Finishing Kit List for Transcontinental 2014 – What worked and what didn’t | Part II – Clothing

Having no idea the weather we would be encountering during the Transcontinental made packing clothing very difficult. We knew we would be in the alps for two, maybe even three days and having lived in the French mountains for several years, I was very aware how fast the giant storms could roll in and soak you to the core without a minutes notice. We were also going to be traveling through eastern Europe in August possibly dealing with temperatures close to 40°. We were also going to be riding through the night and especially at dawn it can be far cooler than any other time of the day. The other slight spanner in the works, was that days before we were about to leave Westminster Bridge, Hurricane Bertha was due to be sweeping across Europe, almost in the exact direction. Great!

So what to take?

Basics

(These photos are post not pre ride, all looking good after a quick wash)

Jersey

It was decided that only one jersey would be taken…yuk…one jersey for the whole two week trip. That was going to be pretty disgusting by the end of it. Those that know me, know I have a tendency to ‘over heat’ on rides, so even after a few hours, kit usually needs a good wash. I wasn’t sure this was going to be the most hygienic way to travel, but hey, it is a super light ultra distance race…lets try.

Giro make some merino wool jersey which are very understated in design and fit really well. I didn’t fancy riding across Albania looking like a huge billboard for cycling so something plain would work well for me. Colour wise, darker the better, it would show up the ‘effort’ far less. Merino is also renowned for its no odour properties and this would be put fully to the test.

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I was a little concerned about the extra heat of merino on the hot days, but to be honest, it was fantastic. It kept me cool and regulated my heat really well, never feeling that it was an issue.

On the cooler/cold/freezing days it was a welcome insulation layer that helped to preserve any body warmth we may have made.

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The most impressive feature was quite simply it’s robust build. The jersey is still in great condition even after being ridden for 3600km and being put on and off and jackets, food and maps stuffed in pockets. In contrast to some other ’boutique’ brands the pockets have lasted with no damage to the stitching or stretching. The only damage was when I crashed (I literally fell asleep on my bike and toppled sideways). This ripped up some of the shoulder, but the holes didn’t get any bigger for the rest of the trip. Very strongly recommended and I will be definitely using this jersey again on longer rides.

In addition to this, I took a long sleeved Howies merino thermal. This was to layer up with the Giro one and also to sleep in. No really need to review this; It’s a Howies product so it’s well made, functional and sensible price.

Jacket

I took a Rapha Waterproof shell with me. I’ve had this jacket for several years now and it has stood up to a lot of abuse, packs down really small and is surprisingly waterproof for such a thin layer. The warm cuffs help keep the cold out and warm in and the ‘originally cream but now brownish’ colour was more visible at night than other darker jackets. There are some reflective trims on arms and hem which help make dozy drivers aware of your existence at 2am.  A proper saviour in the mountains.

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Shorts

I took two sets of shorts with me. Not washing a jersey is one thing but the same pair of shorts for two weeks would be another thing all together. The plan was to wear one pair for two days, then wash and swop around, giving the other pair proper chance to dry. In practise, this did not happen. After 3 days, saddle sores were pretty painful so I took to wearing both pairs combined with half a pot of chamois cream and some vitamin I to ease the pain. This did work and after day 6, I had almost forgotten the pain of sitting.

The two pairs were some Rapha Thermal Bibs and Castelli Free Aero Bibs. Basically these were the two best sets of bibs I owned so thought I should take them. Both were brilliant and fitted really well, comfortable and eased the pain of spending 15-18 hours a day in the same spot.

Helmet

The best kit is the kit you don’t recognise…and I would forget I was wearing this. Giro Atmos. Really comfortable, light, airy, what more do you want in a helmet. Oh yeah, some high vis accents on the back to help being seen….check.

Mounted on the helmet, is an Exposure Joystick. This did stay off most of the time but was really useful for rummaging around in bags and general faffing at night.

Shoes

The Empire shoes were probably my favourite item of the whole trip. They were simply outstanding. Really comfortable, but stiff and easy to pedal in, yet easy to walk in as well. I think they look amazing too. Clean, classic looks with loads of tech in them and really cool orange heel piece. Brilliant shoes for every sort of road riding possible. The thing that blew me away the most was how new they still look. After the whole event, in rain, dirt, gravel, heat, cold, wet they still look brilliant after a wipe with a soft cloth.

The cleats wore pretty fast but i’m not surprised.

Extras

Arm warmers, knee warmers, socks, gloves and underhat. All really useful extras that saved us on a few occasions. Gloves maybe one of the most important parts of my entire kit as I finished with compressed ulnar nerves in both arms which has caused quite a lot of issues. Even simple daily tasks have been a huge issue, pinching, zipping, gripping are all high on the no-go list. With cheaper or no gloves, this issue could have been very serious possibly resulting in some proper rehab rather then just pain and annoyance.

These Giro gloves were super hi vis; great for signalling at night with a suitable amount of padding on the palms. The colour has faded quite considerably after the 2 weeks, but they have been on my hands the entire time, not really surprising and they have protect my hands in my two embarrassing crashes of my life.

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I think next time, some thicker arms and legs as the ‘race’ spec lightweight ones that were taken were ok, but heavier warmer ones would have been worth carrying.

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A Patagonia merino underhat was superb as were the merino socks…basically merino was the material of the race! If anyone is thinking of doing an event like this, any materials options, choose merino. Fast drying, comfortable and warm, even when wet.

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Good sunnies are really important when riding from dawn to dusk. A pair of Oakley Radar Locks with Polarised lenses did the job admirably. Comfy, no fogging and perfect optics meant they were a pleasure to wear and tucked into the giro helmet really snuggly for night riding. They are still in very good condition at the end considering what they have been through.

photo 3In addition to these items. I took a pair of swim shorts. These dry really quick, super light and make a nice change from sleeping in riding shorts. A merino buff for keeping the draughts out.

I purchased a set of waterproof trousers in Davos when the weather was really really bad and that totally saved me. Warm and dry(ish) and made the 2 days in the mountains during a hurricane almost enjoyable.

We did end up living in bin bags for a few days too. thinner ones in shoes and under helmets and thicker ones as gilets. They made a huge difference to our warmth levels and cost next to nothing. Washing up gloves kept out hands free from cold rain…and looked fantastic.

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This was everything we had…no other shoes, no extra layers, no downjackets. Just the stuff above.

I think the clothing we took was suitable and not excessive at all, especially for a 2 week race. I used everything I took and felt that nothing was not worth carrying. I was very happy with all my clothing selections. All was packed into the rear saddle bag for ease of access.

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Sleeping

An Alpkit bivi bag stayed with us for the whole time. Great bit of kit. It packs down super small and was very comforting crawling into it at any time of day for 30 minute nap.

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We went for the cheap and cheerful method for sleeping bags and 1/2 roll matts. Decathlon junior versions to be precise. Small, light and cheap. These were rolled up in order and stored in a dry bag on the front of the bike.

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These were thrown after Italy as it was warm enough to do without.

Pillow was a dry bag with clothes in…overall a very comfy sleeping arrangement that I would use again in an instant.

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Transcontinental post race – Rehab


Two weeks focused on one thing …. the road ahead. Its sounds slightly mundane staring at a road but your mind has to stay sharp the whole time; pot holes, debris blowing in the wind and huge lorries skimming the hard shoulder. Over the 12 days we spent riding we were on main roads, dirt tracks, climbing mountain passes and ducking in and out of dark tunnels always with one main goal – keep going, don’t stop for too long and get to Istanbul.

Having never done an ultra distance event before, Ben and I didn’t know what to expect, what were we getting ourselves into? How do you train for something like this, how would the race go and what are the after effects ?

We are now currently in the post race stage on this epic event and again it’s another completely new experience and nothing like how we had anticipated feeling.

Arriving at the finish like in Istanbul was a huge relief – stopping, sitting and for the first time in almost two weeks not rushing. Beer – we had been so excited about having some beers, but two each and then it was like we were hit by a massive wave of exhaustion. Struggling to keep our eyes open we caught a cab to our hotel and headed straight to bed. This was at midnight, we set no alarms and expected to be out for about 15 hours. 6am came round and we were wide awake and starving. We headed up to breakfast which thankfully for us was a buffet, 6 plates later and back to bed for another couple of hours sleep then same again, round two at the buffet and 6 more plates.

During Transcon we had slipped into a weird time zone, living without day, night or routine. We cycled until we couldn’t do anymore would stop where ever, when ever then sleep normally for about 2 hours. We would eat continuously with disregard for meal times. Washing and anything else became a luxury instead of normally. So how do you go from this alien adrenaline style of living back to ordinary life. Its more difficult than it sounds its not like jet lag where you might have to set an extra alarm and have a couple of meals at odd times, your whole body is in a state of confusion both mentally and physically. Over the 12 days our bodies felt strong, we felt mentally sharp but we were being fuelled and stimulated but adrenaline, as soon as we relaxed and there adrenaline levels reduced weakness set in.

Numb, weak hands, seized up muscles, tiredness but maybe the strangest of all our brains felt exhausted to the extent that even the thought of having to make a decision was enough to make you want to have a nap.

We spent a week in Istanbul trying to relax, rest and recover as much as possible. Trying to cope with all the symptoms as best as possible and coax ourselves back to our former selves. Its now been a week of post Transcon rehab and we are back home in the UK. Still not quite there mentally, but feeling more human.

Today I went for a sports massage at a rehabilitaion clinic, after starting to get pain in my neck and headaches. Just for the reassurance it was worth it. The physio worked on my neck trying to release some of the built up stress and tension highlighting that it was actually my sternocleido – mastoid muscles in my neck giving me problems. She also explained to me why I was having so much difficult using my hands its not just the peripheral nervous system which is fatigued and effected its also the central system – your brain. Big tasks for example picking up a football are fine and manageable its all the smaller more intricate task which cause difficulty. Arm, hand and finger movement need to be fast, strong and precise and for these you brain is the control center. Picking up a pen, writing, doing up a zip, unlocking a door all of these things seem near to impossible with a fatigued central nervous system. With rest and nutrition the nervous system should repair its self and bring the body back from being in an over trained state.

So at the moment its going to a bit more rest before slowly introducing exercise back into our routines. Its been recommended to start with some swimming or jogging to avoid putting your body straight back into the cycling position. But if you cant stay off the bike to try and ride a different one from the one used for transcon again to put you in a slightly different position.

Finishing Kit List for Transcontinental 2014 – What worked and what didn’t | Part I – Bike

The feeling in our hands and feet is slowly coming back and the thought of getting back on a bike is looking more appealing, so a review of the kit that got us through Europe to Istanbul seems appropriate…

BIKE

Charge Bikes – Plug 5

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First things first, it got there. That surely has to be the biggest compliment to it. Many other riders and racers had to abandon as their kit failed around them and they were plagued with mundane, avoidable mechanical issues which really should not have occurred, as well as some rather spectacular mechanical failures.

The bike was run as it would straight out of the factory or shop with only a few small changes to allow us to ride further and longer. The stock bike retails for £1599.00

The front hub was swopped out to an Exposure Revo Dynamo system to power the lights and Supernova Plug III usb charger.

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The original rim from the Plug was used and built into a 32h wheel. The only downside to this was that the rim was quite heavy. It did however, make a very strong wheel which was faultless for the entire trip, no need to retrue or tighten any spokes.

IMG_6321The lighting system was incredible and one of the highlights of the kit that we used. 1000 Lumins out front meant that we could see everything we needed with no issues. It projected a wide beam that was powerful enough to see any holes or glass on the road even when descending at around 50km/h.

An Exposure Joystick was used as a headlight for rummaging around in bags at night, once again, brilliant and once charged, lasted for the whole trip.

Strange to say, but we looked forward to night riding, as the temperatures were cooler and the dawn and dusk views were breathtaking. The only downsides were many shops were closed so it was difficult to get food and water if we ran out and the dogs in Eastern Europe were a little more ‘lively’ at night!

The rear ‘red eye‘ light provided enough to be seen and still functioned, albeit dimmed, after 2 hours of inactivity. This meant that we sometimes would sleep and wake up with the lights still on.

The Alpkit luggage worked very well. The frame bag behind the headtube held spare innertubes (2), zip ties, electrical tape, multitool, chain links, spare brake and gear cable and 1 set of brake pads. Of all the kit that we took, this bag was opened the least, thankfully.

The bag above the top tube held essentials, such as chargers, maps, sweets and painkillers, all easily accessible whilst riding. It also held a iPhone well, even when unzipped, so we could listen to music when riding. A great boost when tired or hungry to get to the next target town.

The rear saddle bag held all the bulk of clothing and spares that we needed to access daily. The bag did have a tendency to swing around when very full but it never rubbed on legs or alter the balance of the bike so was no real issue. It wasn’t as waterproof as you may expect, so clothes did get wet inside if riding in the wet. A different material, similar to the front bag would make a big difference. Some reflective trim or more visible material around it would also help be seen by drivers at night.

The front dry bag held our sleeping kit, although after Italy, we ended up binning this as we wanted to shed some weight from the bikes and this was the easiest way. The position of the dry bags also meant that the only hand position available was on the hoods. Not an issue on the first day, but after the aches and pains started, being able to change hand positions would have made a big difference.

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The Supernova PLUG III could be wired into the Exposure hub to charge any usb units. It worked well, although could not be used in conjunction with the lights and would only charge above 15km/h which meant that you had to be on the flat or descending.

One downside to this unit was the Garmin Touring Plus that was used would automatically power down if the item was charging, then power removed. I.e. if the speed dropped below 15km/h. This became very frustrating as even at corners or junctions the unit would power off and sometimes take a long time to power back up and find our route again.

One solution that we found to this was to use a small power pack to charge the Garmin and leave the dynamo to solely charge the lights.

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This did work well and provided around 4 full chargers until the battery was empty. This could only be charged from a power supply though and after day 4 both our wall chargers broke leaving us without any way of topping up battery levels at restaurants or hotels.

The rear wheel was also changed to an Easton EA90 Cyclocross disc wheel. This was far lighter than the stock wheel and was totally faultless during the whole race. Fewer spokes, but they all stayed tight and true, a sign of quality.

The tyres were changed to Continental GP 4 Seasons (25c on front and 28c on back) from the stock Kenda tread. These were faster rolling and lighter. They both had around 1000km of training rides in them before we set off and still have loads of life left. Brilliant tyres and very strongly recommend for this style of event. We were confident in their puncture resistance even when we did stray off the roads at times…

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In Switzerland we ended up on trails and cycle paths like these for around 60km. At the time, these were a nightmare as we felt they weren’t fast enough for us, but looking back, they were a welcome brake from the traffic.

The disc brakes, in my humble opinion, were a necessity on this race and they performed superbly. Descending the Stelvio, at 7am, in -7degrees with cold hands and loaded bikes was no major issue with discs. A real plus point for the bike.

IMG_6323The Fabric Scoop saddle was far more comfortable than it’s racy image would let you believe. Day 4/5 were pretty uncomfortable as we had spent close to 70 hours on the bikes so far, but either my bum start to fit the saddle more or the shape finally ‘broke’ in, but it was totally pain free after than for the following 2000km. Very strongly recommended. There are three shapes available; flat, shallow and radius. I was using the shallow.

My one gripe about the bike was that when tired, the Sram gears felt very heavy to shift due to the doubletap action, especially on the front. A huge effort was often required to change gear and some serious thought was put in if it was necessary. This may have had something to do with achilles tendon issues as I was frequently standing up on the pedals to climb to avoid changing gear.

Two punctures and a worn out bottom bracket. That is all that went wrong on a 12 day, 3600km adventure. Not worrying about the bike is such a huge relief when there are so many other things that need thinking about; navigating, eating, sleeping, drinking, riding, enjoying ourselves….

A brilliant, versatile, reliable, efficient bike…I would happily use it again for this style of event.

Matthias Wjst Photography

We met some brilliant new friends along our 12 days adventure, one of whom, was the official Race Photographer, Matthias Wjst.

If you think the riders had it hard, he had to stay awake longer and be more attentive than any of the competitors to snap all of the moments in time that can pass so quickly.

He has a beautiful collection of images from the event. The ones at Check Point 2 at the Stelvio are worth searching out and show just how tough the conditions were for so many of the riders, including us.

You can find his website and gallery HERE.

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We Finished Transcontinental 2014!

Gaby and I completed The Transcontinental 2014 and totally surprised not only ourselves, but seemingly the whole of the rest of the field and everyone we know by finishing in 12days 10hours securing me 18th Place overall and Gabs 2nd Female.

It was the hardest bike race I have ever done but without doubt one of the most memorable.

We are both totally blown away by the support and encouragement that we have received from friends, family, acquaintance and strangers over the past 2 weeks. It has been a truly unforgettable experience and there are many stories and pictures to come out of it over the next few weeks once our hands and fingers have some more feeling back in them.

Charge Bikes, who have been supporting us through this whole adventure have been fantastic and we were so happy to have been working with them and using their bikes.

A full write up of kit and bikes will follow, but surely the biggest praise is that they made it there. Apart from 2 punctures and a worn out bottom bracket the bikes were totally faultless! What more can you ask for?

Alex Rankin has put together a little trailer for the soon to be released video of our adventures…

 

We have also just uploaded around 90% of the race onto Strava. The Garmins would occasionally run out of batteries and would be switched off so a few chunks are missing.

We find it a useful training tool to see how much climbing, we did, pacing and hours in the saddle and are then able to analyse which were strong days and which could have been improved. You can see the rides HERE.

 

More coming soon…

#TCR2014 @Chargebikes Steel Plug 5 Prepped and Ready

I am using a steel Plug 5 from Charge Bikes for Transcon.

I love the disc brake features on it and the solid feeling of steel and the extra clearance it offers for larger tyres.

Quite simply a bike, a very good bike. Hard to say what it is for, apart from riding. There is always a reason to take this out and one that gets used by far the most. Great fun and hugely reliable and it will put a smile on your face what ever the weather is doing!

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For me, black is the only colour to have a bike in…maybe that or the raw colour of steel, titanium or aluminium. I don’t like flashy bikes in loads of colours…let the quality, component choice and riding do the talking.

SRAM provide all the gears and brakes for this one.

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I am running an Exposure Revo Dynamo hub set up with redeye rear light. It is fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone doing large amounts of night riding. Totally dependable power.

The back wheel is an Easton EA90 Cyclocross wheel. Strong, light and with discs.

 

Along with that, I have wired a supernova PLUG III into the headtube, allowing me to charge iPhones and Garmins while rolling along.

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Alpkit Bags all over. Dry Bag at the front with all the sleeping kit in, Larger seatbag at the rear with clothes in and frame bags with spares, tools, snacks and essentials in that will need to be accessed more regularly.

We are both very excited to start this adventure and would really like to thank everyone that has helped us so much over the last 8 months prepare for this.

All our riding and training partners, people giving route, prep and nutrition.

We would especially like to thank everyone who has helped us with the kit we will be using

Charge Bikes for having so much faith in us and making such awesome bikes

Giro for the most badass shoes, helmets and clothes

Oakley for the sunnies

Alpkit for stashing our kit

Exposure for lighting the way

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