Each spring for the past five years an event takes place in San Diego that has become a rite of passage for cyclists–and it simply scares the crap out of people like nothing else out there. It’s not only the fact that it’s a crazy long day on the road bike, it also has some of the most challenging dirt sections most of us have ever attempted to lay skinny, slick tires to. If you could give credit to any one event as the inspiration for the surge in mixed-surface riding, it would go to the Belgian Waffle Ride.
The BWR is the closest thing the US will get to one of the European Spring Classics. With a course between 135-147 miles (it changes each year), approximately 40 miles of that being dirt, and around 12,000 feet in climbing gives it a truly monumental status in anyone’s book.
To give you an idea of how potentially catastrophic the dirt can be to the equipment, think about this: at the 2016 BWR the Mavic support team had only dealt with the vast amount of flat tires they encountered once before, and that was Stage 14 of the 2012 Tour de France when tacks were dumped on the roadway. Mavic’s bright yellow motorcade of support cars and motorcycles serviced everyone they could until they eventually ran out of wheels, then they helped change flats after that.
Stories like this have helped grow the lore around the event, and opened the door for Source Endurance to create the BWR Survival Camp that offers riders an opportunity to scout the entire course over three days in a much less stressful setting than on event day when you’re out there with 1200 others. Having the opportunity to conquer fears of the dirt, figure out the best equipment setup, maximize their training and simply pick up tidbits of info from the ride leaders who are well-versed in such terrain and stupid-long days on the bike has turned out to be quite popular.
One of those ride leaders was me. I was a part of the Survival Camp last year as well, and one of just a few dozen riders that have finished every single edition of the BWR thus far. On my way to finishing two of those, I also crossed the finish line before anyone else. Mavic Ambassador Janel Holcomb, BWR founder Michael Marckx, Phil Tinstman and Adam Mills made up the rest of the ride leaders. Having so much combined experience allowed us to share some prime info with the campers, who were all ears, especially when it came time for a dirt clinic.
Of the twenty riders that attended the camp on January 27-29, every single one of them left with a newfound confidence in the dirt, dialed with their nutritional needs, and knowing what their ideal equipment setup is going to be.
For those that couldn’t make it out to camp, and plan to do the Belgian Waffle Ride or something else over-the-top in difficulty, I put together a top 10 list of things I believe can make the biggest differences in performance, safety, and enjoyment.
My Top 10 BWR Tips
1- Calories, calories, calories. You’ll probably burn around 6,000 calories over the course of BWR, so that means a constant intake of calories. 250-300 calories an hour, every single hour!
2- Don’t waste time at the rest stops. Of course you have to stop, but fill up bottles, grab your Bonk Breaker bar and roll. Eat and drink on the go, otherwise 10 minutes spent at six rest stops is an additional hour. Don’t waste an hour just hanging out! Once you finish you can grab your beer and food, then hang out to your heart’s content.
3- Leave the lightweight bottle cages at home. There’s no place for a flimsy cage at BWR and you’ll absolutely regret not listening to this advice as you watch your bottles bounce out and get run over by the rider behind you for about the hundredth time.
4- Save the drafting for the road. Once on the dirt, give the rider in front of you space so you have a clear view of the road/trail . Otherwise you’ll blow corners, hit rocks, and probably crash.
5- Don’t ride anything smaller than a 28mm tire. If you’re worried about the dirt and have a frameset that can accommodate something even bigger, then a 30mm could give you more confidence with little penalty on the pavement.
6- Just because you feel good early on, doesn’t mean you should ride at your limit. Try to think what things could be like, five, six, or seven hours from now. Yeah, it’s probably best to back it down a tad.
7- Go ride some dirt. Don’t wait until BWR rolls around to test your mettle in the rough. Hit some trails and dirt roads to experience how your bike’s handling changes when off-road. It’s truly amazing what a road bike is capable of in the dirt, but you also have to get a sense for its limitations.
8- It’s probably best to leave your road pedals and shoes at home. Technically, there are not any hike-a-bike sections on course, but with that said, the vast majority of riders out there will at some point be pushing their bike. That’s just the nature of things when the guy in front of you spins out on a rock and you and the other 20 riders behind remember they should have brought their mountain bike shoes. If you’re already upset and think there’s no place in a road event for having to walk, tell that to the pros hoofing it up the Koppenberg in the Tour of Flanders last year.
9- Sand. You’re going to ride through lots of sand. Sandy Bandy didn’t get its name by pure coincidence. Going through sand on relatively skinny tires can be a little unnerving for those unaccustomed to having their bike slipping and sliding underneath them. A few pointers:
- Carry speed into the sand trap and keep pedaling once you’ve entered it.
- Put it in a harder gear than you normally would and power through rather than trying to spin your way out.
- Most important, keep your upper body loose and let the front wheel move without fighting the handlebars. Most often, the front-end will correct itself and keep you on track.
10- Two words: Double Peak. As prepared as you think you are, you’re not. Double Peak is the final climb before descending to the finish, and even as short as it is, there have been dozens of riders that saw their chance at a BWR finish disappear within just a couple miles of the finish. Eat, drink, and ride smart, because you’ll need it to summit Double Peak.
For more information on the Belgian Waffle Ride and how you can register for the May 21st event, go to http://belgianwaffleride.bike/