After my dismal showing at the Almanzo 100 the weekend prior, I felt like I needed a little redemption so that I could end my series of Spring events on a high note.
So I went to DeKalb, Illinois to ride the 2013 Gravel Metric. It’s a race that I’ve been meaning to ride since it started four years ago. I’ve watched their excellent race promo videos (why not one this year?) and rode with the course designer at Trans-Iowa.
The course ran to 68 miles and was mostly fast gravel, but also included about 10 miles of B-roads, some snowmobile trail, a tiny bit of singletrack, a water crossing, some hike-a-bike, and a little pavement to get out and back into town.
The area around DeKalb isn’t at all hilly, but there is the wind. Even a 10mph wind, because there’s nothing out there to slow it down, just feels relentless. But, with all of the wind turbines on and around the course, you always know just where the wind is coming from–not that you always want to know that.
Like all of these sorts of events, I’m not in it to win, but to have a good ride. I went out easy, found my pace, and just settled into grinding out the gravel and having as much fun as possible. And that’s what I did. Lots of miles and smiles.
If you’re interested in the data, here’s my GPS trace. And no, that’s not a big wrong turn in the SW corner of the course: it’s an out-and-back to the second checkpoint.
I went into the Gravel Metric running a completely different setup than I’d ridden for the entire rest of the Spring season. Some notable differences:
- Kona Jake instead of Surly Karate Monkey. Much stiffer, much lighter, and a much rougher ride since the frame is aluminum instead of steel. It also, contrary to what one might think, handles much better on all of the surfaces I encountered. I doubt that the Jake will be my main gravel ride in the future–due to the rougher ride–but I’m definitely going to shoot for something with roughly the same geometry. The KM is just wrong for the gravel, it turns out. At least for me.
- Flat bars (On-One Mary) instead of dirt-drops (Salsa Woodchipper). Not the best choice for longer rides on rough surfaces, it turns out. After about 50 miles of roughness with my hands in the same position, things started to get uncomfortable. I’ll probably leave them for the time being, but if I decide to use this bike for anything longer, I’ll go back to either the Salsa Woodchippers or the Ragly Luxy bars.
- Minimal on-the-bike baggage. Instead of carrying my water bladder in a Revelate Tangle, and everything else in two Mountain Feedbags, a Revelate Gas Tank, and either the Revelate Viscacha or the Dill Pickle seatbag, I decided to pare things down, using only a single Mountain Feedbag, a small seatbag (tools and tubes only) and a Camelbak MULE. As it wasn’t hot, I didn’t mind wearing the backpack and the bike handled much better for being unburdened by 10 pounds of water and gear. I’ll have to re-evaluate whether I want to carry water in the Tangle in the future, or just use it for food and gear.