I was talking with my buddy Wrighteous up in Chicago the other day. He told me about some gravel race in Michigan that was going to be 60 some-odd miles long, shitty weather, and a bunch of beer. I said he better send along a race report when he got back. Here it is:
First rodeo with Barry-Roubaix
We all know that “The Gnar” can be shredded. But it can also be grinded.
Since I began racing in the last three years, I’ve kept hearing the term “gnar.” And it’s finding its way into my cycling lexicon to describe extremes endured on two wheels.
Post cross race: “Dude, that sand pit was so gnar.” [Coughs up sand/beer.] – Cat 4 goober.
Whiskey Off-Road ‘12: “GNAR.” –Dude who got hit by a deer, then kept riding.
There’s a cycling discipline perhaps most evocative of The Gnar: gravel grinders. About 3,000 riders in Hastings, Mich., this past weekend would verify that claim.
Let’s get to it. Enter Barry-Roubaix.
Pick your poison: It’s a 62-, 36-, or 23-mile suffer fest on a healthy mix of road and hilly “gravel” country roads. I put quotes around gravel because this part of Michigan has been blue-balled by spring, rendering these back roads into an unpredictable, tacky, half-thawed trail of tears. For the most part I didn’t have trouble finding an acceptably smooth line. But sometimes I danced between car tracks to avoid stretches of rumbling, pock-marked mud or full-blown craters that sent countless water bottles fucking flying out of their cages. At the first off-road section, I saw a few guys in the first wave go down hard because of either bottles littering the course, ice, pot holes, or all of the above. And it was cold. Falling when it’s cold sucks. “That second crash felt like a car accident,” said my one buddy who went down on ice, all muddy and bloody at the finish.
But once you started getting sick of gravel, you’d see the cop car blocking traffic ahead, waving you through. Pavement. Sweet, forgiving pavement. I can’t say I’ve ridden in a paceline with cross bikes, 29ers, and single speed MTBs. But sometimes you gotta tighten up and pull each other through until you dive back down the gravel rabbit hole. Then more pavement, gravel, grinding: repeat.
The cold got to me at times. My Clif bars and goos nearly froze in my pockets, which turned what’s normally a quick feed into a slow awkward chew that I washed down with slush. The sky was grey all day and didn’t look happy about it. I heard rifle shots, saw a freshly run-over jack rabbit, and rotted front porches swollen with years of junk.
I traded pulls with a rider for the last few miles into town. As I pulled into the chute, she threw the hammer down on me and crossed the finish a bike length ahead. Turns out cycling skirts make women faster, after all. That, or I need to put in more hours on the trainer.
After I finished but before I hit up the Founders beer tent, I shivered my way over to Aaron and the guys at 616 Fab’s tent to marvel at incredible fat bike fabrication. Now I get why Dirty swears by his. Those are some solid bikes. Soon I found my teammates and devoured a couple Dirty Bastards, basking in that camaraderie that comes with the grinding and conquering of Gnar. We exchanged tales of HTFU.
And I met this woman, who right before I took this picture, impressively took a big pull from all three cups at once. Don’t worry, I won’t tell whoever you bought these beers for.
I’m thinking next spring I will make my way north and try and do a few of these. Seems like my kind of scene.by