Max Riese on Riding and Surviving the Silk Road Mountain Race

WORDS BY
Pete Harrington
PHOTOS BY
Usmanov Danil

Riding an unsupported cycling race through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan is tough enough when you’re in great shape, but for 7mesh ambassador Max Riese, things were made even more challenging when he suffered a severe hand injury only four weeks before the start of 2021’s Silk Road Mountain Race. But, with typical Austrian aplomb, he picked himself back up and rode the damn thing anyway. Here’s how it went down and how his 7mesh apparel helped along the way.

Welcome back, Max. How’s that hand?

Better, thanks!

You probably ought to explain what happened.

Well, I was a few weeks out from departing for Silk Road when I took a nasty fall in a local mountain bike race here in Salzburg. Basically, the bone came out where the thumb goes into the hand.

Ouch.

It was not fun. Plus, I was doing pretty well in the race, too! Anyway, the doctors told me I would need to wear a cast for six weeks. Obviously, I couldn’t do that if I still wanted to compete in the Silk Road.

It sounds like you needed a cycling doc.

Exactly. At the first hospital, the medical staff were pretty upset that I would even think of still going to Kyrgyzstan. They made it pretty clear that even though I’m super fit, my body doesn’t heal faster than anyone else’s. Which is a shame because I thought it might!

So anyway, they sent me to another hospital for a second opinion. Finally, they brought in the head guy for wrists, and he asked me what I wanted to do and what I was trying to achieve, and he told me I should do it, that trying to be the best at something was a sacrifice worth taking.

Way to go, doc!

Totally. Essentially he said that they could either operate and insert two screws to fix it in place so I wouldn’t be able to move it or make me an orthosis – essentially a brace – which I decided to go for.

When did you get back on the bike?

Two days after the accident.

I’m sure a part of you wanted to ditch the ride and recover. So what kept you pushing on?

A mix of things. I’d decided to quit my job around the same time, and because of all the stress and overwork leading up to my exit, I felt a wave of energy that needed an outlet. Riding the Silk Road felt somehow like the right thing to do.

And you’d also launched your European gravel routes platform, GravGrav, right?

Yea sure did. More than anything, riding the race felt like a natural jumping-off platform to a new phase, and hopefully, a career.

I think many people can empathise with how you were feeling and perhaps would have done the same. The wrong job can weigh you down for far longer than you’d like to admit, so much so that changing things feels like a whole new life.

That’s for sure. And speaking globally, I’m sure COVID has only opened the door that was already ajar for many people.

So how did you get on at the race?

At first, surprisingly well. I felt great and went faster and faster. So much so that I crossed the first mountain pass in second, but then I started to lose huge amounts of time on the downhills. My thumb was swelling and hurting too much to maintain a hot pace. From then on, it became a case of just managing the pain, riding into a rhythm until the last three days when I felt strong once again. But for all that, I managed to snag 9th in the end, after ten days of riding.

Making camp each night with essentially only one hand must have been a bit tricky?

It was ok because this time, I took a one-pole bivvy rather than a tent, which I took when I rode the Silk Road the first time, back in 2019.

Sounds like a pretty lean bikepacking setup. Where do you stow your sleeping kit when on the move?

My trick is to roll up my sleeping bag into the bivvy and squash it into a seat bag, so I can keep everything I’ll need for a night’s rest in one place. That also helps keep the seat bag nice and steady because everything I shove in becomes a big, albeit very light, solid block.

How did your 7mesh apparel play out this year?

Overall, I reduced the weight as I took a lot less stuff! When I rode the Silk Road the first time, I didn’t have a clothing sponsor, so I took a real mix of kit, some of which worked and some that left a lot to be desired. So this year, riding in 7mesh clothing was a real eye-opener, and not only because the pieces were so capable, but also because with thoughtful layering, I could actually complete the race with less apparel, in greater comfort across a wide range of conditions.

That’s good to hear! What was your go-to pairing?

For warm conditions, the Ashlu Merino Jersey and MK3 Cargo Bib Short, which I added to with the 7mesh leg warmers and the Freeflow Jacket when the temperature dropped to about 0 degrees. Below that, I pulled on the Outflow Primaloft Hoody, which kept me warm even down to -15 degrees. And I know that because that’s what the temperature crept down to on the first night! For all other times, I would pair the Ashlu with the weatherproof Revelation jacket – I love that piece. The large vents make it super adaptable, and despite some epic storms, I didn’t get soaked through the entire time I was racing.

Any idea where your next adventures will take you?

In November, I went out to South Africa to ride parts of the Rhino Run. I’ll head out this year again to ride the whole thing, but before that, we’ve got a film coming out in April called “Buy a Donkey” about our first trip. So keep your eyes peeled for that. For other races, I hope to line up for the Race Around Poland to start my season, followed up by Transcontinental No. 8 and FRTHR Pyrenees.

Looks like you’re building up to a truly epic year, and 7mesh will be there for every turn of the wheel. Bon chance, Max!

Thanks, Pete!