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Letter from Eric!

Posted by desflurane on October 11, 2010

Ok, I may be a doctor, but I sometimes think I’m not so smart!

My good friend Jim and I were talking as we made the four hour drive home from the hare scrambles we had just done in San Jose, CA. We got talking about my crazy plan to ride in the Romaniacs. We discussed how I could really use some specific information to guide the process along, and how great it would be to talk to somebody who had been there and done it. I said, “Oh yeah, I’ve tried to get in touch with the two guys from the States who did it this year, but I didn’t get anywhere with it.”

Jim replied “Did you search for them on Facebook?”

Silence…

Now, why didn’t I think of that?

It probably took less than two minutes to locate both Eric Gibson and Glenn Tyson on Facebook, and fire off friend requests. Within two or three hours Eric had responded. Later that day he sent me the following email.

This is hands-down the most helpful info I’ve gotten so far! Thanks a million Eric!

Brandon,
Great blog…I can say one thing, you are well ahead of where I was when I decided to do Romaniacs last year, you should definitely shoot for 2011.

So first, a little history about me.  I am American, but I live in South Africa and have for the last five years.  I’m your age as well, turning 43 in 10 days.  I only started riding 3 years ago with some fathers of my son’s friends at school.  Last year several of my friends did Romaniacs (you’ll see 4 South Africans that finished together in the Expert class) and said it was the best experience ever and that some of them were definitely going back.  That was December last year.  I was not sure I could do it because these guys all said how tough it was, and they are all serious athletes and much better riders.  (They did expert class).  When the video came out, I watched it and saw plenty of guys that looked in worse shape than I am.  These were hobby riders.  My wife watched the video and told me to sign up so I did, buying my flights the next day so I couldn’t back out.  Two days later I was riding in Lesotho (A country landlocked by South Africa and home of the Roof of Africa) and was riding like I have never seen a bike.  That night I could hardly sleep, trying to figure out a way to get a refund for my airfare.  Luckily, the next day I was strong and I got a little confidence back.

I started riding and training pretty seriously from around January.  My training consisted of one hard ride per week, lasting anywhere from 4-8 hours.  Most were closer to 4 hours, and only a few 8 hours.  The rides were tough, focusing on either building skills or putting hard time in the saddle.  None of it was cruising on a dirt road.  For skills, we focused on steep uphills, and steep down hills.  You can’t believe how steep of a hill you can go down.  Fine the best rider you know and have him ride down the steepest hill he can.  Then you ride down it.  The hills in Romania are sick.  This is a skill you need.  Another skill is switchbacks.  In the video you can see Chris Birch and others flipping the front of the bike over.  This is a handy skill to have and you need to practice it.  We had to do this in the Hobby class, but not to the same extent that the guys had to in the Expert and Pro. We also practiced getting over obstacles.  Mostly logs (big ones) and also up very short but nearly straight embankments, ( up to 10 feet high or so).  I’m sure you do a lot of this in the washes around Reno after riding in riverbeds.  This is a good skill to have.  Finally, we practiced some of the skills in the Prologue.  The prologue had me the most scared before the race, but to be honest, after Day 1, I totally forgot about the Prologue.  Plus you have a chance to practice the Prologue a day before the race, and that helps you calm the nerves.  Don’t worry, someone is going to crash before you get on the course, and it will be one of the Pros.  Then you say to yourself, I can crash better than that and you go for it.

As for physical training
I went to the gym at least four days per week (up from 0 times a week), generally doing weights for 30-45 minutes, and then running on the treadmill for 30-45 minutes (I built up to those times, I did not do that from Day 1).  Occasionally I’d run outside for 5-15k’s and skip a gym workout.  Having done it, I’d focus more on interval and recovery that strength.  Strength is handy if you don’t have skill, but being able to recover after a big uphill is critical too.  BTW, I am not an athlete, I, like you also used to weigh well into the 200lb club.  The lowest I saw on the scale during my training was 178…..I had not been 178 since high school.  With that said, I’ve become fairly good friends with Jade Gutzeit (he finished 5th in the Pros and is by far the best rider here in South Africa).  He swears by bicycle riding.  He just started it about a year ago (both Mountain and Road) and said it has made a huge difference to his riding.  He works out much less than he used to and now rides a lot.  In fact I’m riding with him tomorrow morning at 4:45 AM, so I need to hit the sack shortly.

One point you make that is critical is to ride with people better than you.  I’m lucky in that respect, the guys that I ride with are serious.  Very fit athletes, and guys that have been riding for years.  They go up serious climbs and make it look easy.  It gives me the courage to try it.  Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t.  The point is if they didn’t go up it first, I’d never even try it, or even think it possible for that matter.

As far as the bike.  The best thing to do is to take advantage of the KTM purchase program.  You buy a bike from your local dealer, it gets deliver from Austria to Romania by the factory racing team, and then after the race they ship it back to your home.  OK, this sounds extravagant, but if you’re riding in preparation for Romaniacs, your bike is going to be poked anyway…it is time for a new bike, and you deserve it.  Why is this so great?  First of all, you’re spending a ton of time and money training for the race.  You need to make it as easy as possible, plus you don’t want to be let down by your equipment.  Besides having a new bike, here are some of the other advantages.  You pit with the KTM race team….you, Chris Birch, Taddy, Daryl Curtis, and the KTM factory racing mechanics.  Kids ask you for your autograph….Compare it to NASCAR.  Imagine you show up to the Daytona 500 and it is you and Jimmy Johnson sharing a pit, and his mechanics work on your car too.  After the day’s racing, you grab your pasta and sit down at the table with these guys and compare notes.  That’s half the experience, and totally worth it.

As for what to put on your bike, here is what we put on:
Radiator Fan (the most important thing)
Radiator braces
Carbon pipe guard
Aluminum bash plate
Hand Guards

You spec this all before you get there.  When you show up, your bikes are sitting all lined up (check out the pics on my facebook page) and you roll in like a pro.  The one thing not pre-fitted were mousses.  You buy these and help the mechanics fit them to your bike.  Don’t waste your time with tubes, you came all the way, you don’t want to be time-barred by a flat tire.  I note you had a comment about a trials tire.  Glenn had one, and Chris and Jade begged Glenn to borrow it for the Prologue.  That’s the last time you’ll use it.  If you had one in the race, you’d still be on the course.

So the big question for you is which class.  I’m guessing, but it sounds like you are leaning towards the hobby class.  That is what I’d recommend unless you really want to challenge yourself. Of the seven of us that went this year from South Africa (not including the three Pros), everyone did Expert except for me.  These guys are all great riders and way more fit than I am.  Only one of the guys finished Expert.  To be honest, the rain was so bad it made the course so much harder.  One of the guys (Colin Meyer) has done two previous Romaniacs, and finished all eight days.  This year, he only finished two of the days in regulation and was DQ’d.

The trip is an awesome experience,  I’m seriously considering going back next year as is Glenn.  On top of that there are probably another 10 guys here in SA that want to go next year as well.  This despite the fact that the weather made the race much harder than it probably would have been otherwise.

I’ve looked at your costs, I think you might be a bit on the low side.  Here are my estimates:
I think bike rental was around EUR2k (but go for the purchase option instead)
Get the race service package from KTM.  This is EUR 2k.  It includes your race entry as well as full factory support.
Your other costs seem reasonable.

Some other advice.  Get your friends to do it to.  It is totally doable.  Judging by your blog, you have the skill and fitness.  If it is dry I think the course would have been much easier.  While the tag line is the world’s toughest enduro, the Hobby class is meant to be a challenge, but doable for guys like you and me.

One other skill I failed to mention, GPS navigation.  I had never used one before Romaniacs.  You need to do this.  It is very simple, but it takes ½ a day’s practice.

I’m happy to give you all the advice I can.  I know how daunting it seems, (Passports, insurance, GPS, travel, language, logistics, not to mention financial and physical)  I promise you it is easy, just take it one step at a time.  I’ve got a Skype address, feel free to Skype me.  I am 8 hours ahead, so best to catch me in your morning time if possible

I’ll also forward this e-mail to Glenn.  He is a great guy, and as I recall even travels to your area to compete in some races.  I’m sure he’ll be happy to share his experience as well.  Who knows, maybe next year we’ll have a whole American contingent.  I have to say it was a bit embarrassing seeing only two Americans signed up (and one of those from South Africa) and then a whole contingent from South Africa (10 including me)…..but we adopted Glenn to our clan.

Wow, I didn’t realize I had that much to say, it would have been easier to call you.  Give me a ring on skype when you have a chance and I’ll tell you all I know.

Good luck, and you can definitely can do it.

Eric

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