Must-Have Gear for Mid South Gravel

Oklahoma's Mid South Gravel is always tricky with its unpredictable weather and sticky mud. Let's gear up for this 100-mile adventure!

Mid South Gravel 2020

Written by
Spencer Powlison

Published on

Posted in
Guides

Photo: 241 Photography

What is red, can be hard and smooth as pavement, or impossibly sticky and soft like wet cement? Why it’s one of Oklahoma’s classic red dirt roads. Thousands of gravel riders will be fretting over this riddle for the next week or so ahead of Mid South Gravel on March 12.

I’m headed out to this classic gravel event in Stillwater for my third time. My memories of the event’s fun, inclusive, and musical atmosphere have me excited to return. The race’s early date and unpredictable weather have me feeling a bit anxious too. So to quell my nerves ahead of this 100-ish mile challenge, I did what I always do. I planned my gear.

If you’re headed to Mid South (see you there?), hopefully, this gear lineup will help you prepare. If you’re doing other gravel events this year, I think this can still be helpful, whether you’re facing nasty red mud or any other challenge out on the gravel roads.

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Tires for Mid South Gravel

Mid South gravel tires

Like Garth Algar in “Wayne’s World,” I fear change, so I tend to avoid making big upgrades to my bike before races. The 3T Exploro Racemax I got earlier this winter will go to Oklahoma largely as-is. However, tire choice is important for gravel races, especially Mid South. I have two options on deck, depending on the weather.

Dry conditions tire: WTB Byway 40mm

As implied in the intro, dry conditions are usually hard and fast on the gravel roads near Stillwater. This isn’t the frighteningly chunky gravel you find in the Flint Hills at Unbound Gravel. If the forecast is clear, I’ll ride WTB’s Byway, which has a slick center tread and file tread shoulders that transition to cute little cornering knobs. These will be efficient, with enough rubber to handle the odd section of loose gravel.

Wet conditions tire: Kenda Kommando 32mm

Paradoxically, a narrower tire will be better if Mid South gets muddy. That’s because the clay dirt sticks to everything and is liable to wad up inside your fork or frame stays. A 32mm ‘cross tire like this Kenda gives you more clearance, which cuts down on the peanut butter buildup. Plus, this tire is knobby, which should help traction a bit. But it’ll still be slippery out there!

Helmet for Mid South: POC Ventral Spin

POC Ventral

Since POC launched this aero-ish helmet, I have been a big fan. Nobody really needs a full-on aero road helmet (well, okay unless you’re racing the Tour). But this helmet gives you some of those aerodynamic gains without sacrificing weight or ventilation. Mid South is hilly, with about 6-7,000 feet of climbing, but overall, you’re going quick, so a little extra help in the aero department is worthwhile.

[product-block handle="poc-ventral-spin-bike-helmet-medium-54-59cm-zink-orange-avip"/]

Rain gear for Mid South: Mavic Mistral Vest and Essential Softshell

Mavic rain gear

In my simple mind, there are only two scenarios: You start in the rain, or the rain starts mid-race. And that’s how my kit plan is organized. Apart from my usual jersey, bibs, and undershirt, these two Mavic items will be in my “uh-oh” bag. I prefer the vest for easy on/off during the ride. It’s often a chilly morning start too, so the Mistral can be useful there. Plus, it uses Gore Windstopper, which is water-resistant. But if we know it’s going to rain, or it’s raining on the start, I’d rather commit to a softshell like the Mavic Essential and know I’ll be warm-ish and dry-er for a lot of the ride. I like this material more than a hardshell rain jacket due to its better breathability and flexibility. 

Nutrition for Mid South: Skratch Labs and USWE Outlander

USWE pack

Unless someone’s waiting for me at an aid station with a thermos of hot chocolate (hint, hint), my nutrition is the same, rain or shine. Scratch Labs drink mix and nutrition works for me, and Skratch is based here in Boulder — bonus. I’ll also pack some Gu Roctane gels because, in the hectic first hour or two of the race, it’s far easier to suck down a gel and stay ahead on calories. 

My second consideration for nutrition is a hydration pack. On one hand, I love the convenience of drinking on the fly, and as a mountain biker, it’s not too bothersome to have something on my back. On the other hand, I’ve regretted wearing hydration packs in some gravel events after they run dry and hold in my body’s heat with that plastic bladder under the midday sun. So, I think USWE’s Outlander is my solution. It’s far more minimal than any other pack on the market. I might plan to ditch it with my drop bag mid-race, if it is a warm, sunny day, And if it’s cold and rainy? Maybe I’ll be glad to have that extra layer.

More gear thoughts

All of my Mid South advice comes with a caveat: I like to race events like this. I can’t help it. Once the number is pinned on, I can’t resist. The great thing about this and many other gravel events is that many participants are simply riding to experience and finish the event. I love it. They’re having way more fun than I, no doubt about it. So, here’s some gear that could help if you aren’t going hell for leather:

  • Ortlieb Frame Pack: This is a great way to carry more clothing, spares, food, or whatever. 
  • POC Avip Rain Jacket: You know what’s great for rainy riding? A rain jacket. Yeah, talk to the guy who wrote that stuff above and see if you can change his mind about this.
  • WTB Byway 44mm tires: Four millimeters. Maybe we’re splitting hairs here, but for a long day of riding, it’s great to have tires with better traction and more air volume for comfort. If your bike can fit them, go for it.

Whether you’re focused on going fast or just finishing, remember to take it easy and enjoy the ride! Gravel events like Mid South are special because they have that fun, welcoming vibe. Let’s keep it that way.

Gravel gear questions or suggestions? Hit me up in the comments!

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