Caveman’s specialized equipment choices in quest for 7th World title
#aeroiseverything #soisfattyres #dittohorsepower
Racing through the dunes, stairs and sidewalks of Holland proved a fertile ground for innovative equipment choices. From the video you can get a feel for the course- but the real test was the long sections of deep, soft sand.
I enjoy thinking about equipment and how to make it better while training, and have been doing the obvious tire reaserch for almost a year.
Big was my surprise when I opened a “special box for sand racing” from Jason Chamberlain at Specialized. The biggest widest rims I have ever seen. Really wide. And light. Mounted with our biggest tire- Renegade 2.3- but more like 2.5 or 2.6 on this rim.
The dark sand is the easy part. There were 3 of these sections on each of 4 laps. Try picking a straight (existing) line, balance perfectly in it while deliverying seemingly a million Watts, WHILE being totally relaxed, BARELY holding onto the bars, ready to jump off and run the moment the front wheel digs in…
The Basics skills for sand riding: The tires need to float on top of the sand. The moment the front wheel sinks in, it snakes virtually uncontrollably, you lose speed rapidly, wich makes the front dig in even more, and no matter how much horse power you have, you cant pedal yourself out of the sinking situation. The trick is to recognize at what speed failure is inevitable- and smoothly jump off cyclo cross style and hoof it.
The surest way to go far in soft sand is to follow an existing tire track. This race was 4 laps on the bike, so there were plenty of tracks to follow- the trick is finding a straight one. The back markers leave the last tire tracks, so being the leader is hard- plus, if all goes well, you’ll be making a nice, straight line for the riders behind you… Note: the lead motor bike’s trail seems invitingly wide and straight, but the knobbies churned up the sand making it a true sand trap.
1) Wide. Its hard to find wider than 2.3.
2) Low pressure. The locals talk about 18 psi, but I went as low as I could without rolling the tire in the corners on the pavement and hitting the rim on the stairs.
3) Supple casing. Which is why I switched from my normal more durable Control casing to Sworks.
4) Small/no knobs. (or “profile” as the Europeans refer to “treadpattern”)
A gem I learnt from the lads at the local Specialized dealer: Knobblies digs the tire into the sand. Instead of providing traction, it pulls you into the sand. Fact: Dutch riders are known heat knobby tires with a blow torch and flatten the knobs by hand once the knobs are hot!?! Now I know what the Dutch do during those long, dark winters!
Spot the South African? Floor pump locked to sign post so I can test tire pressure at the beach…
I did a lot of my own testing to get the tire pressure right, including testing the enemy’s sand tire (Super Moto- widely used in Holland and Belgium)
Seriously: 4psi worked best for sand. And sand only.
After many high speed runs at the beach, trying all kinds of techniques and pressures, I realized:
– 4 psi is the best pressure for soft sand riding with this set up. I could float all the way to the hard beach. All other tire and pressure combinations only too me about 60-70% across the soft stuff. But at 4 psi, riding becomes a circus act once you’re on the pavement- the tire folds, bounces and I had enough sense to not try the stairs. I went with 12 psi front and rear. I have to say steering was tricky, even at higher pressure, as the moment you turn the bars or lean the bike, it wants to oversteer drastically. (oversteer- tendancy to turn sharper than you intend to)
I think wide rims is the future of all kinds of MTB wheels. It “squares out” the tire profile- giving the tire a bigger volume (a good thing) and stiffening the sidewalls- less rolling and folding at lower pressures. This set up is really huge -I never measured them, but they fit through the fork with about 5mm to spare. I think a light rider could possiby have ridden everywhere with these. For me, I think a fat bike is what I needed. The one with the 3′ wide tire.
The Enemy’s tire is 600g and the Sworks 2.3 Renegade is 530g WITH all its knobbies. Wonder how much it would be without? I didnt feel much difference between the two tires, so armed with above mentioned knowlege….
Princess Hotstuff and I (ok, mostly her) got down to the seemingly not so huge job of cutting every knob off 2x 2.3 Renegade tires. Turned out to be about 3 hrs work for 1 hr’s racing…
We had two box cutters with 4 spare blades each and went for it. 1 small mistake and the only “right” tire I had would be ruined.
When the going gets tough…
Thats how many knobs there are on 2 Renegade tires…
Big, bald and beautiful. And surprisingly grippy on all surfaces. Like I said- bigger (tires) is better. For all kinds of riding.
A hard tail bike would be an option, (some of the Dutch and Belgian athletes like Jim Thijs had specially built beach racing bikes with rigid forks, special geometry, V brakes etc) but I just rocked my trusty Specialized Sworks Epic 29er. I set the Brains (fr and rr) on fully firm and increased the compression a bit, and was very thankful for the dual suspension on the numerous stair sections.
Of course the Command Post saddle dropper proved a winner on the stair sections.
TT bars, Evade aero helmet
Even though I have never pushed my bike as much as I did on this race, (not even XTERRA Brazil 3 weeks ago) I knew that aerodynamics would play a huge role on the fast, open sections, compounded by the well known winds on the beaches of Holland. Because drafting was allowed, and I was planning on riding by myself, I had to tick all the aero boxes.
Throw some aerobars on there, and its aero, right? Sure. Aerobars narrows (rounds) the shoulders, gets the arms out of the air and anchors the upper body, which greatly helps with delivering smooth power to the pedals. Sadly, I couldnt find bars with lower elbow pads, so upper body was a bit high) Sure, TT bars on an MTB looks dorky, but as long as you dont look at the front tire and suspension, it wasnt too hard to pretend its like riding the TT bike. It could have looked worse… (Jammer Mark!)
But the TT bars isnt everything in #aeroiseverything.
At Specialized we take aerodynamics seriously, hence the recent #aeroiseverything campaign. (Ned Overend has been asking for aero MTB products for years.) As you may know, Specialized built its own wind tunnel this summer, since it is secret no more, we dont have to refer to it as “The Water Bottle Factory” anymore. On a recent visit, I was learnt the astonishing data on the new Specialized Evade helmet. Which you have seen branded with “Sworks “on the Manx Missile (Mark Cavendish) and unbranded on various triathletes like Javier Gomez at ITU and some Caveman at Rev 3 Knoxville.
Aero bars, Evade TT helmet and race number folded back (you have to cut a little hole for the gear cable to go though)
The Evade helmet looks kind of normal, and I’ve seen the idiot comments on FB before the launch: “yeah, Specialized came up with a new helmet- maybe a bit lighter, new shape and a new paint job. Just to make us buy another expensive new helmet.”
Here is my take: The Evade helmet is revolutionary: It is so aerodynamic, it is the 2nd most aerodynamic helmet Specialized has ever made! A close 2nd to the McLaren TT helmet- which is totally illegal and unpractical for all racing but TT. The design success boils down to a new way of thinking about the movement of air- instead of making air go around the helmet, make it go through the helmet. It also solves the old school TT helmet (with no air vents) overheating problem. With clever intakes and scoops, air gets chanelled into the helmet, gets carefully guided through the inside of the helmet, and most importantly- exits through vents in the back. The air gets sucked through the helmet and fills the low pressure “void” behind the head, where everyone used to put a long, pointy piece of plastic. Jet engine technology, really.
Evade business end.
I was worried I’d run out of gears if there was a strong tail wind, so Dylan sent me the 38T Rotor and I ran the standard 10-42t eleven speed in the back.
Specialized Team mechanic Benno gave me some good advice:
– To produce high torque, (the “go factor” in sand racing) you need to use a big gear in the front- it also makes the ride more stable.
– “Baby powder” the tubes, so they dont stick to the tire.
– “There is just one Cave man out there, think it, feel it, do it…… thats what I say to Susi* before every start!!!”
* Christoph Sauser- Specialized team mate & fresh MTB Marathon World Champion
Sand shoes, Caveman style. A great idea, but the gift cards had way too much flex. Bet Golfsmith (and Specialized Trivent TERRA) never thought their cards would do duty like this on Kijkduin… To improve the idea I eyed the steel cheese grater at the villa, but I only had 1 day, a Multi tool, knife, bare hands and teeth. Holland doesnt even have rocks. Would’ve been a tall order, so I nixed the idea.
Bigger is better. I figured a big platform (footprint) would float on the sand and went with the Hoka One Ones. (Compared to NB Minimus above)
I never did get to make the sand shoes for running with the credit cards fanning around the outside (like bike shoes, but more cards) and had to make do with hard work. And clever lines…
Why would a Cave person run in the center of the deep sandy path if you can get some traction in the grass on the shoulders?
My dad had a saying: “Winning is not everything. Its the only thing.” I dont agree with that, but winning sure feels good!
The real prize.
I’m blessed with amazing sponsors, crew, friends and especially wife (with blisters on her thumbs) who are willing to go the extra mile for me.
Thanks so much to everyone who played a part in this milestone win.