Enjoying the Ride

I come from a very sporty family, but like… ball sports. My skills in these types of sports however generally fall into the “catch the ball with my face” category. Because of this I dabbled in many sports in high school (volleyball, cross country, swimming, dance team (I don’t have pictures, don’t ask!), track & field – mostly not ball sports) and after high school became a collegiate rower. After college I ran my first marathon – highly unsuccessful despite finishing due to drinking more beers per week than miles ran - before meeting my partner who was a bike racer. Just prior to meeting him I’d sold my road bike that had approximately 10 miles on it as every time I rode it, I would quickly roll over a goathead or similar and have to take it to the bike shop to fix the flat as I had no clue how, and was in grad school and way too broke to keep doing that. Long story short, because this isn’t actually about me, I was convinced to get another road bike, got into triathlon, did that for a number of years before getting into dirt; I now race mountain and gravel bikes, coach high school mountain biking, lead gravel clinics and group rides, and promote the Boise Gravel Gala. 

It feels to me that the past 16 years since I started my cycling journey have simply been a learning experience where I’ve gained knowledge of how to fix my bike, how to keep my body going for looooooong periods, and how to get “fast.” Of course, that’s a simplification but over this long period, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from my family “I don’t even want to drive that far!” Which makes sense coming from my baseball, basketball, football, golf loving family members. I’ve always been the odd one out. So, it came as quite the surprise to me that my two brothers, one older, one younger, decided they want to ride the Boise Gravel Gala in 2024. 

Allow me to paint this picture for you: my older brother is a 43 year old orthopedic surgeon with three kids in Salt Lake City. He’s active and just got into skimo racing, but he’s never done a ride longer than an hour and has, previous to skimo, never done endurance sports. My younger brother is a 32 year old real estate office director in Seattle who played baseball in college and similarly is more attuned to sprinting 100 yards than riding long distances. The easiest course for the Boise Gravel Gala is 62 miles with 8,000 feet of vertical gain, with huge ascents and long flowy descents. The gravel is also not what you would call champagne… it’s technical as far as gravel goes. But they are doing it. And by way of describing their experience getting to the finish of the Gala, I hope to impart some of the knowledge I’ve gained in the last 16 years to you, dear reader. 

If you’re gonna ride Gala, it makes sense that you need a bike. As the promoter I recommend a bike that can fit at least 40 mm tires with solid knobs and sidewalls – non-sponsored plug for my go-to tire: WTB Riddler. I also recommend gearing that can get you up the multiple long mile climbs (the smaller the chain ring number in the front and the larger the biggest gear on the cassette = easier). When it comes to gears, somebody (not me) could write a dissertation. There are so many options 1x (“one by”) or 2x chain rings, with different size options there, plus a myriad of cassette options to go with whatever you choose for the front. Long story short there… go to your local bike shop (LBC) and ask a mechanic. Any worth their salt will be able to help you decide what is best for YOU. 

With this specific event in mind, I helped my brothers, with differing financial situations, find bikes. For my older doctor brother, I recommended he buy the same bike I ride now for long, chunky gravel days: an Open Wide (allows for up to 61 mm tires and is 1x with a 40T (40 tooth) chainring up front and a 50/10T cassette (50 teeth in the “easy” gear, 10 in the “hard” gear). As I’m writing this, I don’t know if he has actually gone for a ride on this bike. Time will tell…

Given my older brother can kinda fend for himself with a credit card and a little bike shop, more of my gear focus will be about my little brother. For him, finding a bike for him was a little more difficult. Luckily a friend was selling a used Vinyl for a pretty sweet deal which I outfitted with some more narrow (38 mm) tires I had laying around the garage that would get him through a summer of training in Seattle and allow an upgrade to up to 45 mm tires in the future. This bro also got a 2x drivetrain with 52/36T  chainrings and 11/36T cassette. His bike also has a dual-sided power meter which will be super fun to teach him about in the future so he can take advantage of power-based training and see himself improve over time. Added to the box of stuff I thought he’d need to get started in cycling, all gently used by me or my hubs, were: 

  • POC ventral air helmet (dropping this nugget here: helmets go bad, even if you don’t wreck or crack them. Sun damage degrades the safety features. So, if yours is old (a couple years or had seen a lot of play), go get a new one – a protected noggin is super important)
  • Clipless shimano XT pedals with SPD cleats (why do they call them clipless when you clip into them?)
  • Shimano RX9 mountain bike shoes (convenient he wears the same size as we had layin around)
  • Garmin handlebar mount and computer (not an essential tool for beginners but sure is nice and I had a spare)
  • Saddle bag with spare tube and tire levers
  • Old kit: chamois and jersey

My brother’s girlfriend wanted to get him some stuff to go with so I recommended the following:

  • Floor pump: my favorite brand for this is Specialized. So reliable and easy to use
  • Multi tool: crank brothers make a nice, light, super useful tool
  • CO2 cartridge and inflator

When the box arrived my brother went ape shit. He was so stoked. I sent him a bunch of youtube videos on how to build the bike, how to put a rear wheel on, how to adjust a derailleur, how to put in power meter batteries, how to use the bike computer to calibrate the power meter, etc. He built it up and was READY. TO. GO…

…kinda. I’d been preaching the value of Strava for ages (to deaf ears given until now my brothers were ball sport guys) and he downloaded the app. He learned that he could use the app to find rides using the Maps function. He found a great looking ride, put his bike in the car, and drove out to ride it. I’d been telling him to ride around on the bike for a bit to get used to the shifting but his response was “that’ll take me 5 minutes to figure out.” Ok, you do you. It went kinda like all of our first rides went. He keeled over on a steep climb because he didn’t have much experience clipping in and out and was in a big gear and didn’t really know it. But he’s resilient so he went back down that hill and found a bike path that allowed him to get in a nice 15 mile ride on a rare good weather day in early March in Seattle. 

One thing he experienced that I should have known would have happened was that his chain was skipping around. I’d forgotten to get him a new chain and the wheels that were bought to go with that bike had a brand new cassette. Maybe a little known fact: if you wait too long to replace your chain, it wears down your chain rings and cassette teeth and shit gets messy. If you try to use an old chain on a new cassette (or vice versa depending on the age of the cassette), it will skip. So, new chain, check!

Later in March my brother found himself in our hometown, Astoria, OR, with his bike. He wanted to beat my time up the longest climb in town, from the river to the Astor Column, about 2 miles with about 550 ft of gain. My time: 9:40. His time… TBD. It was raining cats and dogs, as it does in March, the whole weekend he was there. We may be competitive and stubborn folks, but we aren’t dumb. He got to the end of our short street and turned around, sopping wet. I don’t think he’s taken the bike out again yet (today is March 28th). 

I’ll start giving him hell about training when the weather in Seattle stabilizes, or tomorrow (undecided) but I have gone so far as to write him (and my older brother, cousin, and their friends that all plan to do Gala this year) a 3 month training plan. It assumes that you can comfortably ride your bike on gravel with some climbing for about three hours (and yes, know how to shift your bike and get our of your clipless pedals when needed). It has options for power or heart rate training. If you, dear reader, need a training plan, I recommend you check out plans on trainingpeaks.com (not-sponsored), especially those written by the folks at Source Endurance (again, not sponsored!). Software and guidance isn’t free, but I can tell you from experience that the knowledge I’ve gained from using expertly written training plans has vastly improved my fitness and performance. I’ve been using the platform for nearly a decade and training plans sporadically during that time. It keeps me honest AND it keeps from over reaching. The best part is how when you learn the ropes, you can build your own plans, and those for your friends and family, as I’ve done for my brothers.  If executed, these ball sports loving, not-quite-yet-endurance junkies should succeed in completing the Gala. 

There’s still so much to teach my brothers: nutrition before, during, and after long rides, how to use Strava and other apps to find rides, download/upload maps, build and execute workouts using technology, gear and tire pressure for different conditions, clothing options for changing weather, how to fix a flat and other minor bike repairs, how to make cycling friends and find group rides and races, and honestly, how to not get hurt or stranded in the middle of no-where. It turns out that there’s a lot to know about preparing for an event like the Boise Gravel Gala. I’ve stopped saying “oh anybody can do it!” and also stopped apologizing for how hard it is. That’s gravel riding in Boise – I can’t change it. But I’ve also tried to make doing Gala more accessible, not just for my brothers. If you’re Gala-curious, check out our website (www.boisegravelgala.com) and insta (@boisegravelgala). We are putting on clinics and group rides for women and doing two-for-one pricing for women. We want you there! 

Written by Ami Stuart

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