Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Kids, Don't Try This At Home

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

Best Reguards,



My response is as follows:

Dear *******,

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.

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA


YuriB said...

speaking of the gdr, care to share the ratio you ran?
in 5 short weeks i'll be on the bike for a full week in az and i'm contemplating going ss.

Tammy said...

I agree... you underestimated the difficulty in your story. But, as we both know, once a story is told, it is no longer the truth... just a perspective, of which there are many.

You shared your truth, and at the end, when the enormity of your endeavor finally sank in, I found my jaw in my lap. :P

Kent Peterson said...

My offroad ratio for the GDR was 32 by 17 with 175 mm cranks. The Monocog came stock with 32/16 gearing but I backed it down a notch because of the climbing, rough roads and the gear I was carrying. In the NM sections there were places where I was lugging 7 liters (14 lbs) of water.

My road fixies I run with 42/16 gearing.

I just ordered a Boone Titanium fixed cog, so I'll be setting my Monocog up as a fixed/free flip/flop. Since fixed means that I'll always be pedaling and can't coast, I'm switching the cranks to a slightly shorter 170 mm for better off-road clearance. But I get a bit of a flywheel effect with fixed gearing and I've trimmed my touring load a bit, I'm upping the front ring to a 34. So I'll be back to a 2 to 1 ratio on the Monocog.

Anonymous said...

My old maths master used to say that people with a small knowledge of a subject often thought that subject easy. It wasn’t until they started to study it in some depth, that they began to realise that the horizon of its total knowledge started to advance further and further into the distance. That was 30 odd years ago; now with the Internet lots of people have turned into armchair experts.
Steve from across the pond

Anonymous said...

years ago when I worked for the FS up in Cle Elum a fellow stopped by the office one winter afternoon looking for some advice.

He was fed up with living among people and wanted to go out and live in the woods for awhile. He had some snow shoes, a pickup load of canned food, and a tent. He wanted a little local knowledge about where the best place to go might be. This was in the 70's when the place was a little more sleepy than it is these days.

We advised him to just drive up towards Salmon La Sac until he came to where the snow plow turned around and then he would have access to about 47,000 acres of peace and feedom.

He missed the turn out of the parking lot and put the truck in a three foot ditch that was plowed full of snow. To his credit he worked on getting unstuck for about 3 hours before he finally came in and asked if we could call a tow truck for him.

I don't know if he ever made it to the end of the road, but I often wondered what he would do with all that canned food when it got down below zero at night.

Anonymous said...

Ah Kent, when I commented that you perhaps made light of the enormity of the GDR it was in respect of your own modesty.
Preparation is of course the key to any successful outing and mechanical, biomechanical and mental aspects must be considered in equal proportions.
Sometimes of course it is difficult to provide a suitable test environment. For the mechanical evaluation and shakedown that can sometimes be a challenge to us in the UK. I've just returned from (a failed) Idita. I cycled to McGrath in 2004 having picked up my snow bike only a couple of days before the race and packed and repacked several times before I felt it was at least half passable. For various reasons (not least last years GDR injuries!) I decided to walk to McGrath this year. Even less preparation saw me attach my sled to my harness an hour before the start. My set up was perfect and was the result of hours of armchair research in our snow barren island. My training was not unreasonable but always a compromise as a family man who must share his time.
I failed though to finish because I guess I hadn't subjected my legs to walking 20 hours a day. Less than half the start line finished and 10% of those who nominated the long race to Nome carried on (and are in fact still going as I write).
What am I trying to say, I'm not sure really. Except that maybe it's better to make a half baked attempt at something than not to make the attempt at all. Failure or success, we get to know ourselves a little better. I hope to see you at Knik Lake next year, it's your kind of ride.