Thursday, September 9, 2010

D2R2 2010: Ruminations (with photos!)

Many readers will be familiar with the CBC, Canada’s public broadcasting corporation. I often stream the radio feed while working. Recently, one of the hosts made mention of a study that examined the impact of highly mediated experience – television, photography, telephony, texting, email, computing, etc. – on memory and creativity. It so happens this, specifically, photography, was the subject of my masters thesis, so I’m quick to geek out. I mention this here following my earlier post’s comment on creativity and riding. Riding is, or at least can be, the antidote to the ‘plugged in’ existence so many of us articulate. As I try to gather thoughts to convey ideas and impressions of D2R2 in an interesting and creative way, I think about what I remember and why. I am a forgetter, except when it comes to things that have a strong latent ‘charge’ for me, experiential or emotional (not that those two are ever really distinct). For instance, aspects of rides are unforgettable to me, as is the multitude of cycling minutia. I believe this is because I have many neurological pathways new information/ideas can link to/travel/anchor in. Few cycling facts are isolated, they are always relational for me in an embodied sense, even, or perhaps, especially, technological stuff. Strange but true.

In writing about D2R2 outside of my ride report format, I feel challenged and obligated to do the ride justice in my rendering. The fact is, its the most influential and special cycling event I’ve participated in. The question arises: what is so special about it, why does it pull more and more people every year? I can only hope my memory and creativity, indeed fettered at this very moment by virtue of my use of this here computer, will come through for me and meet the challenge.

I want to extract and convey some of the key elements that made and make D2R2 a unique opportunity to tap into the beauty of cycling. 

Rapha Continental | D2R2 from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Can a race deliver a special cycling experience if the course is lacking in creativity and challenge? Yes, it can, because creativity can and does manifest in the actions of the riders. The route is a canvas the racers paint with their attacks, counters, blocking, climbs, descents, turns and the rest. Emotion pours into the road in pursuit of greatness, however it is defined. Great courses don't always translate into great races, but they usually do.

A randonnee or any other non-competitive cycling event demands more. The route has to stand on its own, for many riders will find no solace in the draft of others; they will work alone, engage the route solo from beginning to end at their own pace. A route lacking in features will only disappoint; why bother if one can simply ride a nice local near home?

D2R2 is the route of routes. As a neophyte route planner/event organizer, I think about routes a lot. What makes a good route? How does one design a route that will please the majority or riders? Well, it depends, certain decisions about the sort of rider you want to attract, and please, must be made up front. A ride like our Fixed Gear Frolic is meant to be inclusive, so its flatish and not too long. This way, its within grasp for most fixed gear riders with a bit of road time. But more than anything, its a social ride, and its good to do those once in a while. D2R2 is another beast, yet it still manages to be very social. However, this is mainly because Sandy’s description certainly weeds out hundreds of riders who are not prepared for the hardest ride of their lives. But the intention is not to hold a ‘hardman’ event, its to hold an amazing event,  one that is not about winners and losers. From a look around, I’m guessing few felt like losers, even those who didn’t quite measure up to their expectations. I read in a Rapha Continental interview of Sandy that he designed the route by pinning all the best views, climbs and descents in the area, then connecting them. He didn’t try to emulate any other route, but create the best route the terrain had to offer. I won’t forget this approach; I use it myself when planning routes now. Every time I see an event called "XYZ Roubaix" I can't help but think of Sandy's words. I think it really is best to create events that play up the best elements of local topography and other features rather than try to emulate other events. 

Daybreak pulling into the start finish area. Glenn, Pascal and I rode over on Friday night through the cornfield. The road was much faster. 
There is a certain mystical aspect to the D2R2 route I’m trying to understand. Even though its the hardest route I’ve ever traveled, it has not caused the same degree of pain and suffering other far less difficult routes have. And I’m not even talking about races alone. There is something about riding a ‘just get up the hill’ pace that seems to keep me, and most others it seems, from going into the red, and that, combined with the scenery and conversation, seems to really mitigate the difficulty of the route. Then there are the descents, which are numerous and so exciting. Could it be that the lack of flat sections actually helps conserve energy, as one can often drive too hard on a flat? Maybe. Quite possibly. Probably.

Traction might be another mitigating factor. If you can’t put the power down for fear of slipping the back wheel, you can’t get into the hurt locker as easily as normal. This year's loose conditions allowed those on mtbs to ride more efficiently on loose climbs than rigid bikes. I was astounded by the speed of a number of mtb riders over the route, and find it really cool that the roads can be covered so well with such a diversity of setups, from full rando bikes to race bikes, 29ers and full suspension 26ers. It really is a 'run what you brung' route, though low gearing isn't really optional. The classic D2R2 question: 'So, what gear are you running?' Rest assured, they are not asking about your high gear!

The diversity and quality of folks out to ride D2R2 is another factor that mitigates the difficulty of the route. The guys I rode with this year were really interesting and fun, and happy to tell stories and share insights about all sort of stuff. They were also observant. Best example: Todd remarked on the sign reading “Caution, Deaf Blind Dog” on the side of a tiny dirt road, while a pot belly pig lay across the dirt. I didn’t see any of that! I was also treated to a history lesson about the roads themselves, granted, I did prod a bit. Turns out, little did I know, that 80% of New England was deforested about 150 years ago. The carriage roads much of the D2R2 route were used by locals for quite some time to conduct a myriad of resource related activities; they pre-date automotives by decades and centuries. Thus, their grades and curves are gentle enough to be navigated by horses and carriages. For bikes, this translates into blissful descending. Sight lines are long, and incredible speeds can be reached. As Todd said, "Any road with 'old' and/or 'stage' in the name in New England you gotta hit up." Noted! In general, I noticed that the names of roads in the area are a lot more telling than those I'm used to, except, perhaps Chamonix near Wakefield. 'Woodsmoke' doesn't exactly suggest 'crazy elevation gain;' this sort of name is more typical around here. I'm starting to think one might be able to choose great routes in New England based on the names of roads alone. I guess time will tell. 

Unlike any other cycling event I've attended, D2R2 is very much about camaraderie, and I really appreciate that. Everyone in our group met interesting folks along the way and I think we all look forward to seeing them again in the future. To think that I might see the same faces for years to come at D2R2 really provides a feeling of belonging to something enduring, something good. Races are not like that; one does not expect to see the same faces year in and year out. Its just not sustainable for the majority. D2R2 is sustainable, and cycling is a lifelong passion, lifestyle and commitment for the majority of the riders. I think this is what makes it unique, most of the folks are on the same wavelength, and its not emanating competitiveness and machismo. This environment is refreshing. 

Rock and Roll. From left to right: Chris, Ariel, Jamie, Matt, Pascal (back), Glenn, Holden, Felix, Ronan, Beatrice (front)
Great routes don't necessarily involve a thousand turns, but this one does. After my 2009 ride, where I could only follow others with local knowledge or useful cues, I knew tulip notes were the way to go. We use these for our events and they are meant to be pretty much idiot proof. Even though my computer kacked out for 20miles, I was still able to use these, as the arrows helped me recognize turns. These were painstakingly created by Steve for the team, and massively appreciated all around.
 Simple and effective mounting with a section of tire underneath the clip to add grip and protect our fancy stems. Ariel provided the sectioned tire, and helped set these up at 5am. Team work.

My ride, custom Steelwool Secteur 18 (now dubbed the Rover for production). Handling was spot on, always confident on the descents and stable. My second bottle ejected on the last high speed descent, so I didn't bother to stop for it. My 30c Grand Bois tires are great, but I simply had bad luck with pinch flats this time. Next year I'll run larger volume tires on my Steelwool Truffle Pig cross bike to provide more traction all the time, and more pinch protection. Judging by the prowess of the full suspension mtbs on the route, I don't think I'll lose much on the climbs, as traction will be boosted. Then I'll be able to plummet the descents without concern for flatting. Cause one could say D2R2 is all about the descents.  
Glenn sported a nice roomy seatbag to carry his 'goodies.' Next year I plan to use a nice handlebar bag like Todd's Ortleib Ultimate 5 Compact, in orange! This bag is foam lined, so perfect for bananas, cameras, and perhaps even crystal good luck charms.
Mad Alchemy's warm weather embrocation was just right for the day, blocking the cold 10 degree celcius wind in the morning. Pretty decent flypaper action too.

How many cycling events do you know of that people see themselves doing every year for as long as they keep riding? D2R2 gains more and more devotees every year, which will surely lead to massive start lists down the road. The only limiting factor is likely the capacity of the volunteer crew to provide the level of support they pride themselves on: phenomenal. Lets hope Sandy and company have the energy to keep it going for many years to come.


Anonymous said...

"Steelwool Truffle Pig cross bike "??! Tell me more - I'm thinking about a steel 'cross bike for next year and something other than a Surly would be nice.

Great write up on the ride. I really have to do this one (soon).


Matt Surch said...

Thanks Steve. It certainly is a must-ride for dirt road lovers.

The Truffle Pig is an exciting handmade in Canada frameset we're working on right now. If all goes to plan, the first three will be in our hands and ready to race at the end of the month. Geometry will be closer to road than old school super steep cross, and the bb will be low. The bike will be optimized for raceability but also serve as an excellent all rounder. It'll be more high performance than bikes like the Cross Check, Soma, Brodie Romax, etc. Its being built as light as possible while retaining enough strength for regular thrashing. Production frames will be available in 2011, after we give the pre-production units a solid beatdown. If you are local, come check it out at the races. I'll post pics as soon as its received.

rob.parniak said...

Hey Matt -- did I tell you that while riding an XC trail near Mont Ste. Anne the day after Worlds some guy (I think he worked for Specialized) approached me while stopped at a trailhead and said, "hey were you at D2R2?" He recognized the Tall Tree kit. He did the ride, loved it, and remembered you guys.

The crazy thing was the composition of the rest of his riding group: Ned Overend, Todd Wells, Cristophe Sauser, Burry Stander... yeah... pretty cool encounter.

Matt Surch said...

Wow, what a cool encounter indeed! I think it would be both humbling and mind blowing to ride with those guys. I bet Ned will be throwing it down into his 70s. D2R2 sure is a helluva great ride for meeting people.

Toad the 12 sprocket said...

Great writeup(s) Matt, I'm really enjoying reading them. I was jazzed to see your Ottawa posse down this year, already looking forward to next!

And yes . . . this ride is about something more, something better. Although this year wasn't my hardest or fastest, it was the most enjoyable. It was also the 6th, so maybe that's not a coincidence.