Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bike Race Report

Well, yesterday I completed my first race of the year and second organized race ever! It was the Bike Race for the City of Las Vegas Corporate Challenge. It was a fun race.

The Venue

The bike race was held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway complex at the north end of town. We actually got to ride on part of 4 of the separate tracks within the complex. This was part of what made the race so enjoyable. I got to ride my bike where the Nascar drivers fly around at 200 miles an hour! I got to experience the tackiness of the starting area where NHRA funny cars compete at over 300 mph! We also experienced part of the road course and the smaller 1/8 mile "Bull Ring" track. In between we rode the length of the grand stands and wove our way through various parking lots.

The Race

I knew I was going to be one of the slower riders so I lined up near the back of the pack for the mass start of the race. As the time got close I, along with most others, checked our bikes one last time, made sure I was in a good gear and had just a bit of nervousness waiting for the horn to sound. Once it did we were off. The initial pace was a bit slower than I had expected, but I think that was mostly because we were grouped pretty tightly at the start and most of those competing had very little actual race experience. We were all a bit leery of causing a crash. I have to say that thankfully I didn't see any crashes during the race, but I did see one of the faster guys sitting on the side of the course with his front wheel bent pretty bad. Once we got started and every got their rhythm I was feeling pretty good. We wound our way through the infield, past the Neon Garage and out through the tunnel under the track. We took an immediate right and hit a fairly steep climb I had not been expecting.

We were climbing from the lowest level up to the level of the grandstands. By most standards it wasn't a big climb, but it was pretty steep with a grade near 10 %. I quickly down shifted and ran out of gears. I was going along in my granny gear and noticed my bike showed 3 mph and others were walking their bikes up the hill faster than I was progressing, so, 2/3 of the way up, I got off and walked the final 1/3. I think it was a great move as I was able to keep up with those around me and was actually able to pass a few riders on the flats through the grand stands.

Once we cleared the grandstands and wove our way back through the parking lots, we hit the drag strip. Now the strip was interesting as there was an uphill component to it that got up to a 3% grade or so at the finish line. It was also interesting in how the rubber gripped the tires and actually seemed to make it harder to ride as there was increased friction. Now I know that's a good thing when you are accelerating away from the line and not wanting your wheels to spin in your supercharged, nitro burning dragster, but it certainly added to the difficulty of riding your bike down the track. I think those of use with fat tires had more of an issue than those with the thin road tires.

The pay off for all the hard work climbing the hill at the end of the drag strip was immediate as we quickly descended the same hill back towards the speedway and it was great. I think I hit 30 mph along this stretch and got to rest just a bit.

After some more touring of parking area we then dropped onto the road course for about a mile and it was fun following the curves and thinking about how I would pick my lines if I were racing in a car.

From the road course we hit an access road that was the worst section of the entire course and it had some sand and loose gravel in a few spots. Fortunately it didn't look like anyone fell in that area. We then hit the Bullring for a trip from the pits, around the far end of the track and back through the pits. I enjoyed this as we had watched a few races here and it was interesting seeing exactly how much banking is on the track. Seeing it up close and personal is so much different than seeing it from the stands.

I had been following a couple of rider since we left the drag strip and they were just a few lengths ahead of me. As we were into the home stretch and heading back towards the Speedway I was keeping pace and I even thought to myself I would give it everything I had in the last sprint to see if I could catch them. As we entered the speedway through the tunnel, the riders gained a bit on my and even though I sprinted faster than I thought I would (my bike comp said 23 mph at the line) they had a little more speed so I never did catch them, but it was fun chasing them just the same.

My finish

I finished the race in 43:52. Not bad for an almost 10 mile course. I actually achieved the pace I was hoping which was over 12.5 mph average. The disappointing thing was I didn't earn any points for my team, but for good reason - my age group was the largest of any! Who would have thought that there would be 13 men in my age group? I did finish 12th out of 13, though. It’s funny, 2 years older or 3 years younger and I would have earned points for my team. Of course we had an awesome team and ended up taking first in our division - winning the gold medal.

I plan on doing the race again next year on a different bike and with more training and I hope to shave at least 10 minutes off my finishing time!