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.

Almost Rideable

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Almost there!  Lots of parts have arrived and been installed.

I’m really happy with my choice of wheels – Mavic Crossmax SLRs.  They are lightweight but seem very strong.  The low spoke count (20 each) had me worried, but up close they’re quite beefy.

Now I’m waiting on the XX1 freehub body so I can install the 10-42 cassette.  I laughed aloud when I first saw that cassette.  The 42-tooth ring is ridiculously giant.  Yet Sram’s X-Dome design keeps it lightweight – far lighter than my old 11-36 10-ring.  Instead of each ring fitting snug on the freehub, they are each only attached to the edge of the neighboring rings.  Like a dome, I guess.

Once the freehub comes in, I’ll mount the rear wheel and tune the derailleur.  Then I’m off to a bike shop to pick out an offset or straight seatpost.

XX1 Crank – A Setback

The XX1 group arrived today.  The GXP bottom bracket went in smoothly with a spacer on each side (since the shell width is 68mm).

As I threaded the non-drive-side crank arm, I noticed how little clearance there was between the chainring (34-tooth) and the chainstay.

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As I tightened it, it became apparent that something is not right.  Before even getting near the max torque on the crank spindle, the chainring started touching the chainstay.

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I installed my old 3-ring crank to check whether it would have a similar issue.  Nope.  As is, it could possibly fit up to a 32-tooth ring.  Unfortunately, the two rings I’d swap between are 34t and 38t, so being limited to 32t max isn’t an option.

I’m almost certain I’ve seen the XX1 group on other MootoX’s.  Maybe the chainstay geometry has changed.  This frame is ~7 years old now.

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Replace the 168Q crank with a 156Q crank and add spacers somewhere – on the spindle’s drive-side between the bb and crank arm?  I bet this would affect other things negatively.
Replace the drivetrain with a 2×10?  Expensive and painful.
Replace the frame for a new(er) MootoX?  Again, expensive and painful.


According to the Sram xx1 compatibility spec, each chainring differs by a 4mm radius every 2-tooth step.  A 32-tooth ring would probably fit my frame.  So that’s another option.
I tried shifting both 2.5mm bottom bracket spacers to the drive-side.  The 34-tooth ring fits with ~1mm clearance.  Since chain suck is not an issue with XX1’s clutch derailleur, I think it is enough clearance.

2014-07-10 Update

I now run a 30t ring up front, so can use the spacers as intended.  With the 34t ring, I shifted both 2.5mm spacers to the drive-side.  It ran fine for four months until I voluntarily swapped to the 30t.  I did notice that the drivetrain was slightly louder when in the granny gear with the extra-offset 34t ring.

MootoX YBB: Lefty Installed

The fork arrived in the mail today.  I chose a 2012 Cannondale Lefty Carbon XLR with 100mm travel and a remote lockout.  The fork was bought used, but it was recently serviced and stuffed with the newest internals.  I’ve been impressed by the ability of a Lefty fork to compress even while under lateral forces.  Soon I’ll be able to see for myself on the trail.

With the external cup headset, there was just enough clearance for the lefty clamps to clear the 5 1/2″ head tube stack height (and yes, I measured prior to purchasing the fork).

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Next up – the drivetrain.  It should arrive tomorrow!

I’m Building a New Bike

I’ve been been in pursuit of a used Moots Mooto X YBB 29er frame for many months now – searching ebay, mountain bike forums, and craigslist.  Last week I finally found one for a relatively decent price.


This will be the bike on which I will finish the Colorado Trail.
This will be the bike on which I hope to race the Tour Divide in the next few years.
I’m going to build it 100% myself so it is mine through and through.

All components of my Rockhopper have been stripped and cleaned.  Being a 26er, there are some that obviously cannot be reused (fork and wheels).  Others I didn’t think of – the titanium tubes are smaller in diameter than the aluminum frame, so my front derailleur and seatpost need to be replaced.  I’ll gladly take any excuse to upgrade parts, though.

Hypothetical Build

100mm Lefty – needle bearings just make so much sense.
YBB – duh.

Cane Creek

Avid BB7 – mechanical for simplicity and reliability.

Sram XX1 (1×11) seems so simple elegant but I’m afraid of the limited range of gears, especially for bikepacking.  If not 1×11, 2×10 is the next option.  3×10 (what my Rockhopper was running) was overkill.

No idea yet

Bars & Seatpost
I hear titanium is great, but we’ll see how the budget stands.

Colorado Trail Here I Come

I’m leaving for the CO trail on Saturday, July 13.  I couldn’t find anyone planning to ride at the same time as I have off work, so it looks like I’m starting alone.  I’m probably not going to do any daily blog entries until afterwards, but I will carry a SPOT tracker and upload photos to Flicker.

SPOT Tracker

The Setup
Viscacha seat bag, harness handlebar bag, and gas tank from Revelate Designs.
Rear top tube bag and frame bag from Greg at Bolder Bikepacking.

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28 lbs of bike; 25 lbs of gear; a few more lbs of food/water.

Brief Gear Rundown
85 oz bladder in the frame bag, 2x 25 oz water bottles mounted to the fork, 4 liter bladder in the backpack (that will stay empty except in camp), and an MSR Sweetwater filter.
20 degree down bag, bivy bag, insulated ground pad.
MSR International stove, full cookset. 11 oz fuel bottle.

With only a few days left before my trip begins, I’m alternating between being excited and being nervous/anxious.  All of the unknowns and things that could go wrong weigh heavy on me – lightening storms above the treeline, being uncertain about directions, camping alone at night, etc.  It was the same way before I boarded a bus from Chicago to New Mexico and began the Great Divide three years ago.  I just need to remind myself that once I get to the trailhead and start riding it’ll be just like any other ride.  I’ll deal with the things that go wrong as they happen, if they happen at all, and only worry about the next 50 feet.