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Selecting and then second-guessing gear is all part of the fun of racing gravel, but I was generally happy with my choices based around an Allied Able for the inaugural Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City in southwestern Utah. Here’s what I picked, and here’s how it worked.
- Swenson wins BWR without a front brake, as Grant takes the women’s race
- BWR recon ride with Pete Stetina on an e-gravel bike
- Gallery: Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City
Willing and Able
Allied makes its carbon frames down in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Amity Rockwell and Colin Strickland each rode theirs to victory at the DK 200 last year. My plan was to race this borrowed bike in Emporia (also to victory, obviously), but 2020 had other plans.
On top of the Made in ’Merica story, the headliner on the Allied Able is the raised chainstay, which lets Allied give the rider short chainstays and wide tire clearance. It looks funky, does not negatively affect the ride, and it means you’re 1x for life.
For the record, I love Shimano parts, and I dig the GRX gravel stuff, especially in this Di2 configuration. But I’m not 100% sold on the 1x, where the biggest cassette you can get is a Shimano XT 11-46, and your chainring options are 40 or 42t.
I was worried that the 42×11 top gear might leave me spun out if there were longer gradual descents, or flat road stretches with tailwinds. It was a needless worry. In fact, I ended up walking for about 200m on the big climb of the day because the 42×46 still wasn’t low enough for my tired old carcass! Go figure.
I love being able to control the Garmin with the Di2 thumb buttons.
DT Swiss GRC 1400 Spline
DT has a slew of gravel wheel options, and I rode its swankiest set on the Allied Able: a 1,545g carbon set with a 24mm internal width that plumps up tires and a 42mm rim width that at least looks cool and perhaps offers some aero advantage.
I ride like a sack of anvils (see video above), and haven’t been able to knock these out of true despite my best awkward efforts. The 240 Ratchet 36 SL hub is super simple, effective, and — if past similar designs are any indication — good for the very long haul.
IRC Boken DoubleCross tires
IRC rolled out some new tubeless options with reinforced sidewalls and a double-mission tread pattern. Closely spaced knobs down the center for fast rolling are complemented by widely spaced side knobs for bite. I ran them at about 35-37psi (I’m 185lb), and despite bottoming out on the rim a couple times on the singletrack section at the end, did not flat.
The tires don’t feel quite as supple as my go-to Schwalbe G-One Allround, but they offer a heck of a lot more traction, which I certainly appreciated on the loose and dusty course.
Bottles and bags
The night before I was asking myself two questions: Where am I going to put all this stuff? And should I wear a CamelBak vest? ‘This stuff’ being the layers of clothing I anticipated peeling off during the course of a day that started at 40 degrees and ended in the mid 70s. And the Chase vest being a 50L method for skipping a few feed-zone stops.
I opted to leave the CamelBak at the hotel but bolt a little Bontrager bag to the top tube. That worked well; as jersey pockets filled with leg warmers, arm warmers, vest, gloves, and neck gaiter, the bag remained the dedicated spot for food. (I realize many racers including all the ones on the podium went with the ‘be bold, start cold’ no-knee-warmer option; I’m soft and I like to be warm. What can I say?)
So the bag was the right call. The CamelBak? I’m not sure. There were six (!) feed zones on course, plus those with friends and family could take hand-ups at any point on course. The latter option allowed riders to plow ahead, pro style. Aside from getting a hand-up in feed-zone two — thanks, Canyon! — I had to stop to refill a few times. While that only took a couple of minutes, it meant losing contact with the group I was with each time. Bah!
Forehead slappers of the day: Lube and lenses
I’ve been riding and racing bikes a long time, and I still find ways to screw it up.
At BWR, faux pas number one was using a light, dry lube on my Allied Able that quickly lost the battle with the ever-present dust and left my drivetrain squawking like a flock of seagulls just a couple dozen miles into the race. I’m sure the group I was riding with resented the noise, but as luck would have it, I managed to crash when changing lanes on a two-track (yes, the GoPro caught it!), so I took the opportunity to apply a bit of thicker lube that I should have used in the first place.
Faux pas number two was not realizing that the inside of my sunglass lenses were coated in dust until said crash. Turns out a simple wipe with a glove makes a very pleasant difference.
Check out the video above for a better look at the course and the gear.