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Gravel Gear

The Grind: SBT GRVL on an Allied Able and HiFi wheels

14,000 feet of climbing and rattling descending on dirt and pavement. Here's what I liked and didn't like about my gear choices.

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The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

In January, our plans were to race and report on the Monuments of Gravel, the five most important gravel races in North America. Betsy Welch and I did the first one, The Mid South, and then the world shut down. Like many others around the country, I’ve been doing ‘homage’ versions of some of the events, roughly around the same date, distance, and elevation of the original events. This Sunday a few friends and I did a tip of the hat to SBT GRVL, and I thought I’d share my take on the bike and gear I used.


SBT VRTL Boulder course

Virtual is a term getting thrown around virtually all the time these days, from a Virtual Tour de France on Zwift to virtual gravel events you do outside by on your own. SBT VRTL was the latter; the organization and its friends put together routes of various distances in 46 cities. Frank Overton, founder of FasCat Coaching, rallied a few of us to do a version of the Boulder Black course, a climb-tastic 13,396-foot affair over 122 miles.

Our version of SBT VRTL went up Gap Road in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Photo: Ben Delaney

With these virtual rides, you’re not racing and there is no support. It’s just a great excuse to get out and do an excessively long ride with friends. And hey, I’m a joiner. We called a few audibles on the day. Although too dumb to heed the smoke in the air from the three big wildfires in Colorado, we did skip an unfriendly stretch of jeep road, in favor of some fun, twisty dirt roads and a stop at the Gold Hill Store, a high-altitude, fresh-pie-serving landmark.

Also, since my colleague Betsy Welch has cooked up Project 14er, the challenge to climb 14,000 feet in a ride, a couple of us tacked on a climb up to Brainard Lake at 10,525 feet to hit that number on our computers. (In contrast to Everesting, where the object is to hit the elevation as quickly as possible through repeats on the same steep road, Betsy has a no-repeat rule, where the object of the game is to have a big, fun ride — one big, meandering tour — and not a robotic drills. That said, next week Dan Cavallari and I will be doing 11 repeats on Lookout Mountain for a Project 14er where we pit shallow wheels against deep aero wheels. Sorry, Betsy…)

In any event, here is the route I ended up doing.

Allied Able with Shimano GRX and a Stages GRX meter

Three bottles are better than a CamelBak, if you ask me — IF you are doing a friendly ride with stops. If you are racing, you can grab the third bottle, but good luck trying to get it back in… Photo: Ben Delaney

I’ve been riding the high-chainstay Allied Able for a few weeks now and generally dig it. It’s a bit on the firmer end of the gravel spectrum, but most of my go-to gravel around here in Boulder is pretty close to road riding anyhow. The high chainstay has meant two things to me: Occasionally my heel will clip the frame on the upstroke, and the bike is 1x only. It has had zero noticeable negative effect on stability or pedaling stiffness.

I dig Allied’s made-in-the-US story, and I love the variety of killer paint jobs you can get from the Arkansas outfit.

Paired to a 42t front ring, this Shimano XT cassette offers plenty of low-gear options for climbing, but I got spun out a few times and wished I had a bigger top gear for the flats and gentle downhills. Photo: Ben Delaney

I’m a big fan of Shimano’s GRX gravel group, especially in the Di2 configuration that Allied kindly spec’ed here. It came programmed with both shifters controlling the rear derailleur. Very much unlike SRAM eTap where you need both hands on the bars to shift, with this Di2 setup you can shift up and down with your left hand — while your right hand signals a turn, or holds on to your buddy’s seatpost, or picks your nose, or whatever. I dig it.

Two nits to pick with GRX Di2. I love the thumb button option to control a Garmin, but I’m annoyed that you have to buy a separate D-Fly unit to make this work. Why can’t this just be built into the lever? (“Because our dealers like the upsell” isn’t a valid reason for me.) And second, I wish Shimano had a GRX power meter option. (Enter Stages, stage left. Or, perhaps: Enter Stages left crank.)

The button just under the top of the hood can control a Garmin — If you buy a separate D-Fly accessory. Also, I had to put a Garmin rubber band on the Easton mount to keep my computer from rattling. Photo: Ben Delaney

HiFi ReMix Tape Disc wheels and Schwalbe G One Allrounds

The bike came with Reynolds wheels and I’ve also tested it with the new DT Swiss GRC 1400 wheels. Recently I got a test set of the new HiFi Sound Cycling Components ReMix Tape Disc wheels, which are a pretty sweet pair of alloy tubeless wheels that at $600 cost about a quarter of the Reynolds and DT Swiss options.

HiFi builds its wheels like this ReMix Tape Disc in Portland, Oregon. This is my poor attempt to show off the reflective label. Photo: Ben Delaney

HiFi hand-builds its wheels in Portland, Oregon, and has a fun mix of custom decal options for its gravel, cyclocross, road, and mountain wheels.

The ReMix Tape Disc wheels were easy to set up with my go-to Schwalbe G One Allrounds. With a 20mm internal rim width, they’re not the fattest on the market, but I found them to be plenty supportive for 38mm tires.

For a day that was about half pavement and 14,000 feet of up and down, the Allrounds felt like the proverbial butter on the HiFis.

The Schwalbe G One Allround is my favorite gravel tire, and can make just about any wheel feel good. Photo: Ben Delaney

Sportful Supergiara clothing and Eliel mask

Is gravel clothing a thing? Of course it is! Is it distinguishable or meaningfully different from road clothing? Um, sort of.

Sportful is Castelli’s sister brand and generally makes good stuff. The Giaria and Supergiara are the Italian brand’s gravel lines. I really like the cut and fit of Sportful jerseys. They are usually thin, soft, and form-fitting — with modern, long sleeves that come down to near the elbow. Sportful jerseys stay in place, and there are no weird grippers. The sleeve-length thing can be divisive, but I dig it.

The Supergiara jersey has reflective pieces on the shoulders and back that you don’t feel on the inside. I appreciate that the zippered pocket is deep enough to fit an iPhone 10.

Clothing is obviously about personal preference, but I dig the Sportful jerseys. Photo: Stella Delaney

Mostly, I just like how the thing looks and feels. Simple as that.

The Supergiara bibs are decidedly more gravelly and I am decidedly more on the fence about them. The chamois is high quality, and I never thought about it once on an 8-hour day. Winning. There are two mesh pockets on the butt and one on either leg. What do you put in all these pockets? I put an Eliel mask in a leg pocket in the vain hope of keeping it from being sopped in sweat before using it to go into gas stations and the Gold Hill Store to refuel.

My main beef with the bibs is the overly tight bib straps. While the Large bibs fit well in the legs, the straps were tight enough to leave marks well after taking the things off. On another pair of Sportful bibs, a strap clean snapped off where it stitched to the shorts. I’m 6ft and 185lb, and inside the company’s Large recommendation.

More virtual gravel

While a few smaller events are starting to poke their heads up again on the calendar, especially those in September and October, for the most part, gravel races are off this year. Don’t let that stop you from getting out and having big days on the bike.

It’s funny how often all it takes is just a simple invitation, or a route someone has drawn up and suggested. (Thanks for getting us out there, Frank!) If no one has suggested a route to you, why not be that person in your group of friends?