I really meant to write this short post way before the second race that I've worked since returning from Argentina not even two weeks ago, but when you're busy, well, you're busy.
The biggest change was going from Ultegra Di2 10-speed to SRAM e-tap WiFli 11-speed. If you're not familiar with either: Di2 (in Ultegra or Dura Ace) is an electronic shifting system that relies on wires from the shift levers (integrated into the bike's brake levers) to the derailleurs. SRAM's eTap is a system that wirelessly sends commands from the shift/brake levers to the derailleurs. What's the advantage? Well, on the Ritchey it means that one doesn't have to worry about three wires (two of them somewhat fragile) when packing/reassembling the bike, but only one: the rear brake cable. That's it.
Another advantage of the WiFli system is that it offers a wider gear range than what I got out of the Ultegra set-up. For Argentina I ran an 11-speed 48/34 front set-up with an 11-to-32 tooth rear cog. That gave me almost a one-to-one low gear ratio, enough on all climbs except some very, very lose sections of uphill (such as the last half mile to my B&B in Las Vegas). And I had an honest 22 gears to choose from. I ran a SRAM 11-speed chain, and I disconnected and reconnected the quick-link several times (against what the manufacturer's instructions say) without ill effects.
For wheels, I used a set of hand-built 32-spoke Classics built by Next. I know that I can build wheels that are equally bombproof, but I was given a great deal and figured I'd save myself the hassle of gathering the various parts to build the wheels. They stayed true and reliable for the entire trip, and they were light and responsive. Good stuff--maybe I'll break down and try some of their carbon wheels, just for grins.
Mounted on the hoops were 28 mm Panaracer Gravel King tires. Let me just say: No noticeable wear, and no cuts or other damage from those miles off-road. You saw the pics--that was true gravel grinding stuff, and then some. I ran the tires at about 80 psi, front and rear. No flats during the entire 460 or so miles.
I substituted my normal Alpha Q full-carbon fork for a--believe it or not--steel tandem fork that Judy and I had received with our Co-Motion titanium tandem (and which we later swapped for a lighter Reynolds tandem carbon fork). This steel fork was needed since I wanted to mount a mini-rack to keep my Ortlieb handlebar bag from potentially touching the front wheel on some bumps. As there was no way to attach the rack (Merry Sales) to the carbon fork, I just mounted another Ritchey Hiddenset crown race on the tandem fork and installed it. The steerer length was just right for the swap. Voila! And how did it handle? Just perfectly--rake and trail must have somehow matched what I needed. The Alpha Q is a tiny bit snappier, but the steel fork felt nimble enough even when riding the bike without luggage. This was a really lucky, no-cost substitution.
For bags, Ortlieb set me up with three bags from their bike-packing line: a handlebar duffel, a matching accessory bag (in which I kept documents, money, maps, and most of my electronics), and a behind-the-saddle seat post bag. What a great system! I augmented capacity with a Delta clamp-on seat post carrier and two very small Delta panniers, enough for light stuff like shoes and rain gear, yet helping out in a pinch when I needed to carry a few extra bottles of vino. ;) This also allowed me to use the bike without all, but some. of my luggage, opting instead to throw my lock and maybe a raincoat into one of the panniers.
I used old XTR mountain SPD pedals that I matched with Pearl Izumi shoes (EP purchase--thanks!). On long days I'd wear a regular bike kit while for shorter days when I expected some sightseeing or wineries I used Alpinestars baggies with a chamois liner that can be detached (and is easily sink-washed) from the shorts. For warmth, nothing beats Patagonia nano-puff tops. I carried a few Royal Robins shirts that were just as easy to wash in a sink and dry overnight as the undies and other Lycras.
I'd like to once again thank Ortlieb, SRAM, Nexus, and Shimano/Pearl Izumi for their generous EP (employee purchase) and bro prices. The bike tribe looks out for each other, and they got some feedback, but mainly gratitude, from me.
Check back in a day or two since I wrote this after the conclusion of my officiating stint at Redlands, CA, and I'd like to write about my experience here as well, but alas, time's a-flyin' .....