Sunday, October 13, 2013

Time for a Change - First Gravel Grind: Road Configuration

According to the Spokane County Department of Engineering the County maintains 167.58 miles of dirt and summer roads, and 1037.79 miles of gravel roads.  These roads are lightly traveled, scenic and a great way to explore some of the varied terrain and different part of Spokane County.

I am fortunate to live just a mile or two from seemingly endless gravel and dirt roads in the south part of the County.  This weekend, I decided it was time to get the Moots CX dirty and see how it handles on some of our gravel roads.  The only "problem" was that I still had the bike in the road configuration with 700x25 Continental Grand Prix 4000 S road tires.  These tires are fantastic in terms of handling, rolling resistance and wear, but by no means designed for punishing rocks and dirt.

I have some CX low profile block design tires on the way, but really wanted to go ride some dirt roads this weekend and frankly could not wait.  So I hit the gravel roads south of town with the road tires and hoped for the best.

I thought it would be a good practice to run a slightly lower tire pressure for both ride quality and traction with the road tires. This was a mistake that became apparent 1/4 mile in on the first gravel road - 23 mph, big rock and pinch flat but it was a heck of a lot of fun up to that point.  Flat repaired, tires inflated to higher pressure and back on the road.  One of the things I am looking forward to with the CX tires is running lower pressure in a tubeless configuration but it will be a few more days until I can pull that off.

10 minutes out on a long gravel road, I was charmed by an unattended pumpkin stand in front of a house.  The handwritten sign with pricing and the payment jar left on the table by the road impart a level of trust and innocence from less complicated times.  Maybe this is what gravel grinding is all about - getting out at a slower pace and rediscovering the folks that still trust each other and look out for their neighbors.

The bike was simply amazing on these roads.  It was smooth and stable with absolutely no surprises - even with the now rock-proof tire pressure.  Climbs were performed in the saddle since there was no way to keep the back end hooked-up with traction otherwise.  Paradise (above) is a summer road which means it will be less improved and just begs to be explored.  I am going to wait for beefier tires before heading off on that adventure.

Just after Paradise, I was treated to this long, straight stretch of fairly compact gravel and could open it up a bit.  The tires and bike felt very comfortable at 20 mph.  It is very difficult to describe just how smooth this bike rides with the combination of titanium tubing and seat post and the carbon fork.  The first few times I came to a washboard section of road I braced for getting rattled pretty hard.  Each was a non-event as the bike just soaked the bumps up and kept rolling. The characteristics of this frame/fork are truly extraordinary to be this comfortable with low volume tires filled to rock-hard pressures.

Spokane County seems to like using a crushed basalt rock of about 1-1 1/2 inches in size.  This probably works well for cars and pickup trucks, but less than ideal for narrow bike tires.  Also, the rock tends to get pushed into deeper sections at corners and dips in the road so the front tire either wants to wash-out at speed and dig-in when going slower.  The fast part was the most unnerving until I became better at choosing lines and being more relaxed on the bars so the wheel could drift a bit when needed to maintain traction and direction.

Overall, the tires did an admirable, though less than ideal job of riding on gravel but they worked.  I was also impressed how tough these tires are - not even a nick or cut in the sidewall or tread after 13 miles of very sharp rocks.

Finally, I was treated to an old, overgrown cemetery on Elder Road.  It still had flags from Memorial Day and a fantastic view in every direction.   If you look carefully at the above photo you can see some of the headstones and flags.

A few more miles east on Elder I intersected Hwy 27 and rode back home on pavement.  I enjoyed the bike immensely on this adventure and believe it is the right setup for this project.  I will update some more when I swap-out the tires.

1 comment:

  1. Geoff, It sounds like the build and material are standout highlights! Two follow-up questions: How does the ride feel of the ti/carbon on dirt feel in comparison to a endurance/suspended frame like the Domane? Does the titanium absorb as much vibration as a seat stay/seat tube suspension design like Isospeed? Second question, how much as bike geometry affected your experience? Is the pure CX geometry affecting your speed, comfort or overall enjoyment on tarmac/gravel in comparison to modern road geometry for longer rides?