GDMBR Colorado: Things That Worked, Things That Didn’t

Neil Beltchenko just rode the Colorado portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in less than two and a half days. In this reflection, he shares a few things that worked well during the ride, and others that didn’t…

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Last month, I decided to put together a simple tribute to this great state that I’ve lived in for the past decade, and it ended up taking the shape of a 57 hour and 27 minute ride from New Mexico to Wyoming. Here are a few thoughts on what worked for me over my three-day ride, and what could have been better.

Three things that worked

1. Drop Bars

I’ve long had the belief that drop-handlebars aren’t for dirt. Over the course of this year, however, I’ve slowly realized the error of my ways. Case in point: the Salsa Cutthroat. It’s a bike we all know by now, and one that was designed for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Since owning this bike, it has become my commuter, my training tool, and a powerful bike that gets up quickly and down just as fast.

  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko
  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

My hesitation for using the Cutthroat on long races and rides was simple. I wanted a bike that was aggressive enough to handle the chunky, dirt roads around Colorado, and I didn’t think a drop bar bike could do that. I was wrong. Sure, the Cutthroat is no singletrack slayer, but it’s not meant for that. It’s meant to go straight, deal with some chunk here or there, and pedal confidently on gravel and pavement, but I’m not here to talk about the bike.

GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

This year has taught me that I need to quit being stuck in my old ways, and to open up my mind. I think I’ve succeeded in this in a number of ways, most recently on this ride. In letting go of my preconceived notions, I came to realize that drops were not only just as fast as flat bars, but far more comfortable. Between using the tops, ramps, hoods, drops, and aero bars, my hands had endless positions to rest, meaning no pain at all, a winning combination when riding on this route, I know it’s only two and a half days, but it’s a start. I felt confident on chunky and fast descents using the carbon 46mm Salsa Cowchipper handlebars.

  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko
  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

2. Footwear

How many shoes have you tried over the past few years? I’ve tried far too many, but this is because I’ve been trying to find something that offers comfort for hundreds of miles per day. I needed a shoe that’s wide enough for my feet, has a good tread for hike-a-bikes, and is micro adjustable for when my feet swell. I guess the big questions is: are there any shoes designed to meet a bikepacker’s unique demands? Maybe not specifically, but surely there’s one out there that offers the right mix of features? I’ve tried Specialized, Giro, Pearl Izumi, Scott, and now Five Ten.

  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko
  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

There are shoes that work, shoes that absolutely suck, and then there’s the Five Ten Kestrel Lace. This shoe has been my partner in crime all summer. It’s burly, it’s stiff, and most importantly, it’s comfortable. I have used it on overnight bikepacking trips, races, and everything in between. The shoe does all that I ask and more. It keeps water out, yet dries fast. The only downside is that it takes a wee bit of time to take them on and off with the laces, but that’s a small price to pay for happy feet. I am normally a men’s 11.5, and I fit very well in a Five Ten 11.5.

3. Carrying Water

Devising different ways to carry water has always been intriguing to me, especially when I’m on a route where it’s sparse. In the case of the GDMBR, there are plenty of spots to get water since the route isn’t that remote compared to other singletrack-heavy routes. I typically use a 0.6L bladder tucked into my frame bag, and a bottle in a stem bag, mounted to my down tube, or stashed in my jersey pocket.

  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko
  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

So, with the ability to run cages on my Salsa Cutthroat’s Fork, I figured I’d give bottles a go for this ride. What I found was that the bottles, being convenient to grab and see, reminded me to drink often. It also gave the bike a more stable feel, but came at the cost of unwanted rattling and weight shifting when going over rough and rocky terrain. With less water, I also needed to stop and filter or fill more often, but I never found it to be that inconvenient, as refilling bottles is easier than grabbing my hydration bladder out of the frame bag.

I also carried two soft flasks in my jersey pockets. This was nice because they take up almost no space when empty and they weigh next to nothing. In total, I had 52 ounces on my fork and 34 ounces on my back. This worked well in the Colorado portion, but I think I’d consider two more bottles or one bottle and one more flask if I were to take on the whole GDMBR. In the end, I’m not sold on this method for all riding, but for this particular ride, it was the simplest and best way to carry water while keeping weight and tinkering to a minimum.

GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

Three things that didn’t

1. “Westie” the SPOT

I’ve had “Westie” for a while now. Over three years, actually. It’s the SPOT device Scott Morris and Trackleaders lent me when I lost mine on the Arizona Trail Race in 2016. I’ve used it in many capacities, from overnighters to demanding bikepacking races, so I didn’t question whether or not it could handle another three days.

As I climbed up towards Indian Pass, I looked down and noticed the SPOT (mounted on my Bedrock SPOT Harness) was no longer blinking. I almost always mount the SPOT there, and I’ve never had any issues. I couldn’t help but wonder what could possibly be wrong with it.

I’d installed fresh batteries before the race, but my skepticism of just how fresh they were was enough to send me digging into my stash of spares to see if those would work. No Luck. I pushed the on button from every possible angle, thinking maybe the button was somehow jammed into the device. Nothing. I said screw it and jumped back on the bike, riding up toward Indian Pass. I probably pressed the on button at least a hundred times as I pedaled, hoping that it just needed a little time to fix itself. Nope. I punched it, tried to rattle it, but nothing would work. I forgot about it for a while, but eventually started thinking of ideas as I finally made it over the pass and down the 4,000-foot descent into Del Norte.

As I rolled up to a gas station in Del Norte, I thought about my options. After eating a Subway sandwich, I tried to replace the batteries once more time. Nothing worked. At that point, I felt like the only option I had was to just throw the thing on the ground., You know, like a kid having a tantrum. I remember throwing my old Nokia phone on the ground with good results after it stopped working. Maybe the same technique would fix my SPOT?

I chucked it on the ground, not super hard, but hard enough to scare the folks watching me as they entered the convenience store. As it slowly rolled away from me, I walked over, bent down to grab it, and pressed the on button It’s green lights started flashing. It worked! I shoved it into my jersey pocket and didn’t touch it again until the finish. Maybe it’s time for a new SPOT.

GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

2. Weather

We’ve had a pretty incredible summer in Crested Butte. I say incredible because it’s been scary with fires blazing all over the state, threatening homes and lives, but also because it’s been warm, clear, and pretty darn nice. The monsoons were underwhelming for the most part, and I could almost count on riding my bike after work every day this summer.

The weather looked good in the days leading up to my departure. No rain, a lot of warmth, and cooling nighttime temperatures. I told myself that 2018 would be the “year of no rain.” Unfortunately, my timing wasn’t quite right. Was it as bad as my last day on the Colorado Trail back in 2014? Heck no, but it certainly wasn’t perfect like my Colorado Trail time trial in 2016. I got drenched amid some terrifying lightning strikes as I rode out of Del Norte, and. it didn’t end there. I had to content with heavy rain later that night, then another round of early storms on my ride the next morning. Wind, rain, and lightning strikes were nearly constant companions into the afternoon and evening, and it gave me some time to think about how spoiled we’d been over the summer.

I pulled into a campsite on the shore of Williams Fork Reservoir that had a few bathrooms, and as I did so I could see an incredible amount of lightning flashing in the distance. Looking at my radar app, I saw a massive storm cell coming straight toward me. I headed for the men’s bit toilet, even though it was still quite early, and got to pumping up my sleeping pad for a three-hour nap. That decision paid off, as the sky erupted into a downpour not long after. After a few hours of sleep, I awoke to a starry sky, the last of the rain behind me.

GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

3. Saddle

I’ve used a Specialized Phenom saddle for about three years now. I own four of them, and they’re on all of my bikes. Purchasing these four saddles over the course of several years has been an investment, but it has been nice to have a bit of continuity between all of my bikes. Unfortunately, I’m at a loss as to why they are no longer working for me. Maybe they are a bit beat up, maybe my ass has somehow changed, or maybe they never really worked in the first place and my perception was skewed because of the investment.

In any event, I have endured serious chafing from this saddle over the past year of racing and riding. I’ve always had a issues as one of my sit bones is a bit more… boney than the other, but I’m not only creating chafing and discomfort on and around my sit bones, but also other areas of my rear, which has created some extreme displeasure. I have tried various chamois and different saddle heights, tilts, and positions. Unfortunately, nothing seems to work. So, for the first time in three years, I’m back on the hunt for the perfect saddle.

Ergon is about to release their new men’s saddles, and if they put as much research and energy in to this saddle as they have for their new women’s saddle, I’m sure it’s going to be worth trying. That’s where I’m going to start. Obviously we are all different, and everyone has a their own comfortable combination, but I’m certainly open to your suggestions!

GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko
  • GDMBR Colorado, Neil Beltchenko

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