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Gravel

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Gravel Time: The Lowell 50

The Lowell 50. Part race, part color tour.

The Lowell 50. Part race, part color tour.

The last gravel race of 2018 is just over a week away, and we didn’t want you to miss it.

We were on hand way, way, way back in March when the Michigan Gravel Race Series kicked off at Melting Mann. It’s hard to say if that feels like just yesterday or a whole lifetime ago; spring, summer, and fall have flown by, but we’ve been able to squeeze in some great rides and a lot of fun memories.

While you can certainly grind all winter, October 27 offers up a decidedly spooky finale to the MGRS at The Lowell 50. With the Rogue 100 replacing the traditional 57 mile course, riders who love the normal route have had to wait a full year since the last time they battled the wind, rolling hills, and tough field the Flat River Class always seems have in store. There’s also a rather testing 34 mile route that, while cutting out some long stretches to the east, still includes nearly all of the punchy hills that start and end the 57 mile route as well. For a race with plenty of farmland, you’ll have to have your climbing legs on at least a few times.

It’s also a great course for a true gravel or cyclocross bike, with riders often switching up their tires based on conditions. Our own Ted Lott says the course was hard and fast to kick off the month of October, so unless things change, normal 35mm tires should be a nice, safe bet for race day. Of course, it also comes down to personal preference; we’ve seen riders on everything from 25mm road tires to the stacked fat bike class on four inch tires, too!

What might be our favorite option is the 47mm WTB Byway. Designed for 650b ‘road plus’ wheels, the 47mm width fits in most all road bikes like the Kona Rove or Sutra, giving you drop bars and road gearing, but a bit more rubber to smooth out rough gravel or to keep a bit of flotation over loose stone or sand. These also offer up just enough tread and sidewall protection to make them rather serviceable on the trails, too, although anything too techy would be more work than pleasure.

Make sure you get your gravel rig in for a quick tune-up and tubeless refresh, and give the Lowell 50 a try! Best of luck to everyone willing to push themselves and enjoy some stunning fall colors in the heat of a chilly fall classic.

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HOLD THE PHONE, KONA: The Libre Is The Greatest Thing These Eyes Have Every Seen

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There's been a steady trickle of hot new rigs coming from the Kona faucet the past few weeks, but this one made us stop in our tracks. 

Kona has had two killer all road/gravel/touring set-ups for a couple of years now. The gravel grinders among us had two flavors to choose from, the relaxed Sutra and the slightly twitchier Rove. The Sutra leaned touring, the Rove leaned toward speed and perhaps a little closer to the cyclocross-centric Jake line-up. But the Rove and the Sutra shared one trait; they were metal. 

Sure, you can choose from aluminum or steel, but even the best of those can only be made so light. With other brands offering lighter options it was only a matter of time before Kona brought out an all-road carbon option. And now they have. 

The Libre, on first inspection, looks like somebody slipped a Rove into a vat of Kona Race Light carbon (we know that's not how it works) and kept all the little bits touring riders like; mounts everywhere for bottle cages, fenders, and racks, clearance for 45c tires, and a head tube that doesn't hurt your back to look at. 

With two models, the Libre and Libre DL, you've got choices, and since Kona is smart, there isn't the redundant spec overlap you see from some brands. The Libra is Shimano 105 with a 2x drivetrain and 650b WTB wheels with 47c Byways, while the DL goes SRAM Force 1 with 700c 45c WTB Riddlers. 

The bike offers perhaps Kona's most well-rounded drop bar bike yet; a platform for all your touring adventures that can also handle a race number at events like Barry-Roubaix or the Lowell 50. 

All the details on the brand new 2019 Kona Libre are available here. If you want to chat about it, get a hold of us

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I Want That: Kona's 2019 Rove Line-Up

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We've waxed dangerously close to poetic about these rigs before, but look, when the bikes are this sweet, we're not going to shut up about it. 

Kona went big by offering littler wheels in 2018; the Rove line-up's all-road reputation was bolstered with a number of models getting the 'NRB' moniker and fitted with 650 wheels that allow for more tire clearance. For the sandy, rough stuff in Michigan, that's huge; wider tires mean more two-tracks, more trails, and way more versatility, and if you're looking at a Rove, that's really what you're going for. 

Think of 2019 as tweak of 2018s, with a full 6 bikes on offer ranging from the top-of-the-line Rove LTD to the base Rove. The line-up really hits it all, with plenty of options between 1x and 2x drivetrains, aluminum and steel frames, carbon and steel forks, and 700 or 650b wheels. Odds are there's a build that suits your style, and if there isn't, you can always get the Rove Ti frameset and pick your bits part-by-part. 

Our favorite change for 2019? That's gotta be the Rove ST. The dressed-down option of the LTD, the ST gets 650b wheels for this season, but retains the springy steel fork that we just love having for big days in the saddle. It's dressed in SRAM Rival 1 and flat mount brakes, and for gravel, cyclocross, and commuting, it's one of the best values out there, especially if you're really tough on your stuff. 

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Melting Mann 2018: Cold Fun in the Sun!

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Another fun day in Vandalia! This past Saturday, we packed up and headed south for the fifth edition of Melting Mann, the gravel road race that doubles as one heckuva good time. 

Spring Break started early, but instead of short pants and sand, we had on a few layers and gravel in our teeth. Any event scheduled for March in Michigan is a crapshoot, and Melting Mann is seen a bit of everything over the past half decade. We'd call 2018 a bit of a draw; most of the course was dry, but it was dry because it was frozen solid. Temperatures didn't get above freezing until well after the race was over, but hey, it's Michigan; everyone on the line knew how to dress for the cold. 

The race had 35 mile and 24 mile options for racers, plus fat bike categories. It's always so cool to see the different bikes people pick for a race like this, and how some riders feel more comfortable on a fat bike or mountain bike, love a gravel bike, or stick with slicks on a traditional road bike. There's a sense of run-what-you-brung, which is especially cool in these types of weather conditions. We saw everything from brand-spankin' new carbon race bikes to one or two original steel fat bikes with all of nine speeds, and some old school 26ers with v-brakes! 

You can check out all the results from a very fun day right here

Next up, we're planning on earning our Easter dinner with The Dirty Thirty, a new race that will start and finish just a short trip east in Saranac. You can learn more about the race here. If your bike needs some love before Saturday, make sure you get your service scheduled so you don't miss any of the incredible riding weather on offer this week! Finally, Grand Rapids is going to get a sniff of 60 degrees and plenty of sun! 

With plenty of folks on the move for Spring Break, there's no clinic this Thursday, but keep your eyes peeled for a new series coming your way in April! 

 

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March Gravel Goodness: Dirty Thirty and Melting Mann

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Spring means gravel in Grand Rapids, and we've got the best calendar of gravel events in the Midwest! Grinding season starts with Melting Mann and keeps rolling the following weekend with the first annual Dirty Thirty! 

We're as anxious as anyone to get out on the dirt this spring, but with the wicked freeze/thaw cycle in place, gravel roads are the easiest way to explore, get fit, and certainly race this time of the year. Our area has one of the best gravel race scenes around, with events all over West Michigan offering their own unique take on how to make a race tough and fun. Kicking off the local gravel season is Melting Mann. 

Located down in Vandalia, Melting Mann is entering its fifth year. With it's late March time slot, the weather has ranged from idyllic and warm, cold and rain, and downright frigid and snowy! Course conditions this time of year are very dynamic, making tire and gearing selection for the race always a part of the challenge, or part of the fun, depending on how you look at it. 

At over 90% gravel, Melting Mann is as pure a gravel challenge as you'll find in the state. Aside from some asphalt at the start/finish, the roads offer largely fast and smooth roads but a few important rough and technical two-tracks that often serve as the selection points in the 35 mile Long course. 

Melting Mann registration is wide open online, so get yourself signed up right here

If you can't make it on March 25, or if the first race only whetted your appetite, great news. The Dirty Thirty is another chance to get out and put down some power, this time even closer to home in Saranac, only a short drive from Grand Rapids. The race starts and finishes right downtown, heading north in the wide-open, wind-swept farm fields that surround the town. Expect crosswinds to split the field early, and watch for those gaps to open further as the race turns south and hits the hills near the river. 

Both events offer a short course for those who haven't been able to get many miles in this winter, or for folks that just want to see what gravel racing is all about. There really isn't a more accessible type or racing than gravel, and there's no better place to get into it than West Michigan. We are absolutely spoiled for great roads, great rides, and great races throughout the year, and it all gets started in March! 

If you've got questions about these races, gravel riding, or what the best bike for gravel roads might be for you, swing by and we'll show you all the bikes, tires, and more. 

Make sure you follow The Dirty Thirty and Melting Mann on Facebook for the most current weather and course updates, too. 

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Mitch's True Grit Test Ride: Taco-Level Goodness from Lauf

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First and foremost, allow me to introduce myself, I am Mitchell. I’m
essentially The Stig of CDC, powered by tacos, fueled by Hamm's, and
always searching for that velcro gravel. I've been around the shop for
a couple of years, racing, riding, and participating in general tomfoolery
. You'll see me around hosting shop rides, in a taco coma, or
searching out hobo trails around town.  I’ll be making some blog posts
here and there concerning stuff going in, out, and around CDC.

A little over a month ago we had the pleasure of announcing that CDC
is now one of three shops in the US to be a premium Lauf Dealer.
Currently, we have one of their first full bike build kits, the True
Grit. This thing comes dressed to the nines: Laug Grit SL fork (30mm
travel),  SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain and brakes, fancy carbon (frame,
bars, seatpost),  and American Classic rims paired with some tubeless
Maxxis Rambler 40c's.

This bike is legit, but not too legit to quit, because this bike does
not want to quit.

I was fortunate enough to hold this bike in my possession for an
extended and damp weekend. I tried to vary the terrain I rode as to
get a solid and diverse reading on how this thing handled.

First things first, before I put on any of my own accessories, aka
snack bags, lights, and bottle cage, this thing came in at an amazing
18.2lbs. This thing flicks up and down berms, bends around trees, and
blasts pass that guy on gravel you’ve been trying to beat on Strava.

While riding around town the Grit SL fork and tubeless Ramblers soaked
up anything and everything from potholes, curbs, loose gravel, and
downed squirrels. That 30mm of travel really cushioned out the ride
way more than I expected, and with that, it was time to turn to the
gravel.

The first bit of gravel I hit was fairly level and compact, nothing
too wild or out of the ordinary to slow you down but maybe a stray
rock here or there. You could still tell you were on gravel, but
this seriously smooth things out. Even zipping around corners of loose
gravel felt way safer with that front wheel forced down more on the
ground due to the progressive travel of the fork.

Shockingly, I only noticed any bob in the fork while I was out of the
saddle pedaling hard. It was not substantial by any means nor do I
think I took away much energy I was putting out. This is the only
downside of the fork to me, no lockout like a traditional suspension
fork.

While I found this bike and fork to perform amazing on pavement and
well graded gravel, the real test as going to be found on washboard
gravel and seasonal roads/two tracks.

I had some hesitation going into the washboard based on some other
reviews I had previously read and watched, but I found the Grit SL to
really smooth the road out. Granted, it was not as smooth as silk, but
it was a much smoother ride than the carbon fork on my single speed
gravel bike.  On seasonal and two track roads, this thing really
excelled and proved it by allowing me to carry such control and speed.
The bike begs you to push it fast and take some risks you might not
normally. Go off a drop at speed, roll down that steep hill, own the
off camber, blast through the rock garden like you built it.

Pair this bike with some more cushed-out 650b road plus tires and holy
guacamole, this will be one heck of a go anywhere, do anything bike.

Have a gravel bike you already love? Then just buy the fork! It may
pack a little more weight than your everyday carbon fork but you will
lust after the forgiveness this fork offers you from hitting roots and
ruts at speed.

Nate, if you are reading, I’m sorry, but I will not be returning this
demo. I really like how it looks hanging by my front door.

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What Is Road Plus?

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You might have heard the term before, but what does it really mean?

Well, it's a different way of looking at and building a road bike. It's really almost crazy to think that it was only four or five years ago that that only option for a road bike was either a heavy and slow touring bike and super-light, aggressive road bike with 23c tires. That's changed, and with good reason. Most cyclists don't race criteriums, or road races, and would rather trade extreme lightweight and aerodynamics for more comfort and bigger tires. Road plus is the next step in the slow move to offerings bike that do more things well (pavement, gravel, trails, touring, etc.) rather than one thing perfectly (win bunch sprints). 

First, more and more bikes have fork and frame clearance to fit 28, 30, or even 32c tires in what we'd consider a traditional 'road' frame. The emergence of gravel bikes, which are a hybrid of road and cyclocross bikes, have wide tire clearance and a longer, road geometry. Bikes of that ilk can fit up to 40c or even 42c tires, plenty of floatation for even Michigan's sandy gravel roads and two tracks. 

But for riders looking to really open up all trails, roads, and adventures, road plus goes even further. The idea is to replace the 700 wheel with a mountain bike style 650b wheelsize, which has a small diameter. Pair that with a 47c or wider tire, and you've turned a road or gravel bike into a rigid mountain bike. Companies are starting to offer new bikes with these wheelsets stock, like the Kona Rova NRB. Many riders have opted to run the WTB Horizon or Byway 47c, which offers nearly twice the width of a traditional road wheel, but a slick center tread that reduces rolling resistance. 

The question you hear most often isn't about the actual numbers, though. People are less likely to ask what it is as they are who the wheel size is for. Well, we think it's for most people. Unless you're doing fast group rides and races all the time, the flexibility of the 47c tire means you get a lot more out of one bike. The perfect set-up might be to have a set of road tires on traditional road wheels for hopping into a big grand fondo or Grattan, and riding your 'mountain' wheels for training, trails, gravel, and every day. They're wheels for gravel grinders, bike packers, commuters...really anyone that doesn't care about winning the town line sprint on Tuesday nights. 

You can check out the Kona Rove line-up here, with all Road Plus bikes denoted by the NRB tag. Kona won't say officially what NRB, but they do say it isn't necessarily 'New Road Bike'...we'll leave you to guess. 

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Welcome Lauf To Central District Cyclery!

OPEN dressed UP with a Lauf Grit

OPEN dressed UP with a Lauf Grit

This shouldn't come as a shock to you. CDC is bringing in Lauf forks and bikes, and we're pretty excited to get our hands on all the cool stuff. 

Lauf started out a few years back in a basement in Iceland. Yep, Iceland. A prosthetic designer and an industrial engineer thought up the rough design of a new suspension fork for mountain bikes and fat bikes that was inspired by their respective fields. No shocks, no fluids, no seals or stanchions. The design was light, low-maintenance, and a huge leap forward. 

Most Michiganders first spotted Lauf forks on fat bikes. The Carbonara found a niche providing some dampening in the cold months, where the trails were icy and rough, but the frigid temperatures slowed forks or were too tough on their seals. When the weather warmed, the forks had earned their spot on the bike and rider stuck with them all summer. 

That same technology and performance were already in action on the Trail Racer, Lauf's XC or MTB fork, with the same 60mm travel as the Carbonara. It wasn't too long before the guys at Lauf saw the need for a slightly retooled option for gravel racers. Gravel roads have a different sort of rough than trails due to the type of terrain (potholes and washboard vs. tree roots, rocks, and drops) and the frequency of the impacts. The Grit offers 30mm of high frequency dampening for gravel grinders and all-day road adventures, the exact type of stuff we love doing here in Grand Rapids. 

In the process of learning and designing the Grit, Lauf engineers looked at the data they had and decided to take it one step further. Instead of designing the fork and leaving it that, it was really only another step to take that information and create a full bike. The True Grit was born. 

The True Grit grew out of the Grit fork and is made more for going anywhere than winning a crit. In fact, there's no cable routing for a front derailleur, making it a 1x11 set-up with the ability to run SRAM eTap, which is totally wireless. It clears big wide 42mm tires and offers a geometry that balances a low, aerodynamic frontal profile with all-day comfort in vertical compliance. 

You'll be seeing more and more Lauf popping up at the shop, including a demo Lauf True Grit for you to take out and put through the paces. 

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5,000 Miles with My Kona Private Jake

If I had to, absolutely had to pick just one bike, it would be a bit of no brainer. Sure, I don't want to have just one bike, and n+1 states quite simply that you always need another. But hypothetically, a cyclocross bike is tough to top, and an easy bike to rack up the miles with. 

My Kona has taken on everything from the Barry-Roubaix gravel road race, a massive pre-ride of the Cherry-Roubaix road race, an Iceman Cometh Out and Back ride, and is used almost daily as my commuter. The Private Jake is a workhorse; aluminum frame, carbon fork, the simplicity of a single chain ring, and a proven track record over the last 5,000 miles of being pretty tough to stop. 

It's a bike that's been beaten and put away bloody. It's been crashed, tipped over, thrown over singletrack and saturated with rain and snow and slush so many times that riding it in dry weather seems to short-change the experience a bit. It's simply been a bomb-proof bike, and has reinforced my conviction that everyone should have a cyclocross bike in their quiver for gravel, bad weather, and the ability to go out and do it all. 

Maybe my favorite ride ever on the Private Jake was at The Divide Race last year. They call it a gravel race, but that's only part of the story. There are plenty of sections that barely qualify as two-track, with washed out sections and sand pits and some steep, loose climbs that I'd love to see cars actually try to drive. In other words, it's the perfect course for a burly bike with wide knobbies and a smart, simple gear ratio. Up and down, and even through those annoying, soul-crushing sandpits, the bike just flew. It was a beautiful day on the perfect bike, and one of the best days I've ever had on two wheels. 

As my bike rolls past the 5,000 mile mark, I really can't wait to see what else it can do. My goal is to finally give this bike a chance at its first Iceman Cometh Challenge, with a warm-up for the big day at the Peak2Peak race at Crystal Mountain a few weeks before. This bike deserves to get a shot at all of the races and rides we love doing in Michigan, and it's certainly up for it. 

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2017 Melting Mann! Mud, Beer, Fun in Vandalia

Well, it was another great edition of Melting Mann! Central District is proud to support the event, and there’s hardly a more charming town to visit than Vandalia. There are some thank you's we need to toss out there, and a few trends we are excited to see! 

If you were there, you know that a soggy week led to some soft road conditions, but that can also make a race like that even more fun. Walking through the parking lot and checking out the start line, there were a lot of diverse bike choices. There were two Kona Wozos in the fat bike class, two Kona Honzos, and plenty of Kona Jakes of various description taking on both the 22 and 32 mile routes. 

We also want to thank all the volunteers who were out in force directing traffic and keeping the racers safe at intersections. There were some vociferous cheering sections, too, which kept even the most tired racers smiling all the way back to downtown Vandalia for their promised beer. The volunteers make any race, and at Melting Mann, they really are a part of the face of the event. Thank you! 

We wouldn’t be bike nerds if we didn’t spot some interesting trends in the gravel scene this morning, either. One big change from 2016 is the amount of dedicated 1x drivetrains on cyclocross and gravel road bikes. Especially in muddy conditions like those we ‘enjoyed’, it eliminates a lot of the risks and issues of the front derailleur. Without a ton of long climbs, that smaller ring didn’t seem very useful anyway. We would say a 40t ring was the size of choice, although we saw as little as a 36t and as big as a 50t on bikes while we walked around the parking lot afterwards. 

With plenty of more gravel races, and so many miles of gravel to explore around Grand Rapids, it’s a great time to tweak your rig or even pick up something new to make the most of your time in the saddle. 

Thanks again to everyone who organized, volunteered, and raced Melting Mann 2017! How’d your race go? Let us know in the comments, or swing by the shop and regale us with your glorious tales.  

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Melting Mann 32 Mile Course Preview

Thanks to Strava, technology, and an active imagination, we're taking you on a preview of the Melting Mann 32 mile route from the comfort of your own home. Because we know you wouldn't be reading this at work. 

Melting Mann kicks off the gravel season on March 19 in Vandalia, Michigan. The race offers two distances, 22 miles and 32 miles, which are nice options for people looking to test their legs just a week out from Barry-Roubaix. The 32 mile route includes nearly 1,500 feet of elevation which is a good measure of climbing prowess, and of course, the 32 mile distance means it's all out from the gun. You can see the entire 32 mile course as a segment here. 

Much of the climbing comes in the middle of the race, between miles 10 and 25. It's more undulation than grinding, and it being West Michigan, there's nothing like an Alpine grade or a string of Belgian hellingen with cobbled 'bergs to tackle. Still, at high speeds, those hills can add up, and the gaps from a potential crosswind in the opening five miles could be well open and tough to cover. 

Last year's winner, Joe Thomas, took the title with an average speed of 20.3mph in a time of 1:37, incredibly quick. His 1,437 feet of elevation gain looks pretty accurate compared to the data from other riders. 

Our segment to watch is Kirk Lake Rd. Lungbuster. The climb comes with just four miles to go and it's the last selection point of the race. It's .6 miles long and averages 3%, with a gain of 102 feet. But it's the pace riders have to keep going over it, nearly 20mph with an average over 16mph to stay in that lead group. 

With the race coming up quick, it's a great weekend to head to Vandalia and give the course a closer look. Be sure to get a hold of us at the shop with any questions, and head to the race site for the finer details. 

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It's One Ring For Everything As We Hit Gravel Season!

It’s almost fascinating how quickly mountain bikes went to a 1x drivetrain in the past two years. Once a slap-dash set up that often included a front derailleur as a guide and maybe a ten-speed cassette, now even entry level rigs are coming 1x11 with SRAM NX or GX drivetrains. It’s to the point now that we poke and prod at front derailleurs like relics from the past, not unlike finding a Roman coin or arrowhead under the dirt. 

It was never going to be a huge leap to see the simplicity of 1x going to cyclocross and, eventually, gravel and even road bikes. Wide range component groups allow road shifters to run what were always traditional mountain bike cassettes, from 11-36 and now 10-42. With the right chain ring selected, it’s not a stretch to use your cyclocross or gravel bike for everything, with the option of swapping out wheels with different tires mounted for different conditions.   

Nailing that chainring selection is a big part of the process, and if possible, it’s worth trying out a ring or two before you buy. It’s not even too far a stretch to have two rings on hand, say a 40t and a 44t, with two chains, each cut to match the change in ring size. While you probably won’t want to switch your rings out every day, putting on the ideal ring a week or two before a big event is easy and puts you in a better position for the course or route you’re taking on. 

The big argument against a single ring for road or gravel was always that there was no way to cover the full range of a traditional 53/39 crankset with an 11-25 cassette. And it’s really range that has driven the component changes over the past decade, with 52/36 and 50/34 compact cranksets all but driving the 53 ring to its grave. Even cassettes have gotten bigger, with 11-28 and 11-32 clusters now standard on most builds from SRAM and Shimano. 

We really like using a single ring for a few reasons. First, it eliminates cross-chaining and finicky adjustments, especially if the bike is consistently thrown over rough gravel roads, sandy two tracks and wet and slick commutes. It also reduces drivetrain wear, and the odds of breaking a chain are exponentially smaller with a single ring, with most chain explosions coming with that aggressive, panicked shift from small ring to big ring at the top of a steep and slow climb. 

Finding the right size is a bit of a science, with this Gear Calculator being maybe the most useful tool. You can adjust the sliders to pick a chainring, your cassette, and then use metrics like cadence and tire width to see the gear ratio or top speed of a gear setup. With races like Melting Mann and Barry-Roubaix coming up, there’s another great trick. If you’ve done those races before, look up your average speed over those routes. Then, adjust the ring on the slider until you’re in the middle of the cassette with the ring, running at around a 90 cadence. For example, if you averaged 17mph, you’re probably looking at a 40t chainring with a 90 cadence on an 11-32 cassette. Assuming you’re starting to spin out at 100 rpm, that will still give you a top speed of around 30! 
 
 There are a few good tips to looking at what ring you want. First, look at the average speed of your normal rides and find a ring that puts you at that speed in the middle of the cassette. This means you'll use all the cogs and wear it out evenly, instead of having to spend too much time at the top or bottom of the cassette. Second, look at the steepest climbs and the speeds you go on them. Is it creeping and crawling? Maybe go down a ring size if that's the case. Flying up the climbs like a skimpy Italian pro? You might even be able to push a slightly bigger ring. 
 When in doubt, split the difference. If you're coming off a compact 50/34 crankset, going halfway with a 42t, might be just the ticket. 
 

Need help? We got you. Stop by and we can show you options on rings, plus let you know how big of a cassette your bike can run with your current derailleur! 

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