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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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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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Fat Nats Weekend In Grand Rapids

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Trust us, you're busy this weekend. CDC rolls deep into the idea of February with a celebration of all things bike, with trail-talk, great racing, and the perfect weather for what's on tap. 

The Fat Bike National Championships are back in Grand Rapids this weekend with a new venue and the perfect stage for not one, but two days of racing at Cannonsburg Ski Area. This year, we've got plenty of snow and some frigid conditions in the forecast all week that will help make sure the course is snowy, fast, and a ton of fun. 

Things kick off Friday night at Cannonburg with a unique chance to meet MTB legend Dave Wiens. The current IMBA Executive Director will be at the ski hill from 7-9pm to talk about everything from his six consecutive Leadville 100 wins, his work with IMBA, and thoughts about fat bikes, eBikes, and anything else we talk about. It's a great chance to come down and join the West Michigan Mountain Biking Alliance, learn about trail organizations, and get excited for the rest of weekend! 

Saturday is the big day, with Fat Bike National Championships running throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Races start at 9a, 11a, 1p, and 3.30p, with awards throughout the day. The weather this week couldn't be more ideal, with temps in the 20s and some snow in the forecast for Thursday and Friday. Expect perfect conditions for the race! 

You can see who is signed up for what by checking out the current registration list here. 

The fun keeps going Saturday night with live music from The Bootstrap Boys in the Bear Creek Room at Cannonsburg from 7-10pm!

Don't stay up too late, though, because Sunday is just as action-packed. Winter Rush brings you another day of racing at Cannonsburg starting at 11am. Multiple categories and distances to choose from, and all on a course packed in from the previous day. 

You can stay up to speed with Winter Rush at Cannonsburg on the

Registration for Sunday's races is open here. 

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Winter Rush Heads To Big M In 2018!

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People! We admit it, we're getting a little antsy for winter riding. This fall has been an absolute treat, but as the leaves fall and the temperatures take a nosedive, we're looking ahead to January with really good reason. 

This year, we're helping bring the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series to Big M. January 13th, 2018 will bring us to the Manistee National Forest for a great adventure in the woods! Choose from a 17 or 35 mile race with different categories open as well. 

Sure it's a race, but if you've done any amount of fat biking, you know that when you race in the winter, it's always more of an adventure! There will be two aid stations on the course, but in between, it'll be just you, your guts, and your trusty fat bike against the elements! The right set-up, the right tires, and the right attitude are all just as important as strong legs. 

For more information about the race, head here. Check out the full Great Lakes Fat Bike Series schedule and get some races under your belt this winter! 

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Kisscross #1 at Richmond Park!

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Cyclocross is almost here! We're excited to bring you the first Kisscross race of the year on September 17 at Richmond Park. 

Kisscross is a darn big deal. The series began with 30 guys and gals, content with someone shouting "Go!" and racing for beer. Over the years, it's grown to include more city and county parks all over West Michigan, with an emphasis on local shops, local businesses, and local racers who just want to have fun. 

There is a full points series over the course of the five race days, starting in September and ending in November. Each stop features a different park, and a different local shop takes on course design. We're excited to highlight Richmond Park in Grand Rapids, and to put on a challenging, unique course that you're going to love. 

Cyclocross is a great way to get into racing. It's fast and intense, but only as intense as you make it. There's no pressure; after a lap or two, most spectators have no idea who is winning or who is last! Most are more focused on food hand-ups, cheering, and simply enjoying the race. And that's easy to do, because cyclocross is by far the best spectator-friendly type of cycling. On a short 1-1.5 mile course, the whole course is easy to see! 

The kid's race starts things off at 10:30, followed by the 30 minute Beginner/Junior race at 11am. The Experts start at noon for a full 60 minutes, with the Sport category capping things off at 1pm. 

We'll have tons of prizes, and the spoils don't always go to the victors! Everyone has a great chance to pick something pretty sweet. 

Check out all things Kisscross right here. 

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Short's Brewing MTB Series: The Michigantuan September 30-October 1

Fall is a busy time for bike racers, but there's one weekend you're going to want to keep wide open! The Short's Brewing MTB Series takes you into autumn proper with two days of racing right here in Grand Rapids with the Michigantuan! 

Join us Saturday, September 30 at the Art Van Sports Complex for the cross-country race. Riders will take on a tough 6 mile loop that includes parts of the Merrell Trail system, as well as a big chunk of the now infamous short track loop. It's a course that demands a strong technical rider that can deal with short, punchy climbs.

Sunday, riders will be back in action for the short track events! There's no more entertaining way to watch a bike race than short track, and Grand Rapids has some of the very best riders in the state in this discipline. Almost all of the action is within sight of the start/finish, and riders can hop in and race twice in a single day, too. 

Short's Brewing is bringing the beer and the fun, with great prizes from Short's and Central District Cyclery. 

You find out more about the race here, plus get yourself signed up for race day through USA Cycling. 

 

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Choose Your Own Adventure: A Busy Week with Central District Cyclery

This week, spring is finally here and we've got a full slate of fun things to do. Choose your own adventure, 'cause there's a ride for every taste. Whether you're looking to race, ride, or bikepack, we've got some killer options for a terrific weekend! 

Thursday night, get your weekend appetizer with our next Adventure Series night! From 7-8pm, join us at the shop as we go over our checklist ahead of the BIG bikepacking adventure of the weekend. James will run you through what to bring, what to wear, and what to pack for your first bikepacking trip. 

That trip leaves the shop Friday, and you can see all the details here. Join for the full trip, one night, or even one leg of the ride! If you have any questions, give us a call at the shop and we can give you the full itinerary and work with you to make sure you get out there and give bikepacking a try! 

Ready to drop the hammer? We're heading north to beautiful Suttons Bay for the first race of the 2017 Short's Brewing MTB Series. The Barrel Roll takes place between the vines of Forty Five North Winery, with a 3 mile World Cup-style lap race that is a blast for riders and a treat for spectators. Nearly the entire lap is in view, and what an incredible view it is from one of the higher points in Leelanau County. The race offers multiple categories ranging from 2 laps to a 5 on a course with almost 300 feet of climbing per circuit! 

The final kick of the 45 Climb! It's STEEP! 

The final kick of the 45 Climb! It's STEEP! 

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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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