Post-Grinduro Bicycle Dreams

News of the North Bay fires, the possibility of toxic air and tragic stories have been filling my news feed, my mind and my heart since the moment I returned from Grinduro.

As I sat on my computer last night reading the news, I desperately needed a diversion.

So what better to occupy a bike nerd’s mind than the dream of a new bicycle.

Now, I ride a Pinarello F10 for work, so the bar is set pretty high for my two-wheeled, lust-filled dreams.

An argument can be made where you could build a “dream” gravel grinder whip for a very reasonable amount of money.

All one would have to do is to go on Craigslist and find an older mountain bike frame or even an early cyclocross frame and then start “shopping for parts.”

There are parts bins all over the planet filled with 80’s and early 90’s bits and pieces you could procure fairly cheaply and you would have a delightfully, rideable chariot to take into the back country in no time.

I know, because this was my first line of thinking. A classic Eddy Merckx cyclocross frame, some Paul Components bits and pieces and some handbuilt wheels and I would be styling and profiling at the next gravel grinder.

The problem with this plan is it misses all three of the criteria I came up with for my ultimate “adventure” bike. These three specifications became seared into my brain as I pushed my bike up the second climb, an epic piece of steep and long dirt road, of the Grinduro and baked into my pysche as I grinned all the way down the timed section of the race, an unbelievable, whippy fun piece of legitimate single track.

Requirement number one: Lightweight. I’m not young enough or fit enough to carry any more weight on myself or my bike and so being a weightweenie is going to be job one as I build my bike.

Requirement number two: Gears, gears and more gears. I have fully embraced the idea that spinning is winning. I’m no Chris Froome, but I would much rather have one more gear, rather than one less. I didn’t run out of cardio ability during the Grinduro, but I certainly ran out of gears. I won’t make this mistake again.

Requirement number three: Flat bars. I know, I know, there are advantages and disadvantages to this choice. If I were 10 or 15 years younger, I might make a different call here. If speed is your primary goal, that makes the decision even harder. There were plenty of sections of the Grinduro where the aero advantage and more aggressive decision making drop bars allow makes this a tougher decision. But I prefer the control allowed by flat bars.

Ok, with those three requirements in mind I turned to my traveling companions/beer drinking/potato chip eating/maple syrup slurping/tentmates, to find out what worked and what didn’t work in their self-selected two-wheeled wonders.

Cory Farrer, former bike shop owner, fellow inGamba employee and sexy single dad, was on a 2015 BMC Fourstroke 01 29er with 35c cross tires, SRAM XX1 and a 34t ring. 

“The bike was pretty close to perfect because for the most part, Grinduro is a mountain bike race course, but it has dual lockout and was light enough to keep up with the gravel road bikes on the rolling road section with the cross tires,” said Farrer. “Most importantly, I was having way more fun on average than people on Cross Bikes, Gravel Bikes, Hardtails, or heavier longer-travel Full Suspension mtn bikes.

“I was probably at a small disadvantage on the dirt climb because of the weight of the bike, but it probably comes in at near 20lbs the way it was set up. Not bad. I would switch out for the SRAM XX1 or Eagle to get that lower gear for the second climb and still have a high enough gear for the road.”

“I think I would also go with fatter tires, seeing as how the road gravel bikes almost all had much fatter rubber than I did, and I had to be concerned about burping a tire or destroying my rims at the speeds we were going on the 35c cross tires. Mainly though the thing I would do differently is not show up fat and out of shape again. Or old.”

Andrew Pollack, mountain bike racer, designer and Lily’s dad was on a 2016 Lynskey titanium 650b hardtail, XC Schwalbe Racing Ralphs, 100mm front fork, XX1 34t ring. 

“I felt this setup was darn near prefect for this event,” said Pollack. “I had some issues with my fit on the bike that I was able to resolve mid-race, but other than that I felt the lightweight XC flatbar hardtail was the way to go.”

“Riding that with drop bars would have crushed my soul.”

“The shot of whiskey I was gifted before the single track was also helpful.”

“And I agree with Cory, the Eagle would have been nice.”

Ted King, soon-to-be husband to Laura Spencer, former roommate of Thor Hushovd and Ivan Basso, trumpeter of all things maple (read: Untapped) was on a Cannondale SuperX with Clement 40c, Zipp 303s, SRAM 1x. 

“The expression “run whataya brung” is appropriate for Grinduro,” said King. “It’s such a motley collection of steeds — cross, mountain, gravel, and garaged tinkered together frankenbikes — and yet quite frankly no bike is perfect for Grinduro. I’m blessed to have a whole bunch of bikes in my garage so I have more than average options from which to bring.”

“I opted for the Cannondale SuperX, which was sweet. Having let a friend borrow my Cannondale Slate, which truth be told might be the perfect bike for the job, I was down to either this gravel maniac, the SuperX, or my full suspension Scalpel. This bike is set up with a SRAM 1x drivetrain, 44t in the front and a vast 10-42t cassette in the rear. I had speedy Zipp 303s with Clement 40c tires run tubeless. A Quarq powermeter and Speedplay Syzrs rounded out the drivetrain with a Zipp cockpit. Light, fast, and dreamy looking? This is your bike.”

“The first 1 mile climb was perfect. I had a respectable time and with just the slightest scent of the previous night’s IPA on my breath, I was pleased with a top 5. The next section was a six mile twisty, turny, loose gravel fireroad descent. Given the level of competition, again, I was stoked with… I think 4th place? 6th? I forget, but I was pleased.”

“The paved 4 mile rolling section was basically a TTT. With an average power somewhere in the high 400s, I went into this stage confident I had the ideal tool for the job. It was! The race just featured a few more coy racers who jumped into our group after hiding at the start and gamed the system to perfection. I did pump the impressively heated sprint, so again, this bike was the cat’s pajamas.”

“Let’s not kid ourselves, the final 3 mile descent was straight up downhill material. This wasn’t meant for a cross bike, nor gravel bike, a cross country MTB would be great and a downhill bike would take top honors. I think I did it by 20 or so seconds. Being a frenetic roadie, I was happy to a) finish with my bones intact and b) have a top 15 finish. That’s where the race was won, so maybe in 2018 I would run a hardtail mountain bike, so that I could skim through the first three stages and hammer the finale.”

“Or not. The SuperX was super sweet and I think that could be the bike of the day for fun alone. And that’s what this day was about.”

Nate Ripperton, who once climbed Mt. Tam like 27 times in a single day to win a pair of shoes, promoter of proper (Osmo) hydration and maker of secret routes was on a Santa Cruz Highball 29er.

I rode my Cruz Highball since I don’t own a gravel bike. I was under the (what turned out to be false) impression that “Grinduro” would need a “gravel-grinder.”

“However, I think a hardtail mtb is perfect. I had 40c Rambler tires from Maxxis on there, per recommendations from Ted King and Rebecca Rusch, that this was the fastest rolling tire with a bit of tread.”

“One additional bonus of riding my 6-year-old Santa Cruz was that it was built and spec’d before the current modern era of 1x drive chains and came equipped with the tried and true triple chain ring, replete with the old-fashioned granny gear. That was really nice on the last climb when a lot of people were walking. And it provided the added benefit of not spinning like an wacko during the road section while sitting at the back of the group led Ted, who was doing his pro Ted thing.”

“I would probably consider even wider tires next year as it seems that most of the time is to be gained would be on the downhill gravel road section and the single track sections.”

Decisions need to be made.

Will it be SRAM Eagle or maybe a sweet Shimano XTR Di2 build? Will it be a frame from one of the whips in the newly minted “gravel” segment, like the Open U.P. or U.P.P.E.R. or the 3T Exploro or a blinged-out, Ted King recommended Cannondale Slate.

Or will I put a flatbar on a bike like the Ridley X-Trail or the Santa Cruz Stigmata or one of those Niner RLT RDO which helped fuel the whole genre to begin with.

Holy shit cakes, I still haven’t added in the possible. Hardtail and dual-suspension mountain bikes, both in 29er and 27.5 wheel sizes. And what about cyclocross bikes like the Specialized Crux or endurance road bike likes the Trek Domane?

And wouldn’t the Pinarello GAN GRS Disk make a great platform for this quest, with its built in rear end suspension and built in room for some big fat tires?

Tires?

Rims?

Carbon?

Tubeless?

Damn it, I haven’t even started thinking about tires or pedals or saddles or grips.

Maybe a dropper post?

Oh yeah, and do I really want a flat bar?

Let the journey begin.


Grinduro: I came for the ride and stayed for the hike

The greatest of all bicycle debates rages on in the Gold Country of California.

If you love an endless back-and-forth over tire size, gear ratios or everything tire-pressure, then next year you have to make the pilgrimage to the western edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and to the event known as Grinduro.

For it’s there where the most faithful followers of all things gravel, mountain, adventure, and dirt come to debate the pros and cons of everything from tubeless tires to shaved legs and beard care products. This is deep in the weeds nerdiness. Peak bike-geek. And I love it, for these are my people.

Perhaps part of the reason that everyone here is so enthusiastic is because this is not an easy event to get to. First of all, there’s the fact that it sells out quicker than local legend Carl Decker descends single-track (and that is truly fast). Secondly, you have to make the trek to Plumas County to the town of Quincy, which is at least five hours from everywhere. And finally, you have to come prepared to be prepared. There are some facilities – a few food trucks and some delicious Verve Coffee, but all things bicycle, sleep and living comforts are pretty much left up to you.

So it was with much glee, and a tiny bit of apprehension, that we loaded every piece of camping gear, bike stuff and personal hygiene paraphernalia into the team car and headed north-ish/east-ish into the Sierra Nevadas, on a steep learning curve towards an unforgettable experience.

We played it pretty mellow Friday night, rolling into town, unpacking the sled, swapping out some pedals, airing up some tires and setting up our abodes for the weekend ahead.

For my own comfort, I’d gotten hold of a Mountain Hardwear Shifter 4 tent. And, like a true outdoorsman, I declined to read the instructions or erect it during daylight hours. With the darkness fast approaching, I grew a little concerned … until I realise that the Shifter 4 only uses two poles and clips, practically building itself. Yet again, I was saved from my own stupidity by someone else’s hard work and ingenuity, and my buddy didn’t have to freeze to death on account of me. Although it might have been better to have four in the tent for the crisp nights ahead, we found the tent to be smartly designed and the vestibule to be plenty vast for what one could only call over-packed packing.

On that point, I have to give a big, warm round of applause to the Osprey Transporter. This thing is amazing, part duffel bag, part backpack, it’s designed so well that it kept me at least partially organized throughout the whole affair.

Chilly doesn’t really begin to describe how cold it was the two nights we spent sleeping in our frost-covered tent. And to make it worse, I unselfishly loaned my North Face Blue Kazoo sleeping bag to my tent-mate – having thought that it was so lovely during the day it was going to be a balmy fall evening. So giving the extra long bag to my tall, fast friend seemed like a no brainer. If only his effusive thanks for getting him toasty were enough to warm my bitterly cold toes.

After the first questionable night’s sleep, we rose at the ass-crack of dawn to join almost 900 other riders at the start line. Staring down the barrel of a course covering a little under 8000 feet of vertical in just over 60 miles, this is the point that normally leaves me like a nervous wreck, the jockeying-for-position and the testosterone-fueled, sick-to-your-stomach electricity.

But as the countdown began, it was obvious that Grinduro is a little different. What would normally be a living hell for me was actually a surprisingly relaxed and enjoyable moment. This is because the format is completely different from any other bicycle event on the planet. Instead of timing you from the gun, the Grinduro geniuses have set up four timed sections, leaving the rest of the course to be ridden at whatever pace you desire. They claim this stops the event from being a sufferfest, but I can attest for just about everyone on the course, suffering ensues even if you are not interested in “winning.”

The first timed section is an uphill dirt climb, followed by a downhill fire-road ripper, a paved time trial and finally a glorious stretch of ripping fast single track. And that’s where all the discussion, debate and nail biting about bicycle selection, tire pressure and gear inches come into play.

The perfect bike for this event is what, exactly? A road bike would have come in handy for the pavement. I could only dream how fun the single track section would have been on a dialed, big hit dual suspension mountain bike. And with all the dirt climbing in-between, you realize pretty quickly how horrible both of these ideas are for a day in the woods.

So what bike did the Grinduro masses choose for this adventure? They apparently didn’t call each other, because I don’t believe I saw two bikes with the exact same setup. There were cyclocross bikes and single speeds and hardtail mountain bikes and all manner of custom made goodness. I spotted Rock Lobsters and Sycips and Breadwinners and Calfees and a VYNL. Tire choice was almost as varied as the whip selection, with gum walls and fatties and slicks and semi-slicks were spread out across the mountain.

Which brings us to our next lesson. Never, and I repeat never, borrow a bicycle from a “friend” the night before attempting to “ride” an event like Grinduro. Or any event for that matter. As it turns out, that said friend is both fitter and less mechanically inclined than I (which is astonishing, btw).

I realized about 10 minutes into the first climb I was geared for a ride across Kansas and not the hills of California. As if this were not enough, I came to learn part way up the (epic) second climb of the day not only was my front disc rubbing like a teenage boy at the Homecoming Dance, but my drive-side crank arm was trying to exit stage right.

The thing is, if I ever do the Grinder again, I would be happy to do it on the exact same bike. The Cannondale Slate is part road bike, part hardtail mountain bike and part gravel gobbler. Only next time I would probably make sure it is looked over by a “proper” mechanic before throwing a leg over it myself.

The only thing which kept me moving forward was the realization everyone else was suffering on the hike, yes hike, up the second climb and no one, and I mean no one was complaining. As a matter of fact everyone I met was shockingly pleasant. Even on the timed sections everyone was cordial, communicative and encouraging. As it was pointed out to me by one of my riding companions, this is what it was like in the early days of mountain biking. Everyone enjoying themselves, encouraging those around them and generally making a grueling experience as pleasant as possible. It turns out racing bicycles is fun.

After rolling back into town we showered, drank Untapped maple cocktails, ate tri-tip chili, watched the awards ceremony, hung out with some locals looking for free booze and crashed hard in our tent where we still froze, but cared a little less. In the morning, we crammed all our crap into the back of the car and bolted for home, in the hopes we would soon forget the pain in our knees, backs and quads and remember, with fondness, our time grinding out the duro.

Only time will tell.

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