I have in vain tried to pick up my road bike. It happens in spurts but I always go back to my gravel bikes. The Slender Fungus loves gravel. My wife loves to ride gravel. We routinely get lost with the wife in the backroads of Iowa. Me driving and her checking out the Gazzeeter. We are amazed when we find crazy hills. We stop to take pictures. We talk to the cows.
So, when I think of the rookies that are going to line up I just want to share this excitement. I would also like to share some knowledge. There is a lot to learn and a lot to experiment with being successful at finishing a long gravel event. Everyone is different so all my statements will not work for each rider. To start off you will have to excuse my grammar. English is not my primary language so read carefully.
1) The Bike.
I have ridden mostly cross bikes in all 6 events. Namely my Gunnar Crosshairs, my Black Mountain Cycles and my Salsa La Cruz Steel Disc Crossbike.
Not to be confused with the Ti La Cruz. I favor the cross bikes since they are lighter and more nimble. My La cruz disc bike felt like overkill and during TIV6 so much mud got into my brakes that my pads were gone in less than the first checkpoint. Cantilevers would have been a better option. Open them up, clean, close and keep riding. I do not use any carbon parts on my bike since I am 6'4" and 230lbs. I fear braking a carbon fork going downhill at 40mph. No thank you. I like to use fresh tires for the race but I still ride them a bit to make sure they are not defective. I use fresh tubes and new rim strips. I make sure all cables are good. Chain and cassette are fresh. I triple check all bolts to make sure they will not rattle off and give problems. I ride the bike a lot to make any position adjustment. I make sure I have a fresh battery in my computer and i have the calibration number memorized in case I throw it into set mode in the middle of now where. Wheels should be trued, and all pivoting points lubed. I do not use heavy lube on the chain since this creates chain suck. Your chain will be trashed after this event anyway. Tires should be wide enough to not beat you up and you should still have clearance in the frame. I have ridden 35mm tires but will opt for 40mm this time around. With the lack of snow the counties have spent their budget on new chunky gravel. Last year was endless miles of fresh gravel. Pedals should have lots of support and your cleats should be in good condition. Take a couple extra bolts in case you loose some. Shoes should be comfortable and I advise a MTB model over a road version. Sometimes I double tape for shock absorbency but wrapping your hand around a big fat bar can make your hands cramp. If you have smallish hands don't overwrap. Try to keep your bike as light as possible. If you carry your gear in frame pack your bikes gets heavy. If you carry it in a hydration pack your weight on your saddle gets worse. Figure out which way is better for you. A 23 lbs steel cross bike can easily become almost 40 lbs with too much junk, a couple large bottles,lights and all. Experiment, experiment, experiment. A heavy bike and endless climbing will kill your legs. I like 9 spd drivetrains since the spacing is wider between the cogs. The chains are wider and it also cheaper. I run a 26-36-46 on the crank with a 11x34 on the back. This ensures I can ride everthing. That is my opinion and it works for me. My partner used a 34x46 with 11x34. I bailed a couple times with the 26. Iowa is not flat.
I have used with success Dinotte Lights from the east coast. I use rechargeable Powerex batteries and those lights run on AA's. I have one mounted on the helmet and one on the bars. I have also experimented with a cheapo Nebo light that runs on AAA's. Led light technology is going crazy. Keep in mind that if you take a light with a rechargable pack you will have to carry it when it is done. Rear flashers, anything will do. Just keep in mind to position it somewhere where you don't blind and drive the person behind you into a crazy state. Make sure lights are secured and that they will not rattle off and give you problems.Many 31.8 bars have not much surface to mount stuff so make sure they stay put. You really don't need a million lumens to ride gravel at night. Keep in mind that there is no extraneous light to rob your lumens away. Many gravel racers have done well with the Princeton Tec Eos lights at 70 lumens. Try to run the same kind of batteries on your helmet and your bars so you don't have to carry two types.
Get used to eating junk food from Casey's and other gas stations. There is NO healthy food out there so don't expect Vegan,Organic,gluten free offerings. And also you cannot carry food for over 300 miles. Your bike would weigh a ton. Have some gels on you, some Nuun is good. But after a while your body will crave real food. Pizza, beef jerky, chips. Nuts are good. Eat bad food before going into the event so you don't have issues during the event. You don't need any stomach problems. Food is really heavy so you have to rely on what you find. If it is cold you will burn more calories and will need to eat more. The event is very demanding with wind and hills so you have to keep fueling the tank. If you don't eat you will die for sure. Keep hydrated. Plain water is not enough. That is why I suggest NUUN or other electrolyte stuff. Some people use Elete which has highly concentrated sodium. This helps in stopping cramps. Kinda have an idea of how many calories you are consuming. Drink and eat before getting thirsty and hungry.
A comfortable pair of shorts with a chamois that is not worn out or compressed.Then tights so I can regulate accordingly. I don't like leg warmers because I feel the elastic cuts my circulation. I also like the idea of knickers (like Ibex) with long socks. Then a wool undershirt, then a wool jersey and a vest. That seems to work the best for me. I use a Craft vest with a chest pocket for my camera or my mp3 player. I have a Wool jersey from Bianchi with front pockets. My shoulders cannot articulate to get stuff out of my back pockets. I carry a rain jacket in case it all goes to hell. I also carry a space blanket in case I have to hunker down if I crash and break a bone. I wear a balaclava to breath warm air since I have asthma. I also wear a cycling cap to keep the sun or rain off my face. Regular prescription glasses and gloves according to temps. I tried booties and toe covers but they get fouled up and lost in the first B road. Wear wool socks and baggies if you have to. Use chamois cream if you want to tell the tale. Best options are Brave Soldier (DBD approved.) Assos if you afford it. I haven't had good luck with Chamois Butter. Also Bag Balm from VErmont is good. Again this is what works for me. Results may vary. Don't forget any medicines you need. Some ibuprofen is not a bad idea. I bring ibuprofen and my inhaler.
5)Surviving out in the field
Being out in the field is no joke. One must be prepared for a lot of things. It is best to bunch up with other riders and ride in packs. Riding alone is intimidating and sometimes scary. In the dark your field of vision is limited to your lights. There are loose sections, Puck marks, chunky gravel, holes, and many more hazards. Don't over ride your lights and your abilities because if you get hurt you might be in trouble. Understand how to read your cue sheets. Don;t rely on tire tracks. Carry a small compass and a map to situate yourself in case you make a mistake. Read the wind and keep track where the sun is. Keep in contact and look ahead. Go to Google and understand how the mapping of Iowa works. Routinely Avenues go in a certain direction and Streets in another. Figure out how it works. Cell phone coverage can be spotty so don't rely on your gizmo to get you out of a jam. Trans Iowa is a long event so try to break it up in chunks. Everyone will be excited to start off and then the different levels of riders will form. Try to find riding partners that you can hang with. 10 mph average seems slow but you must factor in stopping, nature breaks, hills, walking, wind. 10 mph is not easy. The best thing to do is just keep moving. Don't get to Casey's and try to figure out what you want. Before Trans Iowa go to Casey's and study the layout. See what you might want. When you race, go in get your stuff, pay cash, and get out. Fill up bottles and get back on the bike. The longer you hang out the stiffer you get and the more time you lose. I might have mentioned dogs in the past posts but here it goes again. Most dogs are nice and just want to let you know you are in their territory. Keep an eye on them. If they seem aggresive and they are not letting up you are better getting off the bike and using the bike as a shield. I was once confronted by 2 aggresive dogs and I kept them at bay with my bike. Another rider arrived and between the two us we were able to make them go away. Your success at Trans Iowa will be dictated by how much work you do up to the event. We have been training since November. I plan to ride 600 miles in January, At least 800 in Feb, 1000 in march and then steady thru April. I will only taper for a week before the event. I try to eat healthy, stay healthy and not gain weight. I think about equipment and nutrition while I train. This is a good time to figure out stuff. I also load up my bike so when I go to the event I am not shocked by the weight of my machine. I try to carry as little as possible but it is truly hard. In the next post I will make a list. Make sure to have some support crew in case you have to bail. I like to carry a lighter or matches in case I have to build a fire until helps arrives. Watch for storms, specially lightning. TIV6 saw some crazy storms early morning. Lots of riders were hiding in the ditches.
6) Mind Games
Trans Iowa is a huge event and riders spend countless hours preparing and stressing about it. It is with no surprise that many of us arrive to the event very well prepared physically. Mentally is where we fail. The "Demons" start to crawl into ones head. "I don't think I can do this". "What if I am left alone in the dark?" "My body hurts too much". So a lot of this is the subconscious trying to bail you out from finishing the event. It is the easy way out despite you riding your ass off for the past 6 months. It is a self deprocating attitude that has seen many riders not finish. Including Me. You see going on rides around your neighborhood and around familiar territory is easy. Then you go to Iowa and you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. This sets off the Mind Games. Trans Iowa is such a monumental task that we crumble right away. We almost fear to continue into the "unknown". So, doing diverse styles of training is what it takes. Do things out of the norm. Feel good about what you are doing. Believe in yourself. Stay positive and focused. My old training partner Hellmutt and I would start rides at midnight and ride until sunrise. We rode on gravel without lights to see how it would be in case our lights failed. We walked with our bikes on shoulders through plowed corn fields to mimic walking B Roads. You have to train to be Comfortable and at ease out in the field. You have to control your mind and relax. It is a long event and it has to be done in sections. I have made tons of mistakes too long to list. I share my thoughts and ideas to bring some stuff out there. I think the most difficult part of Trans Iowa is the mental aspect. When it is windy, rainy, miserable you need to get out there. Don't expect to come to the event for it to be the first time you wake up at 2 am to go riding at 4 am. Do this before Trans Iowa to see how it feels. Go to bed with a full bladder on a Saturday night. Wake up at 2:30 am, get ready, and be out the door with your lights. How does it feel? Is it a shock to your body? This is how it is going to feel when you line up at 4 am in Grinnell, Iowa. There is no zone 3 or watts or any charts. This is real riding, real time!
Conclusion of this post
|The amazing Black Mountain Cycles|
|Ready for action|
|The Slender Fungus.|
|Muddy B road. Carry your bikes and keep them clean.|
|Gumby and Cookie. My friends for life.|
|The best support crew. Gumby and TJ. Trans Iowa loved them.|
President, Slender Fungus Cycling Association.