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Groad Trip is a regular column on the gravel exploits of Pete Stetina, a ten-year veteran of WorldTour racing.
Every gravel event is preceded by a weeks-long discussion about the perfect technical setup. These events are all so challenging that one needs the right combination of tires, gearing, tool kits, and everything else to ensure their best chance at success. In gravel, “success” can mean just finishing, as witnessed at the recent “Mud South.” Picking the wrong gear could have you calling for the SAG support or walking in.
This has been the biggest learning curve for me coming from the pro road world, where our most urgent — and usually only — decision was wheel depth and whether we wanted a 28t or 30t cog in the back. I’m now sympathetic to all those skiers who talk about waxing their skis all day long! I find myself changing something on my bike for every single event, video project, or even an ambitious solo adventure ride. I’ve never gone through as much sealant and tire changes in my life as I have in four months of being a “pro gravelleur.”
So, allow me to wax some theory around the ideal set-up: There isn’t one!
Gearing: a smorgasbord of Shimano choices
At flatter races like Dirty Kanza, I will be ditching the front derailleur for a single ring or using a narrow-range 2x setup (50-42), always in pursuit of that perfect gear. Alternatively, something like Crusher in the Tushar is going to be about extremes — the compact road range for climbing steep mountains and then flying down the other side (50-34).
I run Shimano componentry, and a big benefit is the ability to cross-pollinate their ranges, from road to gravel to MTB. The gearing setups you see can run anywhere from full-on road gears, all the way to the “mullet” setup, which is a road-sized front ring with the range of a rear MTB cassette and derailleur. Business up front and a party in the back!
With racing sidelined however, I’ve reverted to my happy medium, a blend of choices that can handle everything from a pure road ride with a few trails thrown in, all the way to an all-day mountain backroad odyssey. Indeed, if there was one set up to do it all with, this is it. I have the Dura-Ace road crank up front with the power meter for training. Some roadie habits die hard! I’ve opted for the Dura-Ace setup as well because I prefer the narrower q-factor. The 52/36, 11-34 combo can handle just about any terrain I come across.
Tires: IRC from 28 to 42s
Tires are the same as gearing: there is a big range here. Some rides are tame enough for a burly 28mm road tire. Some rides should probably be classified as MTB, except we want to ride from home instead of drive to the trailhead, thus you need a knobby 45mm for what should probably be called a lite MTB tire. Regardless of your tire brand, I believe the best choice is fast-rolling semi-slick or file tread with some good side knob, because most of us live in populated areas and often ride roads for a while until we arrive at the dirt or gravel. I enjoy having something fast enough to roll pavement well but still handle most dirt I encounter. IRC is a sponsor, and I run their Boken 36 for the above scenario. If you’re closer to rough stuff, maybe something like a 40c or 42mm is more your fit.
Way back in January, I shot the video above with VeloNews on my bike spec. When the excitement of racing was just around the bend but rides were very much about training and adventure. Kinda feels like groundhog day… It’s more relevant than ever, and exactly what I’m riding today. Enjoy!
Full specs — Pete Stetina’s Canyon Grail CF SLX
- Frameset: Canyon Grail CF SLX, size M
- Handlebars & stem: Canyon CP07 Gravel Cockpit CF
- Seatpost: Canyon S15 VCLS 2.0 CF
- Brake/shift levers: Shimano GRX 815 Di2
- Front derailleur: Shimano GRX 815 Di2 front derailleur
- Rear derailleur: Shimano GRX 815 Di2 rear derailleur
- Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace/XTR 11spd
- Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9100-P w/ dual-sided power meter, 52-36T, 172.5mm
- Bottom bracket: Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
- Cassette: Shimano Ultegra R8000 11-34T
- Brakes: Shimano GRX RX810 Hydraulic Disc, Flat Mount
- Pedals: Shimano XTR M9100 SPD
- Wheelset: Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 C40 Tubeless
- Tire system: IRC Boken tubeless 36mm
- Saddle: PRO Turnix AF carbon 142mm
- Bar tape: PRO Gravel Comfort Tape
- GPS Computer: Wahoo Elemnt Roam
- Shoes: Shimano RX800
- Bottle cages: PRO Alloy
- Accessories: PRO Discover saddlebags, frame bags, and tools
- Bike Weight: 8.5kg/18.7lb with pedals