Author Archives: dave

New Bike: Salsa Cutthroat

Just over a month ago I listed my Ridley X-Trail on Craigslist and started looking for a replacement.  At the time I had the “Which Bike Should I Buy” copy of Bicycling magazine to look through.  Out of the dozens of pages of bike recommendations for various specialties and criteria, the one that resonated most with me was “I want to go bike camping.”  (I guess bikepacking isn’t a common enough term yet.)

The main recommendation was a Salsa Fargo 27.5+ with the Salsa Cutthroat and Salsa Warbird as nearby options.  I was looking for something between gravel bike and rigid mountain bike, so the 27.5+ wheels didn’t entice me.  The 29er version of the Fargo didn’t either – it weighs in at 28 lbs.  That’s a lot for a rigid mountain bike!  The Warbird is very similar to the X-Trail, so that’s not what I wanted either.  What about the Cutthroat?

I never considered the Cutthroat as a bike I wanted ever since it debuted during the 2015 Tour Divide.  In my mind it was a racer-only bike.  Plus my Mooto-X set up rigid could achieve nearly the same purpose.  Well, I started considering it.  The Cutthroat has a LOT of features that I really like:

  • Six bottle cage mounts – three in the triangle, one under the downtube, two on the fork!
  • Thru-axle spacing
  • Accepts a 28/42 chainring (or 38t 1x)
  • Carbon fiber fork
  • The thing is meant for events like the TD, so I feel less bad about subjecting it to tough conditions
  • Decently light at ~23 lbs

A local shop had one in stock so I stopped by for a test ride.  I loved it!  It fills the gap between gravel bike and rigid mountain bike perfectly.  A week or so later, I was the proud owner of a new Cutthroat.

Impressions

One month in, I’m still extremely pleased that I replaced the X-Trail with the Cutthroat.  It does everything that I want it to.

  • The Cutthroat is noticeably more aerodynamic that the rigid MootoX.
  • It seems to be comfortable enough for all day rides, though I’ve only done ~5 hours max so far with zero discomfort.
  • I LOVE having three bottles (2x 750ml + 1x 1l) inside the triangle for long, remote adventures.
  • With the X-Trail I was worried about scuffing/damaging the matte carbon fiber.  I feel less worried about that with the glossy Cutthroat finish.  Weird.
  • Getting in the drops on steep climbs helps keep my weight down/forward and is surprisingly stable.
  • On rough or fast descents, getting in the drops is also preferred for extra control and braking power.
  • I’m not as confident on rough descents as on the MootoX.  I think it’ll improve in time, but IMO MTB bars offer more control.
  • The MRP Rock Solid fork seems to dampen vibration more than the Cutthroat fork.
  • My hands do get a bit sore after being in the drops for long descents.  I think this is part of the adjustment phase, though.
  • The rear end of the bike feels “springy” compared to the MootoX YBB.  A few times on washboarded downgrades my underside would get smacked if I hovered just out of the saddle.  I’m sure a change in technique will fix this- either stay on the saddle or give it room to move.

Updates

Within the first few rides I set the wheels up tubeless (I measured a weight saving of ~100g per wheel), upgraded the front rotor to 180mm, swapped the stock saddle for a Specialized Phenom, and wrapped much the frame in protective tape.

The stock drivetrain comes with a 24/36 chainring and 11-32 cassette.  I wish it came with a 28/42 chainring and 11-36 cassette to have a much higher top gear without sacrificing much on the granny end.  My personal gear ratio/speed calculation shows the stock drivetrain running from 3.84 to 27.93 mph at cadences of 60 and 100, respectively, compared to a range of 3.98 to 32.59 mph with the 28/42 + 11-36.  I’m considering swapping my spare MTB 2×10 drivetrain (which can achieve these ratios) onto the Cutthroat down the road, but I haven’t researched the compatibility issues with the shifters.  Maybe I’ll change my mind when I load it up with bikepacking gear.

Rides/Adventures

So far I’ve been able to take it on a few decently large weekend rides.  Rides I would never consider doing on the X-Trail.  That’s how I know this is the right bike for me.

Gross Res Loop
50 miles, 6200ft elevation: Up, up, up Super Flag, a quick paved descent to Walker Ranch, then some gravel, 4WD, and light quad trail to Gross Reservoir via 86J.  Wave to some bikepackers as we cross paths.  Filter water, eat, and watch helicopters pull water from the reservoir for firefighter training.  Backtrack on the trail to Flagstaff Rd then descend to South Boulder Creek below the dam.  Filter more water and pat myself on the back for climbing 5,000+ feet over 27 miles so far!  Climb away from the creek for 3.1 miles.  At the top, reach 6,100 ft of climbing over 30 miles.  Nice!  I earned the LONG paved descend to CO 93 (though I wish I had a 42t big ring).  Take CO 93 all the way into Boulder.

Spring Ramblings
42 miles, 5500ft elevation: start with the long, steady ascent up Fourmile until the Salina Junction where the climb becomes double steep.  Four-ish ouchy miles later I’ve reached Gold Hill.  Continue straight at the stop sign and start the 1-mile 14% rough downgrade, riding the brakes more than I should.  Take a left on Lefthand and continue back up.  Time to start earning back that 750 ft of elevation I just lost.  Grind away on pavement for 5 miles, then cut back onto gravel and climb steep again on Sawmill.  Don’t look over your shoulder as you’ll get vertigo.  Maybe it’s just me, though.  Top out and start on up-and-down-but-mostly-down gravel back to Gold Hill.  Once through GH climb up the 0.3 mile, 11% ass kicker climb before the Sunshine Canyon descent.  Descend down Sunshine – first gravel, then pavement – all the way back to Boulder.

Out With The Old…And New

Last year I decided it was time to replace my road bike.  It was old, a bit small, and lacked the gearing I like for steep mountain climbs.  The Fuji Roubaix was my first road bike, my first “real” bike, bought a few months after returning from the Great Divide.

Old Fuji Road Bike (looking clean with new cables/components for Craigslist)

I probably logged 10,000+ miles on that bike over it’s life.  In the year leading up to last, though, I rode it less and less.  Given a choice between grinding gravel with my MootoX set up rigid and the riding pavement on the road bike, I’d almost always choose the former.

I decided that the replacement bike should be a proper gravel bike.  That way it would get more use.  After doing many hours of research over the winter I settled on a Ridley X-Trail.  A few months later, I became the proud owner of one.

X-Trail in Early April


X-Trail In Late April

It’s quite a fancy machine – with a carbon frame, hydraulic disc brakes, internal cable routing, and thru-axle wheels.  My MootoX frame doesn’t even have thru-axles (or internal routing), but then again it is 10 years old now!

I was very happy with the X-Trail.  I could climb SuperFlag with the 34/32 granny gear and eat up gravel roads + (very) tame singletrack with 36mm gravel tires set up tubeless.  With a dedicated gravel road bike, I could keep the MootoX set up with a suspension fork for trail riding.

Near the end of Summer I swapped the MootoX fork back to rigid.  I wanted to use it for the 2016 Gold Rush Bike Rally, then the 2016 Hundred Miles of Nowhere.  I kept it rigid for the winter after that.  I’d rather not expose the Lefty to the elements, nor could I bring myself to ride the X-Trail in winter conditions.

Rigid MootoX For 2016 Hundred Miles of Nowhere

In January I started riding more consistently to warm up my legs for the Old Man Winter Rally – a 65 mile gravel ride with 5,500+ ft of climbing.  I’d swap between riding the MootoX and the X-Trail, depending on the day.  Unseasonably warm weather in January brought lots of wind.  After becoming used to the stability of a mountain bike, strong crosswinds on gravel made me nervous – especially with the narrow bars and narrow  tires.

The X-Trail was the ideal bike for the course.  Gravel tires for the gravel roads without being excessively slow on pavement, light weight, and more aerodynamic in case of strong headwinds.  Regardless, I felt more comfortable riding the MootoX for a few reasons:

  1. I wanted more stability and a more comfortable position
  2. I was uncertain about the weather (I get super cold hands) and wanted to be able to overpack warm gear (along with food).  The Revelate Tangle bag on MootoX was perfect.  And, no, attaching a tangle bag to the X-Trail was not an option.
  3. The course features two steep climbs late in the race, which I preferred to tackle with easier gears.
  4. I rarely ride a road bike over 50 miles.  Beyond that I prefer the comfort of a mountain bike + frame bag capacity for food/water/clothing.
  5. It’s always fun to hear “Nice Moots” when riding.

The rally was a lot of fun.  I finished in (what I consider) a respectable 4h 35m.  I’m sure I could have finished faster with the X-Trail, but not nearly as comfortably.  I wasn’t out there to race.  Riding the MootoX was a good choice for me.

I’ve been thinking about the rally recently: Why didn’t I ride the X-Trail?  Honestly, I’m not as comfortable on it as I’d like to be.  It also feels like a bike that should be pampered more than I like.  Maybe I’m just a bit paranoid because it is my first carbon fiber framed bike.  It’s probably a bit of both.  I love maintaining and working on bikes (I literally spent 3 hour tonight swapping the MootoX’s drivetrain from 2X to 1X and replaced cables/housing).  I don’t like worrying about whether today’s weather/trail conditions are too harsh for the bike.

At the same time as I was thinking about this stuff, the “Which Bike Should I Buy?” copy of Bicycling magazine shows up.  How appropriate!  It got me thinking about which bikes would be in my ideal fleet.

The conclusion I reached is that the X-Trail, even though it is a very fancy, very awesome machine, doesn’t fit in my ideal fleet.  I could hang onto it for occasional gravel rides, but it’s a lot of money and space to dedicate to something I don’t completely love.  I have decided to list it on Craigslist and put the money towards something different…something I know I will love.

More on that later.

Summer Plans

No Tour Divide this year.  I feel like I’ve said that a lot in the past few years.

Why not?  I’m still not 100% sure that racing the TD is something I want to do.  As you might have noticed, I go back and forth on a monthly basis.  I don’t want to train for the race…and then back out a week before the Grand Depart again.  It’s a waste of time, energy, and money!

I decided a few weeks ago to pursue other things this year.  So far I’m very happy with it!  Now that I don’t have to give so much of myself toward training, I have compiled a list of things I want to accomplish.  It’s kinda fun to be able to think like this again.  I want to:

Mountain bike for fun
Grinding gravel to build strength is getting a bit old.  I have removed the aerobars and bikepacking bags and visited some singletrack.  It is refreshing after so many paved and gravel roads.  I’m nearly done servicing my Lefty fork and really look forward to riding with front suspension again.

Increase my freelance hours
I don’t know how people train for the TD with full time jobs and/or families.  As a freelancer with a girlfriend sign-off on doing the TD, I had it so easy.  I changed my work hours as training required on a whim.  No managers to ask permission.  No commute to/from work.

Sometimes the projects I work on aren’t the most fun.  It is so easy to get distracted by the TD and internet.  Last year I did lots of internet searches like “tour divide tires,” “tour divide water filter,” “tour divide training.”  Basically “tour divide” followed by any/every piece of equipment.  Countless hours of freelance time was sacrificed to this “research.”  Deep down I knew it was far more important to accept that the gear I had was good enough, get on the bike and ride, and find out from experience whether certain equipment decisions could be optimized.  But with no one looking over my shoulder, flexible schedules, and boring/frustrating projects, I indulged a lot.

Work on side-projects
Right before last year’s TD, I refactored my outdated-ish Great Divide Elevation Profiler with a TD2015 version.  I’d like to combine both sites into one, where you can choose between the Tour Divide’s route and the ACA official Great Divide route.  Eventually, I’d like to be able to make the web app powerful enough to let riders select between the numerous GRMBR alternate routes.  It’ll be an interesting programming puzzle to solve.

Lots of other projects I want to work on, too.

Give backpacking a try
Backcountry travel without a mountain bike?!?  I think it could be fun.  There are lots of wilderness areas within an hour’s drive of Boulder that are off-limits to bikes.  I wonder what they look like.  Coming from a bikepacking background, I already have all the necessary lightweight, compact equipment.  I just need to get a backpack to haul it.

Big Summer Plans

Colorado Trail
Maybe half of it.  Maybe the whole thing.  I think it would be fun to spend a week or more on the CT.  I took a bus home from Salida in 2013 after finishing the first half.  I wasn’t prepared for so much hike-a-bike and rocky ascents/descents.  I didn’t know what to expect, but now I do.

It’d like to see if I can prepare better for the CT’s conditions.  A lot of the trail I had to hike-a-bike probably was rideable with better technical skills.  I’d also like to experiment with gear weight distribution that might make it easier.  Less weight in the handlebar/seat bags, more into the frame bag and backpack might make bike handling easier.

Personal Tour Divide Sampler
Next winter, my mind will almost certainly wonder about racing the Tour Divide in 2017.  It has happened for the past few years.  I need to find out whether the TD is something I want to do.

I’m considering doing a 5-7 day trip on the Great Divide in TD style.  Fully-rigid bike, aerobars, only and all of the gear/clothes I would bring for the Grand Depart.  As many miles per day as I could manage.  Hopefully 100+ miles. Ideally 125+ miles.  That number isn’t as important to me as simulating full days and late nights in the saddle.  Distance is more a function of strength, and I don’t know how much I want to or will be able to train for this.

Whatever it takes it answer: do I want to do this for 20+ days in a row?  If so, how much training is necessary?  How many days should I aim for?  What is the route and climbing actually like?  I was a completely inexperienced rider 6 years ago with twice as much gear.  How will Dave version 2016 fare?

I can leave from Boulder and hook up with the Great Divide 80 miles west of here – just south of Kremmling.  It is ~360 miles from Boulder to Del Norte following the GDMBR.  Well, it doesn’t seem right to turn around just before the largest climb/highest point of the route, so make it ~415 miles from Boulder to Platoro.  Turn around and take US 285 from Del Norte to Salida makes it a ~550 mile trip.  Here’s the route on Strava

As an added bonus, I’d get to see the Del Norte=>Salida segment of the GDMBR we skipped in 2010.

 

We’ll see what happens.  For now, I’m just itching to get the Lefty fork set up again so I can start enjoying (rather than just surviving) singletrack.

Nostalgia

Darkness comes early in the evenings these days.  I’ve experienced bouts of bike-related nostalgia. With last season long gone, I’ve been thinking of the rides I did, the trips I didn’t do, and memorable trips of the past few years, and how it all began.

Beginnings

I started riding during the summer after my first year of college. I took my 07 Schwinn Sierra GSD on the bike paths that I had run during high school cross country and track.  Amazing how much more distance a bike can cover with less effort!  The bike came to college the next semester and I discovered Dayton, OH has miles and miles of amazing bike paths.

Exploration

Biking was so much simpler for me back then.  “Pure” is a good way to think of it.  I didn’t have fancy gear and didn’t care about weight and component levels.  With a can of V8 juice, a sandwich bag of cereal, and two re-used gatorade bottles of water and I’d be good to go.  On a whim I’d bug out and explore the Ohio farmland and arrive home 50 unplanned miles later.

One weekend I chose to ride to the Indiana state line…just because – an 80 mile out and back.  Not even a mile after reaching the state line and turning around my tire was punctured by road debris.  I had a spare pump and patch kit, but lacked the knowledge of how to properly apply a patch.  After numerous failed attempts to get a patch to hold pressure, I started walking home.  After 10 miles of walking and chickening out on sticking a thumb out, I got through to a buddy who could drive me home.   How naive to go on such a ride with so little preparation.

A few weeks later, I rode to the Indiana line again,  but this time continued until I hit 50 miles.  That was my first century.  No special athlete food, no electrolyte mixes, no carbon road bike, and no aerodynamic spandex.

Almost every weekend I’d flip the bike upside down, strip its components, and clean/lube everything.  I cared so much for that crappy, heavy “comfort” bike.

Going Further

That winter, I developed the notion that it would be cool to bike from Ohio up and around Lake Michigan, then down to Chicago.  I acquired racks, panniers, and other touring gear and set off in August.  I carried a gigantically heavy tent, a supremely bulky fleece jacket, and not one piece of rain gear.  That didn’t matter – I wanted to transport myself from Dayton to Chicago via a decidedly indirect route.

At the time, I idolized Christopher McCandless and longed to run off and live in the woods.  I’d often be anti-society and say things to the tone of, “I generally don’t like people.”  During that bike tour, I had the pleasure of meeting so many friendly, helpful people.  The sentiment turned into seeing that people are generally good.

And Further

The following winter I learned about an Adventure Cycling bike route between Banff, Canada and the US-Mexico border.  Riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route was immediately added to my to-do list.

I bought some equipment for the ride – proper rain gear, a stove, a lighter tent, and warmer sleeping bag – and figured how to lash it all to the bike.  A few months and less than 500 miles of “training” later, I set off on the Great Divide.  It was quite a learning experience.

Spray Lake Res

Becoming A “Proper” Cyclist

While loitering in a bike shop in Jasper, Canada while my bike was being packed to ship home, I started looking at road bikes.  The bald tires and sub-20 pound package looked quite appealing compared to my dump truck of a bike.  Two months later in Dayton, OH I purchased a road bike.  Instantly, I was riding 4-5 mph faster with no extra effort!  I started valuing riding speed over exploration.  Instead of a 4-hour, 50 mile ride on random farm roads, I chose to ride the same 15-25 mile out-and-back to see how my time improved.  I became aware that components are sold at different levels.

The Great Divide comfort bike lived in the basement after getting the road bike, until one day I was invited on a proper mountain bike ride.  After riding an aggressive road bike, the Schwinn felt clunky, unresponsive, and slow.  I started to consider myself a proper cyclist now, and being seen on that bike was a bit embarrassing.  I never used it again.

Moving Up (in altitude)

After college, I moved to Colorado.  Riding the Great Divide made me realize I wanted to live in or very close to the mountains. After looking for jobs in towns close to the Great Divide and applied to a few in Colorado and Montana, I accepted one in Boulder, CO.  I bought a proper mountain bike and moved to Colorado.

My goal was to bike the entire Colorado Trail prior to starting my job.   I assumed that my strength from the previous year’s Great Divide trip would make the CO Trail easy.  Nope.  I packed my bike similar to the Great Divide, and tried to ride some climbs.  Talk about humble pie.  My legs weren’t strong enough, I lacked the technical skills, and racks/panniers were heavy and clumsy.  I settled for local overnight bikepacking trips instead.  Slowly I started acquiring bikepacking bags to make the bike more nimble.

Rollins Pass Top

Technology, Leveling Up

I acquired a Garmin Edge 500 in 2012 and soon discovered a website called Strava.  Now, instead of recording my ride distances/speeds in a spreadsheet, I could compete against myself and other riders on a segment-by-segment basis.  It is addictive.  Often before rides, I check my intended route to see where the segments start and end to plan efforts.  Sometimes I’ll even choose a route based on the weather conditions.  “Hey – with a moderate tailwind, I can set a new PR long, maybe even a top X spot on that long, slightly-inclined segment.”  I bet I’m not alone in doing this.

Not Done Yet!

Next?

Racing the Tour Divide has been on my radar for the past few years.  I half-assed trained for it in 2014 and gave it 95% effort in 2015.  I’m still not done with it.  I’m torn between racing and fast-touring the route.

2015-05-16 16.00.26

Pros: Race
Something about giving 100% effort for 20 – 25 days is very enticing.  It is a very pure way to find and push my physical and mental limits.  My life is in a very good place to support a training schedule and time off for the race.  I do contract web development work and have the ever-important “girlfriend sign-off” to race, so it’s completely in my hands.  My situation can change in the future.  I’d kick myself if I get a “normal” job next year, and no longer have the option to race.

Pros: Fast-Tour
The main roadblock that stopped me from racing in 2015 is feeling that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the route if making/breaking camp, pit stops, re-fueling is all rushed.  At a fast-touring pace, I could push myself to whatever distance I want, yet still take rest days or stop at interesting places.

The Tour Divide isn’t going anywhere.  The average racer age is early 40’s.  I have 15 years to get there.  Plenty of time to make it happen, if not this year or next.  Who knows…

Unfinished Business

After deciding not to start the 2015 Tour Divide, I wanted life to return to normal. I stripped the bike of all bikepacking gear, removed the now unnecessary aerobars, and gave it a good washing. Any remnants of bikepacking gear and training might cause me to re-think my decision not to race. It was time to ride hard and fast on narrow trails with an unladen bike.

I decided to keep the MRP Rock Solid rigid fork mounted rather than switch back to my 100mm Lefty.  I’ve heard that riding a rigid fork makes you a better rider – you have to pick lines more carefully rather than have your suspension smooth out your mistakes.  Plus, the Lefty fork needs to be re-built.  Even more work, I’d have to remove a Lefty => QR9 hub adapter that I installed, re-dish the wheel, and risk damaging the hub bearings.

Fast forward to October 2015 – riding the rigid fork was getting quite old.  My hands constantly hurt during when riding rocky singletrack.  I was seriously under-biked for many of the trails and crashed hard once because of it.  I decided I would re-install the Lefty for a more comfortable, controlled ride.

I put the bike on a repair stand and started cleaning the fork and headset prior to disassembly.  I couldn’t bring myself to swap out the fork, though.  It irked me that I had never was able to organize the cockpit for the Tour Divide.  I wanted to see if I could figure out a better configuration.  Instead of replacing the fork, I reinstalled aerobars and brought some bikepacking gear out of storage.

I’m in the process of figuring out a proper cockpit for the Tour Divide.  Partly for fun; Partly because 2016 is here and the Tour Divide Bug has started stirring in my brain.  Nothing is decided yet.

Tour Divide 2015 No-Show

Just like in 2014, I trained for the 2015 Tour Divide but decided not to race before the Grand Depart.

For the 2014 race, I started preparing very late.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get strong enough three months prior to the race.  The notion was to do what I could for training and decide in early May whether I’d race.  I wasn’t ready and so decided not to race.

2015-05-16 16.00.26

In 2015, I started training earlier and smarter.  From the beginning, I rode the bike fully loaded.  I rode wearing the clothes that I’d wear on the race.  I explored new roads up in the mountains so I wouldn’t get too bored with training.  In 2014, I gave myself an opportunity to quit and took it.  This year, I decided that I would race from the very beginning.  I bought a plane ticket to Calgary.

It wasn’t until late in May that I did my first training overnighter.  Until then, I told myself that camping was my strength (it certainly was in 2010 when I toured the Great Divide)…I should focus on my physical strength and gear selection.  It turns out that was just an excuse to cover up the real reason for avoiding overnight rides.

Camping is fun.  Even more fun when bikes are involved.  Why didn’t I use “training” as an excuse to camp out more often?  That should have been the first clue that I had reservations about racing.

When I finally went on that first overnighter, I faced new training issues: I had never packed the bike to carry an overnight’s worth of food!  I had always just carried snacks for ~6 hours and stopped at home or a store for meals/resupply.  I also had to find a place for a map case to hold either cues or the ACA maps.

It was a bit of a scramble, but I got the bike and supplies situated and headed out the door.  I was riding up to a reservoir up in the mountains – 18 miles and 3700 ft of climbing away:

The first thing I noticed as I climbed out of Boulder is how much heavier the bike felt.  Should I have been training with extra weight to simulate fuller loads of food/water?  After 10 miles of climbing was the first descent.  I noticed that the map case was flapping in the wind.  The only place/orientation where it would fit caused it to flap up like an air brake when going fast enough.  Obviously TD bikes are as aerodynamic as dump trucks, but over thousands of miles I think it would wear on my mind if the thing would flap around and block wind on every descent or in headwinds.

After months of feeling strong and prepared, I was losing confidence in my setup.

As I descended the final miles to the reservoir, I had a deep feeling of joy of having transported myself into the mountains by my own power.  This is what bikepacking is all about!  The sun had just set, so I ate the subway sandwich, gathered water for the next day, and set up camp for the night.  I didn’t have a set/break camp routine with this gear, so it took a while to get ready.  I wished it was still light so I could walk around the reservoir and explore a bit.  I wished I didn’t have a five o’clock alarm set for the morning.

I turned off the alarm in the morning and kept sleeping.  I would have liked to relax a bit before riding home, but I needed to break camp and eat with some haste.  The Tour Divide isn’t the time to linger.  An hour later, I had packed, eaten, and was riding home.

The ride home was very introspective.  I enjoyed the ride and the camping, but felt like I could have enjoyed the trip more if I didn’t have to rush.  The idea of riding hours into the night and waking before dawn didn’t appeal to me.  By the time I got home my outlook at racing the Tour Divide changed from excitement to dread.  The TD isn’t the right balance of challenge and enjoyment for me.

A few days later, I pulled the plug and decided not to race in 2015.

Oddly, for the first time in many years, I followed along as the racers traversed the continental divide.  In previous years I avoided following along – it had always made me sad that I wasn’t out there racing or touring.  Maybe this year I was content with the decision.

 

Notes for my future self: mistakes
Small details were left unsolved until too late: food choices/capacity, efficient camp setup and breakdown.
Never figured out the ideal cockpit setup: feed bag access, map case, light orientation, map case, bear spray location.
Training focused too much on strength, rather than the above logistics.
I trained my strength, not my weakness.  I focused on climbing when I should have done more long-distance, slower, “flatter” rides.

Tour Divide 2015: Letter of Intent

June 2015 Update: I decided to back out of the race two weeks prior to the start.  Do I regret it?  Yes and no.  I’ve written about it here: Tour Divide 2015: No-Show.  The LoI will stay up for posterity.

I caught the Great Divide bug back in 2010.  As a college student, I was fortunate enough to have time between semesters to ride the Great Divide that summer.  At the time, I expected my parents to be hesitant to the notion of me riding a bike from one border to the opposite.  I was supposed to be thinking of my future – getting job experience with a crappy internship or something.  Oh yeah, I’ll also be riding mostly through remote backcountry, sometimes days between resupply and water sources.  I imagined them going into “protection mode” (as most parents would) and try to convince me to rethink the trip.  What was I to do?

I wrote my parents a letter with my intentions of riding the GDMBR before I knew LOI’s were a practice.  It was my way of being stubborn and saying, “I’m not giving you a chance to convince me this is a bad idea.”

So here I am 5 years later, writing another Letter of Intent.  This time because I am going to race the Tour Divide.


 

I rode the Great Divide in 2010 starting as a complete rookie.  It was my first time riding on dirt for more than 10 miles…first time riding in the mountains…first time riding above 1,000 ft.  I was on a heavy commuter bike with so much gear…oh so much gear!  And I had only ridden a few hundred miles in the flat midwest as “training.”

But as the weeks went on, I had profound satisfaction knowing that I transported myself hundreds and thousands of miles over difficult terrain and through inclement conditions.

In Rawlins, WY I met Matthew Lee and many of the other Tour Divide racers soon after.  I envied their light loads, but not their long days.  They were the next level of hardcore!  Could I do such an event?

Every year since then, usually in the winter when riding days are short, I’d get nostalgic about the GDMBR and think, “Tour Divide this year?”  Well, now it is happening.

I want to climb the mountains, see the sights, descend the passes, overcome the weather, meet the friendly locals, and wake up in the middle of the night to a sky of stars.  I want to experience the highs and lows of the Divide again.  I want to see what I am capable of.

I expect I’ll suffer the same as before, but much faster this time.

 

Then
antelope_wells

Now
2015-05-16 16.00.26

Moots Quick Review

How do I like my recently-built MootoX YBB?  I’ve been meaning to write up a 4-month review, but in a sentence: I love everything about my it.  I’ll keep the rest brief for now:

XX1
I don’t find myself missing the extra gears of a 2×10. I started with a 34t ring and it sufficed for nearly every ride. Only after 10 hours in the saddle would I want lower gears on the steep climbs. Since stopping my TD training, I swapped to a 30t ring for the lower option on rides like this:

I spin out a few MPH sooner than before (~25 MPH), but have a much lower granny for easier climbing.

The only downside to XX1 (besides price) is the rear cassette has noticeable bigger jumps between gears. Sometimes I’ll be riding and can’t find the right gear. Either I’ll spin too fast or mash too hard. It’s less noticeable with the 30t – the jumps may be the same percentage, but the absolute difference is smaller.

Lefty
The Lefty fork is awesome. Anyone who asks about it gets the whole speech about how roller bearings are far superior to stanchions. The fork hasn’t undergone any maintenance since being rebuilt just prior to me purchasing it. Put it on my list. One time I went a few weeks without riding it and noticed the first compression was a bit sticky. But that never happens with regular use. The lock-out mechanism is extremely solid, too.

YBB
The YBB definitely does…something. I see it compressing slightly under hard pedal strokes even on pavement. I can’t really watch it when on the trail, obviously. I’d be really curious to ride a clone of my bike, but a non-YBB version to see if I notice the difference. You’re not supposed to lock it out (it could damage the slider), but maybe I’ll give it a try for one less intense ride.

Overall, I love the bike. I hope it lasts years and years.

Tour Divide: Not This Year

I am not racing the Tour Divide this year.

I decided two weeks ago after a few self-test rides.  The plan was to ride at least 350 mountain bike miles over four rides – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  If I could not ride at least that much mileage, I resolved to pull the plug on this year’s race.  If I managed that distance, I would at least have an informed opinion about how I’d react physically and mentally, and make a decision accordingly.

Day 1 – Cold and Windy

I set an alarm for 6am, but lacked the motivation to get out of bed that early.  Not a good start to the day.  I began pedaling after 9am.  Conditions were less than ideal for a century.  Had this not been my training week, I would have postponed it a day.  The temperatures stayed cold and a consistent 30MPH+ wind made it feel worse.

As with most long rides, the first 30 miles went by easily.  I caught myself thinking, “I’m not even tired…I can continue this all day no problem.”  Then came 30 miles of grinding.  Riding was no longer fun, the wind sucked, I was either too cold or sweating depending on the section.  I just wanted to be done with the ride.  I had to remind myself that I have 5+ hours moving time left.  Slowly, the miles ticked away.

I ate my lunch as we often did on the Great Divide – plain food while sitting on the side of a road.  It wasn’t too relaxing with the unrelenting cold wind.  Soon I was off again.  The first pedal strokes reminding me that my legs already have a lot of miles in them.  More grinding.

When the odometer showed above 75 miles, my outlook changed.  I was nearing “impressive distance” territory, so there was a mental boost.  I started thinking, “this really isn’t that bad.  Maybe I can get 125 in today!”  That phase didn’t last too long, though.  The temperature started dropping and my motivation with it.  How many more loops until 100?  How many turns until 100?  By the time the odometer flipped, it was dark and my fingers and toes were numb from cold.  I headed home, ate, and put my feet up for the night.

Day 2

Windy again today, but comfortably warm.  It was pretty much a lot more of the same.  On the plus side, my legs didn’t feel sore at all from the century two days ago.  I had high-carb lunch, macaroni and cheese, which I attribute to helping me a lot later in the day.  So much that I opted to do some extra miles to bring the day’s total to 110.  I forgot to apply sunscreen and got some serious cycling tan/burn lines – halfway up my calf from tall socks, halfway up my forearms from pulled down arm warmers, among standard sleeve/thigh lines.

Day 3

Since I realized one rest day is all I need to (relatively) easily ride a century, I decided to make today’s ride more climby.  Plus, doing loops and loops was boring and weekend trail traffic would get annoying.  I did one loop south of Boulder to give the upper elevations time to warm, then turned toward the mountains.

I chose Magnolia Rd, a beast of an ascent, as my path to higher elevations.  It is known as the steepest paved road in the county – the first mile being 14%; first two being 12%.  It averages only 9% over 4.5 miles due to two minor flat/”down” sections.  With my 34t chainring, I was in the 48t granny gear most of the climb, but the cadence I kept wasn’t uncomfortably low.  Had I ridden Mag later in the day, it would be a different story.  I don’t understand how roadies can get up this climb with their gearing.

I reached the Peak to Peak and headed south to Rollinsville, then west on dirt.  After a gradual climb over 9 miles, I reached the Moffat Tunnel.  Unfortunately, the railroad-grade 4WD road that leads over Rollins Pass was snow covered from the beginning, so it’ll be at least a few weeks before the lakes will be accessible for short overnighters.

I retraced my path backward to the P2P and stopped for food in Nederland.  From there it would be a few short climbs before a long descent back to Boulder.  I got back home just in time to avoid a strong storm cell.

300+ miles with 20,000+ vertical over three days.  Not bad, but I knew the fourth day would be the real test.  How will I recover without a full rest day?

Day 4

Based on the original plan, I only had to ride 40 miles to get to 350.  Stacking long days up front when I can fully recover seems like cheating, so I upped today’s goal to a century.

I started again on the trails south of Boulder to warm up.  Doing magnolia again was in the back of my mind, but soon ruled out after some minor steep inclines.  I knew grinding in the granny gear for an hour was unobtainable.  So I did more and more loops on dirt single and double-track.  It wasn’t fun.  My legs felt dead from the previous day.  I was hot, dehydrated, and losing motivation quickly.

After this ride I needed to make a decision about racing.  I started thinking about it.  Can I see myself finalizing TD arrangements one month from now?  Can I imagine myself not getting ready for the TD?  Will I regret it?  Which will I regret more: starting and not finishing or waiting until another year?

The middle of a difficult ride is probably not the best time to make a decision, but I started leaning more and more toward not racing.  Once I figured that out, I turned around and got home at mile 60.  I knew that by turning around and not pushing on I was almost surely deciding not to race.

Decision Time
I sat a home and wrote down some random thoughts about racing vs not.  Most were rhetorical questions that didn’t help much.  In the end I decided not to race this year.

My motivation gave out after a single difficult day.
I couldn’t manage being this sore (and certainly more) for a whole month.
Averaging 100 miles/day means sometimes riding 75, sometimes 125.  I’d have to increase my training mileage even more!
I impressed myself with being able to consistently ride MTB centuries with one day of rest in between, but I did them without gear, with a shower and comfortable bed every night, proper nutrition, and near perfect weather.  True TD conditions would increase the mental and physical demands.

Final Thoughts
I enjoy competing against myself via setting PRs on Strava segments.  Ride fast and it’ll be over soon.  My 100 milers were long, but even then there is a finish line.  I could count down from 100 to 50 to 25 to 12 and eventually reach 0 and stop.  I am in (somewhat) in control of my pace and therefore can determine how long it will take.

The TD is a different game: I need to ride 16 hours per day.   Regardless of how fast or how far, I need to ride all day every day.  Did I hit 100 miles at 4pm?  Good…now go for another 6 hours before setting up camp.

I realize it’s probably my cognitive makeup.  If 100 miles takes 16 hours, the only difference is perspective.  “Ride 100 miles per day for 27 days” is easier to stomach than “ride all day, every day for 27 days.”  The TD seems to be an exercise of the latter.  A metaphor:  I am a web developer.  I like programming applications, being able to mark them as complete, and move to the next.  These are like century rides.  The Tour Divide seems closer to writing code for 16 hours per day on a project that has no end in sight.  How can I stay motivated if the goal is so far away?

Now I realize that for me a successful TD attempt starts with motivation.  Can I break it down into daily, achievable milestones?  I decided to train for the race out of opportunity.  My job sucked, so I could quit and train for the race.  I need to have Antelope Wells or Banff as a fundamental goal and commit earlier.

Maybe none of this makes sense and is just me trying to justify my decision.  Who knows…

Tour Divide Considerations

Earlier this year, I had the idea of attempting the Tour Divide.  The job wasn’t working out, so I decided to leave at the end of March.  The notion was to to split my time between freelance web development work and preparing for the TD.  As it were, a few friends and past co-workers were also dissatisfied with their employment situations, so we banded together to form a web development business.

So far it has worked out quite well – flexible hours and the ability for work from home have allowed me to ride as much as necessary.  The training bottleneck is motivation and boredom rather than time.

As I left my job and considered the TD, I realized two months is not a lot of time for preparation.  It was a low-mileage winter for me, so my legs needed waking up.  Of course, there are other aspects of preparation beyond physical – mental, logistic, and equipment.

Physical prep is my first priority.  Having toured the Great Divide and bikepacked half of the Colorado Trail, I’m relatively familiar with the logistic and equipment needs (and at least half-informed with the mental stress).  I set a deadline of early May to see how strong I could become – to see whether averaging 100 dirt miles per day is possible.  That deadline is a week away now and I’m still on the fence.

Am I strong enough?
The human brain can rationalize anything.  That’s where I’m at and it’s making my final decision, to race or not, very difficult.

One on hand, I completed the Great Divide in 2010 over 50-some days having trained at 500 ft., never on dirt or with any climbing, on a hybrid/commuter bike without a proper granny gear, with an exorbitant amount of equipment.  I’m much more prepared now.

On the other hand, I struggled day after day until my en-route training kicked in.  I averaged half the daily distance I want to achieve during the TD and had the luxury of a rest/half day every five or so days.  Not having rest days or long evenings to recover will deplete the body.

Then again, now I live at 5,400 ft.  My normal, for-fun rides are on mixed single and double track up to 7,000 ft. with 2,000-4,000 ft of climbing.  I have access to 3,000 ft. unrelenting climbs a few miles from my front door.  By mid-May, I’ll be able to grind gravel at 10,000+ ft.  Training in tougher road/elevation conditions than the average mile of TD must count for something, right?

Having ridden the route before (NoBo, unfortunately), I generally know what to expect.  I have a notion of what services are available in certain towns and a very good memory of turns, landmarks, and road conditions.  All of this reduce the anxiety that a rookie rider will have before leaving Atlantic City, Cuba, or Pie Town into the subsequent remote stretches.  How much is this worth if my legs aren’t conditioned properly?

Training To-Date
This month I’ve ridden 25-50 miles daily.  My biggest rides were consecutive 75-mile days with 5,500 ft vertical each, on a mix of single/double track, gravel, and a splash of asphalt.  It took 6.5 hours of riding over 8.5 elapsed hours.  The soreness from the first day didn’t affect my performance on the second day, so that was comforting.  Those days were ridden without bikepacking gear and after a full night’s sleep in a proper bed.  Not too bad considering I was dormant most winter and walked to work rather than commuting by bike.

It’s still a long shot from consecutive centuries with gear in inclement weather while sleep deprived.  Is it enough to be sure I can get that strong in the next five weeks?  I have to answer that soon.