March 19, 2021 Comments Off on ‘Crossing things up: A conversation with Amanda Nauman
From career cyclocross racer to career gravel rider, Amanda Nauman has seen just about everything that the dirt, mud, and inclement weather can throw at her. Apparently, the more the merrier; she won Unbound Gravel in 2015 and 2016 when it was known as Dirty Kanza, has stood on the top step at the Belgian Waffle Ride, and won the Rock Cobbler despite the promoter’s assertion that “It’s not a race.”
Do you pin on a number? Is there a start time and a finish line? Then if Amanda Nauman’s involved … it’s a race.
She has watched the changes in domestic racing and been a force as participant, competitor, organizer, and mentor. She shared her time with me a couple of weeks ago to answer a “few” questions. Enjoy!
Seth Davidson: How is gravel different from road racing? The thought here is that road racing was originally on unpaved roads, cobbles, and goat paths, which seems very similar to gravel.
Amanda Nauman: In its truest sense I don’t think it is different from road or MTB. Put at least two people together with a finish line, and it’s a race no matter the bike or terrain. A lot of people see road racing as structured and rigid with categories and rules. On the flip side, gravel’s an unsanctioned, free-for-all, mass-start style of racing. So when you ask me how they’re different, I don’t think of the dirt or pebble sizes, I think of the rules or lack thereof. The racing is the same.
Seth Davidson: Cycling seems to have a plethora of disciplines compared to other sports. Why? Is that a good thing?
Amanda Nauman: I come from a swimming background, there are four strokes and everybody’s good at their own strokes and distances within those strokes. So for me, having that individuality within a sport is just how it is and totally normal. There are many ways people can express themselves on a bike; much like in swimming everyone had their own stroke or distance. I think it’s great that there are different ways people can get on two wheels, fast or slow or sketchy or whatever. It’s a good thing, cycling’s a large umbrella.
Seth Davidson: What do men need to know about gender discrimination in sports?
Amanda Nauman: That it exists. That’s what I want men to know, and not pretend it doesn’t exist and that everything’s equal. And I want them being open to have conversations about how to make women feel more included and equal. That awareness is the only thing I’d want to stress.
Seth Davidson: Have you experienced discrimination as an athlete?
Amanda Nauman: Not that I can think of explicitly. I have certainly been in work environments where I was treated differently because I was an athlete pursuing a racing goal. And I’ve definitely felt like I haven’t been treated equally or fairly as a woman when it comes to race results and sponsorship opportunities. It’s a subjective space that’s hard to quantify of point to a specific example, but I’ve felt it.
Seth Davidson: Have you experienced discrimination in your non-cycling life
Amanda Nauman: No, luckily.
Seth Davidson: Your mom is Indonesian and ethnically Chinese. Did she face discrimination here?
Amanda Nauman: No, and I spoke with her about it before this interview. She has absolutely experienced racist comments but not discrimination. She hasn’t outwardly felt like someone was making a comment or preventing her from doing something because she was a woman or minority. She left an oppressive country at age fourteen because her parents knew there were better opportunities for her in the United States. [In Indonesia] women were given this box you had to fit in, no career, just stay at home and have kids and it was a waste of time to pursue higher education. She had the complete opposite mindset and drive in that regard and saw the US as a place to pursue these things she couldn’t pursue in Indonesia. We never really talk too much about the fact that her ancestors were Chinese, but when she was younger, Indonesia went through a nationalistic phase and her family was forced to change their names and become more “Indonesian.” It’s wild to imagine a place where that was acceptable, the government telling you that your name was too Chinese you need to change it. She has experienced discrimination like this in Indonesia, which is why she came here. The US gave her opportunity and freedom she wouldn’t have otherwise had. She went to an engineering school and wanted to fly helicopters, and that wasn’t going to happen in Indonesia, but she came here and did it. She set a great example for me growing up, even though we never explicitly talked about it, that women can do whatever they want; and if this is something you want to do, don’t ever let the fact you’re a woman or Asian be a reason why you shouldn’t.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about having separate women’s fields in gravel events?
Amanda Nauman: I have mixed feelings depending on the course, the event, the style of race that it is. It’s dependent on those variables. For example, in 2016 when I won BWR they tried a women’s category where we started in between a couple different waves of men. It turned into a strategic game of planning to jump in with the men coming up behind us and each woman trying to get away from the other women. So depending on how it’s implemented, it adds a layer that can be more strategic.
Seth Davidson: Does it distort race results when women mix in with groups of men?
Amanda Nauman: No way. I think that’s part of the game and part of the strategy depending on the event, especially BWR where it’s more road racing style and there’s way more opportunity to stay in a group on the road and spread out on the dirt. It doesn’t distort it at all. I think where it becomes muddied is if a group enters with the plan of having a man or multiple men pulling a woman or group of women as far as possible with the goal to win. In the natural selection of a mixed category start, how people are able to move around, move up, or get away, that’s part of the racing. But if a group of guys show up to just protect a woman from the wind, yeah, people have a problem with it, otherwise it’s just natural selection and that’s part of the race.
Here’s an example: Last year at Mid South it was muddy and the front guys threw down when we hit the mud, probably eight minutes into the race. We were going as hard as we could and amidst the chaos I could see Hannah Finchamp get to a group just ahead of me. The realistic part of my brain knew that if I didn’t get there in those first few critical moments, there was a very high probability she was going to win if she escaped, and she did. Having the men in the mix adds to the group dynamics and allows the racing to shake out much differently. Had she been solo with just the women’s field chasing her, maybe we could’ve brought her back and made it a much closer race. But that’s not how the cookie crumbles in the mass start format of gravel.
Seth Davidson: How do you like racing with men?
Amanda Nauman: It’s awesome and super fun. I appreciate riding and racing with like-minded cyclists regardless of gender.
Seth Davidson: How do you like starting with/racing against recreational riders?
Amanda Nauman: It’s great. I never had an issue with that. I think it’s awesome. I raced triathlons in college, and starting just minutes behind the professional fields was inherently part of that sport. I loved being an amateur racer and having the opportunity to compare myself to professionals on the same course. Here’s an example from when I went to the 2012 Saint Croix 70.3. At the time, Lance Armstrong was racing triathlons again and I was a big fan. The swim start at that event takes place on an island offshore. I had swum over to the island as a warm-up and I remember him getting out of the water right next to me. I couldn’t believe it. Another time, I was at Age Group ITU World Championships in New Zealand and walking around the venue near Sarah True (Sarah Groff at the time). I was starstruck and stoked to be doing the same event. Those are special moments for me, and I always think about that because of the position I’m in now. I’ve found success racing gravel and cyclocross and I’m aware there are women and juniors who look up to me. I recognize the importance of being at events and taking time to connect with the community. If I can be welcoming and motivational, I understand the impact that can make on recreational riders or aspiring racers. I want to be a good example and put on a good show for bike racing fans at the same time.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about professional gravel racers?
Amanda Nauman: I’ve seen the evolution of that identity first-hand. In the beginning I would have laughed at the concept because gravel races were hardly even a classification. As the popularity of the discipline rose, so did the popularity of the figures at the front of the racing. It was a natural evolution of brands wanting to be associated with the rise in popularity. In gravel, the “professionals” are more brand ambassadors than anything else. I remember listening to an interview with Ian Boswell a year ago after announcing he was going into gravel and he was asked whether he considered himself a professional athlete anymore. He said no because he was no longer in the drug testing pool and he now had a desk job. If Ian lines up at some of the big gravel events this year, he’ll be lining up with people who absolutely consider themselves professional gravel racers. So perhaps that label is whatever you want it to be. And to each their own on how they choose to identify.
Seth Davidson: Do you want to see more or fewer World Tour pros in gravel events?
Amanda Nauman: I think the more, the merrier. As this discipline evolves there’s no hiding that the UCI sees it as an opportunity to create something for themselves. Even though this is an unpopular opinion, I think it would be worthwhile to have a separate show for the UCI license-holding riders. I’ve heard people say it would be cool to have an Unbound Gravel type of event that was for pros only and be able to do the t.v. media coverage, and have all the narratives just around the pros. Just imagine a Strade Bianche style race in the Flint Hills with the fastest riders in the world dueling it out. I know that’s intriguing and appealing to me as a fan, and I think there’s something to that format. There’s an opportunity to have an elite level of gravel events and it feels like just a matter of time before that happens. As much as I hate to admit it’s a possibility, the more that World Tour pros show up to unsanctioned gravel events, the more the UCI is going to want a piece of that cake. There’s no doubt that elevating the speed, intensity, and professionalism will make more people interested. But how this involves, well, I’m curious to see myself.
Seth Davidson: What unique obstacles do women have to overcome as competitive cyclists?
Amanda Nauman: Being given the same respect as men. It goes back to one of your first questions, it’s in the same vein, women have to overcome the fact that they aren’t treated completely equal yet. It’s weird to think back in 2011 and 2012 how much I just accepted the fact that we were treated differently and less than the men. At the time cyclocross was in a transition period in Europe. Prize money was starting to become more equal and the schedules were getting rearranged, so the elite women didn’t have to race so early in the morning. It was ridiculous that we accepted anything less than that as the norm for so long. There have been a lot of little wins in the past decade like getting the Junior Women 17-18 category the recognition it deserves and I’m hopeful that one day it will feel completely equal and we can tell stories of how ridiculous it was before change was demanded.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about gender discrimination in equipment design such as saddles?
Amanda Nauman: My longest running sponsor is SDG Components and they’ve been at the forefront of offering a female-specific saddle. When it comes to saddles and saddle companies, I believe that soft tissue relief has been addressed for men and women. Women have been given options that are as good or better than men in that regard.
Seth Davidson: Are you more or less data-driven than your competitors?
Amanda Nauman More. I have a math brain and went to an engineering school. I love Excel and I do a lot of calculations. Way more than my competitors.
Seth Davidson: Do you typically train with a power meter?
Amanda Nauman: Yes. I have a power meter on my gravel bike, my road bike, and typically on one of my ‘cross bikes. For my spare ‘cross bikes and my mountain bikes, I use heart rate data.
Seth Davidson: Is MTB or ‘cross a better training ground for gravel racing?
Amanda Nauman: ‘Cross, but both are great. The handling skills required on your gravel bike you can learn from being efficient in a ‘cross race setting. For sure my ‘cross background gave me a leg up in gravel racing. My first Dirty Kanza win was 2015, the “mud year.” Without my ‘cross experience, there were issues I’d never have been able to manage. For instance, knowing the feeling of when your derailleur is about to snap because it’s clogged with mud is inherent knowledge for a ‘cross racer. There were so many sheared derailleurs that year because most people don’t know what it’s like to ride through peanut butter mud.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about Major Taylor?
Amanda Nauman: The first word I thought of was trailblazer. I’ve been to the Major Taylor Velodrome and it’s a great tribute to someone who became a role model for any athlete who has faced discrimination. His autobiography is titled, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds. He wanted to be remembered as someone who faced challenges when many things were stacked against him, and did the best he could despite the circumstances. When I think of Major Taylor, I think of Cullen Jones. In 2008 he was the first African-American to hold a world record in swimming (4x100m free relay). He had that presence of someone doing something that’s not the norm and showing people that it’s possible, just like Major Taylor did. It’s great because Cullen took that opportunity and platform and now spends a lot time working with different organizations to try and dispel that stereotype that black people don’t swim. It’s interesting to look at what is happening in that realm and how it translates to cycling. He’s said that a lot of people tell him and think, “I can’t swim because I can’t float.” He says that’s not an excuse not to learn how to swim. “I can’t float either, and I have Olympic medals.” In that culture it’s been ingrained and he’s working hard to show people the stereotypes don’t matter, you can still rise above it.
Seth Davidson: Do organizers do a good job of marketing to the black community?
Amanda Nauman: I think organizers don’t do a good job of marketing, period. I’ve always had this beef with organizers specifically. Most bike racing organizers don’t have this marketing skill set and a lot of that probably comes from wearing too many different hats and not being able to focus on it. As a whole they can improve on marketing, period, but this question can apply more to USAC where it’s about development, nurturing, creating a community. I don’t feel like it’s the job of the race organizer. If cycling is a thing we want to grow within the black community and create more opportunities there, I feel like it’s more of a responsibility to the larger governing body than it is the individual race organizer.
Seth Davidson: How can we get more black kids racing bikes?
Amanda Nauman: It comes down to opportunity. Going back to Cullen Jones, he’s working at the root of why there aren’t enough black kids swimming. Perhaps the reason why a lot of people believe that black people can’t swim or don’t float is because we’re not addressing fear, stereotypes, legacies passed down over generations. In swimming, a lot of this stemmed from public pools being a racialized place many years ago. Cullen realized he’d have to start at the bottom with education and changing the perception. With cycling, I don’t think it’s a question of “how” first. I think It’s a question of “why aren’t there more black kids racing bikes?” We need to answer that before we answer how to fix it. Lack of education, opportunities, safe areas to ride, that’s where we need to start. Then there will be more kids on bikes and then some of those kids will want to race. Going back to the marketing aspect, getting the cool factor instilled is a huge part, but also asking, “why don’t they think it’s cool right now?” A Nike ad with a black cyclist on a bike isn’t enough. At least I don’t believe that’s enough. If we find out why a majority of black kids don’t think cycling is cool, then we can start to fix that problem. We should be asking, “Why don’t you think it’s cool and what’s it going to take to motivate you to do it?”
Seth Davidson: What are the biggest challenges of promoting a new race?
Amanda Nauman: For us launching an event in the middle of a pandemic has been the biggest challenge. Realistically in a normal year in CA, it’s the permitting that’s the biggest challenge. Now that I’ve tried to make a race happen here, I understand why it’s so hard for promoters to do what they do. Promoting a new race specifically has been a challenge because there’s no precedence. We’re asking people to believe that David and I have gained enough experience at gravel events across the country and we know how to deliver a great event.
Seth Davidson: How do you want your Mammoth race to look in five years?
Amanda Nauman: The goal is to bring some semblance of the Kamikaze Bike Games back. It’s a famous festival they used to hold at the mountain, but it’s been canceled for a couple years now. We put Mammoth Tuff on the weekend that Kamikaze was normally held, the closing weekend of the bike park, in the hopes that we can reignite that flame. We want Mammoth to be a gravel destination, and on top of that the goal is to make it more than a gravel event, a reason for people to come back, celebrate and ride bikes in Mammoth.
Seth Davidson: ‘Cross used to be all the rage. Before that it was road racing. Now it’s gravel. Is this just a fad?
Amanda Nauman: I still think ‘cross is all the rage. ‘Cross still has a huge following in different parts of the country. Being in Tacoma, Washington for Cyclocross Nationals at the end of 2019 was a treat to see how much people absolutely love ‘cross in the Pacific Northwest. There are different pockets that have healthy local scenes and for those areas, ‘cross is still raging.
I don’t think gravel is a fad. I believe the discipline is in a transition phase of trying to figure itself out. It might look like a fad from the outside because of how many people are supporting the mass participation style of events. But it’s the lack of a license, the community feel, the ability to ride in the same event as your peers that will let this discipline live on. Time will tell how the discipline evolves, but the very root of gravel is community and coming together to do a challenging bike ride, and the passion for that won’t fizzle.
Seth Davidson: Is the racing community more collaborative or competitive? How?
Amanda Nauman: The UCI sanctioned disciplines I’ve raced in are way more competitive. On the flip side, I’ve found the unsanctioned discipline of gravel to be extremely collaborative. I’ve been on Google Hangout meetings with other gravel racers and promoters, but I feel like that would never happen with ‘cross racers because it’s so much more cut-throat. Standings, rules, qualifications, points, everyone’s trying to get an edge up and that’s the nature of those sanctioned disciplines. Everyone’s in competition so why would there be collaboration? In gravel we’re all kind of in the same boat of doing races for fun and promotional reasons, not for a better UCI ranking or call-up number at a championship event. Therefore everyone is more willing to talk about schedules and projects to work on together.
I believe the pandemic shed a light on this during summer last year. A majority of the gravel community was quick to collectively say mass gatherings aren’t safe and racing can wait through the end of the year. On the flip side, many ‘cross racers were willing to race if given the opportunity over the fall and winter. Up until all of the UCI races were canceled for the season, the major opinion there was, “I’ll do whatever I can to race safely.” I was blown away because that mindset has been ingrained in the cut-throat, competitive atmosphere. If ‘cross racers don’t race, they lose points, standings, and positioning. If gravel racers don’t race, they simply lose the opportunity to race and market themselves. It feels like gravel racers have figured out how to make up that lost opportunity to sponsors whereas it’s tougher for the ‘cross racers. So that’s a long-winded example of my outlook on collaboration versus competition in the disciplines I’m familiar with.
Seth Davidson: Who inspires you?
Amanda Nauman: My mom. It goes back to the fact that she had an idea of what she wanted to do, found the things she was passionate about, and never let anyone tell her she couldn’t do those things. Growing up in a house with that mentality and being told I could do whatever I wanted to was very motivating. I was inspired by how deeply she cared about and pursued her passions no matter what.
Seth Davidson: What drives you?
Amanda Nauman: I’ve thought about that a lot this past year without having the external motivation of racing, and I think everyone was forced to ask that question. I’m driven to be the best at whatever I set my mind to. I’m definitely very competitive but I’m also very self-driven. Finding something I really care about and pursuing it 100% has always motivated me. I like knowing I gave everything I could towards a goal. For instance, I love the feeling of standing on a start line with all the confidence because I know I prepared well and all the work was done to get to that point. That’s just as satisfying a feeling as getting a good result, in my opinion.
Seth Davidson: What question do you wish you were asked in interviews?
Amanda Nauman: A lot of interviews miss the question of “What do you want to leave behind?” because that shows motivation behind a person. And I don’t get asked “Why do you do all this stuff?” very often.
Seth Davidson: What do you want to leave behind?
Amanda Nauman: Being a good inspiration for kids. Bike racing is a very selfish pursuit. Everything revolves around you and your goals. A few years ago, I was asked to be part of the Women’s CX Project by Corey Green, Brett Hungerford, and Scott Dedenbach. It was a pivotal point in my life because I was able to mentor and help junior racers. It was important because I realized I could give back the knowledge that I had acquired over the years. As soon as I saw that all the hard work David Sheek and I had done for me to find success in racing could be used to help junior racers find success, I found more of a purpose. It was such a great feeling to mentor the next generation of racers. From that experience, David and I started helping USAC with their CX Talent ID camp, and it became something I was more passionate about than strategizing to get a World Cup spot. Bike racing is inherently selfish and that external validation is the motivation for a lot of people, but I hope that most of them get to a point where they can share their expertise and knowledge with the next generation or development teams because then we’ll all be better for it.
Seth Davidson: Thanks, Amanda!
Amanda Nauman: You’re welcome.
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February 10, 2021 § 6 Comments
Roy Knickman, Olympic medalist, famed teammate of Steve Tilford, Nelson Vails, and Thurlow Rogers from TI-Raleigh in the 80s, one of the first wave of Americans to ever ride the Tour, is now the director of America’s top junior development team, Lux Cycling. He’s been doing it for seven years, and the covid crisis has upended the pro cycling scene, and much less publicized, the junior scene as well. For juniors the situation is, if anything, even more critical.
I spoke with Roy about what it takes to become a pro, about Lux Cycling, diversity training, racing, and the future of the sport. It was clear from our conversation that he’s dedicated to improving all American racers, and it’s a passion of the most profound sort. Far from creating a herd of robots, his mission is to develop good people through bike racing, whether their career leads them to the Tour or stops with Lux.
What’s apparent is that the challenges are big. And that if anyone is equal to the job, it’s Roy Knickman.
Seth Davidson: Who founded LUX and why?
Roy Knickman: A local Cat 4 bike racer founded it for adults and quickly realized that it would be more satisfying to put efforts into raising funds and getting sponsorship for the development of youth. Dave Feldman with Sideshow Collectibles got the firm’s primary owner to donate into LUX to help get kids to races locally here in the Conejo Valley and in SoCal.
Seth Davidson: How do you become a professional bike racer?
Roy Knickman: It is a long process and it starts with the kind of local club that LUX used to be, not with what we are now, riding your bike and riding with a local club, one that includes all ages or that is a development club. SoCal VeloSport is that kind of club, one that gets you to local races and teaches the basics. In this day and age there are multiple steps. You go from regional races to racing nationally. As a junior you would need to align with a larger club, one of the more elite junior clubs such as ours, Hot Tubes, or Swift run by Laura Charameda, an ex-world champion. Someone who understands bike racing at the highest level, which is different from a development club’s manager/coach. You need someone who can provide some of the finer details of what it really takes such as state of mind, believing. For example, if you have someone who has medaled at Worlds or the Olympics who can say, “You have an injury right now, that’s not a problem, we believe in you, you will hit form later, this happened to me and I had my best results because my form came later.” I do think there is a large psychological element that the directors with experience who can share true life experiences offer something different. But it also requires a lot more training and building your life around athletics, being able to travel, that extreme discipline. It’s a great life lesson but it teeters on being unhealthy because of the extreme nature of searching for excellence, which is the same if you want to be the best lawyer, it’s more time in the books. It works the same in many fields and is why this is a great life lesson. You can be successful and these are the things you need to do.
Seth Davidson: What do you look for in selecting a junior rider?
Roy Knickman: When we select a rider we look to see if they have a good coach, schedule, equipment, and people who believe in them. And we have to do research talking to parents, other racers and coaches, will it come together to benefit them? Nine times out of ten we’re right. A rider may not be the best when we take them but a year later their results show we were right.
Seth Davidson : Who selects the male/female riders on the team?
Roy Knickman: In the past it has been me and George Chester, who when I came in was the daily operations guy. But he stepped back when I came on board and he is now phasing out because of his age, but if he believes in a kid or rider I take his advice. He holds a huge amount of clout. The other thing is that selection on the men’s side is not made in a vacuum. I respect other people in the sport regardless of their accomplishments, and when a coach or regional director or ex-star messages me and says, “Hey there’s this great kid, take a look” I do, because I’m not everywhere, I don’t know who kicks ass in the DC area, right? That’s where Quinn Simmons came from. Ned Overend, who I hadn’t talked to in years, said, “You gotta get this kid,” so I did. Quinn is a gifted athlete who benefited from having our resources and guidance. On the women’s side, Ryan Kelly, who is my partner, we look together at riders. She’s an expert in women’s cycling, I’m not, she was a junior national team rider, understands the inequities, understands women better than I do. Restructuring of the women’s program has to do with her feedback and her understanding of the sport and what’s needed to be done for women. And I think it’s important. Women’s teams run by men miss the mark. Frequently. It’s who’s deserving when you are creating a team. The problem is that there are many kids who are deserving and talented, but we have limits. We had forty-eight bikes at Valley of the Sun Stage Race with nineteen athletes in four categories .. it’s a lot. There needs to be more support for this and more organizations that are willing and have the funding to do what we do.
Seth Davidson: Mileage vs. power meter?
Roy Knickman: For all riders at this level they need to have a coach who is current with science but who also is a good communicator, who listens to the athlete. There are a few riders who for whatever reason in the winter aren’t riding with a power meter but rather on feel and time, especially when coming back from injury. But in this day and age there has to be science, there has to be specific monitoring of the training and guidance because the level is so high. The kids who want to succeed at this—life and confidence and self-belief—it makes going away to college look easy. Those who go to school, and those who want to be Pro Tour athletes, they all have the same challenge: To be competitive at the junior international level, which all of them say that they want to do—it takes science-driven training. The caveat is that we’ve realized what’s most successful is that if you do enough racing, not chasing crits and 1-day races—but a schedule of good stage races with overload, rest for a week, step into another one, you can go the whole year and not be staring at your power meter numbers all the time. It’s clear there can be burnout constantly chasing numbers all year. It has made not being able to race this year very difficult because all the riders have to go off are power meter numbers all year, a sure way to burn mental matches. Having a smart coach as covid was rolling in, changing the environment, keeping it fun, not just focusing on numbers, but letting the kids focus on mileage, so a lot of it is having a smart coach who understands the psychology and is willing to say, “Okay, we won’t chase numbers and will protect from a psychological standpoint and for longevity while still training a whole bunch.” I stopped coaching when I didn’t have the time to keep up with the science. I prefer to focus where I have knowledge and skill in putting all the pieces together. Get to the best races, get them good coaches, and it was only five years ago that I could come up with a good formula that got good results for athletes, having success on the performance side as well as the personal level, succeeding after cycling. And seeing international success and racing for U23 teams in Europe or the U.S.
Seth Davidson: How much science do you teach your riders?
Roy Knickman: My part is to remind them to listen to their bodies, that communication with their coaches is critical because if they bury themselves every week it could be months to come out of that; to detrain and get fit again. The other part, the science, is put on the coaches but we have three or four coaches we trust so it isn’t a question. We’ll recommend someone who does amazing work. That person may push their athlete to breaking and then pull back, but you can relate that to “I was on the best team in the world and almost quit because I was pushed too hard.” The third part is my relationship with Allen Lim, and we had him come to camp and teach the kids science and as well he cooked for them every night. He paid for his hotel and for someone to help with the cooking. He did it because he wanted to. He sat down with the kids and talked physiology, talking about food, doping, its history, what it means, about nutrition and fueling, it was a huge benefit for the athletes. Some of them took in 1% and some 20%, it was there as great information. It’s multi-level education depending on the athlete’s need.
Seth Davidson: If you have to choose between motivation and talent, which do you weight more heavily?
Roy Knickman: It’s not just motivation and talent, it’s character, and character comes first because as a team unit someone who is disruptive and somewhat toxic, it’s not healthy for the team. That said we can have someone on the team with issues, and when we bring them on we’re committing to developing them as a person. If they become challenging it means we have our hands full, not that they’re off the team. They have to understand commitment and belief on our end, we took them because we believed in them and we’re not giving up. That’s true even if they’re struggling socially. We stand with them. We’re committed to developing these kids, and kicking them off the team would be the easy way out. I won’t bring someone in who is super challenging, but once on board we commit. Character is very important and why we’ll have a rider, and he’s good and has good family and we’re going to reward him for being a good kid. We can’t do that for every good kid but sometimes we do. It’s not all w/kg-based but that can certainly help get you in the door.
Seth Davidson: Do you look for race IQ or is that something you teach?
Roy Knickman: We will recognize and value it but it’s not a requirement because we are about teaching. We’ve had trouble with some parents who want to know our racing philosophy; our philosophy has been teaching kids how to think about racing, not teaching them how to race. You need to think on the road and talk to your teammates and adapt. I’m only going to get upset if you don’t think and if you stick with a plan you can see isn’t going to work. If things aren’t going right, you communicate, change it up, and if it fails, I’m stoked, because we had two chances to win, not one. We had three guys in a race, put two in the break at nationals, and didn’t win; the kids thought I’d be upset but I wasn’t; what they accomplished was amazing. First, they lost to the reigning champion. Second, I reminded them that the execution is more important than the outcome and I reward them for good, intelligent thinking. Then the results come. A perfect example: Those two guys in the break, one is riding pro now, Logan McLain. Their intelligence has been recognized. Logan will race in Innsbruck with an Austrian U23 team and he has an agent—it speaks to the story that he was recommended to my team, had huge capacity, and was a good kid. I took him, we invested in him for three years and now he’s a pro.
Seth Davidson: What percentage of LUX riders get a pro contract?
Roy Knickman: We’re still in development. Five years ago we had Brandon McNulty, but were still a regional program. We judge success by how many riders can represent the US national team in international competition. In 2019 all but two of the boys team and a majority of girls all made national team trips abroad. Four to five riders at Worlds were from LUX, riding based on merit, auto-qualifying. Quinn Simmons, Kevin Vermaerke have gone pro. Several riders are with smaller French teams. It’s part of developing relationships as we’re doing with Austria. And it’s why this year is so crucial. We know if the juniors who are aging out don’t get a ride their careers could be over. I ended up flying to Austria and selling our organization to our new partners in Innsbruck so they would understand what a LUX athlete would mean if they got one of our riders. We can now use their service course because our philosophies match. It’s crucial so that there isn’t a big hole in the development pipeline. Only the superstars could make the jump in the past, but with this philosophy and partnership we can fill the gaps so we can take the riders who aren’t the McNultys or the Costas and give them what they need to be great bike racers. That’s what the other countries are doing. We realize that a typical national team kid from Denmark has a lot of race days and can hop in the van and do ten stage races a year. Here, if there’s one in your region you go, maybe you get three in a year. How can you compete with a kid who has ten? And those races are always against 140 dudes on narrow roads in crappy weather. That’s why it’s so important to keep it going, because this way more riders have been able to get into Europe developmentally with U23 teams. The goal is to get as many riders the amount of racing they need and also be in the European environment so we can load up the number of kids in the development pipeline.
Seth Davidson: Why do you have your riders race so much?
Roy Knickman: Because that’s where success is in Europe. They need this much racing. We’ve seen that these are the athletes who are responding and improving with 9-10 stage races a year. Which is beneficial because they don’t need to train as much and they are excited to race and not stare at their power meter readout in the basement at home.
Seth Davidson: When did this change in thinking come about?
Roy Knickman: It started with feedback from the national team coach that my guys weren’t racing enough, five years ago. So I started chasing one-day races and the kids got tired from all the traveling around. Learning from that and experimenting I said, okay, let’s do more stage races, and asked the kids to take off weekends locally. It’s that simple. Listening to the feedback.
Seth Davidson: Have power meters helped or hurt bike racing?
Roy Knickman: It has definitely helped. It’s a double-edged sword. Training has changed in ability to quantify because heart rate is so sloppy. Being more accurate allows you to do more work and being able to see when you were overworking. More quality work is more adaptation. The negative has been the racing aspect, where they race by their power meter. There’s less human element, where they won’t try now because of the power meter. There are moments where I think it’s made racing less dramatic.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about race radios?
Roy Knickman: I think they can be helpful but they can make racing a little less exciting. Juniors can’t have them. That’s a great rule because it teaches them to think. They can’t just be told what to do. They have to fail and learn and I’m happy about that. Even when they can use them, such as doing a 1-2 race, I don’t use radios. I’d rather not have radios in order to force them to communicate amongst themselves and learn and make decisions with the information they have.
Seth Davidson: What do you think about virtual cycling?
Roy Knickman: I think for some people it’s really good, people who just need to have the racing. I’ve not promoted it with my athletes, if they want to do it, fine for motivation and intensity but right now the psychological aspect is most important. Don’t force them to do something they hate. Now the most important thing is to weather this lack of racing. Most athletes are driven to train purely to prepare for the next race and next experience. A year of no racing is incredibly trying. It’s a good tool for some, with the right psychology they can do great things. Others just want to ride their bikes and I’m good with that, too.
Seth Davidson: What is your diversity strategy?
Roy Knickman: We don’t have a new strategy. We’ve always picked athletes based on character and talent. We brought on the Nsek brothers, we’ve included Asian, Hispanic riders. It hasn’t been a factor. What’s been there for us, we’ve taken. We’ve talked about the issue, I don’t want to be reactive. Now we’re working with the top athletes; we’re not grass roots, we’re not putting on clinics to get kids into the sport. There is such a small pool of athletes of color, we’ve talked about this with Ama Nsek about what we can do trying to raise funds for a specific LUX diversity team. But I haven’t been able to raise the money or get materials; with the industry back-ordered it isn’t easy right now. Legion Los Angeles is doing it.
Seth Davidson: Do you think bike racing is a white sport?
Roy Knickman: It’s pretty clear, it’s a sport for a certain income class because it’s so damned expensive. Yeah, it’s somewhat a white sport. It’s unfortunate because there are as many talented athletes of color as there are white ones. The financial restraints are the same in other sports. Downhill skiing is an example. So many athletes of color would make it to LUX or Hot Tubes if they had the equipment and coaching. LUX isn’t grassroots and we’ve done everything we can for kids who are out there. We care and we do what we can and we are looking at ways to get LA Bike Academy kids come up and ride with our kids and let them know this is the next level. We think there’s value in kids seeing that there’s no reason you can’t be here, and give them a taste of top level riding. The problem is always the same. Schedule and money.
Seth Davidson: What was your reaction to Quinn Simmons’s suspension by Trek-Segafrodo?
Roy Knickman: I think how it was handled from a business standpoint didn’t seem very well-thought through. It’s something that needed to be addressed, and education of athletes and social media and how you may think something is innocuous or silly can be tremendously hurtful or damaging.
Seth Davidson: Has LUX ever reached out to the black community?
Roy Knickman: We are committed to have anyone come up and share our experience and show kids what it takes. If anyone wants to know how we do things and what the true development pipeline is, I will spend as much time as it takes to explain and show how to do it and why.
Seth Davidson: What would you tell a young black girl who wants to be a bike racer?
Roy Knickman: I’d say, “Why not you? You have to believe.” Then find the club that will support you at the local level and that will allow you to get to the next level. What Justin Williams is doing is phenomenal; he’s earmarking money for development opportunities at the junior level.
Seth Davidson: Do you give your athletes media training?
Roy Knickman: They do normally through other sponsors. Last week Shimano had social media training. A lot of the things we’d talk about at camp we weren’t able to do this year. We’ll use sponsor relationships to educate, by Zoom.
Seth Davidson: How has covid changed the domestic racing landscape?
Roy Knickman: Racing ended and everything from February to early June this year has been canceled or has moved to the fall. There is zero bike racing prior to nationals. No Redlands, no Gila, no Cascades, no Joe Martin, no Valley of the Sun. There is a continued void from the motivational standpoint and I’m constantly monitoring race promoters as I’m trying to figure out what’s happening, which is hard when you’re raising funds. If there’s no racing, why are we spending money? For the junior men there is no result they can get in the US that will help them get selected on a European team. They need to race in Europe and race there a lot to develop and to be there with the other kids going onto U23 teams. It’s a huge commitment of the team. It has pushed us to be very aggressive. Covid complications may complicate national team racing until right before Worlds. Our athletes won’t be prepared if they are sitting home training and they won’t be visible and the development pipeline won’t continue because there was no international racing for any US rider in 2020. Those riders have to be in Europe and be stage racing in Europe. I can’t say “Sorry kids,” so I’m making another push to create a schedule for our athletes and even some non-LUX racers to get them the racing they need. I have commitments to nine stage races in Europe and Asia. USAC had to fire most of its staff to stay solvent. They have to focus on the Olympics.
Seth Davidson: If it becomes lucrative for riders to race domestic gravel races like BWR, will that change your race schedule?
Roy Knickman: We had already discussed that and yes, we would definitely integrate that into our racing, my hope is that we take where we are now with Europe, keep that in place, and to integrate gravel would be great. It is so much fun, keeps it fresh, these extreme challenges for the athletes are huge. And for an athlete to want to be a pro gravel racer, that’s awesome. There are so many talented athletes not in the pipeline or who can’t adjust to the pro Euro lifestyle, then with gravel you have two winning situations. It’s clear there is so much untapped talent. We’re a huge country with so many athletic kids there’s no reason why we should have any difference with Holland or Belgium, and gravel opens the door for another kid to be excited about riding and racing bikes. The Sea to Summit here in Ventura up to Mt. Pinos, 100 miles, 8,000 feet, I did that at age fourteen with a bike bag with a pineapple in it. I did it in four hours longer than the winner, and next year I got second, the guy that won became my coach, and next year I beat him. I loved that I could be where people are racing. I re-experienced this excitement last year on the Delta Epic, a 240-mile unsupported gravel ride—and I was only injured for a month afterwards! These are races and they’re participation rides and they can be both. It’s a business and UCI will gravitate towards it. USAC is trying to monetize it, too.
Seth Davidson: Why are you basing in Austria?
Roy Knickman: My first trip to Europe was a race from Salzburg to Vienna. My great-great-grandfather Josef Lehner wrote a few waltzes with Richard Strauss. At that first race, they brought me to a statue of my forebear the composer. I got 3rd the next year. So I have a special connection with Austria, for sure.
Seth Davidson: Thanks, Roy.
Roy: You’re welcome!
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November 11, 2019 § 1 Comment
There is no injunction more deeply carved for a bicyclist than this one: thou shalt not ride on the freeway.
But there I was, 115-ish miles in, 80-ish to go, launching down the on-ramp for Interstate 5 at Oceanside, destination Los Angeles. The Marine Corps doesn’t easily let you ride through Camp Pendleton anymore, so if you don’t have a special pass to ride through the base, CalTrans allows you to make the seven miles from Oceanside to Las Pulgas on the freeway.
It is fun, getting passed by 18-wheelers doing 75. However, I had a huge tailwind, most of the freeway was gently downhill, the shoulder was mostly clean, and there was tons of space between me and the traffic.
When I pulled off the freeway to continue along the bike path, heart still pounding, it was as if I’d been dropped off into a cocoon of silence. The path was empty, the day was well on its way to ending, and I still had a big chunk of riding to get home, notching what would be just under a 200-mile day.
The biggest part of the day, though, was the Peter Sagan Gran Roadie-Oh, a 90-mile fondo starring none other than … Peter Sagan.
As Dandy said while we were waiting to roll out, “Gonna be a lot of jock sniffing today.”
To which I said, “Thank dog I’ve got a big nose.”
I could tell you about this epic grand fondue which creator MMX has gone to great pains to NOT call a grand fondue. I could tell you about the start, which was exactly like a ProTour road race in its intensity + Cat 4s.
I could tell you about the bicycle falling off incident in Cousar Canyon, where the leaders all looked like they’d been victims at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but only had road rash and a broken collarbone.
I could tell you about the VIP Event I wasn’t at or about the amazing night hosted by Bill Walton which I also wasn’t at or bowling with Sags, which I also wasn’t at.
I could tell you about the food, which was amazing, the venue, which was amazing-er, the studly moto antics of Ryan Dahl and Phil Tinstman, or the celeb photo shoot by Brian Hodes.
I could tell you about the perfect weather, the exciting vibe, the immaculate course, or even about Fortress Sags, where PS was holed up in a giant mobile luxury apartment bus in between autograph signings and selfies with fans.
Or I could tell you about getting shelled early, chasing all day, and finally catching the Sags group at a rest stop where they’d been filing their nails and translating War and Peace into Slovak.
I could tell you about riding with Sags and chatting with him for a good 20 minutes, about how his English is better than my Slovak, about his secret tips for how to become a champion masters racer, about his hometown of Zilina (where I almost went once), and about how he pulled over to the side of the road and took a whizz, not to mention getting dropped on the last climb up San Elijo.
And of course I could tell you about riding PCH home on Sunday night and the charms of bumper-to-bumper traffic from Dana Point to Huntington Beach.
But I won’t.
What I’m going to tell you about is excellence, the excellence that was on display at this event, and how it all came from mind to execution by Michael Marckx. It seems like only yesterday, when in fact it was 2012, that Michael left LA for San Diego. He got there unknown and not especially respected–such was (is?) the clannishness of the San Diego roadie scene.
A mere eight years later, he has indelibly branded “MMX” on road cycling in San Diego, in California, and I’d venture to say, in the U.S. What it took to partner up with Sagan on a few months’ notice, pull together the permits, and devise events to make it a three-day show are all impressive. Yet none of those things is as impressive as the vision, because vision is the yin to execution’s yang.
As with every other driven, high-performing mind, working in tandem with Michael isn’t easy, and I’m being nice. This makes it all the more extraordinary, because the team of people who made the event happen couldn’t have been more diverse in temperament, from happy volunteers, to grim number-crunchers, to exhausted t-shirt sales people, to Shelby Reynolds, who personally registered 59,285 people and did every single one with a smile while answering questions like, “Will there be a place to pee?” and “Can I have an xtra small t-shirt with an XXL collar?”
I could go on but should probably focus my admiration instead on the real proof of Michael’s genius: Sags was damned happy with the event. Like any other superstar, he’s been promised the moon often enough to rightly expect stinky cheese when the deliverables roll in. Can anyone say Tinkoff?
But this event really set a standard. Like every course MMX will ever design, this one, a pure-roadie only course, even had one tiny section of sand. You can put the boy in the bathtub, but you can’t get the grit out of his jockstrap. And the course was something that only Michael could’ve designed, calling upon what is unquestionably the most detailed, intricate knowledge of North County roads that any cyclist has ever had. Michael knows the roads turn by turn, how they affect the flow of a ride, where they provide vistas, where they plunge into tree-lined country lanes, where they are conducive to sprints, how much climb is too much, and how to leave you beat to shit at the end even if you just tried to “chill.”
You could tell how happy people were at every stage of the event. Unlike many grand fondues, populated by dour and vaguely dissatisfied old fellows grumbling over the entry fee and contents of the swag bag, the post-ride luncheon was like one big happy party. People got their money’s worth, and more importantly, they got their ride’s worth.
Whether they got their Sags groupie photo by hanging out at the bus, snapping it at one of the parties, or whether they did it the ultimate way, sucking the wheel of the greatest rider of his generation, you couldn’t help feeling like YOU’D gotten a tiny slice of getting to hang with a bona-fide superstar.
And it happened because Michael made it happen.
I asked Sags if he was coming back next year, and he said he would like to, which I suppose is Sags-speak for “it depends.” After this event he was flying to Cartagena for his second big fondo, in Colombia. “After I retire from racing I will have more time for these,” he said. Of course I am already circling the month of November for next year. Knowing Michael, the 2020 event will exceed 2019 by orders of magnitude.
And as for Sags having more time in the future? Maybe. When you’re personable, popular, and able to piss on the side of the road into the lens of 30 cameras, you might find out that in retirement you’re even more popular than you were in your prime, Peter.
April 23, 2019 Comments Off on BWR: To tubeless or not to tubeless?
Hi, Wanky Dude!
I am doing my first ever Belgian Waffle Ride in a couple of weeks and am super excited about it. I like waffles and I like riding and Belgians are okay as long as they bathe occasionally, so this seems like the perfect ride for me.
Question–what kind of tires should I run? Thinking about switching to tubeless but I’m not sure it’s expensive, new wheelset and everything and I’m pretty handy changing a flat, so with your extensive BWR experience what do you recommend? Tubeless really seem to be the way to go here.
Lots of first-time BWR-ers ask this question because it diverts from the real question, which is, “How much have you actually been training?” when we know the answer is “Hardly at all but I’ve been spending a lot of time on the chat forums and Amazon.”
Essentially for you it won’t matter what kind of tire you “run” because you are doomed to DNF and are in fact a pretty solid candidate to DNS. Tires don’t have anything to do with the Belgian Waffle Ride. They don’t matter at all.
Incredible as that may sound, let me give you a brief history of bicycle tires. They used to be made of leather before they were “improved” into iron. Yeah, you read that right. The first velocipedes had spoked wooden hoops covered with iron on the outside, and the roads, if they had any paving at all, were cobblestones. And the bikes weighed 70-80 pounds or more. And the cyclists rode them for a lot farther over lots harder ground than sunny San Diego in May.
Progress being progress, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber, which allowed ingenious people who didn’t like having their bones shattered every time the pedals went ’round to put a thin solid layer of rubber around the steel wheel. Mind you, there was no air inside the rubber. It was just hard fucking rubber and miserable beyond words but quite a bit less miserable than steel. Migraines, yes, stress fractures, fewer.
During those days, when the penny-farthing was the only game in town and people rode hundreds, then thousands of miles on roads so horrible you can scarcely imagine, cyclists didn’t worry about their “tires.” What they worried about were “headers,” where you tumble off the front of the penny-farthing head-first and get a permanent brain injury or a spot of death.
Eventually John Dunlop came up with a bike tire in 1887 that was inflatable by using an inner tube. Everyone agreed then, and has agreed ever since, that a cushiony inner tube beats all hell out of iron tires and brain injuries.
My point is not that you are kind of a whiny, spoiled wuss for nattering about your tires, which you clearly are. My point is that the word “tire” is an abbreviation for the word “attire.” Yes, back in the day the “tire” attired the bare wheel. It was a kind of froofy dress-up thing, like guys with plucked eyebrows. Frivolous but hey you are in L.A. and so I guess it’s okay.
This is kind of the same thing with your question about what tire to attire your BWR wheels with. Since you are a froofy kind of person, I’d go with whatever is froofiest, which is probably tubeless, a thing that pairs well with chicken, Bearnaise sauce, and words like “brainless,” “gutless,” and my favorite for BWR first-timers, “hopeless.”
On the other hand, if you want to do the BWR in the spirit with which it was created, you should consider attiring your wheels with leather or iron. You will not get far but people will GTF out of your way when you come screaming down the Lake Hodges rock garden on leather tires. And when you hit Lemontwistenberg with those iron hoops you will not need to hop the curb because your tire will smash the cement into sand.
So to sum up, tubeless for froof, leather/iron for hard people.
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April 14, 2019 § 2 Comments
It is hard to keep going.
The road doesn’t always seem like it’s going to end.
And when it does, the finish may be … not good.
Some people keep pushing while others fall by the wayside. It’s not a matter of superiority. Often it is simply a matter of being unable to quit. Always, it is a kind of perverse doggedness, seen by some as an attribute, by others as a foul curse.
The slog started in 2012, in an industrial parking lot in Carlsbad, California. How it finished and all that stuff, who started, who quit, who purple-carded, that has all been catalogued somewhere and mostly forgotten.
But in 2019 the slog continues, still rolling out from an industrial parking lot, but now accompanied by well over a thousand riders and the extraordinary infrastructure and planning that it takes to launch the annual Belgian Waffle Ride. Most people rightly think that the ride is the slog. Those who have completed it know that “slog” understates it by orders of magnitude. Those who have won it stay mostly silent. The beating speaks for itself.
The bigger slog, though, is the focus, dedication, and sense of purpose that have driven the ride’s progenitor, Michael Marckx, to keep pounding on. Because the moment each year’s production ends, the next year’s begins.
The gran fondo world is a competitive one. Iconic rides such as Levi’s Gran Fondo once sold all 7,000 spots in a matter of hours. Today that same ride is not much larger than most others, and smaller than many.
The Belgian Waffle Ride, however, continues to attract, year in and year out, well over a thousand riders–and more than the numbers, the breadth and the depth of the event continue to grow. Tour de France riders, current professional road racers, international caliber ‘cross racers, and local talent of the highest order fill out the fast end of the BWR’s ranks every single year.
Why? Because the BWR’s course, which changes every year, can’t simply be cobbled together by looking at a map and “going out and doing it.” It’s a ride where an overarching plan backed with coordination by local, county, and state agencies is the backbone upon which the event is hung.
People who want to combine the speed of road riding with the rough-and-tumble battery of sand, rocks, and lots of dirt know that this is the only ride in America where you can get all of that plus well over 12,000 feet of climbing in a marked, supported, turnkey adventure. And it really is an adventure in the true sense of the word: You have no idea how it’s going to end.
This is all by design, because the one thing that Michael has hewed closely to in every single edition of the BWR is that it will be like no other day you spend on the bike, even if you do it every single year. The difficulty, the changing course, and the variations in your own preparation will leave you spent–hopefully intact, but you do sign a waiver.
Slogging your way through eight years of vision to consistently produce a better event is its own kind of mania, especially when you consider that the BWR is executed by a tiny handful of people supported by a vast staff of volunteers. Leaving aside the difficulties of obtaining permits, some of which in past years came through on the eve of the event, and forgetting the vagaries of weather which can be catastrophic, putting together something of this scope means dealing with an infinity of details, not to mention personalities.
Why the singular focus? I’ve never asked Michael, but I’ve ridden with him enough to know that the BWR reflects his approach to cycling. Don’t take the easy way. Don’t tap out when it’s grim. Do your part.
The BWR is as far from the easy way as you can get. Tapping out is of course up to you. And when the ride fractures into grupettos early on, some will do their part and some will sit in for as long as they can. Yet the DNA of the ride is one of a slog, some fast, some less so, and some riders wrapping it up long after the sun has set.
After years of watching the BWR issue forth and then issue forth again, I can also say that it reflects Michael’s obsession with quality. It’s not enough to have a good ride where things mostly go right. The ideal is almost like one of Plato’s forms, an idealization of “ride” in which reality partakes of the ideal to obtain its identity.
Each year is a new attempt to reach perfection, to deliver something better, harder, more challenging, yet still more satisfying than the thing that went before. The willingness to slog is more common than we recognize and the annual BWR roster proves it. But the willingness to slog coupled with the drive to slog in perfection … that is a rare, rare thing, and it’s the ethos of this ride.
July 28, 2018 § 8 Comments
I finished my 2-week intensive German course at the Vienna branch of the Goethe Institut on Friday. It’s hard to compare courses because I’ve never taken one before. On the whole it was really good and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to dive into German for a couple of weeks while enjoying an amazing European city.
The program has 4.5 hours a day of classroom instruction, which is a lot, by which I mean completely draining and exhausting. But the lessons are only part of the program. The other half of it, or more, are the daily events and tours arranged on your behalf. This is where you really get to put into practice all of the things you’ve been doing wrong in the classroom.
If you were to do the entire program from tip to tail, it would be a 12-hour day most days, because the events continue into the evening. As with most things in my life, I wasn’t really able to take full advantage of all that was on offer because, bike riding. It is really hard impossible to do a 7-hour beatdown, then class, then attend a Stammtisch. Oh, well.
For many of the other students you could probably replace “bike riding” with “massive consumption of alcohol.”
Goethe Institut v. Belgian Waffle Ride
The easiest way for a cyclist to understand anything is to compare it to cycling. In this case, the 50-hour course of advanced German approximated the BWR. So if you’re considering something like the Goethe Institut, here is a handy-dandy list that will let you compare, contrast, and do something else.
- Distance: Comparable. 50 hours of intensive German coursework with lots of grammar and 19th Century reading selections is like doing the dirt sections on the BWR … for 140 miles, backwards.
- Pain: Legs empty. Head throbbing. Throat dry from extreme dehydration. That’s how it feels to listen to a presentation in German on “Hydroelectric Power in the Swiss Alps.”
- Cost: BWR, about $150 for 8-12 hours. Goethe Institute, about $950 for approximately 120 hours.
- Sense of accomplishment: BWR gives you a t-shirt that says “Participant.” Goethe Institut gives you a certificate that says “Participant.” Neither organization is about to call you awesome just because you gave them money.
- Gewgaws: BWR gives you a bag filled with gewgaws of varying utility. Goethe Institut gives you a textbook with CD, neither of which you will ever use again.
- Course: BWR is a well thought out, impeccably planned route that includes a lot of pain for everyone and ultimate collapse. Goethe Institut follows a careful plan of helping you realize that mastery of German is within your grasp if you can only live to be 200.
- Food: BWR food is nourishing. Goethe Institut offers you coffee from a vending machine that is better than Starbucks, which isn’t saying much.
- Scenery: BWR scenery is fantastic even though you don’t see any of it. Goethe Institut scenery is world class and you get to see all of it plus panhandling plus as much secondhand smoke as your heart desires.
- Music: BWR offers pop music on the PA. Goethe Institut offers Vienna, e.g. Mozart.
- Comrades: BWR fellow riders are all self-flagellating nutjobs. Intensive German students are, too.
- Sag: BWR has frequent sag stops with pro hydration. Vienna has cappuccino every 100 steps.
- Comrades: BWR riders are mostly Usonian, male, white, middle-aged, and delusional. Goethe Institut students come from all over the world and are of all ages. Also delusional.
- Recovery: BWR, about a month of drooling and aching. Goethe Institut, no recovery required.
- Shame quotient: At the BWR you are only moderately ashamed of sucking because you’re alone most of the time and you can cut the course. At the Goethe Institut you are surrounded by people as you endlessly make a fool of yourself, like telling to the waiter “Pay my bill, please!” instead of asking him for the “Bill, please.”
- Pride quotient: BWR is “I suck but at least I did it.” Goethe Institut is “I may be a dumb American but at least I’m dumb in the local language.”
- Overall awesomeness: You’ll never forget either.
April 17, 2018 § 10 Comments
The Belgian Waffle Ride has changed. When it began in 2012, you had to do it because you were invited, and only 150 or so select idiots got the nod. In those days of yore, the BWR was all about punishment, on the bike and off. Select enforcers were given “purple cards” that they handed out to cheaters, course-cutters, even paceline shirkers who refused to take a pull. The cards were emblazoned with the face of The Cannibal, under which was the slogan “Eddy Don’t Want No Freddies.”
At the end of the ride, three riders below all others were singled out and publicly humiliated for having accrued too many purple cards or for having committed supremely egregious purple infractions. The losers got a purple jersey and a matching pair of purple SPY sunglasses customized for the event.
The following year people were allowed sign up, and there was a fierce vetting of supplicants as riders were sent off depending on their racing category. Racers who lied about their categories (all vigorously cross-checked on USAC) got demoted to the last wave, from whence there was no hope of much advancement. More purple cards were handed out and purple behavior was scorned.
By 2014 the Belgian Waffle Ride had become a legend, kind of like the Tower of London, where the good and the bad, the lucky and the accursed, the innocent and the guilty, were sentenced to ride. It seemed as if everyone in North County San Diego and the South Bay/West Side of Los Angeles was there. As a cult ride, the BWR would reach its apogee in this year. It was brutal beyond belief, each year harder and longer than the one before, and fierce disapprobation rained down from above onto the hapless heads of those who were too weak, too cowardly, and too purple to be worthy of the moniker “Waffler.”
Time waits for no ride
By 2015, the year I completed my fourth and final Waffle, I was flat fucking done. The route had become so grueling that no person, regardless how crazy, could seriously consider re-upping for a fifth consecutive ride in 2016. In fact, by the time this year’s edition came bellying up onto the beach, maw open and fangs bared, less than five riders lined up with perfect Waffle records: Giants like Dan Cobley, Andy McClure, Logan Fiedler, and Neil Shirley are to my knowledge the only riders to have finished all seven Waffles without cutting the course. Even the ride’s creator and high priest, Michael Marckx, ended his streak at five Waffles.
But though the ride peaked as a cult event, and only the Cobleys, McClures, and Fiedlers earned the title of hardest of the hard, the BWR morphed into a kinder, gentler, unspeakable horror fest of some of the best riding you will ever do anywhere. And that’s about the time I decided to have another go but this time to take a smaller bite, to have a shot this time at the Wafer.
For some reason I thought that 8,000 feet and 70 miles of riding, 40 of which were off-road, would be a relaxing day on the bike. For some reason I thought that if I gave up all delusions and simply pedaled to finish, it would be fun. For some reason I had forgotten who had dreamed this thing up.
No training needed
Since it was just the Wafer and not the Waffle, why train? I was already fit and going well, and I also had a new Giant TCX with knobby tires and disc brakes. This should be a piece of cake, especially since some of the nightmare off-road sections such as the Oasis had been shelved. This would be the first Belgian I’d done where I actually knew all of the roads.
Not too expert with the through-bolt thing, I put on my front wheel and rode to the start. Sam Ames and his killer crew at Gear Grinder mobile Bike Grill had already been working 24 hours straight to prepare for the operation of feeding 1,000 hungry riders in time to get them out of the starting gate at 7:30. The day before I’d visited the Expo Center and marveled at the Canyon Bikes showroom, unlike any bike showplace I’ve ever seen and stocked to the ceiling with mouth-watering, full carbon bikes, every one of which was made of 100% carbon.
I’d also enjoyed a cup of incredible Blast Radius coffee, the first coffee brewed especially for athletes. Although no one who knows me has ever considered me an athlete, this stuff worked. With a proprietary blend of four bean types and a mild roast to maximize the caffeine, this stuff had me wired in minutes. Perhaps it was the caffeine from Blast Radius that propelled me to the head of the feed line at 5:00 AM pointy-sharp, where I scarfed waffles, syrup, bacon, eggs, and a slice of my own home-baked sourdough multi-grain bread.
Problem was, it was in the low fifties, the sun was nowhere up, and seated as I was in my bib shorts it got fuggin’ cold fuggin’ quick. I hustled over to the car, cranked up the heater, and fell asleep, only to be awoken by Dandy Andy, shivering outside and looking colder than a joke from a 50’s sitcom. “Get in, dude,” I said.
He struggled into the back seat and we covered him with greasy bike blankets. He didn’t care ’bout no grease. He was about to nail down his seventh consecutive Waffle.
With age comes slowness. And wisdom.
This seventh edition of the BWR had a very different flavor to it, I could smell it as I rolled up to the staging area, and it wasn’t from leaky port-o-potties. It was an air of camaraderie, of excitement, of trepidation, but of confidence that somehow it would all work out even though facts pointed to the likelihood that they in fact would not.
There was Bill Pinnell, the only guy to ever finish the Waffle on an Elliptgo, not once, but six straight times if he pulled it off today. In 2016 it took him seventeen hours, and this time he had a couple of other Elliptidiots to keep him company. There was Jim Miller, the voice of the BWR, a guy who had completed his share of Waffles and now was in active retirement, grateful to have an excuse not to mash his manhood into bleeding sores over the roughest roads in North County San Diego.
But there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of new faces, a sea of strangers, and they all appeared to have been infected with the best of vibes. People were going to ride, some would cheat, some would cut the course, some would behave in the purplest of ways, but so what? None of it could make a dent in the giant steel bucket of hurt that we were all about to get dunked in.
Except for me. Because I had a plan.
The best laid plans
It’s hard to explain how amazing it is to see more than a thousand riders queued up, ready to go smash themselves senseless for anywhere from four to fourteen hours. Michael Marckx’s vision of a rolling madhouse really has come to pass, and through his efforts he has created an event that brings out the very best side of cycling, and more importantly, the very best side of people. You could feel it everywhere, and not a purple card in sight.
My plan was to start at the back. Dead last. Instead of staging towards the front and spending the day getting passed, I decided to start at the back and spend the day passing others. My mediocre result would be the same, but I wouldn’t have to go out hot, blow up early, and suffer like a dog the second half of the ride. I’d conquer the Waffle by doing the Wafer, and I’d conquer the Wafer by going easy.
In the beginning it looked like my plan was going to work. My steady, no-stress pace put me in front of a couple of hundred riders by the time we hit the first dirt section, a nasty, walled and rocky climb that immediately jerked people up short. Stuck in a long mule train of idiots, we toiled up the wall, and as it descended people began to pass me … like mad.
Tires and egos wildly overinflated, people bounced and flew past in the hurry of an insane asylum doing parachute jumps sans parachutes. If you had brought a small truck you could have started a bike shop with the shit that people unwillingly jettisoned: Water bottles, food, cages, tool bags, pumps, components … someone not only lost a pedal but didn’t even stop until much later when I saw the sadsack hobbling, one-pedaled, out in the grass looking for his Eggbeater.
People flatted everywhere, and that’s when I took secret pleasure in being slow and safe on the descent, but on running my 33mm knobbies at 55 and 50 psi front/back. No matter how fast you go, the other guy goes faster when you double flat. Michael had of course made arrangements for such nonsense, as the course was patrolled by electric repair bikes, by VeloFix mobile bike shop, and by SRAM technical support. It felt like being in the Tour minus the salbutamol.
The Rock Garden
After the first interminable dirt section we hit Del Dios Highway, and although I held to my game plan of “never pedal hard,” I still passed plenty of people … until Lake Hodges.
Michael had given some great pre-ride advice in a short presentation that few of the Wafer riders appeared to have attended. “Go slow to go fast,” he said. This is completely false, of course. The fast riders went so fucking fast it was almost beyond comprehension. They went fast to go fast.
But they also knew how to pick a line, how to corner in the dirt, and had pro-level bike handling skills. For the rest of us, “Go slow to go fast” really meant “You can’t go fast lying in a gurney.” The message was on point: Steady is your friend on the BWR.
But the “Ain’t Got Time For That” crowd didn’t get the memo, and all the people I passed on Del Dios came blitzing by me on Lake Hodges and Rock Garden at speeds only really good riders or really stupid people attempt, and all of the really good riders, all ten of them, had passed by more than an hour earlier.
Desiring to a) not flat b) not bonk c) not crash, I watched them pass. Many I saw minutes later, splayed out in the grass frenziedly trying to change a tire, adjust a derailleur, weld a bottom bracket or replace a diaper, but many were gone, apparently for good.
This was sobering and a bit disappointing. I fancied myself fit. I fancied them idiots. Yet they were plainly much faster and fitter. “Oh, well,” I thought. “The true beauty of cycling is, and has always been, its ego reduction function.”
Imagine my surprise when, 21 miles in, all of the people who had passed me and scores more were huddled around the first grub stop like addicts queued up at a free Oxycontin dispensary. With less than a third of the ride to go, and all of the horrible sections remaining, people looked frazzled beyond words.
I pedaled on, and the riders thinned out. My only near catastrophe was in the Boulder section, when I noticed a funny jiggling sound that had begun miles earlier, as it began to get louder. I glanced at my front fork and saw the end of the through-bolt pointing forward.
“Hmmm,” I thought. “It’s supposed to be pointing backward.” I braked and got off. When putting on the wheel I had failed to tighten the bolt enough and it had worked itself loose over the last fifty miles. It was connected to the fork by less than a half-turn; one more joggle and I would have had a really unforgettable tale to tell from the comfort and safety of the ICU. Jay LaPlante, holler when you need me to work on your bike.
At the halfway mark I had begun pedaling more vigorously, and by the ride’s end I was completely done in, as wrecked as I’d been after finishing any Waffle. The cruel fact of the Wafer is that it is cruel, and if you put your legs into it without the right training you will be beaten into a quivering pulp. As expected, I finished faster than some … slower than others. Many others.
Turn, turn, turn
Back at the start/finish life continued on. The crazy fast riders came in about an hour after I did, doing double the distance in about the same amount of time. Brian McCulloch edged out second place by a bike length, sprinting for the win after 137 miles and 11,000 feet of hell. Happy riders dismounted and realized that the Hell of the North County wasn’t for everybody, but it was for almost everybody who went all in. Michael looked relaxed and happy, as he should have been, having morphed along with his baby, soaking in the good energy and shrugging off the bad.
No purple cards were handed out that I’m aware of, and I could tell by the funny look on people’s faces that they were already plotting for 2019.
I know I am.
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Several of my clubmates from Big Orange also tackled the Wafer, and were kind enough to share their misimpressions.
Tom D.: This year, I decided to do the Wafer ride instead of the Waffle. After completing my first Waffle last year, I was absolutely destroyed. While I felt very accomplished and glad for that experience, I wasn’t in a hurry to repeat it. I also wanted to ride with Joann! I had missed out on the JWR last year due to a surgery and have been neglecting FDR lately, so this was a good chance to make up for all of that. Finally, the reddish off-road sections reminded me of Sedona, and I wanted to see how fun it would be to ride them without worrying about planting my face in the dirt. So, my plan was set. I was going to ride the hard tail MTB that I had bought from Frenchie and putter along with Joann. I would try to hang on during the pavement sections and enjoy myself on the dirt.
First of all, I underestimated the inefficiency of riding 2.3” mountain bike wheels on the road. My “puttering” consisted of pretty solid efforts to hang with the people on road bikes, especially during the flats and descents. I don’t know what the actual figure was, but I felt like I spent about 25% more effort than I would have on my road bike. Also, riding into the wind without being able to really tuck took a toll. Finally, I usually don’t ride my MTB, and when I do, I don’t sit on it for 7 hours. So after about three hours, I started to feel it on my sit bones, and sure enough, by the end of the ride, I got to go home with two lovely saddle sores as a souvenir.
The suffering on the road gave way to bliss once I got onto the dirt. I told Joann that I’d wait for her at the pavement, and sped off. It was so fun to finally let loose through sand and gravel without worrying about crashing. I was enjoying myself immensely until I caught up to the traffic jam of riders falling off their bikes in the single track sections, sapping all momentum and negated all of the benefits of bringing an MTB. Unfortunately, most of the off-road portions were packed dirt, so the MTB didn’t really help all that much. Still, there were at least a couple of sections, particular the ones near the lake, where I got to really put the suspension and plush tires to use. And I sped through Sandy Bandy happy as a clam!
The best part about the ride was how we took our time. It was nice to be able to do the mental math and realize that we’d get back well before 4:00 PM, even if we averaged a meager 10 mph. (In contrast, last year, I was praying to finish before it got dark and hypothermia set in.) I got to chat with the people at the rest stops. I took my time eating and drinking, so I wasn’t bonked to hell with 40 miles to go. I didn’t cramp and got to enjoy the beautiful scenery without my whole body hurting everywhere. Instead of feeling cold and tired and lonely and wondering if I’d die out there, I chit-chatted with Joann, Jody, Alan and Alan #2 (who we adopted as our own and I used shamelessly as a wind block). Instead of collapsing into a chair and staring into nothing, I had a nice meal at the end of the ride and sat and talked with friends.
I once told a friend that the Waffle was so hard, you can’t worry about anyone but yourself if you want to finish. The line between finishing and not is thin, and if you give up some of that margin for someone else, you may need to sacrifice your ride. Not so with the Wafer, and it feels 100x better to give to someone else than to accomplish something for yourself. On the last dirt section, I saw a Subaru Santa Monica rider changing a flat. This guy was about to finish the Waffle in the time it took us to do the Wafer. I stopped and asked if he needed help, and he asked for a CO2 canister. I gave one to him, wished him luck and went on my way. He was very appreciative. I’d like to think I would have stopped even if I were dazed and confused and delirious as I was last year, but seeing how many people passed by him without a word, I’m not sure I would have even seen him in that state.
I’m all for destroying myself and squeezing every ounce of strength out of me from time to time, but this was a lot more enjoyable! Next year, I think I will do the Wafer again, but I’ll probably leave the MTB at home.
Brandon S.: Redemption is an understatement! I went into the BWR after a failure at the JWR. So I wanted to just smash this ride! Got to San Marcos on Saturday around 5 went to the expo and got my packet. I was with my girlfriend who is expecting our first child and her mother lives 20 minutes away so it worked out.
Went out to dinner with all the Orange participants in anticipation of the event. Lots of laughs, anxiety, and anticipation. Talking about shop, gears, and past experiences. Woke up and went to the Start finish ate my waffles and said some prayers🙏. It was a chilly morning and when the wafer wave went off I just hammered. I thought about keeping my heart rate at 150 till double peak (and forgot my heart rate monitor). I just wanted to finish competitively. I hooked up with some riders from Santa Barbara and just smashed the loop at a hearty pace. I was taking a big bite outta the wafer! Got to double peak and just told myself “pedal dammit!” Got to the top looked around and said “ I should have taken 2 scoops of energize”. But going to the finish line I had my arms up like I finished a stage at the Giro! Very pleased with my performance, I put in a lot of work this year to get stronger. The gym at 4am, nite rides, racing, group rides etc. The ride was great. Very well supported and marked well. Definitely gonna be here next year!!! Waffle??????
Jody N.: I had a goal, simply finish the BWR-Wafer. (I wanted the socks!) It started with a discount code and ended with a high speed descent (47 mph my personal record) to cross the finish line. It would not have possible without the support of so many along the way!!
Thank you to the BWR and FDR for offering the discount code. Thank you to Scott, for encouraging me to continue when fear became an obstacle (those BWR email teasers were killing me!) Thanks to Alan and the group that did the CX training ride and thanks to Seth, Abraham, Brandon and the Big Orange family for making me feel so welcome. BIG thanks to Alan, Tom, and Joann for agreeing to stick together!
The course was challenging-rocks, sand, water crossing and climbs, the SAG/rest-stop support was plentiful and the route clearly marked. But best of all: The camaraderie surpassed my expectations. Thanks to everyone for helping me to achieve this goal!
Joann Z.: I told people that I was going to take it slow and take a ton of pictures but what happened was quite the opposite. Well, sort of. I did take it slow but I didn’t take any pictures. I was too focused on not crashing! I was too focused on getting up and down those dirt sections. It was total concentration the whole time! Unlike everyone else who would speed up, slow down, pull over and take picture after picture. I would pass and hey would say, “keep going! Don’t stop!” I’m glad they took photos because I couldn’t. I don’t often feel like people are taking care of ME. It’s usually, I’m watching out for others. I felt really lucky because I had Tom and Alan who I knew were sacrificing their ride for me. Who I knew were there in part for me. When I passed them taking a picture of me, my heart was full of love for them. I felt so lucky, so lucky to have these men in my life.
At mile 62 with double peak in the distance we were about 8 miles and 1600 feet to finish. I told Alan to just go. Come back down and ride with me if he wanted or wait at the top. Yeah. Come back down. Hahahaaa! I almost fell over when he came around the corner. He went up to the top of double peak and came back down to get me. Now how could I not love that man!?!?
It was smooth sailing from then on. We all finished together. I don’t think any of us got off the bike more than twice and there were no crashes or even close calls. We sat around and shared photos, except I had none, talked story and then hit the road. I was tired at the end but not too tired. It took more strength to stay awake in the car and I was asleep before the sun went down. Will I do the BWR next year? I was thinking about the Waffle but then I saw my Strava suffer score. 695! More than double of my highest recorded score. So, probably wafer next year too.
Abraham M.: 2018 Belgium Wafer Ride completed!! Before joining Big O I would scout good Century rides for me to do and I came across the BWR. I would watch videos on YouTube and told myself and my family that I will be doing that ride in about 2-3 years. During that time I was only riding a little over a year and had not yet completed a full century. After joining Big O I noticed a post by Joann Zwagerman, it was a BWR redo. I was responded as soon as I seen it and thought that would be a perfect way to get my feet wet on some dirt and try out the BWR. So I never road dirt, I was nervous when riding my road bike on sand at the beach (all my first falls were on the bike path by the beach). F it lets do this. So I bought a Gravel bike and went to the BWR redo ride in June of 2017. What a disaster it was!! Although I completed the ride (in over 10 hours) I was completely beat up. I told myself I would be back the next year and be ready. Fast forward to 4/15/2018 – I hit the Wafer Ride hard. I started at a chill pace until I got to the first dirt section. Once I got there and saw I wasn’t getting dropped and was actually passing people I was pumped!! Game on, I completed the Wafer in 5Hrs and 17 min. I took minimal stops at sag stations for water and nutrition and kept grinding. I didn’t fall, I didn’t walk my bike and the only time I unclipped was because a rider in front of me stopped (twice). I am super excited and will prepare for the full Waffle next year. Thank you Joann Zwagerman, Brent Davis, Alan S and Brandon Sanchez for riding with me this past year in preparation for the BWR.
Michael W.: Hope everyone had a delightful BWR. Quick show of hands, Who’s ever ridden head-on into a breakaway group of world class cyclists? Well, as of yesterday, I have. Here’s how it happened: I go to pick up my Wafer bib # the morning of the ride, (I paid 20 bucks extra for this) and the guy says they didn’t print enough Wafer numbers. Then he said, no worries, just ride numberless. He gave me a timing chip. I said “What if they pull me out of the ride?” He said no worries ride whatever route you like all you need is the chip. So, at the last second, I opted to do the Waffle (I DNF’d a couple of years ago and it’s always bugged me). As you know, it was a perfect day. Then about mile 40 or so on that long fire road through the canyon, I’m hauling down hill around a blind corner right at the exact moment as the lead breakaway group was hauling ass back on their return leg. FUUUHK! There was no way to avoid them with crashing into a deep rain washed gully along the inside of the turn. I crashed pretty friggin’ hard and scratched my lovely bike pretty bad. The only thing I heard from the lead rider was “Sorry bro!” just before I wiped out. There was no lead car in front of the group to clear a path. I didn’t expect a rider to stop, but no chase car did either. Hopefully my frame’s not cracked. My ass is a little sore, but it could’ve been worse. Only one flat and one minor other crash after that. Even though I may have been the last rider in (it was completely dark) I finished. All that said, I still love this brutal, beautiful ride. I might have hit my head too.
Alan S.: BWR – it was a different perspective for a ride, one because of the amount dirt involved and second the tempo of the ride itself. Riding with JZ gave the opportunity to relish the features of the trails, enjoying the surroundings in a relaxed atmosphere instead of rushing through chasing the person in front of you. It was a visual and yet still physical experience. I had front row seats for JZ’s personal struggles which entertained me the entire ride, and as we approached Double Peak she had my sides hurting from laughing as she shared every negative sentiment she had for climbs, climbing and rides with climbing in it. Hilarious yes but still she mustered the strength and determination required to make it to the top. Excellent stuff indeed.
March 20, 2018 § 2 Comments
I know it’s too late. “The hay is in the barn,” as G$ likes to say. However, you’re still signed up for the BWR, so rather than exhort you to train more, which won’t help, I’ve solicited some advice about the technical aspects of actually riding it.
As a matter of accuracy, the wider the tire, the better for the dirt sections. You can go faster in the dirt with 32mm tires than with 28mm or 25mm, as the skinnier tires don’t float like the wider ones and tend to dig down into the dirt, especially on very loose sand. The problem is that when you get to the road on the wider tires, the rolling resistance becomes an issue… for nearly 100 miles.
In other words, pick your poison. Is it a road ride that you need to be able to ride dirt on? Or is it a dirt ride connected by brief segments of pavement?
After two recon rides thus far for 2018, with many different kinds of riders and bikes, a few patterns have emerged which follow a hallowed trend. The rides start out quickly and everyone seems overly eager to hit it hard, which inevitably comes back to haunt them 50, 60, 80 miles in, when those same enthusiasts are bonking, cramping, seeking a fifth diaper change, or otherwise looking for a shortcut home.
The trick is pacing. Isn’t it always? Yet other things come into play, too. The more comfortable you are in the dirt sections, the more energy you can save for the road. If you are fighting your bike in the sand for extended periods of time, you are burning matches you will need later, matches without which the cigar will never ever get lit.
Eating and drinking are such a key factor, yet people still forget to eat or drink. This is a common phenomenon in racing and affects pros as well a beginners. By the time you’re hungry, you’re being eaten.
Worse, riders lose water bottles in the dirt and then they need to somehow find liquid along the way or make it on their hands and knees to the next anti-death aid station. Having properly functioning cages is something half the people don’t have. Also, people don’t eat or drink in the dirt sections, because… they can’t. Once through the initial couple of dirt sections, riders are now at Mile 26 and haven’t consumer much of anything, and are faced immediately with a 5-mile climb which has some really steep pitches. You put off drinking and then the dehydration leads to dessication and DNF. Waiting too long to eat or drink will have devastating impacts later on, so do both at regular intervals.
Riders also need to be prepared for flats and be ready to fix them on their own despite the event having roving mechanics on the dirt sections and many on-course support vehicles. As many as half the riders will flat, and as many as half will be flummoxed by the physics of tire removal. Another half will not have enough tubes. The final 50% will run out of CO2 cartridges, and the last half will take this as an omen from Dog that they should sag their way back to the start/finish for fresh beer and treats.
Proper gearing is different for everyone, but the BWR is not the time to slap on the 11-23 and “man up.” Many riders fail to have as big a rear cog as they are going to need, and it often means one that you could bake a pizza on. The problem is that when fresh it’s easier to muscle a bigger gear up a steep climb, but once fatigued, injured, starving, dehydrated, bonked, cramping, and delirious, we need more gearing or a motor to negotiate the 20% plus inclines. At the very end, Double Peak hits 23% at its steepest, offering the thrill of victory as you spin up it, or, as in 2017, the ignominy of having to dismount and walk their bikes up a road climb.
One other issue people aren’t prepared for is the fatigue of riding the dirt and braking a lot. Their arms and hands get tired, which can lead to further overall fatigue, or worse, they crash. When you’re considering equipment, if disc brakes are an option, go with them. They will greatly reduce brake fatigue on your hands and allow a much more precise application of braking. This results in less energy wasted getting back up to speed as well.
Lastly, those who are prepared to go it alone mentally and physically are the ones who will have the most rewarding ride, even if that simply means surviving. Being prepared for the last half of the ride going into a headwind is as much mental as it is physical, because you do so much strenuous climbing and dirt riding on the way out and then start descending back to Bandy Canyon, but it’s all into a headwind. Once at Sandy Bandy and every section thereafter until Double Peak is more or less into a headwind. Riders should seek to work with other riders for much of this and not be tempted to leave others behind or get left behind, because riding in a group can save enough matches to get you from the Oasis up the long final ascent to Double Peak.
The Zwartenberg a/k/a Black Canyon
It’s back, and it’s darker and longer than ever for Wafflers. This year it has a unique challenge, the Canyon King of the Canyon Challenge, sponsored by Canyon Bikes. This consists of two sectors’ worth of suffering and it’s basically the entire length of Black Canyon on the way out, which goes up, down, and then a long up. On the way back, once riders get to the bottom of the Sutherland Damberg descent, there is another segment that goes back up and then down the opposite way riders did it earlier in the day on Black Canyon. If a rider doesn’t do well here with pacing, they may not have what it takes to hit the second sector with the same bravado they hit the Canyon on the way out.
Black Canyon comes just after the second feed zone and a lovely respite along a freshly paved road. It is here riders will be confronted with The Zwartenberg—a decidedly dirty 3-mile ascent over washboards, sand and gravel, only made worse by the 2-mile descent after, which requires going down slower than you went going up. To make matters even worse (read: BETTER), at the bottom begins the longest, most big, black and beautiful climb of the day, eleven kilometers of the purest dirt. This climb will take many more than an hour to ascend. Good thing it’s a remarkably pristine place to feel completely alone. Sadly, riders will barely notice anything more than the few feet in front of them.
At the top, riders still have another happy 73 miles to go and the headwind will only get stronger after they reach the summit of this dark and demented segment. This lonely course feature adds the lovely touch of more dirt to the BWR in an emphatic and definitive drop of the guillotine’s blade, helping to make this year’s route dirtier than any before it.
This sector was introduced in 2017, with permission of SDRPT Park Ranger Dave Hekel, and it is one of the most interesting sectors of them all. It barely has any inclines but it has all sorts of rocks and challenges such that every body has to get off and run at some point.
It’s varied terrain runs parallel to Lake Hodges and follows along the western border until it becomes Twistenlemonberg, not to be confused with Lemontwistenberg, which some riders completed on the way out.
Hodgendam starts out after a pleasant but short asphalt section that riders enjoy after the rocky mayhem of Hodgesmeergate. Once on the Hodgendam, it’s easy to see why this is the most unique sector of the event. There are little bridges, banked turns, whoops and jumps. There are a series of tricky little ravines that many will choose to walk through, while some will ride, or try to. Eventually, all must get off and navigate the rocks as though it were a cyclocross race. Many will have to dismount several times along here. It’s okay. Walking is fun!
Once through all of the rockstacles, riders will pass Hernandez Hideaway and get on what really is the only true gravel road of the event, a roughly, and we mean roughly, 3-kilometer sector of big, rocky gravel. You’ll need to find the right line through here and stay on it because the gravel along here is brutal. The beauty of this sector will be lost on you, but if you were to take it all in there is the pristine serenity of the lake to the left and a wonderful woodland-like hill on the right that shouts the existence of Del Dios Hwy. It’s serene but the sound of your wheels grinding through the gravel will dominate your senses, unless thirst is considered a sense, because it’ll be hot with a headwind here.
A signature sector with an augmentation for 2018, this deceivingly diabolical diversion, takes Wafflers and Wafers alike on an unseemly 6-kilometer excursion, eschewing the heavenly smooth and open road along Bandy Canyon. It parallels the beckoning smooth highway on a devilish dirt trail that is mostly, you guessed it, sand. Some would even say quicksand, and its depths will create more separation than the Bandy Weg climb that follows.
This sector is punctuated by a brief stint back on the road, but before that riders get to enjoy a soft single track with plenty of turns to slow everyone down. The initial part is kinda fun, really, if you like that kind of thing. There’s a headwind with the chance to slide out or hit a root and divert into a fence or a tree. Once through the first portion, the road feels weird on your tires, but not for long as the second, more challenging part begins. This section winds its way through a single path that’s usually home to horses. Watch the land mines. It’s twisting and turning is only made worse by the unsuspecting deep sand pockets that can swallow riders whole if they take the wrong line. If you are a spectator, this is like hanging out at the final turn of the hometown crit, where all the crashes happen. Inevitably, riders will crash here, no matter how many times you warn them. When you do fall, make sure to wave your hand for one of the marshals to rescue you. Anyone caught trying to cut the course here will be left to the not-so-swift suffocation only quicksand can provide.
There is a third section on Sandy Bandy that ends with a difficult, rocky descent, before a turn up a nice kicker to the start of the Bandy Weg climb, but not until a forced dismount signals the next level of hell has been reached.
Aside from the above-mentioned challenges, the BWR is a piece of cake once you leave out the 100 or so more miles of brutal sand, dirt, rocks, wind, heat, and asphalt.
Get a good pair of bolt-ons. Bottle cages, I mean.
Remember to drink.
Remember to eat.
And for dog’s sake, leave the 23 at home.
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