Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review; Clement X’Plor USH

As mentioned in my BWR Survival Camp post I took the opportunity to try Clement’s X’Plor USH tire. The USH comes in one size 700x35, this is a beefy tire for the road.

Often tire choice is a bit like choosing a golf club. You look at the pictures, read the reviews and in the end kinda go with the one that captures your eye and wins your heart. For the gravel rides last year and more recently for CX Racing I have used, with good success, Clement tires; specifically, their X’Plor MSO and MXP tires respectively.

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Going into the camp I knew that there would be a more riding on the road compared to some of the other gravel races I ridden from last year (Dirty Kanza200, Rock Cobbler, and RSR) and as such I had three wheelsets shod with Clement tires. My first choice was going to be the USH wheelset. Self-described as the tire for mixed conditions. I was looking for a tire that would provide minimal rolling resistance on the road but that also had some bite when it came to riding in the dirt these seemed like a good choice. I had on standby the trusty MSO which did me proud at DK and Stan’s Grail wheelset with Tubeless MXP which I had been using for CX racing. I am new to tubeless and was a bit wary of them, having an issue could result in me being covered in sealant and left on the side of the road. So my plan was to try the USH wheelset on day one and then, based on my experience, decide what to use for the following two days.

The tires were mounted on my standard Shimano CX-31 disc wheelset. Not the lightest or sexist wheelset in the world they have handled everything I have thrown at them. The tires are clinchers and inside I had Bontrager Self Sealing tubes. Nothing fancy but solid. Front and rear was inflated to 75psi. This would be plenty hard for the off road section but a crap shoot when it came to the road. I was carrying my trusty Lezyne pump so if I needed a little more air I was self sufficient. I choose the 120tpi version vs. the 60tpi for better cornering and a smoother ride.

The first ride out contained only a minimal amount of dirt and the road climb up Double Peak. The tires provided plenty of grip on the dirt climbs and I was able to stand up without the nerve and back wrenching rear tire slip that can happen. They rolled easily over the small rocky section of trails that were wet. The only place where they really slipped was in a sharp descent down a greasy grassy bank. No surprises there as this is not the targeted surface. On the road they rolled comfortable and didn’t have the rumble that you would associate with a CX or more heavily treaded tire. Both up and down Double Peak was not a problem as was bumping up and down the required curbs and steps transitioning from the road to sidewalk and parking lot etc.

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Photo; Danny Munson

The second day we had more road and instead of dirt we spent a lot of time on fire road. California has actually had a winter this year and as such there has been a fair amount of erosion from the rain. The fire roads have a mix of wash out, sand, ruts and hard pack. I rolled over all of these both up and down Black Canyon without any problem. As a group we had a few punctures during the three days but nothing crazy. The USH tires bit nicely into the corners descending and while I wasn’t letting rip too hard I was comfortable that they were not going to wash out on me. On the roll back to town I almost hit 40mph, a testament to the chevron pattern in the center of the tire that lets it roll fast on the road.

The final day I needed to top up the air pressure back to 75psi and there was a bit of slime spit. The surfaces were a bit of everything; some good old fashioned gravel, a nice big water splash; the perfect place to pinch flat, which I didn’t. Again fast road sections where I tucked in and almost hit 42mph, more mud, rutted double track and sand. Basically these tires handled everything I threw at them.

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So in summary after 3 days and over 180 miles on mixed surfaces of all types these tires performed flawlessly. Conditions will change some in the coming months as things dry out but based on this experience I see no reason not to run them on race day. The security off road is worth the loss of any speed you may have when riding a pure road tire. The extra width gives a comfortable ride in all conditions and the added grip is always nice.

I’ll actually be using these at Rock Cobbler later this month too so if there are any major dramas I can report back on my experience.

I purchased these tires from Amazon for around $55 each, you can find them online at multiple retailers.

This Product was purchased by me. See previous gear reviews in the Reviews tab above. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at quadrathon@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Summary

So a big start to the year! The last day of the Four Days to Fitness started the year off with a bang. That was followed up with the Tour de Mullholland and then the BWR Survival Camp all adding big weekly miles and completing the first three Ultra Marathon Cycling Association Year Rounder Challenge rides

I’m very happy to be keeping my weekly mileage up above the 200 mile mark. Getting to the 250 mark is a big step change and requires two big rides a week; either back to back on the weekend or something special during the week. Needless to say it’s tricky and three day weekends are too good an opportunity to miss!

The Tour of Sufferlandria started on the last weekend of the month. This was one week post Camp and I had to work hard on the last weekend to add an outdoor ride to keep the 200 mile bubble floating as I had a very easy Monday and Tuesday.

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You’ll also notice that I have actually been doing some weight training! Shut the Front Door you say! It’s a simple kettle bell series that takes 15 minutes and is doing me nothing but good! I am trying to complete it twice a week but as you can see even that has proven a challenge!

So onto February, the Rock Cobbler is the second weekend and that, as last year, comes as I wrap up the Tour of Sufferlandria so I will have to juggle things around some. I will dial back the intensity on the ‘fest rides as there is no point in crushing myself in advance of the Cobbler which is going to be a long day with 90+ miles and 7000” of gain on the day.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Belgian Waffle Ride Survival Camp

The Belgian Waffle Ride Survival Camp presented by Source Endurance was held over the last weekend of January. It promised to be a tough three day weekend with over 180 miles of riding covering as much of the course as was possible and picking up over 15,000’ of elevation gain.

To maintain some of the secrecy of the course, which will be revealed in good time by the organizers, I cannot share any of the nitty gritty details, but here is a brief overview of the three days and a long list of takeaway, pointers and tips that I picked up!

Day 1 covered the last miles of the course including the infamous Double Peak climb, which while only one mile long at 8%, will be at around Mile 130 on race day and will break many the hard man and women.

Day 2 was the long ride of the weekend including the relentless Black Canyon which goes on and on! Some of the more well-known sections also were ridden this day; HodgesGate, Omkekeerde and Sandy Bandy all of which may or may not be in this year’s race.

Day 3 covered the neutral role out section which is the first umpteenth of miles (it’s a secret)! Some more of the dirt sections including LemonTwistenberg and then another ascent of Double Peak, this time with 180 miles on our legs!

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So beyond covering the actual course details here are the things that I took away;

The Route:

  • There is a lot more road than I anticipated. It’s roughly 65% road and 35% dirt.
  • Most of the road is very well maintained and pretty fast, there are bike lanes on a lot of it. There are cars as it’s not closed and on the trails you may encounter other users, be vigilant.
  • The dirt breaks down into three type; gritty fire-road, gravelly service road and dirty single track with some technical sections.
  • 95% of it is ridable, the 5% that isn’t is so unridable it’s easier to just carry your bike, lift it over the obstacle or dismount and manhandle it, a good example of this is a stream at the bottom of a tricky drop.
  • The elevation gain accumulates deceptively and grinds you down over time, it’s like being on the ropes and having combination after combination thrown at you. The knock punch comes with Double Peak.

The Gear;

  • Bike Choice. I rode my Lynksey Cooper CX and this is what I will ride on race day. For me, based on my last year of gravel rides, the titanium frame far outkicks my coverage. There were plenty of road and cross bikes on the camp but having used it for Dirty Kanza 200 last year I had no qualms that it would be the bike of choice. It soaks up the bumps and can take a good beating. Over the weekend we had several carbon frames break, one from a crash and the other from a broken derailleur hitting it. What I loose (well gain I suppose) in weight, I make up for in security.
  • Choose a gearing ratio that will work all day. I rode a 46/36 with an 11/34. I spun out a couple of times going down but I rarely ran out going up. That said I am in planning stage of upgrading the Lynskey drivetrain and by the time I get to raceday I’ll be running a 50/34 and 12/32 which will give me the same exact ratio for climbing but I will have one extra cog on the cassette as I will move from 10 speed to 11 speed. I’ll also have a Stages PM on the bike, racing to power only makes sense as I train to power.
  • Tire choice for road and off road. As mentioned the terrain is very mixed. I took the opportunity to try out Clement XPlor USH’s. These are a big tire for the road at 35mm wide but they really held their own on the gravel and dirt sections letting me stand on some of the climbs. The tread pattern lends itself to reduced rolling resistance on the road. I used Slime filled Bontrager inner tubes and ran them at 75psi with no issues at all.
  • Bottle Cages. These need to be super tight, there was definitely a fair share of bottles being ejected.
  • Spares in general. Adam Mills from Source Endurance has written a great write up of all the things that you need to consider carrying. One thing to point out is that if you have a 10 speed groupset you can reuse a SRAM Master Link or a KMC Missing Link. If you are using an 11 speed groupset the master links are not reusable! Either way carry a couple of spares just in case!
  • Mountain Bike Pedals and Shoes. Don’t ruin your road shoes! Walking up muddy or gravelly hills or through a stream will not do them any good and you may fall flat on your ass! I rode in my Shimano XC70 which are pretty svelte but stiffer MTB shoes compared to my usual Giro Privateer which I would say are heavier and better for walking in. I have Crank Brother Egg–Beaters pedals. I have them on my CX and MTB bikes too, they are simple and work!

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The Ride;

  • 140ish miles with 15-17,000’ feet of gain is a long day however you slice or dice it! Eating, drinking and pacing will be critical for the day. In January the weather was mostly cool and somewhat cloudy, come May the weather will be significantly different. Sunscreen people, sharp tan lines are nice but not if you can’t move as you are burnt to a crisp!
  • Hydration and Nutrition are critical. I’ve done enough endurance events to know what works for me but it’s always good to have a solid reminder. If you empty your tank it’s very hard to recover and keep going at the same time. On course on the day will be GQ-6. I had a chance to try it and quite frankly I didn’t like it, but that’s my issue! On the day I’ll be using my tried and tested SkratchLabs hydration mix. One change that I have found really works is to mix this with Base Amino. So I’ll have a bunch of pill baggies with my own “secret drink mix”! In terms of food Clif will be on course. I have no issue with Clif Bars and the new nut butter bars are great. That said I like real food for as long as I can but there is a limit on how much I can jam into my jersey pockets. Whatever I eat I’ll be consuming 200-300 calories per hour. That’s all I say about eat and drink, you know what you need to do…there is nothing that I can add to this conversation.
  • Pacing; keep the road paceline tight but spread out on the trail. Working as group on the road is much more effective than working solo. As much of my riding is solo I find it very in-nerving riding in a group. It’s a mental strain concentrating on the wheel in front and focusing on not half wheeling and making sure you do your fair share of pulling and not falling off the back! I got a great tip to not overgear when following, this avoids the constant pedal and coast effect, lighter pedaling is more consistent. I got to practice this a lot and got significantly more comfortable at it. Off road give the person in front some space. You need to know that you can exit the obstacle before you enter it and giving the person enough room to clear it or get out of your way can save you time and trouble. In addition make sure you are in the right gear in advance of the obstacle, shifting during could end up in a thrown chain or worse still a thrown you!
  • Ride over the hill. Sounds obvious right! The key here is to ride up and over the hill, get up to speed on the descent before easing off the gas. This allows you to sit in and rest on the descent where you can eat or drink something.
  • No Loitering; get in and out of the Aid Stations. Lingering 10 minutes at 6 Aid Stations in the course of the day will add, wait for it!! An hour to your day. Get in, out and on your way!
  • Sensible descents mean you finish. We had one camper wipe out on a descent. He broke his bike frame and separated his shoulder. Riding within yourself and finishing is better then overcooking a corner and ending up broken!

The Camp.

  • 110% money well spent! In addition to the above it was a great opportunity to meet some of the key folks associated with the race who know the roads and trails like the back of their hands; Michael Marckx, Phil Tintsman, Adam Mills, Neil Shirley and Janel Holcomb were excellent instructors for the weekend.
  • I got the opportunity to ask a lot of questions…and I took it!
  • I was able to get a sense of my fitness, where I am and where I need to be. In much the same way as Four Days of Fitness I was humbled by other people’s abilities to spin the pedals! I am not so much in the wrong gene pool as in the wrong ocean!
  • I got to practice some things that are well out of my comfort zone (riding in a paceline) and get a good idea of what is needed to complete the Belgian Waffle Ride.
  • A ton of swag, free beer, an awesome jersey that actually fits and race day entry were all included!
  • We were well supported by the great guys at VeloFix San Diego who spent the three days providing on course support and who cleaned and lubed our bikes each night!
  • Thanks to Danny Munson for these awesome photos! I choose a select few to post, there were plenty more! Danny was out there all three days!
  • Best of all I got to make some new friends who will be welcome faces enduring equal suffering come race day in May!
  • If you need more info check out Neil Shirley’s thoughts on the BWR.

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So that was that, up next is Rock Cobbler