One Gear, No Fear: Kyle’s Singlespeed Tips

Mud. Cold. Rain. Snow. Countless hills and one of the most competitive fields in the country. You wouldn’t think any racer would possibly want to make the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge harder. Then, deep into the race, you realize the guy or gal sprinting up every hill is doing it with just one gear. Singlespeeders are some of the toughest riders in the woods, and they’d tell you going without a derailleur isn’t much harder, just a different kind of hard. We check-in with Singlespeed wizard/legend/good dude Kyle Macdermaid on why not shifting holds so much attraction and the best ratio for the drag race between Kalkaska and Traverse City. 

It’s been a few years since I have raced Iceman Singlespeed, (but man do I miss it sometimes.) Many people believe SS is a lot harder than running gears, but to me, it’s never seemed that much harder. It’s harder at times and easier at others. SS forces you to use momentum, use your fellow riders (find a wheel when you’re at 120rpm and tuck in) and works as a natural rev limiter. On fast sections, you are forced to draft, or just rest a bit as you only have so much gear. Yes, the hills are going to be a battle, but you attack them and run if you have to.

The big question with SS is always, gearing, gearing, gearing. What gearing are you running? How many gear inches are you pushing today? What’s your gain ratio brah? For Iceman, my plan has always been to run a couple of hills. Event 1 is almost always a run unless you hit it really clear in your wave, as people slow down too much for an SS rider to make it up in the sand. I would plan on potentially having to run the top of Make It Stick if need be, and I always plan on running Anita’s. I made Anita’s once on 36×16 and it was some of the worst race strategies I’ve ever had. That level of effort, especially late in the race was akin to a race-finishing all-out-sprint effort, and I completely exploded at the top. I pulled 10 seconds back on the person I was chasing (Collin Snyder) but lost more than a minute from the top of Anita’s to the finish as I was so blown up.

Okay, as to my actual gearing advice for Iceman:

If you are a general racer, just looking to finish with a good time, I would suggest dropping one tooth in the rear over typical go to singletrack gearing. If you ride 2:1 or 34×17 normally, go to 34×16 for iceman.

If you are looking to podium Iceman in SS, (and it’s not a mud year) you are going to need a taller gear. I would say a minimum of 62 gear inches (or 36×16 on a 29er.) If you are really shooting for the win, you might be able to squeak it on 62 gear inches if you can really spin, but something like 64 or 65 would be better. If I were racing SS this year, I’d be on 37×16, running a 29×2.2 tire.

Some single gear race advice:

-You really need to work with your geared brethren. Even if you are running a big gear (64+ gear inches) you are going to be spinning out on fast sections like Sands Lakes Road, parts of the VASA, etc. If possible, try to latch on to a good group of geared riders during the flat/fast sections, (even if you have to sit up for a couple of seconds so they bridge to you.) Stay in the draft and then jump to the front of them when you hit the hills as they’ll probably dump gears and slow you down.

-Run Anita’s. Yes, it’s possible to make it up it, but run it.

And remember, even if some geared people beat you, (which they will) you’re still cooler as you did it on one gear.

Need help with your gearing? Check out this handy gear calculator to determine your set-up, or see your range with your current gears, too.

Drop Bars: Good Idea, Bad Idea, GREAT Idea?

Drop Bars: Good Idea, Bad Idea, GREAT Idea?

Last year, Geoff Kabush won the 29th edition of the Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge. This was no surprise. The kind of bike he won it on did, however, raise some eyebrows. 

Riding the Iceman on drops bars isn’t new; we’ve seen plenty of riders brave the course on cyclocross and gravel bikes over the years, with varying degrees of success. For racers with plenty of experience on skinny tires and the handling skills to throw themselves through sandpits and come out the other side upright, it can actually be an advantage to have bigger gears and a more aerodynamic position on the bike. 

New kinds of bikes are making drop bars more and more realistic for races like Iceman. With tire clearance for 650b wheels and 2.25” tires, they’re essentially putting mountain bike wheels on gravel or road bikes. Our course doesn’t offer rocky, rough terrain that demands suspension, and if you can do a dozen push-ups, you’re probably strong enough to meet the rigors of splashing down a few tree roots, even if your teeth chatter. 

We’ve already heard a ton of people talking about riding drop bars this year, and Kabush’s win last year is definitely a big factor behind the renewed interest. It’s something I’ve done plenty of times on Out’n’Backs and, I’ll admit, I loved having the big gears and smaller tires barrelling down Sand Lakes Road en route to the start in Kalkaska. 

My very first Iceman I decided to race the Pro wave, mostly due to spending a good fifteen hours the day before manning our booth at the SRAM Ice Cycle Expo all Friday. Pros have the luxury of sleeping in a bit! I lined up dead last, hoping to stay out of the way. I was the only rider on a cyclocross bike; next to me, coincidentally, was the first rider to ever to do the Pro race on a fat bike. Less than five miles in, I hit a root so hard that it bent by rim and the brake pad (and these were cantilever, remember those?) got stuck against under the rim. After a few minutes I got the wheel rolling, although the brake was ruined. At the very least, I was moving, but spent the rest of the day battling that fat bike not to get last. 

Since then, I’ve done the course on everything from 35mm cyclocross tires to thick, meaty 2.25” Thunderburts with drop bars, very similar to Kabush’s winning set-up. It is so fast on the open sections of the course, and if you have the right gearing, you won’t suffer at all on the climbs or descents. Where drop bars hurt you is when you don’t get to decide where to ride. Riding in a big bunch or group means you’re constantly switching lines, whether by design or at the mercy of a fellow rider. It’s in those moments where having a rigid bike makes you pay more; the speed-robbing root, bouncing through loose sand or along a deep rut. Suspension is really forgiveness, and with drop bars and your weight over the front of the bike, you pay for every single mistake. 

Can you race Iceman on drop bars? Totally. First, fit the biggest tires you can into your bike; most traditional cyclocross bikes can fit a maximum tire width between 38 and 43mm. Some can fit a 650c wheel with 27.5” mountain bike tires; that’s the way to go if you can! Get out as often as you can and work on your handling skills, and give the course plenty of recon rides to know where you want to be in each section. Additionally, ride the wrong lines, too, so you’re ready to recover from bobbles on race day. Can you win Iceman on drop bars? Well, are you Geoff Kabush?

The Top Secret Formula For Wave Assignments REVEALED!

The Top Secret Formula For Wave Assignments REVEALED!

It’s September and we haven’t had any need to dig out the shoe covers yet! Rest assured, the chill will descend on the Midwest soon, and you can expect to spend an extra ten minutes digging through bins and closets for your warmers, booties, covers, and coats. That first ride in the cold, in a misty rain, with squealing brakes and a generous deposit of sand coated on your chain; it’s a sign of the season. 

Just as important, and perhaps just as exciting, are two crucial dates for our races. First, transfers close on October 11. We really appreciate everyone who has transferred out so far, and we encourage you to do so if you aren’t going to make it. That $20 fee goes to support Norte Youth Cycling and the Grand Rapids Dirt Dawgs, two really cool programs that get kids on bikes. Additionally, you’re making a spot for another rider to race Iceman. For riders who have done this dance a time or two, it may not seem as big of a deal, but cast your mind back to your first timing lining up in Kalkaska; you won’t ever forget it. 

The second date is October 18, which is the latest date we hope to have wave assignments ready. Riders tend to think of wave assignments as a sort of Harry Potter-esque Sorting Hat; everybody wants to be in Gryffindor, everyone thinks they should be in Gryffindor, and a wave that isn’t to your liking is like getting Hufflepuff. (Sorry, Hufflepuff). If you don’t get this metaphor, ask your kids. 

First off, we hope you know that we spend a lot of time trying to get these wave assignments right. Over the years, we’ve adopted two formulas to put people where they should be, both from a competitive standpoint and from a safety stand point. Having riders of vastly different abilities and speeds on the same square foot of trail is the riskiest business, and it isn’t fun for either party. 

It all starts with the following:

Rider with past results:

Average overall place for up to the last 5 years, then doubling your best place of those results. Then those results are ranked and split up into the waves. The first 4 waves have 150 riders per wave, then the remaining waves have 80 per wave to allow room to manually move or place riders as needed.

Riders without past results, but with Strava data:

Strava riders are ranked by their total activity scores for the year. They are then placed by rank after the past results rider waves.

Using your five-year average helps us remove your worst results, whether it be a bad day, a bad mechanical, or season where you just didn’t get to train to your normal standards. We double your best result so that it makes the most of your very best day. 

For riders without a result or Strava data, we have a number of waves dedicated to specific age groups based on average and best finish times. 

The best way to influence your starting position is to race Iceman, but it isn’t the only way. There is certainly some element of ‘pay your dues’ to the system, but we take a lot of pride in working with races to look at their Training Score and helping them find a wave they will have a great experience being in. 

The other question we get a lot is how the Training Score is determined. Trust us, this took a ton of thought, trial and error, and tweaks to get right. The formula is as follows:

( Distance (Miles) + Total Elevation (Feet) + Moving Time (Minutes) ) / 20

A lot of riders say that you can skew the score by riding far, or climbing a lot, or riding a long time; the reality is that if you’re going big in any one of those categories, it’ll pay off. It’s not perfect, but it’s the same for everyone, and that makes it pretty darn fair. My tip? I took a look at my normal training ride and found it to have a Score of 80; that’s 90 minutes of riding, with 1,474 feet of climbing, and 30.8 miles. That’s a pretty doable ride for anyone, and if you need to knock off a little climbing, it won’t kill the score. Hopefully, that gives you some perspective on where your training is. 

As we ease into wave assignments, we’ve got a few things that will help make it go smooth. If you ride for a team or club, consider compiling all of your wave requests into a single email so we can process them all at once and do so with a few less emails to chase. Second, include a link to your Training Activity page so we can look at it without searching. Finally, relax. We’re going to do our best for you, and no matter what wave you end up in, you can still have a great race and a really good time. The course is fast, open, and challenging; we feel confident that by the time you hit Timber Ridge, you’ll be tired and ahead of every single rider you deserve to be ahead of. 

Questions? Let us know via email IcemanInfo@iceman.com and remember, we won’t be able to change your wave assignment until after they’re assigned. Until then, get training…and maybe take a second to look for your knee warmers right now!

Course Notes: Head(waters) For The Hills

Course Notes: Head(waters) For The Hills

Part of the fun of Iceman is that course is never the same. Even if 80% of the traditional 30 miles remains unchanged, we’ve always found a way to keep the remaining 20% exciting, fresh, and tough. This is is my first year designing the route that will bring over five thousand riders from Kalkaska to Traverse City, and it’s the new section that really embodies everything about our goals for 2019. 

Skiers know it, and so do plenty of trail runners and hikers. But mention ‘Headwaters’ or ‘the 5k’ to a mountain biker, and you get about a 50/50 split on them knowing what you’re talking about. I’ve been obsessed with this section of trail for a few years now. In our weekly Speed of Light ‘fake’ race in Traverse City, I’ve never been able to figure out a good, safe way to include it because there just wasn’t a starting spot that made sense. All winter, we ski Headwaters when we need a tough workout, and I try to ride it as often as I can. 

One of my goals for the 30th edition of the race was to make the race exactly 30 miles, but no matter how I routed it, I couldn’t get my perfect “30 For 30” to match up. Finally, it hit me! I need about three miles and, since my limited metric conversion skills could handle it, I had my 5k! 

It made more than sense when I thought about it beyond the arithmetic, too. This summer, Traverse Area Recreational Trails and Northern Michigan Mountain Bike Association got to work on a two-mile Skill Building Trail at the Bartlett Trailhead. This two mile section is designed for kids and beginners to have a safe, accessible way to rip laps right from the trailhead. The trail reaches almost to Headwaters, and there’s singletrack that lets riders hop from the Skills Trail to Headwaters. It’s a natural progression that beginner riders will incorporate Headwaters into their riding as a bridge to longer, more challenging rides. 

Headwaters is really a series of hills, with two distinct peaks. Some of these trails are sandy, and we’re going to direct more of our trailwork to improving trails we have and can easily access, rather than cutting short trails that will only be used a few weeks per year for racers pre-riding the course. We want to make Headwaters a part of where we ride all year long! 

The final motivation was to make even more space in the final 5 miles to pass. For 90% of the field, the last twenty minutes of Iceman is a wild mix of passing and being passed, and even on wide trail, that can be tough, especially if you’re in a group of riders in a similar speed. Elevation is the ultimate selection; by the time you hit the finish line, Headwaters and the hills that follow are going to have you ahead of who you should be ahead of, and behind who you should be behind. There’s no hiding, but there’s plenty of space and time to get around people on these hills. 

And it’s going to make for one incredible finale, too. The entire section is six feet ride or more, with a number of short and steep climbs. It’s not just an ideal launching pad, it’s a series of ideal launching pads that will see the race leaders throw attack after attack at each other, albeit it with about 26 miles of tough racing in their legs already! Because it’s so close to the Bartlett Trailhead, it’s going to be a great place to spectate, and if I had a choice, that’s exactly where I’d be to watch the first waves and the Pro race come through. My bold prediction? This year, even the fastest riders will hit Timber Ridge in ones and twos. 

That’s because the climbing doesn’t stop with Headwaters. Riders then hit the Vasa CC Climb plus a few little top-secret wrinkles near the finish. The numbers tell the story; over 25% of the races total elevation gain comes in the final four miles! Don’t let that intimidate you, though; it just means the first twenty-six miles are easy, right?

You can check out Headwaters on Strava here.

May Ice Society Leaderboard: How Do You Stack Up?

May Ice Society Leaderboard: How Do You Stack Up?

May is prime time to rack up some miles, and the Ice Society sure got out and rode!

Our integrated Ice Society training leaderboard is a cool way to see how your training measures up to other Iceman racers around the state and around the world. All you need to do is link up your Strava account with your Iceman account and you’ll start showing up on the list. It’s always interesting to watch as training ramps up with the improving weather, and May saw a big jump in activities!

Paul Dodd was the lone rider to break the 4,000 point mark, with Markus Stumpp and our own race director Cody Sovis making up the top three. Those points are calculated based on miles, ride time, elevation gain, and effort level, offering up a pretty neat way to quantify riding of all kinds.

Two Iceman winners made the top ten, with Brian Matter at 3,028 points. Chloe Woodruff slid in the top ten, but did it was one very important distinction; some of her points came from a UCI Mountain Bike Short Track World Cup victory at Nove Mesto! She paired with Kate Courtney to give the US women three World Cup wins to kick off the season, the first victories in twenty years for American women. That’s a milestone for sure; we’re trying to figure out how to double the points from that ride!

To see the whole leaderboard, and see how you stack up in your age group or race category, just head to the Training Activity leaderboard and dive into the data!