Gravel: Land Run 100

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We are just back from one of the most phenomenal cycling weekends in the history of things with round wheels, the Land Run 100 in Stillwater Oklahoma. Land Run, its name a comemoration of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, is a 1oo mile gravel bike race. Nobody can do a better job of telling the story behind the event better than the founder himself, Bobby Wintle - click the button below:

 Four of us, Bill Leibman, Stu Garwick, Justin McBride, and Jake Huber loaded our bikes on the back of Justin's Jeep-mobile and made the 10 hour drive to ride this epic gravel race now in it's 6th year.

 Celebrating our arrival in Stillwater at the Iron Monk Brewery - Jake, Justin, and Stu

Celebrating our arrival in Stillwater at the Iron Monk Brewery - Jake, Justin, and Stu

While some of us were wondering how we were going to pull 100 miles of gravel riding out of our winter weakened legs, Jake and Justin were eyeing high finishing spots in the single-speed division; These guys are tough enough to go it without gears, and given the red-dirt hill studded terrain of the course they would have to hit it hard.  The rest of us were content to set our sights a little lower, as in let's ride hard enough to make it challenging but not so hard we whack the fun out of it.

 Hot enough to to crush it on single-speed bikes? Heck Yeah!

Hot enough to to crush it on single-speed bikes? Heck Yeah!

Along with the interesting collection of people and bike, are some of our favorite bike industry friends - not so many that it looks like a trade show, but enough to add some interest. 

 Stu and Bill's bikes lead us to their the mother ship

Stu and Bill's bikes lead us to their the mother ship

The people are what make the event, and it didn't take us long after arriving to start making connections with people we know from our own Ten Thousand Event, or our Frost Bite 40, and others who come out from Chicago to ride with us in the big gravel hills of the Driftless area between Freeport and the river. We linked up with the Chicago folks to do a recon of the course the next morning, the day before the race.

 Route recon started with a stop at a local shop for a proper Cappuchino

Route recon started with a stop at a local shop for a proper Cappuchino

After a casual start on Friday morning, we met up with the group at the coffee shop for a little shot of energy before heading out to ride about 20 miles of the route.  Allison had mapped a course that would give us a good idea of what was in store for us on Saturday once the race started.

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Recon group rolling out of town

The recon ride was only 20 miles but revealed a lot about what lay ahead - lots of hills and lots of gnar. More importantly, it gave us all a chance to dial in last minute equipment adjustments, find the right tire pressure, and make sure things are working well.

 Jake and Justin tweak their set-ups on the recon ride

Jake and Justin tweak their set-ups on the recon ride

Back in town after the ride we also managed to link up with John Watson of The Radavist, a leading blog site covering the gravel scene. John was there to report on the event and seek out some of the more interesting bike set-ups. He did a really nice shoot of Stu's bike.

 John Watson did a great photo shoot of Stu's new Moots 

John Watson did a great photo shoot of Stu's new Moots 

You can check out some other cool Land Run rides shot by John, and his own very excellent reporting on the event at theradavist.com -  The full shoot of Stu's bike is here: 

The pre-ride meeting on Friday evening, unlike many such meetings was actually full of energetic fun with a minimum of dull rules and reminders and a lot of enthusiastic music, poetry reading (yeah, right!?!), all highlighted by Bobby and Tyler rocking the old John Denver classic "Country Roads". 

 Tyler and Bobby gettin into Country Roads

Tyler and Bobby gettin into Country Roads

We were up early Saturday Morning to kit up and get to the start line for what we knew would be a tough day in the gravel. Temperatures to start were in the low 40's, headed into the 60's later in the day. With Skies a little overcast, the day turned out perfect. Our winter-hardened northern bodies would not have fared well if it got a little too hot and sunny. The crowd lining the street buzzed with nervous anticipation; everyone making those last minute checks of bike, gear, mind, body and clothing. And, of course, trying to ease themselves toward the front of the field of about 800 riders.

 Lining up for the start, high on anticipation and adrenaline

Lining up for the start, high on anticipation and adrenaline

At precisely 8:00 am, the boom of a cannon (another nod to the heritage of the Land Rush) started the slow roll out of Stillwater, the pace gradually accelerating to launch us into the gravel about a mile from town. Enveloped in a cloud of dust we hurtled down the steep hills, trying to fling ourselves over the next hill and grinding away on the longer ascents.

 It's Red, and rocky, and steep, and beautiful, and...

It's Red, and rocky, and steep, and beautiful, and...

 Just the right amount of sunshine

Just the right amount of sunshine

The ride with everything: Salsa Cycles, whose presence at Land Run was pervasive, is doing a promotion this year called "Chase the Chaise" at 5 big gravel events. I know, you all have a chaise lounge in your sitting rooms so I don't have to explain. The idea is to stop on the course and have your picture taken on the chaise to earn a patch and entry into a drawing for a $250 gift certificate to District Cycles in Stillwater.

 Justin trades a spot on the podium for a spot on the chaise - Didn't win the gift certificate either

Justin trades a spot on the podium for a spot on the chaise - Didn't win the gift certificate either

Most gravel events operate on the premise you are on your own; no support, too bad for you if you forgot water or food. Land Run is similar in its setup, but very different in its execution. At about mile 50 the route through Guthrie featured a party like street scene and the official bag drop for those who planned ahead. A couple of us hit the local Taco Bell for bean Burritos to fuel the second half of the ride. On course, The Red Dirt Jeep Club was out in force patrolling to offer help if needed. Some locals on the route had water ready at the roadside for anyone low on juice. At mile 77 a little road side oasis had water, snacks, beer and to remind us it was St. Patrick's Day, shots of Jamison.

 Half a cup of beer and a shot of Jamison ignited the rest of Bill's ride

Half a cup of beer and a shot of Jamison ignited the rest of Bill's ride

We rolled the final 25 miles into Stillwater feeling good but attacking the hills with a bit less elan, saving some energy to celebrate at the finish.

 The four celebrating after one of the best rides ever

The four celebrating after one of the best rides ever

I have been telling people this was one of the absolute best one-day cycling events in my 40+ years of cycling. The route was more than entertaining, it was like a huge amusement park for the entire 106 miles. It was more than challenging, with the the sharpness of the hills, a few boggy spots, some sand traps, gnarly gravel, some double and single track - all tough. It was more than beautiful, it was spectacular. The people were great, a lot of really good experienced riders with gravel honed bike handling skills, great attitudes; not a single fun hater in the crowd. One thing about Land Run that is impossible to miss is the extremely high level of unending energy and enthusiasm infused in the event by its founder and organizer, Bobby Wintle. It's contageous and we all caught it. What might be overlooked is the sophisticated level of organization of this event in a cycling genre that prides itself on looking un-organized. When that cannon goes off at precisely 8:00 am, you just know that a whole lot of people had to do a lot of things exactly right to make that happen. Many thanks are due Bobby, his wife Crystal, the staff at District Cycles, all the volunteers behind the scenes and out on course, the city of Stillwater, and all the local sponsors. Hope to see you all next year.

#districtbicycles  #unlearnpavement #landrun100. #visitstillwater

At FBC the owner and staff have a passion for cycling – we all ride to help you ride better. Come and see us in Freeport at 120 South Chicago in Freeport to find out how we can help you get full enjoyment out of your cycling experience.

Gravel: Events and Races

The cycling world, in spite of its tendency to honor its traditions beyond their sell-by dates, is always evolving ever more creative ways to enjoy our two-wheeled lives.  Gravel riding has actually been around for a long time, going back to the roots of two-wheeling itself when hardy cyclists flew their high-wheel penny farthing cycles down the only roads that existed back then - dirt and gravel. Pavement has tended to crowd out the gravel over the last century or so, especially around densely populated areas, making the current gravel scene somewhat rural centric. Good for us in the Northwest corner of Illinois - many well known gravel events are easily accessible to us in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.

 The real origins of gravel cycling?

The real origins of gravel cycling?

But first, some notes on Terminology: Some will refer to a given gravel event as, just that; a "gravel event". Others will refer to the same event as a "gravel race". In some cases, the event organizers push the race aspect by having a reward system with prizes and a podium recognition for the winners in different age, gender,  or equipment categories. Great - we'll call it a race. Other events, with no such prize system we'll call an event. What you call it really depends on how you intend to ride it; some of us show up at an event, and regardless of the size of the rewards for the swift, ride with goals to meerly survive, reach the finish, have a good time along the way, and cross the line in good enough cheer to have a beer or two before heading home. Even in the absence of rewards for the winners, some love the competition and will choose to race the event.  This is the beauty of gravel events; every rider can decide what they the event to be and ride it accordingly based on what they want out of it. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes fun and are unrestrained in how we ride these events.

Part of the reason for this indeterminate nature of gravel events has to to with the grass-roots origins of the genre, which in itself is a sort of rebellion against the highly organized kit-and-carbon world of amateur road racing in America. The race fees, rule book, race officials, license requirements, course marshals, dress code (yes, it's in the rule book) all add up to making sanctioned road racing less inviting to the masses. Gravel events are free, or low cost, have very few rules if any at all, and don't care what or how you are riding.

That's as deep as we want to get into the roots of gravel events right now - more on this later.

With that as background, here follows a list of a few of the gravel events in the midwest we are familiar with, starting with those closest to home.

Frost Bite 40

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  • When: February 25, 2018 9:00 am
  • Where: American Legion Hall, Pecatonica IL
  • What: 40 mile self support bicycle ride taking place on gravel roads in Winnebago and Stephenson Co.   It will start and end at the American Legion in Pecatonica Illinois. 
  • Vibe: First gravel bash of almost-spring. "Last year we set a record for the most smiles in one day for the month of February", says ride organizer Stu Garwick. No support, but there will be a rest stop halfway with beverages and cookies. Fun for all - bail out options to shorten the course if your winter training went off the rails.  No charge to ride, but the hat will be passed to support a local civic cause. 
  • Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. and Chainlink Cyclists Bike Club
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

The Ten Thousand

 Real hills, real gravel - The Ten Thousand

Real hills, real gravel - The Ten Thousand

  • When: May 27, 2018 9:00 am
  • Where: Freeport Bicycle Co 120 S Chicago, Freeport IL
  • What: A 120-ish mile bicycle adventure with roughly 10,000 ft. of elevation gain in Illinois’ Driftless region. Primarily on gravel, though there will be paved sections along the way. There will be 75 and 50 mile options. Self supported with several towns along the route for food and drink.
  • Vibe: Major event on the gravel calendar that attracts top talent from around the region - the full 120 mile route is for the serious rider looking for a real challenge. Ten Thousand feet of climbing on the 120 mile route in the most scenic part of the state will test even the best. Many enjoyed getting a taste of the big gravel world on the shorter routes last year.
  • Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. and Comrade Cycles of Chicago
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

Brews Cruise

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  • When: August 12, 2018 10:00 am
  • Where: Freeport Bicycle Co 120 S Chicago, Freeport IL
  • What: Mixed terrain ride of gravel and pavement of around 50-60 miles with stops at three craft breweries: Wishful Acres, Lena Brewing, and finishing the day at Generations Brewing Co. in Freeport
  • Vibe: Save your race legs for some other day - this ride is about stopping to smell the flowers. Hops are flowers, right?
  • Sponsors: Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. 
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

Dust At Dusk

  • When: September 2, 2018 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm
  • Where: Oregon IL
  • What: Fifty or so miles of rolling gravel roads beginning an hour before sundown from Conover Square Mall in Oregon, IL. This is a FREE self-supported ride with routes provided but NO cue sheets.
  • Vibe: There will be an after party in downtown Oregon with location TBD. Grab your lights, a buddy, and your appetite for gravel!
  • Sponsors: Sponsors: Freeport Bicycle Co. and White Pelican
  • Website: Freeportbicycles.com - see Events

Dairy Roubaix

 One of the many beautiful roads of the Dairy Roubaix

One of the many beautiful roads of the Dairy Roubaix

  • When: April 21 2018
  • Where: Hugh Harper Group Camp at Wyalusing State Park in Southwest Wisconsin
  • What: The Dairy Roubaix is a one day unsupported gravel grinder starting and ending at the Hugh Harper Group Camp at Wyalusing State Park in Southwest Wisconsin.  Routs of 100 miles and 50 miles. Really big hills. Running each year since 2011, this event has become a Wisconsin cycling tradition and a chance to reunite with old friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Entry is free to all, but limited to the first 500 registrants.  We do accept and encourage donations to support the event and it's organization's good works.  Starting 2016, this organization is Vernon Trails Org - a group of folks building single track trail networks in and around Vernon County, Wisconsin.
  • Vibe: Running each year since 2011, this event has become a Wisconsin cycling tradition and a chance to reunite with old friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Entry is free to all, but limited to the first 500 registrants.  We do accept and encourage donations to support the event and it's organization's good works.  Starting 2016, this organization is Vernon Trails Org - a group of folks building single track trail networks in and around Vernon County, Wisconsin.
  • Sponsors: Sponsors: Blue Dog Cycles Viroqua WI and Vernon Trails Org.
  • Website: http://dairyroubaix.weebly.com/

Almanzo 100

 Massive Almanzo 100 field rolls out of Spring Valley - quite a variety of bikes for a day in the gravel

Massive Almanzo 100 field rolls out of Spring Valley - quite a variety of bikes for a day in the gravel

  • When: Saturday may 19 2018
  • Where: Spring Valley MN
  • What: The Almanzo 100 gravel bicycle race is held annually in Spring Valley, Minnesota, where it all began. This grandfather gravel event starts and ends in downtown Spring Valley. On site check in will be open to participants on the first Friday after Mother's Day from 5pm to 9pm at the Spring Valley Community Center. The race begins at 9:00am near the Community Center on the first Saturday after Mother's Day.
  • Vibe: The Almanzo events are, and always have been, FREE TO ENTER and are produced and sustained with significant, generous contributions from the Spring Valley Tourism Committee and Penn Cycle. This event attracts a large diverse crowd. Great roads through beautiful hilly driftless geography in SE Minnesota.
  • Sponsors: Spring Valley Tourism Committee
  • Website: www.almanzo.com

Land Run 100

 At Land Run 100 the roads can fight back when they get wet

At Land Run 100 the roads can fight back when they get wet

  • When: April 17 2018
  • Where: 120 W 7th Stillwater OK
  • What: 100 miles of gnarly Oklahoma gravel.  The red clay in the region presents a special challenge in wet weather.
  • Vibe: (quoted from the End Run website) "These roads have a depth of history, and a soul. They are unique, unforgiving, ever-changing, but always red. On April 22, 1889, cannon-fire signaled the beginning of the first Land Run in Stillwater, OK, the home and start/finish line of the Land Run 100. At the heart of this event are some of the most rugged and daunting, beautiful and memorable roads in the Oklahoma country. They take on a personality of their own. But they are also marked by the people who travel far and work hard to ride them. Making yourself a part of these roads makes them a part of you." Plus, the ride actually starts with a blast from a cannon.
  • Sponsors: District Cycles in Stillwater
  • Website: www.landrun100.com

Dirty Kanza

 In the Flint Hills of Kanza

In the Flint Hills of Kanza

  • When: June 2 2018 (the 2018 event is sold out - watch for info on next year's event)
  • Where: Emporia KS
  • What: DK200 is a grass-roots event, organized and managed by folks who are passionate about cycling, and done so for the primary purpose of providing life-enriching cycling experiences for our event participants. 200, 100, 50, and 25 mile routes.
  • Vibe: From a grass roots origin with 34 riders in 2006 to a massive event with 2200 riders in 2017, this is among the top gravel events in the world. Beastly tough gravel in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The gravel is flint, like in arrow heads. Tough tires a must for this ride.
  • Sponsors: Dirty Kanza Promotions
  • Website: www.dirtykanza.com

That is a quick look at some of the things happening in gravel this year here in the midwest.  if you want to learn more about evolution of gravel riding, follow this link to the to the ridinggravel.com website for an interesting read one the history of the sport:

The State Of The Gravel Scene

At FBC the owner and staff have a passion for cycling – we all ride to help you ride better. Come and see us in Freeport at 120 South Chicago in Freeport to find out how we can help you get full enjoyment out of your cycling experience.

Gravel: All-Road Bikes

                                               Really dirty - must be a gravel bike

                                              Really dirty - must be a gravel bike

What is a gravel, or all-road bike anyway?

We tend to use "gravel bike" and "all-road" interchangeably to describe the bikes we ride in gravel, but find the latter a better fit, capturing the idea that a properly designed bicycle can be used on any kind of road efficiently and comfortably. Let's start by saying there are no hard and fast requirements that define what an all-road bike is or isn't. In the Venn diagram of bicycle types there is a good deal of comonality in the over lapping circles defining road bikes, cross bikes, mountain bikes and gravel bikes. As a result, it might be helpful to think about these bikes in terms of desirable characteristics rather than requirements.

           Lots of frame clearance - we could get a nice wide tire on here

          Lots of frame clearance - we could get a nice wide tire on here

In the short list of things that make a good all-road worthy bike perhaps the most important is tire clearance - how wide a tire you can fit in the frame and fork. Typical road bikes, designed to be aerodynamic, will fit only very narrow tires in their sleek frames. For gravel, we want something that will hold between 34 mm and 48 mm. 

                                        Designed for ultimate flexibility

                                       Designed for ultimate flexibility

Rim brakes can also be a limiting factor in how large a tire will fit. Cantilever brakes, or disc brakes tend to be common in the gravel world because they never interfere with tire width. 

                      The brake caliper will limit how wide a tire will fit

                     The brake caliper will limit how wide a tire will fit

Frame geometry is another important consideration because of its effect on handling and rider comfort. A frame with longer wheelbase, relaxed frame angles, and lower bottom bracket height will provide both stability and a more comfortable ride. Taller head tubes provide a more upright riding position for additional comfort.

Since gravel roads will likely take you into more challenging terrain than paved roads, lower gearing than typical on road and cycle-cross bikes helps the experience. One option that has emerged recently is what's known as the "one by", or 1X, a single chainring paired with a very wide range 11 or 12 speed cassette. This arrangement can get you the same range of gears as double chainring systems, leaving out some of the smaller steps between the extremes.

                                                           SRAM 1X system

                                                          SRAM 1X system

As with any bike genre, your choice of an all-road bike really depends on how you intend to use it. Gravel racers who compete in long endurance event generally ride drop-bar bikes with things like multiple water bottle mounts, or top tube tank bag mounts, or perhaps even some passive suspension like the Lauf fork. If bike packing, which is basic cycle-touring in the unpaved world, is the intent, you many choose a flat-bar rig with extra-wide tire clearance and rack and fender mounts. 

                                                                                        These two are ready for anything - check out that roomy rear triangle

                                                                                       These two are ready for anything - check out that roomy rear triangle

Where do you want your all-road bike to take you?

Next time we will look at gravel events, the grass roots racing scene that has grown up in recent years.

At FBC the owner and staff have a passion for cycling – we all ride to help you ride better. Come and see us in Freeport at 120 South Chicago in Freeport to find out how we can help you get full enjoyment out of your cycling experience.

Gravel Tires

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Hi, we are back with our second installment on the subject of Gravel Cycling to talk about all things rubber – the tires we use and how they might differ from what you might be used to in the paved realm. Three tire characteristics will govern the quality of your gravel experience, all of which we need to get right: Tire width, tire tread and air pressure.

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If you are riding a standard road bike you are probably on tires ranging from 23mm to 28mm in width. If you have ever had to navigate gravel on 23mm tires you understood the importance of width as those skinny hoops tried to keep you upright ploughing a wobbly groove in the road. Floating on the top beats carving grooves through the gravel. While opinions on tire width vary, most gravel riders would agree 32mm is the minimum width that will keep you on top of the gravel. Go for tires that will keep you comfortable and safe, keeping in mind the maximum width tire you can put on your bike is limited by the clearances in the frame and fork.

                                                                 Fat is fast - go as wide as you can

                                                                Fat is fast - go as wide as you can

There are two main things we need to understand about air pressure, the first is the relationship between air pressure and rolling resistance. If you are used to running something like 25mm tires on the road you have probably been pumping them up to 100 pounds or more of pressure. This is in line with what used to be the prevailing wisdom that higher air pressure equated to lower rolling resistance and hence faster speed. More recent data from both lab and road testing have proven this old wisdom mostly wrong. We will spare you all the details and condense the findings to this: High pressure causes tires to bounce over bumps, converting hard earned horizontal motion into wasted vertical motion and transmitting road harshness into the rider's body leading to fatigue. Low pressure allows the tire to deform on the bumps, absorbing the shock conserving energy and your body. High pressure is good on perfectly smooth roads, but an impediment everywhere else. Our local paved roads tend to fall into that everywhere else category, and out in the gravel world things get even rougher.  

How much pressure you need is governed by the relationship between pressure and volume. As tires get larger they hold a larger volume of air and require less air pressure to safely support the weight of bike and rider. In 23mm tires, you need 100psi or more to prevent pinch flats resulting from the rubber from getting pinched between road and rim on bumps.  

                                                  Pinch flat in the making

                                                 Pinch flat in the making

In a wider tire, say 40mm, 60psi might provide the protection, and have the same feel of firmness as the 100psi in the 23mm tire. If you put this information together with what we said about rolling resistance above, you will see that we don’t need to ride on hard firm tires; we want our tires to be soft to absorb the bumps. The good news here is that with the added volume provided by wide tires, there is plenty of buffer between rim and road for you to ride at surprisingly low pressures. When width and pressure are right, we can be Fat and Fast. The actual pressure you ride at will depend on several factors like rider weight, the relative gnarliness of the roads, and how much road vibration you want to tolerate. One guideline that might be helpful: if you feel like you’re running a jack-hammer while cruising the gravel, you have too much air in your tires. After mounting new tires, I find it helpful to take a gauge and pump out on the road and experiment.

                  Precision Gauges can be a big help

                 Precision Gauges can be a big help

We mentioned pinch flats above, and one of the challenges common to both mountain biking and gravel biking is finding the point where pressure is low enough to smooth out the bumps, but high enough to avoid the pinch flat. Tubeless tires, now standard in mountain biking, takes the pinch flat out the equation - there is no tube to pinch, and hence no flat. The tubeless set-up requires tires and rims specifically designated as "tubeless" and a liquid sealant that rides inside the mounted tire. The sealant is formulated to ooze out through any puncture holes in the tire and congeal to stop the leakage of air. It's not uncommon to ride an entire season with punctures in a tire without ever finding out about it until you take the tire off and examine it. 

tubeles-rire.jpg

Finally, the topic of tread. Simply put, you probably need less tread for gravel than you think you do. Traction, or grip, is dependent on the amount of rubber that actually meets the riding surface. The deep tread knobs typical on mountain bike tires can find traction in sand, loose dirt or muddy conditions because the tread sinks in and gets surrounded by the surface material. Gravel behaves differently - the same deep tread typically provides no advantage in gravel. The most contact on gravel is provided by smooth, supple tires that can deform around the individual gravel chunks.

                                                                This may be all the tread you need...

                                                               This may be all the tread you need...

Some riders will choose to ride tires with deeper tread patterns for added traction based on their local gravel characteristics, which may include sandy or wet road conditions. In some places, the Flint Hills of Kansas for example, the roads are covered with very hard sharp flint chips which can be deadly to thin-skinned tires.

                                         ...or this may be the tread you need

                                        ...or this may be the tread you need

A final word: everyone with experience in the gravel has opinions on what works best in choosing tires, tread and pressure, and we are no different. Talk to other riders, do your research, but most of all, get out there on the road and find out what works for you. When you come back wearing a smile, you'll know you're getting it right.

                                                            These guys got it right

                                                           These guys got it right

Come back next week, for a discussion on the bikes we love – the All-Road Bikes.

At FBC the owner and staff have a passion for cycling – we all ride to help you ride better. Come and see us in Freeport at 120 South Chicago in Freeport to find out how we can help you get full enjoyment out of your cycling experience.