The New, the Beautiful, and the Full Tilt Boogie

By Dan Norton

With views like this one, Gran Fondo Kootenai’s moniker of “The Beautiful” is well deserved. Photo courtesy of William Cochrane Photo courtesy of William Cochrane

With views like this one, Gran Fondo Kootenai’s moniker of “The Beautiful” is well deserved.

The “Fondo” season is wrapping up for the year, but don’t let that stop you from entering the remaining events. In this installment, we discuss examples of three fondo-style events, each one very different then the next. Let’s call them “The New, the Beautiful, and the Full Tilt Boogie.”

Ride Vicious had a new event in their fondo inventory in 2015 called the GF Ellensburg, featuring 90 miles and 7,500 feet of climbing. The new route left Ellensburg and had a fairly long pavement section on the very scenic Hwy 10 and along the Yakima River venturing towards Cle Elum. The route got down to the heart of the matter after Cle Elum, with gravel climbing and descending as it headed toward the many loose roads of the Taneum off-road area. Large, rough, washboard lanes awaited riders in this part of the course, which is not to be taken lightly! The gravel section eventually met pavement again and headed back to Ellensburg on roads that roughly paralleled I-90 and finished with a short off-road section on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, aka Iron Horse Trail. Tim Smith had the fastest time of the day stopping the clock after 5 hours and 25 minutes of riding.

The northwest corner of Montana hosted the second event, the very scenic GF Kootenai. Former racer John Weyrich started this ride with two goals in mind: to give back to the cycling community for all of the people who supported him along the way, and as a fundraiser for a wonderful yet economically depressed area. All money raised went to three very worthy local charities. The fondo provided two days of point-to-point riding — a 76-mile (4,700 feet of climbing) route that was very picturesque and pleasant on day one, while the next morning showcased a very good replica of a stage in a European stage race with 98 miles and 5,900 feet of climbing on beautiful up and down, twisting remote roads. The ample amount of remote roads, both gravel and paved, make this area a very good spot to put on anyone’s short list of cycling vacation destinations. Don’t miss the 2016 edition.

All riders had a fantastic time tackling the two-day challenge.

All riders had a fantastic time tackling the two-day challenge.

Last but not least, there was Utah’s “Crusher in the Tushar,” which was a tough day in the saddle for anyone, but especially a sea-level rider like me. The route is 70 miles long and offers 10,000+ feet of climbing with a fair amount of it at more than 10,000 feet of altitude. This event is much more in the “race” category, as most riders are serious and are bringing their “A” game. World Tour rider Danny Pate was one of the entrants, and he wasn’t first on the day, as Robbie Squire crossed the finish line before anyone else in a time of 4 hours 9 minutes. The area around the Tushar mountain range is absolutely spectacular and the race organization did an excellent job of designing the route and supporting it to make for a wonderful, memorable day on the bike.

The large increase in fondo events and the promotion that goes along with it can lead to confusion for many bicyclists. What is needed is better categories in the event descriptions. The Gravel Grinder is a more defining category for the Ellensburg, Leavenworth, Winthrop and Crusher than the regular road fondos. These events require planning, equipment and skill that is necessary to enhance the rider’s enjoyment and not transform them into it a survival experience. Kootenai, on the other hand, can be ridden and enjoyed with a standard road bike and a great attitude.

The equipment fails that I witnessed were mostly related to bad choices of tires. I rode the Crusher on a new wheel set up from Pro-Lite that worked very well. I paired the wheel system with Specialized Trigger 2bliss tires that I got from Seattle’s Herriot Sports Performance (HSP) (great customer service by the way) and the combo was perfect. The wheels are a new consumer direct wheel source. I rode a pair of the alloy Revo A21W, MSRP at $549. Wheel weight without skewers or discs is 700 grams for the front and 800 grams for the rear — a good price for a durable wheel. They are tubeless compatible; I used thin Stan’s tape over the spoke holes and a layer of gorilla tape over the initial tape, which provided a perfect seal. The tires went on easily and have not leaked at all — 50 psi worked great. Pro-Lit also offers a carbon version with a little deeper pockets. To order, contact Finally, Clement is coming out with a tubeless version of their very good tread pattern in the near future — look for a review after the season finale at Winthrop (September 26).

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