Must-Have Gear for SBT GRVL

To finish SBT GRVL and finish strong, you need the right equipment. Bruce goes over what tires, wheels, nutrition, hydration, and other gear he'll need to conquer this 140-mile gravel race.

Must-Have Gear for SBT GRVL

Written by
Bruce Lin

Published on

Posted in
Gravel

Photo: Dane Cronin

Last year’s SBT GRVL was the worst race ever. Wait, no, let me back up. The event itself was amazing. SBT GRVL is one of the most well-organized gravel races I’ve ever attended, and it covers some of the finest gravel roads in the world. Plus, getting to spend a weekend in beautiful Steamboat, Colorado is the cherry on top of a delicious gravel sundae. Last year, my biggest problem was … um … me. A combination of poor preparation, poor fitness, and lower back pain meant I suffered for over 10 hours. I crossed the finish line half-dead. I vowed to never return.

Well, I’m back for more. I’m looking for vengeance. My goal this time around is to finish faster and with a smile on my face. My fitness still isn’t great, so I’m going to put a bit more thought into preparing my equipment to take on the full 140-mile Black course. This is my must-have gear for SBT GRVL.

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Fast gravel tires

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[product-block handle="wtb-byway-tire-road-tcs-tanwall-tubeless"/]

SBT GRVL has a reputation for fast and smooth gravel. Last year’s winner, Alex Howes, rode it on 35mm slick tires! Despite that, there are a few rough and loose sections and a couple of singletrack trails that make wider tires nice to have. To balance speed, grip, and comfort, I want a fast-rolling semi-slick that’s around 38-40mm wide. The top two models that fit the bill are the Panaracer Gravel King SS and the WTB ByWay. They both roll fast, have attractive tan walls, and decent puncture resistance. 

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Carbon gravel wheels 

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The SBT GRVL Black course has over 9,000 feet of elevation gain. Since climbing is my biggest weakness, I need extra help to drag myself uphill. That’s why this year I’m picking up a set of lightweight carbon wheels to shed a few grams (off my bike). Yes, I’ve said many times that total bike weight doesn’t matter, but light wheels can definitely make a difference. I’m a big ENVE fan, so I’m going with the AG25, which has a 25mm internal width to support super wide tires and ENVE’s Wide Hookless Bead which protects against pinch flats.

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Vented helmet

[product-block handle="poc-ventral-air-spin-mips-hydrogen-white"/]

Last year, I wore a matte black aero helmet, and on every climb, a waterfall of sweat blinded me, and my brain cooked in the heat. Never again. This time, I’m wearing the most ventilated helmet possible to keep my noggin cool. The POC Ventral Air has the standard Ventral’s aero shape but adds more vents to let your head breathe. Plus, the “Eye Garage” provides a convenient place to stash sunglasses during climbs so sweat doesn’t drip on them.

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Hydration pack

[product-block handle="camelbak-chase-bike-hydration-vest-50oz"/]

Abundant aid stations are a big perk at SBT GRVL. It’s possible to do the entire 140-mile Black course with only a couple of bottles on your bike because you have several opportunities to refill. Not me though. I fully expect the heat to kill me if I don’t carry extra water in a hydration pack. Plus, a pack makes it easy to drink on fast and loose gravel descents. I picked up a Camelbak Chase Vest, one of the most popular hydration packs in gravel racing. It has a 1.5L bladder and convenient pockets on the front for food and tools.

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Cargo bib shorts

[product-block handle="poc-rove-cargo-vpds-bib-shorts-uranium-black"/]

You can never have enough pockets, and for long-distance gravel events, it’s nice to have more places to stash extra gels and bars. Not only do the POC Rove Cargo VPDS bib shorts give you pockets on the legs, but the Vital VPDS chamois also has silicone inserts designed to provide extra vibration absorption and support for gravel riding. It’ll help keep my butt fresh and happy after a long day in the saddle.

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Power meter

[product-block handle="garmin-rally-xc100-single-sensing-power-meter-pedals"/]

My biggest mistake last year was starting too hard. I tried to follow a fast group and exploded. I never recovered and kept getting slower as the day wore on. This year, I’m using a power meter and sticking to a pacing plan. The easiest way to add a power meter to any bike is with a pair of power meter pedals like the Garmin Rally XC100. They’re single-sided, but for a regular rider like me, that’s more than good enough for monitoring my power output.

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Nutrition

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Not only did I mess up my pacing, but I also fell short on my nutrition last year. This led to an epic bonk late in the race. It’s hard to remember to eat when you’re going bar-to-bar with other riders, so I’m adding a carbohydrate mix to my bottles to stay topped up. I’ve been testing Skratch Labs Sport Superfuel, and my stomach has no issues digesting it while I’m maxed out. I’ll even keep a few scoops in a ziploc bag so I can mix more bottles at the aid stations.

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Chain wax

[product-block handle="silca-super-secret-chain-lube"/]

The final weapon in my arsenal is Silca’s Super Secret wax chain coating. I lost a lot of time last year stopping to re-lube my squeaky chain, so I’ve been looking for a lube that can go the distance while staying fast, clean, and quiet. I got into immersive chain waxing, then started testing Super Secret, and I’ve been extremely happy with it. It takes a bit of extra work to prep your chain, but I think the results are worth it.

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More gear thoughts

SBT GRVL must have gear, tires, helmet, etc.What about gloves, Bruce? Photo: Dane Cronin

If I were to cover every single piece of gear I plan to bring with me to Steamboat, it would probably turn into a short novel. But the above gear is what I can’t live (or race) without. Here are a few other items that are high on my list, but don’t quite cross the “must-have” threshold:

  • Gloves: I’m naughty and usually don’t wear gloves when riding gravel. But since I might be on the bike for 10 hours again, I’m considering putting on a pair, just so my hands have a little extra cushion. 
  • Chamois Butt’r: I have an on-again-off-again relationship with chamois cream. For a 140-mile race though, I may be forced to use it. I’ll bring a bottle with me and make a game-day decision on whether I apply it or not.  
  • Silca Ultimate Tubeless Sealant: the SBT GRVL course isn’t really known for causing flats, but it’s nice to be prepared for anything. I’ve been testing Silca’s Ultimate Sealant and I truly think it’s the best puncture protection there is. 

[product-block handle="silca-ultimate-tubeless-sealant"/]

Whether you’re focused on going fast or just finishing, remember to enjoy the ride! That’s my number one goal this year. Gravel events like SBT GRVL are special because they have that fun, welcoming vibe. Let’s keep it that way.

Got questions or suggestions about my SBT GRVL gear? Hit me up in the comments!

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