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2015 Transcontinental Race

My 2015 ‘A’ race was the Transcontinental Race (TCR) which went from Belgium to Turkey. It took me 16:10:17 to cover the 4,206 km (with 31,515 m of climbing).  The key rules of the race are simple:

  • It is self supported which means it is just you and your bike with nobody else to help. If something goes wrong, you deal with it. You can’t get/give help to other riders, and only commercial services available to all riders (e.g. bike shops) can be used.
  • You must visit four check points on the way to Istanbul. Between these points, you select your own route—which you must navigate on your own.

These races are very challenging not only physically but more so mentally. One plumbs the depths of exhaustion beyond what is imaginable and trying to average 275 km/day and 2,000 m of climbing each day (my target) puts huge demands on the body. This year’s race was extra difficult and only about half of the 175+ riders who started managed to finish the race.

Like all bikepacking races it had many highs and a few lows, and overall was a fantastic race which I would highly recommend. Rather than a ‘blow by blow’ account of the experience, I’m going to share some special (and not so special) aspects of the race.

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ICEdot: In case something goes very, very wrong…

Last year in the Transcontinental Race four of the 78 starters were taken out by cars during the race. A somewhat high attrition rate to say the least …  While one cannot control what hits you, one thing you can do is carry appropriate ID so that people are notified of an accident. For many years I’ve used a RoadID ‘dog tag’ with my name and the World Bank’s emergency contact details on it (they have a 24 h manned emergency line), but there is a new system out there called ICEdot which is a marked improvement which I’m now using.

There are two products offered by ICEDot:

  • A wrist band Emergency ID and helmet stickers. These contain a cimageode which when an SMS is sent to a number on the band/stickers returns some key data via SMS. You set up a profile on the web which lists the key data that you want sent in response to an SMS being received. Below is what I’ve put in: I’m an asthmatic and they should contact my wife Lis.

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  • A crash sensor which is affixed to your helmeimaget (my POC is specifically designed for it). In the event of critical forces, the sensor triggers the app over low-energy Bluetooth to sound an alarm and initiate an emergency countdown. Unless the countdown clock is stopped, the app will then notify your emergency contacts and send GPS coordinates of the incident so that appropriate follow up actions can be taken.  The sensor recharges via a USB cable and has about 20 h of life before it needs another recharge.

I’m really happy with the wrist band – it’s quite comfortable to wear – and my wife is especially happy with this extra layer of ‘protection’ over my RoadID. Hopefully they won’t be needed, but for a very modest cost, the ICEDot system gives great peace of mind.

2015 Transcontinental Race Route

My ‘A’ race for 2015 is the Transcontinental which will be a 4,153 km bicycle race starting 24 July with 38,326 m of climbing (assuming I don’t get lost!). This year we start at Geraardsbergen Belgium—just west of Brussels, with check points at the top of Mt. Ventoux in France, the Strada Del Assetia west of Turin, Vukovar Croatia, Mt. Locven in Montenegro, before finishing at the Rumeli in Istanbul. The route below is my ‘optimal’ route, which is pretty well finalized except the last section after Montenegro. May go down through Albania and Greece like last year. Will just see how it goes.

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Pittsburgh to Washington? Round One to the Sleep Monster …

It was one of those ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’. Ride my bike the 530 km from Pittsburgh to D.C. along the Great Allegheny and C&O Canal bike paths—in a single 24h stage.  If the stars aligned, would be my longest distance yet. Unfortunately, they didn’t and decided to bail after 341 km. But still, it was great ride …

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The Great Dynamo Run Off

For long distance endurance racing there are two schools of thought when it comes to powering your GPS/lights/etc.  I’m a firm proponent of hub dynamos which I’ve used with success for racing the Tour Divide and the Transcontinental races. There are two main suppliers of hub dynamos: Son, which I run on my Tour Divide bike, and Shutter Precision (SP) which I use on my Transcontinental bike. A new company—Velogical—has released a new dynamo which rather than being in a hub is a rim dynamo. This has two main attractions over hub dynamos:

  • You don’t need to build a new wheel to use the dynamo; and,
  • The dynamo only needs to be activated when you need power so there is no drag the rest of the time (hub dynamos typically have drag of about 2-5 Watts)

I was very intrigued with the Velogical system so I purchased one. This is what it looks like mounted on my bike with the dynamo engaged.

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Being an engineer and having three dynamos, I decided to test the Velogical against my Son and SP dynamos  to see the relative drag of the different dynamos.  While at it, why not test a few wheel/tyre combinations as well? Here’s what I found …

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BSX Insight: Lactate Testing and Playing With Power Meters

Just a warning: this is a geeky post…

I received my new BSX Insight which is a wearable lactate threshold sensor. I supported its development through Kickstarter and the final product is a very tidy piece of kit. Your lactate threshold is a key metric in determining one’s training zones. Testing is done by taking regular blood tests as one ramps up the work. What makes the BSX Insight so unique, is that it can monitor lactate without taking blood: the BSXinsight monitors muscle oxygenation via a light array shined into the calf.   It then runs an algorithm to give users lactate threshold (LT) power and heart rate numbers, plus training zones based on percentages of those figures. So the process is to slip the sensor into a leg sleeve, hop on a treadmill or a bike trainer, and then do a test. Sounds easy? If only …

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Garmin’s Edge Routing Still Sucks … and Unlocking Garmin City Navigator Maps

After cracking the screen on my Edge 800 I upgraded to a Garmin Edge 1000 which is a fantastic unit and a huge improvement. I really like the new interface and the ability to run multiple sensors. With Glosnoss the GPS fix is almost immediate and much more accurate.

But what about routing? Last year when racing the Transcontinental from London to Istanbul I, along with a number of others, were taken on what called the ‘Tour de Garmin’ wherein the routing software on our Garmin GPS units (I was using an Edge 800) took us on seemingly random—and always longer—routes than any rational human (or halfway decent routing algorithm) would take.  I was quite impressed with the wide number of options now available for routing but unfortunately … it still sucks.  Oh, and it also won’t read the Garmin City Navigator Maps. Here is a bit of a rant, and a solution for the maps issue.

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