2014 Mount Diablo Challenge – Single Speed (32 x 20)

Considering I had done Montebello the day before my legs didn’t feel too bad at all when I woke up on the morning of the Diablo Challenge. I did 15 minutes on the trainer at a tempo speed just to flush out the toxins then drove out to the event.  It is pretty hard to get any sort of meaningful warm up on a low geared single speed at the Diablo challenge but I kept my legs turning and still felt good before the start.  It had been a bit chilly riding out from parking but by race time it was already getting hot.

I had decided to set the bike up on the side of caution for this event. I still had the front tire blowout from Montebello at the front of my mind and didn’t want to take any risks for the sake of 1/2 pound. I swapped the tires out  for Continental GP4000S 25mm and changed to regular tubes.  I also swapped out the front wheel for a Hed Ardennes I had lying around. The overall increase in weight was 0.14 pounds but I added some further weight with a seat bag containing a spare tube, tire lever, CO2 and allen key wrench for the wheel. Piece of mind weighed less than a pound extra (19.64lbs vs 19.0lbs).

Fat Tire setup : 90psi front, 95psi Rear

I was registered in Wave 2 as I really didn’t expect to be on par with the sub 1 hour group.  I was lined up about mid pack at the start behind someone who obviously was just out for a bit of fun. He was off his bike texting and taking selfies  just before the start and despite my suggestions to get on his bike, which he ignored,  when the event started he provided a dangerous chicane. I really think the organizers should establish some sort of Qualification time for Waves 1 and 2 as some people should really be in the later waves where they dont get in the way of people trying to race the event.

The first 1/2 mile or so was crazy with bikes everywhere and people riding like a mobile chicane. Although I got really frustrated at being held up (momentum is everything on single speed) in some ways it forced me to take the beginning at a steady pace which probably helped later.  Things started to thin out by the tire poppers and groups began to form. I got on the back of a little group containing Sam from IC3 and I was determined not to get dropped where the gradient eased off.  I decided that if I was to have any hope of staying with this group I needed to get a gap before the rangers hut and the flattish/downhill Rock City section.

The group caught me again about 200m after the pay gate and I had to spin like a mad thing to try to hang on .  I hung on for as long as I could but in the end I got dropped badly and lost sight of them.  It took me to the junction to catch the group back up again and I knew that it was this final 4 mile section to the top where the hour is won or lost.  I sat on the group for about a mile then went into time trial mode for the top.

I managed to catch and pass a few people over the grueling last two miles and nearly caught a team mate on the last steep bit before the finish. I crossed the line and was really happy to see I had managed to break the hour with a time of 57m59s. Two weeks ago  I thought it was an impossible task to beat the hour but having achieved it I was one happy bunny.

Comparison of my progression on the single speed at Diablo

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LKHC Week 1 : Montebello – 42″ Single speed


Climb Stats :

  • Length: 5.3 Miles
  • Altitude Gain: 1940ft
  • Gradient: 6.95% *

*Note: This grade is misleading as there is a 1 mile pretty flat section in the middle of the climb.

Course Profile

Warmup :

I decided to ride up to the false flat on the climb as a warmup and to see how the legs felt. The 42″ gear felt a little tall on the opening section but the lungs and legs were working OK.  The air temperature was already getting really hot.  On the way back down I encountered the Achilles heel of Latex tubes and had a front wheel blowout on a hairpin turn. I managed to stop OK and stay upright but when I went to change the tube I was  shocked just how hot the front rim was.  Latex tubes don’t like the heat and I was running them at 120PSI so the tube just gave up.

Fortunately the tube let go right next to a team mate so I had help to swap the tube (non latex) to a regular one (I had forgotten my spares and pump on the warmup). I hammered it back to the parking lot (not easy on 42″) and changed my pressures to 105 to be on the safe side. To be honest the tires didn’t feel sluggish at this pressure even though they are supposed to be 115 minimum. The lightweight rims really don’t seem to dissipate heat anywhere near as well as the Alex rims I used on my practice session last week. I am however rethinking my wheel strategy for this series and I am probably going to ditch the latex tubes.

The Race:

The race starts with a 20MPH neutralized downhill to the start of the climb.  I had major difficulties spinning the gear fast enough to keep up and my attempts weren’t helped by a crash in front of me where a couple of riders touched wheels. My strategy was to not go too deep on the first mile then wind it up between mile 1 and 2 where I had a mile to recover.  I pretty much nailed the strategy but the false flat section proved to be very frustrating.  I got passed by lots of riders here and trying to spin the legs after grinding up the previous two miles was not easy and certainly not much of a recovery. If anything it ruined my rhythm and when the climb started in earnest again at mile 3 I really struggled to get going again. I took me about a mile before I felt comfortable with my cadence and I started winding it up the best I could. I caught a few riders on the steeper bits but the heat was starting to take it’s toll (high nineties) and I was struggling over the last half mile.  When I got to finish I almost couldn’t shout out my number as my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth.

My goal was to beat 35 minutes which I managed .

2013 (Specialized Allez Race) vs 2014 reference (Wabi Classic Single Speed)

I was only just over a minute down on my result from last year on a normal road bike. I was actually faster from Mile 1 to 2 and over the last 0.5 miles but lost a lot in the middle section. I can understand the big loss between 2 and 3 miles (the “flat” bit)but I was a bit disappointed to lose so much time over mile 3 to 4.5.

Overall Time : 32m48s


Near the finish (photo by Bill Bushnell) [http://mrbill.homeip.net/index.php]

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Marginal Gains

Team Sky are all about marginal gains and they seem to know what they are doing so I put some lighter wheels on the Wabi  for this weekends hill climbs. The lighter wheels dropped 1.5lbs off the bikes weight and it now tips the scales (as pictured) at 19lbs.

Wabi with race day wheels

I finally decided upon 32 x 20 for Montebello and Diablo Hill climbs. I think this gear works well for my current post flu state of fitness.  I managed to break 1h3m on Sunday for Diablo on this gear but I cant imagine being able to find 3 minutes on race day to beat the hour and get a T shirt. I reckon a 32 x18 would be required to beat the hour but I am not strong enough to push that over the last 4 miles. The lighter wheels should gain me around 30 seconds but I am sticking with a 32 x 20.

Swapped out the ugly Bontrager bottle cage for a nice stainless King Cage


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Hill Climb Season

First Time Up Diablo on a Single Speed

This year I have decided to ride the Low Key Hill Climb series and the Diablo Challenge on a steel single speed bike.  I did consider using fixed (which I believe would be faster) but the hassles of flip flopping the wheel for the downhills put me off. Perhaps next year I will try fixed.  My weapon of choice is a Wabi Classic made from old school Reynolds steel. It isn’t particularly light but as pictured above it is less than 20.5 pounds which isn’t too bad. I could probably drop a pound by stealing the wheels from my other fixed gear bike but I doubt it would make me significantly faster.  I could also have used my Wabi SE, which weighs in a 17 pounds, but I didn’t want to convert it to a two brake setup and risk the cable clips scratching the top tube.

I don’t expect to be very competitive  but the beauty of the Low Key series is you can do what you like and just have some fun.  I think the biggest challenge will be choosing an appropriate gear, especially on Mount Diablo and Mount Hamilton,  for the varying gradients.  Three of the events are also super steep so just getting up them on my lowest available gear of 32 x 22 will be a massive challenge.

32 x 22 didn’t turn out to be the best gear for Diablo.

I did my first test ride on Diablo on the Wabi today and felt I was under-geared for 90% of it but good for the steeper section after the junction and the last steep push. I think I need to drop a couple of teeth on the rear as I am not particularly efficient at much above 100rpm up hill (I am no Chris Froome).

  • 90rpm = 10.3MPH
  • 100rpm = 11.4MPH
  • 120rpm = 13.7MPH

My time was not particularly encouraging for the upcoming Diablo challenge at 1h9m24s. It is certainly a long way from the 55m I did last time I rode it.  I don’t have any illusions that I can beat the hour on a single speed.



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Welch Creek Climb

Top of Welch Creek Climb

Welch Creek is a famous climb in Northern California and one of the hardest. I have only ever ridden it once before and that was on my mountain bike for a Low Key Hill Climb back in 2007.  I remember it being hard but not that much worse than Sierra Road. I wasn’t in great shape and came in in a lowly 55/60.

Me Racing LKHC on Welch Creek back in 2007

Welch Creek is back into the LKHC series for 2014 so I thought I had better go check it out. Today was supposed to be a recovery day so I chose my hard tail 29’er mountain bike for it’s low gearing.  It turned out that no matter how low your gearing is you cant do a recovery ride on that hill. It is an absolute monster and well deserves it’s fearsome reputation.  I went up it 5m47s quicker today than I did in 2007 with an average heart rate of 154 (2014) vs 178 (2007).  I do OK on climbs up to 6% but beasts like this one do not suit me.

View From The Top


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Tim Bell and Rock River Dirt Roads

Tim Bell  Dirt Road: 

Tim Bell Road : Start of the Dirt going South (rarely ridden in this direction)

* Tim Bell in the South to North Direction is used as part of the Warnerville road race so there are some very fast times on this segment and you can ride it with no problems on a road bike with 23mm tires. When I rode it in August 2014 the washboard was much worse than I remember.

Rock River Dirt  Road: 

Rock River Road. Start of Gravel (East to West)


Rock River Road : Start of the Dirt (West to East)

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Red Kite Tempus Fugit TT – Merckx Category (3rd Place), M35+ 3/4 (1st Place)

Comparison of Aero to Merckx Fixed:

Although I was more fatigued for the second run (Fixed) I was also probably better warmed up.  My legs actually felt pretty good after about 2 miles.

Aero vs Fixed Non-Aero

The Trek TTX advantage can clearly be seen even after 1 mile but the slope really become dramatic on the downhill return leg. From the 4.5 mile point to the turnaround there is not much difference between the two traces. It looks like the Wabi SE actually pulled back a bit of time at around 6.5. miles but it is because had to back off to avoid a Turkey on the Trek here.


Speed : Purple Trace : Trek TTX. Blue Trace Wabi Fixed.

Very clearly quicker on the Trek just about everywhere.


Pulse : Purple : Trek TTX. Blue Wabi Fixed

I dont know what to make of this trace. Looking at it you would think I didn’t try as hard on the fixed but that is certainly not how it felt.  You certainly cant push as hard on the downhills.


I was the only one daft enough to ride fixed gear on this hilly course but the Wabi Lightning SE felt fantastic. I chose a 48×15 gear which meant at times I was hitting in excess of 120RPM (30MPH+).  Cornering at 30MPH+ whilst pedaling at 120RPM plus was a bit wild.  I was unavoidably over-geared on the way out and under-geared on the way back but it was a blast. Even with gears I really doubt I could have beaten Chris Evans.


  1. Chris EVANS (27:37)
  2. Sascha MESSNER (28:34)
  3. Mark KING (28:41)


Merckx Category (48 x15 fixed) – Photo by Katie Trong


Masters 35+ 3/4:

I am a bit of a wimp on the bumpy fast downhills and reckon I lose some time but I still managed to equal my p.b.


  1. Mark KING (26:52)
  2. Rick LAWTON (27:37)
  3. Richard NICHOLS (27:34)

M35+ 3/4 (Photo by Katie Trong)

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Warnerville and Cooperstown Dirt Roads

Where the Pavement Ends

Warnerville Dirt Road: 

Start of the Gravel heading West

Cooperstown Dirt Road: 

One of several railroad crossings

Several Old Bridge crossings

Pretty Desolate


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What makes me slow?

The road racing season is over for me this year and it has been a disappointing one.  Even though I have been plagued by Sinusitis all year and felt bad it doesn’t explain completely why my time trialing and road racing  have been so lack luster. In the fall of 2012 I felt stronger than I had in years and could put the hurt on team mates at will.  I did massive personal bests for Diablo and Mt Hamilton hill climbs and was time trialing probably at my best ever. In 2013 I had a pretty good year but concentrated heavily on speed over short distance time trials and by mid year I was a mere shell of what I was in 2012 .  I worked hard but was still well down on my 2012 pace and had a pretty disappointing hill climb season. Was I just getting old ?

The lethargy of 2013 spilled over into 2014. It never really got going for me and my time trialing, climbing and road racing have been very lackluster.  I had a few flashes of my old self (particularly time trialing on fixed gear) but generally I have been going slower and slower. I certainly lost more Strava KOM’s than I got this year. The final nail in the coffin was a terrible performance at the Warnerville time trial a few weeks ago and I knew something had to change.

What did I do so different in 2012 that made me so strong in the second half of the year ?  I did two very different things in that year. Firstly the first few months of the 2012 season was spent concentrating on Double Centuries and endurance events.  Secondly I was doing all my long rides on recumbents.   Whilst I have no intention of going back to recumbents* (at least in the short term) the big mileage doubles might be a key for me.  I know that modern sports thinking looks on massive base miles as nothing better than training to be able to do massive base miles but maybe for me I really need them.

I have done a few endurance events over the past few weeks (Death Ride and Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge) as well as upping my weekly mileage to around 270. To be honest I feel vastly better for doing this rather than shorter intense interval and speed sessions.  This week I did a personal best for the Del Valle climb (beating my 2012 record)  and managed a 58 minute assault up Diablo on not such a great day. My Diablo time is still 3 minutes off my 2012 effort but I hope by October I have managed to get the form back.

For 2015 I am going back to endurance events. DMD here I come.

What makes me Fast ?

*Note:  I still believe the recumbent to be the ultimate weapon of choice for Endurance races where the climbs are less than 10% gradient due to superior comfort and aerodynamics.  Road bikes are catching up in terms of comfort with sub 17 pound Carbon wonders such as the Cannondale Synapse, Giant Defy and Calfee Manta pro and they always win out with drive chain efficiency.  I don’t think anyone could win the DMD or Terrible Two on a recumbent. I am still keeping my Bacchetta Corsa SS for the times when doing well on the road bike isn’t so important again.


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Last BTC 10 Mile TT : A Tale of Two Fixies

The bikes used for the different categories

My goals for the last BTC time trial were pretty simple. I wanted to set new records for the Single speed Aero and Non-Aero Men on back to back rides. Although I have not returned to full power after my illness I am a few pounds lighter than last year.   I was feeling quite confident after my recent hard block of TT racing on fixed and felt I could do it,

Event 1: Single speed Aero Men

I had to get up at 4:45am for this event, which is no fun at all,  but once I started warming up I felt OK. The temperatures were cool but pleasant and the wind was very light. These were not ideal conditions on this course for a fixed gear bike as you really want a headwind on the mainly down hill outbound leg and a tailwind to blow you up the hills on the way back. I had only converted the  felt TK3  to Aero on Thursday and had one  brief test ride to try it out but it felt good. My previous fastest time on the TK3 was set with the same setup and pretty normal wheels but this time I was intending to use my HED’s.  Unfortunately my HED disk did not turn up until the night before so the race was going to be my first test ride. I opted for a skinsuit and my Kask Bambino helmet for speed.

The race itself went to plan and the bike felt really fast on the outbound leg. I struggled a bit on the return leg on the hills but I could feel I was on for a good time. I ended up knocking off 42 seconds of my p.r, but wished I could have found five seconds to break into the 23’s.

Event 2: Single speed Non- Aero Men

I have been doing a lot of work on my speed in the “Merckx” category so I was hopeful that I could bag the second record of the day. I knew I had my work cut to beat the record as when I did the 24m50s there was a good tailwind on the return leg.  Some of the hills on this course (particularly the first mile) end up being speed limited on the fixed gear as I simply cant pedal any faster so it is good to have a wind to push into.  The same hill on the way back is slow enough that a good tailwind will make a significant difference to your average speed. Todays conditions were pretty much neutral wind.

After the first event I had to swap bikes, change clothing to regular Shorts and Jersey and change helmets. All this left me with less than 5 minutes to do a very short warmup on the Wabi so the adrenaline was flowing a bit on the start line.  Compared to the aero setup the Wabi felt much slower over the first couple of miles (see speed trace below) but it felt great on the hills. You can see the Wabi was quicker over the last 2 miles in the speed trace below even though my legs felt more fatigued. I ended up with 25m05s which was a disappointing  15 seconds slower than the record.

Purple = Felt TK3, Blue = Wabi SE

Looking at the Comparison of the two races,  the clear speed advantage the aero bike had on the flats and down hills is very obvious. Considering both bikes were speed limited by 48 x 15 gearing the difference over the first three miles is quite remarkable. The time difference between the two bikes of 1m01s is probably a fair reflection of the aero advantages.  I think on a flat course the difference would be bigger.

Old but interesting paper comparing Merckx style  to TT bike.

Final Records:

Single speed Aero Men

  1. 24:04 Mark King Kovarus/Wells Fargo Racing Team 6/14/2014
  2. 24:46 Mark King Team Fremont/ FFBC p.b. Chipotle 3/16/2013
  3. 24:56 Mark King Kovarus/Wells Fargo Racing Team 2/15/2014

Single speed Non-Aero Men

  1. 24:50 Mark King Team Fremont/ FFBC p.b. Chipotle 4/25/2013
  2. 25:05 Mark King Kovarus/Wells Fargo Racing Team 6/14/2014
  3. 25:25 Mark King Kovarus/Wells Fargo Racing Team 5/24/2014


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