Gravel Bike Racing with Cyclocross Bike?

A few years ago (2016), I bought a Trek Crockett 5 bike with the idea that I would do some cyclocross races. Here I am in 2019 and I have decided to do a gravel grinder. The race I have chosen is called Coast 2 Coast gravel grinder. It’s 210 miles that goes across the state of Michigan. There is a lot of very sandy areas, two track roads, a little single track i do believe, and “normal” Michigan gravel roads. I bought the bike before I knew what gravel racing was. My question is, what would you recommend I do to my bike to make it more comfortable for a 210 mile ride? I have already put 40mm tires on it, and changed the saddle. Should I spend the money for carbon bars? Something like the salsa wood chipper? Should I get a carbon seat post? Or should I save up and get a proper gravel bike built from the factory? Saving would mean I would most likely be doing this gravel race on a stock crockett 5.

Next question is how you might handle hydration on the bike? Backpack, 2 water bottles, or frame bag with bladder?

Thanks for you input!

I’m not convinced there’s much magic to the gravel bike segment. Depending on your event, you may be as well off (or better off) with a road or cyclocross bike, particularly if you’re accustomed to riding in a “racier” position. Just my two cents.


I did Gravel Worlds (150miles) on my CX bike, a Raleigh RX 1.0. I was only uncomfortable from carrying extra weight on my back, but the bike with 38mm tires rode nicely.

I get the whole push for “gravel bikes” and maybe get people on comfortable rides, but a good fit can make just about anything work


If the bike in fact fits 40s then you’re good to go. That’s what I roll on my Cervelo Aspero (a gravel bike). Carbon bars would be nice for dampening purposes but not necessary. You could just double tape the bars.

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Agree. New market, more profits. The only reason to get a “gravel bike” is if if you wanted to run tires >45mm, but that’s the upper limit of most gravel bikes any way.


Check your gearing. I like having at least a 1:1 low gear. That’s not typical on CX bikes, but you can make it happen.

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Gel bar tape underlay

Provided the bike fits you into a comfortable position, then I’d just add some of these types of gel pads under the bar tape.

I would have two bottles in cages (does it have two cages?) and then I would look for some other mounts off the seat or something over carrying water on my back.

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You’ll always have an excuse for your N+1th bike :wink:

If I were you, I’d make some inexpensive modifications to your bike. You mentioned wider tires, yup, that’s probably my #1 suggestion. I don’t know the event, but tire choice for gravel races is very important — not just width, but also when it comes to tire profile. What kind of tires did you pick?

Also, I would not spend $$$ on carbon bars or so, unless you want carbon bars for whatever other reason. Instead, I’d suggest you replace your bar tape: you could get gel inserts and cushy tape or double wrap. IMHO that makes much more of a difference.

Lastly, I’d look at gearing. Again, I don’t know the race, but you should check whether you have all the right gears you want and need. You’ll spend a looooong time on the bike, so I wouldn’t worry about the top end as much. If you have a 2x, then you probably have a 46/36 crank and 11-28 in the rear. In case you run 1x, I reckon you’ll have a 40-tooth chainring and a 11-36 cassette. Should you expect to need something closer to 1:1 gearing, I’d look into a 11-32 cassette (2x) or 11-40 or 11-42 cassette (1x).

Regarding the future, I’d see how the race goes and what kind of riding you do. If you end up doing more and more gravel rides and gravel races, sure, eventually you’d want to replace your Crockett with a dedicated gravel bike. But there are so many different types out there that it is almost impossible to make clear-cut recommendations. Get out and see what you like.

You have bikes like the Open UP, which essentially have endurance road bike geometry and clearance for 2.1" tires (this is Geoff Kabush’s weapon of choice who podiumed at the Dirty Kanza in 2018). On the other end of the spectrum, you have full suspension gravel bikes and gravel bikes with the geometry of a mountain bike hard tail, but with drop bars. Oh, and if you are really fast, 3T will be happy to sell you an aero gravel bike.


Thank you everyone for your suggestions! I don’t know why I didn’t even think of gel inserts or double wrapping the bar tape. I’m pretty convinced now to save my money and change my gearing on the Crockett for this race and spend 50 bucks for the non carbon version of wood chipper bar. The bike does fit me very well, but I do like the idea and feel of flaired bars for this event. For carrying water I’ll start testing the frame bag with bladder inserts, and if that isn’t doable, extra bottle mounts off the seat is a good idea I also didn’t think about.

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If your goal is to just make it, I suggest you consider a hydration bladder and a small backpack. Then you will also be able to take tools, food, inner tubes and the like with you.

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I had a 2014 Crockett Disc that I used as my one bike. I think you probably have the newer version. Now having a proper road bike (Emonda) and a gravel bike (Checkpoint), I would NOT worry about having a CX frameset. You’re really only giving up tire clearance, some ride quality, and mounting points .
Don’t exceed the factory recommendation on the rear due to the sandy soil, I ate through the paint by not leaving dirt clearance at the Barry Roubaix. I think the newer version of the frame has proper clearance for 38mm tires, but I could only get 35mm tires on the 2014 version (after trying 43mm (they fit) and 38mm tires). You want 2-3mm per side.

If you’re using the stock Bontrager tires, ditch those. Get Gravel King SK, Schwalbe G-One, Conti Terra Speed or similar tires. Run them tubeless at about 35-40psi. Tires make a big difference in speed. Do NOT run tubed tires of that size at 40psi.

On the rest of the bike, my ride came with some stout AL bars and a carbon covered AL seat post. When using the bike in road-mode, the ride was BRUTAL. A German magazine ROADBIKE.DE tests frame, and it was the 2nd vertically stiffest bike they had on the website, only losing to an AL aero bike, the Allez Sprint. If you’re using cushy tires, this won’t make a much of a difference, but a flexy one will help with the big hits.
In road mode, changing the seatpost and bars to flexy carbon ones does a world of good. I used the Specialized Z shaped post, but Im using the Fizik R1 post on my Emonda ALR now, which seem good too and are cheaper.
On the bars, pretty much anything is better than the stiff stock ones. Comfy bars can be AL or Carbon. I’m a big fan of aero bars because of the flat top surfaces. AL bars are typically cheap enough to go ahead and try one. I had a carbon 3T Ergonova bars on the Crockett, but I put Easton EC70 Aero and FSA k-wing on my newer bikes; both are more comfortable, aeroer, and fancier than the 3T and stock Bontrager. Bar tape does NOT makes up for bar flex in my experience. There are plenty of reasonably priced AL flexy bars on the market, be sure to get ones with extended drops that flare outward 5+deg. Getting the right length stem is also a huge win.

If you’re prepping the bike for a full gravel assault, my Crockett had issues with shifting because sand got into the frame cable routing ports. What I’ve done on my new soft-roader, my Checkpoint, is run cable housing bow to stern to reduce the number of places sand can enter.

You’re also giving up water bottle mounting locations on your Crockett, so you might want to check to see how far water stops are apart. I know from riding Cedar Springs, MI to Muskegon in the summer that water stops can get limited. I’d recommend a half frame bag and camelback for stuff. If you go frame bag, get one like the Apidura racing frame bag, so you can access your water bottles. I think Trek, Topeak, and Shimano Pro all have compact frame bags and top tube bags with some structure for reasonable prices now.


Try it on your current bike and see how it goes. Over 210 miles you’re bound to be uncomfortable at some point regardless of bike.

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I would make sure you have a tire you like and that you can run low enough pressure to make it a good day in the saddle. A seatpost swap isnt a bad idea, if your running a thompson now and switch to something with more give it will help in the long run.

I also want to do that ride and will be at Berry.

I have a Specialized S-Works Crux as my gravel bike. I love it and it’s a very light and fast.

Anyway, when I got it, it already had Force 1x so I fitted a smaller chainring and installed a 11-40 cassette. I kind of wish it had 2X but they are good all-around gears.

I also installed 40mm tires. They are fantastic for 99% of the gravel I ride but they suck when it gets sandy. I know a lot of pros are riding 40mm or smaller these days.

If the terrain was consistently sandy or gnarly then I’d probably want a bike that could take wider rubber.

A couple of guys in my club bought Salsa Cutthroats which embraces the more modern slack gravel/mtb geometry and can take 29x2.4" tires (61mm). Those guys leave me in the dust when it gets gnarly and sandy but I feel like I’m faster than them everywhere else.

So, gravel is always a trade-off based on the terrain.

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your setup sounds fine. I race gravel on my cx bike and have no desire for a gravel bike. But that’s just me.


Absolutely, I hated bladders on road type bikes til I got a uswe-sports. I use it on longer rides now on the cross/gravel rig and I really like it. I got it after the glowing recommendations the guys gave it on the podcast, and they were absolutely correct.

BTW I also race gravel on a cross bike, a Kona Major Jake converting to GRX shortly from Ultegra. It’s superb, and I prefer the geometry to alot of the slacker stuff on “gravel” bikes.

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Out of curiosity: wouldn’t it be cheaper to replace your regular Ultegra derailleur with an Ultegra RX derailleur?

That’s very important to keep in mind IMHO, and not just goes for choice of bike, but especially for your choice of tire. There are some gravel events like Belgian Waffle where many of the best riders apparently use road bikes with “wide” to normal road bike tires. That setup wouldn’t work at all on the Dirty Kanza, though.

Moreover, if your goal is to just make it, and given you are riding 300 km in one sitting, that’s a reasonably hard goal, I’d err on the side of comfort and safety.

That sounds like a good idea, I was so focussed on the carbon bit of your question that I forgot to (second) the suggestion to think about getting handlebars that are flared.

I actually have the RX derailleur, I just want the GRX shifters, and I’m still going back and forth on it. I may stick with the RX derailleur, get the GRX shifters and spend the difference on wheels.

Makes sense. I was just curious whether you wanted GRX for the new levers or the clutch mechanism in the rear mech.

If I may ask, how is the RX rear derailleur compared to the regular Ultegra rear derailleur? Have you experience with both? Is the shifting performance any different? (Especially front shifts.)