The bulk of this weekend was spent getting my bike prepared for Trans Iowa. This will be my third attempt at this race and each time I've built on past experiences to fine tune it. Since I tend to geek out about other folk's setups leading up to a big race, I'd like to take some time to share mine and explain why I do what I do. In this post I'll be covering bike, storage and contingencies. Later this week I'll cover food, clothing and other details.
This year, as I have in my other two attempts, I'll be rolling on my Surly Cross Check. I recently switched my wheels to a set of Ultegra road tubeless wheels to save a chunk of weight and allow for an easier conversion to tubeless. I have the rear set up tubeless with a Kenda Happy Medium that I had sitting around the garage. I used the tire briefly last year and switched to Clement MSO's after Almanzo, so it hasn't seen much use and is fairly fresh. The front is a Clement LAS that I tried to get set up tubeless, but it didn't take. I finally gave in and threw a tube in it today. I've probably lost a little bit of wheel strength moving to these wheels, but then my previous wheelset was overbuilt and pretty heavy. Plus, the Ultegra wheelset uses straight pull spokes so if I break one on the drive side I can replace it in the field. I can't do that with my other wheelset. The down side is I had to special order replacement spokes and nipples. They should still be here before Trans Iowa though.
For storage I'll be using a Revelate Viscacha seat bag and a Revelate Gas Tank. I tried the Revelate Jerry Can as well, but my legs rubbed on it too much so I removed it. The seat bag will house my spare clothing, tools, extra food and water bottles, and other miscellaneous goods. This eliminates the need for a Camelback, which for me is a big deal. It's lighter, can carry more (though I'll keep it minimal) and most importantly gets the weight off my back and on the bike. The Gas Tank will be used for food storage and probably nothing else. For water I've got two frame mounted bottle cages and I've added two more bottle cages to the handlebars. One of these will be dedicated to a trail mix that I'll be keeping in a water bottle.
One thing I won't be using this year is a frame bag. The last two years I've used a Revelate Tangle bag, but I'm skipping it so that I can shoulder my bike for the B road hike-a-bikes. Previously I'd sling it across my back, which worked well, but it's awkward getting it up there when I'm fresh and mighty tough when fatigued.
For navigational duties I'll be using a Garmin eTrex GPS in data logging mode only. GPS mapping will get you DQ'ed in this event, but supposedly can be used in bike computer mode (gonna verify this). In the past I used a Garmin Edge 500 in conjunction with a regular bike computer due to the limited battery life of the Edge and inability to charge while running. The eTrex takes care of this though since it runs off of AA batteries and has a longer battery life. Additionally, it doesn't reset your current data when you swap out the batteries. Usually it's mounted to my stem, but I moved it to an aerobar computer mount located on the handlebars so that I can place my cues over the stem.
Shifters are Retroshifts set up 1x9 with a 9 speed barcon shifter. I love this setup since it's damn near bulletproof and easy to service. Regular brifters are just too much of a liability for me to ever use on a dedicated gravel rig again. Bonus, they're lighter, cheaper and can be set to friction shift on the fly if your shifting goes to hell because you tried to ride that muddy B road. Handlebars have been double wrapped for comfort and bottles are held in place with velcro. Still need to tweak the bottle retention to make them easier to access on the fly though. Finally, after experimenting with my stem an inch lower I moved it back up 3/4" to take some strain off my lower back.
Lighting and Visibility:
Lighting will be handled by two Cygolite Milion headlights. One goes on the helmet and the other gets mounted to the fork leg. The fork mounting is key for me since the angle of the light is such that it highlights the features of the road in a way that helmet and handlebar mounts don't. The run time for each light is 7-8 hours on low (100 lumens) and the batteries can be swapped on the fly if you have them accessible. The batteries are about the size of a roll of pennies, so they're easy to pack away and not very heavy. On the rear, I have a typical red blinkie mounted to the left seat stay and LEDs in each handle bar end. Finally, for added visibility I have white reflective tape wrapped around two places on each seat stay and in one place on each fork leg. This is something I picked up from my friend Robb and later reinforced by Charles.
I've had my share of road and trail mishaps, and assisted others with plenty more. As a result, I always try to think ahead to what could possibly go wrong on a ride and plan for it. Part of that plan is to build spare parts and repair materials into my bike if I can. Here's a couple examples:
- My Cross Check has a number of unused rack and fender mounts that I like to stick extra bolts of various lengths into. Even though I Loctite nearly everything that threads onto my bike, things can still come loose. Added tip: Make sure a couple of those spare bolts are cleat bolts.
- This is new for this race, but I used double sided Velcro strapping for my chainstay protector. This could just end up getting crudded up with dirt and mud, but worst case it's still a chainstay protector. I secured the ends with electrical tape and folded the ends over on themselves so it's easier to peel if I need to remove it.
- I like to attach a few safety pins to various straps on my bags. Once upon a time I was mountain biking and came across a guy a few miles out from the trail head walking his bike. He'd hit a rock and suffered a 3" gash on his sidewall. The gash was too big to boot and I ruined a tube trying to air it up, so after a few trial and error attempts to get him rolling we ended up stuffing his tire with field grass to get him out. If I'd had safety pins, we may have been able to close up the gash enough to boot it. In any case, the hula-skirt-wheel approach does work in a pinch, as we found out, so put that in your back pocket for later use.
- The handlebar bottle mounts are extruded aluminum and I had to screw them down pretty tight to keep them from moving. This makes me a little nervous, so I'll be placing a loose zip tie through them to tie them together. If one breaks, that should keep it out of my wheel. They'll probably be fine, but I could use the peace of mind.
- Since I won't be using a frame bag, I'll likely attach my spare spokes to the frame using Velcro ties. If that doesn't hold them well enough, I'll switch to electrical tape.
- I keep my bike pump attached to the fork leg, using one of the rack mounts and a zip tie to hold it in place. If you do this, put some electrical tape underneath it to prevent it from rubbing on your fork leg. You may also want to consider placing your pump in a gallon size ziplock before strapping it in to protect it (credit to Davie Gie for that idea).
- The handlebar mounted bottles and double wrapped bar tape make for a decent set of makeshift aero bars.
- Rear cassette has been switched from an 11-34 to an 11-32. I didn't like the spacing on the 11-34 so it was worth it to ditch a couple teeth in order to jump from 11 to 12 instead of 11 to 13. It'll make some of the hills tougher, but still worth it overall. Front ring is a 38.
- Carbon seatpost was swapped for an aluminum for added peace of mind. Only paid a 50 gram weight penalty to do so and since I noticed a crack in the carbon post after I removed it I'm glad I took the time to do it.
That about covers it for the bike. Later this week: Gear and nutrition.