Currie Gillespie, a good friend of mine from Winnipeg, has been a part of the MS Bike Riding Mountain Challenge for years. He’s a fixture in Manitoba Cycling and has for a long time been encouraging new riders and showing them the ropes of riding. I had a quick chat with Gillespie about how he became involved in the ride and who can participate (spoiler: anyone can do it, even you!). Currie has got some pretty solid tips and tricks for preparing and completing the MS Bike Riding Mountain Challenge which takes place Sept. 8 and 9.
How did you get involved in the MS Riding Mountain Challenge?
The RMC was not where it all began, but I will spare you the early years. I first got involved with the Gimli ride in 2007. I had quit smoking in April, bought a bike in June and joined the Woodcock MS Team in July for the August MS ride. My cousin who is my age got multiple sclerosis (MS) when she was in her 30s and it hit her hard with the loss of her short-term memory, balance and fatigue. She is 59 now, the same as me, and she spends her days and nights in a care facility. So it felt like the best cause to raise money for. Also, I needed to step up my recovery from a brain aneurysm years earlier. I needed a big challenge.
I had six weeks to go from a 12 km rider on the weekends with the family to someone who could ride 100 miles in two days. I think it took me three days to recover from my first 50 km ride. But I had a great coach, so it all worked out.
I got involved in the RMC in 2013 after riding in the Biking to the Viking since 2007. It was suggested to me that I should try the ride because it was so beautiful and satisfying. I was ready for the next challenge after doing Biking to the Viking for six years.
Now I ride bike support for both rides and the MS Walk. I also captain the MS Rookie Team for Gimli Team Huldufolk (Icelandic for Hidden People).
What is the MS Bike Riding Mountain Challenge?
It is a 140 km ride over two days with over 300 other riders. Day one is mostly uphill with 700 m elevation gain. Day 2 is mostly downhill. One of my friends hit 90 km/h on day 2. My personal record is only 87.5 km/h and I won’t be doing that again. It is safely out of my system!
There is bike support riding with the group of riders that have first aid and basic mechanical training. At each pit stop (10 to 15 km apart) there is first aid, fuel and mechanics to keep everyone moving.
What’s the goal of the ride?
The overall goal of the ride is to raise money to end MS but while you are doing that you are enjoying great people, beautiful scenery and wildlife as well as the joy of your personal achievement.
Who can take part?
Anyone can take part as long as they are at least 10 years old.
Do you have to have experience as a racer or advanced rider to participate?
No experience necessary. I had the pleasure of preparing a rider for her first and longest bike ride. In a matter of a few rides she went from zero to 50 km but all on the flats. On day one the key piece of advice I gave her was to: “Give yourself permission to ride slow up the hills, then when you are on the top, give yourself permission to recover because there will always be another hill.” She made it with only getting off to walk for about 20 meters.
Do you have any other advice for new riders?
It is not about getting there fast, it is just about getting there.
What sort of experience should one have if they hope to complete the challenge?
The only thing you need to complete this ride is the desire to challenge yourself and the will to keep going. It helps to imagine how difficult a typical day is for someone with MS. We have it easy, we just need to climb that mountain once a year rather than every day.
Can someone who may only ride very occasionally complete the challenge?
Absolutely, most of the riders in the RMC do not cycle regularly.
If they want to make it easier, they can get involved in MS sanctioned training rides (I have seven scheduled for this year) or join any number of group rides at their local bike shop.
What kind of bike do you need?
Any bike works! The key is that it is safe: all things tight and straight, tires properly inflated and functioning brakes. A road bike is an ideal bike for climbing but I have heard others say they ride their mountain bike because of the easier gear ratio it has. I would not recommend a cruiser as the gear ratio would be the issue. That said, we had a guy on a fixie do this ride a few times.
Should an individual train to prepare for the ride?
Ideally, yes. It helps you enjoy the evening and the ride down the next day just a little more!
Tell me about the training and practice rides put on beforehand.
There are many opportunities to get out on group rides through your local bike shop but the only MS Training rides happen in Winnipeg. We meet in the south end. Before we head out we have a little housekeeping; one week it will be changing a flat and bike cleaning, another will be nutrition, another may be the High Traffic Act and how to make it work for us.
After we ride out to Grande Pointe for a few loops. Grand Pointe is quite perfect for training. You get a 5 km easy warm-up, then a 9.5 km loop where folks can go their own speed and we can work on riding in a paceline, drafting, echelon and a little coaching along the way.
There are seven of these training rides scheduled for 2019 to ready folks for the Gimli Ride and the RMC.
Is it a hard ride?
What is the saying? Not rule #5…..the other one “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” This statement is so true. It is in our nature to push ourselves to a certain level so we tend to put out the same effort. Through training we can put out more power with the same effort, making us faster.
So the short answer is that it is only as hard as you want it to be. Take your time, back off before you get tired and always save energy for the next big effort.
Do you have any top tips for first timers?
Expect lots of support from friendly participants, teammates and MS Bike staff and volunteers. It is a fun family environment conducive to making long-term friends.
– Clean and lube your bike
– Get your bike checked over a few days before the big ride
– Go for a short ride now that the work is done to make sure everything feels good
– On ride day, let the group stretch out for a few kilometres before making your move. It is much safer than managing in a large glut of cyclists with varying skills and distractions.
– Check the weather and dress appropriately. In September it can be 0 C or 7 C but raining or 40 C and sunny. It is Manitoba!
– Always have at least 500 ml of fluid and a snack. You may need to stop in-between pit stops
– Be self-sufficient
– Know how to fix a flat
Carry with you:
– Boot/$5 bill
– Pump/CO2 (wrap several inches of Gorilla tape around as insulation)
– Patch kit
– Tire levers
Oliver Evans is a 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria. In 2019, is racing with Trek Red Truck Racing.