Transcon Diaries: The Bike and Equipment for a 3,000km+ Race
February 23rd, 2017
February 23rd, 2017
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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In six months time, our Transcontinental TCR No.5 bloggers will be heading off to Belgium to race across multiple continents and finish up in Greece. Click HERE to read an introduction to our bloggers, and why they have decided to take on such a mammoth challenge. So, what bike and what equipment are they planning to take for what will be a approximately a 4,000km self-navigating and self-supporting race spanning at least two weeks?
My kit decisions for this years Transcontinental race are very much based on my experiences from last year, particularly the Transatlantic Way race along the West Coast of Ireland. Training rides and micro adventures are great for trying out kit but I found it was the actual racing that really fine tuned everything.
I’m very lucky to be supported by my local bike shop, Rule 5 bikes in Brighton. Not only are they good friends, but they know a thing or two about building bikes for the Transcontinental having worked on Josh Ibbett's lovely TCR winning Mason bike. They've supplied me with a Macho King cyclocross bike, from All City, converted to road use and it's been exactly what I was looking for, a bike with disc brakes that is comfortable enough to ride all day.
I've settled on Pacenti disc wheels and use a SP dynamo front hub, this is wired up to a USB Werk power supply which charges my Garmin and phone. The hub also powers my front light and a portable battery for charging stuff overnight. The electrics cope with most stuff but 2 days of rain in Ireland last year killed the charger, the lights and the Garmin. Thankfully it all worked again once it dried out, but lesson learned; cover it all up in the wet.
For bivvying I'm sticking to my tried and tested Alpkit dry bag, sleeping bag, matt and bivvy bag. I'm considering switching to a sleeping bag liner instead of sleeping bag for TCR but I'm going to wait until it's a bit warmer before I try that out. I use a Wildcat saddle bag and an Alpkit frame bag and if I can ditch the sleeping bag then I hope these will be the only bags that I'll need to carry everything. For a pillow I stuff shoes or a jacket in the dry bag if I can be bothered, but I have slept with just a shoe as a pillow. It's amazing what you'll put up with after a couple of days.
Aero bars are great for changing position on the bike and also double up as handy spot to hang stuff on. In my experience this is mostly food or pain killers (usually both). Stem cell bags are also great for stuffing with food and eating on the go. It would be nice to splash out on some fancy £200 aero bars, but it's hard to justify when a set of £40 bars works so well.
I'm pretty happy with the Morvelo clothing that I usually use, however; the search for a lightweight rain jacket that works continues. Off-the-bike clothing for the odd hotel stop will be a merino base layer and a pair of shorts. SPD pedals mean that I can walk around so I won't need to carry any extra shoes. Espadrilles are great on lightweight touring trips, but far too luxurious for a race. I'm not sure when I started considering espadrilles a luxury, probably around the same time that a single pair of shorts became acceptable to cycle thousands of kilometres in.
I will end up taking stuff that won't get used and I'm ok with that. I just hope that the stuff I do use works as I expect it to. In a way that's part of the appeal of the Transcontinental Race. What will I do when something I rely on doesn't work? I'll just have to do it and find out.
Racing the Transcontinental is probably the perfect excuse to follow the “n+1 rule” and get a new bike, and I have seriously thought about it. Something nice and shiny and custom build, but in the end I listened to the voice of reason and will be using the randonneuse that I have been riding for the last few years. Its a VPACE T1ST, which is a “titanium speed traveller” and that name is quite fitting. The gearing is 50/34 and 11-32 which I hope will be enough. The mechanical disc brakes have recently been replaced with the hydraulic version, offering better braking and being easier on the hands on long downhills. I am running a SON hub dynamo and Supernova lights powered off that. I will also install a USB charger and a powerbank to be able to charge my electronics on the bike. The wheels are relatively wide with Son rims and 28mm tires (Continental 4 seasons), but I am considering going even wider to 32mm for a bit of extra comfort. Do I want a proper bike fitting? I've ridden Paris-Brest-Paris without any issues or niggles, but it may still be worth it, especially if I plan to be using aerobars. While the decision to use this bike was made pretty quickly, I am still struggling to make up my mind about a few other things. I am almost certain that I will take off the racks and get some custom made bike packing bags (frame and saddle bag most likely) from Gramm, a small company from Berlin doing really nice bags. The large Ortlieb handlebar bag will be replaced by aerobars and two feed bags. Main navigation will be a Garmin 800 (because I already have it), but I'm looking at the Wahoo Elmnt as a back-up system. Bivvy bag, camping mat, and small sleeping bag is needed, but I haven't even started looking yet. As I am planning to sleep mostly in hotels this will serve backup and emergency use only. Questions like 'How to actually pack these things on the bike?', 'how much clothing do I take?', 'is that gearing low enough and can I handle the aerobars all day long?' – these are questions I will answer when the proper long distance multi-day training rides begin in March. I am pretty sure that I will change the setup a couple of times before it is dialled in too. Expect the final picture of bike and gear to look very different from this one!
I’m lucky that in the time I’ve been cycling again I’ve met and become friends with people involved in the bike trade in various ways, and I’m very fortunate to be helped out by some of these friends. Reilly Cycleworks have generously designed and crafted me a steel frame for the race, and supplied a pair of carbon forks. Upgrade Bikes have given me a pair of Kinesis Racelight wheels for training, and will be building something fancier around a dynamo hub for the race itself. And because I’m riding a bike whenever I’m not at work, Paul and Lewis at Rule 5 Bikes in Brighton are helping me source all the other bits and bobs I need to complete the bike and assembling it all for me. The bike will be kitted out with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and Busch & Müller dynamo lights. I’ll navigate using a Garmin 820 that I already have, but will probably buy an eTrex as a back-up as it can be run off a couple of AA batteries in emergencies. In order to keep all this lot, plus my phone, powered I’ll use a Busch & Müller USB-Werk and carry a couple of small USB power packs. Apart from the Di2, this is all stuff that I use audaxing so I’m used to it and know it works. Keeping as much as possible local to Brighton, Morvelo will be supplying me with clothing for the race, even going as far as designing some new pieces specifically for endurance events like the Transcontinental. A bit further afield, but handmade in the UK, Wildcat Gear are kindly custom making me a set of bikepacking luggage.
The App on my phone tells me that there’s just 166 days and 1 hour until the beginning of Transcon No.5. Yikes…! What I do on each of the next 166 days will have some contribution towards my experience of the race. The way I picture it, each day might entail a marginal gain, or marginal loss, or maybe neither. Ideally, there’ll be an opportunity every single day to make sure that I’m doing something active towards my preparation, resulting in a consistent series of marginal gains. Hence arriving at the start line as physically, mentally and practically as prepared as is possible. This means actual riding time and physical training for the most part, but kit preparation and route planning also require meticulous attention. So, Carl the Cube Attain is an aluminium frame with carbon forks. Carl was a recent purchase who replaced my Condor Heritage. I chose Aluminium since it ticks all the boxes in terms of comfort, price and weight. Wheels are yet to be sorted, but they should include a SON Deluxe dynamo. Seeing as I’ve just been made redundant from my job in Architecture, there’s no more spending sprees to be had until I have another job/income! I’m on the case. My Apidura / Rapha Saddle Pack will contain an Alpkit Hunka Bivy Bag and Alpkit Numo lightweight sleeping mat, plus a Lightweight synthetic sleeping bag and some spare clothes. The Apidura / Rapha Handlebar Bag will also contain spare clothes plus a mini medical kit and minimal toiletries. An Apidura Top tube bag will contain food and snacks, and a Restrap frame bag to contain documents (Passport, insurance docs, tickets etc.), titanium spork and Titanium mess mug, carb powder and cables for electronics. I will also be taking a Garmin 705 edge and a Garmin Etrex 30, phone and iPod, lights, and a Lezyne multitools, puncture repair kit and frame pump. HERE is a more in-depth kit list. This will no doubt look different to the final kit list, since I intend to train with, test and modify the details. I’m looking forward to the day that I can lay everything out and say, this is what I’m taking. All in good time!