Bike set up for lightweight adventure riding is an exercise in taking as little as you can get away with, yet having all the essentials covered. Each racer must assess what they can and can’t do without, what they feel is worth its burden to take and what equipment they think is durable enough to complete the distance. For the weight conscious gram counting can border on the obsessive, while for some peace of mind and confidence in one’s equipment can be just as important as the readings on the scales. Whilst common methods emerge, the finer details are very much a product of personal choice and while concessions to comfort may be made for those in less of a hurry, here are a few things to consider if you want to be at the sharp end…
In a race like the Transcontinental, where riders will spend every minute of every day either riding, eating or sleeping, time is very much at a premium. Unless a racer has an unassailable lead, if their frame breaks, it is very unlikely that they can win as the time required to find the facilities and affect a repair becomes very significant. The traditional notion then that a frame for long distance cycling would be selected on the basis that its material might be easier to repair become less valid. With this in mind the performance benefits offered by modern materials and manufacturing techniques become more attractive. The carbon frame of Shaun Timberlake’s Trek Domane (pictured above) is super light and features a seat tube engineered to flex with a rotating joint isolating it from the top tube.
The wheels are the heart of any bike and little affects performance more. Racers will look for a wheel set that strikes a balance between weight, aerodynamics and durability. A deep section wheel rim will give a aerodynamic advantage on the flat, while lower profile rims tend to be lighter and quicker on the climbs. Serviceability will also be important here and clincher tyres and traditional spoking methods are likely to be the norm. Spoke count may be a big factor in durability and it will be interesting to see how light some riders may dare to go. Heat build up on rim braked wheels is also significant on loaded bikes down big alpine descents. This may be one reason to avoid carbon clincher wheels or adopt disc braking.
For the front runners as light as possible is certainly the way to go. Its unlikely that the first bikes to Istanbul will be carrying panniers, likewise stoves and tents are a luxury most will do without in the name of speed. One set of clothes, frame bags, seat packs and bivvys will the order of the day. When pack weights are likely to be in the order of a few kilograms, the weight of the empty bags themselves comes under close scrutiny and supporting structures like racks no longer earn their place on a fast whip. The lighter the luggage, the lighter the bags, the bike and the wheels can be. When one considers that rider weight limits on the lightest of road racing components can be in the order of 100kg – an 80kg rider might be comfortable that they have a good margin to play with.
With so many variables to a race like this, each of them is very difficult to quantify and aerodynamic efficiency will be a product of a rider’s discipline to maintain position versus comfort and power output. While racers wont be rushing to the wind tunnel or taping up their helmet vents and slipping into a skin suit, aerodynamic advantages over 2000+ miles become significant and the gains from handlebar extensions and deep section wheels can be justified. The choice of luggage arrangement also has aerodynamic consequences and carrying load in a frame bag and seat pack has the additional benefit of being positioned within the frontal area of a regular road cyclist, which is directly proportional to aerodynamic drag.
For most racers a pre-planned route and GPS navigation will guide them to Istanbul after spending much of the few months before the race procrastinating over which way will be faster, flatter, quieter, more scenic or have the best cake shops en-route. Other’s may show up with a map and compass in London and be happy to make it up as they go along. None can be 100% sure that weather, road conditions and local events won’t interfere with their chosen path so it pays to be prepared and be flexible. Racer using electronic devices for navigation will also need to think about how to meet their energy demands. Rechargeable batteries mean a dependence on finding regular mains supply – at meal breaks or over night, carrying extra batteries means more weight, using disposables means finding them along the way and dynamo systems can give self sufficiency at a small trade-off with efficiency. Lights will also be essential for any racer wanting to extend their riding time past daylight hours or in poor visibility and the same weigh, power and effectiveness considerations will apply.
There’s a lot of decisions for racer’s to make and no one right answer but when all is said and done and the riders line up on the start line, there will be little they can do to change things. Despite any nerves they might have of the race, its a calm time for racers when all the stress of preparation is over, the decisions already made and all they will have to do is pedal.