Garrett County Gran Fondo on Carbon Clinchers

Wanting to know a little more about this Gran Fondo craze that all the kids are talking about these days, I signed up for the Garrett County Gran Fondo.  To my knowledge, I've never ridden longer than about 90 or 95 miles, so either the Savage Century or the Diabolical Double would be my longest ride ever.  In for a penny, in for a pound, the double it was.  My big prep was to type out a list of the bigger climbs.  Apart from that, I had lubed my chain on Tuesday or Wednesday and had inflated my tires recently, so I felt pretty well prepared.  It's been a strange few months for me recently, with a lot going on, so I haven't been able to race much recently, but I have been getting miles in.  The distance and the elevation were a little intimidating but I wasn't worried about getting to the finish.  I used my Wheelhouse with some pre-production Rails and Conti 4000s 23mm wide.  PSI (I did check it, duh) was 85 front, 90 rear at the start, which I find perfect with this setup.  So exactly the same setup I've been riding with lately. 

We started at 7am.  There were about 1100 people registered.  This is a big event, no doubt.  I saw license plates from Ohio, NC, NJ, Ontario, and MI, as well as the obvious MD/DC/VA ones.  I saw a few people I knew and rolled out with Ian S (super strong, just got his Cat 1 upgrade) and Mike T (super strong, Pro mtb license and a threat at NUE races).  I was a little worried about them having to wait for me on climbs (which is kind of funny because I half expected to go top 10 on the timed climb parts), but we rolled out and having good company made the time go much quicker and more enjoyably. 

Up the first timed climb, Mike got a flat.  Ian and I rolled on.  This was to be a theme.  Mike also flatted the second timed climb.  The third (or fourth?) timed climb, we helped a lady undo some SEVERE chain suck that otherwise would have ruined her day.  That gave me greasy hands for a couple of hours.  It turns out Mike's new carbon rim (NOT a November) had warped on the first downhill, precipitating his flat.  It took a good half hour to fix, so from early on we knew we weren't going to be first across the line.  Which actually probably made the day more fun, except that we were a bit worried about Mike's rim from then on.  It was a slight warp.    Just a flesh wound, really. 

The aid stations are awesome and they have them every 20 miles.  We were at this one for sort of a while, Mike dealing with flat #2.  What are you going to do, flats happen.  Coulda been me just as easily. 

You're kidding me, right?  A singlespeed?  I couldn't tell who was doing which ride, but hopefully this guy didn't do the full burrito.  If so, he's probably still out there. 

There's so much scenic.  A few rollers (bit of an inside joke, that), mostly downhill.  But seriously, I've never front shifted so much in my life.  My left hand started to cramp.  Whatever gearing you think "oh I couldn't possibly need a gear that small," bring that gear.  It's just nice to have as a bailout, and you won't have to stand on all the steep parts. But mostly it's just rollers (seriously, that's a joke).  You're either going straight up or down.  Drafting doesn't even really work. 

What goes up must come down.  As I said, we weren't an hour in before we were a (not November, but sort of a mid-major brand) carbon rim down.  So are carbon clinchers the right wheel for this event?  I went there in large degree to investigate that, and to prove that the Rail is up to the task.  I proved that the Rail can make it through this event, and without doubt by quite a large bit, this was the most demanding braking environment I've ridden in.  The Westernport Wall section is dangerous and it's the only aspect of this event that I think deserves immediate reconsideration.  Ian was terrified of it and he's a Cat 1 road/Pro mtb guy who was using aluminum rims.  It's just an inappropriate feature, but it's not the only place where braking is at an ultra premium.  So what did I prove?  That if you are relatively not heavy (I'm 165), and fairly good at riding your bike (I'm Cat 1 mtb, Cat 2 cx, Cat 3 road - not that that means more than a very small amount but it's the only way I can quantify where I am), then Rails can live through this kind of torture.  Oh by the way it was around 90 yesterday so there wasn't any benefit from cool ambient temps. 

Would I choose to use carbon clinchers at this event again?  No.  I'd use FSWs every day of the week.  I don't know where this thing stacks up against other GFs in terms of crazy downhill, but it's got to be near the top.  Why take a "small margin for error" situation and reduce the margin further?  If the event is throwing crazy stuff at you, it's just smart to maintain as high a margin for error as you can. 

I will say - HOLY CRAP was I going fast on downhills.  One time I sort of spaced out at the top of a climb and Mike and Ian gapped me starting the (LONG) descent that followed.  I pedaled a couple of times, then got the faintest whiff of Ian's draft (at that point trying to draft had become a very smelly enterprise indeed) and the bike just freaking turbo'd into hyper drive.  I shot past them so quickly it freaked me out. My max speed on the day was 54.91, which isn't the fastest I've ever gone on a bike but it's pretty fast. 

Someone had asked to report on comfort of riding Rails for so long.  It's fine.  I was a little haggard after like 8.5 hours of riding, who wouldn't be? Especially when it was hours longer than I'd ever been on a bike before.  I'd say tire inflation matters more than other factors, and the comfort of having good tires (I really like these Conti 4ks) set up nice and wide with low-ish PSI is the ideal situation for comfort.  If you put 25s on there at slightly lower pressure still, it would be into "plush" territory.

Really fun (if way too long) day on the bike, I can no longer claim to have never ridden 100 miles, my legs are tired, I have to stop typing so I can continue the nearly uninterrupted streak of eating I've been doing since I crossed the finish line. 

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The SS guy did start with us. Nuts.


I did do the Blue Lick section, yes. It wasn't my favorite part of the course, since that was oddly the only section where 34×23 felt too hard (no traction if you stood). Had to throw out crazy watts for a while just to make progress. The risk of a pebble/rock scratching a rim is high in a section like that, even if it only gets the clear coat it's still annoying, and there were some big old potholes and ledges that I thankfully mostly avoided. That Alpine Loop looks fun but it's at a bad time if you do cross. A beautiful time of year to be riding there.

Dave Kirkpatrick

Did you do the Blue Lick gravel section on the carbon clinchers? Some people "bypass" this part and stick to the asphalt.

Hoogle Da Boogle

Unfortunately this year it is in the smack middle of cx season, but Bishop's Alpine Loop Gran Fondo is something you would probably enjoy…the long course is capped at 300 riders, medium course at 200, and the short route at 100. They share the same course (with police escort) until just before the 1st climb (short splits off), and the medium splits from the long after descending the 1st big climb. After the 1st two climbs (2nd is a BEAST, 3 mile steep dirt climb), it is pretty much everyone broken into smaller groups.None of the descents are hair raising (especially if I can navigate them), only 1 had me braking a lot but mainly because I didn't know the road and we were constantly going in and out of the shade. My small group hit 49mph on one of the middle descents :)


Yeah, Blue Lick is "rideable" but parts of it are a real meat-grinder to both bike and body. If your carbon clinchers survived that and didn't turn into chocolate fondue on one of the many break-neck downhills on the DD course then I'd say that's a pretty darn good testament to their real-world worthiness. I rode Blue Lick with plain old alloy clinchers and hardshell Conti 25s and thought I would be carrying my wheels home in a plastic garbage bag. Single-speeders? That's why I love events like the GCGF…even after decades of riding you can still see things that make you say "Wow". Next year I fully expect to see a guy in a clown suit pedaling a unicycle up Bowman hill while juggling bowling balls and whistling "Camptown Races".

Hoogle Da Boogle

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