What to Bring to The Pikes Peak APEX
Whether you are coming to Colorado Springs, Colorado to race for one day or ride all four, you’re in for a treat. September typically has some of the best weather of the year: crisp and cool mornings, warm afternoons but not too hot, low probability of afternoon thunderstorms, and bright yellow leaves on the aspens. That said, The Pikes Peak APEX presented by RockShox is also at altitudes between 6,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level and Rocky Mountain weather can change very quickly.
The best advice about apparel choices for The APEX is to expect great weather but be prepared for anything. A late September snowstorm is not unheard of in Colorado Springs, and rain or thunderstorms at 6,000-10,000 are significantly colder than at lower elevations.
The air up here is dry, which may be a relief to athletes used to riding and racing in high humidity. However, the downside of dry air is that the temperature rises and drops rapidly. September may see morning temperatures in the 40s and afternoon highs in the 80s.
Layering is the key to comfort and performance in the Rockies. If it’s hot, then it’s easy: a lightweight jersey, your favorite bibs or baggies, and full-finger summer gloves will do the trick. To handle the cool, cold, and downright nasty, consider bringing the following:
- Arm and knee warmers: Great for crisp mornings that develop into warm afternoons. For stages that reach higher elevations, you may want to keep the arm warmers handy in case the temperatures drop suddenly.
- Vest – When paired with arm warmers, a vest in the morning is a great way to beat the chill.
- Lightweight rain jacket – An alternative to vest and arm warmers, a lightweight rain jacket can be a multi-use garment. It can keep you warm for the start, get stuffed into a pocket, and then come out again to handle cold, wind, or rain. Although it’s not as modular as arm warmers and a vest, it’s one garment to manage instead of multiple. Just make sure it’s a rain jacket and not just a wind jacket. In rain at altitude, waterproof is better than water resistant.
- Warm gloves – These should definitely be in your luggage, but you’ll only need them if there’s a substantial chance of rain at higher elevations.
Pack an “Uh Oh Bag”
Local riders with experience racing in the Rocky Mountains frequently keep an “Uh Oh Bag” with their normal seasonal gear, just in case. It may seem strange to pack winter gloves, a thermal base layer and jacket, thermal shoe covers, a winter hat for under your helmet, and full-length leg warmers in your bag for an event in September. Most likely, these items will never see the light of day. But if you do need them, they will save the day.
You are responsible for your own repairs out on course at The APEX. There will be motos and aid stations on course, but be prepared to handle your own trailside repairs. Obviously, you’re not going to haul a bike shop’s worth of tools up the mountain with you. Fortunately, there are some essential that are small, light, and priceless when things go wrong:
- Multitool with chain tool – There are countless versions of multitool out there. Be sure your has the tools that fit your bike. If you have Torx bolts, make sure the multitool has the appropriate sizes. A chain tool is another essential addition for mountain bike races.
- Inflation device: CO2 cartridges are fast. Hand pumps can be used as many times as needed. Considering the remote nature of some Pikes Peak APEX stages, we recommend carrying both. If you have to choose between them, choose the pump.
- Tire repair tools, tire lever, and a tube: Although the Pikes Peak Region is not known for particularly jagged or sharp rocks, our trail systems has very little soil. It is mostly decomposed granite, with some slickrock in Palmer Park. Torn sidewalls and punctures that are too big for sealant are possible, so bring a tire plug kit, a tube, and a no-stretch material (bar wrapper, duct tape) for a tire boot.
- Small parts – It’s amazing how the smallest items can make or break your day. One set of brake pads, a quick link, and 1-2 pedal cleats with screws (unless you’re riding flat pedals) can fit in a small ziplock and hide in the bottom of a jersey pocket or frame bag.
Great bike shops and mechanics from Colorado Springs will be at Pikes Peak APEX to support riders with mechanical issues big and small. However, if your bike has proprietary parts, it’s a good idea to travel with spare parts. For instance, bring a derailleur hanger, seat binder bolt/clamp, tubeless valve stems, and any other peculiarly specific parts for your bike. It is also a good idea to throw a new tire and a container of tubeless sealant into your gear in case you need to replace a tire between stages.
Long days on the mountain bike are hard on your muscles and can also be hard on your skin, especially with the dry air in the Pikes Peak Region. You won’t win the race because of healthy skin, but you can certainly lose it, or be forced to drop out, due to skin problems. We recommend bringing – and using – the following:
- Sunscreen – It is easier to get sunburned at higher elevations because sunlight has traveled through less atmosphere to reach your skin. This means there is more UV exposure at higher altitudes compared to sea level. Don’t forget your lips, too!
- Anti-chafe cream – Some people swear by chamois cream and others never use it. Chafing may be more of an issue for athletes doing all the 4-day stage, especially if you are unaccustomed to 4 back-to-back long days in the saddle.
- Moisturizer – Dry skin is one of the big annoyances people have when they come to altitude. Being outside in the sun and wind for several hours, coupled with mild dehydration from racing, can leave your with dry, itchy skin pretty quickly.
Race Food and Hydration
Pikes Peak APEX will provide fully stocked aid stations. A list of aid station food and hydration items will be available prior to the event. However, if you have a favorite food or something you know works best for you, bring it with you. And remember to bring enough for multiple days!
There are some obvious and essential items not included in the lists above, like your mountain bike, helmet, eyewear, shoes, and general luggage. On that note, though, there are a few items you may want to include in your off-the-bike gear. Although the days can be warm to hot in late September, the late afternoons and evenings will cool off relatively quickly. Pants, sweatshirts, and light jackets will make evenings at the beer garden and morning coffee runs more comfortable.