GBDURO20 winner Josh Ibbett shares his thoughts on the gravel wheel conundrum.
650b or 700c?
The GBDURO route is roughly 50:50 road to off road. Of the off road sections a good percentage is relatively fast rolling dirt roads and gravel tracks with the rest being made up of rougher surfaces and the odd bit of hike a bike. So what should you prioritise, comfort or speed?
Well that depends on what kind of rider you are and how experienced you are off road. For those aiming for a fast time the priority maybe speed, for others it may be about getting the job done and maximum comfort. So ask yourself this question before you consider your bike, wheel and tyre selection.
A gravel bike is probably the best tool for the job, however a hardtail MTB will also work well. Let's assume though that most riders are at the cutting edge of bikepacking trends and are on a gravel bike. By now you should have decided if you are going fast or steady, speed or comfort?
Personally (being relatively keen on speed and experienced off road) I would recommend a 700c wheelset. These roll faster on the road and dirt road sections and are generally more efficient, however will require more care when riding off road and can be a little less forgiving on the rougher sections of the route.
If comfort is your priority, then a wider tyre will be the way to go. It will be a little bit slower on the smooth sections, however the improved comfort may well improve your experience. On a gravel bike the answer is to fit a 650b wheelset. A wider tyre can be run at lower pressures which will offer more grip off road and will help to absorb the smaller bumps. However, if you really want to go the extra mile for comfort it might be best to run a MTB with a suspension fork.
The vast majority of the route is on hard packed tracks and trails, although there may be some softer and rockier sections at times, so overall a fast rolling tyre would be the most beneficial. I’d recommend a minimum of a 45mm tyre on a 700c, and a 2.1inch on a 650b rim or MTB. I used the WTB Ridder 45 in the 2020 event.
Dynamo or No Dynamo?
Dynamo hubs are favoured by many long distance cyclists as they allow more self-sufficiency with recharging gadgets and powering lights. Having power on tap is one less thing to worry about on a self supported event. GBDURO's four stage format means that there will be the opportunity to find a power point to recharge after each stage meaning a dynamo might not be as important, but just remember there will also be 100 other cyclists fighting over the same power points in the same small village pub!
Words by Josh Ibbett who rides for Hunt Bike Wheels
With the race now only 4 months away you might feel the nervous energy building, maybe you're second guessing your kit choices. But, hopefully, you're feeling super excited for an incredible tour of our little island via the fantastic GBDivide route. Be assured that once you start racing from Land's End all feelings of negativity really do disappear and you'll soon settle into riding bliss.
We reached out to GBDURO19 & 20 riders Philippa, Angus and Jason for their hot-tips for GBDURO and their good/bad kit choices. Between them they have experienced both first and second editions of the race. Hopefully these words of wisdom will answer some questions, or at least guide your race planning.
Philippa Battye - rider of GBDURO19
The only things which were wrong or amiss as it turns out were clothing choices!
En route I bought...:
Watch out for leaving things unattended on your bike if you're getting the train to the start. My almost worthless second hand etrex got swiped, although thankfully they left my far more valuable lights on my bike!
Other than that, my bike and set-up were all good.
Angus Young - rider of GBDURO19 and GBDURO20
Great kit choice: Preparing overnight oats beforehand to give me a hearty breakfast each morning in 2021.
Poor kit choice: In 2019 I used 35mm Panaracer GravelKing SKs; great tyre but more volume is essential.
Jason Black - rider of GBDURO20
Good Kit Choice - My JetBoil was brilliant. Fast and effective for reheating food and cooking, or, very importantly boiling hot water quickly to reheat the body struggling with hypothermia esp. in the Yorkshire dales where the cold wind and very heavy rain made life so challenging.
Bad kit choices - I always use a Dynamo front wheel powering directly my trusty Sinewave front light. However the low speeds at night on lengthy gravel sections with a very heavy laden bike made charging virtually impossible, and more often as the light strength was determined by totalling speed there were times I had a very dim light to ride with making visibility poor. I would also have had a back up power pack but again that was struggling with recharging due to the low speeds.
To add fuel to that fire, my Garmin 1030 a day later started to die which in reflection was created by the intermittent power surges from the hub to the device experienced during the hike a bike sections to chugging along at low kph climbs and gravel speeds. Eventually my Garmin data routes and maps gave up and I ended up looking at a rainbow for several hours on end.. which led to my DSQ.
So avoid that at all costs.
Second - I am a test rider for Infinity Seat who are based out of California. They asked me to trial their new carbon seat and seat rail - not a good idea on a super aggressive gravel race with a bike laden down like a tank in war. The outcome at the midway point was catastrophic, as I was at the head of the race and that put a dent into my race. A small emergency tube of superglue and an engineering mindset got the rails reattached with a wobbly 800km limp to the finish line.
The UK countryside views and the landscapes were breathtaking, the silence and solitude from the handlebars was eerie but peaceful. There is something special about being plucked and removed from this busy world and emerging on a remote gravel track deep in the highlands, lowlands or wetlands. Here, nature’s your only friend.. I didn’t know or did it even matter if I was an ultra cyclist or an endurance athlete, what mattered was I was here and I was living it ... that feeling of freedom it was priceless and humbling.
Did I win? No. Did it matter? Absolutely not. Did I finish? Yes, absolutely that mattered for me.
Words by Cal of Mason Cycles, the FastFar Company