Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hand numbness while bikepacking 101

Some thoughts on hand numbness from bikepacking long distances.
 
Its taken me a while, but I think I am getting a better understanding of the causes of the numbness/palsy/neuropathy that I picked up during my Tour Aotearoa in February. I'm not over it fully yet, but at least I can turn the key to start the car, pick up a handful of nuts from a bag, operate a zip, and finally, tie my own shoe laces. Its been 5 months so far. In the beginning my right (front braking) hand felt like it was in a pitchers mitt. It felt numb, and sensitive at the same time. My fingers felt like fried sausages trying to burst out of their skins. It was the top two fingers closest to the thumb, and the thumb itself. Classic carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, from median nerve compression.  The other really common version of this that many riders will have experienced is the ulnar nerve compression which affects the other two fingers, well actually the lower one and a half fingers. One of the professionals I spoke to said the nerves travel a long way along your body and like a garden hose, they can be constricted at many places on their paths, necks, elbows, palms, but the hands tends to be where you feel it.

 Some people get muscle wastage as well. I was lucky not to get this and I still had a good range of movement and only about a 30-40% loss of strength, so there wasn't really any therapy advised to help in this area. My GP said up front the options were rest, drugs or an operation to relieve pressure. I opted for rest, which wasn't that hard, given I was tired, and it was very uncomfortable to ride. After a while, a month or two, I got very frustrated, and wondered if it would ever come right. The waiting was worse than the affliction itself, but it was helpful to evaluate the importance of cycling with respect to the "big picture".

This is a personal critique of my own set-up, but it might be relevant to you. It's not what to do AFTER you have "achieved numbness", its what you might do to STOP it occurring in the first instance.

Just remember, there are people who might say that riding a bike for 18 hours a day for 11 days, is not a particularly intelligent thing to do. They might be right, but it is possible to do it with minimal trauma to the hands, as my riding buddies and many others did, to a large extent.

Hand numbness is not uncommon in long distance bike riding, the problem is, with so many variables involved, you cant really effectively test your set-up, because it can take 4 days of riding 18 hours a day, before you even know if your set-up is going to work for you. Even 4 days may not be enough in an event that takes 10, or 16.  I had done 4 bikepacking events of distances over 1000kms and never experienced any hand numbness issues, but my set-up for the 3000kms of the Tour Aotearoa Dirt Brevet was not so forgiving. My issues surfaced on day 5 after a rough 20 minute white knuckled descent.

After 4 months of retrospection I have have come up with the following factors which could have lead to the hand issues some of us experienced.

1. Get a proper bike fit from a professional. If you know of a legitimate fitter with bikepacking experience then feel free to share them in the comments at the bottom of this post. Word of mouth would be the best criteria in choosing someone I would think. But someone whose experience is mostly in fitting roadies or triathletes for their bread and butter is unlikely to have the best background.

2. Multiple hand positions. I used to think this was the only thing that needed addressing, but I was proven wrong in the Tour Aotearoa. It's no use having lots of different positions if your overall position is not optimal, but it could help delay the inevitable and get you through a shorter event without issues.

3. Gloves. Wear padded gloves if you like, but if your position is rubbish, its probably not going to make that much difference in the end. I lost my gloves on day 1 of a 5 day event once and never missed them, I was on a fully though. A riding partner wore no gloves at all and he was on a rigid drop-barred CXer. Our riding positions must have been good enough for 5 days riding with no ill effects. Edit. Some gloves can make your hands more numb, beware!

4. Suspension. Bikepackers can get a bit obsessed about saving 800 grams by riding a rigid front fork. Ask yourself if it's worth it. Plenty of people move very quickly even on a full suspension bike. Maybe as we age its a good option to consider a hard-tail or a fully instead of a rigid? 51 year old Brian Alder just came 5th in the Tour Divide and admitted that front suspension of some kind could be a big help.

5. Weight bearing balance. This is the seat-to-hands weight-bearing aspect. In the Tour Aotearoa, my butt was completely mint. I didn't think this level of comfort was achievable when riding 18 hours a day for over 11 days. This was the first time I had ever experienced ZERO butt-trauma, but also the first time I had hand numbness. I suspect my fore/aft balance was way wrong. Is there a way of measuring this? I don't honestly know. Scales under the wheels? If your bars are set up too low, or too forward, the weight will transfer from your butt, to your hands/arms and over-load them over time.

Head angle looks too extreme while riding on the drops. My back is too flat to enable a more upright head angle without cricking my neck. Photo Matt Dewes.
6. Bar height. I had been riding on Salsa Woodchipper drop-bars for several years, and never had any problems. I also had aero-bars, so I thought I had plenty of different hand positions. Even more hand positions than my previous flats/bar-ends/aero-bars combo. I am never more comfortable than when I am on my Karate Monkey, on the Woodchippers, or on the aero bars, I could fall asleep in this position I feel so relaxed. Where did I go wrong?

All the cool kids say, when riding off-road on dirt specific drop bars, you should "ride on the drops/hooks" not the hoods. It makes good sense, you have more control, more braking leverage in your hands in this position, more pedalling power for short pitches, and the curve of the bars keeps your hands locked in when the terrain gets squirrely. This was how I rode mostly, when on the trails.

BUT, what if your bars are too low or too forward? When I was braking on the drops I believe my bars were possibly a bit too low, and had to angle my head up in order to see ahead. I spent at least 20 minutes like this on day 5 of the Tour Aotearoa on a particularly rough descent and I suspect this is where I came undone. 20 minutes with your hands clamped tight and your head at a crazy angle is a pretty bad nerve stretch in hindsight. Some people DO have a tendency to set up their drop bars too low, more like they would on a road bike.

There is also a thing called lumbrical incursion where during flexion of the hand the muscles are forced into the carpal tunnel causing nerve damage. My theory is that median nerve damage, caused by the above, is just as likely (maybe more likely) to happen while resting or hard-braking on the hoods, or drops, as it is from resting your hands on the tops of yours bars. The lower your bar is, the more pressure on the hands, and the less on your butt.

While my bars could have been a bit higher I think I would have benefited a lot more from a much shorter stem with more rise.
 7. Cock-pit length. I suspect this was the biggest error I made with my set-up. Make sure the length of your cockpit (top-tube/stem combo) is suitable for you. You don't want to be too stretched out. If you are stretched out you will be canting your head up on a funny angle again which can cause nerve compression in your neck. About a week before the Tour Aotearoa I rode my buddies bike. Both of us on 29er steel MTBs with Woodchippers. His stem had to be at least 3-4 cm shorter than mine, and we both have similar length torsos. His bike felt completely different, his more typically MTB, mine more like a Cyclo Cross rig. A bunch of nerves called the brachial plexus come out of your spinal cord, down your neck and into your arms. These nerves can be affected detrimentally by over-stretching and wearing heavy packs. I wore a very light back-pack every day, so that is another thing to think about. It's feasible that with my upper buddy extended beyond a natural range that the back-pack could have had an effect, over time, despite the fact that it had very little in it. I was aware of muscle soreness on the undersides of my upper arms at one stage so this may also point to being over-extended with my cock-pit length as well.

The other side to this argument is, that if your cock-pit is too short, you may not be able brake or ride on the drops anyway as it will be too cramped, unless your bar is set up a lot higher. I guess you have to make up your mind at the start. Are you going to ride and brake on the drops, or are you going to do what many people do, on AND off road, and just ride on the tops of the bars or hoods. It would be wise to base this decision at least in part on the level of technical riding you are expecting in the event.

Check out these links on dirt-drop-bar set-up if that's what you use: Guitar Ted's link , Matt ChesterJason Boucher and Shiggy.

8. Head position. As above. If your bars are so low that you have to angle your head up, then you are asking for trouble. There is some good stuff on "Points of contact" here from John Hughs, and a link to Steve Hoggs stuff where he says that if your neck is angled at more than 85-90% of its range then you are in dangerous territory, and he is not even fitting people generally for all day riding.

It looks like the angle of my arms is too flat, and I have my head angled down, probably for comfort. (front rider). Geoff (in the red) is also on the aeros but his head is in a more natural position. Photo Matt Dewes.
9. Peaks? I wear a peak, as I have prescription glasses, it protects me from the sun, rain and dirt. I couldn't understand why more people didn't wear peaks, but  if your peak is too  low, you will once again have to cant your head up on angle to see ahead. Having your head at an awkward angle will compress the nerves in your neck. Adjust your peak to make sure it doesn't interrupt your vision when you are getting in to your most aero mode. My peak is adjustable on the fly, but I don't think I even thought it was an issue. I did not feel any discomfort in my neck.

It looks to me like my peak is obscuring my view and probably causing me to angle my head back more. Photo Matt Dewes.
10. Be conservative. What works for you in a 4 day event may not work in a 16 day event. Aero is good, but not at the expensive of nerve damage. Aero does not equal low, aero equals smaller frontal area (mostly).

11. There is no one best handlebar. To my way of thinking these things are very personal, a lot like saddles. The best handlebar is the one that allows small hand movements that can change the fore/aft pressure on your hands and butt. You should have a set-up which allows these micro adjustments as you ride. This is why I like drop bars. But if I am going to continue to ride on drop-bars, and brake and ride on the drops, I will look at a higher position for the bar compared to what I currently have. Google "LD" stems, that is the style of stem you are getting close to for really comfortable drops-based braking for extending periods.

See Shiggys weight distribution change with
each differing position on his drop bars.

If I change my style to just braking from the hoods, stem/bar height is not an issue. Many of my buddies brake this way, but they are better riders than I and they have more confidence bombing descents with their hands resting on the hoods. Mini-cross levers were Josh Katos solution for confident braking on the top of the bar.

After the the 2015 Kiwi brevet, Joe Jagusch suffered from debilitating Carpal tunnel Syndrome for a year. This is the set-up he used in the Tour Aotearoa to combat his earlier problems. Scores high on the "LD scale" but it worked for him.

12. Aero bars. I think aero bars are great, but as mentioned above, don't get sucked into an uber-low position. They are there to relax onto, and increase your aero-ness a bit, but don't set them so far forward that you over extend your arms and end up tilting your head back in order to see ahead.

A lot of people are using the fred-bar styled arrangements that give the aeros extra height and clean up the "handle-bar-real-estate" area.

People who throw on a set of aero bars at the last minute are asking for trouble because generally.
1. They wont have had time to adapt to them.
2. They will probably use them a lot more than they thought they would, making any problems worse than they thought possible.
3. My gut feeling is, the longer the event, the more likely it is that you are going to use your aero bars.

13. (A late addition). Bar tape. If you have big enough hands, think about double wrapping your tape or using appropriately placed gel inserts.  Some people swear by double wrapping.

14. (A later addition). Core strength! A strong core will help you in many areas, but it will help support your upper body weight and keep some of it off your arms.

15. (A later later addition). Finger exercises to relieve numbness on the bike as practiced by Cliffy in this years Kiwi Brevet.


These are just the things that I have observed that I believe effected me. There are quite a few factors in there to be considered. In isolation you might get away with a couple of problems, but the longer you are out there, the more chance they have to come into play. This ramble is very "drop-bar-centric" given that that was my experience, but I believe most of the things I have looked at are universal. I used Salsa Woodchippers, but there are many other drop bars out there. Read the comments on Guitar Teds link to see what other drop-bar users use.

Maybe a check-list could be something like this:

1. Choose your bar/s.
2. Decide how you will use it
3. Determine the optimal cock-pit length
4. Determine the optimal stem/bar height
5. Make sure there are varied positions available possibly with bar extensions and or aero bar add-on options.
6. Try to get the fore-aft butt-to-hands balance right.
7. Check that with the above all done, your head angle is comfortable over time.
8. If in doubt, err on the side of comfort over speed.
9. Maybe look for a proper bike fit first, if there is someone close. It might give you a better starting point?

It might feel nerdy, but get someone to take some side on shots of you in varying positions with you bike on a stationary trainer with the front wheel level to the back. I don't know the exact angle your upper arms should be at. Its likely to differ a bit, depending on how low the bars are, and whether or not you are using a fred bar mount or risers of some kind on your aero-bars, if you are using aeros.

Its now 6 months since I started the 2016 Tour Aotearoa. My hands are at 97.5% I reckon. Time heals. It was the best event I've ever done. I look around at some other events that have been and gone in that time, and others that are just about to start, and I realise how lucky we are in NZ to do such a diverse ride. Would I change anything?
Sure, I'd put on a shorter stem !  

The 2nd Tour Aotearoa starts Feb 2018.

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You can read about my other ailments and prevention here : ) http://jeffsbike.blogspot.co.nz/2015/09/what-is-your-achilles-heel.html



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Some slick and fat tires for fun and performance

Firefly
The bike that inspired
my interest in fat slicks
I was intrigued by "Mr Danger Pant's" fat tired Firefly when I first saw it 5 years ago on MTBreview forum. It had some very interesting kit on it including WTB dirt drop-bars.  I always thought it would be cool to build something like this. Its a 26 incher with Schwable Super Motos.

More recently the guys at Firefly built an All-road/rando styled bike that they thought might appeal to hard-core-randonneur Jan Heine. They got mostly high praise from Jan who tested it while touring in Mexico. Its a beautiful bike, and has motivated me to convert my old titanium Litespeed 26er into a light-weight drop-barred do everything bike.

Slick and fat
While you have always been able to get big heavy fat slick tires for 26ers you can now get some more light weight ones, and also 27.5 (650b) slick tires in wider widths are  starting to appear. The Compass Rat Trap Pass 26 inch tire is listed at 2.3 inches and 418 grams in its lightest format. I will try these on my repurposed Litespeed Ocoee and see how they roll. I am not keen to try the lightest tires on our crappy roads but will settle for the 454 gram version.

See below a list of the tires I dredged up for a potential tourer or commuter. Some are heavy, some are light, some are fast and supple. Most of the 27.5 ones are not that wide but I am sure there are more coming. Some tires I haven't listed here are the Stans tires but they are verging into semi slicks and there are a whole lot more tires in that field. You might even class some of these tires below as semi-slicks. This site is pretty interesting if you believe in rolling resistance values as measured in the lab. They rate the Schwable Big one as the fastest MTB tire they have ever tested.

The Fire Fly all-road rando


29 inch
Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 - 2.35 http://www.schwalbetires.com/bike_tires/road_tires/big_apple
Scwhalbe Big One 2.35  http://www.schwalbe.com/en/tour-reader/schwalbe-big-one.html
Maxxis Grifter 2 - 2.5  http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-474-grifter
Maxxis Hookworm 2.5 http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-472-123-hookworm

27.5 inch /650B
Compass Switchback hill 48mm https://www.compasscycle.com/shop/components/tires/650b/compass-650bx48-switchback-hill/
WTB Horizon plus 47mm http://www.wtb.com/products/horizon
Maxxis re-fuse 2.0  http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-511-re-fuse
Scwhable Big One 2.35 http://www.schwalbe.com/en/tour-reader/schwalbe-big-one.html

26 inch
Maxxis Hookworm 2.5 http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-472-123-hookworm
Maxxis DTH 2.15 + 2.3 http://www.maxxis.com/catalog/tire-314-123-dth
Compass Rat-trap-pass 2.3 (52-54 mm) https://www.compasscycle.com/shop/components/tires/26-inch/compass-26-x-2-3-rat-trap-pass/
Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 - 2.35 http://www.schwalbetires.com/bike_tires/road_tires/big_apple


A few fatter slicker tires.

First draft for the new "format". Tires and fork on the way.


Update: So far, so good. One ride in. Very fast, and beautiful on gravel at 30psi. Not sure whether to go with a period steel Spinner fork, or go with a disc or vees on an alloy Mosso.




Dropped the granny, and swapped out the 42 for a 46. with an 11-34 on the back. It should cope with most things. I have heard that a deore front deralier can work with 3 speed road shifters, this medium old XTR one is certainly not coping with it. I dont really want to go bar end.
 
Back with the 96 SID on.

Ok, now working in all three cogs with a new "Shimano Deore M591 10-speed Front Road Derailleur", whatever that means..... Heaps of clicks in the 3 speed shifters for trimming. Spinner fork on front, still need more steerer. So much fun to ride.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bam-Boozled by the Lauf

About the time that the Tour Aotearoa finished I started noticing the Lauf fork making a few more appearences in "Social Media Land". A local rider Gary Moller took one to the Masters MTB world champs a few years back, but a misunderstanding about the course meant it wasn't the best solution for him on the day. The guy that did the fastest ride in the 2016 Tour Aotearoa used one, Jacob Roberts, and there were at least 2 others on the course as well.


Someone popped up in my Instagram feed one day, having just done a respectable time at the Karapoti Classic with one.  He did a 2:52, he was also on a Boo Bamboo bicycle, and single speed to boot. He was obviously pretty fit. Only the hard-core go under 3 hours on a single speed at the Poti ! Long story short, Vijay, being the good brand ambassador that he was, offered it up any time I wanted to take it for a spin.

Time passed, the numbness in my hands from the TA was starting to subside and Vijay was heading back to University in Baltimore where he had come from, for his study swap at Massey Uni in Wellington. I needed to hurry if I was going to try it out. I picked it up on a thursday night but only managed to get the one 2 hour ride in on it in the weekend.

The first thing that I noticed was the gearing, it was quite low, Todman street in Brooklyn posed no problems, and I did the Transient Serendipity trails on it before heading out to Revolution Cycles where Owen was working saturdays. He'd mentioned that he had done some work on the bike for Vijay so it was a good chance to hear his views on it as well.

It's hard to get a really good impression of a bike in 2 hours, with its funky handlebars, which I did like, and while the reversed (American styles) brakes did work better for my numb right hand I obviously wasn't going to go crazy on it. I came back and rode along Highbury Fling and did some out and back on the Car-parts trail. One thing I noticed straight away was the pedal clearance. I should have been getting pedal strikes but I wasn't. A quick measure back home showed me 315mm of bottom bracket clearance which was a lot more than any of my other bikes. Vijay pointed out that it had an eccentric BB and that while it was only at "4 oclock" it could have been part of the reason. It didn't make the bike feel ungainly but then it didn't make me feel like hammering like a nutter either.




I guess I was looking at it as a potential bike-packing rig. I have no idea how well these tubes all hang together with a load on after 1000 plus kms but the finish looked damn good to me, and the feel was very nice. Currently weighing in at around 71 kgs, I couldn't make it noticeably flex. The feeling was more akin to a carbon bike than anything, but not a stiff one, a compliant one. As much as you can tell these things. Anyway, I liked the feel of it compared to something like my Carbon Giant XTC hard-tail.




Its pretty hard to describe the fork. To me the closest thing it resembled was a rigid fork. It went where I pointed it, and didn't have that vague feeling that I often get with suspension forks of going generally in the direction they are pointed. I actually like this feeling. Its a lot like riding your Cross bike off road and enjoying the precise nature of the steering.



Apparently the forks come in two spring  "strengths" and I don't know which this one was, presumably the stiffer of the too, as the less stiff one has a weight limit of 70 kgs. When you are out of the saddle, as you often are in a single speed, there was not the mushiness that you would expect  from an unlocked suspension fork. I couldn't really tell how much of the 60mm of travel that it was using. The small bump compliance didn't seem that great to me, and I asked myself, what would I want for Bikepacking, given the "non-big-hit" nature of it. I decided that some kind of relief in the 2 to 3/5ths travel area might be ideal, or at least doable. I am sure the low impact stuff takes its toll over time, but anything that responsive is likely going to be a bit annoying. This I guess is why a lot of bikepackers go rigid. No big hits, and a small weight saving.









A typical rigid carbon fork comes in at around 500-800 grams, so the Lauf, at 990 grams is a reasonable compromise for a bit of comfort. A new Rock Shock SID suspension fork weighs in at 1366 grams, but you have a reasonably complicated device there, so if you are one to get paranoid about that kind of thing then the Lauf might appeal. The old wheel between the knee test didn't show the Lauf fork to be any different than my usual suspension fork in sideways flexing.

I am not known for my technical skills so this fork, given its limitations was a fun ride, especially for a rider who spends most of his time on a rigid-forked steel Karate Monkey. I think it shows real potential as a bikepacking fork. And given that bikepackers are the last people to worry about looks, the funky looking design may not be a problem at all : )

Thanks Vijay.



Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Brian Alder's Tour Divide 2016 debriefing

A few weeks back I talked to Brian Alder about his prep for the 2016 Tour Divide. He is back now so I asked him a few more questions. 

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Well Brian. 16 days and 10 hours 36 mins, 5th place? That's a pretty sharp time for the Tour Divide route. Were the conditions mostly good for the duration?

Yes, we had fair run of conditions but not quite as good as 2015 apparently. We had a dump of rain a few hours after the start out of Banff which seems almost tradition. Cold sleety stuff that ended Seb Dunne's ride. I was riding with Rob Brown and got really cold so we called into Bolton Creek store to warm up and add layers which saved us. Many who didn't stop really suffered. On the whole we had a reasonable run, with no snow to deal with, some rain producing mud and a share of head winds. Mike Hall appeared to get through before the rain, I got caught out south of Polaris, through to Macks Inn around Red Rock Pass and on Brazos Ridge in  New Mexico. It appears later riders really got nailed by mud around Polaris, Brazos and through the Gila. The mud is unlike anything I've experienced before. One minute you're riding a perfectly good dirt road then next there's 5kgs of mud stuck to your bike and you can't even walk. Even walking beside the road is often just as bad. Generally it only lasts for a few hundred metres so if you just get past it often you can start riding again. Temperature-wise I was really lucky as we hit a cool spell through New Mexico, though that came with risks of thunderstorms and rain.



Was it as harder than you expected or about what you were expecting?

Definitely harder. Although the climbs aren't overly steep they are long and often the surfaces both up and down are fairly rough, so you end up working for your height. There's also very little truly flat terrain, there's a lot of rollers so it feels like you're constantly climbing, often even when you're on a descent. Mostly though I was surprised at how rough the riding was and apart from the paved sections and some beautiful smooth sections in Colorado, it was pretty lumpy. If I was to do it again I'd consider a suspension fork or a Lauf. 

What part did you struggle with more than any other?

I struggled through the middle of the Great Basin into Wamsutter. I was riding with Stefan Maertens and we were a bit late out of Atlantic City and got caught by the heat and headwinds. By the time I reached the truck stop on the interstate after 10 hours I was empty. We had caught Sofiane Sehili that morning and Sof tempted me with the oasis that is Brush Mountain Lodge 140 kms away, so we soft peddled across the desert and up to the lodge to arrive after midnight to a cheering crowd. Billy Rice and Juliana Buhring were there having bailed from the RAAM, so having celebs cheering you on in the middle of the night was very cool. Making Brush Mountain was a major turning point for me and although I struggled physically a couple more times (over Brazos in the mud and in the heat through the Gila), mentally it was never really an issue after the Great Basin. 

Did you have an actual goal time that you were shooting for?

I'd done a bit of digging and from what I could tell the fastest over 50 time was 18 days 8 hours, so I thought that was a realistic goal. Rob Davidson's time from 2015 of 18d 2h was also in my sights. I figured if I had a clean run 17.5 days was possible but I never considered going under 17 days, so to finish under 16.5 days was a huge surprise and something I'm really happy with. My main goal was to give it everything and have no regrets and I did that. 

How did your gearing stack up? We know people can ride it in 1x, single speed or 3x. Were there times when you could have pushed a taller gear?

My 2x10, 38/24 x 11-36 on 27.5 wheels was great. I never really wanted anything else at either end. If I'd had some big tail winds in the Basin or New Mexico I would have been under-geared, but it never happened. Interestingly I was riding at various times with guys running single speeds, 1 x, and 2 x drive trains. They clearly all have their pros and cons. I was super impressed by Kevin Jacobsen and the terrain and climbs he could manage on a singlespeed.


Did you have any interesting wild-life encounters?

The wild life is a real highlight. There are deer and antelope everywhere, every day. In fact on a shake down ride a few days before the start with Rob and Seb I nearly took out a big horn sheep. I think it would have been terminal as I was doing 50 kph at the time. Rob and I chased a couple of grizzly cubs up Red Meadow Pass on Day 2 which was quite exciting, I saw a few moose at close range, saw a black bear in New Mexico and plenty of other animals and some really cool birds. 

Who did you spend the most time riding with on the TD?

I started with Rob Brown, but he got bitten by a dog on Day 2 and succumbed to a fever a few days later. The next day I caught up with Kevin Jacobsen and rode near him for a day or so and then later caught Stefan then Sofiane in Wyoming. The four of us kept crossing over the rest of the ride until Kevin and Sof got away in New Mexico. I caught Gareth Pelas as his neck was giving him trouble and Andrew Kublanski when he got stuck in the mud on Brazos. A derailleur melt down forced Andrew out. The attrition rate was pretty high so I really tried to be consistent and not blow out which really paid dividends in terms of placing.


How did the accommodation pan out. What percentage of the time were you camping outdoors?

I camped out early on and as time went on I stayed in more accommodation, so around 50/50 overall. Partly that was just circumstances and partly I felt I wasn't getting the quality of sleep I needed, and I slept better indoors. I seemed to need time to unwind before sleeping and I found that harder camping. Also as a rookie I spent quite a bit of time looking at maps and route info trying to make a plan for the next day - targets, resupply, food and water needs and I generally did that before sleeping. All the guys around me had good route knowledge either from racing or touring the route which paid dividends for them at various times. 

Did your camping gear do the job adequately ?

Totally, I had a bivvy bag, sleeping mat and bag and synthetic puffer jacket. It was pretty cold at night through Montana and I had a wet night near Lakeview where I managed to get some shelter and stay dry. After that bivvies were warm and comfy. I sent my mat, some clothes and spare maps home from Silverthorne to make more room for food through the southern portion. 

How did your luggage system hold up?

It was great, no issues and worked as I'd hoped. As mentioned I sent some gear home around half way as I wanted the extra capacity for some of the long sections between resupply in southern Colorado and New Mexico, and that worked well.  

Any mechanicals or preventative maintenance  that you did on-route?

After the Day 1 mud my rear shifter was a bit out and I stuck with it until Steamboat where I had a new cable fitted. I got a new chain after 800 miles in Butte, Montana, another new chain in Steamboat, new shifter cable, new brake pads and one of my aero bars retaped. The guys at Orange Peel serviced my bike on just over an hour while I went shopping and had a huge meal. Fantastic service but not cheap! 

Were there any challenges in the food department?

Yeah, food is challenging. I realised after a couple of days that I wasn't eating enough, so I made an effort to have a sit down meal every day or at least a few big take out burritos. I struggled to find the food I wanted in gas stations at times and grocery stores take too long to shop. I mostly ate energy bars, jerky or salami, mini cheese packets, salted peanuts and frozen burritos on the road. Subway, pizza and sandwiches for stops. I think I had five proper restaurant style meals which were awesome and really gave me a huge lift. 

Did you have any health issues? Numbness, "butt trauma" ?

I stayed on top of most things really well. I had a twinge on my Achilles on Day 3 so dropped my saddle a few mm and it went away. Minimal hand numbness which I put down to very cushy bar set up/ high volume tyres and consciously getting on the aero bars whenever I could. My feet are ok, a bit numb but weren't painful during the ride. I wore a size up in shoes, had them loose most of the time and dunked my feet in creeks and lakes if I got the chance. My butt lasted a week and after that it was bloody sore but manageable. In the morning it could take 15 mins before I could get comfy on the saddle again. I was pretty diligent with my nightly hygiene routine so it never got out of hand. Later in Colorado I developed a cough which started to keep me awake at night and by the end slowed me down a bit, as I just couldn't get good sleep. It was one of the reasons I stayed more in accomodation later in the ride as I felt I was on the edge of going under the last few days. I subsequently discovered it was likely a low-level allergic reaction to dust and pollen, and a few days on antihistamine after the race I finally got on top of it. 

Are there any particular parts of the course that just blew you away, for what ever reason?

I loved the huge open  spaces like the Great Basin, South Park and the New Mexico desert. Conditions could be harsh and unpredictable but the I found the light and landscape stunning. Riding in those places at sunrise and sunset was very special, as were the thunderstorms that inevitably occurred. Riding through South Park from Hartsel to Salida on sunset being chased by thunderstorms was a little too exciting. I also had a magic morning over Union Pass in Wyoming, with amazing views into the Wind River Range. I thought the whole route was scenically outstanding and found the landscapes very motivating. The route is quite varied and it was probably only central Colorado and the more populated areas that were a bit of a drag. 

Were you surprised to see some  of the favourites drop out early on?

Totally. Josh Kato was very unlucky to get run off the road, but clearly a bunch of others went too hard and blew up. There was a big bunch that rode hard to make Butts Cabin the first day and only half of them survived, so I was really pleased Rob and I backed off the first day after the bad weather. I got a huge shock when I arrived into Helena to bump into Kevin Jacobsen to find I was in the top 10 and running at 16 day pace. I made a big effort for the next 4-5 days to get to Brush Mountain Lodge and stay in touch with the second bunch. It was interesting that Mike Hall put a day on us in the first 5 days and then only another day in the next 10, give or take. He really goes out hard and a number of guys got caught out by that. 

Kiwis seem to do quite well at the Tour Divide. The older riders seem to punch above their weight even more so. Does it come down to NZ being such a small place, you meet Simon Kennett, Oli Whalley or Geoff Blanc, and say, they are only human, I reckon I could have a crack at this? Is it a matter of, if you are going to go all that way, you are going to see it through to the better end?

Once you are in Banff you realise that most riders have very little bikepack "racing" experience. Sofiane was immensely strong and talented but spent the first week doing some pretty crazy things, as did a few others. He was lucky to survive and did an amazing job to finish in 16 days even with his huge experience touring. Racing is a very different thing to touring. We are very fortunate in NZ to have events like the Kiwi and Great Southern Brevets, the Tour Aotearoa and the weekend riders that Shailer Hart organises. Having that experience is a huge factor I believe. As much as I'm not really a fan of the mandatory 4-6 hour stops we have, they do teach you some good lessons and I think keep riders from hurting themselves too much. A 90% finish rate in the TA is testament to that and I'm more supportive of that now. 

Has your appetite returned to normal yet or do you still have that subconcious "scanning for food" thing happening?

My appetite settled down after a few days. My cravings have been for fresh food and good coffee. The coffee one has been hard to rectify in the US.... On the recovery front, it's been a week since I got off the bike and I'm very tired. There's a fair bit of sleeping to do to catch up I reckon. I start a cycle tour in Kyrgyzstan next week so I'm trying to get on top of that with plenty of naps. 

Now you've ticked off the big one, is there anything else you have lined up in the bucket-list?

The Tour Divide is the BIG one in every sense, so it's very cool to have done it. There are so many more bikepack events appearing that I'm sure I'll have some in the pipeline soon. I think next on the horizon is the 2018 TA as I missed this year. Until then I'm thinking I'll be riding my full suspension bike a bit more and getting more involved in the enduro scene, which is heap of fun.