1000 Mile Tarmac Ride – Lael Wilcox

1000 Mile Tarmac Ride
Words by Lael Wilcox, photos by Rugile Kaladyte and Trevor Raab.

Laboring up Mount Lemmon this winter with roadies on light bikes with rim brakes, I started thinking, I want a road bike! It rarely rains in Tucson, almost never in the winter. In the sunshine, rim brakes on carbon rims work fine. But what really is the difference? I was riding around on a Specialized Diverge, a performance carbon gravel bike with disc brakes and 38mm tires. I love the Diverge. It rides great. But I still had questions. What would a true road bike feel like? How would it feel after 100 miles or 200 miles or 1,000 miles?

This was part of an unresolved issue for me. I won the Trans Am on a Specialized Ruby in 2016. The Ruby is an endurance road bike with comfort features built into the bike. On bicycles, comfort often equates to extra weight. At the time, I figured for a 4200-mile race, I needed the comfort. The Ruby rode great. It had disc brakes. It had deeper dish aero wheels. It had an aero bar. To be honest, all built, the Ruby was kind of heavy, heavier than my fatbike. It left me wondering, would I have been better off on a standard road bike? This spring, I got my chance to ride true road.

With two weeks off between working at the pizza place and beginning work as a gravel camp guide for The Cyclist’s Menu, I flew from Tucson to San Jose to visit Specialized Headquarters in Morgan Hill, California. I picked up a new Women’s Tarmac, got fit to the bike and rolled out the next morning to ride 1,000 miles back to Tucson. From the stock 54cm Women’s Tarmac, I only changed the saddle. I stuffed a sleeping bag in a dry bag and strapped it to the handlebars.

I attached a Revelate Designs Viscacha to the seatpost for clothing and food and a couple of small bags to the top tube for tools and snacks. I mapped an 1130 mile route with Komoot, adding waypoints to ride Big Sur, climb the Nacimiento Fergusson Road, pedal over the Angeles Crest Highway out of LA and through Joshua Tree and end at the Kitt Peak Observatory, just west of Tucson.

The results:

10 days, 1,000 miles and 50,000 feet of climbing later I’m back in Southern Arizona, starting work for The Cyclist’s Menu today.

I have never been more comfortable on a bike. I think this has a lot to do with the pro fitting I received from Aaron Post at Specialized as well as running 28c tires on wide rims.

The weather was perfect: 70-80 degrees and sunny every day.

Rim brakes on carbon rims work fine, but I would never want to end up in the rain with them.

Road riding is fun and fast and feels like flying.

It sucks to ride in traffic without a shoulder in the dark. Some of my days were cut short because I didn’t want to put myself at risk. Daylight is definitely limiting at this time of year.

Komoot works really well mostly, but I did run into a couple private roads.

I slept under the stars, stayed with friends and in a couple motels.

Mixing up terrain, meeting people along the way and never knowing what’s next is why I love touring, oh and riding my bike all day long.

I should’ve raced the Trans Am on a Tarmac.


Follow Lael on Instagram, Rugile on Instagram and Trevor on Instagram.

  • Jordan Muller

    Ya. I totally do planks during pitstops on a 1,000+ mile tour.

  • barry mcwilliams

    Pretty damned badass.

  • ChicanoHoodPass


  • alexroseinnes

    Great story. One of the great things about all these awesome lightweight bag brands is that touring is so much less gear intensive. You don’t need racks and panniers, anymore, and a lightweight road bike is absolutely brilliant.

    • Lael Wilcox

      I know it’s so simple! And the whole time I was thinking “If anything happens out here, I’m in California. Life couldn’t be easier!”

  • Ian Stowe

    I love the tactical strike vibe of this ride…I’m curious what Lael’s playlist looked like for it…

    • Lael Wilcox

      pretty poppy playlist: Jay Z “The Black Album”, some Georges Brassens, Mariah Carey, Andrew Bird, definitely Notorious BIG

  • rcashl

    Logistics for a trip like this would be cool-gear laid out, motel/camping and the final weight of the bike.

    • Lael Wilcox

      great idea– would make for some cool stats and visuals.

  • macatarere

    Lael, have you just invented road packing?! Thank you for pursuing your idea and writing it up. My b+ sheriff is riding out of town, replaced with the lightest XC bike I can get. Is that an Elemnt on your bars? I’ve had good luck syncing mine with RideWithGPS.

    • Lael Wilcox

      Heck yeah! Turns out road packing is a total blast– easiest miles of my life. I have been using the Wahoo Elemnt. I borrowed it from Zander from The Cyclist’s Menu and I’m loving it. It’s amazing to sync up routes from the phone– I’ve been using Komoot for navigation mostly.

  • vopop

    Some info about that odd vertical bag in front of the seatpost would be appreciated.

    • Lael Wilcox

      It’s custom XL Jerry Can from Revelate Designs. Eric made it for me before the Tour Divide in 2015. I’ve been using it on every ride since.

      • Bryan I. Lorber

        Everyone seems to adore Revelate Designs but I was very disappointed with their frame bag while touring Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia on my Brian Chapman. If the weather is wet, and I had 4 out of 6 days in rain, this bag is worthless. I had puddles inside! When I contacted the company I was told “They are not water proof and that’s not the point!” As a cyclotourist, I didn’t quite understand that comment. That being said, when I toured 40 days in India, dry, it worked well keeping my water bottles clean but accessible. In India, clean is paramount! In any case, I’m a huge fan of your cycling adventures and so very much enjoy following you. You’re a terrific inspiration and for that, I thank you!

        • Lael Wilcox

          Thanks Bryan! Touring in consistent rain is definitely a struggle— that’s part of the reason why I spend so much time in the desert.

          • Bryan I. Lorber

            But they’re from Alaska! LOL!

  • SloRide1

    Actually, Tucson receives about half of its 12” annual rainfall in the winter (although this year has been particularly dry).

    • Lael Wilcox

      Raining now! It’s getting pretty serious out here in Patagonia, AZ

  • Medium Rick

    I love just about all kinds of bikes. But a nice light road bike on smooth tarmac just RIPS! Nothing quite like it. Thanks for the write up Lael.

    • Lael Wilcox

      Loving riding this bike. It’s so easy!

  • Public_Parent


  • Mike Colby

    Such a rad ride, story and photo set!

  • I always get horrible wind noise when I try to ride with headphones Lael. What kind of headphones were you using, and did you also deal with this issue?

    • Lael Wilcox

      I was using the stock IPhone earbuds. They worked great.

  • PC

    What a life: “I wonder what this bike would feel like?” – a few days later the new bike shows up! I still like your off-road adventures more, though!

    • Lael Wilcox

      I like the riding mix the most. It’s always changing, so it’s always fun. I’m definitely looking forward to more dirt riding!

  • Chris Valente

    My favorite thing about Lael is the total nonchalance about mileage. “I just turned around and started that 1000 miles back to Tuscon.” Like no big deal!
    How does Kamoot compare with Gaia? I love the map options in Gaia but the route planning on desktop is pretty clunky.

    • Lael Wilcox

      Thanks! All I want to do is ride my bike. I like looking at maps, but I don’t love pouring over them to create a long distance route. Route planning on Komoot rocks. It can be a little slow to load on a smartphone, but having the Wahoo app (and Wahoo GPS) has definitely made the whole process more fluid. You have to pay a little for off route international mapping.

  • Scott

    Why black kit and a black bike? Why not something a bit brighter, make it easier to been seen?

    • Lael Wilcox

      that’s the color of the bike this year. I wore black shorts, but I had neon socks with a reflective stripe. I would love to ride a hi viz bike.

      • Scott

        Glad you had some bright colors on – was worried for you if riding in all black. It looks cool, but always seems very unsafe! Funny thing about your story, I had been thinking about putting my bike packing gear on my Tarmac and heading out for an adventure! Seems like it would be a much more enjoyable experience vs a heavy touring bike assuming the roads we a match for the bike. I have a Diverge also, fun bike when the roads turn a bit rougher! Looking forward to reading about more of your adventures.

        • Lael Wilcox

          Oh man, either of those bikes would be rad, but if you’re ride is more than 95% pavement, I’d go Tarmac. So fun.

  • Torvald

    What you mean by “Shoulder in the dark”?