Gravel Bike Setup & Kit
Hotchillee Ride Captain and local legend Nikalas Cook imparts his wisdom on how to set up your Gravel Bike and what essentials to take along on the Monumental 135 km and Epic 215km Stone Circle routes.
If you’re joining us for the Ekoi Stone Circle in June, you might be in a bit of a quandary about the bike set-up and kit you’ll need. Fortunately Hotchillee Ride Captain and in-house coach Nikalas Cook, who’s just completed a recce of part of the route and grew up riding these trails, has some recommendations for you.
Our friends at Sigma Sports have provided handy links to some of their product categories to make event preparation a little easier.
This is definitely a “gravel” route and, despite the somewhat challenging trail conditions we had on our recce, a dedicated gravel bike will undoubtedly be the most efficient rig to choose. You could ride it on an XC MTB but there are plenty of fast rolling sections where a drop-bar set-up is going to leave you eating dust.
If you’re not already the proud owner of a dedicated gravel bike, why note check out the Lauf stand at the Festival Fort. They’ll have a demo fleet of their new Seigla available for test riding around a specially chosen circuit called the Lauf Loop.
38mm is the absolute minimum tyre width that I’d run and, for comfort over such a long day and plushness on the fast gravel roads, I’ll probably be opting for 43-45mm.
We won’t have the mud we had on the recce in June but it only takes a bit of moisture, even some morning dew, for chalk upland trails to get a bit greasy. A tyre that’s has a fast rolling centre with some side knobs would be your best bet.
A tubeless set-up is an absolute no-brainer. Fast rolling gravel can mean high speed impact with sharp edges and running tubes is just asking for pinch flat woes.
There’s no real sustained or super steep climbing on the route so there’s no need to be fitting MTB or mullet gearing. In fact, you want to make sure you have big enough gears to make the most of the fast rolling sections and not to be spinning out. That said, with 200+ kilometres in your legs, you might want a bit of a “limp home” option. I’ll be opting for a 1X set-up with a 42t chainring and a 10-42t cassette.
NUTRITION & HYDRATION
You’ve got three food stops on the 215km route where you can stock up on some delicious, eco-friendly, Nurhu energy bars and refill your water bottles. But that still means you could have 2-4 hours of riding between them. This means you’ll need to be able to carry 1-2 litres of fluids – it could be hot! Two 750ml bottles will do if you’re a quicker rider but it might be worth thinking about a bladder.
You’ll also need to be carrying your favourite snacks and have easy access to them – even when riding on rough stuff. A ride of this length is as much about fuelling well as fitness so have a good think about how you’ll carry your fuel.
I’ll be using a high carbohydrate drink in my first two bottles to ensure I’m getting plenty of fuel onboard in the first three hours or so and then switching to constant grazing on a selection of sweet and savoury snacks from a top-tube bag.
You’ll need a reliable and fully charged GPS head-unit to navigate with. Please do not be tempted to use your mobile phone for this or have GPS apps running on your phone as this will drain the battery and you may well need it to make an emergency call.
COMPACT POWER BANK
It’s going to be a long day and you don’t want your GPS battery failing you. If you’re not confident of its battery lasting the distance, carry a power bank and the required cables.
DON'T SAY THE P******* WORD!
TUBELESS REPAIR KIT
As I’ve already said, I’d strongly recommend that all riders run tubeless set-ups with minimum 38mm tyres. This will significantly improve traction and comfort and, more importantly, hugely reduce the likelihood of punctures.
No tyre is 100% puncture proof though and, for bigger holes, it can be necessary to use a dart, plug, worm or anchovy to aid sealing. Make sure you have a kit and you know how to use it.
VALVE CORE REMOVAL TOOL
If you need to top up your sealant, you’ll need to remove your valve core. It’s also easier to re-seat a tyre with the core removed. Some multi-tools have one of these but, if not, pop one in your tool kit – you can also get ones that double as valve dust caps.
After a puncture, a top up of sealant can aid sealing and replace any lost sealant so that you’re protected against any future punctures. Many brands sell top-up pouches that you simply squeeze through the valve.
PUMP OR CO2 INFLATOR
A micro-pump is useful for topping up tyres but, for inflating a tyre from flat, especially if it has unseated, the quick blast of a CO2 inflator is far more effective.
INNER TUBES AND TYRE BOOTS
Occasionally a hole may be too big to seal and the only solution is to pop a tube in so, for a ride of this length, even when running tubeless, I’ll still carry two tubes. You’ll also need a boot in this situation to stop the tube extruding through the hole/gash. Having some dedicated boots is the ideal but a wrap of gaffer tape around one of your bottles can be pressed into service, a gel wrapper or even a plastic bank note.
FIRST AID KIT
A compact first aid kit including a foil survival blanket should really be on your bike or in your pocket for any off-road ride. It’s not just for you – let’s look after each other out there.
SPARE REAR MECH HANGER
A cheap spare part that you can probably pack and forget about but which can make the difference between finishing a ride or not.
MULTI-TOOL WITH CHAIN TOOL
If you need to tighten a bolt or adjust your saddle height, you don’t want to be wasting time asking around for a tool. If you don’t have a chain that has a quick/missing link or in certain other scenarios a chain tool is necessary for breaking and rejoining the chain.
It’s a good idea to pack a quick-link or missing-link for your chain. These will be specific to the make of chain/number of gears you’re running. Make sure you bring the correct ones and, if in doubt, double check with your local bike shop.
Some links (such as KMC) require a special tool (resembling small piers) to open them. Again, make sure you have the correct tool for your chain.
You’re going to have to carry all of this but it’s not a bike-packing trip so there’s no need to carry the kitchen sink. A saddle-pack, top-tube bag and jersey pockets should give you more than enough kit real estate – go as light as you can, you don’t want to make 215 kilometers any harder than it has to be!
We look forward to seeing you at the Festival Fort for Ekoi Stone Circle. It promises to be an unforgettable event and we can’t wait to share the Summer Solstice with you. For more information about the event, click the link below. Happy trails.