Chainring Dispatches: Bike and Tire Choices


As I sit here enjoying a fine spring evening on the veranda at the Red River Regional Bikeport (the carport of the old Chainring homestead) I can’t help but reflect on the great ride I had finished just a couple hours earlier proof testing the first third of the Red River Gorge MTB 100 course.

Now, I’ve ridden the entire route over the years, but never in sequence, and usually not in the configurations the course dictates.  That puts some pressure on yours truly to get out and ride as if I were racing to get a feel for and better plan the upcoming race.  Also, questions keep coming in, and I feel like I should offer the best answers and provide the best info for our racers as I can.  I’ll be offering up these Chainring Dispatches between now and race day to help you better plan and prepare for the race ahead.  I’m not now nor have I ever been a pro mountain bike racer, but I can offer perspective insight from a mid-packer who might have been a little obsessed with endurance racing there for a while.

Without further ado I will attempt to tackle tires:

Some folks have asked what kind of bike and what kind of tires are going to work best in the race.  There is a high pavement to dirt ratio.  We utilize the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway and the Red River Gorge Scenic Byway to connect the best adventure gravel and dirt in the region.  Personally I’m not picky about my tires.  I tend to narrow it down as to what tire works best where I ride most and then just go with that until I wear them out and then replace with the same tire.  I play around with pressure, but otherwise I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to tire sizes and tread patterns.

But knowing the nature of this course I realize tire choice is going to be crucial for optimum performance at the Red River Gorge 100.  In general on my old 26er I ran 2.4 Specialized Controls.  Tubeless of course.  But the knobby 2.4s aren’t conducive to longer stretches of pavement even at high PSI.  My recommendation if you’re going to ride a mountain bike for the race would be something more like a 2.1 or 2.2 Kenda Small Block 8 (that’s what I ran before and what I raced my first two Leadville 100s on).

I don’t ride a gravel bike so I can’t speak to narrower tire choices and maybe some of you with more experience in that realm can chime in.  But the conclusion I came to is that if you choose to ride a mountain bike with fatter tires you’re going to suffer on the longer paved sections and if you choose to ride a gravel or cross bike you’re going to suffer on the gnarlier loose and dirt sections.  While there is more pavement that dirt on the course likely the time spent in each will balance out and then the choice becomes more important.

Basically, it’s going to come down to what you’re most comfortable with.  I suspect for most people a hard tail or fully rigid mountain bike with skinnier tires is going to be the best bet.  On the paved sections you’ll be able to really make up time if you are set up to maximize your output.  Tires with lower rolling resistance and a 2x gearing will be really helpful.  Having said all that rest assured I’ll be suffering right along with you over the coming year on my plus sized tires and 1×11 gearing as I ride around the course to report back to you all.

For the next Dispatch I’ll talk in depth about the course profile and what type of climbing you’ll need to train for.

One thought on “Chainring Dispatches: Bike and Tire Choices

  1. I’m more of a gavel grinder than full mt biker. On mixed courses I love both the Panracer Gravel King and the Challenge Gravel Grinder on my gravel bike. Former is tubeless and my first choice. Latter is not tubeless but a champ on the Hoosier National Forest gravel roads. Both let you hammer away on the pavement and are excellent on gravel and hard pack. If it’s wet I’ll be off the gravel bike and suffering along w you on my 27.5 hardtail with Maxxis Crossmark – a brilliant XC tire. Looking forward to it!


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