Muddy Onion Spring Classic 2018

Last year I did my first gravel grinder, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Dirt and gravel roads are some of the quietest, most scenic ways to see an area by bicycle. And yes, they often have hills that challenge your mind and body to just. Get. To. The. Top. one pedal stroke at a time.

When Onion River Sports closed last year, the fate of the event was in limbo – but fortunately, a group of former employees decided the show must go on! If you’ve ever doubted what a small band of committed people can accomplish, look no further than this year’s Muddy Onion.

The route was revamped. The rest stops streamlined. The hospitality still off the charts.

Whereas last year we had perfect sunny, dry conditions – this year was almost the total opposite. Winter didn’t start relinquishing control until just a few weeks before the ride. It has been raining more than it’s been dry and sunny, and the roads and trails are in a nearly perpetual state of mud. Lots of people opted for mountain bikes and fat bikes this year over gravel or cross bikes.

Tire Selection

Let’s take a moment to talk about what everyone seemed to be talking about leading up to the event: tire choice.

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Mud2 clearance is “tight”

Last year I threw on 30mm Michelin Mud2s, which are excellent mud tires but sadly do not provide enough clearance on my Salsa Colossal to be used in truly muddy conditions.

After extensive online research (because apparently, no one makes mud tires narrower than 32mm generally), I asked my local shop to order Panaracer GravelKing SK 26s for me.

This was a flawless choice for this year’s conditions, ranging from wet sand to wet hardpack to full-on mud-pits conveniently located at the bottom of every really nice descent. The tires tracked beautifully in suboptimal conditions and were fast-rolling on paved sections.

 

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26mm tires and traction for days

To be sure though – no tire will save you if you can’t handle your bike when it’s sliding in a few different directions. Pro tip: mountain biking on a hardtail will give you the skills needed to improve handling on the road too.

The Ride

Vermont is blessed with an abundance of dirt roads and beautiful scenery – and the Muddy Onion gives you an opportunity to experience both. The first 5 miles still trend up, and by the rest stop at mile 10, we had climbed over 1,300′ while passing family farms, open fields, and taking in views of the Green Mountains.

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the better conditions encountered

The middle 17 miles looped us up to Mirror Lake and the tiny towns that dot Vermont. Screaming downhill to flat lake-side roads that provide an air conditioning effect – not much needed when it’s barely 60*F out! I had pulled off my arm warmers sometime in the first 10 miles, and I certainly wished I had them on as we passed the lake. We passed through beautifully dense pine forest, the scent of pine filling the air. Coming into the final rest stop with around 3,000′ of climbing under our legs.

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Class 4 means Quality

The final 10 miles feature that last few hundred feet of climbing and the last 4 miles trending DOWN and the welcome sight of getting back to Montpelier after 37 miles, 3,650′ of climbing, and a whole lot of dirty fun.

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at the rest stop

Racked the bikes and enjoyed the post-ride BBQ and beverages before getting cleaned up and heading back into town for a coffee at Capitol Grounds Cafe/802 Coffee and purchases at the state store. Sadly, no one at the store knew the whereabouts of Richard. Richard was our superlative Southern Gentleman/MOT clerk last year, and we were hoping to see him again this year.

(I’d love to know how much the Muddy Onion, a smaller gravel event, brings Montpelier in tourism dollars: in accommodations, food, and other purchases. I drive 5 hours each way and purchase gas, stay in a hotel, eat at local restaurants, and make purchases while visiting. Bikes Mean Business!)

Conclusion

The Muddy Onion has once again proven gravel grinders don’t have to be gratuitous sufferfests or hike-a-bike. With an enjoyable route that features stunning scenery and quiet backroads, none of the hills were insurmountable despite providing a truly meaningful challenge (although let’s be real, this year’s peanut butter-like conditions made the steepest of hills that much more challenging).

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this. all. day.

MO18 Elevation

Thank you Onion River Outdoors for another spectacular event. See you next year!!

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See you on the muddy roads!

 

 

Adventure by Bike

In January, after over 5500 miles, I decided to sell my beloved Felt ZW5 and get a new bike. It wasn’t because I disliked the bike – I still loved it more than anything. As I entered into my fourth year of riding bikes with my friends, I realized I wanted to simplify as much as I could. Find the Swiss Army Knife of a bike that would allow me to keep up on group rides but also handle non-paved adventures that I tended to take my old bike on. Something that would still feel as good at mile 80 as it did at mile 5. Something that wasn’t carbon fiber – I wanted something sturdy and real.

So I started looking at steel touring bikes and found it’s somewhat difficult to find them in my size and ready to test ride. I tested a Trek 520, which was stable and light but lacked the “let’s go have fun today” zip I was looking for. I tested a Salsa Vaya, which also was stable but not quite FUN. I wanted to test the All City Space Horse but the nearest shop that stocked All City bikes was 90min away.

I get it … niche market and all.

I talked to the guys at the local chain bike shop and after lots of conversation they gave me an excellent recommendation (Raleigh Tamland 2) – in my pricepoint, steel, wide range cassette, accepted wider tires – but no way to test ride the bike. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put down a huge deposit on a bike that I wasn’t sure I wanted.

I also talked to the guys over at the local independent shop and looked at a lot of “adventure bikes” with them, including the new series from Niner. We talked extensively about the types of bike I was trying to find. I really liked the Salsa Vaya but it wasn’t zippy. I need a bike with spunk.

Enter the Salsa Colossal Ti. Everything I wanted – real metal frame, wider range cassette, disc brakes, Ultegra components, takes a tire wide enough for gravel to not feel super sketch. Definitely more than I budgeted – but I rationalized it with how amazing this bike was going to be in my mind because I couldn’t test ride it. The shop owner said he test rode one and it was Next Level riding. My bicycle friends all said the same – if you can swing the Ti, DO IT. You won’t regret it.

So I took their word for it and put down my entire bike budget as a deposit.

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meet Sia

I’m here to tell you this bike is the real deal.

When the Salsa marketing materials said “Works with you, not against you, when you are 45 miles from home” – they meant it. I had no idea my previous bikes – all of them – were actively conspiring against me – but they were. How many times have I felt like the bike was not moving forward and my legs screaming in a lactic acid bath?

Put a little more push into the pedals and the bike says YES PLEASE. The energy transfer is amazing. If you have gas in the tank, the bike is totally on board to keep going. Having a 30 (and 32 tooth) sprocket in the back has revolutionized my hill climbing – I was finally able to get up the local 100′-in-2/10-miles hill without walking. This bike eats up road noise like it’s candy – a silky smooth ride no matter what the conditions. The Ultegra groupset is crisp and quiet in its shifting. And the bike is so light – about as light as my carbon fiber bike was – but feels stable and sturdy. Indestructible.

If you have the means, I highly recommend titanium.

ItIsSoChoice

So my friend Karen and I are planning a bikepacking trip at the end of May and we did a mostly-loaded ride of the route into camp and then back to our cars. Even fully loaded the bike felt stable, nimble, and still climbed and descended with ease – even on a 3 mile 5% average climb up a mountain or a 16% grade down a loose, rocky abandoned road we navigated. All with minimal rider fatigue.

I swapped the stock Schwalbe One tires for Vittoria Cross XN Pro for this trip and had zero issues when we ducked off the pavement and onto grassy, mossy, overgrown rocky paths. Except for the rocks – let’s just say mountain biking in the 80s pre-suspension suuuuucked.

I also swapped the stock WTB Silverado Race saddle for a white Terry Butterfly Ti. Some of us need a wider saddle to keep downtown happy.

Side note: when riding around with camping gear loaded on the bike, it looks like you are on an epic adventure. Even if it’s just a dry run to shake out the kinks. It just FEELS cool to glide down the road, loaded up, enjoying sunshine, fresh air, and friendship.

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one of the abandoned roads led us here

Take-aways here:

  1. Show some love to your local independent bike shop (what’s up Yorktown Cycles!)
  2. Be honest about what you want from a bike and take the time to learn what you want
  3. Adventuring by bike – especially with friends – is where the magic happens

See you on the road!