Reality Bike Check – Blending Bike Race & Family at the Oregon Gravel Grinder

There’s a first time for everything, even amidst an activity that you have done for over two decades. For the last weekend in April 2019, my wife and I packed up the car for our first family trip centered around bike racing, the inaugural 3-day Cascade Gravel Grinder in Bend, OR. Our 21-month-old Director Spotif sat patiently in the back seat as we finished loading the last of the gear – the familiar bikes and spare wheels stacked up against the ceiling, with the less familiar Pack-n-Play, stroller, story books, extra diapers and cargo bike piled underneath.

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG The new family quiver: Super Jake for racing, Dew for cargo bike and ground logistics.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Destination: Bend, OR Mission: 3-day Oregon Gravel Grinder Omnium Bonus: central Oregon sunshine
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG

As regular road racing seems to be going the way of the Rock ‘n Play (sorry, parent joke), the new road racing, that is, gravel racing, seems to be realizing its own manifest destiny. In any case, it’s still road racing in my book because it happens on drop-bar bikes with skinny-ish tires. The roads are rougher but the bikes are smooth. The Cascade Gravel Grinder was touted as the first gravel omnium event in the country. An omnium is a multi-day event similar to a stage race, but instead of tracking overall time, riders score points based on their result each day. The rider with the most points wins. I just hoped the points I might win in the bike race would balance out with the points I needed to spend to get the family to come along.

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG My new mechanic and team manager helping to decide final tire pressure and gearing.

The plan and outcome went as follows:

Day 1: 7-hr drive to Bend, set up shop at guest house, jump in 5-mile prologue time trial. The dry washboard was a wake up call compared to the damp dirt of Bellingham, and the car legs were good enough for 5th.

Day 2: 70-mile loop through the dusty sage and pine near the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, clean up for a cargo bike ride an afternoon picnic at Drake Park. An early morning gave way to a blistering pace across the sage land, zipping around in the lead group and 3rd on the day.

Day 3: 67-mile loop outside of Sisters, OR at the foothills of the Twin Sisters and Mt. Jefferson, load up for a visit to great grandmother’s house. A good start was thwarted by drawing the short straw in the rocky road pace line and popping my tire. After fixing, and despite a few KOMs during the chase, I was unable to make it back to the lead group, and rolled in for 10th.

Day 4: travel home, admire faint tan lines, tally our lessons learned

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Team Manager and I cooling down after a vigorous 3 days of bicycle racing. The second portion of each day involved our favorite ground transport and exploration vehicle: Dew mounted to an Argo Cargo Bike attachment.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Reunited with teammate and Kona veteran Barry Wicks, dazzling all of the super-hip gravel riders in our new 7mesh kits.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Queue sheet. Circles are aid stations and slashes indicate high-points along the route.

Lessons Learned:

Family + bike racing works as long as everyone can accept that only about 80% of their needs can be met. For those too young to accept, the others must work an extra 20% harder to keep the wheels on the wagon šŸ˜‰

To whomever is racing, the fitness required isn’t just about the racing, but also about the post-race activities. You’ve got to have fuel left in the tank to be useful!

Again, to whomever is racing, make the effort count! Any time wasted on course is time lost with family!

On to the bike check already!

Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Race Machine: Super Jake, 54cm rolling on WTB Resolute 700x42c, powered by a Shimano Ultegra R8000 drivetrain with 53/39 front and 11-40 rear – all in all an excellent setup for the rolling roads, rocks and sand of central Oregon.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG An R8000 long cage derailleur with the B-tension set to ~90% works just fine with an XTR 11-40 11spd cassette. Paired with the standard 53/39 gearing up front, I felt comfortable everywhere from 45mph+ downhill stretches to steep, rough grades. Bend’s gentle terrain relative to the Pacific Coast region had me sitting in the big ring around 80% of the time.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Blackburn Clutch bottle cages were key – holding bottles on 30mph+ washboard. I noticed lots of bottles jettisoned across fast, bumpy parts of the course.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG More Blackburn gear – the Local (medium) saddle bag full of: 2x tubes, derailleur hanger, mini tool, tire lever, bandages. I keep plugs, CO2 and pump at quicker access either on the frame or in my jersey pocket.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Thick wrap, wide bars. Blackburn Cinch bar tape has great grip. I wrap it extra thick at the top edge of the bars. Bars are 46cm for extra control when things get rough.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG WTB Resolute 700x42c have done me well in several other gravel, training and cyclocross events over the last 8-months. I ran 29psi front and 31psi rear. I did suffer a flat on Day 3 when I impacted a very sharp, embedded chunk of basalt in a blindy, dusty paceline. Pretty sure it would have flatted any tire. Given all of the sharp rock and sand we crossed over 3 days, these tires and their round profile felt like an excellent match.
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG
Spencer Paxson | KONA COG Soon enough, things are likely to come full circle, when I am the one being carted around to someone else’s bicycle races (or hockey or soccer games!)