So you think you want to ride a road bike on the dirt section of the Chino Grinder course. Can it be done? The short answer is yes. The long answer follows. The first place to look is to find a race of similar terrain and look at how the pro teams set up for these events. The dirt section of the Grinder shares many similarities with the Strade Bianche. Held in one of my favorite places in Italy the Strade Bianche winds it way through the Tuscany region of Italy. The race starts in the town of Gaiole in Chianti and finishes at the Piazza del Campo in Sienna. The course consists of 118 miles including 43 miles of white gravel roads. Past winners of this event include Phillipe Gilbert and Fabian Cancelarra. Hard men of the peleton who specialize in the one day classics.
The most obvious place to look for ways to provide shock absorption from the constant pounding of the gravel roads are the frame. Many manufactures construct frames specifically built for races like the Strade Bianche and Paris-Roubaix. Frames are constructed using special shaping and carbon layup of the seat stays and chain stays to deliver vibration absorption over the rough surfaces. Unless you happened to have one of these models you will most likely not be going to run out and buy one of these for one event. There are less expensive methods to improve the ride quality.
Best bang for the buck for smoothing out the ride are tires. By far the most popular tires for these type events are FMB, nearly all teams run them. In particular their tubular Paris-Roubaix 27mm (28mm actual size) tire. Since you will not be afforded the luxury of a wheel truck the next best choice is a clincher with latex tubes (I’ve listed some good choices below). Another vibration dampening option is to apply an extra layer of bar tape to the tops of the bars and consider adding extra in-line brake levers to allow you to spend more time on the heavily taped bar tops without having to sacrifice control.
PANARACER GRAVELKING 28MM 267 grams
PANARACER T-SERV PT 700 x 28c 270 grams
Obviously this set up will not be as comfortable as a hardtail mtb over the rougher sections but if you can handle the abuse you will have a significant advantage over any other bike in the smooth sections of the dirt and you will really fly once you hit the pavement. Set up correctly you could be one of the first ones back to Chino and sit back and enjoy a glass of Chianti with a huge plate of pici con ragu while watching the rest of the field finish.
Ciao from Chino