Love Valley is a 50 mile long race with big climbs on a course that is a mix of gravel and pavement. It’s a great course where Road, Cyclocross, Mountain Bikes, and single speeds test themselves in the NC mountains.
Riding an event like this on a single speed is always interesting. The “perfect” gear for any race is influenced by the course, the rider, weather, fitness level, competition, etc. The Love Valley race decision also included a lot of guess work. Looking at an elevation profile and talking with others can only go so far. Deciding what to ride without actually visiting the area is never perfect.
Using the elevation profile and rider reports for prior years I knew the steep parts were indeed VERY steep. I also knew that there were some fast sections plus with a lot of road riders. In the week prior to the race I was on the fence between using a 36/17 vs. 36/16. I also considered using a 15 or 18. I needed a gear to apply effective power on steep climbs and also let me motor along on flats and rolling sections. Part of the fun of single speed is knowing that all gears are trade offs. In the end I decided to race 36/16 and feel it was a good choice.
Most of the field of racers were riding road bikes, gravel bikes, or cyclocross bikes. I was on my 29er with lightweight Thunder Burt tires but they were still 2.25″ front and 2.1″ rear. Tire choice was a big issue throughout the race I saw people on road bikes blow out tires on the gravel bits.
The start of the race was very FAST. I always get nervous with big groups so I spun like mad to stay with the lead part of the pack. Once the group thinned out into smaller clusters of five to six riders I was more comfortable and eventually found a couple groups that I sorta stayed with. On single speed I would go ahead on the climbs. People would often catch me on the descents and flat sections. It was great fun; I always enjoy mixing it up with the geared riders.
The club racing scene in North Carolina is alive and well. Low key events like Love Valley and block busters like the Six Hours of warrior creek are loads of fun. Riding bikes is not just for pros and really the “racing” does not have to be something to stress out about.
Often a race is just a good chance to enjoy the weather and ride with others on a course that is different from what you normally do.