This blog is based on feedback from participants and support people of the 2014 event and pertains mainly to the 106 mile course.
First thing to determine is what your goal is for the event. Some folks treat it as a race others as a personal challenge. That makes a big difference at the start. Whether you are there to race or treat it as a personal challenge, when you line up at the start everyone has the same goal, to get to the finish line. In these mass starts some folks get caught up in the moment at the count down and adrenaline can sometimes make you take risks you hadn’t planned for.
This past year the start contained the worst section of gravel. After less than a mile on pavement the peloton entered the first gravel section, a new layer recently applied by the county road department. The lead group contained about 50 riders jockeying around trying to find the “smoothest” lines. Many riders commented that the pace seemed much faster than they had expected for a 100 plus mile race with so much climbing. Fueled by each rider’s desire to get as close to the front of the peloton as possible to avoid the flying pieces of gravel and the dust, the pace for the first 21 miles averaged nearly 28 mph which included an 8.5 mile climb at the start.
Reality set in after the first aid station located at Perkinsville (the turn around for the 42 mile course). What was left of the lead group disintegrated further in the brutal 9 mile roller section of the course from the Verde River to the start of the pavement 20 some miles south of Williams. As they began the arduous 14 mile paved climb to Summit Mountain only 11 riders were left in the lead group. Many riders found that the fast pace had put them in a precarious place physically and they really suffered on the climb.
For first timers should look over the 2014 results and pick a realistic time to target. Check the timing splits for out and back and come up with a pace that will get you there. Overall, mid pack times were around the the 7 hour 30 minute mark. If you are pacing correctly, that puts you at Elk Ridge in 3 hours and 50 minutes and 3 hours and 40 minutes back to the finish at Old Home Manor. Working too hard on the route up to Elk Ridge will come back to haunt you on the return leg, especially on the 11 mile climb out of Perkinsville. Bob Frank (SPY Giant) rode the course perfectly, pacing himself to save something for later in the race. His time up to Elk Ridge was 3:16:00 which put him at 15th fastest time to Elk Ridge. His time on the return trip to Old Home Manor Park at Chino Valley was 2:58:46 (8th fastest return time) placing him 10th overall.
Although mountain bike tactics (bike handling skills) certainly play a role in the Chino Grinder, using road bike tactics can be extremely beneficial. While working the SAG vehicle on the paved section of the course I saw too many people riding alone. Trying to find a small group of riders willing to work together will pay huge benefits by increasing the speed (drafting enables a cyclist to reduce effort anywhere from 30 to 40 percent) and shortening the amount of time on the bike. Plus having someone to talk with and to encourage each other makes the time in the saddle much more enjoyable. Think about what lies ahead on the course, nothing worse than powering up a climb and leaving your mates to find a headwind at the top and end up getting caught by those you rode away from.
Among the top ten finishers eight rode cross bikes, one a road bike and one a mountainbike. I won’t say not to ride a roadbike as a number of folks completed the course on one and Brice Smith did exceptionally well with an eight place finish overall. For most, a cross or mountain bike would be the best choice. The length of the dirt sections tips the scales in favor of the cross or mountain bike. Cross bikes did best with a 35mm tire or wider, less flats. Something else to consider is the gear ratios. Nicole Duke outfitted her Marin Cortina with a front 50/34 chainring combo just for the Chino Grinder event.
Hardtail mountain bikes did well but there are a couple things I would recommend for setup. Do something about the gearing. Run the largest chainring combo that will fit on your cranks. If a 50 will fit, run it. You will really appreciate it on the downhill into Perkinsville after the initial climb at the start and the paved downhill coming back from Elk Ridge. Something else to consider would be to run some 40-45 mm tires both front and back. There is no need for anything larger and the narrower tire will make for less rolling resistance on the paved sections not to mention saving some weight. No issue with running a front suspension fork versus saving some weight to install a rigid fork. The dirt sections of the course total over 60 miles and a suspension fork will increase the comfort factor plus enable the rider to fly through the washboard and ruts.
Examples of gear ratios using MPH @ Cadence of 80
(700 X 38 / 38-622 tire with 175 mm cranks)
38 X 11= 22.5
42 X 11= 24.8
44 X 11= 26
50 X 11- 29.6
Tire Choices (Panaracer is our tire sponsor but you get the message for other manufacturers: little tread, light weight and fast rolling):
26 inch tires:
PANARACER PASELA TG 26 x 1.50 *Ara 400 grams
PANARACER PASELA TG 26 x 1.75 *Ara 440 grams
PANARACER RAZER XC & XC PR 26 x 2.10 *Ara 450 grams
Panaracer Soar 26 x 1.95 *Ara 500 grams
27.5 inch tires:
PANARACER PARI-MOTO GRAVEL 27.5X1.5c 300 Grams
PANARACER Quasi-Moto 27.5×2.0 545 grams
Panaracer Soar 27.5 x 2.0 AM weight(TBD)
Cross and 29 inch tires:
PANARACER CROSSBLASTER 700 x 31c Ara 280 grams
PANARACER PASELA TG 700X37C *Ara 440 grams
PANARACER Soar 29 x 2.20 Ara 560 grams
**a new Gravelking 32c with tread and Comet 38mm tire will be available from Panaracer next month (December 2014).
ROADBIKE 700C tires:
PANARACER GRAVELKING 28MM 267 grams
PANARACER T-SERV PT 700 x 28c 270 grams
This is what is great about gravel riding. Plenty of bike and equipment choices. Choose wisely!