The Return Leg of the Chino Grinder

This post was written by John Camoriano about his experience as a member, along with his teammate Phil Panipinto, of a two man relay team at the 2015 Chino Grinder. John is an accomplished cyclist and triathlete who currently rides for Two Wheel Jones Racing.


Start of the 2015 Chino Grinder 106 mile and relay groups.

After watching the hordes of cross bikers, single speeders, and mountain bikers take off with my buddy Phil at the start of the Chino Grinder in the Town of Chino Valley I moseyed back to my car sipping a black cup of steaming coffee.  I was grateful that I was able to take in the clean, cool air north of Prescott instead of the gravel dust that my partner was taking in at that very moment en route to the City of Williams about 50 miles away.  How ironic, I mused, that I grew up in Nebraska and Minnesota yet my first gravel race was to be in Arizona.

100_0266Hitting the GPS button on my phone I eased the car east before tooling northward in the grasslands of upper Arizona where, literally, the deer and the pronghorn antelope were playing.  Having never taken that back route to Williams I was amazed at beauty of the region and wondered briefly if the Arizona Highways Magazine would pay me money for the iPhone photos I was taking from my car window.

It was about an hour later that I entered the parking lot of the Elk Ridge Ski Area in Williams Arizona, just up the hill from that quaint town with its collection of Harley Riders, local eateries and the train station to the Grand Canyon rail tours.  The place was empty except for a few short wave radio guys and some food vendors who were setting up to support the throngs of riders still more than 30 miles south of us.


Elk Ridge Ski perched high above the City of Williams in an alpine setting.

I set up my laptop in the sunlit dining hall of the Ski resort and made small talk with the proprietress/owner who was lamenting the lack of snow in these last few years.  Eventually another rider with her jersey and number entered the hall and we made eye contact.  It turned out she was the only other duo team member of the only other duo relay team to be awaiting her incoming rider.

We sat dumbfounded that such a well-attended and well-run race had so many people willing to ride the 100+ miles of round trip gravel when there was a perfectly suitable alternative; the one we had picked of the relay team.  Realizing that she was on a coed team and I was on a men’s only team we both relaxed knowing that we were not really competing with each other.  We chuckled at our good fortune of riding the return leg of this Century given that the bulk of climbing was on the inbound leg.  Little did we know at the time that there were some formidable hills on the return leg too.


Jamey Driscoll and Kerry Werner of the Raleigh Clément Professional Cycling Team

After a lazy morning of bagels, more coffee and tinkering with my bike the first riders started emerging from the pines and entering the turn-around point in the parking lot. Two members of the Raleigh Clément Professional Cycling Team were the leaders but within 5 minutes, our local fast guys (and gals) started showing up.  My friend Phil, a strong rider in his own right, was not in the same league with this lean group of overachievers but then I began to realize that Phil was about to finish his day on the bike whereas these folks were all turning around to go back to Chino.  Phil would not be saving anything for the return trip but they would.  I hurried up to snap on my bike shoes and take a GU Energy Gel and it was none-to-soon.  Phil rounded the corner and passed his baton to me which I grabbed and started my own journey down the mountain.


The local fast guys arrive at Elk Ridge Ski just minutes behind the leaders.

I felt like a god among mortals at this point.  The dirt and grime and sweat encrusted riders who were turning around to head back were in stark contrast to my crisp and clean jersey and fresh legs.  I began to pass folks right and left and noted an endless stream of others still on their upward trek, faces strained with hope and fear that the turnaround was either close or farther than they wanted.  They say that “Pride comes before a fall” and that was my undoing.  I had a flat tire on the pavement.  I fixed it got rolling again and then flatted the other tire.  Thanks to the excellent support of the race promoters a bike shop truck just happened by me as I had my second flat and they provided me with the support to get going again.

SouthRoadEventually I paired up with a strong rider who took turns with me drafting and pulling down the amazingly car-less, stretch of paved road heading 15 miles downhill before turning into gravel.

Not having ridden longer than 2 hours in training for the previous 4 to 5 months, this choice of a one-way half-century seemed perfect for me.  I anticipated remaining strong for the entire route.  I was mistaken.  Soon, the gravel started and the punchy hills that were all supposed to be downhills started hitting me in the legs.  We crossed a sizable river on a suspension bridge and cattle were wandering across the road in places.  I became more and more amazed at the beauty of the region but also of the strength of those who had just endured the pain of coming UP this route before turning around.  My lips became parched despite the ample water I brought.  The hills began to wear me down and just as I was beginning to bonk a couple in a Volkswagen Jetta waved me down and gave me an ice-cold coke that I gratefully guzzled down providing renewed legs to trudge on.


Final climb up Wildcat Draw

Towards the last 5 to 10 miles I passed Larry DeMik from the Gilbert Two Wheel Jones store who seemed shocked that me, a man 20 years his senior had caught him.  I did not let on that I was only doing half his distance.  I pulled away from Larry and thought I had been done with him when I spied his intense face bearing down on me from behind.  We had both hit the last stretch of flat gravel that arcs westward to the finish just as a prairie tail wind picked up and literally blew us back to base.  The wind was so strong that despite our speeds of 35 mph there were tumbleweeds that rolled by us as if they too were racing for a podium spot. I was no match for Larry’s young legs and he eventually caught me but I grabbed his wheel as we careened towards Chino and the cold beers that awaited us. Later we each were blessed to get Strava KOMs on that stretch of windswept roads, me first and then when Larry downloaded his data he edged me out.

This was my first gravel race.  Hell, this was actually only my second gravel ride.  I was hooked and decided the Chino Grinder needed to be on my yearly calendar…. as long as I got to do the return leg of a relay team.


106 Mile Relay Male – 6:59:07.7 – Two Paisans from Two Wheel Jones

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106 Mile Course Preview



Flat section of road just after the 1.5 mile climb out of Perkinsville.

This entry covers the 106 mile course from north of Aid Station 1/3. For a synopsis of the first 21 miles of the route read the previous blog entry titled 42 Mile Course Preview. Immediately after Aid Station 1/3 is an almost continous climb for next 23 miles, starting with the steepest grade (mile 21 to mile 22.5) of the remaining 8.2 miles of dirt before hitting the pavement. From mile 22.5 the rest of the dirt section contains some rollers and some sharp corners as you gradually climb towards the start of the pavement.


Alpine meadows where you can see Bill Williams Mountain looming ahead.

Mile 29.2 is the transition from dirt to pavement. A welcome sight at first until the realization hits home, as you stare ahead, that this climb seems to go on forever. Finally at mile 44.2 you reach the summit. From here starts a two mile downhill section where you can push the biggest gear you have and make up some time. With mile 46.3 begins a relatively flat section through an open area of alpine meadows where you can see Bill Williams Mountain looming directly ahead of you, the ski resort is on the north side of this mountain. Remember that these open sections of road can be windy and finding a group to work with and share pulls can be very beneficial.




Turn onto Ski Run Road at the 183 mile marker of the Perkinsville Road.

Mile 48.1 starts a brief climb to mile 49 and then its back to flat and slightly downhill to the entrance to Elk Ridge Ski and Recreation Area at mile 51.6. From there its just 1.5 miles to the Aid Station 2 hosted by Absolute Bikes where you can stop and rest and take in the scenery and the many amenities of Elk Ridge Lodge while preparing for your return journey to Old Home Manor Park and the Town of Chino Valley.



Aid Station 2 at Elk Ridge Ski Area is hosted by Absolute Bikes

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42 Mile Course Preview


From the start at Old Home Manor Park in the Town of Chino Valley there is a slight steady climb for the first 8.7 miles. The remainder of the out portion of the 42 mile out and back course is almost all downhill to the turnaround at Aid Station 1/3.


Washboard section just after start.

The first 1.25 miles after the start is pavement. When the pavement ends you transition into the worst section of washboard of the entire course. After 3/4 of a mile this section is over and from mile 2.0 up to the cattle guard at 5.7 miles their are some spotty sections of washboard along with some smooth fast sections. After crossing the cattle guard the texture of the road noticeably changes and continues to get smoother. At mile 7.5 you will pass by Blissful Path road, this signifies just slightly over one mile to the crest of the climb. At 8.7 miles into the course you will cross another cattle guard. This is the start of the almost continuous downhill into Perkinsville and Aid Station 1/3. There are some rollers that you can easily power up keeping your momentum.


Sweeping right turn 16 miles into the course

13.5 miles from the start begins a very fast section. Big ring full out for almost the next three miles. At mile 16.3 you’ll come up on an off camber sweeping right turn. Stay to the inside on the turn, smoother and if you go wide to the outside it is off camber hardpack with a coating of marble size loose rock. Remember that roads are open to cars so stay on your side of the road! At mile 16.7, while descending a steep downhill, there is a very hard left turn with some rough stuff. From that point its all out to the STOP sign at mile 20. After making a right continue on for 1 mile crossing the Verde River (rough slight right corner just before river) to AID 1/3.

For the return to Chino Valley keep in mind that the Perkinsville Road has mile markers posted for each mile. Mile marker 10 denotes the crest of the climb. Once you hit that cattle guard as mentioned previously there are just 8.7 slightly downhill miles remaining and you will have finished the Chino Grinder.


Entering the home stretch on the return to Old Home Manor Park.

Posted in bikes, Chino Grinder, cycling events, gravel, gravel racing, Uncategorized

Preparing for the 2015 Chino Grinder

This blog is based on feedback from participants and support people of the 2014 event and pertains mainly to the 106 mile course.


Start of the Chino Grinder 106 mile group.

The start:

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.

Pace yourself:


Bob Frank powering up the Wildcat Draw 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.


TJ Woodruff ( attacks the leaders on the climb up Summit Mountain

TJ Woodruff ( attacks the leaders on the climb up Summit Mountain

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 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 T-SERV PT 700 x 28c 270 grams

This is what is great about gravel riding. Plenty of bike and equipment choices. Choose wisely!





Posted in bikes, Chino Grinder, cycling events, gravel, gravel bike tires, gravel racing

Chino Grinder Pre-Ride and Lessons Learned

Eight riders showed up for the March 15th pre-ride. Five intending to do
the 106 mile full course the others the 42 mile course. We started out
at from Old Home Manor Park at 8:15 with one rider (Scott) staying
behind to load more gear.

Rider,  Bike,  Tire (front|rear),  Distance
Dan,  cyclocross,  36,32,  106
Thom,  cyclocross,  32|32,  106
Tim,  mtn (full,29),  2.0|2.0,  106
Ben,  road bike,  25|25,  106
Nacho,  mtn(hardtail,26,  1.75|1.75,  42
Rich,  mtn(full,26),  2.35|2.35,  42
Scott,  mtn(hardtail,29),  2.1|2.1,  106
**Brian,  mtn(full, 29),  2.1|2.1,  Drake turnoff

** drove out to Drake and rode to Elk Ridge and back from there

Near the start and shortly after the road changed from pavement to dirt
the road bike pinch flatted on the rear tire. Ben was running a 25 mm
tire, after getting it quickly repaired we were back on the road. Dan
had stopped to assist and the others had kept on going as was the plan.
Around the 16 mile marker Ben suffered another pinch flat on the fast
downhill into Perkinsville. We tried a larger 28mm tire but it would not
clear the front derailleur clamp. After repairs were made Ben decided to
head back to Chino rather than risk flatting again.

While we were busy assisting fixing the flats six bikes continued on. We
put the hammer down in the truck and caught Nacho and Rich just before
Perkinsville. Chatted with them a bit as they rode, took some pics,
checked to see if they needed anything and told them we needed to get
ahead to support the three remaining riders that intended to do the full

Catching Dan and Thom at the 27 mile marker we learned that Thom had
suffered a rear pinch flat. They had repaired it and were well on their
way before we arrived. We went ahead to find Tim who had earlier built a
lead on the downhill into Perkinsville. We found him well into the paved
climb up to Williams. By then the full force of the forecast high wind
advisory could be felt. The National Weather Service had said that gusts
could reach 45 mph in the Williams/Flagstaff area. Tim had built a six
minute lead over the chasing Dan and Thom.

After the climb up Bear Canyon Dan developed a leak on the rear tire of
his tubeless setup. He stopped and we added some air (60 psi). Several
miles later the tire went down again and the decision was made to switch
to a tube.

At the the entrance to the ski resort Tim had already been up to the
resort and was on the return leg of the course. Now with an 18 minute
lead he took off south on Perkinsville with a tailwind. We waited for
Dan and Thom to make the turnaround along with Brian. Brian had started
at Drake so he could check out the upper part of the course instead of
running the full course.

After chatting with Brian for around 15 minutes we took off to catch up
to the three riders. On the way down Bear Canyon we saw a bike
approaching us and realized it was Scott. We stopped to check on him and
expressed our concern about him making it back to Old Home Manor before
dark. He assured us this was not an issue as he had full gear (tent,
sleeping bag, etc.) and would just spend the night where it got dark.
Scott is preparing for a 2,745 race called the Tour Divide and was using
the pre-ride for training. Oddly enough the lone item he forgot to
pack was toilet paper which we supplied him with and then took off to
try and catch the others.

A few miles outside of Perkinsville we came upon another rider, a woman,
headed north. We stopped to see if all was well and she said everything
was fine, that she had parked up near Williams and rode down to
Perkinsville. She was wearing an Absolute Bike kit and was powering up a

Down the road we came up on Dan and Thom. Dan had pinch flatted on the
rear tire. We decided to install a 35mm tire as a test inflated to 60
psi with the intention to beat on the tire to see if we could get it to
pinch flat again.

Halfway up the wildcat Draw climb Tim was still holding a 10 minute
lead. If he could reach the 10 mile marker he would have a downhill to
the finish and most likely would not get caught. Dan and Thom put in a
huge effort and finally caught sight of Tim at the 11 mile marker, just
before the top of the climb. Dodging a bull, tumbleweeds and a couple of
girls riding their horses (each holding a Coors tallboy, only in
Arizona!) in a fierce crosswind the three of them finished together in 6
hours 50 minutes. Awesome day on the bike and the only complaint by the
riders was about the wind. From the feedback we received everyone loved
the course.

Lessons learned:
– bring at least three tubes
– road bikes need at least a 28mm tire. We plan on testing a Gravelking
and a Pasela and will publish something at a later date. Choose a
heavier training tire over a “race” tire.
– Gravel and cyclocross bikes will be less likely to pinch flat running
a 35mm or larger tire.
– tread patterns that work well on the Chino Grinder course have
smoother, smaller knobs, or file tread patterns down the center with
side lugs for cornering and stability. Example: pick a Panaracer PASELA
TG 700X37c over a Panaracer Cinder X 700×35
– be prepared for the varying weather conditions.

Posted in bikes, Chino Grinder, gravel, gravel bike tires