Sunday, January 08, 2006

Gear post

Date: Jan. 8
Mileage: 21.2
January mileage: 129.4
Temperature upon departure: 33

At the risk of embarrassing myself terribly with my lack of gear-related knowledge, I'm compiling a list of my current winter riding and Susitna 100 gear, all in hopes that suggestions, recommendations and maybe even some direction to good used stuff will come my way.

My bike: I ride a Gary Fisher Sugar 3 with women's specific geometry. Componentry is all stock stuff. I originally bought this bike with Grand Teton rock trails and the southern Utah desert in mind. Since I moved to Alaska, it's converted nicely to a winter bike, as I suspect any mountain bike would. It would be nice to find a rigid bike, or, if the heavens opened wide, an affordable Surly Pugsley. But for my first year of winter riding, this works fine.

My tires: Ok. I admit it. I went to the bike shop and bought the pair of Kenda studded tires that were on sale. If I could go back in time and purchase the Nokian Extremes, I'd do it (my knees, after taking the brunt of a good spill on today's icier stretch, would probably thank me.)

Footgear: Around here, I usually ride with a couple of pairs of socks and my hiking shoes. On the Susitna 100, I plan to wear: a liner sock, neoprene sock, big smart wool sock, lightweight winter boots, neoprene booties, and - depending on conditions - gaters.

Gloves: I usually go really light on gloves when I ride around here - unless temperatures are below 30, nothing more than my synthetic glove liners. During the race, I'll use those or neoprene liners with my new CZIP gloves and possibly, if the heavens open wide, bike pogies.

Head and face: I have a neoprene face mask, a thin synthetic head warmer, a polar fleece balaclava and goggles. Around town, even when temperatures have been near zero, I've gotten by with only the thin head warmer.

Legs: Around town I always wear fleece or nylon pants, or my snowboarding pants if it's precipitating. I need to figure out some good layering techniques for the Susitna 100. This is one area I'm awaiting recommendations.

Torso: I'll probably bulk up on the fleece and synthetic layers, and cover everything with a waterproof shell. Race organizers tell us to plan on a temperature swing of 40 to 50 degrees during the race, with possible temperatures that can range anywhere from -40 to +40 degrees. The torso layers are the ones that will fluctuate the most based on race conditions.

Stuff I'll be lugging on my bike rack: I'm still mulling the possibility of using small panniers, or just stuffing everything in a dry bag and strapping that to the rack. Carrying technique is something I haven't decided, but I do know what I need to carry. What I have: bivy sack, assorted tools, tube changing kit, spare tubes, knife, small cooking pot (to melt snow if needed), and spare clothing. What I still need to purchase: sleeping bag rated to at least -20, insulated sleeping pad, liquid fuel stove, map and 5,000-7,000 calories worth of food (I know. It's tempting to just carry a jar of peanut butter).

Water system: Camelbaks have great insulation against freezing, especially if I get a hose insulator, and I already have experience cycling long distances with one of those on my back. So that will probably be the way I'll go.

Miscellaneous: Really, if I'm forgetting anything that might keep me alive and/or comfortable, please feel free to drop in a cautionary comment. I'll probably carry Duct Tape, because I'm an Alaskan now. I have a Cateye 5 LED headlight as well as a focused LED headlamp, and I'll need to get spare lithium batteries for both of those. I need to purchase a reliable firestarter (no Bic lighters for me) and some matches. Plus ibuprofen ... and maybe some NoDoz (I know from experience ... I can go far on the wonders of caffeine.)

There's probably several crucial things I'm forgetting. As far as the actual race, my plan is still to just go out, try my best, and prepare for the worst. Trail conditions can swing this thing open wide, and there's really no way to anticipate exactly what I'm facing. The first woman cyclist to finish in 2004 crossed the finish line after 20 hours and 30 minutes. The roster's up now for 2006, my competition. My goals for the Susitna 100 are, in order of hierarchy:

1. Survive.
2. Survive with all of my digits intact.
3. Finish the race.
4. Finish the race in less than 24 hours.

All the rest is breathing and pedaling. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.


  1. Some of those chemical handwarmer packs for hunters for emergency aid in case of frostbite wouldn't go amiss.....hunting supply will carry them and they only weigh a couple of oz's. Other than that, You seem pretty well prepared. Oh yes! Extra DRY wool socks! Feet dry = warmer feet and less likely to get frostbite! Nice thing about wool, keep's ya warm even wet!

  2. By the way, did I tell you I think you're gonna kick @ss on this race? No? Well, you are!::GRIN::

  3. I have a few things that help me here in Nova Scotia, where it only goes as cold as around -20C; my favourite for low temperatures (below -10C or so) is my fleece neck gaiter. My commuter backpack has a hydration section, so I can carry a fair amount on my back, plus it keeps the warmth in. Don't forget a decent multitool, one with wrenches so you can adjust your brakes if necessary. Koolstop brake pads (the salmon ones in particular) are good in the wet. A set of brake and derailleur cables (pre-cut to the right length) would be a good thing to carry, since they're so lightweight. Fishing line is useful for repairs that duct tape is to big/inappropriate for (eg, fixing tears); you can melt the ends together after knotting to make a really secure fix. Cheap waterproof pants work great as a vapour barrier to keep the heat in, but you'll need a spare pair of inner pants to change into after the first pair soak up the sweat. A paper magazine can be used either for firestarting, or tear out pages to stuff into strategic areas as windblock; I'd recommend against newspaper as it tends to disintegrate when wet.

    You might want to check how well the glue in your patch kit works at really low temperatures, glueless patches might be worth investigating.

    I don't know how much wind you'll get on the course, but my overmittens make all the difference in the wind chill.

    Finally, don't forget a first aid kit, a space blanket (I have one that's about the size of a pack of cards packed up) and, as stormcrowe said, handwarmer packs (and there's footwarmer ones available too). The ones I get from MEC are around $3 for a set, and they last around 12 hours. Note that they need some oxygen for the reaction, so you'll need to loosen your gloves/shoes a bit.

    Good luck!

  4. Here are some gear suggestions that have served me well here in Minnesota. For your legs, check out the XC pants sold by SportHill (
    I wear these with bike shorts alone down to the 30's and with thin tights over shorts down to below 0 F and they are warm. They are also cut like pants and not tights and have side pockets.

    For carrying stuff, strapping your sleeping bag on the rack makes sense. But instead of panniers, have you thought about a saddlebag? It hangs behind the seat, is accessible when you ride and does not adversely affect the bikes handling like panniers can. They come in numerous sizes but check out these links for selection:
    I use one for commuting year round and with the larger ones, have toured for a week, but not camping.

  5. About layering - I highly, highly recommend Craft's Smartwool products. You cannot go wrong with them, it provides you with the advantages of wool and synthetic qualities of sports-wear.


  6. all this talk is making me cold....
    I think I may turn on the ceramic heater under my desk

    the chemical handwarmers do sound like a good recommendation...

    one thing I like to do in endurance races is change my gear
    especially the layer that is closest to me

    nothing like a fresh pair of socks, gloves, and shorts to reward the body

    not sure if you will have a place to change
    that is something to consider

  7. I've been reading your blog with great interest since I stumbled across it about a month ago. I'm in Pennsylvania and have been riding every weekend thus far. Looks like you have more mild temperatures in Alaska than we have in Pennsylvania. I have 123 miles thus far in 2006


  8. Reading through your list made me think of a couple of things. If you encounter overflow, keeping your feet dry will be essential. A lot of local riders use Neos overboots for that reason. Something to think about.

    Ice on your rims can also be an issue with V-brakes. If you ride through any water, make sure to quickly apply the brakes lightly and use them to "squeegee" off as much water as possible. Even better, if you know someone who can loan you a wheel or two with disc brakes, you can ensure decent braking power. A lot of riders in the race will be using only one disc brake to save weight, so if you can score a front wheel, brake and lever, that would be enough. (I assume your fork is disc-ready.)

    With clothing, don't "bulk up" too much. Wear only what you need to stay warm but keep sweating to a minimum. Your body will need the water (dehydration is a big step toward hypothermia), and wet clothes will get cold quickly if you have a mechanical or stop to rest. Carry extra clothing on the bike, not your body.

    The hose insulator for your Camelbak is a fine idea, but I also recommend clearing the tube after drinking. After your last swallow, simply blow the tube water back into the bladder to prevent freeze-up in the tube. And protect your bite valve; tuck it into your jacket, or it will freeze up and then you'll have to gnaw on it awhile to break up the ice enough for water to flow. I've done that, and it sucks.

  9. I have the Nokian extremes, they float between my single speed and my specialized epic. I got a pugsley off of ebay. It is everything it is hyped up to be however on solid ice I would run a regular bike with the Nokian extremes, I have not had them slip out on me yet. The warmer jacket and pants by CRAFT are worth every penny. Chemical warmers rule. 20 of these lil boogers will get both hands and feet by for 24 hours of continuous heat and would be easy to carry in pockets and rotate through stock.

  10. How are you keeping your feet warm these days?

    Enjoy the ride! C.P.

  11. I was going to provide many of the same suggestions that Tim gave. Ditto from me about blowing out the hose and avoid overdressing.

    Smartwool is comfy and fine for weekend frontcountry stuff, but I think I'd avoid it for something like the Susitna. It sounds like you already own most of what you need anyway.

    Chemical handwarmers: Are those really helpful in the backcountry? I've never used them and I think of them as something for lift-served skiers.

  12. I'm sure the trail will be marked well but wonder if a compass would be a good "just in case". Also you said you would be bringing a knife along, if you don't have a leatherman or a gerber you might try and borrow one instead of the knife. Different models have different tools on them. Having pliers, scissors, a knife, wire cutters, and screwdriver tips along with the other tools they provide is so helpful to have all in one. If you do go that route becareful of generic leathermans, while they are a tad lighter than the real thing, they break soooo easily.

    The current leathermans that are offered are here, of course there are tons of older models out there that aren't offered by leatherman anymore. The model I have is a "pulse", it has just about everything and would probably be cheaper on ebay because its retired.

    While I've never had a Gerber I hear they are just as reliable as leatherman and have few features that are better. This is where you can find what Gerber offers

    I really admire your determination, drive, and will power. Best of luck with everything.

  13. To answer Fritz's question, chemical warmers really can be helpful. I know a number of serious Alaska riders who use them regularly, and I use them on longer rides and see a big difference. I use them primarily for my toes. I've found they don't work nearly as well for my hands.

    The best hand protection I've used -- by far -- is the cheap pogies I bought last fall and wrote about on my blog. They shield your hands from the wind and allow your gloves to do a better job as insulators. You can get a cheap pair (made for snowmachines) for a little over $30, or a fancier pair (made for bikes) for about $100. To see a photo of mine, go here:

    I have a friend who raced 350 miles to McGrath last year using the cheap ones and he was happy with their performance. I didn't appreciate pogies until I bought a pair. They make a huge difference in your comfort. I wouldn't do the race without them. {Jill, you can buy them with the savings on your Kenda studs! ;) }

  14. nokian Hakka's are way lighter than the Extremes (as i've recently discovered). if i was winter racing, it'd be w/Hakka's front and back...

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