- Set up: Ironcross, Clement MSO 40cc tires, 40-45 psi; Grail, Clement MSO 40cc tires, 40-45 psi.
- Race conditions: 175+ miles, some single track, some sand, lots of paved roads and hard pack due to pre-race rain of sugar sand sections.
Tamest conditions: Pavement, lots and lots of pavement
- Craziest conditions: Tie between single track, off road grass and sand, and a really thorny 500m swamp bushwhack (which we weren’t riding but were worried about all the thorns nicking tires)
- Flats: 0
It has long been a dream of a few of us at TeamHalfwayThere to ride an adventure race on cycle-cross bikes. Many courses route you through fire roads, pavement, and single track that can be on the less technical side of mountain biking. Now that many companies are building “gravel grinders” and Stan’s NoTubes has developed several cross specific tubeless wheelsets there are more and more reasons to bring these types of bikes into adventure racing.
Our dream came to fruition at this year’s Florida Sea-to-Sea put on by Florida Xtreme Adventures. In our minds this 72 hr race was the ideal test-bed for the cycle-cross concept. The course is never too technical (at least not by our mid-Atlantic standards) and it generally has miles and miles of fire roads and pavement.
Once we were given permission by race organizers to use cross bikes (and reminded by other racers what sugar sand looks like) we set about to set-up the ideal bike for the race. We cobbled together three crossbikes and three sets of tubeless wheels. The wheels were considered the critical piece to this whole experiment. In fact, we had agreed to use mountain bikes if we had not been able to be tubeless on the cross bikes.
Two of our bikes (both Niner RLT’s) were set up with Stan’s rims, one set of Iron Cross wheels and one with Grails. Both bikes were using Clement MSO 120 TPI, 40cc tires. Clement tires are not tubeless and we had ordered some other tires (WTB Nano Race 40cc) which are tubeless, but given one of our teammate’s used the Clements during the Dirty Kanza, we were not overly concerned. The key would be to get the bead to seat and for the micro holes in the sidewalls to seal long before race day.
Getting that bead to stick proved to be a little more difficult than advertised and our air compressor with the Stan’s presta attachment was not quite cutting it. Once we transitioned to an adaptor with a bit more “umph”, the tires quickly seated into the rims and all was right in the world. The process for getting the tires to seal properly took a bit more time than I was used to as I generally use Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires with snakeskin sidewalls on my mountain bike and they seal up extremely well. It took the better part of a full day and bits of the next couple days to shake and coat the tires, add in more air, ride a bit, and repeat for the tires to finally seal up. Once they did, they were perfect with the exception of some minor air loss.
(note: we did blow one tire off of the iron cross wheels, Stan’s is super serious about the air pressure limits of those rims. We pumped up the tire to 55psi, and 5 minutes later the tire blew off the rim. We called this incident the money shot since the blow out resulted in Stans sealant being splattered all over the outside of our vehicle, not to mention the local Police responded to calls of a suspected gunshot. Nevertheless, we reseated the tire with a half used CO2 cartridge, set it to 40psi and had zero further issues).
As for their performance during the race, the bikes and tires were the ideal choice. With the exception of some very muddy bits at the beginning of the race, the bikes were perfect. We were given a 6.5 mile surprise stretch of single track in this first bit of biking and we passed three teams on the single track and only lost about 20-25 minutes to the top teams (and we would have lost 10+ minutes using mountain bikes). We were able to ride most of the course with the exception of a few serious drops. Our tubeless set-ups had us moving through everything with minimal concern. We were cautious on this stretch and didn’t want to accidentally bottom out or burp the tires, but that didn’t end up being an issue.
The rest of the race had us on fire roads, and in included a 70+ mile stretch of pavement about 50 hrs into the race. We hit these sections aggressively and made up a ton of time reeling in and passing numerous teams. It felt like we had conserved a tremendous amount of energy with our bike choice and we were able to let it all out on this part of the course. Every team that we passed was extremely jealous of our bike setup.
In the end, the limiting factor on these bikes ended up being our skills and energy levels, not the equipment as the bikes and in particular our Stan’s tubeless wheels, worked to perfection. Experiment #1 is a pass with flying colors and resulted in a 10th place overall and 7th place coed division finish in the Florida Sea 2 Sea 72hr AR and we can’t wait to do another race with our tubeless cross bike setup again soon.
Many thanks to our sponsor, Stan’s No Tubes, for their continued support of TeamHalfwayThere!