Electric Assist Trikes in the Recumbent World, Part I

My first experience with electric assist was somewhat of an epiphany. At the Recumbent Cycle-Con in Pomona, California in 2013, HP Velotechnik was showing their new Scorpion FS26 S-Pedelec. This trike has a fully-integrated 500w electric assist system by GoSwiss Drive built into the bike. I was ambivalent – I have two legs that work quite well – why would I need electric assist? Then I took it for a spin!

That trike came back to the shop with me. The switch had been flipped in my head and I realized that e-assist didn’t mean you wouldn’t get a workout, it just meant you could go farther and faster. I spent the next year putting 1100 miles on that trike in a variety of settings and loved every mile of it!

At Bent Up Cycles, we now offer three different e-assist systems to meet the needs of all different types of customers. Shown is the Scorpion FS26 S-Pedelec, a Catrike 559 with an Ecospeed kit, and an HP Velotechnik Gekko with a Falco system. I would like to spend the next three posts highlighting each of them and then end with a wrap-up comparison of all three.

Before I do, I think it is important for people to understand how e-assist systems work. The biggest question we get is “how many miles can it go?” The best article I have read on this subject makes Watts, Amps, and Voltage really easy to understand. Ultimately, nobody can tell you how far you will go because the human engine and terrain will differ with every rider. But understanding the basic math behind each system can give you valuable data in making your choice.

The HP Velotechnik Scorpion FS26 S-Pedelec is built on the chassis of the Scorpion FS26, the most popular trike made by the company. It incorporates a GoSwiss Drive rear hub motor with a 500W, BMZ 36v Li-Ion 558Wh battery, controller with a color display and easy-to-use controls, a USB port for charging small devices, front and rear lights and regenerative braking. A second battery can be purchased and it easily mounts on the left side of the bike. On their current 2nd generation system, the battery does not need to be moved when changing batteries – you can easily reach under the seat, disconnect the cable from one battery and connect it to the other.

The ride of this trike is sublime – the full suspension soaks up all of the bumps, the seat is exceptionally comfortable and available in five different varieties, and the build-quality and component specifications are exceptional.

I rode this trike everywhere! With five levels of assist, it could provide just a touch of assistance at level one to a full-throttle sports-car feel at level five! The hub has some drag to it, so you will want to always run it at level one to make up for this drag. In level five, I had no problem accelerating and maintaining the top speed of about 28mph. This trike allows you to become traffic, and it needs to be ridden accordingly.

The trike had no problem climbing hills and I frequently rode it to meetings knowing that I would not show up all sweaty. The only downside I found was the linked front brakes and large rear wheel did not handle technical descents on bad roads well. The large wheel skipped around when hitting repeated bumps, and I couldn’t modulate the brakes well in turns because they were linked. In fact, I had to take my left hand off the brake lever to ensure that I did not hit the rear brake, causing an accident. Due to German law, the trike is not available with independent front brakes, but we frequently swap out the brakes for Shimano XT (but you lose the brake light).

We have been an HP Velotechnik dealer for 13 years. Anyone who knows me knows that I love their bikes and trikes! So I am delighted that they were the first company to turn me on to the e-assist trike world with another wonderful product!

Charging your S-Pedelec batteries

We frequently get questions about charging and battery life of the GoSwiss systems on the HP Velotechnik bikes and trikes. To help with your questions, here is the latest information I have received from HP Velotechnik:

In terms of warantee, GoSwiss guarantees you will get at least 500 cycles to a 70% remainder of original capacity. Cycles are always calculated using full charging cycles.

Partial charging can cause problems with the battery and may cause the system to loose capacity at an unusually high rate. Fortunately, there is an easy fix – run the battery down to the point where it
shuts down while driving. At this point, using the lights is no good and actually
somewhat dangerous as the remaining charge then really is at the limit
before the (battery) system shuts down.
 

Once the battery has gone into safe sleep mode it should be charged
without interruption for at least 6 – 8 hours once. That actually is
called a learning cycle and should restore full capacity. If it doesn’t
do it straight away, it may take a second charge with the battery being
awakened (as it ALWAYS should) by quickly pushing the test button before
attaching the charging plug (note, this refers to the newer batteries that require the wake up if left unused for a week or more).
 

Top up trickle charging is something many people tend to do supposedly
“to be on the safe side” in regard to range. But they are killing their
batteries that way. Actually running it down until it shuts off is
healthy and necessary from time to time. It is a pedelec system after
all, i.e. can be purely pedal driven as well.

If you are concerned about your system, please take your trike to your local HP Velotechnik dealer for a diagnostic check. First generation S-Pedelec systems require a special cable to run the software (your dealer may or may not have it). the second generation system uses a male/male USB plug.

Smoothies and integrity

It’s been awhile since I posted anything here, and I thought I would take things in a different direction as I return to writing.

I had an interesting experience yesterday. I was finishing up a ride in the 95 degree heat and thought I would stop at a relatively new smoothie shop on my route for a refreshing, cold snack. While tasty, the shop was very expensive…I posted my thoughts on Yelp and got a response from the owner:

“Dana,

Thanks for the review. Our smoothies and juices are prepared and
produced with the highest integrity. We use raw, organic all natural
produce, spring water (rather than purified tap), and glass bottles (as
opposed to plastic). We constantly work on efforts to pass along savings
to our customers. Check out our deals/coupons on our
website/social media.

Please come back in, and before ordering we would be happy to serve you
up some samples on us to make sure you purchase a product you can enjoy.
Thanks again”

My immediate thought was “this is a bunch of marketing BS…how do you prepare a smoothie with integrity? Is there anything other than all-natural produce?”  I shared my thoughts with him, and we proceeded to have a nice conversation small-business-owner to small-business-owner. As we spoke, it slowly emerged in my mind that perhaps my customers don’t know what I mean when I say I run a business with integrity.  I am now going to spell it out:

For me, running a business with integrity comes down to four essential values.  The first is how do you treat your employees.  From day one, my staff have always been paid a liveable wage, with paid vacation, holidays and sick time.  What is liveable, though? According to Federal standards, the poverty line for a family of four is $23,850.  I don’t need to read any studies,though, to know that someone needs significantly more than that to live alone in Los Angeles, let alone raise a family of four! Several sources suggest that $40,000 is the minimum amount that a family needs to pay modest rent and be able to eat. So, rather than focusing on how little I can pay my staff, I have done some research to find out the cost of living for someone in Los Angeles, and make sure that my lowest paid staff are making more than this.

Integrity also includes where we source our materials. In the manufacturing chain, it can be pretty difficult to determine where everything is coming from, but if at all possible, we source from local manufacturers.  Our in-house bags are made in Santa Barbara, our tubes for Carbent are made in Utah, and many of our accessories are made by small manufacturers on the West Coast.

For all of us here, integrity has to do with how we treat our environment. We all ride our bikes to work. There are no paper cups here…yes, washing dishes is more tedious but wouldn’t you rather have your fresh cup of coffee in a real coffee cup? Customers enjoy the fresh fruit we have for snacking on – it comes from local farmers and is seasonal and organic.  We use cloth towels instead of paper towels.  Finally, our trash company ensures us that they separate recyclables when they collect the garbage.

Lastly, integrity is defined by how we do our daily work. We believe that the final product you receive should be perfect in every way. We use torque wrenches when working on your bike and don’t count on parts being assembled correctly from the manufacturer, we have redundant systems in place to make sure that your bike or trike is set up correctly before you pick it up. Yes, sometimes we make mistakes, but rather than try to hide them, we accept that we are not perfect and do what we can to make things right. Finally, we hope that you leave here feeling appreciated. All of the above is meaningless unless you enjoy coming here and keep coming back!

Wine and Waves 400k

I was really looking forward to this adventure!  I rode this course back in 2011 and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, reading over my blog post from that ride, it felt like I had almost the same ride this year, but without the knee pain.  After the first 80 miles of climbing, the course is incredibly recumbent-friendly with great winds and rolling terrain.

I drove up to SLO early on Friday to deliver a trike and have dinner with my wife’s aunt and uncle.  Stu and Janie are very active with the SLO Bicycle Club and were busy getting ready to help with the Wildflower Century the next day.  We enjoyed catching up and yakking, and I took off early to get to bed.

The ride started at 6am and 11 of us immediately started climbing the Cuesta Grade, a 1200 foot, 5ish mile climb out of SLO.  I was the second-to-last rider to the top…take it easy, we still have 240 miles to go…  The ride through Atascadero, Templeton, Paso Robles to San Miguel was just as good as always.  I enjoyed catching up a bit with Nicole and learning about her new training business, the scenery was fantastic…it was a great start to the morning.

I don’t get up to Paso Robles much, but when I do, I love to ride through the wineries in the hills to the west.  Chimney Rock Road is wonderful and the climbing just didn’t seem that difficult this time around.  It was warming up and pretty soon I was down to shorts and jersey.

Here, I start to rain praises on our wonderful ride coordinator, Vicky, but then get quickly distracted.  You can see what my true priorities are…

It warmed up a bit as I hit Highway 46, but with only about 8 miles to ride to the coast, it was bearable.  The descent off the top of the 46 was rather uneventful.  In fact, it seemed like the wind was trying to push me back up the mountain!  Soon enough, I arrived in an overcast Cambria.  There were now only three riders ahead of me and I took about 20 minutes to get some food and apply more sunscreen.

Nicole and Rob left about 10 minutes ahead of me, but I fully expected to catch them on the 22 mile stretch to Ragged Point.  The headwind can get pretty fierce, and it’s really important to keep your mind occupied on anything but the wind.  About five miles out of Ragged Point, I caught Nicole and Rob.  As I rode by, I called out “Just think about the killer tailwind on the way back!”  Rob responded, “I tend to be rather pessimistic when it comes to winds…”  “Oh, come on, Rob!  Then think about sex!”  At which point, Nicole interjected, “I tend to be rather pessimistic when it comes to sex…”  I almost fell off my bike laughing and smiled for the next few miles as we climbed into Ragged Point for a snack.

The ride back from Ragged Point to Cambria was fast.  What took two hours in one direction took a hair over an hour in the other.  Sweet!  Rather than stopping in Cambria, I continued on down Hwy 1 toward Cayucos and ultimately SLO.

(a side note, it was really nice doing this course in late April rather than early March as it was still light out when I arrived at the dinner control at mile 174)

I should have read my 2011 report before starting the ride, because I over-ate, again, at the dinner stop.  I bid a fond farewell to Vicky.  She rolled her eyes in disbelief when I told her I would be back in about six hours…  For an hour or so, while heading down to Guadelupe, I was definitely overstuffed and sleepy.  By the time I got to Santa Maria, though, I was back to my perky self.  At this point, there was only one rider, Steve, ahead of me.  I drank a hot chocolate and filled a water bottle with Coke and headed off into the streets at 10:45 on a Saturday night.  With all the partiers cruising Main Street, I couldn’t get out of town quick enough!

Bull Canyon was a fast climb and the route continued along for six miles until the wonderful five mile descent back down into Avila Beach.  Woo hoo!  At this point, I was hours ahead of my time from 2011 and feeling great.  As I started up the gentle climb towards Orcutt Road, I saw Steve (who else would be lit up like a Christmas tree on a bike on the side of the road after midnight?).  As I passed him, I decided to make it stick.

The plan…two miles to the steep section at the Orcutt Rd. turnoff.  I can easily hold him off until then.  Even if he catches me on the climb, there is no way he will keep up with me on the 12 mile descent back into SLO.

Steve catches me at the turn as we have to stop to read the info control sign posted there.  We start the short, steep climb.  He gets a little ahead of me, but I stay with him.  We start bombing down the other side and I easily roll away from him.  BUMP, clatter, clatter,clatter…just lost my tail light to a pot hole!  Steve passes me as I stop to grab my back up.

When randonneuring, it is really important that you keep your bags organized.  When it is cold and dark on a lonely road somewhere, that last thing you want to do is have to dig through your bags (with gloves on) looking for a tail light that seems to have disappeared in the mass of clothing and food.  Fortunately, I knew exactly which pouch contained the back up, and spent more time trying to attach it (with gloves on and no light) then actually finding it.

I worked my way down the descent and finally caught and passed Steve for the last time about five miles from the finish.  I cruised in with a finish time of 19:26, and much to my own disbelief, finished the last 75 mile loop in well under six hours.  Another great 400k on the books!

The Gila River Valley 200k

Every year, I try to get out to a brevet in a different
area. I feel that the exploratory notion of randonneuring can’t be met if you
just keep doing the same rides, year in and year out.  The Gila River Valley 200k came up rather
quickly, but seemed like a good idea to get out to for a fast 200K in new area.
This ride is relatively flat.  It doesn’t climb more than 200-300 feet at a
time over 5-10 miles.  The challenge with
this ride is the wind.  Apparently the
wind in Phoenix is a little unpredictable, and this year’s ride was no
exception.
Prior to the ride, I got in touch with some of the local
riders and one of them, Gerry, offered to put me up for a couple nights.  His wife made me feel like I was staying at a
resort – thick, soft towels; shampoo and soap set out in different locations;
and she even left me some dental floss! 
Thanks Sandy!
I arrived later than expected on Friday night (I didn’t
realize there was a time change), and we were up at 4:30am to hit the
road.  Not a problem…I had been sleeping
well the week before the ride so I was fresh even at the early hour!
I wanted to ride this one fast – my goal was to beat 7:30 –
and set a new, personal best for myself. 
I knew several of the riders who would be showing up. Gerry was on his
Bacchetta CA2.0, David B. was on the CA2.0 we built up for him last spring,
Carlton was a familiar face from some of the PCH events, and Lonnie Wollf from
Utah kept me company for a few miles in our January 200k.

Since I wasn’t expecting any fast descents, I went with the
most aerodynamic set of wheels I had – a set of Zipp Firecrest 404s with a
wheel disk cover on the back.  I didn’t
bother with any lights and kept the bike as uncluttered as possible.
It was cold at the start! 
My Garmin read mid-30s, but I think it was really in the low 40s.  From the get-go, we were off like a
cannon.  I lead the paceline with Gerry
and David right behind me for the first 8-10 miles.  The sun rose and it started warming up as we
headed south towards Sacaton.  The first
25 miles flew by, but David and I stopped to pee and the lead group got away
from us.
The first climb (if you can call it that) was outside of
Sacaton.  We could see one or two riders
ahead of us, and as we crested the climb we passed both of them.  This was the first part of the course that
was “scenic”.  You need to understand,
Dave and Gerry prepared me for looking at dirt all day. Actually, I have found
that as I have gotten older, I appreciate the desert more and more, and I found
this course quite beautiful.  The cactus
waved at us in their variety of contorted shapes, hawks combed the skies for
some breakfast, and tumbleweed frequently rolled across the road.
After the brief ascent, we bombed down into Casa Grande to
the second control (the first was the start line).  At that point, we caught up with the lead
group, and we all proceeded out together to discover the wonderful pavement in
and around Casa Grande.  In a word, it
sucked!  We left town and started heading
SE on Main St. on rough pavement and into a slight headwind out of the
east.  We tucked into a paceline, but it
seemed rather dis-jointed.  It kept
breaking apart and I couldn’t figure out why. 
After a brief pull for a couple miles, I settled in the back with Gerry
and Dave.
We finally arrived in Eloy, our third control at mile
51.  I had a quick snack and then hit the
road with five other riders – Carlton, Clint, Michael, Steve, and another rider
whose name escapes me.  We were heading
due north and I took off.  A few miles
down the road, the group caught up with me and I pulled us along at 23mph for
about 4 miles.  We then started rotating
pulls, but I noticed that every time Clint or Michael got to the front, the
speed picked up to 25mph.  This started
getting old as our speed bounced back and forth, making it hard for the riders
in the back to stay with the group.  Dave
and Gerry, who has also caught up, fell off the back rather quickly due to the
frequent changes in speed.
A note about riding
style – a brevet is not the same as a hammerhead club ride.  Experienced ultra riders know how to pace
themselves.  There is no jumping anytime
someone passes someone else – if riding in a group everyone tries to work
together to minimize effort so the whole group goes faster.  Sometimes, local club riders come out for
200k events, and the conflicting mentalities can cause problems.  It’s not that either group is “right”, rather
it is just different styles of riding. When I was pulling the group at 23mph, I
was riding at an easy 130-140w, a pace that I could keep for many, many
hours.  Pushing up to 200w to stay with
the group was a quick way to lose energy and end up burning out.
As we started zigzagging into Coolidge, we could tell that
we were going into a stiff headwind out of the east on a very gentle ascent.  I tried staying with the group, but the
bouncing paceline kept dumping me off the back (I stayed in the back position so
that the DF riders could get the most advantage from the draft – there was no
use having me in front given the wind, but I did offer).  I finally decided to ride my own ride and let
them go.  The wind had knocked their
speed down to about 12mph, while I was going about 11mph, and I watched them
disappear slowly down the road.
I didn’t really know how long this wind/road would last, so
I just settled into my pace and kept riding. 
I expected Dave and Gerry to catch up any time, but they didn’t.  I even stopped for a few minutes to try to
pet some horses.  It was warming up into
a gorgeous day and I intended to enjoy it at whatever pace I was riding.
The route finally crossed Pinal Pioneer Highway and a mile
later, I made the turn onto Diffen Rd. that put the wind to my side.  The course slowly started descending to the
next control at mile 85.  The cactus
through here started taking on more interesting shapes and the views across the
valley were spectacular!  All too soon, I
arrived at mile 85 and met up with Thomas, one of the local volunteers who was
signing brevet cards.  We chatted for a
couple minutes – apparently he spent a lot of time in California doing brevets
in the 80s and 90s – and he told me the fast group was only about 10 minutes
ahead of me and that Dave and Gerry were 3-4 minutes behind me.  I waited a little longer for Gerry and Dave,
but they never materialized.  So I bombed
down the mountain, past the Arizona State Prison, into Florence for a quick
stop at the Circle K to refill bottles. 
The lead group was there and I left with them.
The next 25 miles became a race.  Given the slightly downhill terrain and
tailwind, I quickly passed the group, figuring it would be an easy ride back to
the finish.  When I saw two riders
chasing me, I knew exactly who they were. 
Soon enough, Clint and Michael were on my tail, drafting and working to
stay with me.  After the first five miles
of having them draft without pulling, and getting turn directions from me, I
was getting a bit upset.  The course was
now zigzagging again, and at every other turn we were either in a cross wind or
head wind. It was easy to tell how hard they were working by looking at their open
mouths in my mirror as they tried to keep up (keep in mind, I was pulling 130-140w
and just moving along nicely).  It was
rather entertaining to watch them slowly catch up, at which point I would bump
it up to 190-200w for a minute or two and they would disappear again behind me.
  I didn’t know if I was going to have to
keep this up for five or 25 miles, so I made sure to ride a pace that I could
keep indefinitely. After 20 miles of this, they pulled ahead of me and pulled
off the road. I assumed someone needed to pee, but quickly turned around to
check on them.  They had a flat tire and
the tools to fix it, so I continued.
Since the “race” was over, I slowed way down to about 100w
and tried to just enjoy the scenery for the last 15 miles.  We were riding through farmland and it was
fascinating to see all of the horses, sheep, cows and crops (I didn’t realize
that south Phoenix was a farming community). 
About five miles from the finish, I nearly stopped at a county fair –
the signs advertising fresh pie sounded great after my 7-hour diet of fruit and
water.  But I continued on and soon
arrived at the finish.  I was the first
rider in at 7:27.  The three other riders
from the lead group arrived at 7:32 and Clint and Michael arrived at 7:36.
After chatting for a few minutes, Clint and Michael (who
were really nice guys) and I went over to the Cantina for some food and
drinks.  I had the food, they had the
drinks!  We hung out waiting for Gerry
and Dave, chatting about the ride and just enjoying a sunny afternoon.  Dave and Gerry arrived at around 8:12 (Gerry
beat his time from last year by over 30 minutes – yeah!). We all agreed it was
a great course and a great day and I look forward to riding with this group
again soon!
Gerry and Steve both wrote excellent ride reports.  Check them out here and here.

A couple of good questions from a customer

As the race season picks up, I get more and more questions like this coming through my inbox.  Read on, but please be advised that it gets a bit graphic about external catheters. If you are going to Sebring, have a GREAT race! 
Hi Dana  
I have a Bent Up Cycles Aero bag I can put
two bottles of water in, but for a century ride, I need more water. Do you have
any ideas how I can carry more?  I’m
thinking about riding the century at Sebring on Feb 16.
I rode the Suncoast bike trail last
sat – 86 miles – and I had to stop 6 times to pee and only had water for
fuel.  How do you ride long distance and
carry enough water and how do you take a leak while riding? I lost about 15 min
stopping and only had an 16.8mph average speed. Those guys at Sebring will kill
me.
Some guys use a hose and I don’t know
how to do it.  Do you cut a hole in your shorts
and let the hoses go down along shorts or along seat?
I won’t have any help so I have to
carry enough water to make it back from the 50 mile turnaround at Sebring.  Do you have any ideas?
Sincerely, RS
Hi RS,

In my experience, many recumbent riders have to pee during the first couple
hours of riding.  I guess it is something about the recumbent position
that puts pressure on the bladder – I’m not sure, but I know that I will have
to pee once or twice in the first 1.5 hours of a ride.  If you are one of the
riders that have this issue, there isn’t much you can do about it…

Catheters work for some, however, they are not 100% (they can come off and then
you have wet shorts).  They fit on like a condom with a hose coming off of
the end.  The hose runs down your shorts and then hangs at your side as
you ride.  If you go this route, make sure to route the hose on the left
side so you are not peeing on your chain.  It also takes some practice, so
try it before the event.

Sometimes, if you are riding with a group, everyone may agree to stop
together.  Another suggestion is to bolt off the front to get ahead of the
group so you don’t lose so much time.  However, you have to tell the group
that you are doing this. Otherwise, they may take it as an “attack”
and try to keep up with you.

Finally, at an event like Sebring, there are going to be many groups racing
down the road.  If you lose your group at a stop, just jump on the next
one that comes by.

In regards to hydration and nutrition, it is imperative that you have some sort
of plan – you cannot ride 100 miles on just water.  There are a variety of
powders out there – Hammer Nutrition and Infinit come to mind.  If you are
going to try any of these products, race day is NOT the day to do it.  The
general rule is you should be consuming 200-300 calories per hour.

Personally, I prefer real food.  I fill each side pocket of my jersey
before a long ride – one side gets a mix of raw almonds, cashews, dried
cranberries, and if it isn’t too hot, some chocolate chips.  The other
pocket gets filled with dates.  I can carry 900 calories this way, which
is enough to get through a fast century.  I may also stick a piece of
fruit or two in my bag.

For an event like Sebring, you should really try to get someone to support
you.  Bring some extra bottles with you and ask someone if they don’t mind
bringing extra bottles out to the turnaround point so you can grab them. 
Everyone is pretty friendly there and you shouldn’t have a hard time finding
someone to help.  Just make sure you know what kind of car they drive and
where they will be.  The turnaround is generally the worst place to meet,
as everyone else is there.  In 2010, we had our crew set up about a mile before
the turnaround.  That way, they saw us as we came by and could get our
stuff out.  We then stopped at the car on the way back to get our
stuff.  This was a great opportunity to drop off clothing and pee as well.

I hope this helps.  Have a great race!
Dana

Carbon 406 rims are in stock!

We have some beautiful new rims in stock!  The 50mm deep 406 carbon fiber rims weigh in at 306g each – lighter than most 406 aluminum rims!  They are 26mm wide for a comfortable rim.  We currently have 28h and 32h hole in stock, but can also get other drillings.

Pictured above are two wheels we just built for a customer.  The One of the left will be going on the front of an Optima Baron, and features a Chris King disk hub in black, DT Swiss Champion spokes in black with silver brass nipples, and our 50mm carbon fiber rim.  Beautiful!

The second wheel features a Chris King R45 hub with radially laced DT Swiss Champion spokes.  We went for some alloy red nipples for a bit of bling.  What do you think?  We will be building a matching rear wheel with an 88mm deep rim, matching hubs, and black Sapim CX Ray spokes.  The pair will be going on a Catrike Musashi.

Let us know what customer wheels we can build for you!

2012 Las Vegas Grand Fondo – Vegas style, Baby!

To say that I wasn’t very excited about cycling around Las Vegas was an understatement.  No offense to the residents of Vegas, but I really just don’t like it there (apparently this is rather common among people who only spend time on the Strip).  I had finally decided that I was NOT attending Interbike this year and was rather excited about that.  Then Scott steps in…

Scott picked up his decked out Carbent HPV Raven a couple weeks ago and invited me to join him on the Las Vegas Gran Fondo.  He assured me that it would be very scenic and fast.  I looked at my calendar and realized that it was exactly two weeks before the Furnace Creek 508 and would be a great final training ride for that.  So, I decided to sign up and also managed a quick trip to Interbike to see a few vendors.

Scott’s wife, Emarie, had some connections and got me a room at the Boulder Station Hotel and Casino. It was quite refreshing staying off the strip.  Scott and I spent a few hours on Friday making some changes to his bike and getting some dinner.  It seemed like we were up only a few hours later, lining up at 5am for the start.  We didn’t realize there would be 2500 cyclists, and found ourselves at the back of the pack. Although the start was at 5am, we didn’t cross the start line until 5:52.  However, it meant that the sun would be coming up very soon and lights would be unnecessary.

We started by cruising up the Strip, which was closed off to vehicular traffic for our ride.  It was actually pretty cool having the whole road to ourselves with the bright lights and approaching dawn.  We made our way up the strip, across the Valley and started down Boulder Highway towards Boulder City.  This section was fast…I mean REALLY fast.  We easily passed 1000 cyclists in the first 25 miles of the ride as I went hoarse calling out “on your left”, “on your left”.

After we turned on the road to Lake Mead, the crowds started to thin out.  The sun had just come up and we were cruising through the foothills, working it (perhaps a little too hard) on the short climbs and then bombing past everyone on the way down the other side.  I slowed down for the first aid station (and who puts an aid station halfway down a hill, anyway?) but decided to keep going. As I hit the bottom, I got my first view of Lake Mead, and it was quite spectacular.  I rode across the roller coaster around the lake, until we got to the first serious climb at the far end of the lake heading up to the highway.

Cresting the climb brought me to the descent down to Hoover Dam (I lost Scott back at the lake when I needed a pit stop).  The descent down into the Dam was twisty and technical, just the way I like it!  I had to keep the speed down, though, as there were many cyclists on the road.

Hoover Dam was awesome!  I had no idea how big it was, and took a few minutes to snap some pictures.  At the far end was the second stop where I grabbed a banana, refilled the water bottles and met up with Scott.

Having two decked out Carbents together caused quite a stir.  We received many compliments on the bikes and one local mechanic assured Scott that he could bring the bike by his shop any time for service. (FWIW, this lasted the whole ride – people were repeatedly impressed by how good the bikes looked and how well we climbed on them).

We began the climb out of the Dam.  This was billed as the hardest climb on the route, but it really wasn’t that bad.  With only 40 miles under our belts we were pretty fresh and I probably pushed it a little too hard.  Oh well…  After reaching the top, we began the longer, gentler ascent up the pass to Boulder City, followed by a nice ride on a bike path that takes you from Boulder City back into the Las Vegas Valley.  All the while, I was expecting the heat to pick up, but it never really did.  The temps throughout the day were in the mid 80’s, up into the 90’s in the Red Rock area.

We skipped the next stop and started across the south end of the Valley.  The rollers were never quite short enough to get momentum over, but the urban scenery was still pleasant, the drivers were conscientious and there were many cyclists to talk to.  We also picked up another recumbent rider, Rich, on his Ti Virginia that I built for him awhile ago. The miles across the Valley rolled by quickly, and we soon found ourselves heading out the West end of the Valley towards Red Rocks.

We were about 90 miles into the ride and I was starting to get a bit tired.  I realized quickly though that I was starting to get dehydrated as the temps rose, and downed the rest of my water knowing that an aid station was just up the road.  A flat tire took just a couple minutes to fix, and I was back on the road with Scott and Rich heading up the gentle climb into the canyon.  Rich was slowing down and Scott was speeding up…I kept an even pace right in the middle!

The station at Blue Diamond was the only time I took a significant break off the bike for about 15 minutes.  I downed another bottle of water and ate another orange and banana and was ready to go up the final climb.  The gentle climb continued on another four miles as the scenery because more and more spectacular.  They even marked the summit with a giant pink blow-up pole that you could see from a mile away.  Definitely Las Vegas style!

The last 25 miles were basically downhill.  The crosswinds in the canyon kept Scott awake as he learned how to handle his new Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels, and we passed group after group as we made our way to the finish.  Our final time was 7 hours 50 minutes, and I had a rolling average speed of 17mph on the nose.  The climbing was more than advertised at 5380 feet and the mileage was a little low at 119.8.

I would highly recommend this ride.  The scenery was fantastic, the course was (mostly) well-marked and the stations well-stocked.  The after-ride party was a bit disappointing.  Knowing that it was catered by Outback Steakhouse, I wasn’t expecting any vegetarian options, and I was right.  Papa John’s was there with pizza, but they were charging for it, as were most of the other vendors that participated.  The sound system was so loud that it was hard to carry on a conversation, but perhaps I’m just getting old :).  Time for a nap…

More RAAM – A great night of racing.

RAAM can get a bit lonely.  When 25 teams hit the road, they get spread out relatively quickly, and often it doesnt even feel like you are racing anymore. In 2010, JV and I had our first real night of racing as we left Athens, Ohio.  This year, it happened as Steve and I as we left Keyser, West Virginia.

I had the first pull out of Walmart.  We knew there were a couple teams behind us – T402 was a 4 man team from Germany and T800 was an 8 person team.  We didn’t know exactly how far behind they were, but it wasn’t much.  I left the time station feeling pretty good – I ws going to take the first two climbs while  Steve was shuttled ahead for an exchange.  
Steve met me at the top of the second climb.  I felt a little cheated that I didn’t get the descent, but oh well.  Ron and Kevin drove me over the third climb, then around a left turn to head up the 4th climb of the section.  We were going to drive about halfway up and meet Steve there.  We headed all the way to the top to check out the turn at the top, and then came back down.
As we got ready to set up for our exchange, we got a call from Steve’s van. They had missed the turn at the base of the climb and were heading back to get back on course.  They requested that we drive further back down the climb to set up an earlier exchange as Steve was pretty fried from the bonus miles.
We saw Steve coming up the climb – T402 and T800 were climbing together with Steve about 50 yards behind them.  As I knew where the next turn was, my goal was to just stay with the other teams and then take the lead on the descent.  I exchanged with Steve, and kicked it up to threshold power, knowing that I could maintain it for 5-6 minutes to the top without frying myself.  I stayed right behind the other teams, not losing any time, and hit the throttle as we began the descent after the turn.  I quickly rocketed past them, but missed the light a mile down the road…aargh!
The light changed and the racers came by me…I throttled it again. It couldn’t catch them.  A mile or so later, they had missed the light, so I caught them and then passed them as I made the right turn.  In retrospect, I should have stopped behind them and waited…they had outrun their support vehicle and were poised to go straight thru the intersection.  The only reason they knew to turn right was they watched me (I was on Gps and had my support vehicle right behind me).  Otherwise they would have gone off course and we could have taken back a nice lead.
I made the turn and they gave chase, cutting off my support vehicle.  Not wanting to get away from Ron and Kevin, I feathered the brakes while still pulling away from the competition, trying to leave enough room for my van to pull in behind me (I could see lights behind me, but didn’t know which vehicle belonged to me).  They finally got behind me and I let the hammer drop to open up my lead.
We exchanged at the next control and Steve rode easily over the first, short climb.  This next section to Hanover, PA, had four longer climbs.  We broke them down into sections and started moving ahead to stage.
Note, while very competitive, everyone is quite friendly.  We would say “hi” to crew and racers as we all leapfrogged each other on the course.  As we approached the top of the first climb, T800 rode past us and eventually passed Steve.  Try as we might, on these steep climbs we just couldn’t keep up. Steve bombed down the first descent but T402 caught us halfway up the second climb.
We continued climbing, hoping to keep their lead as short as possible.  I knew that after this stage, the terrain would become very recumbent friendly (except for a couple short climbs). We worked our way up and down the climbs…man these were hard.  How could any solo racer get to these climbs 2800 miles into the race and still be motivated to continue?  
We arrived in Hanover about 20 minutes behind.  While we had lost some ground, I was confident we could make it up in the remaining miles to come.

Stories from RAAM – Food

I thought I would share some stories from our RAAM adventure that we finished a couple weeks ago. Rather than giving a blow-by-blow account of the race, I thought I would share snippets that I hope that you will find interesting. Let’s start with everyone’s favorite topic…food…

I received a humorous email from one of our crew after the race in the form of a diary entry. It read:

 

Monday, June 18th, 2012

We’re settling in to more of a rhythm. Riders are getting to be more predictable. Crew are getting to be more predictable.

Menu requests are pretty typical. 

Q: What can I get for you after your ride? 
Alex: Turkey and cucumber in a wrap, please. 
Steve: Turkey and mustard on bread or a wrap, please. 
Chris: Whatever you’ve got. 
Dana: I’d like a salad. Maybe some mixed lettuce and romaine hearts. And add some baby spinach. Organic, of course. And throw in maybe a quarter of a cup of sprouted garbanzo beans. And some pine nuts and almonds. And sunflower seeds if you have any. Raw and unsalted for all the seeds and nuts, please. And some sliced cucumber and sweet peppers would be great. For the dressing, maybe a tablespoon of olive oil with maybe a quarter of a cup of vinegar. And add lots of dill and just a sprinkle of garlic powder. And maybe a touch of agave nectar to the vinegar, if you have it. 

Of course, to be fair and balanced, I should also present the other side. 

Q: What can I get you before your ride? 
Alex: 3 botles of Infinit Lite (2 scoops/bottle Brevet mix in Red & Black Camelback bottle, and 1 bottle of Infinit Brevet mix with protein (2 scoops + ice) in black Camelback bottle 
Steve: 3 bottles of Infinit (2 scoops/bottle) labeled “Base Mix” + ice in black/blue Camelback bottle. 1 bottle of Infinit Mix Light in Camelback bottles. Light ice. 
Chris: 1 bottle of Perpetuem 
Dana: Banana with peanut butter.

Food is one of those topics that ultra distance cyclists get pretty worked up about. We have frequent conversations (read: arguments) about what drink mix is the best, which tastes the best, what upsets the stomach, etc. Or, as my brother summed it up so nicely (he’s an ultra-distance runner): “What’s with you cyclists? All you talk about is food and your digestive system…us runners…all we talk about is sex!”

About three months before RAAM, I drastically changed my diet to eliminate processed foods, minimize sugar, and increase consumption of vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts dramatically. The result was a pretty quick loss of 18 pounds, a loss of moodiness, and a tidier digestive process 🙂

RAAM was going to be the testing ground for this kind of diet in a longer, more intense race.

My foods in the vans included fresh fruits such as peaches, nectarines, plums, dates, apples and bananas; my trail mix blend with raw cashews and almonds, dried cranberries and chocolate chips for a little sweetness; some granola, and lots of water. The only processed food (besides the chocolate chips) were a couple Hammer Fizz tablets I used when it was 105 degrees in Kansas, and a couple times I stole the Sun Chips out of the crew lunches.

In the RV when I was off-shift, I ate lots of salad and a few bananas with peanut butter. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, on a particularly long shift, I even enjoyed a huge salad in a 1-gallon zip lock bag!  It was pure bliss! I sprouted some garbanzo beans, lentils and green peas before the race and left them in the RV refrigerator. We also hit up the Oceanside Farmers Market on Thursday morning for fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies. Also, I initially requested cheese omelets as a meal choice, but my crew one-upped my request by making me a three-egg, cheese and steamed brocoli scramble on a whole wheat tortilla every morning! By the end of the race, I think most of the crew had also caught on to this delicious and easy-to-prepare breakfast!

I also did some tortilla chips with hummus or salsa – Sabrina held out on me with the hummus until about day four…she knew it wouldn’t last long! The organic, gluten-free Amy’s burritos only lasted a couple days…

I remember running in to one of the racers from the Beefeaters team in the bathroom at Burger King in Athens, OH.  I welcomed him to the home of what so many people in American think of as their kitchen (add sarcasm here), and he responded that he couldn’t imagine how their team could get through RAAM without all of the fast food places.  When I started describing our daily menu, his eyes glazed over and I swear he started drooling…it’s all about priorities, man!  And I want real food!

All-in-all, this meal plan worked GREAT for me! However, there are downsides to this kind of diet on RAAM. As my friend Sandy Earl points out: “What goes in must come out!”  When you are on a high volume, bulky diet, you tend to eat a lot and then produce a lot out the other end. Yep, if you didn’t know where I was at any given moment, chances are I was in the bathroom… 🙂

It’s also more work for the crew. I was lucky that my crew had no problems with my dietary needs and seemed to enjoy real cooking more than preparing dozens of turkey sandwiches (or, I may have just been imagining it…).

Finally, in an RV with limited water and holding tanks, we went through water more frequently and the dump tanks filled up faster from all of the dish washing. Rather than doing a tank dump twice during the trip, we were dumping about every 36 hours. There’s a story behind that too, but I will save that for later…