DO NOT Race the El Bandito.
Yeah, you read that right. DO NOT RACE this Saturday’s El Bandito (Race #1 in the Substance Projects Stuporcross).
I’ve devoted some time to this, and I just don’t think it’s a good idea. Here are FIVE reasons why YOU should NOT race the El Bandito:
- Northumberland County: Have you visited Northumberland County? It’s littered with picturesque farms and beautiful rolling hills. Who wants to ride through that kind of place? I mean, you’re going to have to ride by cows pretty streams, and gorgeous vistas. Ugh.
- Substance Projects: Yeah, Substance Projects. There is nothing worse than going to a race and being greeted by the Substance Projects family. Dan Marshall and his family (staff and actual family) are just too friendly and welcoming. Dan’s mom is going to smile, Dan’s father might talk to you, and Dan might even know your name. Who wants that? Not me. I’d rather go to a race, pay my registration fee to a humourless attendant, never engage with the organizers, and be a faceless, nameless “number plate only” participant. Yeah, give me more anonymity!
- The Course: It’s just going to be too hard (See #1 re: “hills”). Why would anyone want the challenge of something difficult. If Millennials have taught me anything, it’s that when something is tough, you probably shouldn’t do it. Sweat doesn’t actually do anything except make your clothes wet, trembling muscles and sore legs all day Saturday aren’t good if you want to play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament on Sunday afternoon–especially if Carrey is bringing his vintage hibachi. (Note, I am not playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament on Sunday. I don’t even know what Ultimate Frisbee is.). Seriously, who wants to spend a few hours slogging their way through a course that promises to be difficult, hard, and just not easy? Plus, they’re probably going to have fully stocked aid stations and a meal at the end of the race. One word: eww.
- People: Has anyone in the history of cycling ever chosen to ride with a bunch of cool, bike minded people. Why is this even a thing? No sir, not for me, no thanks. Why ride with people that you might have to talk to, when you can ride alone and savour the loneliness of a long distance ride in the absence of a riding community.
- Inagural: It’s the first time for this event. That means racers will be part of SOMETHING cool. That’s just a whole bunch of nope. Being part of an inagural race means that for the the rest of the season, racers will have to boast to their friends and explain how awesome it was. “What, you weren’t at the El Bandito? Well, let me tell you how amazing it was and how cool I am for doing it…”. No way. If I’ve learned anything about cyclists, it’s that they hate talking about their cycling experiences–especially when it’s a new or exclusive thing.
Okay, fine. this is all just a ploy to ensure YOU won’t do the El Bandito, because I really want to do the El Bandito, and I won’t be there. I’ m too sick to race, and I don’t want to miss out. It’s called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), and I have it real bad.
For some reason, I do body functions big. I just do. When I sneeze, windows rattle; When I cough, flocks of birds take flight; and when I get a summer cold, I really get a summer cold. I’ve been sidelined in bed for almost two weeks. Yay summer. The quantity of phlegm, mucus, sputum, and snot originating in, and being expelled from, my body is remarkable. Worse, I can’t sleep, and I’ve spent most of the last 14 days too tired to function.
And so, instead of racing the coolest race of the season (and probably the decade, and maybe even the century), I’ll be home, rattling windows, scaring birds, and hacking my way through another Sudoku.
If you are going to race the El Bandito–although I don’ t know why after reading my comprehensive list of reasons NOT to, here are some tips.
I went on a scouting mission with Dan Marshall a few weeks ago (before the onset of the plague that has befallen me), and experienced some of the worst the course has to offer.
The sections we rode were crushingly hard: All climb, all sand, all RAW, and every bit awesome. Honestly, the sections we rode were cycling nirvana. While there is no actual singletrack in the course, some of the double track comes pretty close…and nothing beats sweet doubletrack…and nothing beats a long stretch of gravel…and nothing beats some…and nothing beats road, asphalt, poison ivy-lined trail, rock-strewn path, and so on. The El Bandito has it all and the El Bandito is going to be awesome.
Disclaimer: Dan has driven every inch of the course in his car. True story.
There has been a bit of discussion online about bike and tire choice. Nobody knows which bike to ride. Is it a gravel race? An MTB race? A CX race? A sailing regatta? So riders are left wondering whether they should ride their hardtail, a fatbike, their cross bike, or their new Salsa Hammer Claw (I think it’s actually called a Warbird, but whatever). This means whichever bike you choose, it’ll be the wrong one, and riders will have to suffer through their bike choice throughout the entire race.
And don’t even get me started on tires…
It’s a bike race. Plain and simple, it’s a race, on a bike. A dude always races P2A on a unicycle, and there were two riders who tag-teamed the 24 Hour on unicycles, so if your bike has two wheels, you’re fine. Although if it has only one wheel, you’re probably going to beat me, because the P2A unicycle dude, and the 24 Hour unicycle dudes all beat my times. Maybe that’s my problem, my OTHER wheel is really holding me back…
When Dan and I scouted, I was on my Norco Threshold (a CX bike) with 33mm tires. It probably wasn’t the bike of choice, and I could probably use wider tires, but I survived. If 250 pounds of Team Colin can make it on THAT bike, and if 250 pounds of Team Colin can make it on THOSE tires–especially when he’s dogging an epic cold–whichever bike you choose will be fine.
Here’s a video clip of our scouting mission.
And another clip.
As Barry Cox said in his course review for the Lapdogs Cycling Club (READ IT ALL AT THE END OF THIS POST. SERIOUSLY, READ IT), pretty much any bike is suitable: if you ride a hardtail MTB, you’ll be comfortable on the singletrack and sand, but slower on the road (gravel and paved); if you ride a gravel bike you’ll be faster on the road (gravel and paved) but slower on the singletrack; and if you ride a fatbike, you’ll be happy on everything because fatbikes are awesome.
Nicholas Leja wrote this on Facebook, and I think it captures the course.
Dan rode his Salsa Thunder Hammer Bird (Warbird), with 39mm tires, and I think the course is ideally suited for the bike. If I had a little bucket of spare money lying around (and if I didn’t have the worst cold humankind has ever experienced), I’d buy wider tires for my Threshold. However, I have a set of CX tires that I used on my hardtail at the 2016 P2A, and that would be a good choice too The terrain of the course isn’t the challenge, it’s the long stretches of sand.
Oh, and I don’t think there is a consecutive stretch longer than 100 metres that is actually flat. The area ain’t called the Northumberland Hills for nothing.
For riders who do the Eager Beaver, the The El Bandito isn’t eager or a beaver. It’s not a cross country marathon, and it’s not a CX race. It’s a looooong cross race on steroids, with a touch of madness. And it’s going to be awesome.
Will it be easy? No. Will it be worth it? Oh yeah.
PS. Unless heaven looks fondly on me and relinquishes its hold on my immune system, I won’t be there. If you are, could you please devote a section to me? Thanks in advance.
Here’s most of Barry’s review of the course for his fellow Lapdogs:
The 140k course is hard. Murderously hard.There is a steep climb within 100m of the start. Unless you are one of the first few riders off the line you will likely end up walking it. Following this is a long rocky gravel road with a washed out bridge.There are two run-ups on the 140k course. Or walk-ups. Because they are too steep to run. You may be able to rappel up, but you ain’t riding it. There is A LOT of climbing (2,000m+ on the 140). There is not much gravel but there is a lot of sandy ATV trails. Get comfortable riding in sand.If you are on a CX bike run larger volume tires (700 x 36c at least) if you can. I was on 700 x 40 Clement Xplores and I felt that they helped me in the sand and on the trails, but there is a fair amount of paved road and they may have held me back a bit there.There is no one ideal bike for this course. There are sections where I was wishing I was on my 29er hardtail. Especially the sandy sections, and a fairly long bit of singletrack and double track that runs thru Ganaraska Forest towards the end of the race. But had I been on an MTB I would have been cursing during the road sections. I think a CX bike (with bigger tires – see above) is the lesser of the two evils.Save something for the end. The second half of the course is harder than the first. Pace yourself accordingly. The views and scenery are awesome and well worth doing the race.In short, this is going to be an epic, awesome event. You probably won’t die.