Oh the Gravel Metric, a 68ish mile ride through some flat empty corn field roads outside of Dekalb, IL. Sounds like something that would make for a kind of blah day, but it’s not and there are so many reasons why. Axletree really knows how to put on a good time. With things running like a well oiled machine and even some pros to show you how slow you really are. There were the Raleigh guys, some folks coming all the way from CO with Moots, a Shimano truck and the good guys from Heritage Bike Shop came out and fed everyone coffee before the start.
This years GM started on a bit of a sad note. Our creator, designer, writer, etc, etc had crashed mountain biking the day before and busted his nose and destroyed a helmet. He was in no shape to make it his fourth consecutive time. Poor guy, he missed a good day.
The rest of the team rolled out at 9 am with tape on their noses in solidarity for their fallen comrade. The neutral start went a little further this year than in the past, we kept together till the first gravel road, and I'm not sure why but it seemed better for some reason.
We all went out this year with the mindset to not race but not take our sweet time. Which is usually hard for me; that blast at the start always get the best of me and I end up regretting later. We wrangled up a few extra guys this year to ride with. Most of which hailed from Homewood and it was their first time.
There was a first for me too. This year I was going single speed. I had been a little worried about my gearing and I hadn't ridden it in a little while. In the end it seemed to be just about right.
Things started off good. The gravel was fast. The rain made it hard packed and not too dusty and we had a bit of a wind coming from the east. Which was fine, we were heading south and west to get things going, fingers crossed it may just change directions by the time we had to come back east.
Everyone was feeling great and we were chugging right a long at a pretty good clip. Almost too good for me, This was the only time that I wished for maybe just one more gear to try and hold the wheel of the fellas with gears pulling strong with the tail wind. When we came up to Shabbona Lake we were pleasantly surprised by a tent with water, beer, and twinkies!
Then the fun began! The twisty grass was almost like a cyclocross race and I just put the hammer down to go up and down the hills and power through the corners. And it was just dry enough for the grass to not be too slick but the ground was soft.
When we popped out the other end we found one of our own. Keith had a slow leak in his rear tire so we stopped and got him all pumped up. Little did I know that not much longer he had quite the mechanical and his freehub body had given up. Time to call the wife.
A little further down the road after we had all gathered ourselves back up after going a little too hard in the grass we were on our way to the one and only check point. A little out and back on rather rugged road with another surprise of beer and water at this one too. Just after that things got a little hairy. Going down the pothole filled hole Labok found himself in a tank slapper. And he almost made it out, almost. One last pothole had his name on it and took him down. Luckily he only ended up with a few scrapes and bumps and a flat rear tire. With a quick tube change and a little washing and bandaging we were back on the road again.
That’s right about when we ran into one of the fine gentlemen riding a Brompton. Yeah, a 16’’ tired folding bike with two gears built for commuting; not for bike packing. But good ol’ Bailey made it look easy.
Then came Locust, the infamous b-road with the rail and river crossing. Locust was in “good” shape this year. As good of a shape that it can be in I guess. And the river had a pretty good flow to it this year with all the rain we’ve had and we saw our fair share of crashes ahead of us. Always a good time.
From there for about 11 miles with a short break to head north a bit it’s pretty much gravel and wind. And wind. That’s when we fell apart a little. And by fell apart I mean, I was a jerk and took the lead and accidentally dropped everyone and didn’t notice until I was alone in the middle of open fields and empty roads. At that point I was in a grove and figured we were close, I’ll see em at the finish. One of the Goodspeed guys caught me while I was resting my legs a bit on the northbound stretch but we didn’t stay together too much longer. Those are the perrels of single speed, only one speed, just go.
I ended up finishing with my best time yet and saw sitting there our bruised up leader waiting to give us crap for getting beat by other friends and to talk about the ride.
I was lucky enough to see the rest of the guys roll in around the last corner as I was heading to get changed and eat some of the delicious food and beer that Axletree has oh so graciously supplied.
All in all it was a great day on the bike. We finished not long before the real rain started and got to cheer on all the people coming in after us dripping wet with smiles on their faces. And I had concluded that the best way to experience the Gravel Metric is with one gear. Be it what ever ratio your legs can handle but you all should try it out. At least once. For me it’s the only way to go from here on out.
Thanks again Axletree!