The Castell Grind held earlier this month was billed as a “gravel grinder race in the Texas hill country.” And while not everyone raced the event, some taking the time to enjoy the remarkable scenery and peaceful dirt lanes, there were those riders that decided to test their mettle over either the 100k (62 mile) or 50k (31 mile) courses. Regardless of planned pace, everyone there was unsure of what to expect, even if they had the experience of the Holey Roller under their belt.
The appeal of a gravel grinder is that there’s a little something for everyone. For those that want to get after it a bit, it’s a race, while for others it’s a ride. For racers, it eschews the formalities of a sanctioned event, with a “winner take all” approach for the men’s and women’s fields (there are no categories or age groups). For riders it presents unique challenges in that courses are generally unmarked and there are no rest stops or course support to speak of. It’s a road ride, but on dirt. It’s a cyclocross race, but longer and without barriers, it’s a mountain bike race, but without any single track. In short, it’s bike riding and racing.
Along with a couple of other Bicycle Sport Shop Cyclocross Club members, I was there in Castell, TX to put some early 2014 fitness to the test and see if I couldn’t ride my way into the top 5 of those taking on the “Full Grind.” Joey Machado came along with me, and relative newcomer to cyclocross and bike racing in general, Dan Pedroza, was tackling the “Half Grind.” Here’s our report.
“Going in I knew I had what I like to call the ‘minimal amount of training’ to be competitive. I had no idea what the pace would be like for the start, much less the entire 100k race,” noted Joey. From the gun the front of the race was quick, covering the first 10 or so miles in a single file line of riders at an average of about 20 mph. Mind you, the course was probably in the neighborhood of 90% dirt/loose gravel/washboard farm roads. Knowing the wind and terrain would separate the group at some point, I tried to ride as close to the front as possible.
At about mile 9 I slid out of the front and rolled back to Joey and mentioned that up to that point, the race had been “no joke” to which Joey responded, “Daniel is this a dirt crit, or what?” Neither of expected the race to be that fast out of the gate for such an extended period of time, nor could we talk much more. We both thought the pace would let up some, but it turned out it never did.
Unbeknownst to us, Dan was in our front group to early on too. “While the Holey Roller was labeled just a ‘ride’ for all levels of cyclists, the Castell Grind is basically considered a race. I didn’t know this until the morning of the event when Daniel said his plan was to win the 100k. Win? Win what? A few tacos and a beer? Then the morning riders meeting confirmed that for those interested in ‘going for it’ it was a race,” said Dan.
“Since I didn’t have a riding buddy,” Dan continued, “I had already planned on riding as hard as I could for as long as I could. A lesson I learned from cyclocross is that the start is everything. Lose touch with the front runners and you’ll never catch them. So I moved to the front group at the start and planned to stay with them as long as possible. Right off the bat the top riders were trying to drop weaker cyclists, just like I’ve heard folks talk about at the Driveway. I fell off the pack twice forcing me to sprint out of the saddle to regain contact. The third time I fell back around mile 10-12 was it. We descended a small hill into a creek bed then immediately took a left turn up a hill where I found myself in the wrong gear. By the time I downshifted the pack was gone. I was upset for making such a dumb mistake because I still felt like I could stay with them at least for a few more miles but no such luck. At this point I thought I was on my own.”
Like Dan, that creek bed did me in a bit too. Coming towards it was a slight downhill followed by a left across a mostly dry, but still with some water and a patch of mud creek, and the other side presented a short, steep pitch. As the front of the group came into the creek I had a Ziploc bag of cookies in my teeth, one hand on the bars, and the other in a pocket looking for a Thunderbird bar I had opened before the start. Needless to say I too was fumbling about on my shifters drifting towards the back of the group as riders went around me. Luckily I was able to hang on—and get that much needed snack.
Joey and I hid in the draft of the front riders for a handful miles after the creek bed. At mile 12 or so we were a group of about 50 and just 3 miles later we were a group of about 22 out front and guys were coming off the pace pretty quick. I just knew the top 5 riders would come from the front this group. But despite what happened to us both at about mile 18, I didn’t know that both Joey and I would still have a chance to be in there, and we still didn’t know Dan was having the ride of his short, new racing career.
For Joey, mile 18 was a misjudged line. “At mile 18 I came off the front by choosing a bad line, which caused me to sink in some thick quicksand-like dirt. Before I could downshift and roll out a gap had opened. I got moving and held my pace until I and another rider came to a short section of asphalt. We hit the turn to the pavement at crit speed and sprinted out of it taking turns pulling to get across. Luckily the lead group had just eased up so we were able to make contact in less than a mile but as soon as we latched on us 11 riders total turned onto the dirt again and it seemed the group picked up the pace just enough to make it hurt–again.”
For me mile 18 was a lost bottle. Not the disaster it could have been—I saw some riders eject both of theirs and have to stop to get them, but with one lost bottle I figured “well, I’ll refill at the half way point at the mandatory check-in.” Still I was coming off the pace some, less confident than some of the experienced MTB racers on the faster downhill sections across the loose terrain. So I was dangling off the back put passing those that were struggling more than me. I could see Joey, up ahead, just off the very front group and then they were all out of sight as the made the turn onto the short pavement stretch. And I too had a rider that I was sharing the chase workload with, but unlike Joey, we couldn’t get pack to those front 11. At this point, we were 12th and 13th on the road with Joey looking to be in about 11th.
For Dan, the Castell Grind was a redemption ride of sorts. “When I first learned about the Holey Roller in February, I thought, ‘Fun! Riding on gravel and dirt! A cyclocross ride!’ I was mistaken. It was the most difficult ride I ever finished. I managed to make it extra hard by riding a loose saddle that slowly slid all the way back on its rails over the first 25 miles. By the time I figured out why my back was on fire I still had another 25 miles to ride. So I chose to sign up for Castell because I still had fun riding on gravel roads. I also felt I had to redeem myself from such a miserable performance that was based on a simple mistake that I made. The course didn’t beat me, I beat myself, and I had to fix that.”
Staying focused, Dan did better than make up for his Holey Roller ride. “This is not a ride, it’s a race,” remembered Dan–perhaps inspired by my pre-race comment that I was planning to win. “Maintaining speed was my goal,” noted Dan. “At the point I lost the front group my Garmin read that my average speed was 20.3 mph, a pace I’ve never maintained for that long even on asphalt. And while I completely expected it to drop, my goal was to keep it as high as possible for as long as I could. After a slight touch of wheels with riders that I didn’t even know were behind me, we trudged on, working together, sharing the workload for the next 10 miles.”
As Dan closed in on the end of the Half Grind, Joey and I were looking at another 50k. “The washboard sections were making me feel like I was being bucked and forced me hold my bars with a death grip. The constant effort cost me falling off the back of the top-10 group and repeatedly having to surge back. They were just ahead of me when I made it to the halfway point check-in station but given the bottle-neck there, I was able to re-connect.”
Joey and the leaders couldn’t have been too far ahead of me and the rider I was with since as we rolled in someone shouted “they just left!” With only one bottle I had to stop and top it off and that meant that my chase partner and I had company in the form of riders coming up from behind quick—eight other guys plus the lead woman rider. But we eleven weren’t going to be chasing the front eleven for long.
Joey’s mistake, in hindsight of course, was burring himself to stay in that lead group. “As we rolled onto the second loop, two guys surged ahead and soon we all took an ill-fated wrong turn. About a half-mile in we all stopped and shouted to the two leaders but they were too far up and could not hear us. As we turned around and headed back the pace picked up. I was able to hang maybe 4 or 5 miles as I need to munch on some food. But after I became detached I got into a comfortable solo pace.”
Of course, my group didn’t know the front group made a wrong turn and that we were actually the leaders on the road. Us eleven quickly became eight as we rode a steady pace surging only occasionally. A couple of times on the second, North Loop I came off the bike in loose sand as the bike got out from under me. Mistakes no doubt caused by tiredness, hunger knock, and just plain inattentiveness. On one of those occurrences I came off my group and was riding solo, trying to maintain an even, comfortable pace. At that point, with those seven riders leaving me behind, and what I figured was Joey’s group of eleven up front I figured I was 19th or so on the road—top 20 was still possible with about 10 miles to go.
Joey and I then had similar experiences albeit a few miles apart. “The two leaders who were the first to make the wrong turn caught me and were kind enough to let me tag along as they were trying to make up for lost time. I was able to pull on and off with them until mile 51 or so then I just settled into a comfortable pace to the finish, noted Joey.” For me, those two riders had caught one between Joey and I and were actually three riders—and I sat on them, unable to take any pulls, for about a mile before coming unhitched and watching them ride off in pursuit of my former group at about mile 54. It was talking to them before they dropped me that I learned about the wrong turn and that I had, in fact, been in the lead group. Dang it. I would go on to finish 11th overall and Joey rolled in shortly thereafter in 13th.
Dan, the guy that didn’t know it was a race, had a different end to his day. “With five miles to go the washboard roads along with the deep sand made handling the bike extremely difficult,” for Dan. “At two miles to the finish it was a slight incline on slightly cobbled roads. I just kept pushing as hard as I could. No more drafting, it was just me, the cows, and the finish line. I finally reached the last quarter mile, which was actual smooth highway pavement. I sprinted toward the finish trying to keep up my average mph. When I came through the checkpoint/finish they told me that I was the first 50k finisher. How did that happen? Surely there were some 50k riders in the first lead group? Nope.”
Dan continued, “I was happy with myself for working as hard as I could for almost two hours. While I obviously couldn’t maintain my 20.3 mph pace, I did manage 17 mph for the ride, which is actually a personal best. I can’t even recall a road ride that I’ve averaged that high, and I only managed about 14 mph at the Holey Roller! I attribute this to two major factors. First, the lead group was my rabbit. Without their initial pace I never would have pushed as hard as I did. Second, the Trek Boone, which I had rented from Bicycle Sport Shop just for the Castell Grind, was magnificent. And I brought home my first cycling trophy ever, which to me means the world.”
“In the end I realized I gave this race everything I had,” said Joey. “And I was very happy that I was able to ride at that pace and distance on a Texas tough course! Kudos to those who kept on course and finished ahead. After all, navigating is a part of the gravel grinder experience! My body felt destroyed afterward, but I had a huge smile on my face all weekend.” Like Joey, I was pleased with the effort and content with the result and wondering a bit about what might have been.
Each of us had unique, memorable experiences that will have us back in Castell, TX—which played the part of host wonderfully—in 2015. Hope to see you there.
We’re shamelessly re-blogging this great post from the folks at The Green Lane Project and People for Bikes. Why? Because the message is great. Get behind Austin’s Master Bicycle Plan by visiting this link.
Four Simple Lessons From Austin’s Brilliant Bike Plan Update
April 3, 2014
Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer
In the tech boomtown of Austin, data is king — and city staffers are making some of the country’s strongest data-driven arguments for better bike infrastructure.
A new slideshow by Austin engineer Nathan Wilkes spells out the virtues of a $140 million protected bike lane network that would, he and colleagues calculate, increase the street capacity of Austi’s congested central business district by 7 percent.
Wilkes says that’s the sort of analysis needed for a shift away from thinking about bike projects one street at a time and toward thinking about networks.
“Isolated protected facilities are like coming up for air,” Wilkes writes. “But only when facilities and networks are cohesive will we see big change.”
Networks are already bringing big change to auto-jammed cities like Seville, Spain, where the citywide share of trips by bike leapt from 0.5 percent in 2006 to 7 percent in 2012 after the city added a bike sharing system and a full network of protected bike lanes. That’s the thinking behind our four favorite slides in Wilkes’ slideshow about the plan, which should serve as a mini-education for government leaders across the country in ways to think about and measure the many benefits of bikeways.
1) The point of bike plans isn’t to appease bikers, it’s to make bikes useful to everyone.
Here’s the former mission statement for Austin’s bike plan, followed by its new one:
2) Good biking makes good transit better.
What’s the single biggest problem with public transit, especially in U.S. cities? The time it takes to walk to a stop that has decent bus or rail service. Biking solves this problem, greatly increasing the population that can be served by a single high-quality transit line — as well as the number of fares a single station can generate. This isn’t to say that transit lines shouldn’t run to all neighborhoods. What good bike access does is increase the payoff of any given station.
3) You’re not going to turn every long car trip into a bike trip – all you have to do is turn short trips into bike trips.
When people have comfortable options for every mode of travel, they naturally choose the right vehicle for the right trip. Wilkes used actual behavior patterns from the Netherlands to make this chart of “attainable” targets for Austin if it has a comfortable biking network where people currently take many short trips. Austin’s draft analysis estimates that a protected bike lane network would make bikes the vehicle of choice for 15 percent of trips under three miles and 7 percent of 3-9 mile trips, far below nationwide levels in the Netherlands (pictured).
4) A good bike network increases the capacity of your entire road system.
The really groundbreaking thing about Austin’s current bike planning is that it expresses the benefits of biking largely in the language of engineers: it looks at bikes as a way to increase the number of trips a congested road system can carry.
And it’s very persuasive.
The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digestabout protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write email@example.com.
From our friends at the City of Austin Bicycle Program: “Imagine a system of connected trails and on-street bikeways that could get you from north to south, east to west and everywhere in between. Now imagine these paths as protected areas away from cars – increasing safety so you can get there by bike, or on foot – regardless of your age or ability. To achieve this vision, the City of Austin is creating an Urban Trails Master Plan and updating the existing Bicycle Master Plan.”
With ample opportunity to participate in this exciting vision, another chance to help shape Your Path to Austin is coming up!
The next opportunity to get involved with this exciting project is going to be Wednesday, April 2, from 5:30 pm until 7:30 pm at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road, Ste 325.
At this meeting you’ll discuss how “input from thousands of Austinites is being implemented in the update to the City of Austin’s Bicycle Master Plan and new Urban Trails Master Plan. This exciting effort of the City of Austin Bicycle and Urban Trails Programs has identified near and longer term opportunities so people can safely bike around town, regardless of age or biking ability.” And you’ll “learn the latest about the effort and next steps in creating a connected and protected active transportation network in Austin.”
See you there!
Learn More at: www.austintexas.gov/yourpath
It’s been really fun and inspiring to get to know Bryan, Katherine, and Gabriel and find out about their rides to becoming cyclists. Since we first started this, many folks have come in to check out our beginner cycling packages and have started their own #myrideto stories, many similar to Gabriel’s, below. Share your story with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and use the #myrideto hashtag and spread the love of bikes.
What made me decide to get into cycling?
Just a few months ago, I was going through a rough patch in my marriage and business. One day, my brother found two abandoned Trek mountain bikes at a job site, and knowing I liked bikes as a kid, he thought I would get a kick out of fixing them. Little did he know that I would take it to the level I did. At first, it started out like a nice little weekend project. As I started fixing the bikes up and taking them out for rides, I started to get hooked. I began with only being able to ride about 5 miles on my mountain bike to then upgrading to a road bike and doing a 50-mile group ride, all within 4 months. Every ride that I would take, either with my brother, with my first road-cycling friend, Jose Castaneda, with a group ride or by myself, filled me with an intense peace, joy and excitement like I have never felt before. It’s something that you have to experience for yourself.
Cycling changed my life because it gave me an outlet to release any frustration or stress that my current situation was creating. It gave me something to look forward to in the afternoons and a reason to wake up early on the weekends. Of course, my fitness improved. I lost some of that stubborn fat and gained extra energy and mental focus during the day when I start it off with a good ride.
If I had to narrow the benefit of cycling in to a few words, I would say, “I ride to find myself.”
I got involved with Bicycle Sport Shop because they do a complementary afternoon group ride for Soldiers in Camp Mabry on Thursdays. One of my superior officers saw me riding one morning on the base and invited me to join them. On my first ride, as novice as I was, they tucked me under their wings, didn’t judge my non-pro cycling attire, or my rookie riding mistakes and empowered me to keep riding and improving. From there I also joined other Bicycle Sport Shop rides on the weekends which introduced me to the shops and the support from the entire staff along with ride captains like Todd Musick , who has taught me so much in so little words.
Since then, I have friends and family ask me why I have become so crazy about cycling in such a short time. I just respond that when it’s just me, my bike and the road, there is nothing more peaceful and captivating. Not even sleeping can put me in the state of mind of tranquility that cycling does for me.
When I meet people who get inspired by me, but hesitate to get into cycling, what I like to say is that you don’t have to break the bank to get started. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I started on a free bike and little by little built it up and upgraded. The important thing was to get on the bike, any bike and start riding. You can’t wait for all the conditions to be perfect, just start where you are.
As you may already know, we’ve started carrying Five Ten’s well-respected MTB shoes at the Lamar store.
Since I’m a roadie at heart and a CX nut and not really much of a mountain biker (I’ll walk a bike plenty on the Greenbelt) I had to do some research and talk with a couple of folks that ride Five Tens. What they all said was that the shoes are “must haves.” As one person put it, “you know, like you would say tubulars are a must for ‘cross.” Indeed.
First though, a little on Five Ten.
Five Ten’s story starts with a climber and comes from the sport of climbing. The founder, Charles Cole, developed the plan for the company while out climbing after slipping during a descent. Armed not only with climbing experience but also an engineering degree and an MBA, Cole set out to improve upon the virtualy non-existant climbing footwear technology of the late 1980s. By the 1990s mountain bike riders realized the value of the first rubber compound Cole and Five Ten developed–Stealth S1–and since then the eight offshoots Five Ten has developed. Like the original, each Stealth rubber compound is highly durable and offers unparalleled grip, each tuned to a user’s particular need and preference. Today, as far as cycling goes, Five Ten shoes are worn by leading downhill MTB riders and folks like Danny MacAskill, a trials rider who is perhaps best known for videos like this one.
I’ll say this, the shoes look great. Everyone at the shop, MTB rider or not, has commented on that fact. But as to why someone should ride them I asked Steele Taylor. “For someone riding flat pedals, it’s going to give them a significant boost in traction and compared to a sneaker, added stiffness for pedaling efficiancy. Basically it’s going to feel a lot like a clipless pedal except you can easily remove your foot from the pedal and then put it right back on,” noted Steele. “I run the Five Tens for DH (that’s downhill, as I learned, ed.) and some folks run them for cross country as well, but they are definitely popular among the all-mountain style rider, folks who typically run flat pedals. Of course, the Hellcat model is a flat pedal-style show that actually offers SPD cleat design capabilities for the best of both worlds, added Steele.”
We’re carrying the Freerider, which is $99.99 in 3 colors: black/gray, red, and blue. The Freerider is a great kick-around bike shoe with a fair amount of mesh for breathability, but plenty of leather for durability. It sports the supportive flat sole with the sticky S1 rubber for reliable pedal traction. We’re also carrying the Hellcat, which is $129.99 in gray/black. This shoe basically takes the Freerider, and adds a little more leather, and thus durability, to the upper and SPD compatibility to the sole. Finally, we have the Impact Low in stock, which is $129.99 in black. The Impact Low is an all mountain/DH style shoe that’s over built a bit for higher durability but also offers high comfort.
I went back to the service area and asked Clay Kimsey about the Impact Low and what he thought about the shoe in between brake bleeds. “Stealth rubber compund. Probably the best sole rubber compound in the business. I’m currently standing in a pair of Impact Low’s right now and have ridden them for about eight years. I’m going to try the Hellcat out as well.” When I asked Clay if there were another shoe out there that he’d recommend or ride himself he said “did I mention I’m standing in a pair of Five Tens right now?” Gotcha.
Before I left the shop I went up front to make a purchase and Kailey Elkins was jotting down a model number for a pair of Freeriders that she was going to order for herself. “I really like the way they look. They look nice. Plus, I can totally shred in them.”
That seemed to be everyone’s take on the Five Ten shoes. Get in a check out a pair today.
This is a more common story than you think. Even around the shop. Finding the bike and riding it to wellness. We all have to start, or maybe even restart, somewhere. So whether it’s your first foray into cycling with one of our get started bike and accessory packages or you’re climbing on a bike that’s been collecting more dust than miles, Katherine’s story will resonate with you like it did with us.
Katherine’s Ride to Wellness
One morning I realized my life could be different.
I had a serious back injury, which required major surgery. I was so depressed with my life, the constant pain in my spine and leg and the frustrations of limited mobility, that I gained weight to the point of weighing about 270 pounds. I am not exactly sure what made me have that epiphany years ago. All I know is I realized my life didn’t have to be horrible.I decided to take action. I knew I needed help. I called a medical doctor, a counselor and a nutritionist. I wanted a doctor to verify my medical health and ability to work out. I wanted a counselor to address my sadness and behavior with food. And, I wanted a nutritionist to learn how to eat properly. Realizing I needed to lose 135 pounds was quite overwhelming. I decided to look at my weight loss one pound at a time.
My fitness plan started at the gym. I had always used the stationary bike to get my heart rate going, to prepare for lifting. And, I would finish with the stationary bike. After my second spine surgery, I had my physical therapist design a workout to strengthen the muscles around my spine and my overall body strength. The cardio that didn’t cause me pain was the stationary bicycle.
After my recovery, a friend of mine bought a bicycle and she encouraged me to ride with her. At first, I was afraid to ride a bicycle for many reasons. Plus, I still weighted a lot – about 225 pounds. But I remembered how much I enjoyed riding as a kid. My friend Andrea was so excited about riding her bike that I went to a bike store and picked out a hybrid bike and started riding my bike in my neighborhood. Then I would go on rides with my friends at Cape Ann, Massachusetts. I really enjoyed cycling and it was a great way to spend time with my friends.
A few years later I moved to Austin. My friend, Tim, encouraged me to ride again. And he encouraged me to sign up for a cycling event. I took my bike to Bicycle Sport Shop to get new tires and a tune up. Everyone at Bicycle Sport Shop was so nice and knowledgeable and encouraging. I found myself going there to buy gear (clothes, inner tubes and stuff). Eventually, I went to Bicycle Sport Shop and picked out an awesome Specialized Ruby. My bike ROCKS!
Everyone at Bicycle Sport Shop has always been so kind and knowledgeable. They are always enthusiastic about cycling and, probably most importantly, I didn’t feel judged or looked down upon for not having the perfect “cyclist body”. The people at Bicycle Sport Shop worked with me for many hours to find solutions to my challenges with the right gear and fit. The people at BSS didn’t judge me, they went above and beyond to help me, and have done nothing but encourage me with my cycling and health goals. I am forever grateful.
There are so many benefits to cycling for me. Cycling can make my bad day turn to a great day because it’s FUN. Cycling aides in my weight loss and overall makes me feel better. I have lost 114 pounds (only a few more pounds to go!) And, cycling doesn’t hurt my hips or spine after 2 major back surgeries.
I have met so many awesome people riding. And, I have made wonderful friendships.
Cycling is also EMPOWERING. I am amazed at how I feel when I climb that hill or further my distance. Life has its challenges. Somehow, conquering a hill on my bicycle makes me feel like I can conquer anything.
Overall, cycling is a healthy, fun, inexpensive thing to do with your friends that promotes a healthy life style and encouragement.
Go to Bicycle Sport Shop. Rent a bike and ride in a beginner group ride. You might have fun cycling and meeting people and starting your own journey on a bike!
Once again, bicyclists have been left out.
Yesterday morning, the federal government released a traffic safety proposal that turns a blind eye to the rising number of bicyclist and pedestrians deaths.
Last week, 700 participants at the National Bike Summit visited their members of Congress and asked them to sign on to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act. This critical bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation establish a specific target to improve the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. Months ago, we mobilized bicyclists behind this bill because we knew DOT was unlikely to do this on their own.
Today, unfortunately, we were proven right.The DOT just issued a proposed national traffic safety goal that doesn’t include a specific target or goal for reducing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed on our roadways.
We know that without a specific target to focus the attention of state DOTs and USDOT on reducing bicyclist and pedestrian deaths within the overall number — we get lost in the shuffle. At a time when cities like New York and San Francisco are adopting bold targets like Vision Zero, we believe the federal government should be expecting the same thing of themselves and state transportation agencies.
Please ask your members of Congress to sign on to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act: HR 3494 / S 1708. If you just attended the National Bike Summit, it’s the perfect excuse to follow up your meeting with a “Thank you” and a reminder of your request. If you weren’t at the Summit, it’s a great way to make your voice heard on this important issue.
Today, please join us in making sure your member of Congress supports a national goal to reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians injured and killed on our roads.