What Not to Do

Matt Acker’s endurance gravel experience will be invaluable to many of you who haven’t raced many (or any!) monster one-day races. He’s a great example of what to do. When he returns from his Baja adventure, he’ll post more advice via blog and Facebook. As a first-year bike racer, I’m a good example of what NOT to do in many cases. I’ve raced bikes as part of 24-hour adventure races for 12 years so at least I know how to suffer and finish, but some finishes were ugly. While Matt’s away, here are some lessons I learned.

The weather was so bad that some racers resorted to trash bags to stave off hypothermia. Photo credit: Rob Meendering Photography.

Watch the radar. Dress appropriately. I sat at the starting line of the world’s largest gravel bike race, the Barry-Roubaix, a super fun, fast 36-miler in Barry County, MI, with a base layer and fairly robust, water-resistant jacket. The rain stopped. It was 40 degrees. I was warm already. I figured the rain was done so I flew to my car and changed into a lightweight windbreaker. All hell broke loose at mile 10 which I would have realized had I checked the radar before the race. Heavy, cold rain fell on us poor souls the rest of the race. Sorry to remind those of you who did the race! I spent the next 26 miles in a near-hypothermic state but finished fortunately. A great memory but a real sufferfest.

For the Coast to Coast, make sure on May 11 and early May 12 that you look at weather reports and hour-by-hour forecasts for the day (and night). Dress for those first 50 miles, knowing you can switch gear if you decide to have your crew meet you at the first checkpoint. We’ll be at a high school in Beaverton or Gladwin so you’ll have a warm place to change clothes, get water (or hot chocolate!), use the bathroom.

Test early, test often. I wore knee warmers and lobster gloves (two compartments for fingers for warmth) for the Barry-Roubaix without more than one or two trial rides. The knee warmers were too large and fell down to my calves where they were of no use. The lobster gloves got soaked and were heavy. They added no warmth, only weight. This is a good reminder to ride OUTSIDE in the early spring so you can test your clothing. Keep a gear/weather diary and record what clothing worked well in what conditions. Ask experienced riders for tips. Make sure you fill in gaps of clothing before May so you have time to test on multiple rides in multiple conditions before the race. If I had to do it over again, I would wear waterproof gloves with hand warmers as needed and knickers or full length tights.

A Marquette area race isn’t complete without its orange iron ore mud on your face.

Never Tire of Tires. Many of you have asked about tires for Coast to Coast. In my second race of the year, I went up to Ore to Shore with Bontrager XR0s, “an ultra-lightweight XC race tire with low rolling resistance, engineered for maximum speed over hardpacked dirt.” I hadn’t done Ore to Shore (or ANY mountain bike race) since 2000. My XR0s performed really well at Barry-Roubaix in nasty conditions (albeit gravel roads) and wasn’t Ore to Shore just one step more difficult than gravel? I arrived and realized that with the recent rains in the Marquette area, those tires would be worthless. Even without those rains, those tires were a poor choice. I swapped my front to a Schwalbe Racing Ralph at a Marquette bike shop and that saved the day. The BR0 on the back slid around like a drunk otter but didn’t hurt me too bad. Matt gives his tire recommendations in a previous blog post. Ask your local bike shop as well. (edited 2/25/18) You CANNOT swap out wheels or a new bike at checkpoints.

A particularly gnarly section on the Marji Gesick course.

Get in the Right Gear. In a difficult one-day race like C2C, pay attention to all of your gear, not just your bike. Debating about replacing a key piece of gear on your bike that’s several years old? Might not be a bad time to do it. Take lighting which you should bring to the start of the race (rear light mandatory throughout the race; front light will be a starting time decision) and many will need as you finish. My “A” race for the year was the Marji Gesick 100, considered by many including the winner Jeremiah Bishop (Matt was second) as the hardest one-day mountain bike race in the U.S. I tested my helmet light and handlebar light in the days before the race. 8 hours for helmet and 30+ for handlebar. No problem. And then we experienced the hottest, most humid day in the Marquette-Ispheming area EVER recorded for that day, resulting in an ungodly 70% DNF. Both lights failed within two hours. Fortunately I had a small handlebar light I put in my pack in case the start of the race was dark. It held on for 7 hours of technical night riding and I was able to finish in 19.5 hours (after eight minor crashes/falls; I need to work on my technical skills!). Pay attention to the small things. Test early, test often in various conditions as I mentioned above. Bring back-up gear for critical functions and safety, especially lights and batteries.

MacGyver never went anywhere without duct tape and other “tools.”

MacGyver It. You’ve probably heard of the TV show MacGyver, even if you are younger, in which the protagonist creates solutions with the most unlikely of items. I wish I had learned from the show and brought some duct tape to the Iceman Cometh race, a 29-mile cross-country race from Kalkaska to Traverse City, MI and the largest single-day mountain bike race in the U.S. With about 10K to go, my pedal broke off. I was left with the pedal spindle to try to push against. Some duct tape or a long zip tie may have given my foot just enough stability on that spindle for a somewhat efficient spin. Instead I had about 50% of normal pedal power for the last 10K.

Duct tape or zip ties may have made pedaling easier.

In Coast to Coast, you can get help from your support crew at just the three official checkpoints, about 50 miles apart. You may need to MacGyver a fix to get you to a checkpoint where you can replace parts (everything but the frame is allowed). You MAY get help from other racers or from random general public people, but bring MacGyver items even if you need help with the fix.

Here’s the equipment Matt lists on his blog for the Marji Gesick that likely would apply to C2C:

Tire boot
Tire lever
CO2 inflator and 25g cartridge
Compact pump
Chain tool
Quick link
Multi-tool with a tool for every fastener on the bike
A couple feet of duct tape, zip ties

More from Matt in the months ahead on bike fix gear to carry along with recommendations for what to do and what NOT to do in all areas of race and rig prep and in-race tips as well.