The Mid South is one of my favorite gravel races because it happily brings together such a wide diversity of people who do the event, how they approach the entire weekend, and what bikes they ride. It all starts and hinges on the volcanic positive energy of race promoter and District Bicycles owner Bobby Wintle. You should go next year.
This year, some 2,500 signed up for one of the weekend’s five events: the 50K run on Friday, the 12-, 50-, or 100-mile gravel events Saturday, or the Double that includes the 50K and the 100-mile gravel race. On top of that, there are multiple group rides, parties, and a general bike takeover of the town for the weekend.
My colleague Betsy Welch got second in the 50-mile race (yeah, Betsy!), which she did so she could be back at the finish in time to cover the men’s 100-mile race. I did the 100-mile race, and covered the women’s race. I got to see a few points of the women’s competition from inside the race — including Lauren De Crescenzo catching and passing the group of five men I was riding with in the howling wind. We were fully echeloned when she came up alone on the windy side. She rode there for a few minutes and chatted, her one aerobar flipped back towards her stomach. When she had had enough of our pedestrian pace, she motored on alone up the road — and not one of us even tried to follow.
I race-tested a few pieces of new gear at The Mid South. While testing gear outside of racing certainly has plenty of merits, using it in events can reveal how stuff works in rougher or frantic scenarios.
My goals going in were top 10 overall and to win the 40+. I fell well short on the first one at 22nd, but did nab 1st old-guy.
Here’s a rundown of what I used and how it fared.
The Giant Revolt steepened the geometry from the original design, which I very much appreciate. It’s still very much a gravel-race bike at 71 degrees in size M/L, but feels less sluggish to me than the 70 degrees it was before. The long seatpost provides noticeable cushioning. A couple of times over choppy segments I looked down at my rear tire, half expecting to see it going flat. Nope, just the give in the post I was feeling.
This is my third set of SRM’s relatively new power-meter pedals. The first two sets just didn’t deliver reliable measurement over the long haul. But this set, with reworked strain gauge attachment, seems to be working just fine. I tested against multiple smart trainers and power meters before the race, and found the pedals to track as expected, including during temperature changes. During the event, I used a Stages L GRX meter as well as the pedals for another frame of reference.
At Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas, I used the Garmin Rally power-meter pedals. I’ve found those to measure well, but they are significantly larger and taller than Shimano XT pedals, and I unintentionally unclipped a couple of times going hard on washboard. By comparison, the SRM pedals are the same size as Shimano pedals, and I had no problems getting in or out of them.
Look for a full review soon, and check out the power comparison graph below.
The latest Cadex gravel/adventure AR 35 wheels are crazy light at 1,270g and are not cheap at $3,000. The rear hub is noticeable for both the super-quick pedaling engagement and the noise. I can’t tell you that I felt the ceramic bearings, but the wheels were easy to spin up to speed and didn’t feel harsh despite being so stiff torsionally.
The 25mm internal width plumped up the 42mm Specialized S-Works Pathfinder tires to 44mm.
Are carbon spokes a bad idea for gravel? Well, so much else on are bikes are carbon, right? I have had no issues in my testing, but I am extra careful when loading the bike in the back of a vehicle.
Some 917 folks finished the 103-mile event. There were also 50- and 12-mile gravel distances, and a 50K run the day before.
The Pathfinder Pro was one of the fastest tires in our gravel tire lab test. Specialized claims this new S-Works version is faster. It has a dual-compound tread with a harder rubber in the center and a softer rubber on the sides.
I used Allied Grax on the chain. We had one deep puddle that doused the chain, but otherwise it was a dry and dusty day. The chain sounded a bit dry by the end, but the wax kept everything running smoothly. I am curious as to how it would have fared on a mucky day — but also grateful that I didn’t have to find out.
Hydration is often a logistical puzzle for gravel races. At The Mid South it’s pretty easy, as neutral stops abound. The only question is — will your group also stop? The front group made a quick pitstop at the halfway point, where I filled both bottles. And then after a few of us were dispatched through the race’s second pinch-point, the six of us who were riding together were all happy to stop for the SRAM/Skratch ‘Oasis’ at mile 80 for another bottle and mini Cokes.
Shimano’s D-Fly lets Di2 groups talk to a Garmin. On the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra, this feature is built-in. I put this on any GRX Di2 test bike I get.
I’m a fan of the GRX Di2 hood shape, which is longer than mechanical GRX, and has a good hook at the top to lock your hand in.
Some people find the tread too aggressive for bare hands. It doesn’t bother me.
I carried a tiny bottle of lube, two Co2s, a chainbreaker, a tube, and a lever in the Lezyne saddle bag. In my Sportful Giara bib tights side pocket, I had a Dynaplug Racer, which is a two-sided plug tool that I like for its speed and convenience.
The stock saddle was agreeable to me, a bit wider in the rear than my go-to Specialized Power.
I ran a Stages L GRX for comparison to the SRM pedals. The Stages L read a bit lower, but both meters tracked up and down in rough synchronicity, even as the day warmed up. (A recent test of Speedplay Powerlink pedals exposed a problem in Speedplay’s measurement — the pedals only compensate for temperature adjustment when the bike is stopped.)
Here is an hour of power comparison between SRM and Stages left-only power meters. The two green lines are so closely overlaid that it’s hard to see any differences — which is good! On average, the SRM pedals read 10w higher. But both were consistent relative to each other. (The flat spot around around 2 is the cyclocross section where we were running. And then the spike in heart rate is the chase to get back on the front group.)
Some years at ‘The Mud South’, bikes come out weight 10 pounds more than when they started. This year wasn’t one of those years.
At a very muddy Old Man Winter in Colorado in February, the chain on my 1x GRX kept coming off, as the soupy grit packed into the chain on onto the chainring. I was happy to be back on 2x for a few reasons, including the wide range of gearing with small steps in between. I’ve found Shimano’s Di2 derailleurs to be super dependable.
Dork station. I used two Garmins to record the SRM and Stages L power meters for comparison. But I ended up really appreciating having two computers for the race, as I used the larger 830 plus for the map and the smaller 130 Plus for mileage and time.
I wore Giro’s new Eclipse, which has the so-called Spherical MIPS. It’s comfortable and plays well with sunglasses in that the temples don’t bump the arms, and you can insert the glasses in the vents without them falling out. I appreciate both these things.
The POC headband is a simple but much-appreciated piece of gear. It keeps the chill off for sub-freezing starts, but is easy to pull down to your neck and over the helmet once you warm up, and folds down to nearly nothing.
Similarly, the Pandana neck gaiter punches above its weight for warmth and convenience.
The Eclipse has deep channels for ventilation, two of which serve well for routing sunglass arms.
Specialized’s S-Works Vent EVO gravel shoes were tucked under Sportful shoe covers for the day, and I never thought about them once – which is exactly what you want with shoes (or bib shorts, or most pieces of clothing, really).
Maybe not the coolest-looking setup, but I have to say I appreciated it.
The Mid South is all time. See you next year?