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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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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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Our Dream Bike For Paris-Roubaix...

A few weeks ago, as the attentions of the cycling world turned to the hellingen of Flanders and then the legendary pave of Northern France, we mused of the potential of a Kona WorldTour team. Of course, that's not exactly the goal or vibe of the company, although more than a few people pointed out that, like the fun-loving Peter Sagan, professionally roadies could do with a bit more laid-back personalities at the upper level of the sport. 

So if we'll never truly know what a Kona Bicycle Co. WorldTour team would look like, we began to assemble (in our heads, at least) what their bike would be. What would Kona-CDC ride in the cobbled Classics? Let's imagine...

For the frame, we're bringing back the look, feel and performance of classic steel with the Roadhouse. With all the suspension, jelly 'serts, and wild frame designs many bike companies are cobbling (hope you caught that) together, and with their bike weights nearing the 18 and 19 pound range with all of those do-hickeys, why not just use steel? Reynolds 853 is relatively light and provides a buttery smooth ride over rough surfaces. Even the slightly taller head tube lends itself to a more endurance geometry. 


Wheels
Now, let's get dreaming. Discs are totally legal, and our frame is setup to make the most of it. With so many killer options, you'll probably have plenty of opinions, but we're going to go with some wheels we've seen in person and have spent some time with. ENVE's SES 5.6 offers a great balance between aerodynamics, lightweight, and incredible stiffness. ENVE is the official wheel supplier for a WorldTour team already, Team Dimension Data, and the team tends to use similar depths on their rim brake bikes much of the year. The 5.6 would have done us pretty darn well at Paris-Roubaix, where every team, by our count, was on tubulars. We think tubeless clinchers are finally ready for the big stage. 

Cockpit Bits
We'll leave ENVE to the wheels and select some other stuff for the cockpit. Since it's Kona, since it's Central District, and since we love the stuff, we're going for Thomson. We're going with the Masterpiece post, which comes in at just 158 grams. That's about the same as most carbon posts, and less than many, and with so much suppleness in the frame, we can afford a little stiffness in the post. We'll pair that with a 100mm X2 stem, Thomson seat collar, and our favorite drop bars, the Thomson KFC. Yep, we're going carbon on the bars, because they're light, tough, and Katie F'n Compton is a living legend. 

Saddle
This one is tough, but we'll stick with what we know. Sure, it's not a 'road' seat, but if your butt is on it and you're on pavement, voila, now it's a road seat. We're talking about the WTB Volt. Versions of this saddle come branded or unbranded on all sorts of Konas, and we always tell riders to give it a week, even if they don't like it at first. Almost all of them end up sticking with it, and some even upgrade to carbon or titanium railed models down the line. 

Tires
Since we're kind of building this for the cobbles, we're going to give it some rubber to match. Kona nails it with the stock build, actually, with the 2017 Roadhouse coming with our pick, the Schwalbe S-Ones. It's a perfect tire for someone looking to do a bit of everything. It has the same dimpled patterned as its wider brother, the G-One, but slots in between the widest Pro One (a 28) and that G-One, which comes in a 35. At 30, it's a great width for gravel and pavement, and we've ridden it as low as 40psi on loose, sandy gravel and still felt like it was floating over the top. 

Drivetrain
It's 2017, folks. If we're making a rocket ship, we're making it with the best electronics possible, and we have to give SRAM eTap a shot. The wireless components group may not be quite as crisp as Shimano Durace Ace Di2, but the difference in minimal, and with their Hydro levers now available, we love the clean look. For Paris-Roubaix, we're going for a 52/36 with an 11-25 cassette. There's nary a hill between Compiegne and Roubaix, and of course we want something for the sprint on the velodrome...right?

Finishing Touches
We'll opt for Shimano Dura Ace pedals (taped over, because it's a SRAM drivetrain), Elite Ciussi bottle cages, ZIPP Service Course tape (single-wrapped), and a Quarq power meter, just to have something to tell us how hard Paris-Roubaix is. 

Alright, your turn! What's your build on the 2017 Kona Roadhouse?

 

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