Lael’s Bike

Lael’s Bike

Riding with Lael Wilcox, I was impressed not just by her speed and positive attitude, but also by her efficiency and planning. When we stopped at the small (and sparsely stocked) store in Index, I was still surveying the shelves when Lael was already checking out, having snagged the only sandwich, something to drink and a chocolate bar. I realized that her success in long-distance events comes down to not just one factor, but optimizing every aspect of her rides. The same applies to her bike. She rides it incredibly well, both on smooth pavement and on rough gravel. She dances up steep climbs and flies down twisty descents. Here’s what she says about her bike and equipment. —JH

The ride comes first, and I’m always looking for the best bike setup to support it. To start turning dreams into reality, I make plans on paper. I often take a blank calendar and fill in the next six months with as many riding dreams, races and outreach projects as I can fit. If I can ride from one to the next, I do. I love when timing and place connect, and I love seeing everything along the way. It keeps me going.

I carved out the summer months of 2017 for my project of riding all of the roads in Alaska. My plan was to take on different sections in one- to two-week stints and come back to Anchorage in between to work at The Bicycle Shop to fund the next stretch. I’ve been riding Specialized bikes since 2015 and look to their line up of bikes to see what will best support my races, adventures and dreams. I’d ridden paved roads in Alaska on my mom’s old Specialized Ruby, a bike designed for endurance road riding. I won the Trans Am on a newer Ruby in 2016. Coming back to Alaska, I knew I’d be riding an equal split of dirt and pavement. I didn’t know the quality of the roads because I’d never seen them. I expected they’d be pretty well-maintained as they are major travel routes to connect the remote limbs of Alaska with the larger hubs, junctions and the two border crossings into Canada. In 2017, Specialized came out with a new model of the Diverge that came stock with 700×38 tires and the Future Shock – 20 mm of suspension just above the head tube, designed to eat up rough roads. I got my bike the day before I set out on my first leg of the trip. I strapped some bags and a small tent to it and started pedaling north to Deadhorse, riding just under 1,000 miles [1,600 km] over the next week via Hatcher Pass, my folks’ cabin in Willow, and a 92-mile detour into Denali National Park. I loved it. 

Over the summer, I rode that bike into the ground, pedaling every road in the state. I sent it back to Specialized in the fall, so they could see how it fared. My mechanic friend Madeline eventually rebuilt the Diverge with a flat bar and gave it a second life. I’ve spent a good deal of time on subsequent Diverge models – guiding in Southern Arizona with The Cyclist’s Menu, riding from Boulder, Colorado to Emporia, Kansas to the start of DKXL in 2019, from LA to Yuma, and many more miles in Alaska.

I went back to Alaska for the summer of 2020 to ride the roads with Rue and make a video. Specialized came out with a new Diverge, and this one has muscles. It’s a bit stouter with tire clearance of up to 700×50. It’s a more capable machine for rougher roads, but I don’t feel compromised when I’m riding it on pavement, either. For me, ultimately, it’s better for a wider mix of terrain. I’ve recently had this bike fully rebuilt with SRAM components. 

Last week, I went out to tour a 132-mile loop in Southern Arizona over three days with Rue. The route is a combination of high-quality dirt roads, washboard, chunky jeep roads and cracked pavement. Then I went back and rode the whole route in a day. My Diverge was a perfect setup for the both the tour and the challenge – equally ready to travel or race.

Here are a few favorite aspects of my Diverge:
—1x SRAM drivetrain with AXS electronic shifting and a wide range Eagle cassette (38T chainring, 10-50T cassette). With only a rear derailleur, shifting is mentally simple and seamless. I originally had this bike set up with Shimano GRX Di2 which also worked well. I prefer the wider range of gears of the SRAM setup. 
— Dynamo lighting: a SON hub paired with a Sinewave Cycles Beacon headlight. I like generator lights because they’re consistent and always available. I like that I can charge my electronics out of the Sinewave headlight, but I’m also thinking about trying an Edelux for a better beam pattern at moderate and high speeds..
— Rene Herse Oracle Ridge 700×48 knobbies with Endurance casing. I keep them on all the time because they’re fast and capable on both dirt and pavement. And they are practically silent. The larger-volume tires are the most significant upgrade for the new Diverge. 
— I use a Wahoo ELEMNT Roam for navigation and a Quad Lock mount for my iPhone.
— Hydraulic disc brakes: consistent, powerful braking in all conditions.
— The Future Shock is really nice for rough terrain and washboard. I can comfortably descend at greater speed than I would on a fully rigid bike.
— Easton AX 70 carbon handlebars: I’ve used these bars on multiple Diverges and my Specialized Epic HT that I raced for the DKXL and the Tour Divide in 2019. They have a minimal flare and are very comfortable. 
— Ergon SR women’s road saddle. I use this saddle on every bike. It has a little cushioning and a great shape.

— Revelate Designs luggage. Both the Pronghorn Handlebar system and the Spinelock seat pack are waterproof and do not sway. In the past, I’ve almost always relied on framebags to carry equipment. It’s nice to carry heavier gear (tools & food) low and central to the bike. I usually put a spare tube in the little corner close to the bottom bracket and build up from there. If I need to carry a bladder with 2 – 6 liters of water (like on the Baja Divide), the framebag is a good place for it. Not all framebags are designed and built equally – I particularly like the Revelate Designs ones. They are typically a bit wider and flare towards the handlebars for larger capacity. This shape does not work for all riders, as some people with a narrower pedal stroke have problems with their legs rubbing on the bag. The RD framebags have also been improved with oversized zippers and stretchy material on either side of the zipper to make them more durable. This change happened in 2014 – before that, I would break zippers after about 3 months of touring. I haven’t had problems since the design change.
If I’m out for a trip where I need capacity for multiple days of food (like touring the Dalton Highway in Alaska with Rue last summer), I usually rely on a framebag. Another added benefit is that I can access the bag easily while riding (to store layers, equipment or grab a snack).

I frequently change my bag set up because it feels liberating to mix it up. Lately, it’s felt really nice to keep the frame open for bottle cages and water bottles. Without this space, I have to find other solutions for water. In the past, I’ve used various solutions, including feedbags and a hydration backpack. These all work. Sometimes, a hydration backpack is the best solution for mountain biking, because the suspension takes over a lot of the frame space, and it’s also easier to drink while riding on rough terrain (to avoid taking my hands off of the handlebars to grab water bottles and put them back in the bottle cage). Most of the time, I prefer having water in normal bottle cages in the frame.

That’s the bike I’ve been riding most of the time lately. I does what I want to do and takes me where I want to go.

Photo credits: Rugile Kaladyte

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Comments (41)

  • ryan-8242

    I’ve been loving my Snoqualmie 44s for urban and gravel riding. I know Lael had used the Fleecer Ridge. I have a 2020 Pivot Mach 4SL and I just installed a set of Fleecer Ridge’s. So far the bike feels noticeable smoother and faster but I don’t see anyone online talking about this tire on mountain bikes. I’m riding on Midwest trails, mixed terrain, climbs, descents, rocks, roots, mud, etc. What are your thoughts?

    March 25, 2021 at 7:01 am
    • Jan Heine

      Lael may be able to chime in – we developed the Fleecers for her drop-bar mountain bike… (I don’t know if she’s near a computer or riding on some multi-day adventure right now.)

      Many riders use the 29″ x 2.2″ Fleecer Ridge tires on their mountain bikes. Sofiane won the French Divide with them, Amanda Naumann runs them on her Niner… It all depends on what you do with your mountain bike. For fast cross-country riding on trails and gravel roads (and even pavement), they’re ideal. (That’s what we designed them for.) But if you ride your mountain bike in technical single-track, you may need a tire with stiffer flanks and sharper shoulder knobs to climb out of ruts.

      March 25, 2021 at 8:07 am
      • Lael

        I absolutely agree with this assessment. The Fleecer Ridge tires are ideal for cross-country riding. They are also a great choice for mixed terrain. For technical, rugged riding, I opt for knobbier tires, but they definitely slog through any pavement or smooth surfaces along the way.

        March 25, 2021 at 9:10 am
    • Patch

      Hey Ryan. I mounted the 29″ x 2.2″ Fleecer Ridge tires on my Niner Jet RDO mountain bike yesterday on some Stan’s rims. Very smooth on the pavement test ride. Headed to Moab this weekend to try them on parts of white rim. I do not ride a lot of technical single-track, so I am hoping these are a good choice. If they work out this weekend, I expect to use them on a White Rim ITT later this year.

      March 25, 2021 at 8:44 am
  • PK

    Wow. Electric shifting and hydro brakes a thousand miles from expert repair. I admire her faith in the bike industry. As a shop owner and mechanic you would never catch me on anything but stainless steel cables.

    March 25, 2021 at 7:34 am
    • Jan Heine

      I can’t speak for Lael, but I’ll add my perspective here. The reason most endurance racers are using electronic shifting is simple: It’s more reliable than cable-operated brifters. As long as you keep the batteries charged, there isn’t much to go wrong – no cables to fray, no tiny ratchets to wear, no housing to clog up with mud. If you’re running downtube shifters, cables are usually trouble-free, but brake/shift-levers are awfully complex and full of small parts.

      As to brakes, you need them to work first. I don’t know of any cable-operated discs that would withstand a complete Tour Divide at Lael’s speeds without adjustment or sub-par braking.

      Hydraulic brakes and servo motors are mature technology. My car is quite old, and the hydraulic brakes and servo motors for windows and rearview mirrors all still work fine.

      March 25, 2021 at 8:03 am
      • Jacob Musha

        Even if these parts are reliable in the very short term, it’s clear that longevity isn’t part of the deal. Lael rides far more miles than I do and in much tougher conditions but it’s still pitiful that all the components (or the entire bike) are ready to be thrown away after one season. Jan, you ride a lot too, and if I’m not mistaken your only bike that eats parts is the disc brake/brifter Firefly…

        March 25, 2021 at 8:39 am
        • Jan Heine

          I share your concern about parts that don’t last or need a lot of maintenance. However, I think it’s silly to suggest that one material has longevity advantages over another. It all depends how they are used. Take the first carbon Specialized Diverge. The bike we tested in 2015 was given to a local junior racer – Specialized didn’t want it back, since the new model was about to come out. And it’s still going strong after six years, several crashes, etc. The electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes have been flawless.

          March 26, 2021 at 8:40 am
      • Will Mahler

        Jan- great points. I too was leaning in a bit with that thought of electronic shifting and hydro brakes but then thought about the time my GF whilst riding during a winter brevet, running cable disc brakes had water/slush migrate into the rear brake caliper (post mount – chainstay) causing to freeze up and stop working.

        It’s been great seeing the progression of ultra-endurance riding through the setups of ppl like Lael.

        March 25, 2021 at 8:50 am
      • Leo

        I’ve seen some ultra racers and randonneurs also claim the benefit of lighter shifting/braking – on longer events it makes sense anything that helps prevent hand fatigue and nerve issues might outweigh the slight risk of equipment failure?

        March 25, 2021 at 8:56 am
      • Lael

        Yep! All true. In addition, electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes save my hands from a lot of pain. After riding the Tour Divide twice in the summer of 2015 with mechanical shifting, my right thumbnail fell off from so much shifting. This was on a mountain bike set-up. Modern mechanical road shifting causes more fatigue.

        March 25, 2021 at 9:13 am
      • Mark

        I don’t use electronic cos I’m worried that a fall—whether I’m on the bike or if it’s knocked while outside a shop &c—may damage the RD leaving me with a difficult (and expensive) repair or replacement. I know the same may happen with mechanical but I feel more confident I could repair it or at least find a temporary replacement. Any thoughts? And don’t you have to carry a charger? I agree about brifters, I find they get sloppy after a couple of years & the inwards action hurts my hands. I use bar-cons for their simplicity, durability & ability to easily shift over many cogs in one shift, but there’re some compromises with them on rough terrain.

        March 26, 2021 at 12:36 am
  • Brian Oldham

    Thanks for this report with specific equipment. It answers a thousand questions because of the amount of riding, diverse conditions, and speed. Your analysis of bike and bags is complete. Asked and answered without having to speculate or “what if” any possible situation.

    March 25, 2021 at 7:45 am
    • Lael

      thank you!

      March 25, 2021 at 9:14 am
  • Bill

    How do the 700×48 do on the Diverge? The specs say it will fit up to a 700×47 on the specialized website. The reason I am asking, I have a Niner MCR with I9 rims with an internal of 24.5″ and running RH 700×42 Hurricane Ridge and wanted to go a but wider. They measure about 42.5 installed. Niner says it will fit up to a 700×50 but it looks like it would be a really tight fit and not much clearance. If the 700×48 Oracle stay at 48, then it may be a possibility.

    March 25, 2021 at 7:54 am
    • Jan Heine

      The specs usually have some extra wiggle room. In some cases, the specs limit the tire size to avoid toe overlap. (That’s why small Trek Checkpoints have a smaller maximum tire size.) You’ll probably be fine on the Niner – if the bike is spec’d for 700×50 mm tires, it should fit the Oracles even on wide rims. Also consider that tire width is spec’d at maximum pressure, but you’re unlikely to run tires that wide at their max.

      March 25, 2021 at 8:10 am
      • Bill

        Awesome… Thanks a bunch Jan!

        March 25, 2021 at 10:08 am
  • Joseph Dowski

    It’s interesting to see folks like Lael & Ted King spec Endurance casing on whatever tires they run. With regards to tire setup I have always run the Extralight version of whatever Rene Herse tires I spec. However, I have (finally) signed up for a bike tour in Jamaica in November. This combined with plans for some credit card touring in New England over the Summer has gotten me thinking of changing out my Barlow Pass Extralight 38’s in favor of the Endurance casing in the same tire. Aside from a greater piece of mind around flatting, will I notice anything different in performance or ride quality?

    March 25, 2021 at 7:58 am
    • Jan Heine

      If you’re racing in a pack on gravel, you can’t pick your line, since you don’t see the road ahead. So there’s a much greater risk of cutting sidewalls. That’s the main reason many racers choose the Endurance or even the Endurance Plus casings.

      What you give up compared to the Extralights is a little speed and comfort. You’ll notice the difference, but it’s not huge – whether it’s worth the price depends on where you ride and what the consequences are for having to fix a flat. I ride the Extralights pretty much everywhere… As to the difference between Standard and Endurance casings, it’s mostly cost. Both roll at the same speed – the Endurance is basically the super-supple casing of the Extralight with a denser weave and extra protection layer. The Standard uses slightly thicker threads for a more economical tire.

      March 25, 2021 at 8:14 am
      • Michael Hotten

        the RH tire lineup is one that I’ve looked over several times. The tough bit is not so much figuring out what size and style to go with but the casings. Regarding the Standard casing, how does it rate compared to the other casings when it comes to puncture protection?

        March 25, 2021 at 1:27 pm
    • Lael

      The extra-lights are definitely more fun to ride. I typically ride endurance casing for big rides because it’s never convenient to fix flats (especially when sleep deprived, in the dark, in bad weather, etc). For rides closer to home, I’ve been riding extra lights with tubes. It’s fun to mix up and change the experience.

      March 25, 2021 at 9:17 am
  • yipyf

    A definition of elegance: everything you need nothing you don’t. And modular +/- for specific situations. There is no questioning what is proven and works. Just for myself (old), I’d be hung up with questions on the cf, batteries and disks – would be motivated to find the solution in all metal, no electronics/hydraulics.

    March 25, 2021 at 8:36 am
  • Art Wimble

    I guess that Lael uses the whole Quad Lock system with iPhone case. What method does she use for attaching to the bike? And what about wet weather? Just pack it away in a water proof bag or is there some way to keep the phone dry while on the bike?

    March 25, 2021 at 8:58 am
    • Lael

      Hi Art,

      I use the Quad Lock mount that attaches directly to the handlebars– it’s called the handlebar/stem mount. It works great, even on rough roads. I have the iPhone 11 Pro. I think it’s pretty waterproof. Quad Lock also has a cover for rain called the Poncho. It doesn’t rain much in Tucson, so I really haven’t had to worry about it.

      March 25, 2021 at 2:19 pm
  • Conrad

    Hard to argue with Lael’s track record but I would never do an electronic group for adventure rides. The worlds fastest and most reliable downshift is friction shifters and a rapid rise rear derailleur. Dirt cheap and 100 percent field maintainable. There is usually no shortage of snapping/cracking/grinding/misshifts on modern drivetrains when the group hits the first big hill in gravel race.

    March 25, 2021 at 9:09 am
  • Evan W

    Phenomenal bike! Crazy what’s capable with 12-speed cassettes, rivaling the range of a Rohloff. Love my Oracle Ridge tires! Barely broke them in and rotated back to my Snoqualmie’s but that’s because I ride one bike and most of my miles are commuting. Plus on dry Los Angeles double track the slicks do fine 99% of the time and have yet to slip on a climb. And FWIW I have been in love with the Edelux light since day one, but I don’t have much experience with competing options.

    March 25, 2021 at 9:15 am
  • Marcus Jahn

    I´m just back from a 132Km allroad ride, lots of Gravel sectors, with the Specialized Diverge, same Wheels but riding the Bon Jon Pass Tires. I feel very tired maybe cause of the vibrations… Should i go with wider Tyres…but I´m afraid of being slower on paved Roads!
    Greetings from Bavaria/Germany

    March 25, 2021 at 9:39 am
    • Jan Heine

      Wider tires aren’t any slower on pavement – we tested that for BQ. (At least up to 44 mm wide.) So yes, if you have room on your bike, go wider!

      March 25, 2021 at 9:42 am
      • Lael

        I second that! Wider tires = more comfortable = faster on long rides.

        March 25, 2021 at 2:21 pm
  • mobk

    Beautiful bike and great equipment insights. Couldn’t agree more about 1x. I love the simplicity for when my brain and body are fatigued.

    March 25, 2021 at 1:14 pm
  • Gran

    Electronic shifting opens the possibility of the holy grail, huge range plus close ratios. The system can use triples or even quad chainrings and then refuse to shift into combinations that exceed the limits of chain-line or cage-wrap. Would love to see more content like this, perhaps starting w/ Ted king’s cannondale topstone 🙂

    March 25, 2021 at 3:28 pm
  • Ron V

    I’m in the midst of reading “The All-Road Bike Revolution”, so I’m wondering whether Lael has considered keeping the tire width the same but going to a 650b wheel for more nimble handling. Does she like the more stable handling of the 700c wheel for her use?

    March 25, 2021 at 3:42 pm
    • Derek

      I’d be curious to know this as well, thanks!

      March 26, 2021 at 3:53 pm
  • Benjamin Van Orsdol

    Thanks for an interesting post!
    That future shock stem/ fork sounds rad. Are there any drawbacks? The website of course has great things to say about it. Why haven’t sprung stems caught on before? I’m pretty sure this isnt the first of its kind. Cool
    Tucson is a beautiful spot and A+ choice to winter up. Say HI to Franny the Italian Greyhound 😉

    March 26, 2021 at 5:21 am
  • Russ Marx

    The cable operated rear disc brake on Santana Tandem had to be adjusted every night on Bike Colorado, 15 min. of tedious work. Tried to keep the speed below 40mph.

    March 26, 2021 at 9:06 am
  • Bryan

    Loved this post! Lael, you are my bicycle hero!
    It looks like you prefer to keep your tire valves covered with a cap. Me too! I’m always amazed that many riders prefer to not use a dust cap. That makes no sense to me!
    “Experts” have told it’s not necessary but why would I want dirt and debris getting into the valve?
    I’d love to know what you think.
    I’m also replacing my old Garmin GPS, which I’ve never really liked, and will be switching to Wahoo Element Roam per your recommendation. You love it, yes?

    March 26, 2021 at 9:37 am
  • Steffanus Kor

    A very nice post Lael and Jan!
    I have a question:
    I want to run the Oracle Ridge also on my bike. I am going to have new wheels and i have the choice between 19 and 21 mm. inside measure rims. With which rim will the size of the oracle ridge be the smallest in height and width?

    Thanks in advance.

    March 26, 2021 at 11:58 am
    • Jan Heine

      The difference in width will be very small. The wider rims may make the tires about 1 mm wider. Things like casing and especially tire pressure have a larger effect. Also, if you run tubeless, the tires will be about 1 mm wider. In the specs for each tire on our web site, you find information on how wide they are on various rims.

      March 26, 2021 at 12:18 pm
  • Rolf Aalto

    No fenders on the long rides? Just did a custom install on my custom ‘MOO'(ts) monster-cross YBB (Yeti-Bigfoot Bastard), and riding is much more pleasant without all the mud spraying off the RH Humptulips (rear) / Juniper Ridge (front) knobbies for the wet single-track that I enjoy. Granted that Lael is a lot more rugged than me, but she’s running similar tires — her bike can’t stay so clean for long?! 🙂

    March 27, 2021 at 9:18 pm
    • Jan Heine

      Fenders are great when you’re out for a ride, but when you’re competing, the risk of clogging them up with mud or snow is not worth the risk…

      March 28, 2021 at 3:02 pm

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