Gravel Tips For Barry-Roubaix!

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This week, riders from across the Midwest are gearing up for the biggest gravel road race in the country! The Barry-Roubaix starts and finishes in Hastings, Michigan and offers riders 22, 36, 62 and even 100 mile distances to test their spring legs and bounce their bones over some of the famous gravel roads of Barry County.

It’s a race that grew from just a few hundred riders back in 2011 to capping out at 3,500 in 2019. Over the years, the race has tweaked and changed the course and finish, including a move away from Gun Lake and into the town of Hastings. The small village has completely embraced the event, essentially shutting down on race day and even permanently signing the routes to that riders can come to town and ride the course any time of the year.

With all those riders and all those hilly roads, everyone has a few inside tips on how to make the most of your Barry-Roubaix pilgrimage. We put together just a couple of ideas to make sure you’re ready for race day.

Don’t Lose Your Bottle. The first turn off pavement and onto gravel road leads onto the Three Sisters, a series of rolling climbs that help sort out the big waves of riders you’ll find in every category and distance. Some riders fear the rolling elevation; others are more concerned with the washboard and pothole ridden stretch of road that precedes it. It’s very common to see dozens of water bottles get ejected from their cages, leaving riders without water for the rest of the day. Leave one bottle in the cage and start the race with your second water bottle in your back pocket. If you’re bringing three bottles, use both your cages, but keep the third in your pocket, too, where it can’t get shaken and lost. This is one of the few races of the year that we use aluminum cages, which you can bend to hold bottles tighter.

Air Down. Like with fat bike tires, there’s a tendency for riders to run their gravel tires really high, especially on race day. In theory, it makes sense; a harder, rounder tire offers less rolling resistance. The reality is a bit different. The constant contact with potholes, rocks, gravel, and rough roads mean that firm tire is actually just bouncing off things and slowing you down. The exact pressure you run will vary based on your tire being tubed or tubeless, its width, the rim width, and your body weight. As a good rule of thumb, a 35c tubeless tire under a 170 pound rider should be in the 45-50psi range. The lighter the rider, the less tire pressure you need.  

Move Up. Always. With such big waves leaving Hastings at once, you can do a lot of passing just by lining up near the front of your wave and working hard to stay in the top 20 positions. For riders further back, it’s hard to see what is happening at the front, if groups are going clear, or if the peloton is breaking a part. It’s even harder, then, to catch up and bridge those gaps, especially if you have to make that effort repeatedly. If you’re heading out for a result, make it a goal to always have the leader rider or two in sight.

Bring Snacks. Even for the 36 mile, staying properly fueled and hydrated is crucial. Plan on taking in 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of racing, whether that’s by energy gel, a drink mix, or natural foods like bananas or dates. The longer the race, the more you’ll need to plan out just what to eat, when, and even where. Consider putting a timer on your watch for 40-45 minutes as a reminder to eat, or pick specific distances to earmark as snack time. These should be flat, fast sections that will let you sit in the group or sit up and eat. In the hustle and rush of a race, it’s easy to forget to eat, so heading out with a plan can be a big help.

Have Fun. Barry-Roubaix is like the spring version of Iceman. It’s not just a race, it’s an experience. Take time to look up, look around, and appreciate seeing thousands of people on bikes; it’s really a special thing. The post-race party with Founders is always a great chance to meet new riding pals, learn about gravel gear and other bike organizations, and really get the 2019 season started!