As part of my entry application for Indian Pacific Wheel Race I was required to complete a qualifying ride, I guess to demonstrate my ability to complete the race. Over two days I managed to ride 715 kilometres, here are my thoughts on the ride, what worked and didn’t work.
Day one Strava link
Day two Strava link
Some notable points about my bike setup, I borrowed the Di2 shifters from my time trial bike for the aero bar extensions, and I rate this as a must-have. I spent a lot of time in the aero position so being able to change gears without moving my hands was definite advantage. Also being in the aero position meant I was taking the weight off the saddle and balanced my weight across more contact points.
People make too much of tyres. My primary criterion is the rubber is fresh, as this seems to be the biggest factor in puncture prevention. For the record, I ran a 23c Vittoria Rubino Pro on the front and a 25c Continental GP4000s II on the back. Why, because that is what I had lying around at the time.
A couple of days before the ride I fitted a Brooks Cambium C13 Saddle. Before leaving I had one ride on the saddle, and that was all it took. Brooks has always had a good reputation as a touring saddle, but it comes with the hassle of breaking them in. With the Cambium, they are ready to go. Coupled with a recommendation to use Bepanthan early and often, I couldn’t have been happier in that department.
For me, the jury is still out wheel selection. For this ride, I used a set of 45mm Pro-lite Gavia. The wheels performed well, but I can’t help wonder if they are the best solution for the race. The problem is the IPWR has two distinct sections. The 45mm wheels will be great for the Perth to Adelaide section which is long and flat, but for the Melbourne to Canberra stage, I suspect a lighter climbing wheel will be better.
Another notable change I am considering is ditching the 53/39 crankset and using a compact 50/34. The logic being I cannot see there will be many situations I would want to push a 53/11 but having a 34/28 would be handy when it comes to crossing the Great Divide.
As is the case these days, we have too many devices which require power, gone are the good ole day of just man and machine. Now it is man, mobile phone, lights, Garmin, Di2 and machine. Here is my biggest tip of the article. Turn off all the services on your phone before you leave, it will extend the battery life massively; you don’t need Wi-fi, Bluetooth or mobile data. You don’t need to check your Facebook messages while you are riding. You can of course always enable these services when you stop to post updates.
The two things I used my phone for are music and maps. For music, I downloaded my Spotify playlist. For maps, I use an Android app called Locus maps which has offline maps, so it doesn’t require a data connection. As for Bluetooth headphones, go old school and get some wired ones, the last thing you need is hassle of trying to keep them charged as well.
A sustain for me was the use of the Garmin Varia rear radar. On the quieter country highways with limited shoulders this is an essential piece of kit. It is better than a mirror as it provides an audible alert as a car approaches from about 150 metres out, this gives you enough time to assess the situation and get off the road if you had to. The downside, it’s another device that needs charging. On a good day you’ll get about 7 hours from one charge. Because I had other lights, I only used it when I needed, to extend the battery.
So how did I keep the lights on? By turning off the services on my phone, that survived the day nicely. For my Garmin Edge 520 and the Varia radar I used two separate “power-banks”. For the Edge I used a 2200mAh unit, and the Varia had a 5200mAh unit, total weight 184 grams. For the IPWR I intend to a single 10400mAh device with inbuilt solar panel to assist in recharging, in total 240 grams. Importantly only having one power-bank will make it easier to charge the devices at night. I also enforced “power discipline”, that is, turn off all your devices when you stop. On an average day you’ll be taking about 2 hours of breaks, that’s 2 hours of battery life you can use while riding instead.
Here is my full pack list. It is more than I needed for a two-day trip but I wanted a full load to test my loading for the race.
||2 x Jerseys
||2 x Socks
|Various Spare bolts
||2 x power-bank
||Ay up front light
||Garmin varia radar
||Ay Up front spare
||2 x topeak rear light
|Valve core remover
||2 x USB wall charger
||First aid kit
||Ay Up charger
||Garmin edge 520
||Reflective ankle straps
||Hi-vis Sam Brown belt
|2 x tubes
||2 x credit cards
|Presta valve converter
Broadly I divided my load into three sections
- Stuff needed while riding went in the Topeak TopLoader, this was mainly snacks, Electrolyte tabs. Powerbank Sunscreen etc.
- Stuff needed while I stopped on the roadside went in the frame bag. Tools, some food, spares, batteries.
- Stuffed needed for end of the day went in the Revelate Terrapin. Clothes, Bivvy Bag, chargers, emergency rations.
Overall it worked well, but I felt the frame bag was slightly inefficient. I only have about 3kg of gear which is well within the weight limit for the Terrapin so I may look to ditch the frame bag and load more into the Terrapin. I can strap some items under the top tube and get rid of the frame bag will reduce the weight and make it easier to access the bidons.
Another sustain for me was taking a drawstring backsack. Super light and came in very useful as temporary storage for a bottle of water or food.
Listen to your body, every person is different, but this is what worked for me. I quickly became intolerant to sweet high carb things, which you usually associate with high energy requirements. By the first afternoon I could not stomach anything sweet like banana bread. In the heat of the day salted crisps and coke worked for me, it is amazing how far you can ride on coke and chips. On day two I discovered fruit, it was easy to consume whether it was fresh or prepackaged. Other things that worked, milk at night as part of my recovery, it is cheap and high in protein. Just don’t try milk in the middle of day, I can’t sure, but I think the ice coffee I had with lunch led to nasty stomach cramps. Almonds are also a good ride snack and another good source of protein.
On hydration, you can’t get enough of it and remember, when touring never leave town without two full bidons. It can get hot very quickly, and you can suddenly find yourself consuming a lot of water. Be safe, carry water at all times.
The roads were in good condition for most of the ride. The width of the road shoulder varied from extreme to non-existent as you would expect. Surprisingly I thought the Bruce and the old Bruce Highway were some of the safer sections; both had a generous road shoulder the road surface was of high quality. While the road shoulder on the roads north of Gympie was limited, as you would expect, the traffic was also reasonably light so on balance I felt quite safe there. For me the worst sections where closer to Brisbane, Beerburrum Road and Steve Irwin Road, limited shoulders and high volume of traffic made it less than pleasant.
One good tip came from the local police in Goomeri. As it turns out, they have sealed the rail trail from Murgon through to Kingaroy. The quality of the hot-mix is probably a little below par but still beats riding on the road.
In total the trail is around 43 kilometres long, and after a long day on the bike it was nice to be off the road and able to relax.
As it happened the date, I chose for my qualifying ride turned out to be on the warmer side of pleasant, with temperatures reaching 35 plus degrees Celsius inland. It was tough on the first day with a lot of climbing and a tailwind which was only strong enough to neutralise any cooling effect from the air you would normally get from air passing over you while riding.
Day two saw a stronger tailwind coming home down the coast, and it would have been a good day except for the evening thunderstorm which had me completing the last two hours on dark, wet Brisbane roads, what could possibly go wrong!
In addition to the standard skin cancer risks which come with getting burnt, it is worth keeping in mind through dehydration and sweat your skin is going to be feeling pretty “tight”, the last thing you need is to compound this feeling with sunburn. You might want to consider the use of sun sleeves, but in the past I’ve found if it is hot, they become too uncomfortable..
The heat was a significant factor, and I see the reasoning why ultra-endurance cyclists ride through the night or in the early hours of the morning. My experience of riding in the afternoon heat was it was physically taxing and challenging to keep the food intake up. It wasn’t just that fatigue setting in, it was noticeable, as soon as the sunset I felt stronger again and was able to continue riding comfortably. There is merit in the idea of starting early, stopping for an afternoon siesta and then ride on into the night.
Other riding notes
The ride was good for me to assess my abilities. In the short term, I demonstrated I could ride 350k back to back. Which is rather cool but I can’t see myself sustaining that pace for the entire race.
The smell!! To keep the weight down, I am looking to do the ride with one set of lycra. Even with rinsing the jersey out overnight it was still pretty ripe by the end of the second day. Image what it is going to be like after 5500k’s. Actually, at times I felt pretty close to hobo status.