Saturday, November 8, 2014

First Friday Writing for Randos: Seeing what is capable

{First Friday Writings for Randos - A monthly post that features pieces from other writers that touch some facet of the Randonneuring experience, even if that was not the author's intent. It's stuff that's best read out loud - slowly.} This month it's a ride report from Bill R., a Randonneur and Iron Man from New England who rides brevets in a velomobile:

"It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. " Socrates
Here’s my story: enjoy.

Two weeks before the NJ600K I traveled to Englewood, NJ for the 400K. A lovely course, and embued with a splendor of climbing; you would love this ride. I moved down the road well enough, finishing six minutes behind the leading duo in 19:59. But it came at a cost: excessive time spent at a high heart rate just getting up those climbs promised a long recovery, and my velomobile sounded like it was eating itself alive. And ominously, my hotfoot reappeared.

I got home and contacted BlueVelo, the outfit that manufactured my Quest. After talking things over, I had them express ship a new swing arm, axle, and rear shock. I finally tackled this deep surgery on the Wednesday morning before the 600 and the work proved to be both incredibly difficult and worthwhile. I left for NJ on Thursday afternoon, still not fully recovered from that 400.

I spent Friday puttering around on a myriad of details: batteries, chargers, routine maintenance, fabricating a new mini-visor and tail fairing out of Lexan, making rice cakes. I was experiencing an strange shifting glitch, but seems to have it worked out well enough. I felt oddly calm and enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

After the usual greetings and well-wishes, we were off in the cool, dry 4AM air. This course starts off with a climb over the New Jersey Turnpike and I found myself dead last: perfect! What comes up must go down and soon I was jetting past the early speedsters, seesawing back and forth over the hills and dales. I’d studied the course profile and knew that after 9.3 miles it trended downhill for quite a bit, so I was plenty patient, not wanting to go too hard early on such a long ride. I was out front, all alone at the secret control at mile 24.

Then the course flattened out and the average speed really started to creep up: 19, 20, 21MPH. As you know it was my intent to break 24 hours, but in my heart of hearts, I held a secret goal: to break 20 hours. I was through 100K in 3:04, then 200K in 5:58. The conditions were perfect: overcast, light winds, mid sixties climbing to the upper seventies. Occasional sprinkles.

I was hitting controls within minutes of their opening times, usually leaving having spent less than 5 minutes. Get the signature, fill the bottles, go. 300K: 9:07.

I focused on execution: two salt caps at the top of every hour, cramming down 300 calories/hour, making sure I was navigating well, monitoring battery levels. Not to mention enjoying the agrarian splendor that I was passing through. 400K: 12:28.

That balky shifter was giving me fits. I couldn’t shift into my highest gear, leaving me spinning wildly at 29MPH, rather than being able to push on through 32-33mph. I could get it to shift, but only by hitting a rough patch on the road, a frustrating rarity. I was resorting to riding down the painted lines in the middle of the road, hunting the little reflective dots that nestle there. In the end the issue turned out to be a failing rear derailleur cable housing.

My stated pre-ride goal was to get through the Pine Barrens before dark. In 2012 I had transited them in the pitch black, the passage buffered by the upbeat presence of Len Z, a local rando raconteur. We had crept through at 14-15 MPH, spooked at every bug and rustling bush. We distracted each other with tales of big-time hospital administration and house-painting dirt-baggery. This time I sailed through in full sunlight, blasting along at 22-24mph. 500K: 15:39.

While this all sound peachy, the facade was starting to crack. It was getting harder and harder to cram in the calories; my gut just wouldn’t tolerate it. And no food=slow speeds and heightened suffering. I couldn’t even look at a rice cake and was barely coaxing down gels, fighting off the vurp. Worse, my hotfoot was back with a vengeance. I was pounding the Tums with limited results, and taking my shoes off at controles, even if only for a few minutes. Despite custom insoles and groovy sandals, this issue continues to plague me.

I got to the penultimate controle with plenty of light in the sky and 48 miles to go. I sat and ate a Dove Bar, answered the usual onlooker questions, and greeted the sheepish volunteer whom I had beaten to the controle. Up to this point I was still holding a 21mph moving average, but I always slow down in the dark.

But not this slow: my hotfoot demanded I stop every 20-30 minutes, get out of the velomobile, take off my sandals, and pee while I was at it. Then, rounding an uphill intersection and shifting down, the chain went clank and the cranks spun wildly. AUGGH! 21 miles to go! A broken chain, in a velomobile, in the dark, is a nightmare. I was running on fumes, cognitive skills at ebb tide. Finally I was able to see that the chain had slipped off the inside ring and I dove desperately in, wrangling the shifter, rings and chain into greasy compliance. I hopped back in, gingerly pressed on the pedals, and shouted with joy as I rolled down the road. Yes!

The rest of the ride was a coronation parade; I was determined to relish the moment, and did. Even the (relatively) long climb up Agress Road did little to dampen my burgeoning happiness; I was going to do it! I soaked it all up, a solo savoring of triumph and accomplishment. I blasted up onto the sidewalk of the Day’s Inn, scrambled to present my card to the volunteer: 19:34!

Happy, and toasted. Despite repeated offerings from a groaning board of vittles, all I could take in was plain water. I loaded up the Quest into my van, and headed to the Shower From Heaven. I mixed up a recovery drink, nibbled a ProBar, and slowly faded to sleep.

Seven hours later, I awoke feeling pretty good but wildly ravenous, hit the diner down the street for a gluttonous breakfast, and as I was leaving, greeted the second, third, and fourth finishing riders. They had finished nine hours and twenty minutes after me.

I’ve done some digging since this ride and it looks certain that this is a new American record for the brevet distance. As I expected there have already been calls for a Charly Miller ride next year. No one is a member of both the Charly Miller and Adrian Hands Societies; a lunatic temptation that I am determined to resist.

all my best,



  1. Great report! I also ride Brevets in my Quest XS. I am not up to your speed, but I find the Quest is the perfect bike to ride a Brevet. I too had hot foot at the beginning of riding my Quest, but some adjustment of my cleats solved the problem. I moved them towards the heal and it solved the problem. Eating has always been a problem on long rides for me as well. I now try to eat real food as much as possible. My blog is

  2. Fantastic report, Bill. I'm incredibly impressed.

  3. Great story Bill - glad to see and celebrate your success.

  4. The gear restriction may have helped you. Do you think?

    1. The unintended gear restriction only added frustration and unnecessary hijinks. Momentum is everything in high-speed VM riding; small deflections of speed can have an impact for miles. I do voluntarily restrict my gearing on longer (1000K+) rides by not pedaling over 30mph, but I need to be on the gas full time during these shorter(!) events.

  5. You left 20 hours on the table; you did not get the full measure of your entry fee would the response of some randos. I admire the quest for efficiency whatever the rider's terms (I like to ride hard to enjoy a good night of sleep on a 600k) and in your case, the bar was set awefully high. I wonder how much draft that thing has.....I might be tempted to suck your wheel next year or fairing as the case may be. Bravo.

    1. I agree; I fail miserably as a full-value rider. As for drafting a velomobile, good luck; I've tried and there isn't much there.