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The idea of riding a bike for 24 hours or more seems like an impossible feat for those unfamiliar with the sport of ultracycling. In reality, it’s all about the right training, education, and help. One of the best ways to get your feet wet in this sport is to start with a lap race. You are cycling on a familiar road or route with set points for fueling and you have more chances to see people and chat. The people you will be chatting with and seeing the most are the real unsung heroes of the ultracycling world; Your crew. Here is some information I want to share to help lap race crew members be the best they can.
WHO SHOULD BE IN THE CREW?
This is the first question anyone should ask when attempting any ultracycling race. If you organize, you can successfully do a lap race without any help. I have seen many cyclists do that in my years helping crew. The only downsides to consider is that you will have longer stop times than a fully prepared crew, and need to make sure you know how to properly service your bike if something arises. (On a personal side note, the ultracycling community behind every race I have been to is superb and more than willing to help out if you ask. I wouldn’t leave it to chance if possible)
For those cyclists wanting to have a crew, start by asking around in your group of friends and family. It is good to have a wide selection of people you can trust. You can do lap races with one crew member, but if you can get at least two, that allows someone to always be ready for the cyclist if the other crew member needs to do something like use the restroom or sleep. You now have your list of people that are willing to help so what’s next? Here are a couple suggestions to think about when you are narrowing down your options:
What do they do for a living? The best crew members I have worked with are the ones that have jobs caring for others or who work in high-stress environments. E.g. firefighters, military, teachers, nurses, doctors, counselors, service industry, etc.
Do they have any health conditions? People that are not able to physically carry equipment, have special dietary restrictions, or need medications at a certain time throw another layer of complexity into the mix.
What is their experience? The more knowledgeable they are about bikes, nutrition, and the cyclist, the better. If they don’t have much experience, this article is a great place to start learning!
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU NEED?
Let’s start off with the bare minimum you will need, then move on to the luxuries that will make the crew and cyclist happier.
ESSENTIALS FOR LAP RACES:
ORGANIZATION: Making sure the cyclist and the crew know where everything is always leads to a more successful race.
A TABLE OR PLATFORM: The easier it is for the cyclist or crew to grab things, the better. Organization is key and I like using an adjustable folding table like this. If you don’t have that option, the trunk of a car will do.
WATER: Double check with the race organizers on whether or not you will have access to water sources and how the water tastes. If something is not to your liking you will want to make sure you bring enough water for the entire event on top of what your crew drinks. I normally stock up on 2.5 gallon Ozarka jugs with a spigot built in for easy pouring and transport. Another option is to fill up a 5-Gallon Igloo Jug before the race. (Pro Tip: Fill it up with hot water if you know it’s going to be extremely cold for most of the race. Hot tea or coffee on a freezing cold day can help keep your core temperature warm.)
CLOTHING: Prepare for any weather. You and your crew will need cycling gear for rain, heat, cold, snow, etc. I suggest also bringing an extra pair of everything if the first pair gets wet. Anything slightly uncomfortable can turn bad over many hours. Hygiene and bacteria growth are important to consider. The other thing is reflective gear for both the cyclist, the bikes, and crew. You will need reflective vests, ankle straps, belts, and tape. More information on exactly what you need will be in the rulebooks for races. You want to be a shining beacon in the dark for any vehicle or rider that passes by. Safety is always a key component of every race.
BIKE ACCESSORIES: Lights, lights, and more lights. Front and rear with long battery life and bright enough so you are visible. Always have a backup and a way to charge them or replacement batteries.
SPARE PARTS: You should first make sure that your bike is in working order by going to a local bike shop to fine-tune everything before each race. The most common mechanicals are flat tires or a broken chain so extra tubes, tire, and chain are a must. Also, don’t forget your bike pump!
FOOD: This is a personal choice and specific to the environment and needs of the cyclist. My one general suggestion is to make sure that you have enough food to replace approximately 75% of the calories burned per hour of racing. For the crew, I suggest remembering to eat or snack every three or so hours. It is easy to distract oneself and forget to eat during ultracycling races as a crew member. Low blood sugar does not look good on anyone.
If you have an interest in learning more about nutrition or prep feel free to contact me. I am more than happy to work with you. The example down below is some of what Andrew Willis ate during his first place finish at The Texas Time Trials in 2016.
LUXURIES FOR LAP RACES:
CAMPING CHAIRS: As a crew member, nothing beats sitting down in a good comfortable chair and enjoying the outdoors. I am a fan of the Coleman Quad Chair. All the extra pockets are great for storing papers or your phone and it has a cooler in the armrest! I suggest bringing an extra for the cyclist to sit in if they need it.
SHADE: I’ve been lucky enough to always have the luxury of a pop up tent for shade during those hot days or to keep me dry from rain. Make sure you have stakes or a way to secure them into the ground.
COOLERS: Extra room to store ice, cool down drinks, and keep food cold is great!
EXTRA TABLE: The more space you have to spread things out and organize, the better.
SLEEP MASK + EAR PLUGS: If you are lucky enough to have two extra crew members helping your cyclist for a 24-hour race, small things like a sleep mask or ear plugs help block out lights and extraneous noise while napping. Just make sure to have a mechanical alarm like a phone vibration or the other crew member to wake you up. I suggest taking nap cycles of either 20 or 90 minutes.
AN EXTRA BIKE: If one bike gets a flat or a mechanical, it’s a lot faster to just hop on a new bike and shove off while your crew works on the old one. If you don’t have an extra bike, an extra set of wheels with properly inflated tubes works almost as fast.
TOILETRIES: A good toothbrush and rinse at the end of the day helps keep the mouth feeling fresh for both the cycling and crew. (Pro Tip: Don’t let your cyclist use mouthwash. You don’t want to disrupt any of the enzymes or bacteria in your mouth that help start digestion.) Another thing is that most races will only have portable restrooms so a bottle of hand sanitizer is always a good thing.
BUG SPRAY + SUNSCREEN: You are outside soaking up those rays for a whole day. A coat of sunscreen and bug spray are going to make your 24 hours that much more bearable. I highly suggest it.
HEADLAMP: Any hands-free light source during the night makes refilling bottles and prepping food a lot easier.
WHAT DOES A CREW MEMBER DO?
Every crew will do things a little bit different depending on the needs of the rider and equipment, but here is a small list of what to expect on race day.
REGISTRATION: The crew and cyclist go to registration to make sure that they fill out the proper forms and meet the race coordinators.
STAGING: Next up is setting up your staging area for where the cyclist comes by to refuel and refill bottles. (Pro Tip: Try to set up at a place where the crew and the cyclist can see each other from a distance and not on a downhill slope.)
ORGANIZATION: Start organizing your area for easy and quick access. If the race goes into the night, you will not want to be tripping over anything.
ABC QUICK CHECK FOR THE BIKE(S):
- A = Air – Check the tire pressure of every tube.
- B = Brakes – Rotate the wheel to make sure nothing is rubbing and the breaks are working as intended.
- C = Cranks, Chain, Cassette – The chain needs to be lubed correctly and the gears working perfectly. Make small adjustments as needed
RACE START: Once the race starts the job gets a lot easier. Make sure that you top off your rider with hydration and food every hour. Then change out the lights and gear when applicable.
PREPARE: Always make sure to be ready and on your toes for the next lap if a mechanical happens or your cyclist needs help before you get too relaxed. Remember that you are there as a team to get the job done as fast as possible.
ENJOY: When all the prep work is done, sit back and relax in between laps while the cyclist does all the hard work pedaling!
As a sports nutritionist, I go above and beyond to make sure that my rider is following their hydration and food protocols that I have customized for their race. I write down everything they eat and drink to calculate calories burned, calories consumed, urine color (for hydration purposes), etc. This better prepares me to know when and what I need to be feeding or giving them in the future. It also allows another person who is crewing with me to take over easily because they have something to reference. For your added benefit, I’ve included a preview and download of my spreadsheet I use during ultracycling races below.
UPCOMING LAP RACES FOR 2017
As I said earlier, lap races are a great introduction into the sport of ultracycling. Here are a few races I know of happening around the US that you can add to your racing calendar:
For those interested in competing in ultracycling events and need help with food and hydration strategies I do offer nutrition consulting. I have worked with athletes who have completed some of the hardest ultra races in the world, including Race Across America, Race Across the West, and No Country for Old Men. They will all tell you that having your nutrition and hydration down is the key to finishing. Schedule your initial consultation with me today!
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Shane Traughber is a sports nutritionist that focuses on helping endurance athletes of all skill levels acquire the nutritional knowledge needed to perform at their peak physical and mental ability.