After I wrote The Way of the Mountain Turtle, my friend and fellow divide racer Alan Tilling commented that while he enjoyed my version of events, he thought that maybe I didn't devote enough attention to the difficulty of the ride or the time and effort that goes into preparing for an event such as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. While it was never my intention to minimize the preparation or the difficulty, my narratives tend to flow with the moment and the prologue efforts are, in fact, minimized. And because I do put a lot of effort into preparation, I sometimes don't encounter as many difficulties in the course of events as some of my fellow competitors. It really doesn't occur to me to talk about problems that I have avoided. While I do document many of my preparations on the web, the nature of the web and search engines like Google mean that people sometimes only get one glimpse into a race and a single view can and will be skewed. Condensed stories like articles in magazines also sometimes give people the wrong idea about what is involved in actually having an adventure.
This point was driven home to me by the following email that I received. I believe it's genuine, but perhaps it is only the electronic equivalent of Bart Simpson calling Moe's Tavern. In any case, it gives me a chance to talk more about the role preparation plays in successful endurance riding. I have removed the name and other identifying info but I've kept the spelling and text basically intact.
My name is ******* & I have been reading your web page on the great the great race. A friend of mine has talked me in to doing this race. I am not a mountian bike rider tho I clock 2 to 3000 a year on the road. I know nothing about single speed bikes tho it seems to be the way to go "Less to contend with" but is it harder less choices. I am 50 yrs old with some bumed up legs and hips, but as you can tell it doesn't stop me. The boy's at ******** Bike Shop here in ********, ** told me they would sponser me with a Kona Unit with what they called a flip sprocket "High gear on one side then turn the wheel over when you need a lower gear." what gear raito did you use?.Should I use a bike with gears?. I Just have a lot of questions that the majority of the folk's can not answer because I have more road miles than anybody that I know that rides, except for the bro's that I ride with, & they know less than I do. We have came to the same conclusion that it has to be a diffrent breed of riding. The reason I chose to email you is because you seemed to be more or a fly by the seat of your pant's rider. any help will be appreciated. you can call me any time at ***-***-**** at night after 8 or before 8 am I will be riding the Blue Ridge Park Way 3 weeks before this race & I do these rides on my 18 speed Treck double sproket
My response is as follows:
I do believe that with proper preparation, people can do remarkable things. I also know that the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route comprises 2500 miles of very challenging terrain. Just to ride the GDR requires quite a bit stamina and preparation, racing the route demands even more effort. It is not my place to tell you what you can and cannot do, but from your note it seems that you are underestimating both the scope of the ride and the level of preparation required to race the Divide successfully.
You write that you ride between 2,000 and 3,000 miles per year on the road. While that is certainly a significant number of miles, more than most people ride, you must consider that the racing the GDR means riding 2500 miles, off-pavement, in less than one month. While I can't speak for certain about the miles logged by other GDR racers in preparation, I can tell you a bit about my preparations for the ride.
I average about 12,000 miles per year on my bike. On normal days, when I'm just riding back and forth to work, I log 35 miles per day. This isn't training, it's just riding.
At the time I decided to race the GDR, I was already a veteran of many long distance events including Paris-Brest-Paris, Boston-Montreal-Boston, London-Edinburgh-London, The Rocky Mountain 1200, and the Raid Californie-Oregon. All of these events are significantly easier than racing the GDR, yet most riders log far more than 3,000 miles per year in training for these rides. Stories of most of these rides and the shorter rides leading up to these rides can be found at my randonneuring page at:
I decided to race the GDR a full year before I actually raced the Divide. I obtained a Redline Monocog and rode it exclusively in the year prior to the race. Many of my experiences with that bike are recorded in the Monocog Log which can be read here:
From December of 2004 through July of 2005, I rode the Monocog with all the gear I figured I'd be using on the GDR. I did various shakedown trips with my camping gear, seeking out snow, mountain passes, bad weather and anything else I thought I might encounter on the GDR. I spent the days prior to the race riding to the race starting line from my home in Issaquah.
I think you'll find that successful endurance racers prepare for their endeavors. What may appear to be "seat of the pants riding" has a lot of miles and years and experience behind it.
To answer your specific questions, my Monocog has 32*17 gearing. At the time I got the Monocog I had already ridden many thousands of fixed and single speed miles. I would never recommend that anyone who has never ridden single speed commit to racing the GDR on a single speed bike.
I would also never recommend that anyone with no off-pavement experience and a 3,000 mile annual mileage base to commit to racing the GDR. However, as I said earlier, it is not my place to tell you what you can and cannot do. But my advice is to invest at least a year and something like 10,000 mountain bike miles into preparation.
Issaquah WA USA