So this past weekend me and a few of the other riders from the shop headed up for a local ride right here in Rhode Island hosted by Cory Lafleur out of the Royal Mills building in West Warwick. I did it last year so this was my second go around. Rich, Steve, Mike, Jim were there besides me so I will add in their comments and observations too. We had good weather with low 50’s to start not too much wind and dry conditions(it was misty when I left and I was thinking it might rain).
When you go to events competitive or not there is a buzz of excitement in the air. Everyone is a little nervous, running around getting ready, finding the place to sign in, find a bathroom, make sure the bike is ready etc. This not something you get when you ride alone or with a group who goes out to ride regularly. It’s a good feeling, try it sometime if you haven’t and see for yourself.
My bike selection
I did Rhodekill last year and though the course had made some changes I had a general idea of what the surfaces were like. Last year the people who were the fastest all had pretty standard road bike which made sense because so much of the course was good pavement and lots of the dirt was hard pack and no problem on a road tire around a inch wide but I noticed last year that many of the riders who were in the front group that didn’t stay on were victims of flat tires. So like last year I brought my cross/gravel bike a Focus Mares CX with SRAM Force 1x.
Special considerations for this event
So last year I rode my cross bike with no changes from what I use on my gravel rides but after having ridden the event I knew I wanted to make some changes to make things work better for this time around. Here are my two big ones from last year to this year.
Tires– last year I used the Clement X’Plor USH tires. These are great tires since they can take anything you throw at them. Plenty of traction on these and they roll great on pavement but they were overkill except in a few spots where I was glad to have them. This year I used the Panaracer Gravel King tire 700×32 mm. This tire is better suited to this loop since the worst sections were really not bad at all and I choose to back off just slightly with these tires when things got dicey. My tire pressure was 70-75 psi with the lower pressure on the front wheel.
Gearing– On my cross bike I have one chain ring up front 40 tooth and a 11 speed 11-32 cassette (11-32 tells you the highest and lowest gear combo on the rear wheel). Last year the lowest gear I had was just fine I don’t think I ever used it but there were a few times where I was needed a bigger gear for the fastest sections. This year I switched to a 44 that I had.
I started cycling when I was 14 and when I started racing as a junior we had restricted gears, this meant my hardest gear was pretty low. 38/12 was my top gear and when I got a little older they let us use a 52/14. This is meant to protect a young rider’s knees but also teach them to spin at a high cadence. The benefit of this is that 30 years later I still can spin at a high cadence when I need to and don’t generally have knee problems, could be a coincidence on the knee thing but it makes sense to me. Most new riders gravitate to big gears early on and develope a lot of bad habits that are really difficult to change. Not having large gears solves that when done appropriately.
The group assembled at the Royal Mills building-I actually went back to my car and did a few last minute things and met them as they turned onto the bike path. Since it isn’t a race I wasn’t worried about actually lining up right there.
The first few miles of the ride is right on the bike path, we rolled down as one large group. I was pretty happy to see that we were going at a good clip-last year we went really slow and there was a lot of bunching up and a few crashes just from people wobbling around at low speeds. The bike path had also ben repaired where last year there were a few spots where the road had caved in which made it difficult in a large group were now in great condition.
We turned off the bike path onto the surface streets and started the course. This was pretty standard road riding through neighborhoods with plenty of turns and up and downs. We were still riding at a controlled pace but the speed was picking up. This year there were a fair number of good New England road racers in there so it would be faster than last year. Within a few blocks the group was thinning down, with some riders around me panting and struggling with the pace. I could see most of the active racers were up front and pushing the pace so I moved up.
My pacing plan
I haven’t been actively racing on the road the last two years and have focused on riding my mountain bike fast. This means that I can ride steady hard for 1-2 hours but lack the high end fitness bursts that racing on the road gives you (When I say give I mean you earn through hard work). This event would be a little longer around 3 hours and would be faster. So for me the best way to deal with that is to stay a little further back and ride quietly in the group and only use my speed when needed so I could stay on. I also was one of the few riders in the front group on a cross bike. So on the road sections I would stay back and then move up on the gravel sections.
This plan works for me for a few reasons. I have a lot of experience, so I know when things are likely to go fast even when I am not 100% familiar with the loop. I can draft well so it is easy for me to save energy when needed. I know about how much effort I can put out before I get exhausted. I also have the skills to avoid dangerous riders.
The unique part of this event is the mixture of the pavement and dirt sections. I regularly lead gravel rides in the fall out of the shop and have ridden cyclo cross races and mountain bike races so I have the skills for handling the bike on loose terrain and how to absorb bumps with my arms, legs and moving my body around. This was fun!
There were 13 sections of gravel on this ride. Most of them were pretty tame meaning they were smooth from being driven on on a daily basis and the town maintained them regularly. There were a few that were more or less loose gravel. These sections were harder since you needed to judge how fast to ride on them. There was also one really cool one where it was more like a mountain bike section where there were some mud pits and rocks, big rocks.
I didn’t get any flats on the ride so my tires worked out well for me, they were wide enough to help with the cornering and they also had the tire volume to absorb lots of the bumps to make it more comfortable.
Racing sort of???
So Rodekill isn’t really a race but it is kind of a race? It can’t really make up it’s mind. There are some aspects like a race like an informal competition but really no awards/results to speak of. There is a winner(Anthony Clark stomped off into the distance never to be seen again). There is some traffic control but not enough to allow racing on open roads safely. There are numbers to pin on but not for results.
What there is is a lot of fun. They had food trucks for after, people were hanging out talking all about their ride/war stories/excuses and old friends were catching up with each other. Lots of times the best part of the event is reliving it after and even years later.
Wrapping up-the other riders thoughts
So I did have to bail out pretty quick after. I needed to get back to the shop and also a shorter day overall was what I was looking for.
Jim says “I thought it was a nice ride, well marked, pretty country. My only gripe is having to ride 7-8 miles back to car after crossing finish line!”
Mike’s report I live nearby so I showed up at 7:00 to register early. This way I could pin on my number and get everything else ready to go at home and ride the 3.5 miles to the event. Last years Rhodekill was my first organized cycling event so this year it was nice to be familiar with how things were going to go. I got there about 10 minutes before the event was supposed to start, used the restroom, grabbed some gels and lined up. Unfortunately my desire to hydrate caught up to me, but I didn’t want to head off to the restroom again and lose my spot so I toughed it out. This would obviously come back to haunt me.
We got off about 15 minutes late. This year I wanted to stay nearer to the front of the pack because last year I got pushed into the fence on the bike path and was literally the last person off the path leading to a lot of chasing and wasted energy. I was about midpack when he hit the first climb where things break up. I got caught behind some slower riders and that held me up enough to miss Amos and Rich’s group. I tried to catch them to no avail. I ended up pairing up with another rider and we were eventually caught by another group. This turned out to be a pretty good group. I was having a hard time because I usually ride alone. Riding with this group forced me to ride to their strengths and not mine, but the draft was worth it. My bike is a stock Focus Paralane (28 mm tires) so the gravel sections were actually better for me than most of the riders. I was hanging on pretty well until I could not ignore my bladder any longer. I did my best to catch up again and failed again. I soloed for a while until I picked up another rider from the group I was originally in. We continued together picking up a couple of additional riders. We were going along at a fast comfortable pace, not trying to race anyone. We stayed together through the water stop and unfortunately for me I flatted on the subsequent downhill dirt section. I wasn’t paying good enough attention and I hit a bigger loose rock and that was it. I swapped tubes, but I was cooked. On top of that I didn’t seat the tire onto the rim so I had a wobble all the way back. I thought my rim was messed up so I just pushed through. The last 18 or so miles were a grind to get back, but like Amos said it wasn’t a “race”.
When I got back the Velotooler mechanic looked at the bike and added air to the tube seating the tire. I was quite happy to discover that the rim was fine, thank you Zipp 30 courses. This made my ride home much more pleasant than I was expecting. I survived and I learned a few things that I look forward to applying to other events in the future. I look forward to doing this again next year, maybe I can even hang with Amos for a while too…