Minnesota is not often noted for its hills. But a new bike race in the state, the Ragnarök 105, makes the most of Minnesota’s southern bluff country, climbing and rolling for an estimated 8,000 feet of elevation gain over its namesake 105-mile length.
Last month, in a nine-hour effort, I completed the race, which is fully self-supported and primarily on gravel roads. (My report on the race is here: http://gearjunkie.com/ragnaroek-105-bike-race.) Racers tote all needed water, food, and gear for the entire length. Here’s a quick report on the gear that worked — and a few items that could have performed better on the Ragnarök’s long, rolling course.
Bike — Cyclocross models were the iron steed of choice for several Ragnarök riders. I rolled an old favorite out of my garage for the course, clipping into my 2006 Kona Jake the Snake for its combination of speed and grip on the gravel roads. With knobby tires, a solid frame, and a speedy drop-bar build, the Jake the Snake was almost perfect for the course. One issue: For the Ragnarök’s steepest hills, the Jake did not have a gear low enough, forcing me to stand up and crank slow toward the top of the biggest climbs. (2009 model: $1,399, www.konaworld.com)
Tubes — While changing a flat near the start of the race, I had the ill luck to pump up a faulty tube. As racers streamed past, I worked to quickly inflate a Presta-valve-equipped tube only to watch it fizzle as I put the tire back on the bike. The small pin at the head of the valve had pulled out, rendering the tube useless and making me consider switching to the more beefy and foolproof Schrader valve tubes next time around.
Food — On endurance races like the Ragnarök, I try and get down 300 calories an hour to stay energized. My old standby favorite energy shake, Boost Drink, saved me from bonking yet again on this race. The shakes, which are made by Nestle and cost about $1.50 per bottle at the grocery store, go down easy and provide a quick shot of sustenance with about 240 calories, 4 grams of fat, 41 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein per each 8-ounce bottle.
I also munched GU’s new Chomps Performance Energy Chews, which cost $2.20 per packet and deliver a mix of nutrients and electrolytes. For me, the Chomps chews — which taste like gummy bears — are easier to eat than energy gel. The company touts Chomps as providing carbohydrates from maltodextrin and simple carbs from tapioca syrup and cane sugar, as well as antioxidants in the form of vitamins C and E, which GU says accelerates recovery from hard workouts.
Accessories — The small things can make or break a race like the Ragnarök. One of my favorite little things is the Bento Box, a small nylon container that mounts on a bike’s top tube behind the handlebars. The $16 product, available at many bike shops, provides easy access to food and energy gel while pedaling.
Another small item, Planet Bike’s Peace Pump Mini (www.planetbike.com, $19.99) is an aluminum cylinder pump that inflates tubes with relative ease. But its main attribute is its size, or lack thereof: The 8.5-inch pump weighs a scant 74 grams and fits in a jersey pocket.
Bike Computer — Easy to install, and just as easy to operate, Sigma’s BC 1106 DTS Wireless computer ($60, www.sigmasport.us) provided speed and distance tracking on the race. It has all the functions I needed for the course — time, speed, and distance — and nothing more.
Ragnarök organizers provide no maps, and the course is not marked. Racers follow instructions with directions and mile markers, tracking distances to the tenth of a mile to avoid a missed turn. This bike computer kept me on course.
—Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.