Monthly Archives: May 2018

Adjusting My TD Bike For A Great Divide Tour

Tour Divide bikes are typically set up to be fast and light – capacity to carry enough food and water until the next resupply with little room to spare.  Very few luxuries are packed.  If you’re not eating or riding, you’re probably sleeping.

When I decided to tour part of the GDMBR instead of race it, a number of variables changed.  I had intended to average 120 miles/day when racing.  Now I think I can do 75-100 miles/day depending on terrain and services and still stop to take more pictures, enjoy more sit-down meals, set up camp earlier in the evening, and enjoy cooked campsite breakfasts/dinners.  And since I no longer need to make mileage at all costs, I can afford to pack a few more luxuries (within reason).

Now that I’m touring part of the route, these are the luxuries I’ve added:

  • Cook set: stove + pot + mug + fuel bottle
  • Zip-off camp pants + a spare shirt
  • Boonie hat (possibly)

A few very simple things that I think will hugely increase my enjoyment on the trip.  I’ll be able to start the day with hot oatmeal and tea or coffee and cook a dinner while watching the sun set.  With some spare clothes, I’ll have something to change into that isn’t nasty riding bibs/jersey.  Plus, on rest days, I’d rather walk around in less-nasty clothes.

These additions come at a cost, though: weight and volume.  Honestly, the weight isn’t a huge concern for me.  Back in 2010 I carried denim jeans, a pair of keen shoes, a spare poncho, a full 1 person tent, 20 oz fuel bottle, a solar charger, and the “Cycling the Great Divide” guide book.  Additionally, since then I’ve replace many of the other items (water filter, multi-tool, tire pump, sleeping bag, tent) with smaller, lighter alternates.  With unseasoned legs and all that extra weight, I still managed to complete the entire Great Divide, albeit walking much of the time.  Adding 2-3 pounds of luxury items (a cook set + pair of pants) to a relatively minimal setup isn’t going to make or break my trip.  I don’t know what my old rig weighed with gear, but I’m guessing my current setup, even with the two new additions, weights 10-15 lbs less.

Volume is the killer, though, with my racier bikepacking setup.  In 2010, I had four panniers, a backpack, and the tops of the racks to strap stuff onto.  I remember riding into the Great Divide basin from Rawlins with 10 liters of water in addition to 2-3 days of food and normal day-to-day equipment.

Now I’m limited to a handlebar roll + bag, feed bags, fork and under-downtube bottle cages, frame bag, top tube bags, and a seat bag.  The clothes and especially the cook set use a decent amount of volume in my seat bag that would otherwise be used for food storage.  The additional catch-22 is that I’ll ride through resupply points less frequently, so I need to carry more food, and I’ll need more food/water to fuel carrying the extra weight.

How To Increase Storage Capacity?

The easiest solution is to carry a backpack.  There are some major downsides, though: extra sweating from less jersey ventilation, increased weight on the saddle and hands, and I haven’t worn a backpack while riding for many years.  I wanted to avoid this option if possible.

Adding storage volume without a backpack takes some creativity.  I purchased a pair of bike feed bags and rigged them up so they could hang off the sides of the seat bag.  It looks super dorky but they can hold a decent many thousands of food calories.  In addition, I can pack a micro stow-able backpack – the kind that packs down to the size of two golf balls and weighs 3 ounces – to expand storage capacity only when it is necessary.

The downside to it is that food is heavy, and having that weight high up, off-center, and not entirely wobble-free made the bike feel very heavy while riding.  I tried it on some test rides, but I couldn’t feel confident that this system would last the duration of my trip.

So – what about a backpack then?  I have an old Osprey Syncro 15 that I used on the Colorado Trail that is ready for service.  It’s simple, adds a LOT (15 liters) of storage capacity, and easily handles odd-shaped things like a stack of tortillas.  Loading a backpack is much less of a game of Tetris than loading a seat bag.  And unlike in 2010, I’m smart enough now to know to use the backpack for lightweight, bulky items: like spare clothes, rain items, and food that I’m about to eat.  NEVER EVERY would I carry water on my back on the Great Divide.

I’ve chosen to go with the backpack.  95% of the time it’ll carry only my spare clothes.  The flexibility it affords also reduces my packing anxiety.  If it starts raining, I can quickly throw anything into the backpack and it’s protected.  At night, I can throw spare miscellaneous items in it and everything is together and waterproof – simpler than fitting everything back the various frame bags.


We’ll see if I regret the extra weight on my pressure points, but it is comforting to know I have more volume available for food/water and less packing Tetris to deal with.


Training And Change Of Plans

April Training

I trained for the Tour Divide through April logging ~700 miles and ~50,000 feet of elevation gain.  Most rides were gravel grinders in the Boulder/Longmont area.  I feel that I’m a strong climber but struggle far more on longer days without large climbs/descents.

One of the harder rides was a loop from Boulder to Nederland via Flagstaff/Gross Res/Magnolia, then north on the P2P and back via Gold Hill and Sunshine.  I carried 4.5L water and enough food for the entire day to simulate the TD more closely.

The month was capped with two back-to-back 75 mile rides – one with 6,600ft of elevation, the other with 2,900 ft of elevation.  The first ride caused a lot of chafing, but I wasn’t smart enough to apply chamois cream.  I really paid for that oversight the next day, which was a flatter “sit in the saddle and spin” kind of day.  For the high ft/mile of the first day and soreness + butt pain the second day, I think the ride times and average speeds were pretty respectable: 11.4mph and 12.8mph moving average (9.9mph and 10.4mph overall average).


May Training

Things fell apart in May.  Today is May 29th, and so far I’ve ridden 117 miles over 5 rides…  I just lost motivation to train.

Change of Plans

Once again I’m not ready to race the Tour Divide.

In May I went through some personal things that were mentally and emotionally draining.  I couldn’t bring myself to get on the bike.  The longer I went without riding, the more guilty I felt, and the more I was worried about losing my fitness.  I didn’t want to ride, because I’d see how far I had slipped in terms of fitness.  It became a feedback loop.

In April I finalized my transportation to Antelope Wells.  Balancing my girlfriend’s and parent’s schedule, I’m able to be dropped off at Antelope Wells on the morning of June 7 (the day before the Grand Depart).  If I were heading southbound from Banff with the Grand Depart, I think the mid-pack camaraderie of “being in it together” would help forward progress and make the race worthwhile.  Riding northbound, and leaving a day before everyone else made it feel not like a race.  Since there are far fewer NoBo racers, I’d likely ride alone – maybe the entire way.  Would I be able to push myself to the limit for 3+ weeks on my own?  Do I want to?

I can imagine arriving at a great camping spot in the late afternoon.  The racer pushes on.  The tour-er can camp and cook a meal.  What about when I arrive in cool towns like Del Norte, Salida, and Frisco?  The racer stops at subway and a gas station or grocery store for resupply and continues riding ASAP.  The tour-er can visit a brewery, enjoy a sit-down meal, and (gasp) even take a rest day.  The racer values forward progress at the expense of almost everything else.  They’re out there to test their physical and mental limits.

That’s not to say that racing is bad – maybe it’s not for me right now.  I respect the dedication and willpower that racing the TD takes (and any other bikepacking race).  I think I cling to the idea of racing the TD because I want to be seen as someone with the willpower to do hard things.  But at the same time I don’t want to sacrifice so much on the “fun” side of it.

So WTF Dave?  I went through this exact same thing 3 years ago.  I decided then that there wasn’t enough balance between pushing myself and enjoyment.  Earlier this year I thought that I was okay with it, but not so much anymore.

If my hesitation to racing the TD is the rigidity of forward motion at all costs, I shouldn’t race.  A week into the race, I might pass through Salida and absolutely hate that I have to be in and out in 1-2 hours.  That’s a recipe for quitting the race.

Why couldn’t I decide to tour all or part of the route?  Is it ego – being a “racer” or being able to say I’m riding all the way to the opposite border?  Maybe I originally wanted to race the TD because being away from work for 4 weeks is easier than 6-8.  Sacrificing a month of billable work is less impactful than two – on top of there being far less travel/lodging/food expenses.

What Now?

I’m still starting in Antelope Wells on June 7, but my plan is to ride ~1,000 miles of the GDMBR to the Silverthorne/Kremmling area, then ride east through Winter Park, over Rollins Pass, through Nederland, then back down to Boulder over 14 or so days.

My new goal is to push myself on the bike every day and close to double my daily mileage compared to my 2010 tour – between 70 and 100 miles per day.  I want to push myself but still have the opportunity to take a rest day when needed, stop early in the day if I reach a nice place to camp, or grab an early hotel in town if the weather is turning for the worse.

It’s very possible that next winter I’m going to think about the Tour Divide again.  Having this trip under my belt is going to help with that.  I’ve built up the TD/GDMBR in my head for the past four years that I’m so far disconnected with the reality of it.  Doing 1,000 miles of the route will remove the uncertainty of what my capabilities are, how difficult the days actually are for 2018 Dave vs 2010 Dave, and maybe solidify future “TD or Not” decisions.