Fall is finally here and that can only mean one thing, the Gravel Grovel is right around the corner. The Gravel Grovel is the race I look the most forward to every year. Yes, the weather is not always that great. It can be cold, muddy or even raining or snow, but that is just part of what makes me enjoy this race. I have always been intrigued by the events that put me in a place that you just can’t get to with out a lot of effort. Anyone who has done longer events know what I am taking about. I have yet to have a year that I was not a shell of a person by the time I made it to the finish line. I have left it all out there on the race course if I wanted to or not. I am sure that when that finish line comes along this year, I will once again be just a shell riding a bike and somehow not just falling over.
The last couple of years as my fitness improves every year I have had a goal of finishing in a sub 5 hour time. Out of all the years this event has been put on, I have only done that twice. I have no idea how I did it the first time, but last year I put in a lot of work to make that happen. The weather was so bad that for most of the race I pretty much figured that it was not going to happen. Somehow when it came down to the last 10 miles I was still in the hunt and when I figured that out it was just enough for the legs to feel a little better and hammer down the road to the finish. I was very happy that I could finish in under 5 hours. With the bad weather conditions I think I could have done a lot better and maybe even hit the 4.5 hour mark. It is really hard to tell since I have found that for some reason I tend to do better when conditions are less favorable. Maybe that shell of a rider can actually ride pretty good.
Just like last year I have made a few trips up to that area to get some pre-gravel training rides in. These are always a blast and I am not sure why I don’t do these kinds of rides more often. I guess any kind of riding with this group of people would be just as fun. I am very glad to have made some good friends riding my bike that are also such fun to be around on and off the bike. It is just too bad that not everyone lives closer together. Good times and a lot of good miles. I have done my share of riding alone and that is not always a bad thing, but riding with the right group of riders can sure make getting out the door a lot easier. There are times that I thought I was not going to ride and with 15 minutes time and a message about riding all my plans can change. I have found myself driving hours just to ride with some people when I thought I was not going to ride at all that day.
As I mentioned earlier (probably several times) last year I finished under that elusive 5 hour mark. It was not easy and I sure did my homework as compared to previous years, but I could not stop thinking about the trail sections. Mainly Nebo ridge over all the other sections. That section of trail was not very easy to ride on my cross bike even with the 40c tires. I have also rode that bike on a lot of other rides and just don’t feel as comfortable when it get more technical. I know for sure that I can’t go over near as big of log on that bike as I can on the MTB. Granted there are not that many logs to go over, but currently Nebo has 3 or 4 and some of those would be over my limit on the CX bike, but no problem at all on the MTB. I got to thinking that I could make some changes to a MTB that would get me riding about as fast as I would on my CX bike. Then I consider that there is a MTB class and also look at some of the top finishers over the last few years and what bikes they are on.
So, I kind of figured out what type of bike I was going to race this year. Now I needed to figure out what bike I was going to race. I had a couple options to think about. I have my Niner that has a 2×9 set up and I have my Spot that is a 1×10. I also had a Niner rigid fork to put on what ever bike I picked. Then as a surprise to me my new carbon Scale came in. The first trip to Story I could not help myself but to ride the new bike. It is super light, but I would not be able to put a rigid fork on it and if the weather was bad at all I would not want to take it. It took me long enough to clean and fix my CX bike from last years race. I didn’t by the Scale for this kind of race and I sure don’t want the first race on it to be a mess.
The Scale rode great, but I could not help the feeling that the gearing would hold me back for the race. We didn’t go race pace, but I found myself running out of gearing on the road sections. The bike came with a 32t on front, but I really didn’t feel like trying to get a 34t or bigger just for this race. Next trip I put a rigid fork on the Niner and tried that out. This bike did a lot better and even with being heavier than the Scale I figured it would be my go to bike for the race. The 24t and 36t in the front gave me plenty of gearing options. Then I got to thinking. Thinking is not always a good thing. I wondered out much difference the steel Niner fork weighed compared to my carbon Pace fork on my SS. After I did some initial digging it looked like the Pace would be about a pound lighter. Humm….lighter is always good. I started to weigh everything. It turned out that the Niner weighed 25 lbs and that didn’t seem light enough. I went to swap out the rigid fork, but the race for the head set would not work for the aluminum steer tube.
So, after a lot of work, I ended up putting the steel fork back on the Niner, but in the process I did figure out that the Pace was exactly 1 lb lighter than the Niner. The other interesting thing I figured out was my Spot with out a back wheel weighed pretty dang light. Not what I expected for a steel frame, but I knew it was not heavy. This made me wonder just how much it weighed with a back wheel and so I took the Niner fork off of the Niner and put it on the Spot. I then moved the wheels over. With the heavy fork the Spot weighs in at 23 lbs. That is much better. Now I just needed to work out the lack of gearing that was on the 1×10. I put a 34t front chain ring on it and I was ready to go. I took this bike on the next trip to Story. It did an awesome job. Now this is the bike I am going to race. Yea, I know I could put the Pace fork on there and get it another pound lighter, but I really like that fork on my SS and if this is going to be my long term gravel bike, I kind of like everything being steel.
So, my bike is not determined and the days are running out. I can only hope that I put in enough work and planning to allow myself to have a good ride. I think I will be the most prepared to date so that is leaning toward making good things happen. Weather looks like it should be better than last year so I am keeping my fingers crossed. I will know soon enough how it all turns out. The only thing I am sure of is that I will be hanging out with some good friends and putting in a good bike ride. Hope everyone also has a good time and maybe I will see you out there.