The beauty of mix terrain cycling, as we refer to it as Gravel Grinding, is that it can be done on several bike options. The primary 3 are Cross, Gravel, and Mountain. Like any good mix terrain route, having sections of dirt/gravel and pavement, each of these three bike options will have it’s advantages and disadvantages in certain sections. This is why it’s important to review the course map, course profile, and pre-ride if possible.
The Mt Lemmon Gravel Grinder (60 Grind) is made up of 45.7 miles of dirt/gravel roads and 12.3 miles of pavement. Riders will cover 44.1 miles of dirt/gravel roads before coming to 12.3 miles of pavement following by the home stretch of the remaining 1.6 miles of dirt road back to the finish. The unique start to the Lemmon Grinder is what makes this decision a tough one. Just 20 yards into the race you take a 150 degree right turn and immediately climb up 3 steep switchbacks. After clearing this section in just under a ½ mile, you descend down the narrow twisting gravel road towards Peppersauce Campground before a left hand bend and onto the next climb. The course continues in this up and down twisting fashion until you reach AID Station #1, 12.5 miles, and continues to climb up to 7000’ to the turnaround at mile 18.5.
From the turnaround, you have 5.5 miles to descend back to AID Station #1 and continue to descend down to 3000’ with several up down sections with fast steep descents before reaching the hard pack dirt and paved road.
So, which bike you ask?
The advantage goes to the Cross bike when it comes to climbing, flats, and pavement. On the descents, the mountain bike handles the best as well as getting you across the washes smoother. The gravel bike is your all rounder and fits somewhere in the middle.
So, how well do you climb and descend?
This course is somewhat technical, especially early on in the gravel/rocky sections, and requires good bike handling skills with solid judgment no matter what bike you choose. Now, the setup of each of these bikes is another matter. For the Cross Bike, 40mm tires and climbing gears recommended. A hard tail mountain bike, either rigid front fork or minimal travel, will work fine. 26, 27.5, or 29er? You make the call and run them Tubeless! Minimal width will work and a slightly wider front tire is also nice on the technical descents. For gearing, well, the 10 miles of pavement climbs approx. 2000’. Not much of an advantage for a mountain or gravel bike here.
The conclusion, as usual, when asked which bike do I ride, is yes! Get your bike and come out and ride!