Saturday, February 24, 2018

Plus Size

No, I am not referring to garments for larger folk here. I mean + size mountain bike tyres. 

Fat bottom girl....... 3.0 inch

Plus (+) size tyres are in the 2.8 to 3.0 inch width range (“normal” is 2.0 to 2.4) and are a relatively new “standard” in the mtb industry. The idea is to allow tyres to be run at low pressure (10-15 psi) to give superglue-like grip and have more flex to help avoid punctures. I joined the + size crowd late last year to see what the fuss was about and have been enjoying the ridiculous grip that 3 inch tyres give. The down side is that there is a lot of rubber in a + size tyre. That mass is harder to spin up to speed and also makes it harder to change direction.

How this relates to me and my AZTR750 attempt is that I really don't need to make this race any harder than it needs to be (you could argue that using a + size 27.5 bike instead of a "normal" 29er is already enough of a handicap).

Typical 29er with 2.1 or 2.2 tyres

To this end, I have been hunting for tyre recommendations from Arizona locals on the various forums. I have learnt plenty about what people think will and will not work, tyre wise, but some of the recommended tyres aren't available Down Under.

As a result, I have used some gut instinct, some blind faith and a dash of test pilot to make the leap to purchase a couple of Maxxis 2.8 tyres. I have gone for a Rekon with EXO (sidewall protection) for the front and an Ikon, also with EXO for the rear.

My reasoning? Well, the "go to" tyre for 29 inch wheels in this race is the Maxxis Ardent, as it is tough enough to withstand the AZ desert. You can't get an Ardent in a + size, so the closest tyre I can see is the Recon. It has a waaaay more aggressive tread than I need with + size tyres but that tread will hopefully help with puncture protection. I will, unfortunately, also slow me down with a bit of extra rolling resistance.

For the rear I have, somewhat controversially, gone with an Ikon.
Yes, because Ikons are a bit lightweight in construction in their skinnier incarnation. I used an Ikon 2.2 on the rear of my Tour Divide bike because I didn't need that much grip, instead preferring less rolling resistance in that 4500km gravel grind. With the + size version though, that relative lack of grip isn't as pronounced because there is simply way more rubber on the trail. The real test will be to see how resilient to cuts and punctures it will be as the AZT is notoriously brutal on tyres, especially sidewalls and this is where the skinny Ikon is a bit weak. The sidewalls "feel" quite thick with Maxxis's added EXO sidewall protection even though the tyre is 120tpi (threads per inch) construction. I would have preferred both tyres to be the tougher 60tpi construction but this is where there is some compromise in + size tyres. Going too strong in the casing adds weight. Weight equals slower speed - as in forward motion and in steering feel.
Both are bad, m'kay?

You can see from the photos below how much weight I have shaved off the rotating mass just with the new 2.8 tyres, versus the 3.0s I have been running.

WTB Bridger 3.0 that I have been running on the front.

Maxxis Rekon 2.8 that will replace the Bridger - 297grams saved (10.5 oz)!

Maxxis Chronicle 3.0 (60tpi) that I have been running on the rear.

Maxxis Ikon 2.8 that will adorn the rear - 227g (8 oz) saving!!

Only time will tell if I have chosen wisely. + size tyres aren't cheap, so I will be sticking by my choice unless I can prove them to be unworthy over the next 4 weeks prior to the race. This means getting the Beast loaded up and hammering it across some rocky, unforgiving trails. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we don't have the cacti problem so I can't simulate that particular issue in trying to expose any weakness. While a 524g (1.15 lb) saving is significant, it is worthless if the tyres let me down on day one in the Canelos.

Not rocky, nor unforgiving - but it was on the way to find rocky and unforgiving!

Fingers crossed I have chosen wisely.....................or that I ride lucky...........!
I will be happy to take either.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tick Tock

Week 5. 


That makes it Week 6 tomorrow!

That makes it almost half way through the training for the Arizona Trail Race.......

Normally I would be sweating bullets about how much I still have to do. But this time around I am (somewhat) calmly working my way through a long list of things to organise/buy/beg/borrow or steal. 

What did Week 5 look like? Well, from a training point of view it consisted of some reasonable demanding rides, some gym work and a little relaxation.

It didn't go exactly to plan as life always gets in the way but I am pretty happy with how little red there is in that list. With the "Optional Recovery Ride" on Friday, I took the option of resting as I am an old fart and need more recovery time than someone half my age. The red on Sunday wasn't too bad as I still got a few hours on the bike, just not the 6 hours requested.

Speaking of time on the bike, I finally loaded the bike up with most of the gear I will be taking with me. I have had a Revelate Sweet Roll in the cupboard since late 2015 and it finally made an appearance. I must say, it is a much sturdier fit on the handlebars than the Revelate Harness that I have used previously. To be fair to the Harness, they have slightly different applications but I was impressed, none the less.

So, while I couldn't do my planned overnight trip I was able to get out for 6 hours on Saturday with an almost fully loaded bike. I had been slightly dreading hitting the singletrack with a ponderous bikepacking rig as my previous experiences on singletrack with my Tour Divide bike, the Muru BNT, were anything but pleasant.

I needn't have worried though! While the Cannondale "Beast Of The East" wouldn't rate on anyone's radar for a bikepacking rig, I am very pleased to say that it handled exceptionally well on the singletrack! Whew!! This is extremely important as the AZTR is billed as the World's Longest Singletrack Race. To have a pig of a bike just wouldn't do.

In part, I think the bike still handled well because I am trying to keep the weight right down. I will do this by taking the bare minimum equipment that I think I can get away with.

Here is a run down on what I loaded onto it (watch for a full gear list just prior to the race).
The seat bag
My Kathmandu down sleeping bag, silk bag liner and Sol Escape bivy.

The frame bag
Top Compartment - 3 litre(100 oz) water bladder(full), shock pump (as this was a setup ride-might not take this to the US)
Bottom Compartment - various tools, tubes and spares ala my Tour Divide spares kit.

The Gas Tank
an Anker 13 000 m/Ah cache battery, Lezyne Superdrive light and several energy bars. (I will swap this bag for my larger Boulder Bikepacking bag once my dyno hub front wheel is built up)

One contained a drink bottle, the other my old GoPro 2 on a small Gorilla Pod .

North Face down jacket, merino undershirt and long-johns, Mountainsmith Strapettes, Louis Garneau lightweight rain jacket.

2 litre(66oz) bladder, Sawyer water filter, pump, tube, CO2 cannisters, Leatherman and some cash.

I will be deliberately keeping the handlebar bag light so as to aid in the handling of the bike in singletrack. I am hoping this will lower my upper body fatigue levels during the race, as it will be easier to lift the front over trail obstacles and make the bike easier to steer in general. 

The bike felt so good early on that I tackled one of the more technical trails here in Daisy Hill, Nirvana, straight up! While I did miss not being able to use the dropper post due to the seat bag and had to readjust my "style", the rig felt good!
As I said above, I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the bike handles in the single track. So much so that I feel that I was near my normal unladen pace by the end of the ride(on downhill sections of course!)

I looped around the trails in our area. With 6 hours to rack up there was no point avoiding the tough stuff so I added the ever unpopular Eastern Escarpment into my ride. The cunning plan here was to get some Hike A Bike (HAB) time in my legs and with it's steep grades, the Eastern Escarpment is the place to go.

I did notice some tightness in my calves as I pushed up the hill so I really need to incorporate much more pushing and hiking uphill....soon.

I mentioned the GoPro earlier. While I haven't really used the thing in a few years (like most owners I would hazard a guess?) I took it along today to test how much of a time suck it might be. You see, when I did the Tour Divide I wanted to have a red hot crack at a personal best time as I figured I wasn't going back to try again. This meant that while I took about 14 000 photos, I missed the opportunity to get some good video of the experience. While I am in two minds about how I will ride the AZTR - race it all out or just fast tour it - I am thinking I wouldn't mind getting some quality video and action photos either way, not just a whole bunch of selfies. This of course will involve carrying a GoPro and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, charging batteries and setting it up/picking it up. Once in a sleep deprived, fatigued state this little "extra" chore can become a real pain in the arse so I thought I would do a little testing on how fast I can set up and recover the camera.

It actually isn't too much of a hassle in the slower terrain but I imagine it will be hard to stop for a shot if I am hauling arse (if that ever really happens on the AZT). I will practice some more and if all goes well, a newer model GoPro might be on the shopping list.

By mid afternoon it was time for a drinks break. I get a craving for chocolate or coffee milk when I am hot and tired. I remember chugging several choccy milks in Silver City on the second last day of the TD. I am not sure this is the best use of my stomach volume from a maximum energy intake perspective but damn, they taste good!

Entering Bayview Conservation park I met up with a mate, Jon and his son Gus who were out for a pedal. 


I followed them around and trying to stick to my training schedule, didn't let them rest much at each trailhead......I might not be welcome back in future as a result!

Our only stop!

We rode a good portion of the trails and were pleasantly surprised to see some old favourites had been given some love by Brad's trailcare group.

iO Trail

The best was to come last, with a whole new 3.3km(2mi) long singletrack called Whispering Woods just opened, opposite the exit of IO trail. This was not only fun but functional, as it provided a missing loop that got us close to our regular bail out point from Bayview. Nice work Redlands City Council!

It began to rain lightly as I said goodbye to Jon and Gus. This was a good thing as it had been in the low 30's all day and the cool down, while it didn't last long, was appreciated. Arriving at home I had completed 70km(44mi) with 1100m(3600ft) climbing.
Importantly, I didn't feel too flogged!
Dirty, yes. Flogged, no!

I managed to back this up with 2 hours of HAB training the next day and the legs felt pretty good. I would say the physical training is progressing as well as can be expected. I just need to concentrate on my weakness, the logistical and route planning. This is also being chipped away at with help from the excellent Arizona Trail Association website, various blogs and good 'ol Google maps.

So, as Week 6 rolls around I find myself with a LOT of preparation still to go but it feels well in hand. The dyno hub is being laced into the front wheel by Troy as I type (I hope!) and I have a fork to hold that wheel, once it is built. My power needs will soon be met!

I even booked my flights to the US last night.

I still have 6 weeks to go...........

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Plodding Away

That is what I have been doing these last few weeks. Just plodding away, trying to follow my 10 Day Bikepacking Race plan from coach Linda. It worked well for the Tour Divide in 2015 and if I follow it as closely as I can (with a few modifications for carrying a bike!) I should be in a good place come April 5th.

I have sort of settled on taking my Cannondale Beast of the East for the race. I really don't want to buy another bike and I guess this will do the job. Especially now that I have carbon wheels on it and soon to come 2.8 width tyres (down from the 3.0 currently on it) I feel it will be a better rolling option. Still not as quick as a standard 29" 2.2/2.4 wide equipped mtb but close enough........

Another leg on the front and a dynamo hub in between and I'm set!

Now , where was I? Ah, yes, training.
To this end I have ventured back to an old favourite of many endurance riders, Brisbane Forest Park (or D'Aguilar Forest as it is known these days). 

It never looks as steep in a photo, especially a pano.

My first foray was on one of the hottest days we have had this year! It got up to 38C (100F) which is very hot for Brisbane. We normally only see low 30s, which with the humidity of the sub-tropics is plenty enough thank-you-very-much! As a result of the heat (and going too hard the day before) I struggled my way around the 50km loop I set for myself. I chose some of the steepest trails in there so that I could practice pushing my bike. Well, normally I can ride all of these climbs but that day I was definitely pushing on almost all of them while the Cicadas almost sent me mad/deaf with their high pitched screeching. I include a small snippet of their "song" for your hearing pleasure......turn your speakers up LOUD for the full experience as these things are easily over 100 decibels in the bush when they are in their tens of thousands!

After another week at work where I squeezed my training around life I decided to head out again for Round 2 of my BFP loop. I was really pleased to see that I felt waaay stronger and could have ridden all of the stupidly steep climbs. I had to force myself to get off the bike and push because that IS part of the training after all!

I was also rocking my new Camelbak Octane hydration pack. It is a lumbar model with the bladder being down low, across your hips. I hate wearing a backpack these days as it makes it very difficult to regulate your body temperature but I must say, the Octane sits there nicely and the relatively small "pack" section of the backpack allows plenty of air to get at your back, keeping you much cooler than traditional hydration packs with the bladder mid back. I chose this smaller version so that I won't/can't load it up with too much crap during the race. It will also form part of my bike portage system for the Grand Canyon crossing when it is combined with my Mountainsmith Strapetts. I just need to figure out how to actually do that......

Octane win.

On other fronts I have renewed the insoles in my mtb shoes as I found for the TD in 2015 that I needed a small "dome" attached to the insole to help spread my metatarsals and stop nerve pinching that feels like a hot foot after a while. They worked perfectly in 2015 so I thought I had better get onto that again so as to eliminate one possible cause of body failure.

I also jagged a trip to New Zealand during the week, where we have all of our heavy maintenance conducted. 

Empty 737.

I didn't get locked up on arrival so I guess there were no outstanding speeding fines from our 2014 motorcycle trip......
While the ferry was a bit of fun, the training ride on the gym bike wasn't! It was a hot day for Christchurch (in the mid 30sC) and there was no air conditioning in the closet-sized hotel gym. Suffice to say, after 2 hours of hard efforts I was fairly swimming! On the plus side, I did feel good after a shower (don't worry, no photos...)

Sweat box gym.

So, here we are, 8 weeks out from the race and I just have to get a standard suspension fork for my bike so that I can run my dyno hub. I then have to have that dyno hub laced into my new front wheel, then I have to load the whole shebang up and take it on a few overnight rides to shake down my gear. Oh, and learn how to set it up on a backpack so I can carry it 35km(22mi) across the Grand I need to get started on my route notes.....

Shit, I need to get CRACKING.........