The Myth of “Self-Supported” Rides.

Yeah, I know.  I just wrote about the 10,000, which Axletree is bringing you in just a couple of weeks.  Here’s the counter-argument.

There are a host of rides out there which are described as “self-supported”.  The 10,000 is a new addition to the club, which includes rides such as the Trans-Iowa.  However, here’s the beef: they’re not self-supported.  When they say “self-supported”, they mean “eat and drink whatever you can carry on your bike and whatever you can buy at a Casey’s.”  It’s that latter half that is problematic.

If self-supported meant ‘carry what you can carry’, then I’ve got it.  Anyone can compete in that circumstance.  But when it means “eat what you can buy at a Casey’s”, then it basically takes a rider like me and renders us unable to compete on a level field.  When most riders go into a Casey’s (or equivalent), they’re buying pizza, sandwiches, and a whole host of ‘real food.’  At a Casey’s, for me, I can drink beverages, and can eat nuts and (plain) potato chips.  Maybe some jerky (if they have natural-ish jerky, which isn’t guaranteed).  Try finding a food that doesn’t have gluten, dairy or oats in it, at a Casey’s.

So saying that a ride is “self-supported” in what is now the accepted definition of that term in the gravel scene means that it’s self supported, except that you can eat pizza, hot dogs, sandwiches, ice-cream sandwiches, or whatever else you can shovel in while stopped, if you’re a person fortunate enough to have a traditional diet.  It’s like saying that you can only eat what you can carry, or what Pizza Hut serves.  Telling me that I can only ride with what I can carry on the bike (that won’t spoil when it’s hot out), plus nuts and chips…it’s just not the same.  And you cannot sustain a ride indefinitely without real food.

I haven’t solved this one yet.

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The 10,000 is Coming.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, click on over and check out the 10,000 site.  Me, I checked out the 10,000 route.  In just 2 weeks, we’ll be lighting out, for somewhere between 75 and 125 miles of mixed surface suffering.  On Thursday, a few of us took a rare respite from work, and headed out to Freeport to preview the route.  I’ve ridden Almanzo.  I’ve ridden the Gravel Metric in a tornado.  I’ve done a century on a fatbike when it’s 12 degrees out.  How hard can be 75 miles of gravel be?

Hard.

We started under a rainstorm that quickly passed.

This is the picture of Tobie that I get every time I take a picture of him.

I’d like to say that this was an artistic picture of the Axletree jersey, but I was trying to take a picture of the group behind me.

Better.

The early roads were nice.  Smooth.  Little rollers.

On the ride day, there will be a decision point around mile 40, where you decide if you’re going long or short.  Let me tell you, the first 35 miles do not accurately represent the course.  It gets harder.  Relentlessly harder.  We rode with a few hours of fog and clouds, and cool temps.  If it’s hot and sunny, people are going to really suffer.

ENVE—–>FTW.

The hills started.

And the flats.

E-gads, it’s beautiful.

And relentless.

And then there’s Hanoi Road.

Bring bug spray–I got a tick.  Also, bring boots.

It gets worse.

The roads are often named after their conditions.  There’s Slick Road, Hairpin Road, Yougonnadieonthisclimb Road, and so on.  There are so many false flats, hidden second and third climbs, and heartbreaking ‘ride around a corner and only then see the second half of the climb’ climbs that it’s a pretty dispiriting ride at times.  SRSLY.  Come with the right mentality.

We averaged 15mph for 75 miles, with 6,200 feet of climbing.  That was all I could do.  That was with 4 other strong riders, with pretty perfect weather.  If I’m doing the longer ride, the pace is coming down.  Frankly, I’m a bit concerned about the route.  If the weather’s hot, like I said above, people are gonna suffer.  Bad.  There’s nothing out there.  There’s no shade, no respite, no water, no relief.  Make the ‘short or long’ decision wisely.  I’m still thinking through how I’m going to decide.  Seriously.

Seriously.

Seriously.

How hard was it?  Hard enough that Becik spontaneously grew cornrows.

But when you get to be on a bike, on a day like this, how bad can it be?

ENVE SES Smart Handlebar Review / Update

I previously wrote about the ENVE SES Smart Handlebar a few months ago, when they were newly installed.  They’re pretty purty.

It’s road bike season, and they’ve been getting a lot of use.  Normally, if I was reviewing an ENVE product, I’d be tripping all over myself to bask in the glory that is their carbony-wonder.  Here, not so much.

They’re pretty.  They’re undoubtedly aero.  The flats are amazingly comfortable to the hand.  But if I had it to do over again, I would not have purchased these bars.  Instead, I would have run a set of the ENVE road drop bars, in compact.

Here are my beefs:

  1. They are amazingly stiff.  Punishingly stiff.  The first ‘real’ road bike I had was a carbon Scattante with an oversized aluminum handlebar and a super-stiff carbon fork.  It was harsh.  This bar takes me back to those days.  Believe me, on a high-modulus carbon frame/fork combo and 23c tires, you can tell the difference between handlebars with compliance and those without.  These bars are about as stiff as it gets.  That may be great if you’re a super-muscley sprinter who rides on glass-smooth roads.  In the real world, it’s annoying.  The ENVE compact carbon bars have the best blend of stiffness and compliance that I’ve yet found, after riding a lot of different bars.  The ENVE Smart bars are just harsh.  Running these on anything other than a road bike would be a terrible idea.
  2. The drops are too short.  If you have the flats aligned properly for ‘max aero’ position, the drops are too short.  If I had another inch, or even half of an inch, it would be soooo much better.  Don’t get me wrong…I love the flare out on the drops.  It’s just that they’re too short.

That’s it.  Pretty short list of beefs, but they’re critical faults.  A good drop bar should be a good blend of stiffness and compliance, and should have a perfect shape.  It should also do basic things like not fall apart when you use it, and steer where you point it.  The ENVE Smart bars do the basic things, but they’re all stiffness and no compliance…and the shape is just not quite right.  Again, they may have their applications (track sprinters who want aero + super stiffness?) but they’re not right for a general purpose road bike, and they would be a terrible idea for any kind of multi-surface or gravel bike.  As I don’t do track sprinting, I can’t say that these are recommended.

One Inch. Five Millimeters.

One inch is all of the distance in the world.

One inch of saddle, that is.

When riding the Madone, I have a certain riding position I’ve come to ride in, just about always.  Whether on the hoods or on the drops, it’s where I find myself sitting on the saddle.  But then there are times when you’re really pushing–climbing a hill (in the saddle), trying to stay on the breakaway, attempting a breakaway of your own, or maybe just trying to stay with the pack when your legs say they’re through.  Sometimes, when I reach those moments, I totally change my riding position.  I slide waaaaaaay back on the saddle and try to give my legs just a little more leverage.  I try to lower my body just a little further into the drops, and melt away just a little more wind resistance.  I bring my chin just a little closer to the top tube.  I try to do all of these things with a neutral look on my face, as I’ve learned the value of being opaque on group rides.  All of the little adjustments–they’re all contingent upon the massive underlying change in position on the saddle.

That massive change in position on the saddle–the massive slide aft…that’s one inch.  In reality, I have about one inch of a range of motion fore and aft on the saddle that I actually use.  One tiny inch.  In so many contexts, an inch is meaningless.  Inconsequential.  But on the saddle–on the saddle an inch is huge.

I don’t see myself making a lot of changes in my bikes in the coming year.  Really, there aren’t any big changes to make–things are about as perfect as they can get.  Nonetheless, I love to tinker, to observe, to measure, to improve, to refine.  There are so many parts of cycling that are still new to me, and that make such a huge difference.  One inch of fore-aft on the saddle–so tiny in space, yet so huge in effect.

And five millimeters?  That’s the amount that I raised my seat post on the Moots before the final Gravel Metric training ride.  After that ride, I could barely walk for 4 days.  My calves felt as if I had run them through a wood chipper.  (Yes, I know better.  Never make a big change before a big ride.)  5mm is about 0.19 inches.  It rendered the bike unrideable (for long distances, at full exertion).

One inch can make all the difference in staying with the pack.  Five millimeters can end your cycling day.  The little things are big things.

Two Miles Per Hour

That’s the gap.

One mile per hour is doable.  You can just about always put out one more mph.  But two–two can be insurmountable.

The difference between 18mph and 20mph is HUGE!  The difference between 18 and 19 mph…not so much.

Before someone comes in and drops a line about drag increasing at the square of speed, that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the mental game–the perceived exertion of 2mph.  When I’m all-in, if I have to, I can add 1mph and sustain it.  But 2mph? That’s a bridge too far.

Sometimes, I can sneak up on myself, adding 1mph, and then later adding 1 more mph.  In that kind of serving, with 1mph bites, an increase in speed is doable.  But adding 2mph in one helping?  Impossible.

I remember the first time I did a solo ride and sustained 15mph.  I remember the first time I sustained 18mph.  I’ve been stuck in a 20-21mph purgatory for some time now.  But a 2mph difference is still huge.  The difference in a group ride that averages 18mph and one that averages 20mph, or the difference between 20mph and 22mph…huge.

In reality, 2mph is the verbal expression of the mental barrier I hit when riding.  I’m still amazed, after several years of riding, at the limits my body can do when my mind will let it.  If I let my mind decide that I can’t do something, I’m done.  If I let that one little nagging doubt be heard, I’m through.  If I see the jump as being too big, it will be.  2mph is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I rode 18 miles this morning in 50.5 minutes (both of those figures excluding the 1 mile exit from and entrance to my neighborhood).  Out and back.  Clear legs, clear mind, no blocks, no excuses.  I felt good before the ride; I felt good after the ride.  I feel good talking about the ride.

Two miles per hour.  Your days are numbered.

Whiplash

On the group ride Wednesday night, there were a few times when the group was riding fast (~27mph) in a double line, with a rotating paceline.  In two of the instances, I was doing everything I could to pull to the front and move over to keep the paceline going…such that I burned out basically as soon as I got over to the side.  This resulted in my being unable to maintain the pace and hang on the wheel of the rider who was just passing me, so I blew up the peloton and created a gap in front of myself as the rest of the riders in the front group went around me.
After the ride, Lenny told me that this phenomenon is called “whiplash.”
Whiplash sucks.
I get to certain points in the ride, and I have to decide if I’m going to stay with the lead group by sucking wheel, or if I’m going to pull my weight and risk blowing up.  To date, I choose to pull my weight, and this does result in me blowing up (at least once per ride).  When I say “blowing up”, I don’t mean pulling over and puking, or stopping…I just mean losing the wheel in front of me.  I don’t know which is a better approach…but I feel like sucking wheel is not an honest approach to the ride.  When I’m blowing up, I feel like I’m running out of legs.  I’ll be breathing hard, certainly, but I don’t feel like I’m running out of cardio.  I just feel like I’m running out of leg strength.
When I blow up, I feel like I’m running at some level well in excess of what I can sustain (say 12 on a scale of 1-10).  It’s not than I have to drop down to a 5 thereafter…I can drop down to a 9-10 and keep going.  In some ways, that’s more frustrating than completely blowing up, because I lose the wheel, but then watch the group just slooooowwwwwwly pull away.
I don’t think there’s a different tactical approach to take, so I’ll keep plugging away at this issue and keep working on building up the ability to hang.  Until then, I’m wearing a neck brace on the rides.

The Heartbreak of the Col de Toll on the Alp D’Kalb

Wednesday night was the hammer ride, and quite a race it was.

As it happened, the ride came down to a bold attack on the Col de Toll–the longest, most heartbreaking climb on the lead up to the Alp D’Kalb.  (the Alp D’Kalb is the biggest mount on the standard group ride route; second place falls to the Platte d’Flatte).  As the peloton crossed Perry Road, the pace picked up and the peloton thinned out into a long, single column of riders.  Without warning, the Unicorn attacked, pulling past the pack in a whir of spinning pedals and leaping up the road.

Legs were burning, hearts were pounding, and Grizzly Adams pushed up the pace.  It was too much for the peloton, and riders were ejected out the back like so much detritus.  I held on for as long as I could, and was then dropped unceremoniously.

The peloton has gotten incredibly fast this year…and I’m enjoying the challenge.