BWR California - Bike/Tire Choice

I’m considering signing up for Belgian Waffle Ride San Diego this year (trying to convince other locals to join me but little luck yet). I’ve read a bit about bike and tire choice and it seems the following advice is common:

  • Since more than half of the course is on tarmac, a road bike seems to be the recommendation, though gravel/cx is fine. Good gearing range is a must to avoid spinning out and grinding.
  • 28-30mm TLR (slick to minimum tread pattern) seems sufficient. TLR is key due to pinch flats.

That leaves me with a bit of a dilemma for bike choice with respect to gearing. My options are:

  • Road bike - 48/35T chain rings with 10-28 cassette. A wider range cassette would be nice to have, but Force/Red AXS is pricey and tough to find ($300CAD for Force if I could find it).
  • CX bike - 42T chain ring with 11-36 cassette.

On the low end, 35x28 vs. 42x36 is about 0.6kmh difference at 60rpm and 0.8kmh at 80rpm. Not a massive difference but probably noticeable late in the race.
On the high end the difference of course is significant. CX top speed at comfortably high cadence (100rpm) is 49kmh vs. 62kmh for the road bike. For flat road and even slight decline CX is fine. Very little chance to hold onto a group once speed picks up above 50kmh.

Other details that may help:

  • CX bike is around 500g heavier, so not a significant difference
  • Road bike has a power meter while CX does not (I could put Assioma DUOs on it which would draw some interesting looks…). I’m used to riding with power, but would make do without.
  • Road bike has an aero advantage (unsure how significant)
  • CX can fit larger tires while road is limited to 30mm. In either case I’ll be having to buy a new set of tires as I’m not comfortable with 28mm on that much gravel and 38 seems to be overkill.

For those that have done BWR California before, what would you suggest?

I was just about in my peak fitness when I raced BWR a few years ago. I raced with 28mm Gatorskins, 50/34 with an 11-32 cassette on my SuperSix Evo (road bike). I even stayed kept my Garmin Vector pedals and tubes. For me, the setup was about as close to ideal as I could get. If I had the option, I would ride something where I could run a slightly wider tire with side knobs, but that would be it for me.

I did wreck once going too fast down a dirt road and hit a rut. But I think that was my only dismount. I am also primarily an MTB rider.

It is not only mostly paved, but most of the dirt is smooth and hard packed.

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How did you find the hearing? 34x32 is a bit easier than my 34x28. Did you find you’re struggling or fairly “easy”?

Following for the info to come - I’m planning fly out from Ohio to do BWR (Wafer). Have really been thinking about bringing my 1x CX bike, after my experience in LA last November, riding the Gravel Bulldog course. But same situation - it’s not my go-to bike, it’s heavy, and no power meter. Frankly, I just don’t ride it very often (nor have I done much gravel riding).

I’m seeing that BWR is significantly more paved roads? There’s zero chance I could have done Gravel Bulldog on any amalgamation of a road bike, and I felt like I was gonna die descending on the Crux that Specialized loaned me.

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2022 BWR course is 98km of gravel/dirt sectors. I’ve watched a few videos and the biggest two things it seems to watch for are rocks (pinch flats, use TLR) and deep sand. Vegan Cyclist goes on about how technical the gravel section is, which seems to be the case for someone that isn’t comfortable with handling CX or MTB. I haven’t seen many gnarly sections on the videos, though loose stuff can catch anyone off-guard deep into the race. But of course, YouTube is not worth more than personal experience!

I’d be perfectly comfortable on my CX bike, though I’ve only done a couple 100km rides on it. With new wheels, it is almost as light as my road bike too. But I’m not sure I can keep up with anyone on the descents considering comfort tops out at 50-55kmh.

Just looked at my notes (it was an 11-30):

“Bike setup was PERFECT (for me). Roadrace bike, 28mm tires (with tubes even) at 50-55 PSI. Never had braking issues with rim brakes like I was concerned about, no sore hands. FAST on the road where I am weakest. I made my dirt magic happen to keep things fast and upright in the dirt, only losing ground to the well set up gravel bike in the downhill sectors (but nothing in the flats and climbs). Compact with 11-30 gearing. Slightly too tall for the hardest climbs, slightly to low of gearing in the fastest sections. Loss of top and bottom was small, but the tighter gearing was appreciated in the majority of climbing.”

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The experience for the front of the pack in that race there is very different from everyone else.

First - the offroad: if you were going for a ride there, you’d be well served riding an XC MTB. The surface has a layer of loose dust over hard pack. The hills are all the way steep 16-20%. Traction is an issue everywhere. Gearing is an issue too.

The front of the pack can keep their moment up off road and up hills. Behind them, you’d be WAY better off on way more tire. I tried using Conti Terra Speed 38c tires and just couldn’t put any power down going up the dirt hills, but I’m not fast. I’d say these are the minimum tire off road.

I suggest mounting the tires you think you’ll use and PRERIDE some of the dirt segments.

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What do you mean by this statement? Was the tire slipping? I’m not fast at all and will be on a Felt Breed with the same Terra Speeds in the 650b size. Subcompact crank with 11-34.

Thx, Ron

Thanks for the input! Do you happen to know what chainrings you ran?

The loose dirt on top of the sand just slips under the tire as you climb, similar to climbing in mud or snow. So to go up a hill, lets say you need to put down 40lbs of force to push you up hill, BUT the dirt only needs 35lbs of force to move sideways. Well, you’re going to spin your rear wheel . This happened to me often.

If you have FRESH Terra Speeds and you’re not trying to win’ I’d bring them. If you’re not trying to run 28-30c tires, just go straight to 38c+. I wouldn’t mess with something with a smooth center, you need center knobs; I wouldn’t mess with a textured tire (G-One Allaround; GK SK) as it won’t be able to bite through the dust. . Terra Speeds or Challenge Gateway would good choice for the mixed race. If You need to check the gravel sectors for climbing and braking inclines when considering your choice.

If you’re were going for a fun ride on vacation, without much road, you’d be better served by something light, fat, and knobby like a G-One Bite or Rene Herse juniper ridge (size for the lower pressures/more rubber on the ground and the trails are built on dry creek beds). Braking is also a concern as they decents are -18%. It really is XC MTB territory. Maybe bring an extra knobby tire set in the box with you and return them if you don’t use them.

Also note the BWR trails are ‘hand selected’ with 30c tires in mind, but running 30c tires is for the 150lb dude putting out 350w hitting the climb with some momentum.

Other thoughts: if anyone’s out there on vacay-

  1. there’s ZERO water out there and the SD weather forecast lies to you (it’ll say 70, but it’s 90 after the first set of hills).
  2. Sand - bring some lube or something to clean the chain mid ride. Not wax based (prewax = yes)
  3. There are PLENTY of excellent bike shops down there in Carlsbad/Encinitas/Solana/DelMar/etc, but they may not have your tire of choice.

I’m surprised to hear you had issues with traction with Terra Speeds, they have a fair bit of tread. I run 38c Gravel King SS for gravel and have never had any issues, though we don’t have any significant sustained climbs (very short and punchy is all we have). What is your overall confidence with drop bars off-road?

Thanks for the tips, especially around bringing two sets of tires. It would make sense to fly in on Thursday for a recon Friday ride to have a chance and swap tires if needed.

Great info and almost makes me consider my Conti Race King’s (2.2’s measure 53mm). That’s what I run gravel bike packing on the same bike and they actually roll pretty good on the pavement. :thinking:


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Context: I am not a great dirt rider
I rode it last year on my road bike with IRC Serac CX Sand 30’s fitted. Although these felt great on the road sections, for me, they weren’t worth the payoff with how much of a slog I felt it was on the gravel (granted the heat did not help last year).
This year, with the increase in the gravel sectors, I’ll be riding my gravel bike with something like 36’s with slicker centres fitted purely for my own piece of mind.

Thanks … 34x30 about 0.5kmh away from 35x28, so it would cause a bit of pain but seems doable. Who knows, maybe I find a wider cassette down south …

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What about a 1x, 48-11-32? too tall of a gear? Also is it pretty well supported where you dont need to bring a ton of food or is pretty much self supported?

This is truth. You aren’t really in San Diego either. Check the weather for Escondido and Ramona.

If you look at my file, you will see that I was going the slowest during the hottest part of the course. That is when you have dirt, no shade, and low speeds.

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In SoCal?
The Terra speeds are fine for most stuff (dirt, limestone, etc) but they suck are cornering over loose surfaces and putting power down over loose. If you’ve got a more connected surface, more slick tires work great, but if the surface is going to give sideways, you gotta jam a lug into it. Same issue with G-one allaround and GK SK

Very interesting, not quite the same conditions we have here clearly. What about sidewall lugs on road descents, are they squirrely? I have bailed hard multiple times cornering on wet pavement with significant sidewall tread (CX tired), so I’m a little shy about repeating that experience, especially at higher speeds…