I participated in Sjælsø Rundt last year and again this year. It is a 125km road race thorough Northern Sjælland with some nice country side scenery. The race is for everyone, young and old, pro, amateur, anything. There will be carbon wheels just as well as bicycle baskets. I am really impressed at some of the people who choose to take this ride - a pensioner on a Schwinn completing 125km earns my respect that is for sure.
Anyway, last year I raced on my daily commuter bike. A rather old aluminium mountain bike fitted with slick tyres. I rode with two colleagues and we mostly rode together. Both my colleagues were on proper road bikes. At this time, I had never owned a real road bike and I did wonder how much of a benefit it would really be. My observation during the race was, that if I was riding on the wheel of my colleague down hill, he could freewheel and I would still have to pedal to keep up, even though being on his wheel gave a huge aerodynamic advantage. So, my little conclusion based on last years race, was, that a road bike is probably quite a bit faster than an old mountain bike fitted with slicks. Ok so we all knew that.
Enter this year... It was time for a new bike. A road bike. A colleague upgraded from his aluminium racer to a new Boardman Team Carbon. What a truly nice bike at a fantastic price! Then another colleage bought the same bike. I was seriously considering that bike and could not find anything nearly as nice around that price point. Still, deep down inside I had this feeling that I wanted something slightly different. Something special. Now, I don't race for a living and my commuter bike takes me to and from the office, so in all honesty buying a road bike is mostly something I do for the pleasure of riding it. The trick then, must be to find the bike with the most pleasure for the money.
In my view, time trial bikes are some of the most beautiful two-wheeled creations ever to ride the roads. And the idea - to put the rider in a position to minimize drag, when drag is pretty much the only factor that is limiting your speed (well that and traffic), accomplishing that while building something so beautiful that is quite an accomplishment. So I was sold on the idea of getting a TT bike. Sure, there are many races where you cannot participate on a TT bike, and I have heard about club training rides where people are hostile towards TT bikes (apparently because if you ride in the aero bar while on someones wheel, it is unsafe - well, d'oh, if you ride with your eyes closed that is unsafe too). Also it might require a bit more time for maintenance because of the way the brakes are embedded in the frame. There are some good arguments against getting a TT bike. But then again, someone told me: "In the land of reason, the sky is grey and the birds do not sing".
I was lucky to stumble across a 4 hour window where Wiggle had a 20% discount on all Boardman bikes, and like the Team Carbon that my colleagues got, the Air TT that I had set my eyes on, was already at a very attractive price (compared to all other carbon TT bikes that I could find in Denmark and abroad). I went for the 9.2 over the 9.0 because it has a better wheelset - the crank and groupset is better too. And it is grey rather than red. The 9.4 and above were simply too much money for something that is just "serious fun".
This thing is a beauty. Well, I cannot compare it to other road bikes, really, because I have not had any. But this is a fast bike. Riding in top gear at a comfortable 85rpm, it goes 50km/h. This is a pretty good gearing for the fairly flat roads that I usually ride - I probably couldn't push a higher gear anyway. It took a few hours getting used to riding in the aero bars. It also took a bit of getting used to, to ride "head first" without being able to reach the brakes quickly. Of course, if you ride in traffic or near other people, you very simply do not ride in the aero bars. Simple as that.
Back to the race! I participated again this year, but this time on a proper road bike. I finished in 4 hours 18 minutes, which was not impressive but definitely satisfactory for me. I had a good number of stops due to two punctures (the latter had me fooled and cost me four stops). In the race there is a hill sprint competition as well. In this sprint, I gave it all that I had. It is about 1km of straight flat road that turns into a fairly steep hill at some point - the timing stops at the top of the hill. This time, I got a proper result. Out of 3106 riders (male adult class) I came in at number 5. Yep, five. And actually, I share the 1:41 time with number 3 and 4 (but I guess there are some sub seconds that do not show). I keep a copy of the results. Anyway, for me this is fantastic - and unexpected. What a nice surprise.
So anyway... I am very happy with my new road bike. It is a joy to ride, it is fast, and in my view it is absolutely beautiful. I think the Boardman bikes were almost unreasonably (low) priced at the time when I bought mine. This has since been corrected - the price is up a good 60% since my purchase. Still, the way I see it, these are still good bikes at a very good price.
I signed up for the Stamina12 race some time ago, wanting to try my luck at a solo 12h race. Due to various circumstances (family, job, selling house, lots of excuses) I did not actually train for this though. I had my training well thought out, but it just never materialized. A month before the race I seriously considered just selling my entry because I was so ill prepared, but in the end I decided to give it my best shot.
Well so I did, this saturday. I ended up number 68 out of 113 which, considering that I called it quits after 6.5 hours on the track, is not as absolutely terrible as I feared it would be.
So why did I chicken out early? Especially my upper body was simply "spent" and I started making really silly mistakes and taking falls where I should be perfectly able to ride safely. There were other factors (which I will get back to), but my own safety was the primary concern. I do not race for a living, I race because I like to.
I have raced before, just never a 12h solo. In the past, my main trouble has been with the bike, not with the body. This time I was better prepared than ever before - on the mechanical side - and I believe that my bike could have made it through the full race.
Here is a list of things that helped and stuff that I just got right:
- Hydration. I rode with two 750ml bottles on the bike, one with High5 4:1 Citrus and one with Summer Berries. This worked well as each lap took about 50 minutes, so I needed slightly more than one bottle of drink. I stayed hydrated the whole time (after about 2 hours I had one lap where I drank almost two bottles in less than 1 hour. It felt like I was not well hydrated, but after drinking extra, all went back to normal and I was fine).
- Clothes. I brought plenty. Shorts, shirts, anything. It was so good to be able to adjust after the first few laps. I even packed an extra pair of bike shoes, just in case I would lose the cleats off of the first pair.
- Brakes. The bike had almost new brake pads front and rear, but after six hours most of the rear wheel brake pad was gone so I would probably have needed to put on new pads, had I continued much futher. I had brought two sets of extra pads and the necessary tools so this would have been no problem at all.
- Power. Since I run my Edge 800 with backlight always-on, it goes through the battery a bit faster than the 15h claimed by Garmin. After 7 hours on the battery was down to about 10% but since I brought a fully charged "powermonkey", I could have charged the computer (while riding) over a couple of laps. This would have been no problem.
- Helosan. Or eight hour cream or vaseline or whatever you prefer to use to be able to continue to sit down and pedal. I brought it, I needed it after three hours and it absolutely saved the day. Some pain is ok and some pain isn't - this is one that is easily avoided.
- Glasses. To protect your eyes - always ride with glasses.
- Tools. For the first time ever, I raced without tools on the bike. Since a lap was less than 1h I figured that any adjustments or brake pad replacements etc. could be made in the pit. Since I run "flatless" (tubeless with sealant) a flat is very unlikely, so I chose to bet that I would not need tube, pump and tyre irons. The only "common" problem left is a broken chain - I chose to believe that this would be unlikely too. For this race, I was right on all accounts. I never needed a tool on the track and I was happy not to have to carry them around.
The following are issues I need to address next time:
- Train properly in advance. This should be obvious, but really, if I wanted to do better, I should have been in better shape.
- More diverse nutrition. I lived off of High5 "Citrus" and "Summer berries" 4:1, and switching between the two keeps me going for a long time while still feeling that the taste is ok. But after more than 6l of this stuff, I really wanted something else. Something milky or "soft" that does not upset the stomach too much. Maybe chocolate? I drank a "For Goodness Shakes" recovery drink (which contains milk powder) and it tasted absolutely fantastic at this time... Maybe I should just down one of those every four hours? I should bring coffee too - I really could have used a proper cup of coffee (not just nutrition with added caffeine).
- HRM. I train with an HRM strap every time and it works flawlessly. But after 1.5 hours in this race, the HRM transmitter gave up and I was left to my gut feeling at how hard I was pushing it. This was a setback as I really rely on the numbers when I know that I am pushing my limits. Things just feel differently in a race too, so having the numbers are fairly important to me in order to pace myself (keep the heart rate down - force myself to go slower than I intuitively would otherwise).
- Timing. I should stop the timer when in the pit and then I should use the "elapsed time" instead of the "time" field on the computer - that way, I would still see the elapsed race time when on the track, but when analyzing my laps post-race I would see the correct lap times instead of the lap+pit times.
- Chamois cream. Some people coat their shorts with this stuff before they ride. This is something I need to test, I think...
- Camelbak. I have a 3l (lobo) but I only just got it, have only ridden with it for a couple of hours, so I did not want to use it for the race. However, I did lose a bottle (without noticing) on a bumpy descent during one of the early laps and this would not have happened with a Camelbak of course. I need to figure out whether I want to ride with a Camelbak or continue with the one or two bottles on the frame (which have worked well for me so far).
- Pay attention all the time, not just most of it. I took a fall on a gravel road riding almost 40km/h very early on in the race, simply because I was not paying attention to where I was riding. It was a very stupid mistake which could and should have been avoided. I was lucky and got away with just cuts and bruises - but this race was in a forest and hitting a tree at that speed would not have been pretty.
The quick statistics of my race are:
|Ride time||About 6hr 30min|
|Vertical climb||About 1500m|
|Energy consumed||About 2000 kcal|
|Energy spent||About 3000 kcal|
|Placement||68 of 113|
For me this was a fantastic race. I would like to have done better (of course), but I gave it my best shot and I learned some valuable lessons. Next time I will do better.
About two years ago I lost patience with fixing flats during my training rides. I had at least one flat on every ride out, and some times much more. On a single four hour training session I once managed to use a full pack of patches and a spare tube, and I still ended up having to carry my bike to the metro to get home. This was too much - when I get a chance to ride, I want to spend my time riding.
The first solution to this problem that I tried, was adding a sealant. The first product I tried was the Schwalbe "Doc Blue" sealant. The idea is that you pour some of this liquid into your tubes and then ride as usual. When a thorn or nail or other object punctures your tire and inner tube, the sealant will seal the puncture and you will ideally never even notice that you had a flat. The sealant will work almost instantaneously, so the drop in tire pressure due to lost air will be insignificant.
This did not work well for me though. It "almost" worked - but it seemed that the object that punctured the tube would stay in the tire and continue working on the punctured tube so that the sealant would never effectively seal the puncture. During this process, the sealant would leak out of the inner tube and into space between the tyre and the tube. So, when I eventually ran out of air and had to fix the flat with a patch anyway, the tube would be soaked in sealant on the outside, and wiping the tube down to make the patch stick would just add to the inconvenience of having to fix the flat in the first place.
Using sealant seemed promising at this point, but clearly it did not work for me to just add it to the tube. I also did have a few "snakebite" punctures - due to running the rear tyre with low pressure and being careless when jumping obstacles. Of course the sealant could not fix those (typically these are 1cm long cuts in the tube). The solution to snakebites is to lose the tube - to run tubeless. Since it also seemed that the tube/tyre combination was what caused the sealant to be ineffective, I decided to give this a try. Since I am on a budget, I went for the cheap option; the first setup simply used regular non-UST tyres, Joe's no-flats rim strips inside my usual Mavic Cross Ride (non-UST) wheelset and the Joe's no-flats sealant.
This turned out to do the trick! Early on with this setup I experienced a puncture during a race; I noticed the "pfffft" sound of a flat on my front tyre and after two revolutions the sound was gone, the puncture sealed and I did not have to stop to inspect the tyre for thorns. There was one problem with this setup though; regular tyres are not meant for tubeless application so they generally have thin sidewalls that are not air tight. The sealant will solve this problem to some extent, but not completely. All in all, I never managed to get my set of Continental 2.2 Mountain King tyres to hold air between rides. They would hold the air fine during a ride (because the sealant would constantly be swirled around the inside of the tyre sealing any microscopic holes), but the next day they would be flat.
The solution to this problem was to simply buy real UST tyres. Tyres meant to be run without a tube. These generally hold their air - well, I have three tyres mounted on rims and two out of three hold their air. That last one loses air over a week or so. To me, this is perfectly acceptable. I have not had a single flat for two years on my mountain bike. This is absolutely fantastic - it means that when I get out to ride, I actually get to spend my time riding.
The major downside to running "flatless" (tubeless with sealant), that I have noticed, is: Limited availability of tyres - there are only very few models available in UST variants. If you are very picky about tyre choice, this may not be acceptable to you. Personally, I am perfectly happy running with a 2.2 UST Mountain King on the front, and having the choice between either a 2.2 UST Race King (for dry days) or a 2.4 UST Mountain King (for muddy days) on the rear.
Another downside would be that it is a lot more complicated to change a tyre. You do not want to change tyres on your rims just because the weather changed - you only want to change tyres when they are worn out. You need to dispose of old sealant, dismount the tyre from the rim strip (which will often be sealed tight) without damaging the rim strip, get the new tyre to mount cleanly to the rim strip, inflate the new tyre so that it seals against the rim and of course add new sealant. My solution to this mess is to simply have two rear wheels mounted with each their tyre, complete with brake disc, bike computer magnet and casette. So, when the weather changes, I change the complete rear wheel - this is slightly more expensive than having just one rear wheel, but it is very convenient and completely solves the problem with tyre changes.