Covering 10 States and 4,300 miles, the Trans Am Bike Race is a classic coast to coast race across the USA. We got the opportunity to catch up with one of the racers from this epic event, Glenn Eck. Hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just like Redshift Sports, Glenn shared some details about himself, his bike, Redshift Gear and overall race experience.
Tell us about your day job.
I’ve worked in the horticulture industry my entire life, and have managed grounds and landscape for Temple University in Philadelphia, PA since 1997.
How long have you been cycling?
About 30 years. My older brother Greg Eck had a lot of success in triathlons in the 1980’s. His long training rides were what first opened my eyes to how much distance one could cover on a bicycle. Then, I was very fortunate to have friends, Steven Schott and Barry Rauhauser, who entered the bike industry during the mountain bike boom of the late 1980’s. Through them, I was able to afford good equipment on a 19 year old’s budget. So, mountain biking was my gateway into cycling. Road cycling came later, around 1999.
Was this your first Ultra Endurance Bike Race? How did you first get interested in these types of events?
This was my first ultra endurance bike race. It was a bit of a reach, but I had reason to be confident that I could complete the event with a modest result, but one that I’d be happy with. I have a 36 mile minimum round-trip commute to work (sometimes I go longer). I don’t ride 5 days a week, but often enough over the past 20 years that I’ve developed reasonable ability to do long-ish rides back to back. I’ve never had the speed to be competitive in most racing situations, and never worked on developing it, but I have worked on learning how to ride longer comfortably. I’m also a pretty capable bike mechanic and logistics person. All of these traits together led me to first consider a long tour in 2010. I knew I wanted every day on tour to feel just like a road ride, so from the beginning I had no interest in a heavy touring rig. I rode from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes on my Litespeed Tuscany ti, hotel to hotel with just my commuter bag, averaging 69 miles a day. I enjoyed that so much that in winter 2012-13 I followed the Adventure Cycling Association’s (ACA) Southern Tier Route from San Diego to Jacksonville, FL . I did that ride on the same equipment, averaging 92 miles per day.
I honestly don’t remember how I first heard about the Trans Am Bike Race (TABR), but I started following it online during the second or third edition, so it was 2015 or 2016. I became a dedicated “dot watcher”, as fans are known, following the racers on Trackleaders online, and getting the play-by-play via Facebook. Pretty much from the beginning I knew this was something I wanted to try. The race borrows the ACA’s 40 year-old Trans Am touring route from Oregon to Virginia, which is the most popular way to ride across the country. In my case, if I was going to cross the U.S. a second time on this longer, more northerly route, I was going to have to increase my daily mileage (and do some night riding) to fit it into my vacation time. Given those realities, it made a lot of sense to join 114 people from 24 countries who were doing the same thing! In the end, I averaged 123 miles per day over 33 days, 23 hours, and 51 minutes. That was good enough for 49th place of 65 finishers. 49 of the 114 riders who started did not finish the race, which is about typical for this event. For perspective, the race leaders were doing over twice my daily mileage and finished in sub-17 days! But, there were plenty of riders around me in the slower ranks, particularly before so many abandoned the race.
Tell us about the Trans Am Bike Race?
The TABR is the creation of Nathan Jones, circa 2014. Nathan had the brilliant idea of merging the Trans Am bicycle route (a pre-existing cycle touring route with 40 years of resources supporting it) with the same satellite race tracking technology used in the offroad Tour Divide. The route covers 4165 miles from Astoria, OR to Yorktown, VA, with about 204,000 feet of climbing. The main difference from RAAM (the long-running Race Across America), is that the cyclists must race entirely self-supported, carrying their own gear or purchasing what is needed along the way themselves. So, the most common race rig is a road bike with bikepacking bags. A few racers ride dedicated time-trial rigs (more on that later).
How many hours of sleep did you get on average?
Probably about 6 hours a day, which is a ton for this event. My off the bike time for sleep, eating, and other logistics was higher than those closest to me in the race, but then my riding speed was a bit faster as well. It’s all about what works for the individual. At the front of the field, very little off the bike time is the norm, and many of those riders dispense with the notion of a “day”, and go on a very flexible “ride til you drop” schedule. I saw a lot of folks further back in the ranks scratch from the race after burning themselves out, not taking good care of saddle sores, etc. Finishing was a top priority for me, so I listened to my body. I developed some numbness in my right hand, and contracted a chest cold in the Rocky Mountains. These things didn’t cost me much mileage overall, but I took care to listen to how I was feeling and rest accordingly. Having completed this race, I know that trimming back rest time would be the area of focus for future events. Still, I would encourage anyone contemplating the TABR to remember that this is grassroots racing and there is not even prize for first place! Given that, since it’s most likely eating up all of your vacation time, you have a right to suffer, but also to enjoy the ride as much as you see fit!
Do you plan to do other Ultra Endurance Events? If so, which ones and when?
I would encourage any reasonably capable cyclist to consider these events, even if they haven’t excelled in traditional racing. There are opportunities in ultra racing to capitalize on diverse skills, such as mechanical ability. Build yourself up a good bike in the first place, and know how to fix it! Some riders this year lost entire days seeking out bike shops for relatively simple repairs they might have handled themselves. There are a lot of variables besides speed to help produce a good result in the Trans Am. Good planning, plus resilience when things go sideways, will give one an edge against a fast rider lacking those traits. I feel that the biggest reward the Trans Am has to offer is an environment to really test one’s abilities. In my case, I gained fitness and felt stronger as the weeks progressed, but I also know now that I can probably push longer in future events. I plan to devote the next couple of years of vacation time to family! But, given what I’ve learned, my investment in equipment, and my enjoyment of the Trans Am Bike Race, I do foresee tackling something similar again.
How did you train for such an event? Would you do anything different?
Everything that’s happened to me on a bicycle since 1999 I blame on commuting! I purposely chose to live about 15 miles as the crow flies from work, and it’s honestly been the 20 years of commuting that developed me as a cyclist. There was never a plan to start touring or ride across the country multiple times. I just sort of capitalized on the fitness and enjoyment that came from commuting, and taking long rambling exploratory routes home. On the other hand, as a consequence of zero investment, I still don’t have any of the speed or skills useful in most race situations! Turns out riding a lot at moderate speed makes you good at riding a lot at moderate speed. Fortunately, now there are some cycling events where that has some application. Still, I admire the riders that crushed my own result, so I’d be looking to trim my off the bike time in future events and see what happens.
Tell us about your rig and setup? Bike, gear, nutrition etc.
I’ll start with nutrition. Subway for sandwiches, gas stations and dollar stores for everything else is the norm. I was fond of Chex Mix in one feed bag and Swedish Fish in the other, and Gatorade or Powerade in the bottles (I invented some pretty gross mixes). I ate a lot of ice cream sandwiches once we left the Rockies and temperatures were in the 90’s instead of the 40’s! Incidentally, Aquaphor healing ointment is a good stand-in for chamois lube, and you can buy it in drug stores along the way. It’s easiest if you can learn to live on things you can find everywhere, at any hour, versus having specialty items shipped to post offices up the road.
I rebuilt a 2003 Litespeed Tuscany ti road frame with modern components for this event. It is a bike I’ve had since new, and it was in need of an updated component selection anyway. The Tuscany was Litespeed’s all-arounder road bike of that era, and has proven itself a capable load-bearer. I erred on the side of reliability over ultimate light weight in my build. Shimano Ultegra mechanical with 34-50 rings and 11-28 cassette suited me fine, though 30 or 32 were more popular big cogs, and I saw everything up to a 34x48 granny used. Front hub was a Schmidt SON dynamo to keep GPS and etc charged over the long haul. The bike was adorned with the typical bikepacking bags, in my case from Revelate designs.
Road, time-trial, and cyclocross frames have all been used with great success in the TABR. All can be configured for the balance of speed-to-comfort that the individual feels is best for them, which is the key.
I had never used aerobars before, but knew they were absolutely essential for ultra endurance events. Apart from aerodynamics, it’s the ability to constantly vary the riding position to fight fatigue that is so important. It was while shopping for aerobars that I completely stumbled onto Redshift and the Switch Aero System. As I tend to prioritize simplicity and reliability in my cycling gear, I am decidedly “anti-gadget”, but I could immediately see the benefits of the dual-position seatpost. Who wants to sit on the nose of their saddle for hours, or be in a compromised seating position, while using clip-on aerobars? Conversely, much of the Trans Am course (and my local terrain) does not favor a TT bike. Since I also liked the idea of easily removable clip-ons for travel and giving the bike “multiple personalities”, I bought both the Redshift aerobars (in ski bend) and dual-position post, the Switch Aero System. I really appreciate that these are offered in aluminum rather than just carbon, since I’m attaching bags (and atypical weight) to both bars and seatpost. I also knew that aluminum would stand a better chance of remaining usable if a crash occurred.
I mounted the aerobars with the included maximum set of risers, for comfort akin to leaning over the back of a sofa on my forearms! I’m pleased to say that they were rock solid throughout the 4000 miles, despite also supporting a drybag full of gear and two feed bags beneath. The dual-position seatpost was an absolute game changer versus my earlier cross-country tours without one. While there were a few dedicated TT rigs in this year’s TABR, to my knowledge I was the only rider with a bike with two completely different riding positions, and I used both liberally. On the plains of eastern Colorado and Kansas, the seatpost never left TT mode, but everywhere else it was up to my whim and a quick tug upward. Simple, effective, well-made, durable. I found the execution of the Redshift post to be as good as the idea.
Would you add anything to your setup?
This is an easy one. I would pack identically and keep my setup the same if I were to do the race again. I paid attention to others’ rigs in previous editions of the race, and combined that with my own light touring experience in deciding what to include. I’m happy to say I used nearly everything I took, barring some emergency items I thankfully didn’t need, but just as easily could have.
Tell us more about the bag you used with the dual position seatpost? Any issues with this?
After a few test rides with the Switch Aero system, I was totally sold on the value of the dual-position seatpost. But, since I wanted to use a traditional bikepacking seatpack to carry the bulk of my equipment, I realized some creativity was in order. These bags all attach to the seatpost, but are suspended from the saddle rails. This presented a problem, as the saddle must be able to be pulled up and forward into the TT position. Using a heavy “beam” style seatpost rack with a drybag on top was a clunky and unappealing solution,. So I set about finding something light that could be run high on the seatpost to suspend the seatpack. Fortunately, Moots makes a small titanium loop rack called the Tailgator. Their accompanying bag was too small for my needs, but the Moots ti rack proved perfect for suspending my Revelate bikepacking bag beneath, and I was even able to strap a small bag on top, too. So, the addition of a small, light ti rack adapted the Redshift post to use a standard bikepacking seatpack. This will be a welcome solution for many who already have these bags for their mountain bikes, and want to use them with the dual-position seatpost on the road.
Favorite story/moment from the race?
Honestly, the whole experience is a very unique and special, particularly for an amateur racer in a race that has no prequalifiers for entry. I shared the road with racers from 24 different countries. An entire online community of fans have coalesced around the race’s public Facebook page. There’s a guy on there, Ron Nelson, who does very thoughtful race commentary and ongoing analysis. Another person, Anthony Shawley, gives daily weather reports for all areas of the course. Then, there are the “dot watchers”, fans who watch the race on Trackleaders and chime in with individual encouragement, despite having never met the racers! All the while, of course, your friends and family are doing the same.
In a lot of the small towns the race passes through, it’s become a bit of an event. I’d walk into a convenience store and the clerk would welcome me by name, having watched me come into town on the tracker. Or someone would cheer me on from the porch of a farmhouse in the dark, at 11pm. That kind of stuff was just nuts—and wonderful!
Finally, there are the “trail angels”, a growing cadre of super-fans who live near the route and make the effort to meet every racer on-course with encouragement—and sometimes gifts! Mike and Wendy Davis in Ash Grove, MO had commemorative TABR coins made for us. Paul Wells and his wife met me outside Berea, KY with a cold Gatorade and posted pictures to Facebook (so my family could see I was still alive)! Gretchen Heller Thomas and David Elliot stash a cooler full of goodies atop the biggest climb in Virginia for us all to attack. “Prince Purple” ambushed me at 11pm at a convenience store 100 miles from the finish. And finally, John Sprock and Tom Alford meet each and every racer at the finish in Yorktown for weeks, with beer, watermelon, a Facebook livestream, and transportation if needed. These folks, the Trans Am Bike Race community, make the event what it is, and they’ll be there next year doing the same. I hope someone reading this will be out there to experience it all!
Many thanks to Redshift Sports for an innovative and well-built product that really contributed to my comfort and efficiency, and for the opportunity to talk about the experience here.