Wednesday, March 24, 2021

B.O.G. Series: How To Be Self-Supported And Why

 Welcome to the Basics of Gravel Series (B.O.G.)! In this series I will attempt to bring a very foundational knowledge of gravel and back road riding to anyone reading that may be curious or a beginner in riding off-pavement, but not wanting to be mountain biking. There will be a new entry every Wednesday until the series is complete. To see the schedule, click this LINK. Thanks! 

The 'modern gravel riding scene' was based around self-reliance to a large degree. That has morphed along with the passage of time, but self-reliance, or as we are calling it here- self-supported riding- is a good practice to engage in and will make your riding less stressful, more fun, and in the end, it will provide you with more success and adventure. This post will help to show you what areas to focus on and why these self-supported ideas can make your gravel rides better. 

First, you should develop an idea on what sort of ride time you typically want to take on and the area you'll be riding in or through, as the case may be. Much of your decision making will pivot off of where you ride and for how long. For example- If your adventure is near, or even within an urban area, where you have access to retail stores, your kit and what you need to know will be different than the person who is riding in a remote area in the foothills, and both of those will have different decisions to make from the person who is riding a 100 miles through small villages in a rural agricultural area. So, how can you make any sense out of this? 

  • Time: Your needs will be dictated by time of ride. Longer rides require more thought to nutritional needs, access to drinking water, clothing choices, and repair kits may be the largest for the ultra-distances. But for beginners, we are thinking what? Maybe an hour or two? Let's start there! 

So, working with the thought that we are dealing with just getting started on gravel riding, and maybe this ride will last up to two hours, we're likely talking something in the 20-25 mile range- or less. That's a decent pace, but not racing speeds. So that's our first parameter here. 

  • Location: Where the ride happens is the next bit. Let's assume a 'worst case scenario' here and think about an up to two hour, 20-25 mile distance ride where you are not going to have any access to a town, convenience store, or water stops. Okay? Let's also add here that this is actual rural road- gravel or dirt or both- and we'll go from there. Keep in mind that if your riding time or place of ride is less demanding that you can adjust accordingly. 

There are two things you need to think about when thinking 'self-supported riding' after time and location. That is "How will I maintain my own self to make it through the ride?" and "How do I make sure my bicycle makes it through the ride?' Let's think about the rider first. 

My bike here has multiple mounts for water, as you can see.
When you ride an hour or longer, it is conventional wisdom that you, as a human, will need to re-hydrate and you will need to replenish your energy. Drinking and eating for riding are subjects that are so deep, wide, and long I cannot possibly get a good overview in the space of one article. So, suffice it to say that water and something you like to have as a snack will have to do to get you started. Water is typically carried in a bicycle water bottle and that goes into a 'cage' which mounts to your bike. One bottle is usually enough for one hour of riding. Not consumed all at once either! No, sip on it occasionally. That's best. This is the conventional way to do the hydration thing, but there are several options. Just make sure you have enough water. Then, make sure you are constantly drinking small amounts. 

Eating is similar. I once heard a successful long-distance gravel rider say that riding longer rides was really not just riding- it is an eating contest! Well, to the degree that you should be eating regularly, yes- but this doesn't mean a vast quantity of food is necessary. I'll get into the questions of what to eat and drink next week.

You probably should eat if you've been out over an hour on a ride, but you don't have to- it isn't a hard and fast rule for everyone. So, play it by ear, but eating something is better than not, most times. Just as with drinking, moderation is key. The best bet here is to experiment with options that can be transported in your bags or backpack without having them get destroyed or ruined by heat. Carrying those items in bags, as mentioned, is generally what most do, and bags for bicycles are varied and many in size, shape, and form. If this is too bewildering, hard to deal with, or impossible to get for you, a simple rucksack will do. (Book bag, backpack, etc) I even used a messenger bag for several years to transport clothing, water, and food for rides. I even did a Winter race with a messenger bag! So, be creative. It doesn't have to be a 'bicycle specific thing'. Baskets are another option too. Milk crates on a rack will work. You get the idea..... Just make sure it is a system that is safe and doesn't destroy your food, or your ride.

Veterans of gravel riding know that you need to be properly equipped with tools and know-how. 
Now, what about your bike? Well, we've already discussed how it needs to be ready to go- No ifs, ands, or buts, so I assume you are undertaking the ride with a bike that has been signed off as workable and safe. What we are concerned with here is doing what it takes to get home in case of a 'breakdown', which 90% of the time will be a flat tire. So, disregarding tubeless here, because most beginners will be on tubed tires, you should know how to change a flat tire out and have the tools to do that. This is the number one killer of rides. 

So, seeing as how flat repair is its own subject, and seeing as how this has been covered to death already in many ways better than I can write it out, I suggest taking the time to read through and practice flat repairing by checking out this article from REI here. I'm not an REI guy, nor am I getting anything for pointing you their direction, its just a good, comprehensive look at the subject. There are tons of good flat repair tutorials out there, so feel free to search and check out the one that speaks to you. Bottom line? You NEED to learn this skill and own the proper tools to accomplish the task. 

It is very important that you take care of yourself, first, and secondly, that you know how to repair a flat tire and have the tools and proper bits to accomplish the job. If you are separated from a group, or riding alone, you will definitely feel more secure and empowered if you have the skills and knowledge necessary to do both types of self-support- Rider and bike self-support. 

I'll get around to how you can carry all this stuff around in a couple weeks here, so don't worry about that just yet. Just keep in mind that you are covering the bare necessities here of self-support. There is a LOT more you can learn here, but for getting out there to ride, these basics should prove to be good to get you started. Now, of course, there are other eventualities that can occur which can cause a ride to end prematurely. So, since we live in the times we live in, a smart phone is a good thing to have at hand. Letting people that care about you know your ride plan is another thing, and of course, riding with other seasoned riders is always a good thing as long as they are sensitive to beginner cyclists or rookies to gravel riding. 

Next week: What To Eat And Drink

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