April 17, 2018 § 10 Comments
The Belgian Waffle Ride has changed. When it began in 2012, you had to do it because you were invited, and only 150 or so select idiots got the nod. In those days of yore, the BWR was all about punishment, on the bike and off. Select enforcers were given “purple cards” that they handed out to cheaters, course-cutters, even paceline shirkers who refused to take a pull. The cards were emblazoned with the face of The Cannibal, under which was the slogan “Eddy Don’t Want No Freddies.”
At the end of the ride, three riders below all others were singled out and publicly humiliated for having accrued too many purple cards or for having committed supremely egregious purple infractions. The losers got a purple jersey and a matching pair of purple SPY sunglasses customized for the event.
The following year people were allowed sign up, and there was a fierce vetting of supplicants as riders were sent off depending on their racing category. Racers who lied about their categories (all vigorously cross-checked on USAC) got demoted to the last wave, from whence there was no hope of much advancement. More purple cards were handed out and purple behavior was scorned.
By 2014 the Belgian Waffle Ride had become a legend, kind of like the Tower of London, where the good and the bad, the lucky and the accursed, the innocent and the guilty, were sentenced to ride. It seemed as if everyone in North County San Diego and the South Bay/West Side of Los Angeles was there. As a cult ride, the BWR would reach its apogee in this year. It was brutal beyond belief, each year harder and longer than the one before, and fierce disapprobation rained down from above onto the hapless heads of those who were too weak, too cowardly, and too purple to be worthy of the moniker “Waffler.”
Time waits for no ride
By 2015, the year I completed my fourth and final Waffle, I was flat fucking done. The route had become so grueling that no person, regardless how crazy, could seriously consider re-upping for a fifth consecutive ride in 2016. In fact, by the time this year’s edition came bellying up onto the beach, maw open and fangs bared, less than five riders lined up with perfect Waffle records: Giants like Dan Cobley, Andy McClure, Logan Fiedler, and Neil Shirley are to my knowledge the only riders to have finished all seven Waffles without cutting the course. Even the ride’s creator and high priest, Michael Marckx, ended his streak at five Waffles.
But though the ride peaked as a cult event, and only the Cobleys, McClures, and Fiedlers earned the title of hardest of the hard, the BWR morphed into a kinder, gentler, unspeakable horror fest of some of the best riding you will ever do anywhere. And that’s about the time I decided to have another go but this time to take a smaller bite, to have a shot this time at the Wafer.
For some reason I thought that 8,000 feet and 70 miles of riding, 40 of which were off-road, would be a relaxing day on the bike. For some reason I thought that if I gave up all delusions and simply pedaled to finish, it would be fun. For some reason I had forgotten who had dreamed this thing up.
No training needed
Since it was just the Wafer and not the Waffle, why train? I was already fit and going well, and I also had a new Giant TCX with knobby tires and disc brakes. This should be a piece of cake, especially since some of the nightmare off-road sections such as the Oasis had been shelved. This would be the first Belgian I’d done where I actually knew all of the roads.
Not too expert with the through-bolt thing, I put on my front wheel and rode to the start. Sam Ames and his killer crew at Gear Grinder mobile Bike Grill had already been working 24 hours straight to prepare for the operation of feeding 1,000 hungry riders in time to get them out of the starting gate at 7:30. The day before I’d visited the Expo Center and marveled at the Canyon Bikes showroom, unlike any bike showplace I’ve ever seen and stocked to the ceiling with mouth-watering, full carbon bikes, every one of which was made of 100% carbon.
I’d also enjoyed a cup of incredible Blast Radius coffee, the first coffee brewed especially for athletes. Although no one who knows me has ever considered me an athlete, this stuff worked. With a proprietary blend of four bean types and a mild roast to maximize the caffeine, this stuff had me wired in minutes. Perhaps it was the caffeine from Blast Radius that propelled me to the head of the feed line at 5:00 AM pointy-sharp, where I scarfed waffles, syrup, bacon, eggs, and a slice of my own home-baked sourdough multi-grain bread.
Problem was, it was in the low fifties, the sun was nowhere up, and seated as I was in my bib shorts it got fuggin’ cold fuggin’ quick. I hustled over to the car, cranked up the heater, and fell asleep, only to be awoken by Dandy Andy, shivering outside and looking colder than a joke from a 50’s sitcom. “Get in, dude,” I said.
He struggled into the back seat and we covered him with greasy bike blankets. He didn’t care ’bout no grease. He was about to nail down his seventh consecutive Waffle.
With age comes slowness. And wisdom.
This seventh edition of the BWR had a very different flavor to it, I could smell it as I rolled up to the staging area, and it wasn’t from leaky port-o-potties. It was an air of camaraderie, of excitement, of trepidation, but of confidence that somehow it would all work out even though facts pointed to the likelihood that they in fact would not.
There was Bill Pinnell, the only guy to ever finish the Waffle on an Elliptgo, not once, but six straight times if he pulled it off today. In 2016 it took him seventeen hours, and this time he had a couple of other Elliptidiots to keep him company. There was Jim Miller, the voice of the BWR, a guy who had completed his share of Waffles and now was in active retirement, grateful to have an excuse not to mash his manhood into bleeding sores over the roughest roads in North County San Diego.
But there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of new faces, a sea of strangers, and they all appeared to have been infected with the best of vibes. People were going to ride, some would cheat, some would cut the course, some would behave in the purplest of ways, but so what? None of it could make a dent in the giant steel bucket of hurt that we were all about to get dunked in.
Except for me. Because I had a plan.
The best laid plans
It’s hard to explain how amazing it is to see more than a thousand riders queued up, ready to go smash themselves senseless for anywhere from four to fourteen hours. Michael Marckx’s vision of a rolling madhouse really has come to pass, and through his efforts he has created an event that brings out the very best side of cycling, and more importantly, the very best side of people. You could feel it everywhere, and not a purple card in sight.
My plan was to start at the back. Dead last. Instead of staging towards the front and spending the day getting passed, I decided to start at the back and spend the day passing others. My mediocre result would be the same, but I wouldn’t have to go out hot, blow up early, and suffer like a dog the second half of the ride. I’d conquer the Waffle by doing the Wafer, and I’d conquer the Wafer by going easy.
In the beginning it looked like my plan was going to work. My steady, no-stress pace put me in front of a couple of hundred riders by the time we hit the first dirt section, a nasty, walled and rocky climb that immediately jerked people up short. Stuck in a long mule train of idiots, we toiled up the wall, and as it descended people began to pass me … like mad.
Tires and egos wildly overinflated, people bounced and flew past in the hurry of an insane asylum doing parachute jumps sans parachutes. If you had brought a small truck you could have started a bike shop with the shit that people unwillingly jettisoned: Water bottles, food, cages, tool bags, pumps, components … someone not only lost a pedal but didn’t even stop until much later when I saw the sadsack hobbling, one-pedaled, out in the grass looking for his Eggbeater.
People flatted everywhere, and that’s when I took secret pleasure in being slow and safe on the descent, but on running my 33mm knobbies at 55 and 50 psi front/back. No matter how fast you go, the other guy goes faster when you double flat. Michael had of course made arrangements for such nonsense, as the course was patrolled by electric repair bikes, by VeloFix mobile bike shop, and by SRAM technical support. It felt like being in the Tour minus the salbutamol.
The Rock Garden
After the first interminable dirt section we hit Del Dios Highway, and although I held to my game plan of “never pedal hard,” I still passed plenty of people … until Lake Hodges.
Michael had given some great pre-ride advice in a short presentation that few of the Wafer riders appeared to have attended. “Go slow to go fast,” he said. This is completely false, of course. The fast riders went so fucking fast it was almost beyond comprehension. They went fast to go fast.
But they also knew how to pick a line, how to corner in the dirt, and had pro-level bike handling skills. For the rest of us, “Go slow to go fast” really meant “You can’t go fast lying in a gurney.” The message was on point: Steady is your friend on the BWR.
But the “Ain’t Got Time For That” crowd didn’t get the memo, and all the people I passed on Del Dios came blitzing by me on Lake Hodges and Rock Garden at speeds only really good riders or really stupid people attempt, and all of the really good riders, all ten of them, had passed by more than an hour earlier.
Desiring to a) not flat b) not bonk c) not crash, I watched them pass. Many I saw minutes later, splayed out in the grass frenziedly trying to change a tire, adjust a derailleur, weld a bottom bracket or replace a diaper, but many were gone, apparently for good.
This was sobering and a bit disappointing. I fancied myself fit. I fancied them idiots. Yet they were plainly much faster and fitter. “Oh, well,” I thought. “The true beauty of cycling is, and has always been, its ego reduction function.”
Imagine my surprise when, 21 miles in, all of the people who had passed me and scores more were huddled around the first grub stop like addicts queued up at a free Oxycontin dispensary. With less than a third of the ride to go, and all of the horrible sections remaining, people looked frazzled beyond words.
I pedaled on, and the riders thinned out. My only near catastrophe was in the Boulder section, when I noticed a funny jiggling sound that had begun miles earlier, as it began to get louder. I glanced at my front fork and saw the end of the through-bolt pointing forward.
“Hmmm,” I thought. “It’s supposed to be pointing backward.” I braked and got off. When putting on the wheel I had failed to tighten the bolt enough and it had worked itself loose over the last fifty miles. It was connected to the fork by less than a half-turn; one more joggle and I would have had a really unforgettable tale to tell from the comfort and safety of the ICU. Jay LaPlante, holler when you need me to work on your bike.
At the halfway mark I had begun pedaling more vigorously, and by the ride’s end I was completely done in, as wrecked as I’d been after finishing any Waffle. The cruel fact of the Wafer is that it is cruel, and if you put your legs into it without the right training you will be beaten into a quivering pulp. As expected, I finished faster than some … slower than others. Many others.
Turn, turn, turn
Back at the start/finish life continued on. The crazy fast riders came in about an hour after I did, doing double the distance in about the same amount of time. Brian McCulloch edged out second place by a bike length, sprinting for the win after 137 miles and 11,000 feet of hell. Happy riders dismounted and realized that the Hell of the North County wasn’t for everybody, but it was for almost everybody who went all in. Michael looked relaxed and happy, as he should have been, having morphed along with his baby, soaking in the good energy and shrugging off the bad.
No purple cards were handed out that I’m aware of, and I could tell by the funny look on people’s faces that they were already plotting for 2019.
I know I am.
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Several of my clubmates from Big Orange also tackled the Wafer, and were kind enough to share their misimpressions.
Tom D.: This year, I decided to do the Wafer ride instead of the Waffle. After completing my first Waffle last year, I was absolutely destroyed. While I felt very accomplished and glad for that experience, I wasn’t in a hurry to repeat it. I also wanted to ride with Joann! I had missed out on the JWR last year due to a surgery and have been neglecting FDR lately, so this was a good chance to make up for all of that. Finally, the reddish off-road sections reminded me of Sedona, and I wanted to see how fun it would be to ride them without worrying about planting my face in the dirt. So, my plan was set. I was going to ride the hard tail MTB that I had bought from Frenchie and putter along with Joann. I would try to hang on during the pavement sections and enjoy myself on the dirt.
First of all, I underestimated the inefficiency of riding 2.3” mountain bike wheels on the road. My “puttering” consisted of pretty solid efforts to hang with the people on road bikes, especially during the flats and descents. I don’t know what the actual figure was, but I felt like I spent about 25% more effort than I would have on my road bike. Also, riding into the wind without being able to really tuck took a toll. Finally, I usually don’t ride my MTB, and when I do, I don’t sit on it for 7 hours. So after about three hours, I started to feel it on my sit bones, and sure enough, by the end of the ride, I got to go home with two lovely saddle sores as a souvenir.
The suffering on the road gave way to bliss once I got onto the dirt. I told Joann that I’d wait for her at the pavement, and sped off. It was so fun to finally let loose through sand and gravel without worrying about crashing. I was enjoying myself immensely until I caught up to the traffic jam of riders falling off their bikes in the single track sections, sapping all momentum and negated all of the benefits of bringing an MTB. Unfortunately, most of the off-road portions were packed dirt, so the MTB didn’t really help all that much. Still, there were at least a couple of sections, particular the ones near the lake, where I got to really put the suspension and plush tires to use. And I sped through Sandy Bandy happy as a clam!
The best part about the ride was how we took our time. It was nice to be able to do the mental math and realize that we’d get back well before 4:00 PM, even if we averaged a meager 10 mph. (In contrast, last year, I was praying to finish before it got dark and hypothermia set in.) I got to chat with the people at the rest stops. I took my time eating and drinking, so I wasn’t bonked to hell with 40 miles to go. I didn’t cramp and got to enjoy the beautiful scenery without my whole body hurting everywhere. Instead of feeling cold and tired and lonely and wondering if I’d die out there, I chit-chatted with Joann, Jody, Alan and Alan #2 (who we adopted as our own and I used shamelessly as a wind block). Instead of collapsing into a chair and staring into nothing, I had a nice meal at the end of the ride and sat and talked with friends.
I once told a friend that the Waffle was so hard, you can’t worry about anyone but yourself if you want to finish. The line between finishing and not is thin, and if you give up some of that margin for someone else, you may need to sacrifice your ride. Not so with the Wafer, and it feels 100x better to give to someone else than to accomplish something for yourself. On the last dirt section, I saw a Subaru Santa Monica rider changing a flat. This guy was about to finish the Waffle in the time it took us to do the Wafer. I stopped and asked if he needed help, and he asked for a CO2 canister. I gave one to him, wished him luck and went on my way. He was very appreciative. I’d like to think I would have stopped even if I were dazed and confused and delirious as I was last year, but seeing how many people passed by him without a word, I’m not sure I would have even seen him in that state.
I’m all for destroying myself and squeezing every ounce of strength out of me from time to time, but this was a lot more enjoyable! Next year, I think I will do the Wafer again, but I’ll probably leave the MTB at home.
Brandon S.: Redemption is an understatement! I went into the BWR after a failure at the JWR. So I wanted to just smash this ride! Got to San Marcos on Saturday around 5 went to the expo and got my packet. I was with my girlfriend who is expecting our first child and her mother lives 20 minutes away so it worked out.
Went out to dinner with all the Orange participants in anticipation of the event. Lots of laughs, anxiety, and anticipation. Talking about shop, gears, and past experiences. Woke up and went to the Start finish ate my waffles and said some prayers🙏. It was a chilly morning and when the wafer wave went off I just hammered. I thought about keeping my heart rate at 150 till double peak (and forgot my heart rate monitor). I just wanted to finish competitively. I hooked up with some riders from Santa Barbara and just smashed the loop at a hearty pace. I was taking a big bite outta the wafer! Got to double peak and just told myself “pedal dammit!” Got to the top looked around and said “ I should have taken 2 scoops of energize”. But going to the finish line I had my arms up like I finished a stage at the Giro! Very pleased with my performance, I put in a lot of work this year to get stronger. The gym at 4am, nite rides, racing, group rides etc. The ride was great. Very well supported and marked well. Definitely gonna be here next year!!! Waffle??????
Jody N.: I had a goal, simply finish the BWR-Wafer. (I wanted the socks!) It started with a discount code and ended with a high speed descent (47 mph my personal record) to cross the finish line. It would not have possible without the support of so many along the way!!
Thank you to the BWR and FDR for offering the discount code. Thank you to Scott, for encouraging me to continue when fear became an obstacle (those BWR email teasers were killing me!) Thanks to Alan and the group that did the CX training ride and thanks to Seth, Abraham, Brandon and the Big Orange family for making me feel so welcome. BIG thanks to Alan, Tom, and Joann for agreeing to stick together!
The course was challenging-rocks, sand, water crossing and climbs, the SAG/rest-stop support was plentiful and the route clearly marked. But best of all: The camaraderie surpassed my expectations. Thanks to everyone for helping me to achieve this goal!
Joann Z.: I told people that I was going to take it slow and take a ton of pictures but what happened was quite the opposite. Well, sort of. I did take it slow but I didn’t take any pictures. I was too focused on not crashing! I was too focused on getting up and down those dirt sections. It was total concentration the whole time! Unlike everyone else who would speed up, slow down, pull over and take picture after picture. I would pass and hey would say, “keep going! Don’t stop!” I’m glad they took photos because I couldn’t. I don’t often feel like people are taking care of ME. It’s usually, I’m watching out for others. I felt really lucky because I had Tom and Alan who I knew were sacrificing their ride for me. Who I knew were there in part for me. When I passed them taking a picture of me, my heart was full of love for them. I felt so lucky, so lucky to have these men in my life.
At mile 62 with double peak in the distance we were about 8 miles and 1600 feet to finish. I told Alan to just go. Come back down and ride with me if he wanted or wait at the top. Yeah. Come back down. Hahahaaa! I almost fell over when he came around the corner. He went up to the top of double peak and came back down to get me. Now how could I not love that man!?!?
It was smooth sailing from then on. We all finished together. I don’t think any of us got off the bike more than twice and there were no crashes or even close calls. We sat around and shared photos, except I had none, talked story and then hit the road. I was tired at the end but not too tired. It took more strength to stay awake in the car and I was asleep before the sun went down. Will I do the BWR next year? I was thinking about the Waffle but then I saw my Strava suffer score. 695! More than double of my highest recorded score. So, probably wafer next year too.
Abraham M.: 2018 Belgium Wafer Ride completed!! Before joining Big O I would scout good Century rides for me to do and I came across the BWR. I would watch videos on YouTube and told myself and my family that I will be doing that ride in about 2-3 years. During that time I was only riding a little over a year and had not yet completed a full century. After joining Big O I noticed a post by Joann Zwagerman, it was a BWR redo. I was responded as soon as I seen it and thought that would be a perfect way to get my feet wet on some dirt and try out the BWR. So I never road dirt, I was nervous when riding my road bike on sand at the beach (all my first falls were on the bike path by the beach). F it lets do this. So I bought a Gravel bike and went to the BWR redo ride in June of 2017. What a disaster it was!! Although I completed the ride (in over 10 hours) I was completely beat up. I told myself I would be back the next year and be ready. Fast forward to 4/15/2018 – I hit the Wafer Ride hard. I started at a chill pace until I got to the first dirt section. Once I got there and saw I wasn’t getting dropped and was actually passing people I was pumped!! Game on, I completed the Wafer in 5Hrs and 17 min. I took minimal stops at sag stations for water and nutrition and kept grinding. I didn’t fall, I didn’t walk my bike and the only time I unclipped was because a rider in front of me stopped (twice). I am super excited and will prepare for the full Waffle next year. Thank you Joann Zwagerman, Brent Davis, Alan S and Brandon Sanchez for riding with me this past year in preparation for the BWR.
Michael W.: Hope everyone had a delightful BWR. Quick show of hands, Who’s ever ridden head-on into a breakaway group of world class cyclists? Well, as of yesterday, I have. Here’s how it happened: I go to pick up my Wafer bib # the morning of the ride, (I paid 20 bucks extra for this) and the guy says they didn’t print enough Wafer numbers. Then he said, no worries, just ride numberless. He gave me a timing chip. I said “What if they pull me out of the ride?” He said no worries ride whatever route you like all you need is the chip. So, at the last second, I opted to do the Waffle (I DNF’d a couple of years ago and it’s always bugged me). As you know, it was a perfect day. Then about mile 40 or so on that long fire road through the canyon, I’m hauling down hill around a blind corner right at the exact moment as the lead breakaway group was hauling ass back on their return leg. FUUUHK! There was no way to avoid them with crashing into a deep rain washed gully along the inside of the turn. I crashed pretty friggin’ hard and scratched my lovely bike pretty bad. The only thing I heard from the lead rider was “Sorry bro!” just before I wiped out. There was no lead car in front of the group to clear a path. I didn’t expect a rider to stop, but no chase car did either. Hopefully my frame’s not cracked. My ass is a little sore, but it could’ve been worse. Only one flat and one minor other crash after that. Even though I may have been the last rider in (it was completely dark) I finished. All that said, I still love this brutal, beautiful ride. I might have hit my head too.
Alan S.: BWR – it was a different perspective for a ride, one because of the amount dirt involved and second the tempo of the ride itself. Riding with JZ gave the opportunity to relish the features of the trails, enjoying the surroundings in a relaxed atmosphere instead of rushing through chasing the person in front of you. It was a visual and yet still physical experience. I had front row seats for JZ’s personal struggles which entertained me the entire ride, and as we approached Double Peak she had my sides hurting from laughing as she shared every negative sentiment she had for climbs, climbing and rides with climbing in it. Hilarious yes but still she mustered the strength and determination required to make it to the top. Excellent stuff indeed.
March 20, 2018 § 2 Comments
I know it’s too late. “The hay is in the barn,” as G$ likes to say. However, you’re still signed up for the BWR, so rather than exhort you to train more, which won’t help, I’ve solicited some advice about the technical aspects of actually riding it.
As a matter of accuracy, the wider the tire, the better for the dirt sections. You can go faster in the dirt with 32mm tires than with 28mm or 25mm, as the skinnier tires don’t float like the wider ones and tend to dig down into the dirt, especially on very loose sand. The problem is that when you get to the road on the wider tires, the rolling resistance becomes an issue… for nearly 100 miles.
In other words, pick your poison. Is it a road ride that you need to be able to ride dirt on? Or is it a dirt ride connected by brief segments of pavement?
After two recon rides thus far for 2018, with many different kinds of riders and bikes, a few patterns have emerged which follow a hallowed trend. The rides start out quickly and everyone seems overly eager to hit it hard, which inevitably comes back to haunt them 50, 60, 80 miles in, when those same enthusiasts are bonking, cramping, seeking a fifth diaper change, or otherwise looking for a shortcut home.
The trick is pacing. Isn’t it always? Yet other things come into play, too. The more comfortable you are in the dirt sections, the more energy you can save for the road. If you are fighting your bike in the sand for extended periods of time, you are burning matches you will need later, matches without which the cigar will never ever get lit.
Eating and drinking are such a key factor, yet people still forget to eat or drink. This is a common phenomenon in racing and affects pros as well a beginners. By the time you’re hungry, you’re being eaten.
Worse, riders lose water bottles in the dirt and then they need to somehow find liquid along the way or make it on their hands and knees to the next anti-death aid station. Having properly functioning cages is something half the people don’t have. Also, people don’t eat or drink in the dirt sections, because… they can’t. Once through the initial couple of dirt sections, riders are now at Mile 26 and haven’t consumer much of anything, and are faced immediately with a 5-mile climb which has some really steep pitches. You put off drinking and then the dehydration leads to dessication and DNF. Waiting too long to eat or drink will have devastating impacts later on, so do both at regular intervals.
Riders also need to be prepared for flats and be ready to fix them on their own despite the event having roving mechanics on the dirt sections and many on-course support vehicles. As many as half the riders will flat, and as many as half will be flummoxed by the physics of tire removal. Another half will not have enough tubes. The final 50% will run out of CO2 cartridges, and the last half will take this as an omen from Dog that they should sag their way back to the start/finish for fresh beer and treats.
Proper gearing is different for everyone, but the BWR is not the time to slap on the 11-23 and “man up.” Many riders fail to have as big a rear cog as they are going to need, and it often means one that you could bake a pizza on. The problem is that when fresh it’s easier to muscle a bigger gear up a steep climb, but once fatigued, injured, starving, dehydrated, bonked, cramping, and delirious, we need more gearing or a motor to negotiate the 20% plus inclines. At the very end, Double Peak hits 23% at its steepest, offering the thrill of victory as you spin up it, or, as in 2017, the ignominy of having to dismount and walk their bikes up a road climb.
One other issue people aren’t prepared for is the fatigue of riding the dirt and braking a lot. Their arms and hands get tired, which can lead to further overall fatigue, or worse, they crash. When you’re considering equipment, if disc brakes are an option, go with them. They will greatly reduce brake fatigue on your hands and allow a much more precise application of braking. This results in less energy wasted getting back up to speed as well.
Lastly, those who are prepared to go it alone mentally and physically are the ones who will have the most rewarding ride, even if that simply means surviving. Being prepared for the last half of the ride going into a headwind is as much mental as it is physical, because you do so much strenuous climbing and dirt riding on the way out and then start descending back to Bandy Canyon, but it’s all into a headwind. Once at Sandy Bandy and every section thereafter until Double Peak is more or less into a headwind. Riders should seek to work with other riders for much of this and not be tempted to leave others behind or get left behind, because riding in a group can save enough matches to get you from the Oasis up the long final ascent to Double Peak.
The Zwartenberg a/k/a Black Canyon
It’s back, and it’s darker and longer than ever for Wafflers. This year it has a unique challenge, the Canyon King of the Canyon Challenge, sponsored by Canyon Bikes. This consists of two sectors’ worth of suffering and it’s basically the entire length of Black Canyon on the way out, which goes up, down, and then a long up. On the way back, once riders get to the bottom of the Sutherland Damberg descent, there is another segment that goes back up and then down the opposite way riders did it earlier in the day on Black Canyon. If a rider doesn’t do well here with pacing, they may not have what it takes to hit the second sector with the same bravado they hit the Canyon on the way out.
Black Canyon comes just after the second feed zone and a lovely respite along a freshly paved road. It is here riders will be confronted with The Zwartenberg—a decidedly dirty 3-mile ascent over washboards, sand and gravel, only made worse by the 2-mile descent after, which requires going down slower than you went going up. To make matters even worse (read: BETTER), at the bottom begins the longest, most big, black and beautiful climb of the day, eleven kilometers of the purest dirt. This climb will take many more than an hour to ascend. Good thing it’s a remarkably pristine place to feel completely alone. Sadly, riders will barely notice anything more than the few feet in front of them.
At the top, riders still have another happy 73 miles to go and the headwind will only get stronger after they reach the summit of this dark and demented segment. This lonely course feature adds the lovely touch of more dirt to the BWR in an emphatic and definitive drop of the guillotine’s blade, helping to make this year’s route dirtier than any before it.
This sector was introduced in 2017, with permission of SDRPT Park Ranger Dave Hekel, and it is one of the most interesting sectors of them all. It barely has any inclines but it has all sorts of rocks and challenges such that every body has to get off and run at some point.
It’s varied terrain runs parallel to Lake Hodges and follows along the western border until it becomes Twistenlemonberg, not to be confused with Lemontwistenberg, which some riders completed on the way out.
Hodgendam starts out after a pleasant but short asphalt section that riders enjoy after the rocky mayhem of Hodgesmeergate. Once on the Hodgendam, it’s easy to see why this is the most unique sector of the event. There are little bridges, banked turns, whoops and jumps. There are a series of tricky little ravines that many will choose to walk through, while some will ride, or try to. Eventually, all must get off and navigate the rocks as though it were a cyclocross race. Many will have to dismount several times along here. It’s okay. Walking is fun!
Once through all of the rockstacles, riders will pass Hernandez Hideaway and get on what really is the only true gravel road of the event, a roughly, and we mean roughly, 3-kilometer sector of big, rocky gravel. You’ll need to find the right line through here and stay on it because the gravel along here is brutal. The beauty of this sector will be lost on you, but if you were to take it all in there is the pristine serenity of the lake to the left and a wonderful woodland-like hill on the right that shouts the existence of Del Dios Hwy. It’s serene but the sound of your wheels grinding through the gravel will dominate your senses, unless thirst is considered a sense, because it’ll be hot with a headwind here.
A signature sector with an augmentation for 2018, this deceivingly diabolical diversion, takes Wafflers and Wafers alike on an unseemly 6-kilometer excursion, eschewing the heavenly smooth and open road along Bandy Canyon. It parallels the beckoning smooth highway on a devilish dirt trail that is mostly, you guessed it, sand. Some would even say quicksand, and its depths will create more separation than the Bandy Weg climb that follows.
This sector is punctuated by a brief stint back on the road, but before that riders get to enjoy a soft single track with plenty of turns to slow everyone down. The initial part is kinda fun, really, if you like that kind of thing. There’s a headwind with the chance to slide out or hit a root and divert into a fence or a tree. Once through the first portion, the road feels weird on your tires, but not for long as the second, more challenging part begins. This section winds its way through a single path that’s usually home to horses. Watch the land mines. It’s twisting and turning is only made worse by the unsuspecting deep sand pockets that can swallow riders whole if they take the wrong line. If you are a spectator, this is like hanging out at the final turn of the hometown crit, where all the crashes happen. Inevitably, riders will crash here, no matter how many times you warn them. When you do fall, make sure to wave your hand for one of the marshals to rescue you. Anyone caught trying to cut the course here will be left to the not-so-swift suffocation only quicksand can provide.
There is a third section on Sandy Bandy that ends with a difficult, rocky descent, before a turn up a nice kicker to the start of the Bandy Weg climb, but not until a forced dismount signals the next level of hell has been reached.
Aside from the above-mentioned challenges, the BWR is a piece of cake once you leave out the 100 or so more miles of brutal sand, dirt, rocks, wind, heat, and asphalt.
Get a good pair of bolt-ons. Bottle cages, I mean.
Remember to drink.
Remember to eat.
And for dog’s sake, leave the 23 at home.
BWR awaits! What can you do in exchange for all this life-saving information and these inside tips? Hint: Get yourself a subscription to Cycling in the South Bay! Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
March 6, 2018 § 2 Comments
Don’t even think about signing up for the 2018 Belgian Waffle Ride.
Okay, you just thought about it, but it’s still not too late to shelve that thought, and here are the reasons why you really should, no fooling.
- It’s too hard. I’m no connoisseur of cycling difficulty, but the four times I completed this smashfest I was reduced to a crumbling mess of mental and physical goop. Life is better the easier it is and the less you accomplish.
- It’s too long. How long is it? 130 miles? 140? 2,000? I don’t know, but it’s so far that after about mile 50 your brains will be too scrambled to even look at your Garmin, assuming it’s still attached. Be satisfied with your Sunday coffee cruise!!
- No wanking allowed. Because at BWR you get dropped immediately, and even if you aren’t dropped you don’t have a big, fat pack to sit in with, you’re required to do most of the work yourself instead of sitting in at [Name of Your Favorite Sit-in Fest Here]. Sitting = Winning!
- You’re going to ride Roubaix as a member of QuickStep this year anyway. The BWR is essentially a Spring Classic, except there is more climbing in San Diego than in Belgium. Since Patrick already probably has your pro contract in the mail and you’ll be racing the real 2018 Paris-Roubaix (or maybe Flanders?) with Stybar and the guys, there’s no need to do the BWR.
- Combined dirt-pavement rides are a dime a dozen. It’s easy to find a fully supported ride that has more off-road sectors than Paris-Roubaix, interspersed with endless miles of asphalt. Just ask your neighborhood 4-corner crit promoter!
- San Diego in April is a dung-hole. One of the lousiest vacation destinations on earth, every year millions of people fly into San Diego so they can be reminded of how good they have it back in West Bumblefuck.
- You have enough fun in your life already. Who needs a three-day weekend riding, telling lies, eating great food, and hanging out in the epicenter of cycling? There’s plenty of office work you could be doing on the weekend, or chores around the house that simply cannot wait.
- No one likes a dirty bike. After BWR you will have to clean your bike from top to bottom, and if you’d wanted to spend time cleaning your machine you wouldn’t have gotten a ‘cross bike in the first place.
- Facebook. You really don’t need to go to BWR, or anywhere. Just copy and paste and bam! It’s just like you did it yourself, minus the bike cleaning and muscle cramps.
- Life is long. Why do now what you can put off another year, or better yet, ten? You’re getting younger every day!
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January 25, 2018 § 1 Comment
Like the cruel ex you keep crawling back to, the Belgian Waffle Ride rears its ugly head again this April, beckoning you with a crooked finger to come enjoy (enjoy?) a pleasant ride akin to a walk in the park, a park filled with burrs, thorns, stones, chasms, and venomous creatures of every kind. Two years have passed since I last mounted up and completed this beast of a ride, but here I am again, signed up and ready to submit.
Since misery really does love company, you should, too.
In case you’re wondering why, I reached out to people who have completed the BWR in years past, or to their next of kin, and compiled a pretty interesting list of fake quotes to encourage you to pay your money, take your chances, and sop up that feeling of being completely done in as you hang your head over a tall glass of cold Belgian ale, or cold water, or over the rim of the toilet.
They might have said it, but didn’t
John, 2012 finisher: “They say the BWR is the most unique ride in America. I don’t know what that means. Aren’t all rides unique? Bottom line is that this one will kick your ass if you finish and kick it if you don’t.”
Scott, 2012 quitter: “I honestly had no idea what I was in for. Michael invited me, so I did it. I’m sure the scenery was gorgeous but I didn’t really see any of it. It’s hard to see with crossed eyes and blood coming out from your sockets.”
Bill, 2013-2016 finisher: “I’ve done this ride four times and it gets better each time. The course is never the same but it keeps some of the sections from year to year. The more you do it, the better you get at it, but the course always wins out. It’s the high point of my year.”
Joe, 2015 finisher: “It was a walk in the park, but with mines. I broke an axle and had four flats. But I finished. And they didn’t even drink all the beer by the time I got back to the start-finish. Good times!”
Tom, 2014 quitter: “Dumbest ride ever. I hated it.”
Ron, 2014 finisher: “The biggest mistake you can make is to try and race the BWR. Unless you’re an elite roadie and have a realistic shot at a top-ten finish, the best medicine for this bad boy is to keep a steady pace, don’t hop in with any crazy fast groups, and do not stop except for water/hydration. You’ll finish in a reasonable time and won’t feel like you just crossed the Gobi on your knees.”
Anne, 2016 finisher: “The BWR likes to advertise itself as a combination dirt-and-road ride, but it’s really not. The BWR is endless short sections of dirt stitched together by pavement. The pavement lets you just catch your breath enough for the next dirt or sand or rocks or scorpions or whatever, which are relentless. Definitely not a sprint.”
Arthur, 2012, 2014, 2016 finisher: “Doing it every year is a bit much. I don’t know if anyone has ever done all six editions. But I love it!”
Marco, 2017 finisher: “Crazy stupid hard. See you in April!”
Suzanne, 2017 finisher: “I’d like to see more women out there, for sure. It’s not a super technical ride, some people do it on their road bikes. The Wafer is probably better for sane people.”
Charley, 2015-2017 finisher: “The last two years I’ve done the Wafer. It’s harder than any road race you’ll ever do, and you get back before midnight.”
Phillip, 2014, 2017 finisher: “Love the BWR. it’s not just the scenery or the challenging route or the elevation or the hybrid road/off-road terrain, it’s the organization and execution and all the batshit crazy people who are actually happy to be out there.
Wade, 2016, 2017 quitter: “I’ve never finished a BWR. I will this year. And if not, the next.”
Duncan, first timer 2018: “Can’t wait. I’ve heard so much about this ride, it’s legendary. Whether I finish it or not I’m fired up about it.”
Matt, 2017 finisher: “There are lots of bike rides in SoCal, but there’s only one BWR!”
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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.
December 29, 2017 Comments Off on Taste of Belgium
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …
The year was 2012. The place was Carlsbad, California. The time was 8:00 AM and the idiots were over a hundred strong, each one lined up to attempt the first ever Belgian Waffle Ride. However hard we thought it was going to be, it was harder. I still remember flying off my bike and landing on my head as we tried to ride/clamber up a massive wall back onto the bike path.
Mostly what I remember about that BWR, though, is that it was the first of four such events that I dutifully lined up for, each beatdown being more awful than the one before it as the route lengthened, the quality of the field increased, the difficulty of the off-road sections intensified, and most importantly, as I got older, slower, more cautious, weaker, and more prone to quitting.
My 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride I swore would be my last, and not simply because I completed it on a loaner bike that weighed 30+ pounds which paradoxically resulted in my best finish ever. “Best finish ever” on the BWR is relative, of course. For me it didn’t mean “best time,” rather it meant “finishing without feeling like my head had been beneath one of those pavement tamping-down stamper machines for nine hours.”
I only fell once, didn’t get hurt, had no flats, and stayed hydrated and well nourished for the length of the ride.
Four full-length BWRs in a row, and I was done. I had nothing left to prove, or rather, the things I did have to prove were unproveable, at least out on that course, which wasn’t so much a ride with dirt roads but rather an endless number of dirt sections stitched together with brief segments of pavement.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but if that’s the case then why do former prisoners of war never long for a return to captivity? In my case, though, after a two-year hiatus and the implementation of a Baby BWR a/k/a the Belgian Wafer Ride, it started to sound like a good idea again.
What if I were to do the Baby BWR instead of the Full Grown Adult Hairy BWR? What if I were to do it on a full cyclocross bike with major knobbly tires and disc brakes? What if I were to do it without haste? Carefully? Not pushing myself to some absurd limit, but rather enjoying the day and its attendant festivities?
Because over the years the BWR has gone from being an invitation-only affair to one of the country’s signature rides, replete with great food, booths, entertainment, and a great vibe. Sticking my toe in the water, I went out a few months ago and did the Wafer course with some friends. It was perfect and rekindled my enthusiasm for my old flame. Better yet, it stimulated a kneejerk bicycle purchase, resulting in a new cyclocross bike.
This will be the 7th annual BWR, on the seventh route, covering approximately 137 miles with 44 miles of dirt, the most ever. The Wafer will be approximately 77 miles.
This year’s BWR promises to be bigger and more painful than ever, and thank dog the organizers have roped in Canyon Bicycles as lead sponsor and VeloFix as neutral support partner for both on-road and on-trail. A new Expo Festival format will be held Friday and Saturday (April 13-14) at the Canyon facility in Carlsbad, CA.
Whether you’re hell-bent on biting off the whole Waffle and trying to choke it down your throat, or looking to get a proportional beating on the Wafer, you’ll be among the lunatics who have over-committed themselves to the most unique cycling event in the country.
To top it all off, BWR progenitor Michael Marckx is coming to the South Bay on January 6 to ride with Joann Zwagerman’s legendary FDR group and to give South Bay riders a chance to talk with him about the ride, learn about its history, and (most importantly) get a rad sign-up discount. I’ll be there trying to get some course tips and intel. Michael will be there. Joann will be there. Hope you will be, too.
Ride leaves at 8:15 AM from Miramar Park in Redondo Beach.
Ride finishes around 10:00 AM at the Yellow Vase Ranch Market in Malaga Cove Plaza, post-ride refreshments provided! All riders who sign up after the ride will get a whopping $80 off the entry fee.
Visit the BWR website for more information and register today, before reality kicks in and you wonder what in the world you were thinking.
Additional Reasons to Waffle or Wafer
- Fundraising opportunities for the Challenged Athletes Foundation with as an individual through our registration platform or through the CAF team. Join the CAF team and earn free reg!
- Access to the BWR merchandise store to wear the best apparel on the road, designed and manufactured by JL Velo
- Prizes and giveaways from sponsors and vendors
- Complimentary race day breakfast, lunch (or maybe you’ll call it dinner, depending on when you finish), and Lost Abbey libations
- Invitation to free BWR sponsored recon rides to explore the course
- Finisher t-shirt and commemorative bottle of Lost Abbey “Bad-Ass Ale”
- 137 Miles/222 Kilometers (Waffle), 77 Miles/124 Kilometers (Wafer)
- 10 Categorized Climbs (including three category 2 climbs)
- 12,000 Feet of Climbing (Waffle), 6,000 Feet of Climbing (Wafer)
- 16 Dirt Sections totaling over 44 miles (long, sandy, wet, rocky, hilly, ugly)
- 10 Water Crossings or Foot Bridge Crossings
- 3 King/Queen of the Mountain Segments
- 3 King/Queen of the Dirt Segments
- 3 King/Queen of the Sprint Segments
- 1 King/Queen of the Canyon Segment
- 10 Feed Zones
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June 26, 2017 § 60 Comments
“What the fuck do you mean, this is your first ever dirt ride?”
“Yeah,” SOS said, shifting uncomfortably. “Me and Imprint just got new bikes and wanted to practice some.”
I wasn’t smiling. “This is a terrible place to do your first dirt ride. There’s no dishonor in going home now. You have to go to work on Monday. You guys have families. This ride is no joke. People have finished this thing up in the ICU. Do you really want a catheter up your wee-wee because your spine has been broken in four places?”
SOS and Imprint smiled nervously, unsure whether or not I was serious. “It’s only seventy miles. How hard can it be?”
Jay-Z, whose arm was in a cast, shook her head. “How hard? Look, SOS. It’s going to be the hardest fucking anything you’ve ever done in your life. That’s how hard.”
“Guys,” I said, “you gotta understand. This is no place to do your first ever dirt ride. You can pull the plug now.”
“Why should we?” asked SOS.
“I’ll tell you why,” I said. “Because when you get halfway out and have a bad crash or run out of steam or get a bad case of diaper rash or die, no one fucking cares. Everyone’s just trying to survive. No one fucking cares. Get it? No one. Fucking. Cares. And you will be on your own.”
SOS shrugged. “I’m not scared,” he said.
About that time the motel room door popped open and in came Duct Tape, wheeling her bike into the room. “Hi, everyone!” she said. “Tomorrow’s going to be fun!”
“What the fuck is that?” I asked.
“It’s my bike, silly,” she said. “I haven’t ridden it in nine months, though.”
“And was that last time through a rust pit? What’s that shit on the spoke?”
“Duct tape? On a spoke?”
“Oh, it’s on good, though. I daubed some Gorilla Glue around the spoke holder thingy.”
I looked at her bike, a rusted out $350 Specialized commuter bike with a velcro water bottle cage. “Did any of you people talk to anyone before you decided to come out here?” They shook their heads. “Do you know what the Belgian Waffle Ride is?” I asked.
They shook their heads.
“Do you have prepaid funeral plots?” I asked.
They shook their heads.
I got a splitting migraine. “Okay,” I said. “You’re all going to die.”
“But you’re not hammering tomorrow, right?” asked Duct Tape. “If you’re not hammering I’ll ride with you the whole way.”
“No,” I said, wearily. “I’m not hammering.”
I climbed into the bed, which I was sharing with SOS. “I brought some earplugs,” SOS volunteered. “Do any of you guys snore?”
We all lied and said no and went to sleep. “Me, either,” said SOS. “I lost my septum back in the 90’s.”
Within minutes SOS was snoring like he had a small family of bullfrogs lodged in his chest. Then his alarm went off at 3:30 so I was able to stay up until mine went off at five. Before we left for the ride Jay-Z came into our room. “What time did you guys get up?” she asked.
“3:30,” I said. “SOS’s alarm went off at 3:30.”
“I always get up to go the gym at 4:00,” he said.
Jay-Z looked at him. “You work out?” she asked.
About 120 idiots had shown up to do Joann’s Wafer Re-Do Ride, hosted by Michael Marckx in honor of Jay-Z’s selfless assistance to her teammate who got t-boned by another teammate and wound up in the ICU. However, two weeks before the re-do ride came to pass, Jay-Z shattered her wrist. But of course the show had to go on, and if she couldn’t go as a rider she and Michelle planned to go as sag specialists.
Michael assembled the riders and, posing in front of everyone, surreptitiously ordered that someone “take a picture of my butt.” Then he gave a grand speech. “We’re going to try to keep things together today,” he lied. “Those of you who are more confident and know the course can go on ahead, but the purpose of today’s ride is to stay together as much as possible and get to hang out with our friends.”
This monstrosity of a bold-faced fraudulent utterance went unheeded by the assembled victims, all of whom knew they were dealing with a pathological liar who could no more “stay together” with weaker riders than the sun can orbit around the earth. A few miles into the ride Michael unleashed a vicious attack, splintering the group, which was filled with the weak and infirm, and dashed on to a glorious victory, finishing so far ahead that he was able to shower, shave, and coif before the next finisher even arrived.
It’s thankless work crushing your own re-do training practice friendship ride in honor of a good Samaritan, but someone has to do it.
In addition to winning his training thank-you ride, MMX also arranged for the casual ride to be fully supported in the finest BWR style. Bad Sea Coffee had amazing coffee, hot and cold, throughout the ride, with mobile repairs provided by Velofix, drinks by GQ6, a start-finish venue by the Lost Abbey Brewery, and several sag stations to provide sustenance to the riders.
But back to our story. As Imprint, SOS, and Duct Tape started the first descent, which plunged down a twisting series of soft, awful, suicidal dirt hairpins that had sheer drops on one side and a cliff wall on the other, Jay-Z and Michelle drove up behind them and screamed, “Slow down! You’re going too fast! You’ll kill yourself, you idiots!”
Imprint shrugged and shouted back. “I got disc brakes! I’m good!”
At that moment he lost control and slammed into the cliff wall, which was made of brush and soft dirt, leaving a Wile E. Coyote imprint in the cliff. “Oh my dog!” the sag drivers screamed, as SOS and Duct Tape stopped to see how badly he’d been killed and whether or not they could wrest the gold band off his ring finger before he regained consciousness.
Imprint staggered to his feet and waved his friends on, who were in fact, like all cyclist friends, no friends at all. “I’m fine, he mumbled,” as large brain clots formed inside his skull.
“Maybe,” said Jay-Z, “but your tire’s flat. Get in the car. You’re done for the day.”
“No!” he resisted. “I gotta keep going!”
“Okay, well change the flat then.”
Imprint sighed. “I don’t know how to take the wheel off.”
“How can you not know how to take the wheel off your own fucking bike?”
“It’s new,” Implant said, “and I don’t know how to take off the disc brake axle and thing.”
Jay-Z, who was wearing her best 5-inch platform heels, floppy summer hat, and stripper’s negligee, got out in the knee-high sand and pulled the through-axle, changed the flat, aired it up with the floor pump, then cleaned the rubble out of the disc before pushing him back on his way, all with a shattered wrist in a cast. Having left the starting gate promptly at 7:30 AM, Imprint would not be seen again until almost eleven hours later.
In the meantime, Duct Tape began what would be a series of bicycle-falling-off incidents, some related to the wheel that wouldn’t go around in circles, others to the massive rocks and obstacles in her path, and her final, game-ending crash the result of plain old gravity. She finally gave up and lay on the road side with her hands above her head, in a sort of horizontal victory pose if you will, where the podium is the ground. Jay-Z and Michelle scooped her up and deposited her back at the brewery as they got yet another call, this time from SOS.
“Who is it now?” asked Jay-Z as Michelle’s phone lit up.
“It’s SOS,” she said.
“What does he want?”
“All he texted is a map and the words ‘SOS.’ For reals.”
“You’re fucking kidding me.”
They raced to the pindropped location, where SOS was seated at the roadside, bonked, sunstroked, and mumbling incoherently. “Uber lady,” he said. “That fucking Uber lady.”
“What Uber lady?” asked Jay-Z.
“You know how Wanky told me to pull the plug last night if things got gnarly?”
“Well, I had an emergency.”
“Oh, no. What happened?”
“I got a cramp.”
Jay-Z and Michelle looked at each other. “So?”
“It was a cramp,” he said. “And it really hurt. And that motherfucker Wanky and Patrick and that German girl, when I shouted out ‘Cramp!’ you know what they did?”
“They just kept riding away. They rode away, those fuckers!”
“Wait a minute,” said Jay-Z. “Wanky told you about this last night. I was there. What part of ‘No one gives a fuck about you’ did you not understand?”
“But I thought he was kidding. And then that Uber lady.”
“What Uber lady?”
“So I pulled the plug after I cramped like Wanky said to do and I called Uber XL and the lady came, this black lady in a really nice brand new sedan with leather seats, it was perfect for me and my bike.”
“Yeah, and she took one look at me and she was like, ‘Hell no, I ain’t putting your nasty ass in my car, hell no,’ and then she fucking drove off. That bitch!”
Jay-Z looked at SOS. “Well, you’re covered in white salt that looks like jizz stains and you’re as filthy as if you’d been riding for fifty miles in a sewer, and your bike is covered from stem to stern with grease and dirt, who the fuck would want to put you in their nice car? Except me, of course.”
SOS saw the logic, loaded his bike on the rack, and crawled into the car. “I can’t believe that sonofabitch Wanky left me for dead. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he mumbled.
“Yeah,” Jay-Z said. “Until next year.”
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