The Chainlink

Chainlink Ride Report: 2016 Gravel Metric

By Eric Alexander

The Ride
It's called the Gravel Metric. It’s on gravel and always more than a metric century (62 miles/100 kilometers).

The ride is hosted by a non-profit group known as AxleTree. They do a bunch of bike-related charity for the surrounding communities with the donations from their events. The cost of this event is free as it is for all of the rides they host. So they rely on the donations from the riders to fund the event cost, and the extra is put back into AxleTree's advocacy activities.

The Gravel Metric always takes place on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Their other events include the Ten Thousand, that will go off on September 17th this year, and The Night Bison that rolls out on the Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend. This year was the seventh running of The Gravel Metric and the fifth for me. This year, it was a different route than the past six years, and a totally new starting location. Specifically, ride organizer Dean Frieders had the event start and finish at his family's farm near Leland, Illinois. This offered a great post-ride location in a field with a food vendor and beer truck with tables and tents.

The 2016 Gravel Metric route deviated from previous years.

The Gear
Once again, my go-to bike was the trusty Twin Six Standard Rando. The only thing I changed were the tires. I chose to run a set of Continental Cyclocross Speed tires. They feature a less aggressive tread pattern and lower rolling resistance, which is perfect for the roads in this area. Having ridden this before, I knew that for most of the ride, the gravel would be packed and almost pavement, but you still need something more than a slick for the GM's pair of dirt road sections. I chose not to use any bike bags this time. I carried three 24oz bottles on the bike and food in my jersey pockets. I also took my tool kit and two spare tubes.

The gravel roads south of Dekalb roll surprisingly fast.

The Journey
We got to the farm at 8:00am... a full hour before the start and not the usual 10 minutes I leave myself to get ready. I was going to ride this with two of my Twin Six teammates Bret Metz, Chuks Agba, and my wife Kelly. We lined up with the other 500 riders and chose a mid-pack position as to be ahead of the slower, less experienced riders but not in the way of the faster riders. The neutral roll-out entailed about three miles of pavement, then a left turn to go south toward the start of the gravel.

The wind was going to be a major factor on this ride, as it was 15 mph out of the west. We were in a group of six as we hit the gravel and staggered to fight the cross wind. About 10 miles in, one of the riders in our group got a flat. Kelly and I stopped to help, then continued onto try to catch back up to the rest of the group. That was not going to be an easy task as we made the turn into the headwind and would be going in that direction for quite awhile. We did end up catching Bret as soon as we headed back north and would ride with him till the rest stop at mile 50. Chuks was gone and we would see him again two miles from the finish because he waited for us so we could roll in as a group. The wind was bad, but even worse was a three-mile section of grassy park around mile 65. This would be by far the hardest part of the day... soul crushing to say the least. The grass was soaked from the rain the night before and was like riding on a sponge. Whatever you had left in your legs was gone well before the end of this section. Thankfully once out of the grass it was a short ride with a tailwind to finish the day. All in all, it was a hard 70 miles on the bike, but any day with my wife and friends out riding is a good day.

While physically demanding, gravel rides are always fun and memorable.

The Conclusion
In the end, this was the hardest of the five Gravel Metrics I’ve ridden. But the after party was by far the best too. We ate some beef and pork sandwiches, had a few beers and headed home. I think I lasted about an hour at home and was out cold on the couch.

Thank you Dean, Bailey, and the rest of the AxleTree crew for a great time!

Visit http://rideaxletree.com/ for information on next year's event. And check out The Chainlink's event calendar for upcoming gravel rides.

About the author:

Eric Alexander is The Chainlink's gravel and adventure contributor. We first encountered Eric a few years back on the final stretch of a particularly windy, cold, and rainy gravel ride called the Dirty Mudd'r. Since then, he's proven time and time again, when the going gets tough and you're deep into a difficult day in the saddle, he's definitely someone you want pedaling by your side. Eric participates/competes in various endurance riding events as a member of Team Twin Six.

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Comment by Tom Nawara on June 2, 2016 at 10:28pm
Good riding with you for a few miles, Eric, and great write-up.

@Brian: http://rideaxletree.com/2016/04/the-ten-thousand-lives/
Comment by Eric Alexander on June 2, 2016 at 3:23pm
Comment by rickosaurus on June 2, 2016 at 3:04pm

Nice ride report. It was definitely a hard one this year.  

Comment by Brian Atwood on June 2, 2016 at 2:27pm

Great write up!  You say that the TenThousand is going to be on September 17th this year -- I can't find any information on it at all . . . can you tell me where you can find that info?

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