Lung and I both participated in the Aids Lifecycle ‘Day on the Ride’ on Saturday, which is a one day trial of what the event as a whole is like: support, rest stops, general road conditions, but without the camping and tent-posting (thats what she said)… we each went in with a different set of expectations, but primarily looking to hang out, ride together, and test out our ALC bikes. We had similar positive experiences, though mine was fraught with some technical difficulty, but overall it was a great ride. We’ve each written about our experience. You can read his account here… and mine follows directly.
So, I’ve done a lot of long rides, on different bikes. The distance of this ride wasn’t the critical aspect. What was, however, was the bike, and my general fitness. All of the Centuries and Metric Centuries I’ve done for official events were on one of my road bikes, and I’ve gotten in 1 60 mile ride on Crook, my latest fixed gear, which, until Saturday, was my longest. But Day on the Ride was a chance to push more miles, on harder climbs, and see what worked and what didn’t. I went in with some assumptions based on previous experience:
Assumption 1: General fitness goes a long way.
Assumption 2: Crook is geared too high.
Assumption 3: My knees are still the biggest question mark for ALC.
The context of these assumptions is that I’ve been attempting to ride a big-gear fixie on a week long nearly-600 mile ride with less training and far less sleep, than to which I am accustomed, thanks to the birth of my lovely Zoe. So, while I know what my body can do at different times of a riding season based on the last several years of riding the same rides at the same times of year, I had variables this time which were the primary focus of my Day on the Ride experiment.
For example, since last June, I’ve been getting very little sleep, and very little rest. We have a baby, and that means not much of the real sleep time you need as a rider, and a scarcity of that chill time in your day to day. It also means far less actual riding than desired. Some years you get more in by now, some less, depending on the twin factors of rain and illness int he first quarter of the year. And to be honest, it’s been a mixed bag in that regard, and one I can’t complain about overall: I’ve been sick a few times (baby in the house, it’s a given) and I’ve had far less of the day to day riding of distance since I moved and have a shorter commute, and less big weekend rides due to baby tasks, but what riding I have done has been good for me: I have a shorter commute, but I ride more days of the week now, which is great for general fitness. The weekend rides I’ve gotten in have been solid, from Tam runs to long rides on Crook, so I’ve made the most of what I’ve had. So I was going into Saturday’s thing in a generally solid fitness level but below-desired training level for ALC. And that brings us to the next parameter: big gear fixie.
If I was planning to ride my Look on ALC from the start, I’d be far less concerned about the details. I’ve done 100+ miles, I’ve been through this through Lung’s previous experience on ALC, and I know attrition’s a bitch, so you deal. I’m inspired by everyone else, and I know my fitness level. However, the wild card here is the fixed gear. We each built up fixies, Lungs as his day to day bomber, and mine, Crook, specifically for ALC, and used daily in preparation. Now, as anyone and everyone we know will say, with either a roll of the eyes or a generally concerned look, doing ALC on fixed-gear bikes may not be impossible (more and more do t each year) but it sure is dubious. But we both wanted the extra challenge, and anyway, we love riding fixies, and are comfortable doing it. We get more fixie miles in these days than much else. But I knew that with my pre-existing knee condition, and the experiment of a bigger inchgear, I was asking for trouble. I knew also that I could gear down on ALC when required, by bringing extra cogs. So I felt like worst case scenario, I’d ride the big 82 inchgear for the flats, and then when things got bad on Day Three I’d gear down. Options! I had plans and backup plans. What I did NOT anticipate, however, as I freely admitted Saturday pretty early on, was that the general rollers on the days to come would include the climbs that Day on the Ride did. There were far more long, relentless climbs than I expected. We didn’t know what the route would be, both assumed it was going to be heading north, perhaps to Pt. Reyes, etc. but I thought that it was more likely that the majority of the riding would be general rollers. The five or six bigger climbs on Saturday’s ride were not CLIMB climbs… they weren’t like Alpine or Tam. But they WERE long enough, and hot enough, and distributed over a long day of generally fast, constant pedaling, that they were far more grueling for me than I expected going in for the day. Knowing early on what i learned later, I would have geared Crook down ahead of time, and since I managed to leave my other cogs at home, I was forced to ride it out on that 82 inchgear and make it work. The result? I have no regrets, and I’m glad I did it the whole way in that gearing because it was realistically MORE than I would have tolerated on ALC without gearing down. In other words, an ideal stress test, both for the bike and my legs.
The result of that stress, however, was enlightening. Everything I’d expect after a long day of riding like that was magnified. For example, my quads didn’t just burn that night and the next day, they were hard-to-bend bad. My back was like a steel plate. I was blown. Further, Crook didn’t like that torque much either. You really can’t expect much of that kind of abuse without ramifications. And it was enlightening: Crook ended the day with an alarming bottom bracket wiggle. Just like Villain had, my OTHER 82-inghear that I ALSO dragged up too many hills. So this was pretty much dual proof that my plan to ride 82 inches as my normal gearing was unwise with periodic hills of the nature we had Saturday: the bike didn’t like it, and my legs didn’t either. On the upside, I effing DID it. I figure there weren’t many riders out there Saturday that could haul Crook up those hills for 70 miles, let alone adding in 11 miles each way from my house near Mt. Tam, making a total of what, 92 miles for the day? GUH. So I had pride in what I accomplished, but I learned some important data.
Lastly, that effing knee. Again, put more stress on my knees than I have ever before, which is something. But while I used to have an IT band problem on my right leg for years of road riding, the last few fixie years I haven’t had any issues. Some tightness, some false alarms, but nothing bad. The fixed-gear riding encourages good form, which minimizes injury. And I have stronger legs than I ever have to date. However, what I did Saturday was a lot for anyone on that gearing. And my knees suffered for it. Interestingly, not during all those climbs, but at the end of the day, tired, dragging our asses up the effing beach and into the park. Thats when I started feeling that tell-tale pain. So, this gives me a whole new urgency towards my careful training in the next month: keep the knee together!
I loved hooking up with Remi and the boys of Team Hype (twin Cinelli Mash attackeds!) and I look forward to riding with those guys next month, for sure. Great to see Alfie on moto support, whom I finally got to meet physically. Great also to see the boys up top, rocking early 90s Looks just like I ride at home! AWESOME!
A. Need new Camelback reservoir. I will tolerate one and only one breached bag of sticky gatorade/water all over mah sensitive shit, especially when I tucked my cold weather gear up IN there right before, and soaked it so I couldn’t actually USE it when I needed it.
2. Bring even MORE ziplocs. That bag carrying small tools is what saved my iphone.
D. I brought 99% of my tools, supplies and sundries for the ride, which was great, given the packing and planning being as scattered as it is with a baby and other stuff going on. But that 1% matters too, and while maybe I didn’t forget something critical like CO2 or water, I didn’t bring cogs that had I packed as planned, I would have have used to down gear early enough Saturday that I would have been happier that night, for sure. And that error may have cost me big, if my knee doesn’t improve.
ff. Riding an event like this fixed is AWESOME, for the comraderie Lung and I shared to the friends we met doing same, to the respect from others (the vocal ones that appreciated the effort, not the largely silent disapproving ones, or the guy that gave me a bunch of crap about it after) and I still hope to do so in June, albeit with a more reasonable gearing.
5. Training, food, water, sleep: I can’t really control these variables as I have in previous years, but I can do my best, because they remain as critical as ever, for ride health, for cramps, everything.
S. Crook is one bad ASS bike.
8. The most important lesson: I was tempted to blame my knee issue on riding that big gear, but realistically, the big gear effort was merely the stress test that reminded me how that injury is permanent and ever threatening to resurface. The rational part of me is actually glad it flared up a bit now, to remind me. I was getting almost complacent about it, like as if that weak tendon had just magically repaired itself. And while on ALC I would have never been pushing long hills like that in that gear given a choice, it was a good reminder of my greatest concern about ALC in general: you’re out there for a week. Something goes wrong, you’re ride is OVER. And I want to finish it. So, I’m going to have to just see how May goes. I’ll gear Crook down, and ride more. I’ll do my exercises for my knee and back. i’ll see if it continues. But I’ll do what i have to do to get through ALC, and if that means falling back on the Look before the start of Day 1? I’ll do what I have to. It’d be disappointing, but I’d rather finish on the Look, than abort on Crook because of knee attrition.
So all killer, no filler, awesome ride and STOKED for June!!!! Because if I could do this on 82 inches, just imagine how I’ll feel on 75 or whatever. I’m pleased.
I almost forgot to mention this, but I was BBQing last night, racing the incoming rainstorm, and I noted my half-finished bag of trail mix on the bedroom dresser just inside from where the Q is on the deck. That trail mix had a secret nukulur component: M&Ms. And on those gnarly climbs, when my knees where twisting inside out? Those M&M morsels were the best ever.
Double Rockstar Point for the support staff and food sponsors!