What's a Grinduro?

Before making the 8 hour drive to Quincy, Grinduro was just soundbytes, the color purple, poster art by Geoff Mcfetridge. The event site billed it as “Gravel Road Race + Mountain Bike-Style Enduro = one long loop of pavement and dirt” When you factor in the chance to ride new dirt roads and camping and live music, well now you’ve got yourself a new-fangled-old-school mountain bike festival. DiMinno is doing the food. OK Now we’re talking. Chris Diminno is the super talented chef masterminding the food at the Chris King Gourmet Centuries. That in itself is almost enough to drive to Quincy, CA. Where exactly is Quincy? According to Plumas County website,  “Quincy is the Plumas County seat, nestled against the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range and tucked at the edge of the lush American Valley. It's a cool, small town in the Sierra Nevadas with historic buildings and recreation opportunities galore.

My buddy Goo asked if I wanted to join him for the ride down. We left early Friday and we spent the day heading South in his trusty surf Toyota pickup. In Klamath Falls we made coffee in the Fred Meyer parking lot. We stopped at the general store in Adin, making our way past stuffed bear and deer to use the restroom, then at a view spot, only to realize it was a firing range, and a guy was practicing his quick-draw. We made a hasty retreat. All the gunplay was strange and timely, since Obama was visiting Roseburg on this very day.

Camping at the Quincy fairgrounds we couldn’t help but notice the low hum of trees being turned into lumber as plumes of steam rose skyward. Sierra Pacific Industries mill is located right across the street, which is the largest producer of lumber in California and the third largest nationally behind Weyerhauser and Georgia-Pacific. As you would imagine, Sierra Pacific has its critics.

However, the timber industry today is not quite what it was and Quincy lost one of its lumber mills in 2009. This story of a timber town turning to recreation and tourism reminds me a lot of Oakridge, Oregon, which now hosts Mountain Bike Oregon every year in July and August. From this article it seems the town is torn in much the same way. On one hand the town needs jobs and revenue, on the other the housing market is not endless, nor are the natural resources. So, like Oakridge, Quincy needs to reinvent itself and find new sources of revenue.

Maybe events like Grinduro can help put Quincy on the map for its natural beauty and small town charm. 400 or so people showed up to enjoy a weekend of riding bikes on dirt roads. I like that Quincy is a bit off the beaten track, maybe not an obvious destination yet. But events like Grinduro can help put a town on the map, like Downieville, with its beloved Downieville Classic and seemingly endless trails and swimming holes. You can’t mention Downieville without talking about the incredible Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. If you haven’t heard of this hardworking crew, go have a look at their impressive list of completed projects

From Sierra Buttes, it was Greg Williams, founder of the Downieville Classic and Mike Ferrentino that brought Quincy to the table as an event location. Giro, with help from Joe Parkin came up with the event concept, but it was Sierra Buttes that did the heavy lifting when it came time to actually make the event happen. Hats off to Giro for giving the proceeds of Grinduro to Sierra Buttes.

Another cool aspect of Grinduro was the “Meet Your Maker” pavilion. If you’re not up on your NorCal custom builders scene, MYM is a collection of the finest builders. The list includes Black Cat, Blue Collar, Bruce Gordon, Caletti,  Calfee, Falconer Frances, Hunter, MAP, Paragon Machine Works, Pass & Stow, Paul Components, Rebolledo,  Retrotec/Inglis, Rex, Rock Lobster, Soulcraft, Sycip, and White Industries. Many of these builders had Grinduro-worthy bikes on hand, mostly cross/gravel bikes that pushed the limits of tire clearance.  The folks at Giro are friends and frequent ride buddies with these builders, so it made sense to include them in the event and to give them greater visibility.

Enough preamble, What about the big day? We woke around 6:00 or 6:30, made coffee, and stumbled over for a Diminno breakfast burritos and little quiches. I was surprised to see pro riders Chris Jones and Barry Wicks. I’m always amazed how quickly time flies on event day. I suited up and made my way over for the 7:45 rider meeting. We stood in the sunshine to warm up while Dain from Giro gave us the format: 4 timed sections. He suggested we chill out and enjoy the non-timed sections, and to go hard on the timed sections.

We rolled out at 8:00, past the stacks of wet timber at Sierra Pacific Industries. Nothing prepares you for the feeling of riding in such a large group. I do so much solo riding, that a group like this feels special. For me, it’s the whole reason to do a ride like this. The group takes your mind off the cold, and it distracts you when the road deteriorates to rutted gravel - and ramps up steeper than you’d like. We rode out of town, -through the valley, past a trio of running horses.

It didn’t take long to warm up, since the first climb seemed to be an hour long. The first timed section came at about the 45 minute mark. I couldn’t be bothered with sprinting at this point. I tried slightly harder just because I felt guilty not pushing it a bit as a few people flew by, obviously redlining it, because: racing. Being a reformed racer, I felt conflicted-- like I should rise to the occasion because I’m being timed, and at the end of the day we’re going to gather around the fire and compare times. But I feel good about the efforts I’ve done this summer, and I’ve been riding plenty. My new rule as I do more longer events is pacing myself to go as hard as I can for 8 hours, which is more like an 85 percent effort, and it doesn’t allow for any massive sprint efforts. You basically find your endurance zone and stick with it.

The routes were well marked, and just like a pro race there were signs indicating “segment ends 500 meters” At the end of a segment, riders would collapse, regroup, cheer their friends as they crossed the line, grab a bar and fill up on water before they continued on. It occurred to me that Grinduro was very much a modern event, as many of us track rides and post on Strava. Every ride is an individual time trial where there are no bunch sprints, only rider against the clock. After the first segment, we pushed on with a decent tempo. The climb had mellowed this point and we had climbed sufficiently to earn good views of the surrounding peaks and the valley below. We hit an extended stretch of loose gravel and I was again thankful that I had chosen my hardtail Seven with 2.1 mountain bike tires. I’ve ridden roads like these on road bikes and cross bikes, and it can be white knuckle and miserable.

Before long we came to segment number two. People were fueling up on water and catching a breath. I was amazed at the number of volunteers on hand. I wasn’t sure what they were there to do, since riders had a timing chip on their number plates. Sure, the equipment had to be set up for timing at each stage, but I wasn’t sure what everyone was doing , aside from cheering. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cheer before I drop into a gravel road descent. This track was standard dirt road, but there were good sized rocks embedded which meant you had to choose the right line on your cross bike if you didn’t want to flat. And OH! How they flatted on the top of this descent! There must have been three people on each side of the road fixing flats. There was even a tub filled with spare tubes and a floor pump. Again, I patted myself on the back for my bike/tire selection. I feel that if I have one strength, it’s bombing dirt road descents. Sure, there’s always someone faster, but I can put my head down and get down pretty well. So, I found my 90 percent effort, picked my lines and kept it upright. Damn! That was fun! I kept thinking during the day how perfect all the events I’ve done this year prepared me for Grinduro. Oregon Outback, Dirty Sellwood, The Stampede. Mentally, I figured if I can do 120 miles loaded, and then ride two more days after, I certainly can do 62 miles with 8500 feet of climbing. Shortly after section two ended, we arrived at the first aid station. This aid station was in full party mode complete with disco ball, sasquatch costumes, sake, and of course clouds of weed smoke. I grabbed a couple bites of PB&J, some banana, took a gulp of sake and kept on. I was happy to ride with Scott Nichol, the main man at Ibis. Scott rides all the time and was just finishing a roadtrip in Colorado and Utah. I hadn’t ridden with Scott since we visited him at his home in Santa Rosa two years ago. It was one of those rides where we talked about going out for 2.5 to 3 hours and it ended up being more like 4. Probably due to my pokey pace and lots of stopping for photo ops. Best part was gourmet food afterwards, much like today. Scott had accidentally left his seat bag open, so he was without tools. I was happy to help loan him a multi tool and a pump to keep things rolling.  

Next we found ourselves at a little town and the start of the timed road section. Folks stopped and filled tires up for faster road performance. At the rider meeting I seem to remember Dain telling us it might be in our best interest to form a group for this section, since it’s usually windy. I found a group that looked pretty fast and we set off. It was a pretty sloppy paceline, and it felt slow to me, so before I took my first pull, I went wide and gave it my all trying to get away from the group, chasing the next rider down the road. I guess I imagined myself to be a real time trial specialist. I made a decent gap from the group, but wasn’t able to make it stick. I was working way harder solo than I would have been in the group, and I wasn’t really gaining anything, so before too long I quietly found my place back in the group and took some turns to try and earn my keep. Man! That headwind made it hard! As soon as we crossed the line of this timed section, lunch was waiting just under some trees off to the side of the road. I was starting to get the hang of this ride hard and then chill out style of riding. Food was welcome and we put our legs up and feasted on Lentils and kale salad and potato salad. Rumors of a wicked climb after lunch circulated, so I made sure not to eat too much and gave myself a minute to digest.

I rolled out with Junker, Nichol, Dan Cheever and a handful of others. We hung a quick left just after the quaint town of Taylorsville and we began the 6-mile climb. The Grinduro signage continued, this time it said “This climb sucks SORRY” Those that knew the route said to take it as easy as possible on this climb, since the final singletrack section was supposed to be the hardest bit. Honestly though, with sections at 12 and 13 percent grade, the only way to chill out was to walk your bike, and that makes it take forever and isn’t that much fun. My legs were feeling good, so I just shifted down to my 36 and found a rhythm. I tell myself I love climbing and when my legs feel good like this I actually do love climbing. But that much steepness and that long of a climb have a way of stealing any good vibes and just make you grateful to be done. By the time we reached the final aid station my left knee was hurting a bit and wasn’t totally looking forward to the final timed singletrack section. Scott Nichol said it might be a good idea to drop your saddle a bit for the last section, since it was essentially newly built mountain bike trail. I popped some peanut M&Ms in my mouth and pedaled on. I was torn. I had come this far and had been riding well and enjoying myself, but the climb had worn me down and my knee and back had me just riding to survive, hardly ripping the singletrack. Some folks rode hardtails with suspension forks and they were loving this section. I got passed like I was standing still by a couple of folks. It’s demoralizing when it happens, but it reminded me that I wasn’t just here to race, but to capture the experience on film. The trail kept opening up to reveal views of the valley below and it was spectacular. I felt like riding at breakneck pace was a waste after that seemingly endless climb. Maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if I was Mr. DH ripper, but since I’m pretty conservative these days, I just did my thing and kept it rubber side down. A 500 meters sign appeared and I gave it one last sprint to the line.

A quick portage over railroad tracks and it was time for post-ride beers and high fives. We did it! We finished a challenging course in pretty good time and had a blast doing it. It felt great to sit on the rocks behind the tracks, crack open a beer and toast each other. That feeling of shared accomplishment is a good one. We cheered as folks finished up, some riding in so hard that they barely stopped before coming to the tracks. Adam Craig rode a flat to the finish line and proceeded to show off his ruined Zipp wheel. Adam had tried to double up on a jump and came up short. That’s what happens when you put a rowdy enduro dude on a cross bike on a mountain bike track. There’s gonna be damage. Another rider had done the same on his carbon wheels. I started asking him what happened and I could tell he was super bummed about it, so I quickly changed the subject. Sorry dude. For the most part, everyone just had a blast and was ready to relax around camp. Just a quick road ride, full of ear-to-ear grins and we were back at the fairgrounds. Dain came in with three good skids just to stoke out the crowd. We hit the showers and went for recovery beer.

The grand finale was another excellent Diminno meal, swapping stories about the day, and Ray Barbee and Mike Watt in concert. I don’t think I had seen Mike Watt since he was flying the flannel in 1990. What a cool way to finish the day! Giro thought long and hard about what they wanted to see in this event and came up with a festival for anyone that loves riding off road that incorporated delicious food and music. I asked Dain how Grinduro was for him and he summed it up by saying “the Grinduro format really suits me. My wife was joking that the segments weren’t long enough for me to blow up as hard as usual! To me, this format really represents how my friends and I ride on the weekends. We absolutely hammer each other into the ground — on climbs and descents — but then regroup and laugh about it. It’s great to share that style of riding with nearly 400 new friends.” It really was a celebration of the creativity in the bike world and it felt good to contribute to Sierra Buttes efforts. So many people that showed up for this first event are friends of friends of Giro. I’m sure people will hear how great an event it was and it will be even bigger next year. There is already talk of taking Grinduro international next year. Since this turned out to be one of my best weekends of the year, I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

We enjoyed the ride home and split the driving into two days, camping at Skull Hollow – just down the road from Smith Rock. We hit Gray Butte for a 10 mile wakeup ride. It was more of a dirt road ride that started and ended with some fun flowy singletrack, but it was perfect.

A big thank you to the whole crew at Giro, to Chris Diminno for the excellent food, to the town of Quincy for having us, to Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and to Goo for driving and making it a great road trip!



1. The bike

The Seven Sola SL 29er with the Enve MTB 29er fork was the perfect bike. Sketchy descents were no problem and I could haul as fast as my legs would take me. I think after we get over our obsession with cross/gravel bikes the lightweight hardtail mountain bike will be the next big thing. It’s just so much more forgiving and less sketchy.

I rode 2.1 Schwalbe Thunder Burt Tires on the rear and a Racing Ralph up front. I think it was my favorite dirt/gravel road tire combo so far. It would be an ideal combination for Oregon Outback as well.

I kept my Revelate frame bag on. Since the day started cold and I knew I’d want to stash clothing and bring my own selection of ride food, the bag made sense.

The only thing I would have done differently was to be more careful about tire pressure on the last stage. I got lazy and left my tires over-inflated. If I had run them at my normal mountain biking pressure of 23 rear 17 front it would have given me more confidence and been less harsh. Especially with the rigid fork, your tires are your suspension, so the right pressure is key.

2. Clothing

I wore 7Mesh bib shorts, the Santini Car4 base layer. (this was a bit warm overall for the day, but I never got soaked with sweat. I’m still amazed by this piece) a Rapha Lightweight jersey, arm screens, full finger gloves, Giro Aeon helmet with a Rapha cap to keep the sun off.

I started the day in the 7Mesh Resistance jacket and Rapha merino knee warmers, but those came off 15 minutes into the first climb. I was definitely glad I had them to start.

For shoes I wore the Shimano XC90. I went for more stiffness over greater hikeability. It turned out to be a good choice. I think they give extra power on those hard climbs.

My only clothing critique is for the lightweight jersey – and some might even just call it user error. That middle zipper pocket. What’s it for? I kept leaving it open and probably lost a couple rolls of film over the course of the day. I’d much prefer a third jersey pocket to the vertical zipper, but otherwise a great versatile jersey and I love the warm red color.

3. Camping

Since it was just car camping, I took my Big Sky International Evolution 2P tent. I used a Thermarest Deluxe pad, which is huge and way too big to take bikepacking, but lets me sleep well the night before and after an event like this. I really makes a big difference. For a sleeping bag, I used the Montbell Down Hugger 900. It’s rated at 25 degrees and is comfortable down to 35. I never overheated and as the night got cooler, I just pulled the mummy collar up higher over my head. The unique aspect of the Down Hugger bag is the quilted stitching and elasticity that lets me wiggle without feeling restricted. (Full review to follow)

For cooking, Goo had his Coleman propane stove and I pulled out the Snowpeak Giga Power stove and used the aero press for coffee. I brought lentils and sausage leftovers and my traditional steel cut oatmeal and eggs for breakfasts.