Tech Tuesday: What bike for #IRR5 ?

Tech Tuesday: What bike is best for IRR 5.0?

Due to the remote and rugged nature of some (most) of the roads that make up the Irreverent Road Ride route, it can be quite the test of equipment.  The age old question of, "What bike should I ride?" comes up time and time again.  First and foremost, you should ride the bike that you have.  A quick peek at the IRR-History page and you'll see that the first year, I was aboard my road bike.  It had standard road gearing and 23mm slicks.  And I only got one flat!  It also only had side-pull caliper brakes, which to be honest, left a little to be desired.
Anyhow, the point is, the gravel makes the gravel bike, not the other way around.  Ride a gravel bike on some tarmac and what is it?

So let's dive in and look at the current (2016) set-up of the official IRREVERENT bike...

First things first, this is simply a Specialized Crux E5 (aluminum frame, carbon fork, quick release drop-outs front and rear).  This is (one of) the same bike that I use during the cyclocross season, so it sees it's fair share of abuse.  At the end I'll break down the complete build for the nerdy among us, it's nothing terribly eventful.  

First and foremost, for gravel/adventure/DGAF (that's "don't give a f*ck") riding, I think you need to start with the tires.  This is your contact patch with the surface your traveling.  And it's only 2 maybe 3 square inches, so you better make it count.  Historically, I used Specialized Trigger Pro 33mm tires, set-up tubeless and they were great.  The Trigger is a file tread of sorts, with a decent shoulder knob that helps in off-camber situations and low speed cornering.  Recently, Specialized released this same tire in a 38mm Pro version.  Sign me up!  The wheels are 22mm internal, so the tire measures 39mm outside to outside.  Depending on the day, I will run the tires between 35 and 40 psi front and rear.  I'm about 145 lbs for reference. 

#NECX! The Trigger is a simple diamond pattern file tread. The knobs get taller towards the shoulder of the tire.

This penny is for scale, but it does show the mud clearance of the fork.

Regardless of what tire you choose, make sure there is SOME mud clearance between it and the frame.  Something with a more robust side wall, and decent puncture protection.  The biggest concern for flats during #IRR5 is pinching on an object you didn't see, so if you can go tubeless, even better.

What gearing is probably the biggest question I get asked leading up to the ride, and to be honest, it all has to do with what kind of rider you are and what kind of condition the roads are in.  If it's very dry leading up to the ride, the roads will be loose and very gravelly.  So if you're an out of the saddle, stand to pedal, torquey kind of rider, you might find yourself spinning the rear wheel and walking sooner rather than later.  A little rain goes a long way in tamping down the dust and loose gravel, so think mildly rainy thoughts as the end of July approaches.  I'm a torquey rider by nature, but have been gearing my bike lower and lower each year to extend my range of fatigue throughout the day.  That, and it makes these recon rides a lot more fun if I'm not smashed at the end.
Very simply, I have a road compact crankset 50/34 paired to an 11-40 Sunrace 11 speed cassette.  There are a number of 11 speed wide range cassettes available from Shimano, Sunrace and Praxis.  I wasn't sure if this set-up was going to work so I went with the least expensive cassette available.  The shifting performed admirably on it's maiden voyage.  More on that in a minute.

The case of the vanishing brake rotor.

This one goes to 11. Also to 40.

Wolftooth Components Roadlink makes the magic happen.

I was able to keep the stock B-Limit screw. It's nearly maxed, but not quite. YMMV.

The rear derailleur is a standard Shimano Ultegra 6870 Long cage, or GS in Shimano speak.  If you're running Di2 and interested in making this update to your bike, I would suggest purchasing an Ultegra 6800 (mechanical) GS rear derailleur and swapping the cages, they're interchangeable and this will save you about $100 USD.
Next, you'll need a Wolftooth Roadlink, to give your derailleur that extra reach it needs.  The Wolftooth site notes that the max cassette the roadlink will handle with a double crankset is a 40T FYI. They also say that the chainrings can only differ by 14T max, ie; 34/48 would work, where as 34/50 will NOT.  ( I can confirm this to be correct.)
When I ordered the Roadlink, I also ordered the 25mm long B-Limit screw, because for the $1.00, it seemed like a good insurance policy.  Turns out, I didn't need it.  The stock B-Limit on the Ultegra derailleur was long enough. Though barely.
And lastly, the cassette; I went with the Sunrace CSMX8 11-speed 11-40 cassette. It's available in a 11-42T variant as well, but Wolftooth says it won't work. And honestly, 34x40T is awfully low. The cassette provided the only quirk to this entire install process. The Roval wheels use a DT Swiss road 11s freehub body, and the cassette lockring bottomed out before tightening down. I added 2mm of spacers behind the cassette and everything tightened up just fine. I'm not sure why this issue came up, but it was easily solved. [Update: MTB 11s cassettes fit 10s freehub bodies, while ROAD 11s cassettes require 11s freehub bodies. The more you know...] I re-used the existing KMC chain that was already on the bike, and it proved long enough to accommodate ALMOST the entire range of gears. I'm unable to shift into the 50x40T combo. Truth be told, that's a wild and excessive cross-chain, so I'm fine living without that selection. Also, Wolftooth claims it shouldn't work anyhow, so I won't lose any sleep over it.

That's pretty much the gist of the mods I make for "gravel/adventure/DGAF" riding season.  If I have to change my bar tape, I'll reinstall the Di2 Climber's switch.

Full build specs: 

  • Frameset: 2015 Specialized Crux E5 disc (alloy frame, carbon fork)
  • Handlebar- Specialized Expert Alloy Shallow 40cm
  • Bar tape- something black with mismatch bar plugs
  • Stem- Ritchey Pro 4-Axis 100mm 
  • Shifter/brake levers- Shimano Di2 R875
  • Brakes- Shimano RS785 with IceTech pads
  • Rotors- Rear: RT-99 IceTech Freeza 140mm.  Front: RT-81 IceTech 160mm
  • Front derailleur- Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870
  • Rear derailleur- Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870 GS (long cage)
  • Crankset- Shimano Ultegra 6700 compact 50/34T. 172.5mm. Dura-Ace 7900 left arm with Stages
  • Bottom bracket- BB30 bearings with stock Specialized alloy adaptors
  • Cassette- Sunrace CSMX8 11-speed 11-40T
  • Chain- KMC X11SL gold
  • Seatpost- Thomson Masterpiece zero offset 27.2mm
  • Saddle- Specialized Phenom Pro 143mm red
  • Wheels- Roval Control SL CX SCS (that's a lot of acronyms) 30mm wide, 22mm internal carbon
  • Tires- Specialized Trigger Pro 2BR 38mm set-up tubeless
  • Pedals- Shimano PD-M540
  • Extras- Specialized Rib Cage II bottle cage with SWAT multi-tool, SWAT top cap chain tool