Mega Gear Review: How to survive Rasputitsa
I'll never forget it: we were at about the 25 mile mark of the epic 2019 edition of Rasputitsa, and rolled by a very pro-looking racer standing on the side of the road; they appeared to be fine, but were sobbing, whilst being held by a friend. They gave us the OK sign when we passed, but still – this race was taking more than just a physical toll on people. We'd just left a near-hypothermic Scott at the previous aid station. Rasputitsa was getting the best of some very tough folks.
I think some of this comes down to prep and gear choice. Here's what worked for us:
There'd been big enough rain (and snow-melt from back-to-back 70° days earlier in the week) that the course was completely re-routed the day before the race, and such that we were prepared for an absolute slog. So when we set out for our shakeout ride the day before the race, we were stoked to find the ground relatively dry.
The dirt/sand/gravel roads in the Northeast Kingdom are great infrastructure for this kind of weather – they drain surprisingly well, such that folks on our team rolling light gravel tires or filetreads were fine, both for the shakeout and the race itself. So for future reference, no matter how wet Rasputitsa gets, mud tires (or really tires with a serious amount of tread) aren't necessary.
Panaracer Gravelking SK 32c
(Pictured – light mud accumulation from the only real mud on course, right at the end)
Schwalbe G-One 38c
WTB Riddler 37c
Maxxis Speed Terrane 33c
WTB Cross Boss 35
WTB Nano 40
We got another heavy dose of rain overnight between Friday and Saturday – when Scott and Cullen arrived at 2am, it was pouring; when we woke up to cook breakfast around 6am...more of the same. Weather stations around East Burke were reporting high 30s and low 40s, and light-to-medium, consistent rain between the 8:30am lineup, 9am start, and through to the halfway point at around 10:30am. Turns out that's exactly what we got, but it turned to snow at higher elevations, where we saw temperatures down to 27° on our computers.
These conditions can border on the dangerous if you're unprepared. Light rain from above can turn into a drenching spray from below in a small group of riders, and any warmth you accumulate while going uphill can quickly disappear when you head back down, sometimes at speeds in the 40s.
There are two non-clothing strategies you can employ to prevent injury (at worst) and Type 3 Fun (at best).
Don't stop. Stopping robs you of the heat you built up, and it takes a long time to get it back – your core has to re-warm, and start pumping warmth back to your hands and feet. So the less you stop, the insulated you need to be. So bring plenty of food and water, and have it accessible. I did a bad job of this – have your fast food most accessible, followed by slower, chewier food, followed by tools/extra clothes. I had this order roughly reversed and it was annoying to fix it partway through. Be sure your water bottle cages are going to hold your bottles in place, even if you hit a serious washboard section.
Be able to get yourself going again if you have to stop. I overpacked on the tools and spares, but I felt good about it. 2 CO2s, 2 tubes, frame pump, patch, 2 Vittoria Pit-Stops, valve extenders and a core remover. Chain tool and two extra quick links. With 10 miles in between rest-stops, it could be more than an hour of walking to get somewhere warm. I didn't want that to be me, so I brought stuff to fix my bike (and fix my pals' bikes, if need be).
There are basically two things you can do here: run a cover over MTB/cross shoes; run a dedicated cold-weather high-top cycling boot. We were 50-50 here (three in Garneau Klondike or Mudstone boots, and three in MTB shoes covered by latex or neoprene overshoes), and at the end of the day, everyone's feet were wet. The boys in boots had the wettest, but warmest feet. We guessed that most of the water came in from the top down, noting that Clark's Velotoze left him with generally dry (if sweaty) feet. My Klondikes were soaked, heavy, and flexy, but toasty warm. That said, I didn't stop that much, thankfully – I suspect all the water I was carrying in my boots would have been a problem.
The move for the no-stopping crowd is a neoprene glove. Those of us with these type of gloves were toasty all day, despite the gloves themselves getting soaked. Neoprene does really well against wet skin, but seems to get very cold, very fast, without access to body heat. Just don't take your gloves off, and you'll be fine. I brought an extra pair of Big Wills in a back pocket, and handed them off to Scott when he needed something to bring his hands back to life. (We're pretty sure we saw Tim Johnson on a tandem with no gloves, but can't confirm or recommend this strategy.)
We all used Garneau's new G-Road Bibs and legwarmers. The very top of our quads would get chilly on descents, but otherwise this is an area of low concern. At first we didn't know why G-Road bibs have pockets...but they're great for keeping food accessible without fiddling underneath a rain cape (see below).
We all ran some version of the same kit up top...except for Scott, who had to abandon as a result. Baselayer; arm warmers, Garneau Team Shield (G-Road Edition with extra pockets); rain cape. Scott went without an impervious layer (and light gloves) and was soaked; at the coldest, wettest stop, he was shivering to an extent that we put him in a car to warm up.
We have two recommendations here, on either side of the "fancy" spectrum.
Garneau's Neoshell is hands-down the best wet-weather shell that I've ever used. It's stretchy throughout. It truly is waterproof, and actually breathes. It's got passthrough zips that can keep you cool on the uphills. It's got tons of reflection. And best of all, it's got a super-tall collar that allows a very 1700s Beau Brummell vibe, if you're going for that. It's also fairly expensive at $200 (on sale!).
Garneau's Clean Imper jacket is 10% of the cost of the Neoshell, and kept Austin in the game all day. Fancy stuff isn't necessary.
You need something to keep you dry-ish and keep heat in, especially if you stop at all. Don't be caught out!
If you've followed our stuff for a while, you will know that I am no climber. I had more than a bit of panic in the week before the race, worried that I'd be over-geared with 52/36 chainrings and an 11-28 cassette. I wanted to get as close to a 1:1 ratio for my easiest gear, and I was stressed that muddy conditions would generally be slower and need lower gearing all around – so I very nearly went 40/26 up front...but I ordered the wrong part, and it didn't fit. Blerg. In the end I popped a Wifli rear derailleur on, and fit a 11-32 from cross season – and I was fine with a 36t inner ring up front and a 32t low gear out back. A 34t would have been optimal, but not possible with my setup.
The 52 front probably wasn't necessary, but it was super nice for really letting it hang out on the downhills. Fast as hell. Recommend. Maybe next year: XTR di2 out back, with an 11-42, and 52-42 up front? Wild.
I was pretty stressed here, too, because I thought I had the wrong stuff. Muddy, sandy conditions eat brake pads quickly, and while the cable-actuated Paul Klampers have an adjustable pad distance, I thought I'd miss the auto-adjustment thing that hydro setups do so well. They're also single-sided, so I thought I'd run out of pad real quick. On top of that: I had 140mm rotors front and rear.
You know what? There's not a whole lot of braking necessary in Rasputitsa, so...it was fine. After the very brakey, achy neutral start, I probably braked about five times, and ended the day with a ton of pad left.
I used a water-resistant RoadRunner Burrito Supreme to carry all of my extra stuff. In it went a complete cookie, a bunch of Kind bars, a spare eTap battery, camera, extra pair of socks, tube, chain tool, and a ton of gels. The thinking was that it would be easier to pack a ton of food in there, and relatively easy to get it in and out while riding – and that it would keep the camera and spare socks dry. What I learned was that careful packing is necessary; put the stuff you want to grab quickly near the zipper opening, and pack those items last so they're close to the surface. I had to fish through crunchy bars and socks to get to the gels. It wasn't fun. I ended up throwing all the gels in my bib cargo pockets partway through. Also: I emptied about 2 inches of standing water from the bottom of the bag at the end of the race. And my camera is toast.
So. Those are our notes on prep for a very rainy, very cold Rasputitsa. What worked (and didn't) for you? Let us know in the comments.