The cost of an adventure

After closing the doors on 2015 and wrapping up my dialog on what was Trans Am Bike Race 2015 (TABR15), it is a good summation to say that I believe my race-killer was lack of funds.  With that thought, several folks have made the logical leap and asked the question, “just how much money does it take to do the race?” This post will be my attempt to answer that.

A few caveats to mention:

  • This post is really for anyone who plans to race or is thinking about racing in their first endurance event, specifically TABR. I am sure a lot of this info would transfer over to other races, but in full disclosure, my experience is strictly TABR.
  • Much like one’s strategy, set-up or training, the cost of the race will be different for each person. There are just too many variables. What works for one, won’t for another. Everyone has different gear choices, comfort levels, metabolisms and abilities. These things will define your individual cost to do the race. The best I can do is to give you information based on my experience and research, then try to help you walk through what your expenses might look like

So how much does it cost? The shortest answer is “more than you think!”, but in all reality, I think this topic deserves more attention to detail than that. What follows is my take on TABR expenses. Buckle up and let’s get to this!

Here are a few main types of expenses that we can look at:

  • Travel– Everyone will have to get to and/or from the race. That will cost you!
  • Gear– You have your main kit and then stuff you’ll use during the race.
  • Nutrition– Ya gotta eat, but what will you eat? How much?
  • Sleep– It costs nothing to rest, but where you choose to do so can change that.

Those four categories encompass most of what you will need to spend money on while in the race, as long as things go according to plan. Of course, there can always be a wrench thrown in the works.

DIVERSIONS FROM THE PLAN

In 2014, Billy Rice broke his bike frame at the bottom bracket. Completely toast. He had to replace his frame in order to be able to carry on (there is much more to that, but you can watch Inspired to Ride to hear that story). That is above and beyond what the normal racer would need to spend for sure.

You could also have medical expenses. Before the 2015 race even started, German racer Matthias Mueller was struck by a car while out on a training ride just one day before the race. The ensuing treatment impacted his finances in a huge way and ended his bid to start the race.

Now these aren’t the only two instances where someone had the preverbal wheels fall off of their racing attempt, but I think you understand that some have had to spend more than they anticipated. I’m not going to go into emergency expenses because there is no way to know what could possibly happen.

GETTING YOUR KIT TOGETHER

KIT- it’s everything you need (or at least think you need) to take with you. Bike, clothing, sleep set-up… the list can be long or short, but you have to have stuff!

One of the biggest expenses that someone might make is their bike. You have to have one. It IS after all a bike race! That being said, most everyone who signs up for this event surely already owns a bike. They may want to buy a new one that would be more specific to road endurance racing, but that expense would need to be classified as optional. Everyone has their own preference.

Stuff you carry on your bike- sleeping kit, lights, charging systems, bikepacking bags. All sorts of bits and bobs fall in this one. With a background in backpacking, in the beginning I thought I had things sorted pretty well. This sport is after all just backpacking on a bike. As I began preparing for the race, I ended up spending quite a bit more than I thought I would, but I was a rookie. Someone who has done this sort of racing before will probably have all the kit they need. I tried to keep expenses to a minimum, but ended up sinking about $1500USD into kit. You can get a look at my TABR15 set-up in a post I made here.

Side note: Your kit is a rabbit hole of time (spent researching), stress (making decisions) and most importantly expense. There is ALWAYS something lighter or better and with it usually comes a big price tag. Sometimes it is nice to have top end kit that is super light. Don’t get crazy with it. I’ll quote what Mike Hall said about weight in a piece he wrote for Bikepackers Magazine and leave it at that:

Don’t get too hung up on weight.

Your bike only needs to be light enough that you can’t make it any lighter without compromising something else (or spending an awful lot of money). Don’t scrimp on tire sidewalls and pack volume. Packing less into a slightly bigger bag so that it can go in any old way saves a lot of time when deploying and packing up your sleeping kit, way more than a few grams will on a climb. Try not to compare your bike against other competitors for weight, try not to even weigh everything and definitely don’t do the energy calcs, it will only make it more difficult to stop thinking about and it doesn’t really mean anything. Other riders have other builds and other metabolisms and eating habits. There is such a thing as light enough and it may not be lighter than everybody else. It won’t make you significantly slower, you might just have to eat a few grams more food and besides there are plenty of other things to worry about.

Some other, shall we say miscellaneous expenses that might get overlooked are things like costs incurred during training. Preparing for a race like this means you have to get out on your bike and use your stuff. The best training you can do is getting out overnight or even several nights so you can experience what its like to rely on your kit. Doing longer rides like this, you’ll go through tires and chains. You will have to eat on those rides. You might use batteries for devices. Maybe you’ll end up having to replace pieces of gear. I can’t quantify these things for you because everyone trains different. Just something for you to think about.

So, backing up to those four I mentioned earlier- travel, gear, nutrition and sleep- let’s dig a little deeper, because I think this is where I can help you the most.

TRAVEL

Now, I understand that we all live in different places around the world, so there isn’t a way for me to give you an idea of what your specific cost of traveling to or from the race will be. I can however give you my experience. I have traveled to do the Trans Am twice- once in 2011 to tour it and again in 2015 for the race. Both times I researched different types of travel (plane, train, bus) and I also researched whether to ship or bring my bike along with me. My research revealed that flying was both fastest and cheapest. Both times I flew into Portland, OR from St Louis. I live in Missouri, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country. As for getting the bike where I need it, I chose to check it as luggage in a bike box on the plane. There are some ways to ship your bike (check bikeflights.com), but they aren’t that much cheaper and take much longer.

In my opinion, if you live in the continental US, there is no cheaper or easier airline to fly than Southwest. Fares are the lowest I could find, carry on luggage is free (I used my saddle bag as my carry on) and there aren’t fees for your first checked bag, unless it is oversize. I boxed my bike up and checked it as luggage. In 2011 it cost me $50 for the oversize charge. They raised the price in the mean time and in 2015 it cost me $75. I have heard horror stories of people having to pay exorbitant amounts with other airlines. Side note- make sure to know what your stuff weighs. The oversize baggage price of $75 only goes up to 50 pounds. Beyond that, the price goes up. That is why I take the seat bag on as a carry on. I take some items of kit out of the box and put them in the bag to make sure I am under the weight limit with all the packaging.

I can already hear my international friends screaming, “It doesn’t work that way for us!” Well, I know. I have yet to travel international so I won’t be much help to you here. All I’ll say is shop around different airlines, check the airlines oversize baggage regulations and keep your stuff as light as possible to minimize expense.

I was super blessed to have a friend who travels a lot on business purchase my flights for me with points he earned from being a frequent flyer. The only expense I had was the oversize baggage fee for my bike box- $75USD. Had I needed to buy my own tickets, my flight from STL-PDX would’ve been somewhere around $175 and a flight from ORF-STL runs about $150 (both of those figures are flying with Southwest).

GEAR- DURING THE RACE

I know I mentioned some about gear before, but that was in reference to getting your kit together. Hopefully, when you reach the start, you will have everything you need. More than likely you will have too much, but that is for another post. 🙂

The gear I am talking about now is your maintenance stuff: tires, tubes, chain, cassette, lube, brake pads, cleats for your shoes- any sort of consumable for the bike. Also think about personal consumables. Do you use chamois cream? Wet wipes are a good thing to carry to clean up the nether regions with when you are roughing it overnight. Maybe batteries for electronics? What about sunscreen? You are likely to be on the road anywhere from 20-40 days. All these things are items that you will more than likely use multiple times throughout the race. As you train, keep track of what you use, how often you have to replace them and what it costs. With 4400 miles and 20+ days, how much will you need?

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no need to carry all these items with you from the start. It is within the rules to ship things to post offices c/o General Delivery. Of course that means that you will need to be at that spot during the hours the post office is open to retrieve your items. I sent myself one package General Delivery to Missoula, MT during my 2011 tour with no problems, other than I got to town Saturday evening before Labor Day. This meant I had to wait there until Tuesday to get my package. Not too big of a deal when you are touring, but catastrophic if you are racing.

During TABR15, I spent an average of $10.20USD/day on gear, postage and supplies. That figure includes one tire, some batteries and postage for items shipped home from Silverthorne, CO. I know I spent a little on some wet wipes and Neosporin, but I wasn’t able to track down where that went. My accounting wasn’t an exact science folks!

NUTRITION

What you eat will likely be your biggest expense during the race itself. Where you choose to get that food will play a huge roll in just how expensive it gets.

The places you can reliably find food along the Trans Am route are gas stations/convenience stores, diners, restaurants, markets (think Dollar General) and grocery stores. The order I put those in is indicative of how often you will see each type of store immediately along the route. You can get off route and find places, but in the interest of time saved, your best bet IMO is to figure out how to get what you need from convenience stores. That being said, you pay for convenience. Only slightly more nutritious meals can be found at restaurants and diners, but with that choice you have to stop for longer. By the time you tip (and you most certainly better!), these meals aren’t cheap either.

What I found in my 13 days of racing TABR15 was an average of $53.09USD spent per day on food. That is a little more than what I expected and more than some of the racers I polled from TABR14. It is important to point out that I am not a little man and not once did I deny myself food during the race. I ate all I wanted and still lost 10lbs in 13 days.

SLEEP

Depending on your willingness to rough it, where you choose to sleep can have a great effect on what it costs you. TABR15 finisher Adam Kazilsky camped out along the road or in parks almost every night. I asked him about his sleeping expenses and he said he spent $84- one $80 hotel stay for his birthday and a $4 day pass at a park. In my opinion, that is the low end of the scale. I know there were others that spent almost, if not every, night in a hotel. Depending on how many days you take for the race, that expense could add up quickly.

My lodging expenses for TABR15 were $437.63USD which was $72.94/stay (6 nights in real beds), or $33.66/day averaged out over my 13 days. An interesting point is that my lodging expenses were $0 for the first five days. My 6 hotel nights were in my last 8 days.

TOTAL 

So, totaling it all up? My expenses were mine. Everybody’s are different. In total, during the race, I spent $1260.42 over 13 days, or $96.96/day.

Had I continued on in the race, I would have had to have spent more on tires and tubes. Food expenses likely would have remained about the same. Lodging is sooooo easy to spend money on. I would have likely spent more on hotels had I carried on.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the end, I would say that an in-race average dollar/day figure of $100 is a good budget to shoot for in preparation. If you can do better than that during the race then you are golden. Many of the 2014 racers I spoke with planned on less. That was not the case for me. Don’t forget that these figures are during the race! Race registration, travel, SPOT tracker rental, trackleaders.com fee, pre-race/post-race meals and hotels all add up too. Overall expenses could be anywhere form $3000 to $5000, depending on your particular circumstances and choices. To some that is a lot and others it isn’t. For me, it’s not about the money. I have to have it to race, but the race is an adventure. An experience that you will never forget. That is priceless.

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