Earlier this month, I competed in the BC Bike Race, a seven-day mountain bike stage race through British Columbia, with my teammate Paul LaPerriere. Each day we’d sample the best riding around a different community, racing an average of 30 miles of singletrack. It was challenging: In 25 hours of riding I covered 200 miles, about 140 of it on singletrack, and climbed 30,000 feet through the province’s steep terrain. As with any epic adventure I learned a lot on the trail, including these 12 pieces of wisdom. —Ryan Stuart
1. Forget Coffee — Ride in a peloton instead. Each stage of the BC Bike Race began with a mass start — up to 450 riders charging down a few miles of road before we dropped onto a trail. Nothing shakes off tired legs and a dopey mind in the morning like the hum of 900 wheels spinning at 20 miles an hour, a couple inches apart, above rock hard pavement.
2. Never Overlook Tire Pressure — I couldn’t believe how many people flatted in the first couple days, often in benign-looking spots. Tire pressure was the usual culprit. My mechanic suggested 31 PSI up front and 32 in the rear for my tubed tires. My partner and I didn’t get a single flat the whole week.
3. Don’t Mess With Dialed Equipment — After accidentally setting up my bike with the seat a quarter-inch lower than usual I was popping ibuprofen to keep knee pain at bay. Once I realized the seat-height problem and fixed it, I rode pain-free the rest of the way.
4. Beat Your Buddies — The best incentive to push a little harder, as read on a competitor’s T-shirt: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose as long as you beat your friends.”
5. Ride a Dually — British Columbia’s coastal singletrack is varied but often includes rough technical sections and long swooping downhills. Your body will thank you for rear suspension and an extra inch of travel.
6. Budgeting Performance — I passed plenty of $6,000 mountain bikes on my adequate $2,500 Cannondale Rize 4, which I love. The bike doesn’t make the rider.
7. Looking Good Counts! — I received many compliments, from men and women, about my good-looking and incognito jersey from Club Ride. The NewWest jersey looks more like a stylish collared T-shirt than a geeky bike top, yet it rides light, cool, dries fast and has two big pockets out back. I became known as “The guy in plaid.”
8. Attention to the Rear End — Twenty-five hours is a long time to be sitting on your butt. You need to invest in a stellar pair of padded bike shorts. I rode in Icebreaker’s Merino wool Circuit Bib (super comfy and never too hot) and 2XU’s Cycle Compression Short, which felt like butter on my sore buns.
9. Clear as Water — As the first-aid manager preached at the pre-race meeting: A good mountaineer always pisses clear. That goes for mountain bikers, too. The key for me is easy access to water, and for this race I used Salomon’s XT Advanced Skin 5 S-Lab Hydration Pack, a teched-out water carrier that hugs the body and puts its bite valve inches from your mouth. I could sip away on the roughest trails without taking my hands off the handlebars. For refills at aid stations, a simple slide bar on the bladder made getting more water a snap. And several pockets up front on the vest provided easy access to food and essentials without having to remove the pack.
10. It’s all about Recovery — When you’re riding hard seven days in a row, what you do after each race becomes as important as what you did during. Immediately after finishing I chowed on the supplied food and downed a recovery shake like Endurox R4, rich in protein and carbohydrates to repair muscle damage and resupply energy stores. We also slept in compression tights and socks, a proven recovery aid.
11. Watch out for Wildlife — The race finishes in Whistler, B.C., a perfect place to celebrate a week of epic mountain biking. But with black bears on the mountain and a persistent cougar problem around the bars in town it’s good to know how to identify potential threats. B.C.‘s black bears are generally harmless. The Whistler sub-species of the cougar, on the other hand, should be approached with caution. She can be identified by the small pox vaccine scar on her shoulder.
12. You will Finish Stronger than you Started! — I didn’t believe Andreas Hestler, one of the organizers and a mountain bike Olympian, but at the pre-race meeting he said we’d be cranking into the finish in Whistler stronger than when we started. Somehow my body resigned itself to seven days on the bike and managed to keep turning those pedals, powering Paul LaPerriere and I into 22nd place in the two-person category — five spots better than where we finished earlier in the week. Even more surprising: The more I rode, the more worn down I got, the more I enjoyed the riding each day!
—Ryan Stuart is Gear Editor at Explore magazine. All photos © BC Bike Race.