Clarks TT Experiment

As reported earlier, today I had good time trial up Clarks that resulted in a time of 12:37 - more than 3 minutes better than my first / previous time and moving me up from the bottom spot (at the time that was 16th) to 12th. But the pecking order doesn't interest me as much as the fact that I never imagined I could get a 12 minute time. I was hoping to at least get in the 14s, and held out a sliver of hope for the 13s. So I'm thrilled with my 12:37 time.

Here's how it went down. I'd had a nice ride on the mountain bike on the trails in American Fork Canyon yesterday and felt pretty good. This morning I thought about doing the Clarks TT, but wondered if the ride yesterday had left me less than fresh today. But when lunch time rolled around I decided to head over to Clarks and see how I felt.

I started up the bottom of the trail and felt good enough that by the time I arrived at the bridge (the official start) I'd decided to give it a shot. I clipped into both pedals with one arm leaning against the rail then hit Start on my stop watch and off I went.

My heart rate shot up quick and I was panting hard within 20 seconds. I didn't expect to be working this hard so soon. I thought "this isn't a good sign", but kept going anyway.

The bottom was a little rough from horse hooves, but not bad. I threaded past the root nubs and rocks, trying to keep my speed up. The lower third of the trail worked me pretty good and I was concerned because I knew it gets steeper in the middle section.

Then I hit the section where the grade kicks up a good notch - in the trees. It hurt! Not a pain like getting hit or cut, but an oppressive and extreme discomfort that screams "Stop!" There were only two choices: stop, or keep going - and I clung to my determination to not stop. It rolls a bit in this section and each up was brutal. I'd stand to pump up these and have an insignificant flat before it kicked up again. I played a game of self deception: "the switchback is just over that next rise." After playing that game four times, I finally did arrive at the switchback.

I had considered checking my time earlier, but dismissed the thought, reasoning that I was going as hard as I could and knowing the time wouldn't motivate me much, but had a good chance of demotivating me. But at the switchback I glanced at the time. 10 minutes! I could hardly believe it. I got excited that I might get a really good time here.

After the switchback I told myself it wasn't as steep from here to the top. Another lie I told myself. It was a tiny bit easier, but hardly detectable. Under duress, I pushed on - encouraged by the time check. I made it past the fence where they close the gate when the trail is muddy. Then a little dip and the last steep slope. It's fairly short, but my exhaustion was catching up to me at this point and it looked forever long. I kept going, staying to the smoother and non-loose left edge of the trail. I made the top of this slope and knew I had it, but there was still 30-40 yards to go.

Down a little dip I noticed I was catching a mountain biker - the first person I'd seen on the trail. He looked at me oddly, then scooted up the trail. I crossed the dip and start up the bend around the stand of scrub oak. I was nearly spent and had to will myself sternly to keep pushing, telling myself I was almost done. I rounded the corner and saw the three signs close up ahead. I gave it what little I had left and after I passed the 3rd sign I braked and hit the stopwatch.


I could hardly believe it. But before I could consider it further, I laid down my bike and myself. I flopped on my back and lay there panting for a good 2 minutes. I closed my eyes and felt like I was spinning and tumbling. Finally my heart rate and breathing dropped enough I felt like standing. I got up, leaned my bike against the sign and took a picture.

And now it's time to reveal the crazy secret:

Yep, I took my road bike up Clarks. Not a cyclocross bike - a regular road bike.

Let me explain. Months ago when Mark setup the Clarks TT blog and we talked about doing this time trial, I joked that I should try it on my road bike since the trail was pretty smooth and my road bike was the lightest bike I have (I only have two bikes). We laughed about it, but that's when the crazy seed was planted.

Then yesterday I was talking with Mike at the UMB shop and we got on the subject of time trials. He had done the Clarks TT with Todd two days ago when Todd set the new record of 9:49 (the first time under 10 minutes). Mike had a decent time, but felt he could do better. Mike noted that we had similar times up American Fork Canyon so he suggested that maybe the weight of my mountain bike was to blame for my slow Clarks TT time. That's when I decided I had to at least try TTing Clark on my road bike.

I rode from work (near the prison) to Clarks. I took it easy, but didn't feel strong on the climbs. I arrived at the Coyote Hollow Court trail head and decided to at least see what the road bike felt like on the trail. So I shifted to my lowest gear (little ring of my triple) and started up the trail. It was a pretty tall gear, but the lighter bike felt pretty good. I was surprised how well the slick, skinny (23) road tires gripped the trail. Even standing up to pedal the rear slipped only a little. I hadn't put air in the tires for a few weeks so I knew they were a bit low and seemed about right (I checked and they were both around 80 psi). So when I reached the bridge I had decided to give it a try.

The bottom part was the roughest and I thought the tires would skip over the bumps and cause me to loose a lot of energy, but it wasn't bad. I was careful to thread trough the rocks and roots for fear of a pinch flat. Because of careful steering, and some luck, I didn't get a flat. (Note: The more work the climb became, the harder it was to steer well.)

While the lighter bike surely helped, I feel the bigger factor was the tall gear. I only had two choices: keep going or stop. I had no lower gears to bail me out and let me go easier. I was basically forced to keep turning that big gear and that equaled speed. But it hurt (extreme discomfort)! I was breathing very hard on the lower section, but full on panting from the middle to the top. I can't remember the last time I was this maxed out on the bike. I remember thinking, "this better be a descent time because I am NOT doing this again!"

Another interesting thing - at the top my legs weren't totally shot. They were tired, but I didn't even have rubber legs. I can only conclude that currently I'm limited by aerobic capacity, not leg strength.

OK, the rest of the story. You may be wondering what it's like to take a road bike DOWN Clarks. Well, I didn't find out. I considered it - I could go really slow and probably be fine. And I'd had the foresight to wear my mountain bike shoes so if the bike slipped there was a good chance I'd catch myself. But it seemed better to head for Traverse Ridge road and take pavement back.

I started off on the gravel road and it was pretty easy going. I even crossed a little flow of water. I followed the road to the base of the paved road, 50-60 feet above me. I shouldered my bike and hiked up the the steep dirt slope, stopping a few times to catch my breath. At the top I lower my bike over the guard rail, got on and climbed the last 100 yards or so to the 4-way intersection at the top.

I zipped down the north side - even hitting 51 mph on the S curve. Yeah, I was feeling good. As I pedaled back to work I felt more and more excited at what I had done. I'd pushed hard, endured the pain and came out with a result far better than I had hoped. I was on a high for the rest of the day.

P.S. Mike tried the Clarks TT less than an hour after I did it and hit his goal of an 11 minute time. Congrats!


StupidBike said...

now you have gone and started another challenge.

I am Matt said...

Way to add a twist to the ride. Congrats again.

Andy H. said...

Now you're starting to feel the love of the 29er Hard Tail. Even if it was a road bike you get the idea. Slick 29er tires grip as well as nobby 26ers and you dont need suspention for anything but the roughest trails.

bradkeyes said...

My suspicions are confirmed, you are indeed insane.

KanyonKris said...

Thank you for the comments, especially Brad. I'm not sure why it pleases me to be labeled insane, but it does. Coming from Brad, a man who enjoys riding fully-rigid retro single-speed, it feels like praise and validation (of insanity?) to me.

UtRider said...

Be careful, seeking Brad's praise will inevitably see you riding a rigid ss yourself!

KanyonKris said...

If that's where my destiny leads, so be it.

Grizzly Adam said...

Nice! At first I thought maybe you used a cross bike. The gear phenomenon you discovered is exactly why SSers go so fast. There are two speeds on an SS: fast and walking.

When I first started riding the SS I was very surprised at how hard I could push the gear.

If you ever want to try my SS just holler. Just promise you will give it back! :)

KanyonKris said...

andy & adam - it was a bit of a revelation to essential ride a fully-rigid single-speed 29er.

I was amazed that the skinny tires didn't slip more, but Clark's is a pretty buffed trail - still the larger wheels helped.

I'm not sold on single-speed. I was able to push that tall gear, but it hurt and I don't know if I want to be in pain like that very often.

I'm toying with the idea of building up a 29er hard tail. And I could convert it to single-speed with an idler pulley to take up the chain slack. Chris Holley runs this setup and seems happy with it.

Andy H. said...

Do it! Motobecane has some good deals on 29er HT's or maybe BK could get you in touch with the right people at Vassago. A nice, light, fast bike may even get you excited about racing again.

Anonymous said...

700c rims w/ road tires have the same circumference as 26" rims w/ mt. tires. Your record breaking TT was revolutionary not because you were rollin' on bigger wheels but because you were essentially using 200 gram 26" mt. bike tires with very little RR on hard pack. Congrats on your new record and for thinking outside the box. Christian

KanyonKris said...

Christian - right you are! I'd read that 29er wheels and based on 700c road wheels, but the much taller side wall of MTB tires makes a big difference in circumference, as you noted. Thanks for pointing that out.