Everesting tips — choice of route, timing, & gear

10 October 2023
“First, we need a spacious support vehicle...”

The everesting rule is that for a full repeat you must ride down the same climb (with an exception made for one-way loops). Hence, keep in mind that you need to count for both the ascend and descend parts — which are equal in length, but oh so different in all other aspects.

Your choice of the place should account for:
(a) pleasantness
(b) traffic & technicality
(c) route length
(d) logistics
(e) segment gradient

I will also talk the bike in section (f).

(A) Pleasantness

Begin with the simple. You are going to spend some 24+ hours on the same stretch of road — so choose the one that feels good to you, really.

MINIMAP | Traffic — RouteLogisticsGradientBike |

(B) Traffic & Technicality

While traffic relates to the pleasantness, it also affects safety. Obviously, it’s better to choose quiet roads — but consider a couple of nuances.

First, a road that you know as empty can happen to be quite busy in a specific time. In my case that was a narrow way through park, which I didn’t expect to become a chaotic parking spot on a festive day.
Second, traffic is not just the amount of vehicles on the road. It’s probably fine to have some cars on a straight road with good visibility but add street junctions or blind turns to the mix, and a risk of accident increases.

Personally, I think of that one bus stop where cars kept going around stationary coaches across the median strip, without looking twice at a cyclist coming towards them on an 8 % downgrade (slowly as they do :)

I also suggest considering the technicalities of the route — speed bumps, potholes, hairpins, dumpsters that tend to have broken glass nearby: what you would not think of twice on a normal ride, may become a factor rep after rep in a dark while sleep-deprived and maybe with an unexpected rain or something.

MINIMAP | Traffic — Route — LogisticsGradientBike |

(C) Route Length

You want to take just enough rest when descending, but you don’t want to cool down at that. I was happy with my choice of 1.6 km climb/descent — meaning 3.2 km full rep — a couple of minutes between climbs was a good resting time for me.

If I had choice of different-length routes, I would check, how long it takes to coast down each of them — and if that’s not too long that I would need to warm up my muscles again on every start of the climb.
MINIMAP | TrafficRoute — Logistics — GradientBike |

(D) Logistics

You will have to eat and drink a lot during your effort, so think not only where to get the supplies, but also where to store everything you need and the disposal. Nutrition is a personalised subject, so I will only note that you probably shouldn’t try anything new on the important day.

You will need front and back lights that must have enough battery for the entire night. If your route is covered with streetlamps, it’s easy to just use a low mode in front. However, if at least any portion of the route is dark, you want high beam — that depletes the battery quick. I like headlights with a removable 18650, or better yet 21700, battery — it is more efficient to carry a couple of spare ones than to charge from power banks (that likely have same 21700 elements inside, but additional bulk & weight of the shell and some efficiency loss when charging). Let alone the convenience of just swapping the internal batteries instead of plugging and dangling the external.

With an exception of maybe a couple of models, no cycling computer can last an everesting attempt on a single charge. For that you need either a power bank or an accessible socket — most likely, plugging in when taking even the shortest of standing rests is sufficient to keep the thing going. A minimalist charger is okay to carry up and down on yourself, but with the weight of a power bank I would think of where to stash it (which kinda defeats the purpose).

You may want to prepare a good range of clothing. I usually like to be minimal with apparel — and am quite tolerant to being under- or overdressed for the weather — but that’s where I made the biggest mistake in my everesting (so that you won’t).

In my geography and season the temperature on the day dropped from the high of 28°C in daytime to 6°C in the night. Just a week before the everesting I was in a cycling camp where I was starting everyday rides with a long descend at the low temperature of 7°C — wearing just summer jersey and bibs — which was unpleasant, but tolerable.
So, I thought, I would be just fine with a puffer vest thrown on top of my jersey. Ended up wearing a full set of winter clothes (the warm stuff — I’ve ridden 320 km in snowy below-zero conditions dressed like that) and still had to make a 3.5 hour-long pause to wait for the temperature to rise again closer to morning — I was so frozen that it was not even safe to keep going. Turns out that the sleep deprivation combined with speedy descents makes thermoregulation trickier than usual.

With that experience in mind, I would start hours before the sunrise, but not after it, to cope with the coldest time and darkness while fresh and motivated — and enjoy more comfortable outside conditions when already uncomfortable inside.

Speaking of timing, if you want your friends to come over and make some reps with you, it makes sense to schedule for a weekend or something as convenient for the most.

Lastly, my biggest logistical win was a restaurant (with a clean toilet and safe storage space for my stuff) and a 24-hour convenience store right on the segment. The fact that my home was just a couple of kilometers away helped with retrieving the winter clothing that I hadn’t packed in the first place. (As a bonus, I didn’t have to spend much time to get back home after the challenge was completed.)
MINIMAP | TrafficRouteLogistics — Gradient — Bike |

(E) Segment Gradient

First of all, the steadier the climb the better — a substantial difference between average vs maximum grade will both make you constantly shift gears (which you want to avoid for ease of mind) and limit the overall steepness of the climb.

The steepness should be dictated by your gears — or vice versa. You want to be able to ride the steepest part at your target power with a comfortable cadence (or a lower but still acceptable cadence — for when you’ll feel empty).

An easy — by road standards — combination of a 50-34 “compact” crankset and an 11–30 cassette is an overgear for the majority of cyclists. The lowest 34/30 gear lets you ride at 11.5 km/h with cadence of 80 rpm or 8.5 km/h with 60 rpm. This is too fast for most people to ride a sufficiently steep hill — and the effort would take too long if not steep enough.

Average everesting uphill power is around 2 watts/kg. If you think that sounds low, I can serve as an example of someone who did just that (and suffered). My ftp is around 4 w/kg and I do things like riding the series of 300—400—600 km brevets within 3 weeks or climbing a 3,700 m mountain without stopping (Alto de Letras, Colombia). If you are physically and mentally stronger — feel free to skip to the next section, as the following calculations are based on 2 w/kg.
For example, for a 75 kg individual the above 34/30 gear would allow the gradient of only 4,7 % at not-too-low 75 rpm — meaning the full attempt would span over 375 km, or 21:40 h in motion.

Let’s change that lowest gear to 1-to-1, e.g.:
• same 50-34 compact + new 11–34 cassette, or
• same 11–30 cassette + new 46-30 super-compact chainrings, or
• 40t single chainring with a 10–42 cassette on a gravel bike (40/42 gear with 40 mm tyres equals 1-to-1 on road bike rubber — geometry, you know).

We get an increase in the comfortable gradient from 4.7 to 5.5 % — corresponding to 320 km (minus 55) and 20:20 h. If you think shaving off 1:20 h without additional effort is not that significant — tell me about it at the hour 20 :) Personally, I have chosen the less-than-straight gear — 30/32 for a 5.9 % average grade — no regrets at all.

Thus, if you run a classical 53-39 crankset or even a semi-compact 52-36 — my advice is to consider sizing chainrings down. (As a side-note, if you don’t race, I recommend that generally, and not just for everesting. Regardless of how high your ftp or peak power is, seriously.)

And back to the choice of gradient — here is how the total moving time depends on the average grade for the above-described 75 kg person averaging 150 watts at uphill sections and coasting downhill:

5 % — 21:20 h
6 % — 19:40 h
7 % — 18:50 h
8 % — 18:10 h
9 % — 17:30 h

For a mere mortal, I would not recommend more than 9 %, as that is the maximum comfortable grade even with an extreme mullet gear of 38t single ring + 10–52 cassette + road tyres. Also, 70+ km/h speed on descends may be too much when you are tired and losing concentration.
MINIMAP | TrafficRouteLogisticsGradient — Bike |

(F) Bike

Everesting is a rare occasion where the weight of your setup has any measurable significance. An extra kilogram brought up a 5–9 % grade only decreases the speed by 0,05–0,15 km/h — which is nothing in a normal situation — but adds about 10 minutes over the full effort.

Aerodynamics is, of course, more important. You are going to descend at 50–70 km/h for 100–180 km in total. (Btw, how about new brake pads before the event?) Even though your aero gains are not calculable, but only measurable in a wind tunnel or with special devices, here is some data for you.

On my 50-ish km/h descend — so on the slower side with the least aero difference as far as everestings are concerned — the speed fluctuation with the same weather and zero encountered traffic was 8 km/h depending on my position (low on drops vs neutral on hoods). And I added a single-speed achievement to my everesting, so no pedalling downhill at all.

For my 160 km of descending that equals to 36 minutes of difference in total. Not game-changing, but still more than 3.5 kg difference between a light road bike and a rather heavy gravel. Mind the fact that my 5.9 % segment was neither the steepest, nor most favourable for descending — more gradient at the bottom, but less up top. If it was the opposite, I could gain more speed more quickly and there would be even more aero difference.
Chain lube is another factor that can play over such a distance. The transmission losses between a fresh top-performance lube and some dry mud-off (pun intended :) can be more than 10 watts, which would add a hollow 1+ hour to my effort for instance. And fact is, some lubes just won’t last for the duration of a full everesting. I should make a post on this subject sometime.

Tyres are always important — even if to count only 6–10 km/h uphills, a top-tier pair could easily save you dozens of minutes compared to a mid-level one. That said, I would hate to need to repair punctures during my attempt, so I not only stuck to tubeless as usual, but also put a more puncture resistant tyre on the front — the majority of time most of the weight was on the back wheel, so the more robust front did not eat up that many watts but decreased the probability of roadside stops — and my anxiety for that matter.
This is the only picture I’ve taken. All other colour photos are courtesy of DBB’s chief photographer Andrew, and the black-and-white ones — Alex Pal himself.