The last couple years there has been a local gravel series here in the Inland NW that goes by the name of the Hilly Nilly. Fiveish rides leaving from Coeur d’Alene and setting out to pound some gravel and a bit of pavement. How hard the pounding is, is determined by who shows up. Since it’s a bit far from home I’m not too familiar with the riding in CdA. So the roads are always new to me which I like since it keeps things interesting. There’s no entry fee so you can’t expect much support, though I did get a map last time. Usually I just follow along. Not having a map is good motivation for not getting dropped since then I’d be really be lost. I use my cyclocross bike, which looks a lot like my road bike, my gravel bike, my commuter bike, my trailer pulling bike and my gran fondo bike.
With wider tires, better brakes, and lower gears than a road bike the cross bike is a great all-rounder. Something like a 30mm wide road tire works pretty darn good out there. I notice the extra volume on the pavement climbs but other than that it’s money. This is likely too wide for most road bikes. I have my rig set up with V-brakes which are better than cantis and way better than calipers that come on road bikes. Why I don’t have discs is another topic for a different story. Because this is my cross race bike I have a 1×10 with a clutch rear der. It’s not an ideal gear range for this riding but with some suffering it’s manageable.
For the latest version of the Hilly Nilly we had a potentially rainy, overcast day to deal with so there wasn’t much of a group. There were 12-15 of us compared to 40 on a nice weather day. Me, I don’t mind the rain. Besides I had missed the last Hilly Nilly and wasn’t about to let a little 60% chance of rain scare me off.
The big climb of the day was ~700m, and almost 12km on a gravel forest road. This was 52 minutes of steady threshold climbing for me. I’m sure it was great for my fitness. It was about half way up I started thinking about the descent. Already wet from a light misty rain, and sweat, and knowing I’d have to come back down where there wouldn’t be any heat from the internal engine to keep warm, I knew it was going to be a cold ride. From the top, with wind shells on, the wet dirt road led us along a ridge with some good mountain top views through low hanging clouds.
The DH is where the wider tires and better brakes of the cross bike really shine. Looking at the other riders with me rolling along the ridge I only see one other cross bike, the rest are road bikes. There were some chunky spots in the road on the way down where the big tires did their job and did it well. About halfway down the road surface switched to pavement. The long downhill was enough to get a chill on. Of course being mostly wet didn’t help. My wool baselayer was doing its best though. Once off the mountain my legs said they didn’t want to push anymore, but they did. Luckily there were a few of us left to push each other along. The group of us made it a quick 8km on a flat lakeside road back to town.
Having been at it for near 3 hours, mostly in the rain, I was glad to be back at the start. Feeling sufficiently tired I moved on to the next task: finding some hot tea to take off the chill and a cold beer to ease the lactic acid burn. Next up, going again this Sunday.