Humbled by Pikes Peak

Items that do not fit the categories above.
Forum rules
Please do not use this forum to advertise, sell photos or other products or promote a commercial website. For more details, please see the Terms of Use you agreed to when joining the forum.
Post Reply
pvnisher
Posts: 1516
Joined: 9/29/2006
14ers: List not added
Trip Reports (8)

Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by pvnisher »

I'm a little between houses, and continents, at the moment, bumming around Colorado for a bit. My wife is racing the Pikes Peak hillclimb bike race in August and wanted to preview the course. I haven't been on a bike in about a year, and have spent the last 4 years living at an elevation where the tide changes my elevation by about 30 percent, so yeah, why not hop on a borrowed, ill-fitting bike and ride to 14,415'? After all, I did this race back in 7th grade, many years ago, with virtually no training and on a mountain bike, so I'm sure that I can just hop off the couch and crush it. Plus, it's paved now, so the rolling resistance will be so much less. Right?

It's supposed to be about 12.5 miles and 4,700 feet of gain. My wife said she thought the race started at the toll gate, right by North Pole, so off we go. The first sign of trouble was when we passed the sign saying elevation was now 8000 feet. Some quick math said that we were a lot lower than we should be in order to only gain 4700. The next sign said elevation was "one mile below the summit". Again, quick math... But whatever, we're in for it, might as well just plug away.

The gear ratio on the borrowed bike wasn't very low, even though it had a triple front chainring. Wife's bike, also borrowed, had a much lower ratio and she was able to spin better. I was just having to stomp the pedals, alternating standing up to get some momentum then sitting for a few cranks, then standing again. Lungs and heart felt great, but my legs were starting to feel that inevitable burn when we got past 10500 or so. I knew I was on the clock and was just hoping to hang on for the end. I remembered that Devils Playground had a nice long flat or downhill stretch, so ideally I could make it there and then recover.

The switchbacks around 12,000 started to be too much for my muscles, I just couldn't push the ring anymore. So I'd hop off and push up the steeper sections and recover a bit while walking. I wasn't much slower walking briskly than riding anyway. Some clouds were starting to build around the top, which was worrisome given the pace and remaining elevation, but we decided to go a little further and evaluate again.

Then at 12,500 I hopped off the bike to push again and my left leg locked up. Like it was made of stone. I quickly set my right leg down to catch myself, and it, too, seized up like a pitbull on a chihuahua. So I was locked in place, leaning on the bike, completely immobile. I couldn't bend my knees even a milllimeter. I had to go faster than my wife in order to maintain momentum to spin the cranks, so I'm just frozen, waiting for her to get up to me. As she approaches, I say "I need help." She thought I was dizzy or altitude sick, so once she saw it was just cramps she was quite pleased. Ha.

I leaned on her while she took the bike away and I was able to get some side-to-side motion, which led to some slight knee bend, which then led to more knee bend. Eventually I was able to bend all the way, and we decided that the weather looked threatening enough to call off the ride. Unrelated to my legs rebelling against me, of course. Just due to weather.

However, now we had the descent to contend with. My seat was about 4 inches above the handlebars, so I had to lean over very, very far to use the brakes. This also put a lot of weight on my triceps, and after a few minutes my tri's started to threaten revolt, as well. I figured that a tricep lockout would cause a nasty spill, possibly throwing me off the edge, or into oncoming SUVs driven by people oblivious to riders as their passengers hung out the side windows or through the sunroof.

So we ended up having to take multiple breaks on the way down to let my neck recover from the angle as well as convince my triceps to decide to continue cooperating.
Eventually we made it to the bottom, and on the way, realized that near Crystal Lake there's a nice parking lot, as well as lines painted on the ground, that undoubtedly are the actual start lines for the hillclimb, Ha.

All told I made it 5,200 vertical before my body rebelled, and I was feeling good the entire way, so that's pretty decent. But I guess I learned a little humility up there, too. Jumping off the couch after a year of serious exercise restrictions, wiping the beach sand out of my toes, and trying to ride up Pikes Peak, paved or not... my ambition clearly exceeded my reach.
User avatar
DArcyS
Posts: 876
Joined: 5/12/2007
14ers: 58
13ers: 488
Trip Reports (3)

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by DArcyS »

Yeah, I'd have to say that maybe we've had different experiences on that mountain - I'm on the right. :wink: But to be honest, the competition that year was light. I'm nearly certain I have no shot at the podium this year.

Yes, the start line is at that parking area about a mile or so up from Crystal Lake.

The grades are brutal below timberline and on the switchbacks (as you discovered), but the grade is easier past the switchbacks. The first year I did the race, I was concerned I might have to turn around because of the gearing, and it seems like every year I see people walking their bike close to the finish line (even though the grade isn't nearly as bad as further down the course).

Leg and arm warmers are a must nearly every year with the early start and the relatively late sunrise (it's not at 5:30 as in June). A couple years ago some people were able to get by without the leg warmers, but I think that's more of the exception.

Registration closes August 2 for the Aug 7 race/gran fondo for those who might be interested -Pikes Peak Race Registration Info Although best to have some training under your legs, IMO.
.
.
Pikes Peak.jpg
Pikes Peak.jpg (240.53 KiB) Viewed 1581 times
AndrewLyonsGeibel
Posts: 403
Joined: 7/3/2015
14ers: 9

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by AndrewLyonsGeibel »

What gearing do you use on a climb like that? I’d be worried about braking on carbon rims coming back down. I should really make the switch to disc brakes, but kinda like the frames I have currently. Do you have to pay at the gate if you’re on a bike?
User avatar
bdloftin77
Posts: 625
Joined: 9/23/2013
14ers: 58 1
13ers: 58
Trip Reports (2)

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by bdloftin77 »

Yep, you have to pay if you’re on a bike.

When I did it in 2017 on my road bike, had a 30 teeth small chainring and 28 on the large rear cog. That’s the highest ratio I’d go with.. a lower gear would be even better. Switched out the previous 32t chainring for a 30t when I was biking a lot in Foco, and appreciated the difference.

Brakes.. I really like the disc brakes on my mountain bike. My road bike has rim brakes, and if I’m on too steep of a slope and brake too hard/too long, they heat up and I have noticeable brake fade (which is a bit scary if a turn is coming up faster than you expected). I recommend feathering the front and rear brakes whenever you use them on steep downhills to prevent overheating. And braking sooner than expected if you have a possible tight turn coming up. Don’t have carbon rims though, so no input on that aspect.

Training on steep hills helped boost my confidence a lot when prepping for Pikes.
pvnisher
Posts: 1516
Joined: 9/29/2006
14ers: List not added
Trip Reports (8)

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by pvnisher »

It was $12 a person to ride up from the gate.

I would go for the lowest possible gearing. I think if I had been on my mountain bike, with it's low ratio, I would have made the summit, even with the extra distance.
I'd have to check the bike I borrowed, but it was way too high. Or at least too high for me and my untrained unacclimated legs.

I had rim brakes, and would have appreciated disk brakes for sure.
Or at least a bar that wasn't inches too low, with a top tube inches too short. Lol, I was hunched like crazy in order to use the brakes. My neck is killing me today!

All that said, it felt less scary than the descent I did back in '92 on the dirt. That was sketchy AF.
User avatar
bdloftin77
Posts: 625
Joined: 9/23/2013
14ers: 58 1
13ers: 58
Trip Reports (2)

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by bdloftin77 »

pvnisher wrote: Wed Jul 28, 2021 10:58 am All told I made it 5,200 vertical before my body rebelled, and I was feeling good the entire way, so that's pretty decent. But I guess I learned a little humility up there, too. Jumping off the couch after a year of serious exercise restrictions, wiping the beach sand out of my toes, and trying to ride up Pikes Peak, paved or not... my ambition clearly exceeded my reach.
Thanks for sharing - sounds pretty rough! My wife's cousin, who's done a lot of long hiking treks (eg. hiking from Colorado to Alaska within a hundred miles of the Arctic Ocean, but was denied further access due to oil property issues; the Nepal Trail "High Route") hadn't been on a bike much and tried Pikes Peak as well via the highway. Made it to within a couple miles of the summit, then had to walk a lot of the last section. It's no joke, for sure! When I was working toward biking it in 2017, I was pretty worried about the ~7 miles of 9% grade topping out at Devils Playground. Got into the best shape of my life since cross country and track in high school, and it actually went really well! But there are some pretty sustained, killer sections that'll take you out if you haven't trained much, for sure. (1 mile just after gate, 9 miles ending at Devils Playground, and last 2 miles - all 9-10% grade). Heading up the hill before Crystal Creek Reservoir is also pretty steep - going down that section where it straightens out going westward is where I've gotten my highest descending speeds on the highway.

I'd agree that if you're in doubt, a mountain bike with good lower gearing is the way to go!
User avatar
DArcyS
Posts: 876
Joined: 5/12/2007
14ers: 58
13ers: 488
Trip Reports (3)

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by DArcyS »

AndrewLyonsGeibel wrote: Wed Jul 28, 2021 8:56 pm What gearing do you use on a climb like that? I’d be worried about braking on carbon rims coming back down. I should really make the switch to disc brakes, but kinda like the frames I have currently.
I use 34 front chain ring and 32 cassette. To get that podium, I passed my teammate who couldn't go lower with his Dura Ace cassette. I'm also over 50, so younger and lighter guns can get away with higher gears. A couple years ago, while I was near my limit, a couple guys in their 20s rode by me with ease while holding a conversation.

Overheating can be an issue on the descent from the summit. They encourage people to stop and let their rims cool at Glen Cove. Although I have Dura Ace C24's that have a metal strip for braking which seems to do a little better (and I don't need special pads).

I'm considering a new bike/frame, and I think I'll buck the trend and go with rim brakes (although those frames/bikes are disappearing). After the Guanella Pass Hill Climb, my teammate and I were descending and towards the bottom I began to hear a squeal from his brakes. For all the hype of disc brakes, they aren't immune from their own set of issues, IMO.
User avatar
cedica
Posts: 499
Joined: 6/25/2014
14ers: List not added

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by cedica »

DArcyS wrote: Thu Jul 29, 2021 1:18 pm I'm considering a new bike/frame, and I think I'll buck the trend and go with rim brakes (although those frames/bikes are disappearing).
Pogačar is still switching to rim brakes for each stage that features huge climbs. And he is not exactly an old fart entrenched in his ancient ways.
pvnisher
Posts: 1516
Joined: 9/29/2006
14ers: List not added
Trip Reports (8)

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by pvnisher »

Who did the race today?

I didn't, I think if I had my own bike I would have, but oh well, next year.

Mrs. Pvnisher did it, though, and got under 2 hours and a little hardware. I don't know if I will be able to keep up next year. Time to start researching blood doping.
User avatar
bdloftin77
Posts: 625
Joined: 9/23/2013
14ers: 58 1
13ers: 58
Trip Reports (2)

Re: Humbled by Pikes Peak

Post by bdloftin77 »

Wow, that’s super impressive! Tell her great job! I think that’s around my best time for the PPHC segment too, just under 2 hours. Was it rough with the smoke?
Post Reply