As expected, the 29 inch wheel size clearly dominates at the Cape Epic. The benefits of improved rollover and ability to cover ground seem to be a no-brainer for Epic participants. The chart below shows that their popularity has grown rapidly between since 2011. Interestingly, the 650b or 27.5 inch wheel size has never really taken off and a scant 3% of Epic bikes in 2016 were 650b, while 5% of bikes were 26ers.
Dropper Seatposts and Hydration Packs
We're starting to see more and more dropper seatposts making their way into the top levels of cross-country racing but in marathon mountain biking the added weight is still considered a big enough drawback for the pros to stick to their a static carbon seatposts. But that doesn't mean everyone feels this way. In 2016, a surprising 1 in 5 riders said they would be riding with a dropper seatpost at the Absa Cape Epic.
Another item not immediately associated with marathon racing is the hydration pack, but apparently they are very popular. In 2016, 65% of the field said that they would ride with a hydration pack at some time in the race. Perhaps our impressions are very much shaped by the images we see from the racing end of the field.
Full Suspension vs Hardtail
It seems we are growing soft with time. The percentage of dual suspension bikes at the Epic has increased from 69% in 2007 to 92% in 2016. This could be due to improved suspension technology, reduced weight, and increasing availability. The chart below shows the steady increase in the proportion of dual suspension bikes compared with hardtails.
The front derailleur is not dead, yet. The field is split nearly 50/50 between double and single chain rings, with only 3% of participants in 2016 still using a triple chainring drivetrain. With the introduction of SRAM's 1x12 drivetrain, and the subsequent trickle down of technology, will the balance swing in the favour of the single chainring or do riders still find real benefit in the double chainring for ultra endurance events?
Here's one for the bike shops to take note of: 57% of respondents in 2016 said that they plan to replace their entire drive train ahead of the race.
Whether it is simply due to the steady increase of bike prices or a sign of the average participant's growing disposable income, but the average value of the bikes taking part in the Cape Epic has risen rapidly in recent years.
In 2007, the average bike value was around R28,000. This rose to R39 000 in 2012 but by 2016 the average value had skyrocketed to R76 000 with 24% of the bikes being valued over R100 000.
The heart rate monitor is still king when it comes to training aids used while preparing for the Cape Epic. Its use has remained steady since 2007. The bike computer, however, has seen a dramatic rise in popularity since 2010. Power is widely regarded as an important metric for training purposes but until recently they were prohibitively expensive. With the decrease in price and wider availability, it seems that since 2014, Cape Epic participants are more readily turning to power for training with 43% having used it for training in 2016.
While there has been an increase in the use of devices as training aids, the training time Cape Epic entrants put in has not changed much since 2007.
If you're thinking of doing the Epic yourself, here's how much you're likely to have to train. The majority spend between 4 to 6 months preparing for the race. They average 12 hours of training time per week with spikes of 18.5 hours per week during intense periods. Prescribed training programmes are popular, with three-quarters of participants claiming to have followed a training plan in preparation for the Epic.
Tented accommodation is the norm for South African stage racing. We all have our strategies for coping with the confined space and late night snoring but with eight days on one of the toughest races in the world, who could blame you if you wanted something a little more comfortable. It turns out that the majority of riders (56%) put up with the communal tented living for all seven nights with 7% of participants arranging a mobile home, 9% taking the premium upgrade option and just over 27% opting to stay elsewhere.