, or I just don’t feel like stopping to layer up.  My point is DON’T OVERDRESS, if you are super warm and toasty on a 30 degree 4am starting line, you will sweat out in 5 miles. I see folks out on 50 degree days on the bike trails with full on winter gear, helmet covers, lobster claw gloves, and it’s kind of ridiculous. These fine folk are probably not going on a century ride like that, but still.   DON’T OVERDRESS. Sweating out/overheating is a sure fire fast track to failure.
  • Don’t Over Pack: The more weight you are carrying on your bike, the more you are pushing up hills. If you are riding gravel, you are most likely pushing up a LOT of hills, and if you are just fit enough to pull a DFL or back of the pack, an extra pound or five can be enough to wear you down more quickly.  If you are riding a 5-6 hour gravel event do you really need to pack a spare tire?  If you have a drop bag option at the mid point, do you need 6 water bottles on your bike?  Take a good look at what you are using during training. What do you use on the regular? How far are you riding? How far is the event? What are the conditions of the gravel?  Are your tires up to the task? How much food do you really need to carry?  So many questions that can be answered by a pretty simple formula: If you didn’t need it for 100’s of miles of training/preparation, you probably won’t need it for a 100k event.  This subject deserves a post of its own.
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    Bring some comfort er…food

    Bring a few comforts: Yes, don’t over pack, but bring something that motivates you or can comfort you if you pull out. I bring a flask of Wild Turkey 101 on almost every long ride, and on TIV8 I packed that and some Marlboro Reds (yes, I once in a while have a smoke with my whiskey. It’s a terrible habit and I know it).  When my ride went south right out the gate (cold, rainy 4am start, mechanicals from mile 10 on, etc) I reached a point where it was do or die, try to squeak through CP1 or hang a right on the highway and tailwind back to town. I had some whiskey and a smoke, weighed options, and made the hard call to drop out.  You don’t have to drink or smoke, I might be a little extreme, but bring one of your favorite candies or a picture of your family, or an iPod with your favorite playlist, or whatever will comfort you when the chips are fucked.

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    Nope.

    Pick The Right Bike: Obviously, if you have one bike for everything, take that bike. Beats walking 100k.  If you have some options, pick the one that is most comfortable, is geared properly for the amount of climbing, and has the proper tire for the terrain.  You don’t need to try being a hero and ride your loaded fat bike through 100k of climbing, I’ve seen it happen and it wasn’t pretty. I’ve also made the mistake of trying too much climbing on a bike geared for flatter riding (or better climbers), and that kicked my ass entirely too fast.  Come to think of it, I didn’t do great on that bike riding a flat course either.  It was a rough year… Ride what you are comfortable with, could be a Cross Check, a Fargo, a Routt 45, a vintage steel Bianchi, a Beargrease, whatever it is run what gets you to the finish without fighting you the whole way there.

  • PICK THE RIGHT TIRE: OOOOOOWEEEEEE this is a doozy.  We have a 100k gravel race here in Central Iowa called CIRREM.  It’s held around the end of February and it has seen weather from 15 degrees and somehow raining (that year was really weird), to 60 and sunny with a mild breeze.  It’s generally known to be a shit show. On some of the more nasty years, the week leading up to the race has social media buzzing with the query “what tire should I ride?”  If it’s 25 out and the roads are a fresh sheet of ice, don’t try riding slick 28’s. (or old chewed up Michelin Mud 35’s, I did that year and ended up with a cracked rib from wrecking on the ice about a dozen times)  If there is a ton of fresh rock on the road, also don’t ride 28’s. In fact, just don’t ride 28’s on gravel unless your power/weight ratio is in the Pro Peloton range. A file tread 40mm 700c tire is pretty solid choice for any condition, as you can work the tire pressure to adapt to conditions.  Similarly, 650bx47 handles most any gravel condition. Two true “do it all” tire sizes for everything but gnarly single track or ice riding.  If it’s sheets of ice, and you are super cereal, pick up some lightly studded cross tires or bring out the MTB for something more substantial and grippy.  Also, take into consideration that more voluminous tires will provide a little extra cushion, which your arms and back will thank you for on ultra distance stuff.
  • Know when to say when: The best tip I can give is to know your limits.  Riding past your limit is part of endurance racing, indeed, but there is a vast plain of physical and mental badlands that lie somewhere after that 4th or 5th wind.  Know your own personal signs. Dropping out isn’t a crime, but injuring yourself is criminal if you knowingly take things farther than acceptable “too far.” Have an extraction plan (or know the shortcut back to the civilization), means of communication, also see “Bring A Few Comforts” above. I’ve definitely taken things too far and spent weeks recovering from making that mistake, don’t be that person.  Live to ride another day.
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Know when your ride is over, even if it’s not the end of the race. 

This is in no way a comprehensive lesson on “gravel racing,” but if you follow these words, it might help you achieve that DFL finish you’ve always wanted!

Until next time, ride your bike!

CNB

*DFL: Dead Fricken Last. If you aren’t familiar with this term, good for you pal.

ESI RCT Wrap: First Blood

ESI RCT Wrap: First Blood

9146g8ituul-_sy550_I recently decided to bring my Salsa Fargo out of retirement, the poor babe has been hanging on the basement wall for over a year with no rides.  It needed a tune, some cleaning, was getting some new-to-it wheels from the Warbird (which was getting sold), and it definitely needed new bar tape.  I had been running the same orange Lizard Skinz 2.5 tape on the Ragley Luxy bars since the bike was built up brand new, and it was pretty ratty looking after a lot of gravel miles logged back in the day.  I run Lizard Skins on all of my drop bar bikes, it’s has a lot of strengths, but it is time for a change.

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ESI’s RCT comes in an array of colors to match most builds/tastes.

When building up the Mukluk last year, there was a bit of a grip conundrum.  What grips would work best on Jones H-bars while running a Rohloff Grip Shift setup?  After some intense research the ESI Super Chunky silicone grips seemed to be the best for the application at hand.  After a few hundred fat biking miles, they have proven to be tough, comfortable, and look just a good as they did on day one.  They also come in crazy colors, and ESI will even put together custom color combinations.  Did I mention that all of their grips are also made in the USA?  Big bonus.

So… when it came time to choose new bar wraps for the Fargo, taking into consideration the needs of a rough-service bike packing setup, I thought it was time to give ESI’s RCT (Road, Cyclocross, Triathlon) bar wraps a try.  They are 100% silicone, reversible, and are available in the same selection of colors as ESI’s MTB grips.  I have high hopes for the RCT.

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ESI RCT wrap on the Fargo, Silicone Tape on the Aero Bars. 

Wrapping the bars with RCT is a breeze, since they are reversible there is no “tape side” paper to test your sanity (my messy shop floor is also thankful for this), and you can stretch or not stretch the wrap to fit the thickness needed at each hand position/bar bend (LS advises against stretching their tape, regular cork can slide around when not stretched enough).  The bevel in the tape gives you a close-to-exact guide for wrapping also, so it’s even easier to get a nice, even look.

The kit comes with two strips of ESI’s self sealing Silicone Tape (seen here also being used as wrap for the aero bars) to finish off the wrap job. It’s a nice touch, as most companies give you that weak ass branded adhesive strip that usually ends up on my shop floor in favor of the old classic electrical tape. I’ve used this silicone tape to secure dyno hub wiring, wrap parts of frames to guard against chipping/damage, shimming light mounts, I would strongly recommend keeping a roll or two around your home shop, it’s as invaluable as electrical tape without all the tape residue.

 

First Impressions Bullet Point List of TL,DR:

  • RCT has a slightly thicker, more comfortable feel than other wrap.  After the first 200 miles of mixed surface use, it has kept my hands happier than before.
  • It retains all of its grip in rain.  Last week I purposely rode through torrential downpour conditions to test, and RCT more than passed the…uh…test.  Part of the rain test was over some very sketch paved trail to dirt construction zone to trail to dirt, and maintaining control through these abrupt and wet/muddy changes was no problem at all.
  • I personally dig the matte finish of the wrap. It blends in more readily to the hoods of the shifters.  It’s also real stealthy, which is extremely important.
  • RCT is reversible, so you can conceivably cause wear to one side (or dirty up the brighter colors in the line), then rewrap the bars leaving them looking fresh AF.
  • Silicone Tape instead of usual crappy strip of branded tape to finish off the bar wrap job. A very nice touch.
  • Price is in line with other premium brands.
  • The supplied bar end plugs actually stay in the bar ends. Mind blown, really.
  • EASY TO INSTALL
  • MADE IN THE USA
  • Did I mention that it’s comfortable? Settling in to the bars for the first time was like a true “baby bear’s bed” moment.  I didn’t expect the comfort level to be that high.

 

I’m looking forward to tearing these up for many hundreds of miles to come, I’ll let you know how things go!

 

CNB

Disclaimer: CNB purchased this product for personal use and testing, and has in no way been compensated for any writing regarding this product*.

*Disclaimer Disclaimer: The preceding disclaimer was in no way CNB fishing for free stuff, or any other type of compensation. Wink.

74 Days…Almost Dog Lunch/Incidental Intervals

Yesterday I made a few adjustments to the Vaya, including shedding those swampy Continental Touride 42 monstrosities for my current preferred craws setup, Ritchey Speed Max 32 rear, Kenda Small Block 8 32 front.  Then it was test ride time.

I headed south to army post road, then west to Pine, popped on the GWT for a mile to hit the lean to for a 4square check in (fatbike would have been nice there), and on to Adams.  The road conditions were nice and solid, and the Vaya was rolling like a champ on top of its new rubber.  Then I noticed something odd.  There seemed to be a lot of “free range dogs” out on Adams, and not at the best spots for your chubby narrator to sprint away safely.

Time for Incidental Intervals

Incidental Intervals – Unplanned intensity training due to circumstances happened upon during the course of a low intensity ride

Incidentals come in many form, the safest being succumbing to the urge to chase down and dust off slower riders on the bike trails, the most dangerous being trying to pace tractors manned by angry country folks with firearms on backroads.  My favorite of all time is being chased by dogs on gravel roads.  It used to be a thrill, with the dogs getting the element of surprise, but now that I have travelled most of my routes enough times to know where the “problem dogs” lie in wait, it is a simple fact of “Ok, here comes hill X, right over the top is an ankle-hungry canine.  Make sure to have enough speed to pull away from the chase.”  This day was a little different.  There were four new problem houses within 5 miles.  One of those dogs was on the bottom half of a very long and steep climb.  fuck.  The others were very little problem to drop, chasing me down the gravel with all the zeal of a nearly-retired government office worker (no offense to that group, but you know you don’t move with much purpose).  This guy was different.  It’s as if the little pooch knew he had me in a jam (and judging by the fresh looking, swerving cross-tire track in front of me, I wasn’t the first victim of the day) and was not about to stop without a little leg-lunch.  I was in the big ring, hammering up the side of Mt. Mutt, hoping I didn’t get a mechanical during the sprint.  Dog face gave up just before the crest, I gave up about half way up the next hill.  Yeah, I was scared. So what?

The rest of the ride was a little faster paced due to that little fanged wake up.  I ended up with 58.24 miles in just under 4 hours (half road, half dirt).  I stopped for a recovery beer (Liter of Spaten Dunkel) and some Jambalaya and reflected on the difference in performance on my modified Salsa.

I think we are done discussing which bike is going to TIV8.  In fact, It is most likely going to make an appearance at CIRREM next week.  See you there.

CNB

BRTB “Buss Ride To BRR”

Last Saturday marked the thirty-something running of the two-wheeled bull um…run…known to the greater world as BRR or, the Bike Ride to Rippey.  This ride came from humble beginnings, with a few souls braving the brutal Iowa February winter weather to go out for a little bike ride from Perry to Rippey.  Some years it is below zero, windy, and just a handful of riders participate.  Other years, like 2009, it is in the 50s and more than a thousand people come out to party.  Regardless of the weather, the bars of Perry are filled not only with

blah balh blah.  whatever.  You get the point.  BRR: cold February ride.  got it.

A few years ago a man by the name of Steve had this great idea.  BRR isn’t really THAT challenging (the ride from Perry to Rippey and back is about 26 miles), so why not do something like ride gravel from DSM to Perry.  Great Idea.  This year was the fourth running of the GRR2BRR, and would have been my second.

The weather took a huge turn south on Friday, and I was pretty perplexed as to what bike would be the best for the job (which would probably have been my still-unfinished Fargo project).  I had company at home, watched a movie then realized it was after 1 am.  Shit.  I had to pull out of my house by 5:30 am to make it to Steve’s house for the start of the gravel ride.  Of course, I woke up at 7.  They were leaving at 7:30.  Shit.  Time for plan B.

Plan B involved trying to squeeze some 2.1’s onto the Vaya and hauling ass on the trail system to try to catch up with the GRR ride.  Plan B fell quickly by the wayside.

Plan C put me on the Bar Fly bus with no intention of riding a bike whatsoever.  I conferred with a friend who was also taking the bus, and it was decided that leaving the bikes at home was completely acceptable.  I gathered my party partner and headed towards the “Bus Depot”.  (Party Partner had also had plans fall through, so it was officially on)

Ride Report

Fireball got the holeshot, with a whole bottle being finished within three laps around the bus.  This was not an endurance pace day.  After the first bottle went down, the “Pit Bottle” was unleashed and a few more hot laps ensued.  Beer was flowing, then we hit the first barrier.  My “purple drank” four loko was opened and quickly rejected by almost every bus rider.  This left me, party partner, and two other people holding the tail of this grape flavored dragon.   We were about a quarter of the way to Perry.

Things slowed down and the field settled into a sustainable pace.

Okay, I am getting bored again.  So we get to Perry and see a bunch of friends, meet some new friends, and I got assaulted with snowballs and more beard questions/comments than usual.  I understand, the comments flow more freely the colder or hotter it gets.  (Colder=I wish I could grow a beard like that, Hotter=Doesn’t that thing get hot?)  I found the remaining contingent from the GRR2BRR ride, which numbered FOUR.  I knew I had made the right decision.  They GRR folks looked exhausted.  (okay, I had actually made the wrong decision as every mile counts between now and the TI).  We had some fun, then headed to Bouten.

Bouten brought skittles and a wild game of Flippy Cup.  I had never played this game, but since I have spent the greater part of my life being bored and flipping things over (you should see how I amaze convenience store clerks with my ability to flip a cigarette pack into my hand), I was a natural.  Party partner DID have to explain the rules (thanks for attending college, Party Partner) and the first round I messed up, but it was smooth sailing after that.

I don’t have the slightest idea what happened after that.  I think we went back to Des Moines.  I am pretty sure I ate a steak burrito at Abelardo’s.  I do remember waking up sometime in the middle of the night lecturing my cat on how much I hate it when he touches me in my sleep.  Not like THAT.  He kept trying to lay on my legs.

All in all, it was a great not ride.  We all had a good time,  everyone made it home safe.  Thank you Mace, Bill, and the Bar Fly bus for a great time…and saving me from sitting at home whining about not making it to BRR.

CNB

92 Days…Gravel Insomnia

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92 days from now, at this very hour, I will be lying awake in my hotel room in Grinnel, IA waiting for the clock to strike 1 a.m.  My alarm will not be going off until 2 a.m., but I am 100% certain that the excitement of being mere hours from the 4 a.m. roll-out of Trans Iowa V8 will be running so high that any hope of sleep between the Friday night meet up and whenever I finally stop for a patented Power Hour nap somewhere past Checkpoint 2 is non-existent.  My T.I.V8 travel partner/pep squad/rescue unit will be up along side me, and most likely counting down the minutes until they can return to the room and finally get some rest. 

How can I be certain?  Because it has already been happening, it’s happening right now.  I am laying here writing about it counting down the minutes until I start tonight’s overnight training ride attempt (attempt because I have been sick all week, not sure if I will make it far) at 1:30 a.m.

I have to go suit up now, everyone else get some sleep.