Should I push forward to test my limit, or should I take it slow and savor the trip?
Bikesystem Rides 500 was the cycling event I was looking forward to the most in 2022; it was the perfect event to test my ultra-endurance capacity. In 2021, the same event had revealed my weaknesses and mistakes as a newbie. In 2022, I looked forward to see if I had improved.
Should I push forward to test my limit, or should I take it slow and savor the trip? Eventually, I decided to take the middle ground.
Right from the start in Bikesystem at 5.15, I settled at constant endurance pace, periodically chewing and sipping on the move, but allowed myself extra stops for seated proper meals. I also didn’t hesitate to stop just to take some pictures along the road, though by the end, I didn’t take much. Being all alone for the most part of the road, I found myself enjoying the pedaling rhythm in solitude. Cool weather and consistent tailwind certainly helped…
Unlike previous year, I managed to keep constant speed and good mood instead of faltering after 200 km—consistent endurance training made huge difference! After stopping by McD in Cirebon for a takeaway burger, I reached checkpoint 1 in Espace Cirebon, km 271, at 6 pm—one hour ahead of expected schedule. With the night still early, I decided to join @faizbolkiah and @bhaktimr to ride further to a motel in Kuningan, km 300. With tires legs, climbing to Kuningan was tough; dealing with it on first day, however, meant less climb to tackle on the second day…
It was what defined the second half of 2022 Bikesystem Rides 500’s route. While the 2021 route had around 3,800 m of climbs, the 2022 route had around 5,400 m—3,300 m of which was stacked on the last 225 km of it.
The first major one was 28 km, 600 m ascent of Cirebon-Kuningan climb. It was particularly laborous because few riders and I tackled it on first day’s night, with tired legs after 272 km ride. It was, however, the lightest among the three major climbs.
The second was also the toughest: the 7 km, 550 m ascent of Jahim Pass. I reached the base at 6 am, when the mist was still lingering. With some section’s gradient went as steep as 20%, pushing the bike uphill on foot was a challenge in itself. The sweeping mist in surrounding peaks, however, had me standing in awe from time to time, captivated by faint glimpse of its otherworldly silence between my own labored breathing…
The climb eventually turned to descent, and the following rolling road brought us to Tasikmalaya. It was here the third major climb awaited: the 30 km, 750 m ascent of Tasik-Garut Pass. While nowhere as steep as Jahim Pass, the long, rolling road with punchy climbs had me occasionally cursing from halfway through. Eventually, patience brought me to its peak. And from there, none was quite as tough anymore; even the climbs from checkpoint 2 in Hanjuang Garut to Bandung—including the infamous Nagrek Pass climb—were relatively easy to tackle. Even maintaining 30 km/h on Rancaekek flat was enjoyable instead of a hard work.
I finished in just a shy below 38 hours, despite extra 1 hour rest at checkpoint 2. It was significant time improvement compared to last year’s 42 hours (39.5 hours without the tire puncture drama), despite the fact that the 2022 route featured more climbs. What’s more important, however, was the fact that I finished feeling tired, but not drained to the bones.
Few quick notes about the bike:
For 2022 route I still rode the same Surly Midnight Special steel allroad bike, the same 650b wheels, and the same 42t x 11-46t 1x gearing—the same setup I had always ridden for the past 2.5 years. I used the same Aptonia aerobar I had used a year before; it might not look great, it added significant weight that affected the bike’s steering response, but I really didn’t want to miss the comfort it provided on a long-distance ride.
There was slight change in bags setup, however. I still used the same 5L Zefal Z Adventure R5 saddlebag, which I truly love for its reliability, stability, and waterproofness. With more compact packing, I used a smaller toptube bag, and dropped the frame bag. Looking back, retaining the frame bag would have been a better idea; it would have enabled me to carry more on-bike snacks than overstuffing the jersey pocket allowed me to.
The bigger change came with the tires; the Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H (review coming soon!) rolled about 3% faster compared to the WTB Byway it had replaced. The biggie, however, was the tubeless setup. In 2021, a stray paperclip punctured my front tire, and forced me to deal with it in the dark, under the rain, alone, for almost 3 hours. In 2022, another same-sized stray paperclip punctured my rear tire, but there was no drama; in fact, I only found it out, logged between the tire treads, when I was cleaning the bike, a day after I finished. Even when I plucked it out, the sealant quickly plugged the hole with virtually no air loss. After seeing some fellow riders struggled with tire punctures along the road, I’m fully sold on tubeless setup for ultra-endurance ride.
The biggest inspiration from 2022 Bikesystem Rides 500—at least for me—is this guy.
With flat-barred folding bike, baggy shirt, casual cargo short, and a pair of flat sandal, he stood out among others with fancy bikes and tight-fitting outfits. I remembered seeing him for the first time on the start line, and thought to myself, “is he joking?”
Apparently, he wasn’t.
He finished an hour ahead of me—the third finisher overall. Granted, it wasn’t a race, and if I didn’t extend my rest an hour in checkpoint 2, we would’ve finished together. After all, we rode pretty much together from checkpoint 1 all the way to Tasikmalaya, and I know our average speed was pretty much equal (he left me on his folding bike’s dust on Jahim Pass climb, though). Regardless, the fact remains: he finished well ahead many others, who were struggling despite riding much fancier, optimized bikes.
One among of my reasons to push forward on this trip, was to show that a heavy steel bike with wide tires would be just as fine as those skinny-tired, carbon-fibre bikes in ultra-endurance setting. That point has been rendered moot now; a humble, small-wheeled folding bike that finished well ahead of most participants, is a much better story to tell.
Truth be told, I have been contemplating about switching to skinnier 700c tires and 2x gearing to improve my bike’s average speed. Now that I’ve seen a humble folding bike does more than just fine on long rides, I began wondering if making the switch would be a wise investment, especially since they don’t come cheap.
I’m not saying that fancy bikes don’t matter. On shorter-race setting that involves sprinting, aero and weight penalty could mean failure to stand on the podium. And in general riding setting, a fancy bike just feels nice to ride. But in most circumstances, it’s wrong to think a better bike would allow us to go significantly faster and further. Most probably, the problem is not the bike; most probably, the problem is the engine—us.
Cycling Trip Stats:
- Distance: 503.1 km
- Total Ascent: 5,365 m
- Max Elevation: 1,126 m asl
- % Unpaved: 0%
- % Singletrack: 0%
- % Rideable time: 100%