With Redlands Strada Rossa VIII coming up next weekend, I wanted to provide some background on the event and insight on the gear I'll be riding - including some changes that make my cyclocross bike a little more "gravel."
If you're a sponsored pro, you ride what you're given. For the rest of us, we have the opportunity to choose our own equipment, with an eye on performance, value, and availability. My bike is a unique mix of hand-selected choices that meet my needs.
Strada Rossa VIII
For anyone not familiar, the Redlands Strada Rossa is a multi-surface adventure bike ride surrounding Redlands, California. The event is presented by the Inland Empire Biking Alliance. While it's not a race, the front group at RSR will definitely be treating it like one.
For 2022, there are 30, 60, and 90 mile options. Each includes paved roads, dirt roads, trails, including some singletrack. I've done this event 4 times previously so I've got a bit of a head start on equipment selection. This allows me to eliminate mistakes I've made in the past.
It's been a while since RSR went off without a hitch. 2021 and 2020 were cancelled due to COVID-19, and if memory serves, 2019 was rained on, leading to a small turnout and some death march experiences. Riders must prepare for anything, while rain is unusual hot and dry conditions are not.
Frame and fork
I'll be riding my Focus Mares, an aluminum cycocross bike with a carbon fork. It's normally kept in dedicated cyclocross race mode, since that's my competitive focus, but I also ride it year round outside of the cyclocross season.
While some riders will do Strada Rossa on a mountain bike, having seen the amount of paved roads and dirt roads in prior years, that option isn't for me. It's just too heavy with too much rolling resistance, even though a MTB would be a better choice for the singletrack sections. Likewise, a few diehards have completed RSR on road bikes - that's also gonna be a no from me.
The right gear? Modern gravel bike for sure - longer wheelbase, wider, high-volume tires, and maybe even micro-suspension. Second best is a cyclocross bike, which I'm bringing once again.
During cyclocross season, I use a Shimano GRX single chainring crank with a WolfTooth chainring. I keep the chain in place with my chainguide of choice, the Wolftooth GnarWolf.
With an eye on some longer rides this Spring and Summer, I changed to a GRX double RX600 with an extreme wide range and small chainring - 30 teeth, 46 teeth. That 30 tooth chainring offers a very low gear for off-road climbing. That means the GnarWolf comes off in favor of a GRX front derailleur. With this crank I'm well prepared for many thousands of feet of climbing at RSR.
I prefer the single ring for cyclocross (ease of cleaning, one less thing to think about during racing) but I need the lower gears from the double for days with much elevation gain. When it's time for cyclocross again, I'll put the GnarWolf and a 1x ring back on for the season.
I also use a tighter cassette (11-34) than many other riders might prefer. Many riders at RSR will definitely have 40+ tooth cassettes to achieve ultra-low climbing gears.
I use a plain old Shimano 105 rear derailleur and haven't found the "clutch" type necessary for my local riding conditions and style. It's connected to Dura-Ace 11 speed shifter/brake levers with hydraulic brakes and mechanical shifters. I'm sure my next bike will have Di2 electronic shifting, but for the time being this setup works well.
I use a KMC X11.93 chain. In my very dry local conditions, I find that almost any liquid or oil drip chain lube tends to attract a lot of dust, creating gunk. My preference is waxing with Silca Super Secret, a hot melt "boil in the bag" product which is very convenient. It is much cleaner, in addition to being high performance and quiet. For race or event days, I'll re-dip the chain the night before to ensure I've got the most efficient drivetrain possible. Here's how to do it if you want to give it a try on your own bike.
Wheels and tires
I've previously done this ride on a 33mm UCI-compliant cyclocross race tire, which worked, but offers some opportunity for improvement. They rolled fine but didn't have enough flotation on the endless rocky sections. There's also some sand. I'd like to have a wider, higher air volume tire this year to better handle those conditions, so I'm switching to the Donnelly MSO in a 40mm width for this ride.
They're setup tubeless with Stan's tire sealant and I'll make sure they're topped up prior to the day of the event, since tire sealant evaporates faster in my very dry local climate. It's been windy with very low humidity and I'm expecting a very dusty and dry route. When starting with a brand new gravel or cyclocross tire I use 2oz of sealant initially.
Keeping the same setup I use during the cyclocross race season, but I've added Fizik’s gel pads underneath the bar tape for some additional comfort on bumpy terrain. That means the old dirty tape had to come off, so I'm planning to replace it with some flashy new neon tape prior to the ride.
I've also raised my handlebar height by 5mm. On most modern bikes this is as simple as moving a handlebar spacer from above the stem to below (and back again, when it's time for cyclocross.) I like to have a little higher handlebar height for bumpy, all day rides, with a more aggressive position for cyclocross, which is one hour or less. Changing the handlebar height is an easy way to get a little more comfort and control out of a cyclocross bike re-purposed for gravel.
Temperatures are expected to get close to 80 degrees, so I'll be carrying two full water bottle and cages for this one. I like to carry a lot of solid food, since this ride spans lunchtime, I'll pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, plus some Clif Bars. My bottles are filled with Gatorade to start and I'll replenish at the sag stops. A goal? Get from the 8am start to the Finish line before all the food is gone.
The RSR VIII route is not public yet, and won't be published until 48 hours prior to the event. I use the Garmin Edge 530 with incident detection (in tandem with an iPhone) for adventure rides/races like Strada Rossa, and expect to be able to download and follow the final route on the day of the event with "off route" notifications just in case the course markings and signs are less than perfect.
I'm planning to use the Voler Cargo bib shorts I bought recently, they're a form-fitting race oriented bib short with elastic cargo pockets on the hips. The pockets are just large enough for a cell phone or energy bar. Between these pockets and the pockets in the back of a jersey, I don't need a "feed bag" or handlebar bag like others may use.
Tools and other items
While there are some sag stops on the RSR they are few and far between with some remote sections where riders are away from civilization. For this type of self-supported event I'll carry the following in my pockets:
- 2 spare inner tubes. My tubeless setup with fresh sealant will be super reliable but you never know
- Minipump - I'm partial to Topeak, which make a model small enough for a jersey pocket
- iPhone in a sturdy Rokform case for protection
- Multitool with hex keys and screwdrivers. I alternatively carry a Silca Army Knife or CrankBrothers tool
- Tire levers
- Tire sealant. For long adventure rides I like to carry a small emergency quantity for on the fly repairs, like the Effetto Mariposa Espresso Inflate and Repair which is a combo inflator and sealant in one container.
I like to ride with headphones to listen to podcasts; while I don't do that in groups, as the ride breaks up and riders go into time-trial mode I'll probably put the Airpods in to keep motivation high. It's also a distraction from my tired legs.
I won't be using a seat bag or handlebar bag for this event, since I plan to use the cargo shorts which have additional pockets that offer more space for tools and nutrition, separate bags arent needed.
That's what I'm riding! Hope to see you out there. If you missed the 2022 Redlands Strada Rossa, registration typically opens on New Years Day each year. Mark your calendar for next time.