Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wilkes County Rumble -- December 10, 2010

Jimmy adjusting gear as we work up a sweat...
A few years ago, American Randonneur ran a ride report of a novel New England event -- the Dirt Road Randonnée. The idea was to run a brevet-like event along many of the hilly and challenging dirt roads in Massachusetts and Vermont. Since then, I've seen reports from other parts of the country, notably the San Francisco area, where riders take it off-road from time to time, although I'm not certain whether that is during official events.

Here in North Carolina, we gots lotsa dirt roads, but I can't recall any brevet or RUSA event  purposely running down a gravel road.

That all changed yesterday, when I traveled west to Lewisville to ride the Wilkes County Rumble with Jimmy and Steve, a talented rider from Wilkesboro. 

You want dirt? Jimmy's route has it. Eighteen glorious miles. All kinds. Hard packed. Loose gravel on sweeping downhills, powdery sand on the climbs, washboard sections that shake your bolts loose.

Steve in vintage Ecuador wool. 
The route features a seven-mile dirt stretch through the woods to the top of Brushy Mountain. Throw in two other climbs -- a three-mile gravel road up and over Fox Mountain and a paved ascent over Little Brushy Mountain -- and you're in for a serious day of bike riding.

Jimmy gets noticeably excited as we approach an unpaved section.

"This road's got some really good dirt," he tells me early in the ride.

"How long is it?" I ask.

"Oh, about half a mile," Jimmy says.

It will be at least two miles before we see asphalt again. 

Climbing Brushy Mountain...
I ask Jimmy whether he went out of his way to find all these dirt sections. Well, no, Jimmy says. But he didn't try to avoid any either. By his thinking, dirt is a non-issue with the right tires and the right attitude. By the end of the day, I'm apt to agree with him.

I didn't have the best tires for the job -- I was sporting Michelin Pro Race 25s that tended to spin in the loose soil on uphill sections. On descents, I checked my speed with an eye out for the patches of gravel that often collected in the curves. But Steve and Jimmy bombed down the hills. They had bigger tires and considerably more experience on these roads and they were a joy to watch.

 I've not ridden all of the North Carolina permanents, but I have to believe this is one of the very toughest. You'll get most of the dirt and all of the significant climbing from mile 45 to 95. By the time we came out of the hills and stopped at the Amish grocery, the legs were feeling the miles. We arrived at the grocery at 4:20, which was exactly 20 minutes after closing time, but there were still folks in the kitchen and they set us up with a few sweets and sodas. Around 6 p.m., we reached a control at mile 114 and sat down for a burger and chips.

Like quiet roads? This route is for you. With the exception of a few miles each way on Shallowford Road near Lewisville, and the roads around Wilkesboro, we saw very little car traffic all day. We saw two cars, both headed in the other direction, on the seven-mile dirt climb up to the summit of Brushy Mountain.

This route is highly recommended if you're comfortable with dirt roads. Be sure you have suitable tires for those conditions. My 25s were okay, but 28s or bigger would have been better.

A couple more pix....

Video of the climb up Fox Mountain...

Video of a flat section before Brushy Mountain....

Steve burning up the downhill dirt....

Thanks to Steve and Jimmy for a great day on the bikes.


bullcitybiker said...

Looks like a blast! Thanks for the tip on tires.. what do you recommend for gearing?

And wonder if Jimmy DID put together a mostly dirt route.. I bet he could..

Anonymous said...

I use a 26/36/46 front with an 11-28 cassette. Conti Contact 28mm tires.
Steve B

Mike Dayton said...


It appeared you had plenty of tire -- and plenty of nerve on the downhills. Branson, my gearing is 27 rear, 50/34 compact front. That was fine for this ride, as there weren't too many steep sections. One nice thing about Jimmy's route is that much of the dirt is on uphill climbs, and thus the impact on your overall speed is not that great.

Mike / Raleigh

Jimmy Williams said...

I use a 48/36/26 with a 12/25 cassette. The tires I like are Rivendells rolly poly or ruffy tuffy 28mm's. I've been using them for years, for dirt or pavement. Steven A and I rode this course back in June, and finished around 11 hours. Leave early enough to make it to the bakery, even though it's not a control. They close at 5 during the week, and as we found out, 4 on Saturday. It's worth the early start to make this a late lunch.