Why did I choose a 155mm travel bike which weighs 15kg as my bike of choice for a 13 hour, 7100m day of climbing and equally of descending? Read on.
Towards the end of winter I got into my head I wanted something to train for at the start of summer, something to give me purpose and a reason to knuckle down and get the kms in on my bike. I felt like I had been missing this over the last few years.
A friend and work colleague of mine, Ben Hildred had concocted a brutal climbing challenge for himself, to climb 21300m in 72 hours using three different climbs in the Queenstown area. The total vertical ascent would put him on the summit of the highest mountain in the solar system, a volcano to be found on Mars. Olympus Mons.
When he told me what he has come up with for his three days I thought to myself that it would be amazing to be able to join him for one of the days.
Day one was to use the infamous Skyline access road in Queenstown. A 450m ascent with an average gradient of 14.8%, just a gruelling, relentless climb. There is no let up and you are putting out the whole way up the climb. Even just doing it once is more than enough for most people. If you were having a good day you would maybe knock it out twice, maybe three times.
The first day with Ben would involve us doing 17 laps of the skyline road.
"The first day with Ben would involve us doing 17 laps of the Skyline road"
The bike post 17 laps of the Skyline access road and the Queenstown Bike Park
I had been training lots on the lead up to this day, three weeks before I upped the intensity and started to put some laps of the Skyline road into my training week as I needed to start to gauge how it was going to feel to spend a day doing it 17 times.
Previously the most laps I had ever done of the Skyline access road was three and a half. So I wanted to do a training ride where I did more than this. I thought I would start with 5 laps of the road. The bike I chose was my Santa Cruz 5010. This is what I had been doing most of my training on. I had it build up light and it felt great blasting around on the big distance training rides so thought it would be just the tool for this challenge.
Doing the five laps on the 5010 left me a bit dispondent. By the end of five laps my body wasn't feeling great. My back felt tight and uncomfortable and my trapezius muscles were just on fire from pulling on the bars during each climb.
I thought to myself that there was no way I was going to be able to do 17 laps of this road in a few weeks time if I feel like this after just 5 laps. My fitness was fine but I needed to do something about the discomfort caused by the continuous climbing up this wretched road.
I went back to the drawing board and knew it was something to do with the riding position of the bike. I desperately wanted to use my 5010 due to it being reasonably light weight compared to my other trail bike.
My other trail bike is an Airdrop Edit V3. Build up aggressively for accessing and riding all the agro steep trails in Queenstown. It is a superb bike but it isn't the bike I thought I would want to spend all day climbing on.
But despite its long travel brutish nature , the Airdrop has a superb climbing position due to its steep seat tube angle. The seat tube angle on the Airdrop is 78.7 as opposed to the seat tube angle of the Santa Cruz 5010 which is 75.2.
The seat tube angle on the Airdrop is 78.7 degrees as opposed to the seat tube angle of the Santa Cruz 5010 which is 75.2 degrees.
I knew the Airdrops climbing position was great and the bike climbed great but the bike in its current build spec weighed a good 3-4kgs more than the 5010.
Was geo going to be more important than weight? I had to test it out. The next week I had planned for another Skyline road assault before work, starting at 6am in the morning. My plan was to use the Airdrop and do 9 laps of the Skyline access road.
This was going to be my last chance to get a good trial run before the main event, so I made sure I did it all like I was going to do it on the day, including food and hydration.
After clocking 5 of the 9 laps that morning my body still felt great, no lower back feeling tight and no pain in my trapezius muscles. Before I had even finished I had made my mind up that I was going to use the Airdrop.
HOW DO YOU SPEC A BIKE FOR SUCH A DAY?
Well I didn't change much really. Obviously to do 7100m of climbing is going to involve 7100m of descending, and there is no easy way down the Queenstown Bike Park that the Skyline road accesses. To make it a proper challenge the loop had to be the same each lap, taking in a variety of trails in the park. So the bike had to be up for the job.
The spec was as follows:
Frame: Airdrop Edit V3 medium with Rock Shot Super Delux Ultimate Air
Fork: Rock Shox ZEB Ultimate 160mm travel
Brakes: Magura MT7
Dropper: Bike Yoke Revive 160
Wheels: DT350 hubs on Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Rims
Cranks: SRAM X0 Carbon 170
BB: Chris King
Bars: Renthal Fatbar V2 38mm rise
Saddle: Specialized Power
Tyre Front: Goodyear Newton ST EN Ultimate 27.5x2.4
Tyre Rear: Goodyear Escape EN Ultimate 27.5x2.4
Drivetrain: SRAM X01 11spd
Chainring: Wolftooth elliptical 28t
Pedals: Burgtec Penthouse Flats
Total Bike Weight with this build: 32lbs (14.5kg)
The steed, post 17 laps
The day started at 12am after managing to get 4 hours sleep before hand. Starting so early meant an early finish. This was fine by my as I had a race to run the following day so needed a buffer to refuel and get some rest. The early start was, however, Ben's idea as he wanted to get the first day of this 3 consecutive days out the way early to refuel and sleep ready for the next.
The laps began early, 6 before 6 was the plan. We were lucky with the weather apart from 20 minutes of rain about 3am.
The mental game was harder than the physical one, more than I ever would have thought. Time became obsolete and it was just a matter of counting down the laps one by one. This is me on the 17th and final lap.
Ride, eat, repeat, for 13 hours
Keep those hammies limber folks
There was some fun to be had, in fact, lots of it between the climbing
Top of the final climb and start of the last descent, day done and dusted, 13 hours 21 mins moving time, 17 laps and 7182m of climbing. This was just the first day of three for Ben.
WHAT DID I LEARN?
Well, the day taught me lots of things. By far the biggest obstacle to do a ride like this is the mental one. I found it so tough mentally to keep going, to get to the bottom of the descent and turn round and head back up that road. Physically, I was fine, I had prepped enough and at no point did I feel tired. Eating was hard. I found it difficult to get the food down me. I should have taken more peanut butter and honey sandwiches, these were the only thing I could stomach, just because they were moist. Energy bars, flapjack, bananas, nuts were all a struggle to get down.
The bike was superb. Never missed a beat. It never as for the year and a half I have owned it. It did me proud that day.
WHY DIDNT I CARRY ON TO EVEREST THE RIDE?
The goal was to do 17 laps with Ben, if I felt good I thought I might carry on, but to Everest would have been an extra 5 laps. Mentally I just didnt want to do it, plus I had commitments the next day with an enduro event I was running, so had to think about that too. It would have been nice to have gone the extra, but I was happy with my efforts. Whats next? Who knows, but for now I am back to riding for fun and no more training!