The shop is sending two riders south to Hastings, Michigan, for the biggest gravel race of the Midwest. The Barry-Roubaix is on deck, and with it comes a week of decision-making.
In recent years, the trend of the race has swung from a mix of 29ers and CX bikes, to almost entirely cyclocross bikes, especially in the longer race distances of 36 and 62 miles. The first year I did it, it was almost an even split. Now, when you line at the start, it takes some looking to find anyone on tires wider than a 41mm.
Of course, the predominance of cyclocross and gravel bikes doesn't mean anyone has found that elusive dream of any discipline-the perfect tire. There are so many variables heading into a race this long, hard and challenging, and much of it is dictated by the unpredictable weather of Michigan in 'spring' time.
Spring will be another at least another week off by the time racers take the line, though some slightly warmer temperatures are hinting toward at least a preview. They could also soften up what were icy roads over the past weekend, with some sunny, open parts of the roads turning to mud. There's at least one day this week promises some precipitation, but colder temperatures overnight mean the race will at least start out on firm dirt.
Our two brave racers will likely take the start on gravel road bikes. Eric already has some miles on his Salsa Warbid Ti, and if Cody gives it a go on his BMC GF02 Disc, it'll be one of the first times out on the new rig. Tire selection on both could be very important, balancing lower rolling resistance and mud clearance with the need for some decent grip in the softer areas and on the climbs.
I have narrowed it down to two options and will decide by Thursday on what to run. The first choice is the 'good' weather tire, his trusted Continental Cyclocross Speed. It's a file tread in a 35mm that I've used on everything from pavement to gravel to singletrack. It's got more traction that it might look, but just as importantly, won't pack on mud. The added weight and resistance of a few ounces of mud on each tire can get rather tiresome two and half hours into a race, and any pavement sections should be enough to completely clear it.
Eric has a lot of options as well, but is pretty intrigued by his Warbird's stock tires, the X'plor USH by Clement. They have a smooth center surface with some great tread alongside it, as well as pretty stiff sidewalls that give it a very road-like feel but with great traction to go with it. Salsa have put the tire on all three of their Warbird fleet, and it's been proven at big events like the Dirty Kanza 200 and Almanzo 100.
Eric and I are both looking at the Surly Knard, which comes in a 41m in both a 27 and 120 tpi compound. I've ridden the Knards last fall and a bit this spring, and for icy, wet and mud, they're pretty tough to beat. It's the same tread pattern you'll find on the more famous, 29+ version of the same tire, which comes stock on the Surly Krampus in a 3" width. The 120tpi is a great option if you're looking to run tubeless and ride your cyclocross bike everywhere, in all conditions, with that little extra width.