650b Drop Bar Bike for Wilmington-Whiteface 100k, Other Gravel Racing

Hi TR,

I have a question about bike/tire setup that will influence my purchase decision this spring. I am currently signed up for 3 off road races in VT and NY including Rasputitsa and VT Overland, but my question is Wilmington-Whiteface 100k which is a Leadvile qualifier. I am not really an MTB racer(at least not yet…) but I would like to focus more on gravel. My question if I can get by or even excel on a drop by bike in this supposed MTB race. My understanding is the course is almost entirely dirt and some paved roads, with only a couple single track sections. I have my eyes on a Niner RLT 9 or something similar for my gravel endeavors, and my thought is that this bike with a 650b 2.0 tire my work well for this race. Given the length of this race and the amount of climbing I think that setup would be preferable to the alternative which is a steel 27.5 hardtail. I am wondering if anyone has raced this course, and has any input that could help me out before I make a bike purchase. I should also mention that I have no intention of going to Leadville so I am not worried about getting any particular result, but I am considering this an A race and would like to do well.

Is the course gnarlier than I am anticipating? Am I going to lose any advantage on the decents that I may have gained on the climbs? I am going to be the only loser on a drop bar bike?

This also leads me to a larger question of the advantages of 650b for my other races and for all gravel riding. Other than some rotational mass and minor aero losses, is there any reason to not just use 650b all the time? In my eyes its lower rolling resistance, more comfort and more confidence when roads get rough and messy(as they will in VT).


I scored a used Trek Superfly HT with SS drop-outs, put it together for less than $1k, weighs <18lb and has boat anchor wheels, can fit 2.6" tires front and rear. Seems that it would make sense for something like Leadville.

Certainly another option would be to upgrade my MTB. I just built it up last winter with the intention of just cruising around and to get off the road sometimes. I’d prefer not to trade it for something else but I could certainly take some weight out of it and make it serviceable for racing, at least for a one off event.

My question is really more specific to the Wilmington-Whiteface course though, since it is really a dirt road race with some sections of MTB. I am planning to buy a gravel bike anyway, and I am trying to figure out if it makes sense to go 650b with it in order to race these types of events.

I have never done Wilmington, but I’ve done overland and rasputitsa. I’ve heard Wilmington is very gravel bike friendly until the end where there is rocky singletrack. That was a few years ago I heard this, so current intel would be needed.

That was basically what I had heard, but I was thinking running a big tire and the benefits of comfort, aero and weight over an MTB would outweigh having to take a little off on a section of single track.

Do you feel like there is any benefit of a 650b on Rasputitsa or Overland? I think Rasputitsa could be done on a road bike other than Cyberia, maybe I could ride the snow with it? Is the class IV on Overland as gnarly as some of them or are they pretty passable on something like a 700x40? Thanks!

I understand your idea of running the gravel setup, and hopefully gain the benefits for the vast majority of the race, and just take a hit with your setup at the end. It sounds good in theory, but I’d want to see the course before I decided that. You can also go the other way and optimize your mtn bike for fast gravel and pavement. Maybe run some fast tires like the thunder burts and some more road appropriate gearing?

For overland I have successfully run 650b x 42 Slicks - top 10 overall. It was dry conditions though. On a wetter day this would be bad idea! I would recommend a 650x48 file tread for overland. The class 4 sections need volume and grip.

For rasputitsa you definitely want tread. I have found a nice file tread to work best. I finished 3rd overall a few years ago using a 700x38 bontrager file tread. You don’t need a lot of volume for this race so I’d stick with 700 for this event. Small block tread work quite well on snow and ice.

The way I approach tire choice for these type of events is the following:

How much volume to I need and at the pressure I need to run to ride fast in the gnarly sections without flatting and allow me to not use my brakes? If those sections are also decisive in the race, I’ll definitely go big on the tires.

If big means anything over 42mm, then I’ll opt for 650x48. Less then 42, I’ll stick with 700.

The other question is if I need tread. Again, anything wet and gnarly, then I gotta have some tread. Just wet and gravel roads without forest sectors, then slicks.

I raced Whiteface last year. HT 29 with 2.3 Ikons.

There is not that much single track - a section right around 1/2 way, another section shortly before getting back to the resort, and then the last section before the finish.

I’m glad I had mtb tires and front suspension for a good number of the gravel road descents. Having never raced a gravel race I admittedly don’t have a great sense of what speed is possible for casual racer.

Don’t recall there being too many gravel or CX bikes on the course.


IMHO, a HT, 100mm fork, Vittoria 2.25 Terreno tires with just enough pressure to keep you from bottoming out on the rim is all you need. Fitness and bike-handling are more important than equipment choice at Leadville. The suspension and tires just give you a wider margin of error and ward off fatigue.

I raced the WW100K five times. Last time was in 2018. I qualified for Leadville from it, Silver corral. I raced WW100K on a HT with 100mm travel fork. No way would I have done was well on a gravel bike. As several people have said there are 3 sections that you would certainly lose time on a gravel bike. The last section I bottomed out my fork twice in the root section at the very end. I bought a used Niner Air RDO and used Thunder Burts and 10-42 cassette with 34t chain ring.

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