The Belgian Waffle Ride, or BWR, on its Facebook page and in numerous requotes, bills itself as “the most unique cycling event in the country.” This is generous euphemism. Unique is a loaded word in this case. In this instance, what unique really means is “ungodly hard.” So, for the sake of accuracy, we can re-write that phrase to read, “the most ungodly hard cycling event open to amateurs in the country.” I added that part about being open to amateurs because I have no doubt there are some pro level races, single day, that are pretty hard, and we want to compare apples to apples.
Let’s go over the bullet points:
- 146 miles – more than last year
- Over 13,000 feet of vertical gain – more than last year
- 40 miles of bona fide off road riding – more than last year
Michael Marckx, the founder and chief organizer, in some of the verbiage he is fond of using to “promote” the ride, doesn’t hide the fact this ride is a challenge, and it can be distilled down to a single word to describe what is in store for the participant: dread.
Having done this event, this year and the three years prior, what is my takeaway? How might sharing my experiences be an instructive exercise for those contemplating making a serious stab at attempting the most unique cycling event in the country? With that in mind, I’ll catalog what went right and what went wrong, both the result of just plain bad luck, and the mostly self-inflicted kind. Ok, it will be mostly the self-inflicted kind. In fact, a more apt title might be: How Not to Prepare and Participate in the Belgian Waffle Ride.
Step One -Early Preparation: As in, you actually have to train.
Familiarity breeds a certain kind of creeping complacency. I’ve done this ride the last three years, and actually felt pretty good last year and put in a decent time. “Meh. I’ve done this ride before. I can handle it. How hard can it be?” Well, quite a bit it turns out, especially if you don’t put in the appropriate time to train. As intimidating as I make this ride out to be, it really is quite doable for most cyclists. However, you can’t take riding 146 miles for granted. That’s a long time to be in the saddle, and sadly, my 50 mile weekend rides weren’t quite sufficient to prepare me for riding..well…more than fifty miles, which is about the time I started to fade during BWR. This made miles 50-146 quite interminable,as in, looking for a quiet shady spot on the side of the road to just crawl into the fetal position. I was actually hoping for a mechanical that would give me the excuse to quit.
Last year, I did some longer rides all the way back in January, which gave me a good head start. The earlier and better you prepare with some longer rides will ease the pain come event time – and you don’t have to ride a 146 miles in training, but please!..something a little more than fifty will help.
As haphazard and as abbreviated as my training was, I did do one or two things right. I have a short, steep hill near my home, and I’ve taken to the habit of giving a maximum effort in the saddle to climb up near the top. It takes about thirty seconds, and I recover for another thirty seconds and try it again. This helped in one very specific section of BWR, which specifically were the short, dirt climbs. I was actually surprised what I could clean on skinny tires and inappropriate gearing, and I think having that short term power on those grinding sections is an area I thought I improved over last year. So I’ll take that as a small accomplishment.
Having the Right Equipment – or – Don’t be Stupid.
Riding BWR, or any any serious road ride that combines lengthy off-road sections requires its own type of unique equipment choice. There’s an optimal bike I have in mind when it comes to rides like this, and I thought my equipment choice came pretty close the last two years. For example, last year I rode a titanium frame with compact gearing with a 28 max cog in back and 28mm wide tubeless tires running latex sealant. That worked reasonably well. Titanium is my favorite material for rides such as this because it’s virtually indestructible, has a more compliant, “springy” type of ride quality that makes those off-road sections a little more tolerable, fun even, and simply requires a rinse off to have it looking nearly pristine again – no paint chipping.
The Guru ti bike has since moved on, so I tried my luck with my stiff carbon road bike with standard gearing, as in a 53/39 chainring with a 25 tooth max cog in back. In other words, stupid gearing. The only way my bike set up would have been sillier is if I had ridden a time trial bike with a straight block rear cassette and a 55 tooth front chainring. It was the difference between riding and pushing my bike up the short steep climbs. There were still some that I was able to clean, which was actually quite fun and surprised me, but that came at a cost, too, once my lower back began to throb at that aforementioned 50 mile mark.
I did get the the tire choice right – sort of. In this, my fourth BWR, I’ve not gotten a flat tire, which is pretty remarkable, and is a combination of a little good luck (even I get some of that) and some sensible tire choices. This year, again, I ran my favorite combo of Hutchinson Sector tubeless tires with latex sealant. No flats again this year, which was fortunate considering I lost my saddlebag on one of the dirt sections. Nevertheless, I did run a tire pressure of about 90 to 95, which was just too high. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking here. Normally, I would have run 80-85. I suppose I was just in a hurry.
The big downside to riding road bikes in the dirt is just the lack of traction when making turns at any kind of speed when it’s loose. Running high pressure with slick tires on loose dirt made the already treacherous handling a ready made scenario for me to wind up in a crumpled head on the side of the trail after having washed out. Lesson learned the hard way, again. It wasn’t until the Sandy Bandy section that I just pulled off to the side of the trail and let air out of the tires. This actually helped tremendously on the rest of the off road sections. So, check. Another lesson learned.
As a bonus, we listed some more detailed info on how
our staff members’ bikes were set up!
- Bianchi Oltre XR1
- Panaracer Gravel King 28
- Standard cranks 11-28 cassette
- If you could do one thing differently next time: “I would wear chamois cream. 100% chamois cream. “
- Guru Praemio
- Sector 28 Tubeless Tires
- Compact cranks 11-32 cassette
- If you could do one thing differently next time: “I used 3T Ergosum Carbon bars this time. I would switch to FSA short and shallow bars for more comfort next time. “
- BMC CX01
- Challenge Strada Bianca Tires
- 1 x 11 40 tooth 11-36 cassette
- If you could do one thing differently next time: “I would double wrap my bars next time and bring muscle relaxers. Thank you Double Peak for cramping my legs. “