How to get race ready: Mechanic Edition!
Gearing up for my first gravel race there has been a lot of thought and research that has gone into the bike set up. From gearing, chainrings, tires, tire pressure, saddle bags, do I ride with tubes or go tubeless? The list goes on! Long story short there is a LOT to think about prepping for a gravel race. One thing about me is that I like everything to be prepared and everything to be done perfect. However, I always try to remind myself that I can only control the controllable and I will have to constantly remind myself about that this year. There will be a lot of trial and error this year with the type of tire I use, gear sizing, nutrition, etc. But to minimize these issues, I will try to prepare as best as possible, and there is no other way to have better race mechanical prep than having my own personal mechanic, my dad.
My Dad and I riding in Gatineau Park!
First off, what is the biggest difference between helping (me) get ready for a road race vs a gravel race?
Preparing for a road race and a gravel race really involves some key differences due to the distinct nature of the terrain. The biggest differences between the two as I see it are:
- Bike Choice: Gravel specific bikes have wider tires (typically 32-42mm) with knobby treads to provide better traction on uneven gravel roads. The bikes utilize a more relaxed geometry for comfort during long rides and can accommodate wider tires for added stability. The added comfort is paramount. Riding for 120 km on gravel is not as smooth as 120 km on pavement.
- Drivetrain: Gravel bike drivetrains are designed for versatility and reliability for a wide range of riding conditions, while road bike drivetrains focus on high-speed performance on smooth roads. Testing new gear ratios and chainring sizes throughout your pre-season training is vital to your success for the upcoming race season. We are in an era where bike technology is constantly changing year to year, and I can see you testing out new drivetrain ideas during the off season.
- Equipment: Gravel races can be rough on equipment, so riders need to be prepared for punctures, chain drops, and other mechanical issues. Carrying essential tools and knowing how to perform trailside repairs is important.
This is something you weren’t required to do riding road races. Remember, your DS is not riding behind you in the team car anymore.
Tubes or Tubeless?
For gravel racing, tubeless tires are generally the preferred choice due to their puncture resistance, lower tire pressure capabilities, and other performance advantages such as weight savings, better grip, and overall ride quality.
It’s race day, how do we determine tire selection?
When choosing the right tread for a gravel bike race you need to look at two main factors: the type of gravel terrain and race conditions. Once we have done this, we can match the tread to the terrain.
If the course is hard-packed, then we look for tires with a smoother or semi-slick center tread for low rolling resistance, with more aggressive side knobs for cornering grip. If the course is loose or rocky gravel, our tire choice would be something with a more pronounced and widely spaced tread pattern to provide traction and stability in loose or rocky conditions. Finally, if the course is muddy, call in sick! But seriously, for this type of course. we’ll use a tire with deep and widely spaced knobs for better mud shedding and grip.
What are the essentials to have in your saddle bag for race day?
In a saddlebag for a gravel bike race, you should carry essentials to ensure you are prepared for common issues that may arise during the race. Your list should include, but certainly not limited to, a multitool, lever, C02, chain break tool, spare master links and extra tubes if you have a sealant failure and a tire plug if you are running tubeless. Even if you are riding tubeless, you should always have an extra tube.
What is your biggest tip to get your bike race ready?
Meet with a race day/qualified mechanic to ensure your bike is ready. It’s vital that all your equipment is in good working order and that you know how to use the tools and supplies in your saddlebag. It's also good practice to familiarize yourself with the specific course and race regulations to ensure you're adequately prepared.
What race are you most excited for me to do?
UCI Worlds 2024!!