From The Top: A Closer Look at Grinduro
“I’d rather go fast on a slow bike than go slow on a fast bike”—Todd Ingermanson, Black Cat Bicycles
For a freshman event hosted in a remote High Sierra town, Grinduro‘s impact on cycling has been enormous. Although 2015 marked the first edition, the signature blend of cycling disciplines resonated with cyclists as soon as word got out about this forward-thinking dirt road enduro race. Perhaps it was the romanticism of an adventure in the Sierras, or the fact that it coincided so perfectly with a growing interest in the”all road” style of riding, but Grinduro has quickly become synonymous with good times. So naturally, we jumped at opportunity to discuss the event with Giro marketing director and Grinduro organizer Dain Zaffke.
Zaffke’s history in cycling is illustrative of the mindset that informs Grinduro. His competitive background includes nearly every cycling discipline, with high-level cyclocross, downhill, enduro, road, and cross-country all accounted for. And although he deserves a significant amount of credit, he’s refreshingly humble and quick to acknowledge that plenty of other people have played essential roles since Grinduro’s inception. “The concept came about in a conversation with Joe Parkin in the summer of 2013.” For the uninitiated, Parkin is the former editor of Bike and Paved magazines and the only cyclist to have represented America at World Championships in road, mountain biking, and cyclocross. That makes him something of a prototype for the well-rounded rider to which Grinduro caters.
Inspired by NorCal’s rich history of dirt road riding, Grinduro is essentially a mixed-surface enduro race. The local influence runs deeper still, drawing inspiration from another genre-defining Californian event. According to Zaffke, “before Grinduro, the Downieville Classic was my favorite event of all time. It’s not just the bike racing, it’s the full experience of the weekend. There are two days of racing at Downieville so most people stay for the weekend. The party on Saturday night is crazy; there are plenty of people that go up just for the party and don’t ride it all that weekend. That’s really something we wanted to mimic with Grinduro.”
It only made sense, given the Downieville connection, for Zaffke to reach out to the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, promoters of the Downieville classic. “We approached SBTS with an idea and outlined our wish list of our dream event. They made the event a reality. SBTS essentially does all of the heavy lifting; those guys are experts at putting on world-class bike races. The team from Giro basically adds that extra layer to make it a premium and entirely unique event; things like coordinating gourmet food, great music, building the art and bike exhibit, and making sure that each participant goes home feeling like they got a lot more out of the event than expected.”
So why host Grinduro in Quincy, a former California Gold Rush town that, until recently, would hardly have made anyone’s “must visit” list? As Zaffke put it, “the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship has been investing a ton into building world-class trail infrastructure in Quincy. The terrain is epic, truly incredible, and now that there’s great singletrack this will no doubt become a mountain bike destination.” The upshot is that Grinduro acts as a fundraiser for trail development in Quincy. Last year’s edition raised over $40,000 for trail building efforts, while highlighting the area’s vast potential for bicycle-based recreation.
With a route that spans roughly 60 miles and some 8,000 feet of climbing, Grinduro is a big day in the saddle—arguably even bigger than the numbers indicate. As with enduro mountain bike races, there are a handful of timed stages, but the exact number, as well as the precise route, will remain secret until a few days before the race to help level the playing field. Then again, given the diversity of the timed stages, it remains likely that this year’s edition will once again cater to rouleurs with serious skill.
Considering the diversity of challenges presented by the course, it’s unsurprising that competitors have opted to race everything from road bikes to full-suspension mountain bikes. But what is surprising is that racers have had success on bikes that run the entire gamut. According to Dain, “Last year I rode a Santa Cruz Stigmata and I was very happy with my choice. The geometry of the Stigmata makes it very confident on rough terrain and I rode WTB’s Nano 40c tire tubeless, making it ride more like an XC 29er than a traditional cyclocross bike. Of course, lots of people raced cross-country mountain bikes last year and had a blast. My wife, Katie, actually won the women’s open category on a Juliana Nevis XC hardtail. Most categories were won by riders on cyclocross bikes, but Jason Moeschler managed a third in pro men on a full-suspension mountain bike, so anything goes at Grinduro. That’s one of the coolest things about this event — there’s no simple formula for success.”
With the growing interest in Grinduro, one couldn’t help but wonder if there’s potential to develop the event into a series. And as it turns out, it’s an option that’s currently being explored with great interest. However, Zaffke made it abundantly clear that re-creating Grinduro’s magic in a different location would be largely dependent on finding a way to highlight the local flavor of whatever host area was chosen, rather than simply exporting the proven—yet decidedly NorCal-centric—Grinduro formula. “The longer-term dream is to make it a global series, but that requires the right partners in each region. The last thing we want to do is go to a place and steamroll the community with our own agenda; we need to work with the right people for each event.”
Those who are interested in attending this year’s edition will be disappointed to know that registration has reached capacity. The one remaining chance would be to win the Competitive Cyclist Grinduro Giveaway. That means that plenty of us will have to experience it via our social media feeds when October 8th rolls around. Those lucky enough to attend can expect something extraordinary. As Dain put it, “Right now we’re focused on making the October event the best bike race of the year.” Something tells us that it won’t disappoint.
Competitive Cyclist would like to sincerely thank Dain Zaffke for the interview, and Giro for providing photos.