A Crow in Badlands
"Badlands is about you and your bike, that's all."
One of the hardest ultra-race you could imagine is back.
Over 750km of gravel route and 14000m of the total climb is just the beginning of what the Badlands is.
The backbone of this challenge is your mental approach to what possible means. Luis Pablo Garcia of Crow Bicycles is no stranger to long hauls. To prove that, he took the engine and battery out of our Crow Gravital and raced the hell out of it! As the dust settled over the Andalusian roads, we asked Luis why he always wants to one-up the impossible.
Why has Badlands named the hardest ultrarace there is?
Most survivors will point out the heat of one of the immense European deserts getting close to 50 o'C during the day with close to no shadow to hide in. Others will dream about making it to the finish line in under 48h, making them overhaul themselves. Hallucinating, water and sleep deprivation, ego issues - it is all there hidden between rocks and thorns of Spain.
As Luis told us:"it is possibly the toughest gravel race in the world, not only for the hardness of the track, the accumulated difference in altitude, slopes that exceed 15% continuously, and impassable terrain such as the Tabernas desert and on the beach of Cabo de Gata at Almería... But because there are many stretches of kilometres where there is no possibility of recharging water, 120 kilometres without a village or source to collect water. This makes the days on the bike very complicated and with a lot of head management.”
You will be racing among the world's best athletes, and overtaking Olympic Games gold medalists may be tempting but remember that Badlands is all about you against you. You must determine whether to race it for a podium or simply survive the 750km of madness.
Luis Pablo Garcia went there to represent the Crow Bicycles family and make the rest of you believe
Believe that this race could be done with a Crow Gravital with no engine and battery support. E-bikes may be the least suitable option for an ultrarace, but not when you keep your design on point.
Our goal stays close to our roots - riding bikes for the sake of riding. Engines are just a tool that at no point should stop you from enjoying the ride. With Crow Bicycles, you can always safely and quickly get rid of them and haul miles.
Getting back to Badlands... How does the Gravital do the job? We asked Luis after he caught his breath and sanity at the finish line:
"Regarding riding without an engine, I missed it in many moments - ascends mostly. Indeed it would have been of great help, jajajajaja. Yet, I used the space left to fill it up with 226ers nutrition products, which came in handy to have enough reserves. The bike gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of security and stability. It was not the lightest of Badlands, but light enough to allow me to achieve the challenge. Without any breakdown or scare during the almost 800 kilometres of badlands, withstanding many impacts and broken terrain. A companion you can rely on."
How to prepare your steed for such a treacherous endeavour? It's not your average bikepacking trip when keeping it light is everything. While racing Badlands, you need to think about your water intake and where to store it as your body quickly gasps 5 litres a day minimum. Food? It is easy to think about calories when shopping a week before the race, but your mind may play tricks on you, making you think ice cream and a gel will be enough for a day. Snack often and keep the fuel running during these 20 h saddle days. Sleep? This is your choice, but feeling fully recovered sounds like a joke for the finishers. Get ready for cramps, sore ass and back pain. Sun? Probably your biggest challenge is to learn how to ride with it. Days are long, and the sun makes it as hot as possible in one of the most extensive deserts in Europe. Sunscreen often and plan to rest during the hottest hours as siesta time is not just a way to avoid hard work in the region. Climbing Veleta Pass at 3,212m at noon is a killer, believe us.
There is no drafting policy during the race and no out-of-the-race help. Your bike should be your castle that stays strong during each war for another kilometre. As we spoke with Luis, a proper mindset is everything. We have heard stories about hallucinations from lack of sleep and collapsing due to insufficient resources. Strategic thinking sounds easy, but when you race among the world's elite, your ego or simple joy to rush with the peloton takes over. We are just humans doing crazy stuff, and we love it.
So why do people from all over the world race this near-death experience called Badlands?
Some call it a character-building experience. Some are good at prolonged suffering, and the rest love the ride. Ultra gravel racing brings the best out of us and shows our true colours. It is not only the test for our fitness skills but our human nature.
There will be moments of doubt, trust us, more than once. But you feel alive when you cruise Cabo de Gata Natural Park or hike at sunset at the Tabernas Desert.
This race changes you profoundly. As humans, we tend to change rapidly during peak performance. This is it. The change and motivation that comes from breaking yourself are one of the biggest euphoric feelings we can get. So we chase it!
Badlands is no joke. Ultimately, we are happy that our mate made it through in one piece and is here among us to tell the story. Now, as always, we get back to our design process to think about what could be done better next time to help individuals like Luis achieve their goals.
Luis Pablo and Crow wants to thank its support to:
@Badlands - https://badlands.cc
@226ers Nutrition – www.226ers.com
@Gobik Wear – www.gobik.com
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