I was messing around with VeloViewer, which can generate these cool 3D course elevation profiles, and thought it’d be interesting to see how the Bass Lake and Silverman bike courses stacked up against the Great Western Loop out here in San Diego. I was particularly curious about how the grades and stuff worked out, so I generated some fancy graphics and did a quick comparison of the three. The one major take away is this: I cannot wait to do all three of these again…
I wasn’t sure what I was looking at when I saw that little rainbow colored line jutting out from the course in the upper right. Then I remembered: it’s the infamous “climb” out of transition. You can see by the various colors (considering you start/end on it, the layers are overlapping), that it was STEEP. Wicked way to start the ride, and a tricky way to end it… had to make sure you kept your speed in check or you’d end up in the general store next to transition. Other than that, it’s fairly obvious this course is anything but flat. Lots of rolling hills to start (course goes clockwise), followed by a long, challenging climb, and then a technical, but extremely entertaining, twisty back section before heading back toward the finish. The climb sucks, it sticks around the 7-8% range, occasionally getting close to 10%, and right when you think it’s over, it pitches back up again… it’s pretty relentless. But I loved this course, it was tough, but the scenery was amazing, and the back section was an absolute blast. Looking forward to this race again, primarily for the bike course!
I just listed these in chronological order based on when I rode them, so the GWL is second. This actually looks shorter than Bass Lake because of the scaling, but obviously it isn’t… Has a ton of climbing though, and most of the grades get well into the 6-7% and higher range too. We did this route in 104 degree temps as part of our training for Silverman, and it was BRUTAL! Aside from the air temps, there was very little shade, and while climbing there’s no real breeze to help cool you off like if you’re on a flat or descending. I actually almost called it quits on the very first climb because I was starting to feel myself overheat, which, obviously, would’ve been very bad (oh yea, this course also goes clockwise, starts at the far left… the little “tail”). I was drinking a lot, but my water bottles were basically hot tea at this point and they weren’t helping to cool me down, so I was starting to get concerned. Thankfully we had support vehicles with us, and they had stopped maybe about 2/3rds of the way through the first climb so I was able to get some cold water and take a second to cool off.
Anyway, where as Bass Lake had one looooong climb, this course has 3 pretty significant climbs, with a few other difficult jaunts skyward just to keep you on your toes. It’s easy to see why it’s a popular route around here, but it sure ain’t easy. I’m not sure if it’s harder than Bass Lake though… it’s longer, yea, but there are a few long downhill stretches where you can recover a bit after the climbs, especially toward the end. Bass Lake’s primary downhill section is relatively short and early in the course, the rest of the time it’s punishing you with some solid grades on its main climb, lots of small climbs, and a ton of false flats. Plus, the back section of Bass Lake is quite technical, requiring some solid bike handling skills to traverse quickly, GWL, by comparison, only has one, maybe two, relatively short technical parts to it. I’m not saying the GWL is easier, mind you, if anything I’d say they’re probably about even. I will say this though: when we tackled the ride in 104 degree temps, it was, and still is, the hardest ride I’ve ever done. Still, this loop is good fun, and it’s going to be a regular place I visit for training rides.
The Silverman course is an interesting one… it’s obviously the longest of the three, but I’d say it’s also the easiest… and I’m not sure it’s particularly close. Silverman’s difficulty lies more in the combination of all the factors when you tackle it: the environment, the course, and the fact it’s part of a triathlon. Bass Lake is part of a tri, sure, but the course alone is rather imposing, sandwiching it between a swim and a run just ratchets up the difficulty even more, and obviously the GWL is just a ride… unless you decided to make a brick workout of it of course. This isn’t to say it’s easy, not at all, it is a very difficult course, but it depends more on the parts that make up the whole of the race rather than just the route.
As far as the course goes, I’d call it “undulating”, you spend a lot of time going up and down, but the up parts aren’t very difficult. I was actually able to spin up most of the hills at a good pace without any real issue (that is, until late in the course where I was falling apart mentally… you can check out my race report for that story if you haven’t seen it), where as on the Bass Lake course and the GWL I had to work pretty hard to keep up a decent pace on the climbs. Also, while there were a few “climbs” on Silverman’s course, they weren’t comparable to what you encountered on the other two rides. The things that made this ride difficult are the fact it’s a bridge between a long swim and a run, so you’re already a bit fatigued and have to conserve what energy you have remaining, and, on this particular day, the absolutely insane winds. They were 20mph sustained with gusts well into the 30mph range, so it really ramped up the course difficulty. When the winds were crosswinds, you were working hard to stay on the road, with some of the gusts really testing your nerves, and when they weren’t crosswinds they were usually blowing in your face. The course is rather beautiful though, the first 40 or so miles is around Lake Mead so it’s all scenic desert surrounding you, which can actually be rather gorgeous to look at. That said, I didn’t really enjoy my time on the road at Silverman, but that was more a result of my physical discomfort on my bike and my mental state, rather than the course itself. I do want to tackle it again though, if that means anything…
Each of these three routes have their own unique character, and none of the characters are particularly nice… but that’s not a bad thing. The GWL is great because it’s a solid training ground for both Bass Lake and Silverman, not to mention being an awesome ride in its own right. Bass Lake is a tough course, but very rewarding: the views are spectacular, and the back section around the lake is just an absolute blast. The Silverman course brings with it a massive sense of accomplishment, especially if you make it through the run at the end, not to mention the scenery is pretty amazing… if you have a chance to look around.
I look forward to visiting each one of these routes again… and hopefully setting some new PRs while I’m at it.