Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bringing a Steel Knife to a Carbon Fiber Gunfight

In Monday's post, I told you about doing a 200K out of Jupiter hosted by the Florida Central region. As I mentioned, this 200K was not like Tennessee 200Ks. For one thing, 84 starters is four times the normal turnout there ... particularly in January. Another difference was the pace, since the lead group finished in under six and a half hours.

Of course, I'm pretty sure that there were a lot of riders that rode at a more conventional pace. Out of 84 randonneurs and randonneuses, there had to be some getting in near the final control closing time ... and some that didn't finish at all. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in the course of 130 miles, even if the terrain is pancake flat and the temperatures absolutely perfect. Also, fighting a headwind for the 60 miles back to Jupiter must have taken a toll on a few folks.

Another difference between Florida and Tennessee brevets was the equipment being used by the riders. For example, the front pack was lead most of the way by four of these:

Of course, a recumbent can be a very fast bicycle, particularly over flat terrain. Getting under the wind is great for Florida brevets.

If you doubt the speed of a 'bent, check out the records at the Sunrise Century in Clarkesville, TN. This ride has been called the fastest century in America. Although the route is not as flat as Florida, the winds are lighter. Doyce Johnson, a friend of mine from the Gran Fondo Fixies 2008 RAAM crew, currently holds the record time on that century at 3:44:55. He did this riding a recumbent in the elite peloton.

I only counted half a dozen recumbents Saturday. Most of the bikes looked more like this:

Now, I'm used to showing up at brevets with a bicycle that hits the middle range on randonneuring convention. I consider my titanium Lynskey touring frame the perfect mixture of comfort and speed, particularly riding on Continental GatorSkin tires on my 32- and 36-spoke count Mavic Open Pro rims and Shimano Dura-Ace hubs. My handlebar bag on the front holds all of the stuff that I might need on a 200K, and I can always put my Arkel TailRider on the rear rack for longer rides when I might need more tubes or room to stow spare clothing. And I may not need that little chainring on my triple crank often, but when I need it then I am really glad to have it.

There were usually a couple of aggressive racing frames at Tennessee 200Ks, but you also had a lot of lugged steel frames with down-tube or bar-end shifters. Most bikes had GatorSkin or Armadillo tires, and 700x25c was considered narrow. Riders might or might not have brought their lights and reflective gear on these rides, even if they were sure that they would finish before nightfall. Stuff happens, but above all you finish the ride. It's usually better on a brevet to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

The riders Saturday were not as concerned about this, and instead focused on speed. Slip through the wind. Ride light ... although this probably only mattered when we were crossing bridges. Most frames were carbon fiber, as were many saddles. I didn't see a single Brooks B-17 saddle out there. Racing wheels were prevalent, although most of them had good stout tires mounted on them. Frame pumps were rare. Almost everybody had a fairly large saddle bag -- as in the above picture -- to carry the tools and tubes we typically need. About a third of these had a folding tire attached, which was smart given the poor condition of Florida bike lanes and shoulders.

Taking a back seat was self-sufficiency. Given the turnout, this was logical. If something broke that you couldn't fix, odds were that another rider with the right tool or part would be along in a minute. The faster you were, the better your chances of encountering that helpful rider. And, probably more important, the faster you were the easier it was to stay with a group for those 60 miles back into the wind. Riding three hours at 20 mph in a paceline is much easier than riding four hours at 15 mph all by yourself ... but that does fly in the face of the whole "self-sufficiency" thing.

So, these bikes were probably good choices for Saturday's ride. I was happy with the comfort of a touring frame and good Terry saddle ... but then, I wasn't out to break any records. If I want to do under 6:30 at this event next year, I'll bring the Bianchi and a Max Watzz mindset.

It will be interesting to see what everyone brings to the 300K and 400K, if I ride them. With the right group, a 300K without lights here is possible, but a 400K in less than 14 hours is hard work. Personally, I would not want to do 250 miles listening to the hum of a carbon fiber wheelset.

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