Seven Days of Singletrack
Singletrack.com’s Jason Sumner embedded himself in the 2011 edition of the BC Bike Race, a seven-day mountain bike stage race that hits pretty much every sweet stretch of singletrack from Vancouver Island to Squamish, Whistler and all points in between.
As our intrepid bruise receptor, Sumner filed daily dispatches from the BCBR’s various base camps. Along with figuring out what kind of bike to ride, how to carry your water and tire choices, check out Sumner’s final report on how you too can head north and shred some of the planet’s sweetest singletrack.
Once upon a time, the notion of riding 29-inch wheels at the BC Bike Race would have been met with snickers; the trails are too tight and technical for those wagon-wheeled bikes, conventional wisdom went.
But just like the rest of the cycling world, there’s a sea change underway here at the 2011 BCBR, a seven-day mountain bike stage race in British Columbia that started Sunday in Cumberland on Vancouver Island, and wraps up next Saturday at Whistler’s Olympic Plaza. In between, a field of 500 will take on a veritable greatest hits of BC’s best singletrack.
An unscientific poll conducted out on course put the number of big-wheeled bikes in the neighborhood of 40 percent. And the buy-in wasn’t limited to just one segment of racers; men, women, front of the packers and back markers alike were all spotted rocking 29-inch wheels on a day when the 54km stage 1 loop served up a tricky mix of tough logging-road climbing, and dicey, rooted and rocky singletrack that kept racers on high alert from start to finish.
Here’s a look at some of the bikes tackling the fifth-running of this iconic event, that’s fairly billed as the ultimate singletrack experience.
BCBR: Hydration Pack or Bottles?
Like Sunday’s 26er-v-29er face-off, the question of bottles or hydration pack is an oft-debated topic at events like the BC Bike Race. But unlike the balance found in the wheel-size query, hydration packs are winning hands down at this seven-day cross-country stage race that started Sunday in Cumberland on Vancouver Island and concludes next Saturday in Whistler.
During another unscientific poll, this time conducted during a walk around the start line on Monday in Campbell River just before the gun sounded, the ratio was no less than 80-20. And it might well have been 90-10.
This was not just a case of all the mid-packers opting for packs, and thus tilting the numbers. Indeed, that group overwhelming choose hydration packs, but top racers like Mark Weir, Brian Lopes and even the defending duo-team champs Barry Wicks and Chris Sneddon all were strapped with packs. One qualifier for the Wicks-Sneddon Kona duo, though: Both riders were sporting a modified pack system that Wicks had fashioned himself (see photos).
“I should probably trademark this thing,” Wicks joked. “It works really well and it’s a lot cheaper than the similar options out there.”
So why go with a pack, which is undeniably a heavier choice in a race? It’s a combination of needing to abide to the BC Bike Race’s mandatory gear list, which includes things like waterproof matches and a wound compress, and the fact that this is a pretty burly event from a technical riding standpoint, so best to be prepared with tools and even a few spare parts.
As for your author, I too am a hydration pack devotee, though with stages that have ranged in the 3.5 to 4-hour range, and two on-course aid stations, there’s been no need to top off the bladder. Half way is more than enough.
BCBR: Tire Choices
When it comes to mountain bike racing, few decisions are more personal than tire choice. One man’s Corvette is another man’s clunker.
The BC Bike Race is no exception. A perusal of the sprawling bike corral following the stage 3 Powell River circuit on Tuesday revealed a broad diversity of choices from at least a dozen manufacturers. But despite the differences, two things was clear: Tubeless tires are the overwhelming majority and a very few riders are afraid of a little girth.
Indeed, you won’t find a lot of 1.9s rolling around the trails of this seven-day cross-country stage race in British Columbia. Instead 2.2s and even 2.25s were the rubber du jour.
The reason for paying what is an undeniable weight penalty? The trails are rough around here. Rough like a bad neighborhood in the Bronx. Rough like when the roots are around every turn and the turns come almost constantly. Here’s a look at what some of the top pro’s are running and more.
BCBR: Interesting People
No doubt it takes a special person to tackle a seven-day cross-country stage race.
Body — and brain — endure a unique beating that’s nearly impossible to replicate in day-to-day life. But within this bunch of mountain bike masochists is a widely diverse group that ranges from orthopedists to Olympians, from bankers to bouncers, from accountants to acupuncturists, and lots of points in between.
On Wednesday, Singltrack.com made the rounds at the 2011 BC Bike Race and found 10 people, all different save for at least one common passion — a love of singletrack.
Besides a functioning body and bike, there’s perhaps no element is more important than food at a multi-day event like the BC Bike Race.
With time in the saddle ranging from 2-7 hours per day depending on your place in the peloton, caloric replenishment is key. And key to preparing vast amounts of calories to be consumed are well-oiled kitchen crews.
Each day some 600 racers and staff are feed two dining hall-style meals (breakfast and dinner). These giant eateries are typically located at town recreation or community centers. Eating seconds is encouraged.
“Our rationale is that we want to provide for our people,” said event marketing manager and BCBR racer Andreas Hestler. “As Napoleon said, an army marches on its stomach.”
To make sure this army keeps marching, local caterers are instructed to prepare double what they would normally provide for a group the size of BCBR.
Here’s a look at what was on the menu during stage 5 of this seven-day mountain bike stage race that concludes Saturday in Whistler.
BCBR: Sights and Scenes
Put it in the books. The 2011 BC Bike Race is over. The final day was the shortest on the odometer, just 28km in and around Whistler.
But don’t mistake short for easy. Course designer Grant Lamont strung together a spider web of challenges — steep climbs on road, gravel and wet, slippery singletrack. And of course plenty of downhills, some smooth and fast, some teeth-rattling tough.
Singletrack.com survived the week, finishing solidly in the middle of the solo masters field, carding a total time of just a shade over 26 hours. Now it’s time for beers and a little R&R.
But first here’s a look back at some of the great sights and scenes from this seven-day mountain bike stage race contested on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, Squamish and Whistler. Stay tuned this week for a full detailing of the 2011 BC Bike Race, including a checklist of what you need to know should you decide to take on this epic, and epically fun, challenge.
BCBR: A Few More Photos
The fog of seven hard days of racing is beginning to clear. Bruises are slowly heeling. Cuts have scabbed over. Massive fatigue is fading away. And… the card on the digi cam has been emptied. What we found was a hodgepodge of pictures that went a long way to telling the behind-the-scenes story of BC Bike Race.
Besides a whole lot of singletrack saddle time, BCBR is a little like summer camp for adults. You play all day, then come back to camp for a big communal meal, a few beers and some shits-and-grins hang out time.
Most of the 500 folks contesting BC Bike Race occupy the soft spot between racing and riding. The goal is to beat their riding buddies, clear that technical section that everyone else dabbed on, or just finish with all your front teeth intact.
Indeed, BCBR isn’t the epic suffer fest that defines some of the other multi-day mountain bike stage races. Instead, the objective is to challenge — and entertain — because we all know there’s nothing cool about riding fat tires on fire roads.
Here’s a look at some of the sights and scenes behind the scenes at the 2011 BC Bike Race. Check back to Singletrack.com later in the week for a detailed look at what you need to know, should you decide to sign up for summer camp.
BCBR: 15 Things to Know if You Go
1. Pack seven kits for seven days. You don’t want to waist recovery (or play) time doing laundry. And wearing dirty kit is just plain gross. Instead, wear it once, then stuff it into a garbage bag that can be stuffed to the bottom of your suitcase.
2. Same goes for accessories like base layers, socks and even gloves. You don’t necessarily need new everything for every day. But slapping on fresh mitts after day 3 or 4 is a pretty good feeling.
3. Bring comfortable biking shoes, and make sure they’re adequately broken in. Even Hans Rey would have to walk some of BC Bike Race’s most technical sections, and since most of us aren’t world famous trials riders, a little time out of saddle and on feet is to be expected. Blisters are not your friend.
4. Bring too much chamois cream. Actually, there’s no such thing as too much chamois cream, even if it does initially feel like you’re bandying about in a wet diaper. Bottom line (pun intended), if you can’t sit, you can’t ride. Take care of your backside and it’ll take care of you.
5. Pick up a pair of photo chromatic sunglasses. Light levels are constantly changing in the British Columbia woods, meaning there’s no exact right lens. Instead get a pair that changes for you. Race sponsor Ryders Eyewear loaned Singletrack.com a pair and it made all the difference. Prior to that, we were taking shades on and off depending on light levels and almost crashed in the process more than once.
6. Wear a watch and use it to remind yourself to eat and drink. Singletrack.com opted for the every half hour method, but that’s a personal choice. The key is that you figure out what works for you and stick to it. The middle of a stage race is no time to be experimenting with you fueling routine.
7. Run tubeless tires. In case you haven’t heard, they work great, rarely puncture, and allow you to run lower pressure, meaning better traction of slick roots and slimy rocks, which by the way, are in very large supply on the trails of British Columbia.
8. Consider swapping out your standard seat post with a seat dropper post. There’s lots of techy descending in B.C., meaning the high post Euro’ look is not the fashion du jour. Instead, give yourself the ability to get low without first getting off your bike.
9. If you’re not from around B.C., practice riding technical terrain before you head to western Canada. Point blank, the cross country trails out there are a full factor tougher than what we’re used to in places like Colorado or California. Think constantly undulating terrain that’s littered with slithery (often slick) roots, and you’re on the right track. The good news is that there’s a method to this madness, and once you figure it out (faster is better), picking your way through testing trails is a ton if fun.
10. Remember to bring creature comforts such as a quick drying towel, a comfortable pillow and a sleeping pad. Night’s are spent in a sprawling tent city, and while the race organizers provide thin sleeping pads, the extra suitcase space required to pack your Therma Rest will be rewarded. While you’re at, grab a package of wax earplugs (the kind that actually work, versus the worthless foam plug variety). You never know when you’ll end up in a tent next to the guy who snores like the black bear you saw out of the trail earlier in the day.
11. Chose the second dinner seating. BC Bike Race has two dinner time options, so the buffet lines don’t get too backed up. We prefer round No. 2 because you’ll be able to eat and then transition straight into the nightly course description meeting, rather than having to kill time between. Before dinner, take advantage of the extra time by getting yourself sorted for the next day, making sure your bike is clean, repaired, and ready to ride.
12. If you don’t already, make sure you know how to do basic trail side repairs, including fixing a broken chain (you’ll need a chain tool and an extra link) or booting a slashed tire (food wrappers work well). Also carry along a spare derailleur hanger just in case. Also be sure your bike comes into the race in tip-top shape. This is no place for a clapped out, 5-year old bike with worn out components and a rusty chain.
13. Don’t waste energy with over-the-top efforts. Remember this is a seven-day stage race, not a 25-minute short track. Every time you dig deep you burn up matches you’ll likely need somewhere down the road. Instead opt for the steady, diesel-engine approach, especially when climbing. Find a spinable gear and stay there. And don’t get your chamois in a bunch when some hammerhead goes charging by you on the day’s first climb. It’s a safe bet you’ll see him bonking in his granny gear later in the day.
14. Pamper yourself with at least one massage during the week. Most of us can’t afford to get rubbed down every day, but a mid-race massage with the on-site therapists is well worth the money and will leave you recharged for the final push to the stage 7 finish line in Whistler.
15. Ride a full suspension bike. Sure that carbon hardtail in the back of your garage may be faster than grease lighting on fire road climbs, but when it comes to bashing through the B.C. forest, it’s gonna hurt – and slow you down. Just ask French professional Thomas Dietsch. He flailed around for two-and-half days before crashing and breaking the chainstay on his carbon hardtail. With no back-up bike, Dietsch finished the race on a loaner, full suspension Rocky Mountain Element – and a smile on his face.