Gravel racing: serious business.


Hey, kids. Gravel racing has become super serious, and more and more people are participating. If it’s your first time, here are some ground rules for items to bring, and issues to prepare for:

1. Bike setup.

Depending on conditions, the two popular rigs for gravel racing are the cyclocross bike and the rigid 29’er. Depending on your weight, experience level, fitness level, or bike availability, that choice is your own. A 29’er would be more comfortable and sure-footed in rough conditions, but the trade-off is rolling resistance, a less aerodynamic riding position, and a heavier weight. The cross bike is faster in every way, but can be more difficult in sand or mud, and a bit less comfortable if you’re not used to grinding it out in a road riding position. 2×10 (or 2×9) setups are a almost a must on either. You could get away with a 1×10 (I did in 2012 on my cross bike) but a 2x is much more versatile. We had a long argument about tires at a Johnny Sprocket’s team meeting last night. Go with your gut, and what makes you comfortable.

2. Bring calories.

Endurance formulated liquids and calorie-dense, easy to eat foods are a must. 1000-1500 calories is the target. Just do it. You need it. If you think you need more, bring more.

3. Bring calories.

Please. Do it, for your own sake.


This issue seriously injured somebody last year at the start, somebody had a water bottle fly out of their cage over one of the many bumps in the road at the start, and the inexperience of riders in the group caused quite a crash. Don’t put just any bottle in any cage. Matching bottles and cages hold together much better than a random match-up. Do it for yours and others’ safety.

5. Overdress.

Most importantly, take care of your hands and feet. Having frozen extremities can make a rough race worse. Having clothing that can be put in pockets like a vest is a fool-proof plan. Too hot? Take it off. Get too cold? Put it back on. Layer, and be warm!

6. Enjoy yourself!

Ride, push yourself, and talk to the people around you. Communicate about the race, conditions, or about where you’re from and why you’re riding. You can leave with many new friends!

My perticular choices for this Barry-Roubaix 2013 are below. Take into consideration that our team and I are going pretty hard at the 62 mile distance, and you don’t really every have to bring this much equipment.

Bike setup:

2013 Specialized Crux Carbon Pro Disc with:

Handspun Stan’s ZTR Crest wheelset.

Clement MSO X’plor tires

Avid BB7 brakes

SRAM drivetrain

Zipp cockpit


Powerbar energy blasts

CarboRocket 333 Half-Evil endurance formula


2 thoughts on “Gravel racing: serious business.

  1. These days (for the past few years, actually) I’m a road cyclist. I traded in a CX bike for a second road bike, and, well, I kind of miss being off the pavement.

    There’s a loop into the mountains out here with a steep two-mile descent over a gravel road before it joins the pavement again. A lot of people turn back at this point and go home the way they came. I see that you’re riding a carbon frame; would you recommend doing a ride like this on a carbon road bike and cheap, strong wheels?

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Carbon isn’t only used for its light weight. I’ve owned an aluminum frame that was lighter than this Crux Pro. The speed a well-laid carbon creates is almost unmatched by any other material. The way the bottom bottom bracket, downtube, and chain stays were built on this bike make for an incredibly snappy and efficient sprint. And in the saddle, it offers a plush, yet responsive ride.

    The wheels on my bike aren’t super-crazy expensive. They’re Stan’s ZTR Crest rims with Hope Pro Evo 2 hubs with DT comp spokes and pro-lock nipples (retail $765/pair from Handspun). The combo makes for a lively wheel on an even more live bike. A lot can be done with (relatively) little money.

    Nice wheels can be had for cheap if you talk to your local bike shop and listen to a professional.

    A wheel like a Mavic Open Pro to Shimano 105 hub is a gold standard and would have no problem with gravel roads, cross or road tires. The frame will be doing most of the “suspension” work, and with a 28c tire, you could move pretty fast over some terrain that, like you said, can turn people back whence they came.

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