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Back 2019-09-16

On ZippCast—A Roadie Goes Gravel

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Photo of Jason Fowler at Land Run 100 by TBLphotography.com

ZippCast goes off pavement to talk about gravel bikes and gravel riding. Zipp category manager Jason Fowler gives tips on equipment choices and mental mindset for conquering your next (or your first) gravel adventure.

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Photo by Salsa Cycles

Edited excerpts from Zipp Wheel Category Manager Jason Fowler on gravel riding

On the attraction of gravel riding – 10:40

“I got into cyclocross because it was new and different and it was offseason to road racing. Gravel was very similar. There were a few local races in October and November that went on roads a lot of us go by every day and didn’t even consider going down. I took the cyclocross bike down and discovered this new world. At the time I knew nothing of tire choice, or equipment or anything. But it was something new, fresh, exciting. It was almost like you get out there and it feels like an adventure… Just going out and riding your bike for fun.”

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Photo by Wil Matthews

Comfort is king on gravel – 12:00

“I had it as a cyclocross bike, and at that time there weren’t too many gravel bikes on the market. It could accept up to 38-40mm tires. But I also wanted more of an aggressive geometry coming from the road-side, where the gravel bikes at that time it was like, ‘Oh, that’s too plush of a ride. There’s too much comfort there. I don’t need that.’ I was wrong because you do need that comfort. The gravel scene has grown and changed so much. There are a lot of great bikes out there.

“You can get by on a cyclocross bike, but on some of these longer races—Land Run 100, Dirty Kanza, there are plenty of races—having that comfort aspect built-in is certainly needed in the later stages of the race.”

Lessons from Dirty Kanza, mental approach – 17:25

“You don’t want to start hard. You should be riding at an easier pace, for me 200 or 220 watts. Better if it’s even below that. By mile 130, it’s almost like a switch. When you come unglued you come unglued quick. It’s hard to recovery. I think that’s part of the draw for some people. You go to this new level of suffering, it’s going to sound weird, but it’s almost like a spiritual thing. You are faced with a lot of internal demons you have to battle with. It’s much more of a mental battle than physical. The amount of suffering, I can’t make a comparison on the road. Yeah, road racing really hurts. But when you get into those long gravel races it’s a different kind of suffering.”

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Photo by Wil Matthews

Suffering on road vs. gravel – 19:40

“In road races, you might blow up because your heart rate is too high. Your just… your cardio can’t keep up. For most people, people don’t get to that in a Dirty Kanza. It’s just a completely different type of suffering and then an unraveling. It’s just how you manage through that.”

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Photo by Wil Matthews

Recovery time after big gravel race – 25:45

“I wasn’t doing anything for a month. I got out and rode a little bit here and there. I tried one group ride and the body said, no way. You should take that recovery as, do the event, enjoy it, recover. Then maybe plan for one further out and not try to stack events one on top of another.”

Zipp in gravel – 27:04

“There’s certainly the aero piece and durability. On some of these races, you want to run lower tire pressure, which exposes the rim to more impact. You need a robust wheel.

“The handlebar becomes a pretty personalized piece. I probably would not have said that before Dirty Kanza. When you get at mile 150 everything hurts on your hands, and you’re just looking for a different place on the handlebar to grab. When you look at a handlebar, just look at the ergonomics. There are some gravel bars that flare out super wide. It might give you more leverage, but over time your wrists are going to start to hurt if you have your hand in that position with all of those impacts.”

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Above two photos by Jered Gruber

(See new Zipp Service Course 70 XPLR and Service Course SL-70 XPLR)

Wheel selection for gravel – 29:40

“If there is something more hard-packed or flat, you could see people go deeper than a 303, which is 45mm deep. I think that’s (the 303) a good balance of it all. There’s a certain aero aspect performance benefit. But then you also need to look at weight because at a lot of these events there’s a lot of climbing, a lot of up and down. The 303 checks the box on the climb, checks the box on the durability and comfort, but then also the aerodynamic piece as well.”

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Photo by Wil Matthews

Tubeless is the standard – 31:49

“Tubeless is the standard. If nothing else, it’s those pinch flats. Sealant might not always work, but you might as well try that. You can always do a quick plug. It gets you back up and on the trail quicker.”

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Above two photos by Wil Matthews

New bikes designed for all roads – 32:50

“As there have been a couple of new bikes that have come out over the last month, one trend we’re certainly seeing is there’s increased tire clearance. Some of those bikes are aero bikes or your more traditional road bike. You can call it gravel or whatever, but people are wanting to go beyond just the smooth pavement ride. Some may be forced if you live in the city, the safety aspect, or some people might just want to try something new.”

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