We caught up with Ken Zylstra ahead of this year's Tour Divide to check out his Waheela C setup and to ask him a few questions. This is his first attempt at this monster route, and we look forward to checking back in after the finish to see how everything went. You can follow his ride here, and stay tuned for our post-ride follow up!
1. How long have you wanted to do the Tour Divide route, and why is 2021 the year?
I first learned about the Tour Divide when I watched a documentary about the race back in, I think it was, 2010. I was so intrigued and interested in the race, but it seemed like something I would never have the opportunity to take part in. I even had the movie downloaded on my iPad and I used to watch it in my tent to inspire me for the race the next day. The common challenge was that I would never have enough time or take enough time off work until this spring when my job of 20 years was eliminated, which was something that was not planned, but I quickly realized and with the recommendations of my wife, that this was the year and my opportunity to take on the Tour Divide. I am calling this ride the “Lemonade Ride” in the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, ha – ha!
2. What has your training looked like leading up to the event and how has it differed from your riding in different years?
I am an avid cyclist, so I spend a lot of time on my bikes year around. I feel that my base line training has always been good. I go to the gym for strength, additional cardio training, yoga and foam rolling. When I decided I was going to race the Tour Divide, I quickly changed my training and focused on volume. I really needed to up my mileage so I added as many miles as I could each day, each week. The challenge was less about biking, the challenge was getting my body used to being in the saddle for an extended period of time. I had a goal between 200-300 miles per week with a mix of longer +100-mile rides, shorter, intense 50-mile rides combined with hill repeats followed by recovery days which included foam rolling, stretching, yin yoga. I was introduced to some amazing innovative technology with Ride With GPS that works in conjunction with my Wahoo Element Roam. I was able to find unlimited new gravel terrain right in my backyard which allowed me to have so much more variety in my training and ride new gravel which got me excited to get me out on my bike each morning. In the past, I would ride the same 20-mile gravel loop, do the same hills day in and day out.
3. Why did you choose a Waheela C?
I have been a huge fan of Otso. For many years. I have ridden and continue to ride on the Voytek during the Minnesota winters and then I have had multiple versions of Otso gravel frames including the Warakin and more recently I have been riding on the Waheela C. I really like the versatility of the Waheela C frame for many reasons. One being the tire clearance, I am able to run a variety of sizes with plenty of clearance. The Waheela C also features multiple mounting points for cages, bags and bottles. Combined with the ability to use unlimited crank and drive train options and it's CRAZY light weight and super comfortable on varying terrain. It has been fun and such a privilege to work with this Minnesota based company for this custom set up.
4. What gearing will you be using? Why?
I am using an Easton carbon crank with 170mm crank arms. I am running a Wolf Tooth 32T PowerTrac Elliptical front chain ring and I have an 11-speed SRAM rear cassette with a 46T Wolf Tooth replacement cog on the rear which gives me a range of 10T to 46T. This gives me great range when I am rolling fast or when I need a super, super granny gear.
5. I see that you have the Terrene Honali Tough 700x50c tires mounted up. How did you decide which tries to run?
That was an easy choice. I love the Terrene tire brand and the Honali is a smooth riding tire that can handle all types of conditions. I am going to be riding over a lot of gravel, rocks, roots and mud and I was looking for a tire that could ride over those conditions and could roll smoothly.
6. Tell us about other aspects of your Waheela C setup for the race and what elements required the most thought.
My bags. Just really working through the optimal set up for where everything goes. I did a lot of test rides locating, re-locating, moving and removing my ultimate bag configuration. I needed a lot of storage, but I really wanted to make sure that I wasn’t adding too much weight or allowing me to pack to much gear. I think I have it dialed in, but I am certain that there will be some changes and modifications once the race begins, and I get on the trail.
7. What are you looking forward to the most about the ride?
Again, this race has always have been a dream of mine and I want to take the most of this opportunity to enjoy the serenity, the solitude. I always go back to this mantra when people ask me why I do the races I do “I am drawn to and I crave the simplicity of the train, the core elements are unforgiving, but the rhythm of the trail is quite simple. Move forward, eat, drink, sleep (when you are able) and keep moving. You are in charge of you, you are responsible for you. The Tour Divide is the ultimate 2700-mile opportunity to just immerse yourself in being self-supported and to have the time to think and be with the big guy above to guide me on my next life chapter post-race. It’s the ultimate pause and I can’t wait!
8. What are you most nervous about?
Probably the unknown. I typically get nervous, anxious and excited when I attempt something new or for the first time. I go through a lot of second guessing my training, my gear choices, my strategy, however, once the race starts, I always quickly settle into my groove and all that is behind me. Also, being a father of a very close family, I also worry about what it is going to be like being away from my family for a month and to make sure that they are ok and that I am not being selfish.