Prepping for Haute Route – An Idiots Guide, Part 3
Written by Jim Cotton, the Idiots Guide is a series of articles helping cyclists to prepare for, and take part in Haute Route. As a Haute Route ambassador, Jim leverages his passion and experience to provide real world tips
Part 3 – Your Bike
Some people obsess about the weight of their bike. Don’t. A lightweight bike is important for pros, where seconds can mean the difference between winning and being the fastest loser, but for over-enthusiastic amateurs, a few grams here and there means nothing.
Obviously you want a reasonably lightweight bike, but spending hundreds of pounds to save 100g on a new set of handlebars is flushing money down the toilet. Do you know how much a 650ml bidon filled with water is?
Not interested? I don’t care, I’m going to tell you anyway – around 500g. So, once you’ve stopped off at that feedstation and filled both bottles, you’ve added a kilo to your ride, and your £100s invested in the lightest components has vanished.
Make sure you’ve got yourself a nice reasonably light bike, but don’t get too obsessed. If anything, stiffness of the frame is just as important.
HOWEVER, if you have got cash to burn…
I say to everyone I know that if I had £500-£1000 to invest with a view to improving performance on the Haute Route, I’d invest it in one or the other of:
Contrary to what I said above, having nice light wheels is worth the money.
There’s some fancy science about how weight that rotates affects momentum and overall moving mass (or something), which basically means that you will gain exponentially from having lightweight wheels. And make sure they’ve got a nice braking surface, preferably not carbon. Carbon rims can very easily overheat if you’re braking a lot, and then your tube may go !BANG! as you’re heading down the Tourmalet at 90kph.
A power meter – but know how to use it
A power meter will enable you to understand exactly how hard you can push over certain timespans, and so will be invaluable in helping you pace yourself on both a day by day, and climb by climb basis.
Unfortunately, with only around five or six weeks til the mountains, it may be a little late to rush off and buy a power meter now.I say that as it’s best to allow yourself some time with your new toy in advance of Haute Route – you need a few weeks to ensure that you’ve got your threshold power and power zones accurate. If you work to a power that’s too high, you’re bolloxed. And if you work to a power that’s too low, you’ll do bollocks when you could have achieved more.
That said, if you’ve got a lot of riding time to spare before Haute Route and so can get everything set up correctly, go for it! Provided you fully understand the data coming out of it, and you’re sure you’re using it wisely, the power meter will be your most invaluable tool of the week.
Consider your gearing
This is all a bit down to personal preference and riding style, however, you can never have too many gears. You definitely want to have at least a 28 on the back. I go with an 11-28 casssette, and if my rear mech could take more, I would consider a 30.
On the front, I’d suggest a compact 50/34, making your granny gear at least a 34-28. I did the Haute Route Alps 2015 on a 36-28 granny gear. You want to be spinning up those climbs, not grinding, or your legs will never forgive you.
A 36 chain ring is just about doable in the Alps, but in the Pyrenees and Dolomites, where gradients get more unpleasant, you’re more than likely going to need a 34 on the front, or at least a dinner plate on the back to give a similar amount of gear inches (I won’t pretend I know how to calculate these). The 36-28 was just about doable in the Alps for a lightweight like me, but it was far from ideal, leaving me grinding up some of the steeper cols with the least panache imaginable.
The only downside of having a 50/34 and 11-28 set up is that your biggest gear for descending or super fast sections is a 50-28, which can leave you spinning out. However, I’d prefer it to be like that than to be crawling up a col at 60rpm. And spinning out forces you to take measures that help you recover quicker – getting more aero on a descent, getting right onto people’s wheels in groups etc.
No matter what you do, make sure you have a professional bike fit. You should have had one already really. If you’ve got no money spare, sell your kids and the copper from your pipes to raise the cash. Having a correct bike fit is essential. It’s expensive, but worth every penny, and more.
Not only will you ride faster and in a more comfortable fashion on a correctly fitting bike, but you will save yourself from a treasure-trove of potential injuries. You’re going to be on your bike for around 30 hours in the week. You need to make sure that what you’re sitting on works for you. You don’t wear a pair of jeans that’s so tight you’re uncomfortable do you (unless you live in East London)? Exactly.
Get a service
You want your bike to be purring smoothly.
You don’t want any mystery noises when you ride, any dodgy gear shifting, or any sticky brakes. Your brake pads should be nice and fat, your tyres clean and unspoiled, and your derailleuers working nice and smooth. Ensure you get to your LBS (not a big chain shop) before you go and make sure she’s 100%. It’s probably worth you getting a new cassette and chain whilst you’re at it.
And give her a good clean too! Clean bikes are more aero, remember?
Most people climb mountains on the tops predominantly. Get some nice fresh tape that feels nice. You’re going to spend a lot of time gripping it over those seven days.
Make sure you have two. Duh.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY… Give her a name
You’re going to spend a lot of time on your bike, and hopefully you love her (remember, bikes are girls, always). Give her a name.
Love her. Crave time with her. Keep her clean and know all her nooks and crannies. Try not to fall out with her.
That’s it for Part 3 ! I hope you gained something from it?
Look out for Part 4 coming next week ...
Jim also writes a blog about the trials and tribulations of life as an enthusiastic amateur rider - mountainmutton.wordpress.com
Haute Route Ambassador
PHOTOS Credit: Haute Route, Manu Molle