Lei Liu // Triple Epic

The Bay Area Epic rides are hard. Finding time to sit down and write the report is even harder.

In order to get myself prepared for the Leadville 100 MTB ride, I have been doing long rides every weekend since the beginning of 2022. Route planning becomes a weekly thing because I try to be creative to make the long ride mentally more acceptable. Well, the 2022 bay area epic series has solved the problems four times in one shot, including one pre-ride in Feb.

The Mini Epic was done in the first week of April, as a warm up event for the Sea Otter 80K XC race. Because of that, I picked my XC mountain bike (Specialized Epic), put on new 2.4 width tires, and prepared nutritions like I was doing a 4~5 hour bike race, just to make sure that I could dial in the setup. Since I’ve done this route many times in the past, it was actually quite uneventful. I hoped I could clear the whole Skyline & Saratoga Gap trails without a foot down, but I got upset that I was caught by roots twice. Most of the singletracks were narrow and twisty, so when I was riding, I thought I would never ride a gravel bike on them. The ride ended short of my planned workout time, and I did some extra pedaling on Quito to make it up.

Even though I believed I would not ride my gravel bike (Trek Checkpoint) for the Big Epic, I actually did it because I was so curious to find out how capable a gravel bike could be. One thing I loved about my gravel bike was that there were three bottle cages and one bento box mount, thus I didn't even need to carry my hydration pack. With the 700x38c tires, the gravel bike was as fast as a road bike on the beginning flat section, all the way to the Quicksilver entrance. Thanks to the lightweight and rigidness, the gravel bike also apparently climbed faster than a XC mountain bike, on EVERY uphill section: Woods, Black Rd - JNT, Sunny Jim, and Bella Vista. However, it made me struggle on the technical downhills. Initially I was riding cautiously because I didn’t want to crash, then very soon I realized I had to go slow or my 38c tires would give up. I got a front tire flat in the Kennedy descent, but it was sealed by itself. The second one wasn’t that lucky because it was a pinch flat in the Stevens Canyon trail. I used two CO2 cartridges and borrowed a pump, but still, the tire didn’t hold air. Well, fortunately I had tire inserts, which allowed me to run flat tire to the finish. After the ride I made some adjustments to my gravel bike: replaced tires with 700x45c so it would handle trails better, and ordered a dropper post so my back would be thankful.

The Grand Epic was a true challenge. Its distance and elevation gain was very similar to the Leadville 100, so I switched back to my XC mountain bike to test the gear, the pacing, and the nutrition. I tucked myself into an aero position on the roads, and locked my fork as often as possible, so I wouldn’t lose much time to the “virtual myself on a gravel bike”. I optimized my pacing strategy to minimize the overall time, by riding close to but under the threshold power on all the climbs, and staying in the endurance zone as long as I was turning the cranks. Expecting to ride around 9 hours, I forced myself to intake sufficient Calories every hour. Extra bonus, doing mental math on Calories following a timer did make the stretched ride structured and easier. Compared to my gravel Big Epic ride, doing the Grand on a mountain bike was so much more fun, because I was able to enjoy all the singletracks & downhills, and I could recover deep from hard efforts. Needless to mention that my hands, wrists, and back were kept happy for the entire ride. I believed I could finish the ride sub-9 hours, until my Garmin told me to make a U-turn in the Fremont Older for another small loop, while I was flying down toward the Prospect Parking lot. With nothing left in the tank, I did 227 W NP for the entire 9 hour 11 minute ride, and burned 7021 Cal. This was totally unimaginable to me even a few months ago. Painful workouts have paid off!

Thank you Dave for organizing the Bay Area Epic again. I have already put the 2023 Epic on my todo list.