Le Graveur: Pain-o-nomics 101

Marko exits the first section of trail to bridge to the front group. Photo: Jeremy Kershaw

I’ve taken exactly one economics course in my life. If the fog of time isn’t too thick, I recall two theories that account for value. These theories posit value as being either (A) intrinsic or (B) subjective. That is to say that commodities are valuable in and of themselves and that value can be established objectively by the market. Or things hold value because we as individuals say they do, markets be damned. Now for this premise to work for we the Velominati, I’m going to ask you to accept that pain is a commodity. I don’t think it will be too hard for us to get there.  We budget the time in our weeks so that we can get more of it, we bank it in our guns to be spent at a later date, when we’ve got enough saved up we happily share it with other riders (Trickle-down Pain-o-nomics if you will), and when we’re running short on it we feel poor. For all intents and purposes, we seek pain out like a Wall Street broker looking for the next Microsoft IPO.

When I consider pain from position A – pain is intrinsically valuable and that value can be set by market forces – I think of myself riding the first half of The Heck of The North. You see, for the first half of the day I was riding with the front group. This group of twenty or so riders was dipping into the pain stores not as individuals, but as a collective. The demand for pain was being driven up by the entire group on the snowmobile trail sections of the race.* Analogous to its namesake, The Hell of the North, selections are made at The Heck not on the road (in this case, gravel roads) but on several difficult sections of sno-go trail which require the rider to be practiced, skilled, familiar, and in possession of The V. The riders that do well in this race are really fast at riding technically on a course that they’ve ridden before. They have a pretty good idea of who’s going to go, certainly know exactly where, and can react accordingly. I had prepared adequately for all of these factors, I thought.

It was on the third section of trail when the value of the pain I was “buying” shifted from being market-driven to the subjective side of the equation I called position B above. To put it in simple terms – I was dropped like The Rainbow Turd. Until then I was riding comfortably in the tete de la course (as was the case after the first sections of trail) or working hard to get back to the front after realizing that my trail riding skills weren’t as honed as other in the group. We hit a section fast and I was positioned perfectly in the top 4 when my front wheel slid out in soft gravel. Then, 100 meters up the trail, I was forced to dismount on steep, boulder strewn double track after falling off my line. After the disappointment of seeing the lead group ride up the trail wore of, I was left with a choice – to keep riding hard (albeit out of contention) and see how the day turned out or not.** So I took a long-needed piss and started riding hard. I figured sooner or later I’d reel some other dropees back in, which turned out to be the case.

I felt pain but it was the good kind of pain, familiar and sweet. Pain that I knew would pay dividends, pain that, once deposited in the First National Bank of The Guns, could be withdrawn, with interest, at a later date. And even though I was shopping alone now as opposed to with twenty other dudes, I knew I had no choice but to keep buying because walking out of the Pain-Mart would have left my cupboards empty at the end of the day. I wanted a full pantry. This pain still had value but only to me. I was shopping for myself after the mid-way point of the race.

At the end of the race I could say I learned a lot and felt good about how the day went. On the one hand, I contributed, at least for a while, to the market and even though the dividends weren’t as high for me as they were for others, I came away ahead of where I feared. On the other hand, during the second half of the race, I was able to set my own terms and finish with even more pain in the First National Bank of The Guns than when I started the day. Which leads me to conclude that ultimately, pain’s value lies both in its intrinsic and subjective nature and the beauty of pain is that it is free to any of us who are willing to take it. By placing value on pain we recognize that there is plenty of it laying around for the taking because so many other people do what they can to avoid it. In this sense, it is our demand for it, not the abundant supply, that gives it value. In accepting pain as a commodity we see hardship, fear,  doubt, and discomfort as resources to be accepted, conquered, oppressed and embraced respectively all the while knowing that the more we buy the wealthier we’ll be in the long run. The Heck of the North (as well as other gravel races like The Almanzo) create the ideal circumstances for harvesting the commodity of pain.*** These gravel races provide opportunities to both enter the market and set the value yourself. In either case, the organizers, riders, and routes provide ample amounts a valuable pain. Go shopping.

Here are some cool videos making their way around about these two races.

Almanzo Video. Look for the ALAN.

HOTN Video. Look for the guy drinking.

*For those of you who may not know what snowmobiles trails are (let alone snowmobiles), the state of Minnesota maintains a vast network of groomed trails for snowmobile enthusiasts in the winter. During the non-winter months these trails are a mix of grasses (both short and tall), bouldery gravel, swamp and muskeg, double track, and Precambrian granite. They are unmaintained in the summer except for clearing the occasional downed tree.

** The truth is, I was really only left with one option, ‘not’ was not a viable option. A day or two previously I had received the single-most awesome pep-talk ever from Frank over voxer. Had I not had his loud Dutch, two-beer buzz voice screaming at me from within to “KILL IT” I may have actually considered the ‘not’ option. BTW, if anyone can tell me how to save and upload voxer messages I’d be happy to share this inspirational rant with you good people.

***It has been suggested in some quarters that riding gravel is up to 20% harder (rolling resistance) than riding tarmac. If this is indeed the case, we reap much more value given the same distance and time on the road.


Related Posts

69 Replies to “Le Graveur: Pain-o-nomics 101”

  1. @Marko

    There are many good reasons to do HOTN.  The training and challenge are just a couple. 

    The REAL challenge right now would be a bike and peeling off another 30 pounds in the next year.  If I could find a “decent” ‘cross bike, cheap, by spring, spend the summer riding dirt roads up in the mountians on weekends and get down to 190 pounds, I think I could do well.

    And it would be fun.




  2. @frank

    My remount is a combination of basketball, hopscotch, and ping-pong. Not a good combination.

    The problem with ping-pong: it’s hell on the balls.

  3. Frank – keep at it & be safe! Ha, me giving you any advice on cycling, or anything else! Oh, and cross practice with pals is amazing. Worrying about falling is much more fun than worrying about blowing up 30 km from home.

    You’re approaching that leap from much higher up on the planet than where I leap from, but just take it slowly and it’ll seem like second nature in no time.

    I had serious, serious reservations about leaping over and onto a bike saddle. “This will never work.” Now it seems like nothing. What I love about cx riding is that it has me focussed on so many things beyond, “How is my fitness?” That gets old. Roots, mud, sand, stones, leaps, shouldering…so much to process! I swear it’s like I’m cooking for a living again – my brain is forced to process so much at once that I swear both body/brain are being sharpened at once.

    Zach – ha! Just bought a house. Hope to find some space for a table tennis table. I love ping pong, balls be damned!

  4. @frank


    My left foot hurts today. Kicking ass comes at a steep price.

    stop bouncing on that foot. so easy..not.

    took 2 years to learn the remount. committing on the first pass comes easiest if you do it super slow and repeat. and repeat and repeat. I saw a photo of a buddy mid remount which illustrated to me the airborne nature of the event. Every now and then i regress, and I return to doing a bunch of them slowly.

    Unless you are simply using ur left foot to kick g’rillas ass. And then we just toast you from pdx.

  5. @Marko thanks for the post. Sometimes a post just hits you in the right way at the right moment and for me this was it.  My KMs have been slacking a bit and I have been violating Rule #5 in getting back after it, but this article really inspired me to step it up bank some pain!

  6. I’ve managed to crash every single ride with the cx bike so far.  I’d say that’s a proper start?  Seriously though, what’s the trick to bomb down willy nilly trails with leaves, pine needles, soft mud, with both giant and small crushed rock?  A complete disregard for myself and the bike is probably one thing, but how can I do it without breaking any more fingers and climbing out of ditches after pitching myself off the main trail?

  7. Ready to do some Pain Philanthropy in my first CX race tomorrow. Bike has different wheels, mud tires, and a lot of good vibes. We’re all set.

    I also got the Jeremy Powers “Cross Camp” video; I’m surprised to say that in his section on “Pre Race Preparation” he made absolutely no mention of getting shitfaced and arriving at the start with a massive hangover. Maybe that’s in the more advanced editions.

    Gutted that the Richter wheels haven’t arrived yet. I feel utterly unprepared.

  8. @Marko Seems you made a non-lycra appearance as well in the Almanzo vid at 1:55, rocking the V tshirt.  Need to pick one of those up.  Always stand out in a sea of cotton tees

  9. @G’rilla

    Now that you’ve gotten into cross and MTB, would you say a standard road bike with tires selected for toughness would work for doing more off-road treks?

    I saw pictures of this ride a few days ago and I want to do it very badly in a few months. I think my bike would be OK for it, if I put some 25mm tires that can better handle offroad conditions.

    I ride Conti GP4000s which do fine on the “gravel” around here, but that is pretty limited. I’d hate to flat way out in the boonies.

  10. @mcsqueak The problems in gravel riding are cuts and pinch flatting. A tire with a tough sidewall or a self-healing sealant will help with the first. A larger volume tire will help with the second.

    I ride my cyclocross bike with 32mm tires on my gravel rides. I haven’t done much with 25mm tires on gravel, but I would go 25mm or 27mm if your frame will handle it.

  11. @mcsqueak


    I wouldnt be surprised if the bike could handle 28mm. Keep in mind that the bigger the tire the less air pressure you need, thats good for gravel. I wish we had some gravel to ride here.

  12. @G’rilla

    @mcsqueak The problems in gravel riding are cuts and pinch flatting. A tire with a tough sidewall or a self-healing sealant will help with the first. A larger volume tire will help with the second.

    I ride my cyclocross bike with 32mm tires on my gravel rides. I haven’t done much with 25mm tires on gravel, but I would go 25mm or 27mm if your frame will handle it.

    I current ride 25mm tires, as that’s all I can fit into the brake calipers that came with my bike, some sort of Shimano-105 knockoffs. If I replaced the calipers with something that can open larger, I’m sure I could get a bigger tire such as a 27mm in there…

  13. I picked this up last week, pretty bog standard at the moment (not sure how you guys feel about mech discs). Aim was to get a rain bike, and a second “roadie’ in the stable for my young fella to join me with a pair of slicks on. Took it on the grave’ yesterday. What a ball tearer – these things absolutely fly, (compared to my MTB)!

    You guys got me – I’m hooked. Coming from predominantly a MTB background, and spending more time on the road, I think I may have found my niche. Bring on the cross season down under – have to work on the running thingy though!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.