Long distance cyclist Lindsay McCrae rode a J.Laverack J.ACK to victory in the Revolve24 race at Brands Hatch
unchy hills, plunging descents and sharp bends have earned Brands Hatch race circuit a special place in the hearts of motor racing fans, who have clustered along the iconic corners of Paddock Hill and Druids for decades to cheer on their heroes.
But those same twists, turns and rises provoke an entirely different reaction among cyclists. Squeezed into each 3.8km (2.4-mile) circuit are 65 metres of ascent including a spiteful 9% incline. The little ring climb followed by a spin-out descent deny riders any chance of establishing a rhythm. If this proves to be a frustration on lap five, imagine how infuriating it must be by lap 50. And then there’s only another 128 laps to go, if your name is Lindsay McCrae.
He works in sales for a water treatment company, and has taken the crazy world of long distance cycling by storm just five years after buying his first road bike through a ride to work scheme.
Victory in the round-the-clock time trial of Revolve24 saw Lindsay clock up an astounding 178 laps of Brands Hatch before the chequered flag fell at the end of the 24-hour event. By lap 139 he had ‘Everested’, gaining more altitude than a sea level to summit attempt on the world’s tallest mountain, and still he kept on. And on. And on.
Most Revolve24 competitors ride in relay teams of four, six or eight riders, passing on the baton when their glycogen levels tumble to a bonk or the lactic acid in their muscles burns like a furnace. But some hardy souls race as soloists, defying cramps, energy crashes and sleep demons to keep the cranks turning relentlessly.
Evidence, if any were needed, of the monumental scale of the undertaking lies in Lindsay’s training ride prior to last year’s Revolve24. Living in Inverness, he warmed up for the event with a non-stop pedal along the North Coast 500, a 500-mile route around the northern coastline of Scotland, with 11,250 metres of ascent.
“I had a block headwind for 120 miles from Durness to John O’Groats, and then rode through biblical rain for the last three to four hours,” recalls Lindsay. He clipped in on Saturday morning, spent 31 hours in the saddle plus two hours of rest, and then returned to work the next day.
They’re a tough breed, these long distance riders.
Yet Lindsay only started cycling in 2014, gradually riding farther and farther on his commuter road bike. Intoxicated with the quiet local roads around Loch Ness, it wasn’t longe before he was tackling his first century sportive. And when 100 miles didn’t seem quite far enough he entered the three-day, 300-mile Tour of the Highlands. And won. The success confirmed Lindsay’s sense that when the going got tough, he got going.
“I had tried a few time 10- and 25-mile time trials, and realised the shorter distances were not my thing,” says Lindsay. “But where I was struggling to keep up in the first half of a race, I’d be towing riders along in the second half.”
Upping the ante, in 2017 he entered Revolve24 for the first time, despite never having ridden more than 100 miles in a day. He came an impressive third. The experience, however, proved sobering and provided valuable lessons along the long distance learning curve. Forget marginal gains, there was scope for dramatic improvements in his nutrition, pacing and bike.
Committed to riding three to four hours between stops, Lindsay carried as much sustenance as he could manage, but found the skyscraper of flapjacks and oat bars increasingly unpalatable as the event progressed. Plus, he went out a bit too hard at the start and began to slow towards the end of the race.
And then there was the bike. He had upgraded his sleepy commuter bike for a racier secondhand carbon model, but it let him down with a mechanical fault and crippled his back during the later stages of Revolve24.
“The crank broke so I had to ride half a lap with just one pedal, got it fixed by the mechanics, but damaged my front derailleur in the process,” recalls Lindsay. “This forced me to change gear much more frequently with my right shifter, and by the end my wrist was aching, too.”
In the stiff, sore aftermath of the endurance epic he scoured long-distance cycling forums for advice and came across adventurer Darren Franks. Darren is a veteran of four 4,000km Transcontinental Races bike races from Belgium to Greece and swears by the benefits of a titanium frame. His weapon of choice is a customised J.ACK from titanium bike experts J.Laverack.
No stranger to the qualities of titanium, having owned a Ti mountian bike years before, Lindsay was openminded about the advantages of sacrificing a few grammes in weight in return for the comfort and reliability of titanium. By happy coincidence a work trip then took him to York, from where it was a short drive and a day’s holiday to visit J.Laverack in Oakham, Rutland.
He remembers the meeting as a Dragon’s Den experience – the people behind the bike were as important as the frame itself.
“The test ride went well, but I was just as keen about the guys and their enthusiasm for what I wanted from a bike,” says Lindsay. “They knew absolutely what I was talking about when I spoke of multi-day challenges.”
The J.ACK frame, for example, could be customised to take a third bottle cage on the underside of the downtube, while a subsequent upgrade would allow Lindsay to change to a fork with an integrated dynamo for events when battery life will be an issue. What’s more, electronic shifting would avoid the wrist ache common among 24-hour riders.
Lindsay was also deeply impressed by J.Laverack’s meticulous bike fit before commissioning the frame and components.
“You never really realise how important a good bike fit is until you’ve had one,” says Lindsay. “At the end of my second Revolve24 I was physically tired, but without any aches or pains, which I put down to the bike and its set-up.”
To put this into context; at the end of 433 miles and 24 hours in the saddle he walked away, had dinner at a friend’s house and then went to bed at 10pm.
“Ultimately, if you’re comfortable you can keep going for longer,” says Lindsay, whose data indicates that his success at Revolve24 stemmed from his ability to stay out on Brands Hatch’s twisting circuit for longer than his competitors.
The J.ACK’s smooth riding frame and its adaptability to carry the extra drinks bottle enabled Lindsay, in Formula One terminology, so adopt a three-stop strategy, nipping into the pitstop every six hours, whereas his closest competitor (clingfilmed into a skinsuit and riding a carbon race bike) stopped every 90 minutes. With an average lap time of just over 8 minutes, each extra lap while his rival was refuelling carried Lindsay closer to the top step of the podium. He eventually secured victory by five laps.
His next challenge will quadruple that distance as he takes on the TransAtlanticWay, a 1,560-mile (2,500km) non-stop self-supported road race along Ireland’s notoriously breezy Atlantic coastline.
“I’ll keep going until I find my limit, plugging away to the end,” says Lindsay modestly.