December 9, 2008

Tricks of the sport

I sometimes get questions about how I do these things, how I can stay comfortable in colder temps for really long exposure times, why don’t I have bags full of stuff, and what are some of the little tricks I use. Well, one’s personal randonneuring solutions are, well, personal – but sharing them is a great way to inspire some of your own concoctions, solutions, and hacks. After all, it took me years to get where I am now, and I’m still making changes here and there; thus the importance of keeping some sort of log, blog, spreadsheet or journal. I’m always referring back to my own notes when I need to remember if something worked or didn’t on such route, etc. It’s a constant process. There is no fit-all, but here are some quick hits from these more recent, cold rides.

Wool. I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it until the day before I’m buried. Wool. If you own only ONE piece of technical cycling gear, and you have the money --- or have the time to track down a good deal --- get something woolen. Primarily, make it your jersey, and probably a long sleeved one. While wool does really well in warm temperatures too, if the knit is correct (I’ve worn wool upwards of 80 degrees, comfortably.) wool really comes into its own in the environments where it is naturally gifted. Look at the coast of Scotland. Wet, cool. Anything 60 degrees and lower, wool on your core is perfect for rides that start cold and stay cold. You can avoid those “hour-8 chills” that synthetics suffer from. After a long time in the saddle, synthetics just get clogged up with salt from your sweat, and while you never really notice in warm weather, in COLD weather they start to lose their wicking ability – and then they get cold because they essentially can’t hold warmth anymore. It can’t be denied any longer: a couple years ago only a few random companies were making wool for cycling, and it was usually boutiquey and ridiculously expensive “retro” stuff. Nowadays even mainstream companies like Pearl Izumi and Specialized have top-of-the-line technical jerseys in their 2009 lineups that have at least some wool in them. Why? Naturally, it has the widest temperature comfort range of ANY fabric, period. Look at suits; fashion aside, you can wear the same business suit in the summer for a wedding and later in the fall for a holiday event – and generally be comfortable in each instance. Wool is naturally versatile that way. Further, unlike anything else in nature, wool maintains 85% of its insulating properties when it’s wet. What does that mean to a cyclist? If you get sweaty on a December ride, you won’t fall into hypothermic shock when you stop for a snack. If it rains, you don’t need the rain jacket immediately to keep from getting chilled to the bone, if you even need it at all. Wool is it. Period. I was once a non-believer, too, but if you are going to be out in 35 degree weather all day long, sun-up to sun-down on a bicycle, you need wool. It will change your ride.

Eye protection. There’s almost no excuse anymore, and you don’t have to go insane. Even those $10 Oakley knockoffs at CVS will suffice – but get that cold air off your eyeballs! It will keep tears at bay, it helps keep your focus, and helps keep your comfort high. I had to pony up for prescription sunglasses, and one of the best investments I made in that regard was getting Transitions lens treatment. May not be the best solution for ALL cyclists, but for randonneuring, it’s been a real help. I used to carry two pair of glasses on the longer brevets, 300K and above, just to help wit the sunshine and glare during the day. At night, of course, I couldn’t see anything. The Transitions lenses have come a LONG way if you haven’t looked into them for a while – they are absolutely, completely clear. Can’t even tell they are “special”. As soon as UV light hits them, however, they darken up QUICK. It’s terrific for rides that start before dawn, last all day, and go back into the night – and this time of year, that’s almost every ride you’ll do.
Also, I don’t really know if there are “nerves” on your eyes, but kinda like your other extremities: if they are shielded, you feel warmer and more comfortable overall. The furthest extension of this for cycling is something like a pair of ski goggles, but that’s a little much unless it gets below zero. But, a good pair of large, wide coverage, wrap-around sunglasses can make a LOT of difference in your randonneuring experience.

Lip Balm. It seems “girly” and silly, maybe, guys – right? Trust me. There is something comforting and relaxing about having a nice glaze of peppermint flavored protectant on your lips. With all the labored breathing, snot, drool, sports drink that comes across your mouth during these cooler rides, your lips will be cracked and bleeding in no time at all. Cold air blasting across your face only makes it worse. And, a common theme in randonneuring: ANY pain or discomfort is a fatigue multiplier. Even if it’s “only” raw lips, it can put a small mental spur in your game that can lead to a slower pace and a less-than-optimal mental outlook on the ride. It weighs nothing, it’s cheap, small, portable, and available at every c-store on the planet. It helps. Slather it on at every control, and stay in the game.

Lantiseptic. This was mentioned once a few years back by “Cap’t” John Ende, rando-guy supreme and holder of many distance awards and such. After reading about it in American Randonneur back then, I had my local Walgreens order me a tube. It was $4.79 for the BIG size, and I still have some left from that original tube today. That was easily 2004, if I remember right. Anyways, you use this REALLY thick, tenacious stuff in place of your usual “Chamois Butt’r” or other saddle cue-all, and your ride experience will improve. It stays on in the rain, it stays on after 400K, and I haven’t had a saddle sore to speak of since. It works very, very well, and it’s cheap. One of the guys that finished PBP in the lead group in ’07 is the poster-boy for this stuff now, for cyclists, and he apparently didn’t have to re-apply it after 750 miles, and 70% of that was in the rain – with no fenders, judging by the photos. It’s good, and it stays put. I’m not saying Chamois Butt’r or anything like it is bad stuff – but for LONG days where you don’t want to carry a whole tube of something along with you, Lantiseptic is IT. I do carry some along with me, just in case: here’s how: you know those fancy little 0.5 oz tins of hand salve, Carmex or lip balm? I wait until I’m out of one of those, clean it out, and reuse it for Lantiseptic or similar. Fits in a seatbag, takes up very little space, and is leak-proof.

Pack light. You can use the little tins mentioned above for emergency pocket change, a Fiber-Fix spoke, a SRAM Powerlink, some zip-ties, or anything you like. Even on this last ride, I trimmed by seatbags down from two, to one – with roughly the same stuff inside, just by revisiting the packing method I was using. Yeah, I’m a little obsessive about this, but over time it’s been something that keeps me tinkering. I’ve learned the hard way more than once that there is a definite limit to how LITTLE you should carry, but there was definitely a time when I was carrying too much. While it looks like I’m only going out for a short club ride, I always start each ride with the same necessities. Some of them I’ve (knock, knock) never had to use before – others, I finally got the chance to grin ear-to-ear feeling exceedingly glad that I’d packed them. Specifically, the FiberFix spoke: it sat un-used in my seatbag for nearly two years before I “got the chance” to use it – if I hadn’t had it, it would have been a ride-ender, and I’d be talking about having just finished R-12 requirement number TEN, instead of eleven. It takes up almost no space, works perfectly, and there simply isn’t any other way to rig up something in a pinch that will bring a broken wheel back into true on the side of the road. $10.00. I will never ride without one again, whether or not I ever break a spoke on the road again. My seat bag has a number of these little miracles that occasionally need to get called into service, and yet my seatbag requirements keep shrinking. My personal goal is to run a regular seatbag, but to be prepared for just about anything that would potentially end a ride. A secondary goal, save the back pockets for clothing and food. No phone, no pumps, nothing “hardware” in the jersey. At the beginning of my last ride, inside a single Pearl Izumi “tailgate” seatbag, I had:

• Two tubes
• 8 patches
• 3 tire boots
• 4 zip ties
• A SRAM powerlink
• A Crank Brothers chain tool (w/ std spoke wrenches built in)
• 4mm Allen wrench
• 5mm Allen wrench
• QuikStik Tire lever
• Emergency space blanket
• 3 feet of electrical tape
• Fiber Fix spoke
• Spare standard spoke nipple
• Spare Mavic spoke nipple
• Mavic Ksyrium spoke tool
• Victorinox micro pocket knife w/ scissors
• A Safety pin
• Presta-to-Schrader valve adapter
• Two spare AAA batteries
• One short and one long spare shifter cable
• A re-purposed eye-drop bottle ½ full of w/ spare lube
• 2 feet of strong thread
• 1 – M5 bolt that will fit just about anything on the bike
• 3 lucky rocks my kids and I found on the bike trail
• 1 lucky Japanese coin that the Warbird gave me
• Palm Centro PCS phone
• Debit card, Driver’s license, insurance cards
• RUSA Permanent card for the ride

Without any modifications to the bag itself, and sometimes a LOT of modifications to the items inside, it all fits, and it zips closed without a struggle. Modifications to the contents? You betcha.
Just like your own setup is personal, so should your tools be. While a lot of manufacturers make a GREAT multi-tool, I personally maybe want only ONE part of it. The chain tool I use came off of a much larger multi-tool. I took it apart, and I only carry what I need. After all, individual Allen wrenches take up far less space than the multi-tool that contains them, and often offer more leverage and better accessibility to weird angles or tight clearances on the bike. I hold them together to prevent rattling with the electrical tape I’ve packed. Another example; the Mavic-specific spoke wrench is HUGE, intended for shop use: I took a hacksaw to it, and made it big enough to use – but small enough to take up about 1/8th the space it normally would. It takes some staring, thinking, and asking – “why is this designed this way? Will it still work if I make it smaller?”

It takes time to pare down your existing kit, and this is definitely not the same kit I carry for commutes – but for compactness, low-weight, maximum effectiveness and preparedness to weigh ratio, I ensure each ride started is finished unless the absolutely unthinkable occurs. Anything beyond that, and it’d probably be a DNF anyways. Pay special attention to the electrical tape, tire boots, zip ties, the thread, and that one spare bolt. It’s not much, it weighs almost nothing – but it’s adaptable to nearly ANYTHING on the bike that could come loose, break off, or rattle. You can’t carry a spare bike – but you can fix just about anything with the right stuff; just enough to get you to the next control. You can fix it correctly back I the garage. This goes back to the mental game, too: if you develop a rattle or a click 100 miles into a 400K, it can drive you INSANE. Annoying sounds can also be a fatigue multiplier. If you’ve got something in your bag that can quiet it up, you get a feeling of accomplishment and inventiveness that can boost your mental game for the rest of the ride – AND the noise is gone, too! It’s a ride changer. That inventiveness and ingenuity is the core of the randonneuring spirit. Never saying “that’s it, I’m done.” When something breaks, but instead sitting on a lonely roadside in the dark fixing that loose saddle rail or destroyed tire with three feet of electrical tape so you can finish the last 60 miles of a 600K --- that’s part of what makes a randonneur. Pack light, but pack purposefully.

Tis’ a flesh wound! Let’s finish this ride!

That’s all I’ve got for you for now – hopefully this will rattle your cage a little and start the inventive juices flowing so you can bring your own unique randonneuring set-up into view.
As always, questions are welcome.


1 comment:

Chris said...

So you're saying my Nigel Smythe bag in front and the Carradice Barley in back are a bit too much??? ;)