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3 Peaks Guide: Part Two

It’s now nearly August, and hopefully training is well underway for the select 650 given a ride in the 3 Peaks Cyclocross this year. Getting out and about off road may have focussed the mind on the physical challenges inherent in the race, but also perhaps on the equipment dilemmas that it throws up too.

Part 2 of this 3 part Peaks series looks at some of the choices and decisions required to make sure your trusty ride gets you (and itself) to the finish in one piece over terrain that is not, to be honest, overly friendly to a thin tyred ‘cross bike.

As the Peaks is firmly (and rightly) a unique cyclocross race, it is worth pointing out that only drop handled ‘cross bikes can be ridden. Not 29ers, not straight bars and not fat tyres over 35mm in width. Anachronistic maybe, but part of the heritage of the race and as such these rules help preserve its unique, slightly unhinged quality. Nowadays, modern ‘cross frames with tapered 1.5” headtubes make life a lot easier – the first time I rode the On One Dirty Disco in the Peaks, I was more than appreciative of the fatter fork crown and headtube as it soaked up the pounding of the rough tracks better than anything I had ridden before. The same applies with the Planet X XLS and comfort was taken even further with the On One Pickenflick which is hands down the best Peaks bike myself and team mate Dave Haygarth have ridden.

I’ve set up my Pickenflick to be, for me, the ultimate Peaks bike. Here is how I have put it together:

  • Bars 44cm – As wide as is comfortable for my shoulder width to increase control on the descents.
  • In-line brake levers on the tops – Sometimes known as 'chicken levers', these are an absolute must as they push your weight backwards for steeper descents and allow a different hand position to relieve fatigue and discomfort when braking for long periods.
  • Bar tape – Padded if possible, non-slippy if wet and possibly double wrapped (experiment with this before race day).
  • A superlight saddle – you’re not actually sitting on the saddle much so you can sacrifice comfort for weight.
  • Bottle cage – Only on the seat tube for ease of carrying. Many use camelbacks but I hate being bashed on the back of the head and the sweatiness on my back so I opt for bottle hand ups along the route. Mountain bikers may beg to differ.
  • Brakes – The advent of discs has made them the go to product for Peaks braking. The extra power over cantilever brakes means much more control for much less fatigue. And hydraulic brakes, even more so. I use TRP Hy-Rd which have a hydraulic reservoir on the caliper but are cable operated. Best of both worlds in many ways. If on discs, or cantilevers for that matter, make sure your brake pads are new and capable of coping with grit. A wet Peaks has seen many riders running out of brake power coming down Penyghent or even before…
  • Gearing – this is always a source of discussion. I’ve chosen a SRAM XO mtb chainset 39/26 matched to a 26 tooth rear cassette so I can get a 1:1 gear ratio with a short cage mech. Such a low gear ratio is heavenly when hitting the final riding climb up the lane and track toward Penyghent. You can stay in the saddle longer, potentially avoiding cramp and saving tired legs for the final walking climb to the summit. A 39x11 ratio is easy big enough for the road sections – you’re not usually going that fast!
  • Tyres – this is where opinion divides markedly. I have almost always used tubulars in the Peaks, others use tubeless and many clinchers. Ultimately, it depends on your preference and budget but for the record I use fat 34mm tubulars for their undisputed increased pinch puncture resistance, increased volume and comfort, and run-flat ability so I can descend to a spare bike or wheels. Puncture risk on the road is minimal but I carry a can of sealant in case anyway. Many have successfully used tubeless – just check your rims can take high pressure. Clinchers remain the most popular with thick sidewalled tyres being necessary over thinner, lighter normal cross tyres. Tread choice is firmly in the intermediate/summer conditions camp as there is little mud and more and more ‘manicured’ gravel surfaces along the route. Choosing tyres for the road though is not worthwhile as you need the real performance to be found off-road. Pressures for tubs will be around 65psi so handmade cotton artisan products are not suitable unless reinforced with latex walls – I use the sadly now discontinued Tufo T34mm which are seemingly made from rhinoceros hide. Pressure in clinchers needs to be 70psi or above though much more tends to result in even more bouncing and jarring.
  • Wheels – I have used the Planet X Cyclocross Disc Pro Carbon 50/50 Wheelset which were plenty strong enough for the rough tracks when paired with 34mm tubulars. They were however a bit of a handful when carrying over the summits in 60mph winds during the 50th Anniversary race in 2012… More appropriate is a standard 29er wheelset or better still an old fashioned box section clincher or tubular rim matched to a high spoke count of 32 or 36. Bombproof.

In terms of equipment for the individual, shoes with super stiff carbon soles are best avoided. You spend a lot of time walking on steep or rocky terrain and they are simply too harsh and uncomfortable. Something with some flex will see you right on race day. And don’t use toe studs – although the first climb up Simon Fell is steeper than in your worse nightmares, and greasy and slippy too, further round the course studs will come back and haunt you on the rocky climbs and steps.

A gilet can be a good piece of kit to take – the start tends to be cool with things warming up later on. It can be nice to have some core warmth that can be taken off and discarded/stowed easily later. Similarly arm warmers with a short-sleeved top are best. You will often be required by the race organisers to take a waterproof for protection on the tops and always have to take a survival bag and whistle. Yes, the terrain can be very hostile if weather is bad and I believe there was a fatality a number of years ago. Prepare well, dress appropriately and carry your safety equipment too and you’ll be fine if the weather is bad.

Finally, to go along with your puncture sealant/spare tube etc take a chain tool. Nothing will stop you quicker than a broken chain and no tool to fix it upon the moors.

Next time, we’ll cover nutrition and how to ‘ride’ the race on race day.

Alan Dorrington putting his tips to good use while carrying up Bull Hill (Photo by Dave Haygarth)

4 August 2014