Are you as stoked for another Happy Hour chat as Graham is? A topic that hits close to home for Graham, he’s brought on a good friend of his to chat about gravel cycling. Josh Bonnici is here to chat with us about his recent race in the Belgian Waffle Ride. Stick around to learn more about this epic event & be sure to crack open a cold one while you read along.
Thanks for joining another Live on Instagram with Graham. Enjoy!
G: Hello sir!
J: What’s up Graham, so good to see you!
G: So for those tuning in, Josh has joined us here before but he just did the Belgian Waffle Ride so we wanted to hear all about that. Josh, why don’t you start us off by telling us a little about what you do on the bike?
J: So I’ve been riding bikes forever. I just started racing about 3 years ago, I currently race for San Diego Bike Club (SDBC), and I love a good suffer-fest. People who have ridden with me know that. So last year I was able to cross a few off my bucket-list where I did Belgium Waffle Ride, San Diego which was 136 miles with roughly 11,000ft of climbing and I did The Leadville 100 in August. So when I saw BWR was doing a Utah version this year I signed up for it in January and was super stoked and then COVID hit and everything got canceled. Luckily though that wasn’t one of the things that got canceled so I was actually able to race this last weekend. Early this year I did a handful of road bike crit-races, which is the complete opposite of what BWR is. Those are 45-50 minute efforts compared to the long endurance event that BWR is. Oh, and in terms of what I ride, I do everything on 2 wheels, road, gravel, I really enjoy the track (velodrome) and mountain biking. BWR had a little bit of everything, other than the track.
G: I don’t understand how they couldn’t get a velodrome involved somehow. They should have just gone for it and threw that in there.
J: Hey I agree, they should have got it in there and finished us on the track like at Paris Roubaix! Do something crazy.
G: Absolutely! I love that you tackle these crazy endurance races like the BWR but it’s also important to note your skills as a crit rider, you’re also good at that. You have this big endurance motor, but you also have a really big sprint, you were killing it this season, won a bunch of races, that was fun to watch too.
J: I did I finally dialed in my tactics and what my style is. I won both races I was in at Tour De Murrieta with a lot of help from my teammates. Then I kind of transitioned into the endurance stuff. Which is a lot different. I like both of them, I think I’m better at the short stuff, but the long stuff is just really fun and I’ve figured out how my body works for those kinds of events. I really like the science of working with them. That’s where I’ve pushed myself in the past couple of years.
G: Cycling is such a science-based, dorky thing to get into but its science if you want to do well.
J: It totally is
G: So going into BWR this yea with a whole new course, what was it like getting into it and what’d you do to prep?
J: So I was able to pre-ride small bits and pieces of it, the day prior. I did some recon. I watched some videos of some guys who went out on it. So I wasn’t too worried about it, the geography worked with me. There wasn’t as much climbing as the BWR San Diego, which was 11,000 ft, or Leadville which was 10,000. I figured that as long as I knew where the big climbs were I would be okay. There was a lot of flat rolling type of terrain out there. So I was pretty well informed of knowing where the asphalt, and dirt was. I knew some spots where I could sit up a bit and relax a little and others where I had to light the match a bit more. BWR does a great job of releasing the course early and so I could look at the course and figure out where things were. I didn’t go into this race to win it, we had a world tour pro lining up with Pete Stetina, and a couple of other big pros out there like Keegan Swenson, I’m a pretty egotistical guy but I knew I wasn’t going to have a chance against any of them. I wanted to put in my best effort and so I went in towards pacing myself well, and hard enough where I was tired but also not completely blown up. I feel like, especially with Leadville, I went too easy. I got back and still felt like I had something in the tank which in hindsight was kind of a bummer. But I was definitely there for more of the fun and stoke of it. I wanted to push myself with this one and see how it went.
G: Nice well it seems like you did fairly well. Will you talk about the metrics of the race?
J: So the stats are really different. It’s a really long mixed-surface course, that’s pretty much the only thing I think is shared with the San Diego version. The San Diego version was 136 miles, about 11,000 ft of climbing at sea level, and about 90 miles of it was the road the rest was dirt. Mostly, the dirt parts were decently packed gravel roads. Now change over to BWR Utah, it was 125 miles and only about 6,300 ft of climbing, which sounded great but 90 miles of it was dirt and the rest was asphalt. You have to take into account that you’re riding a gravel bike that’s going to have a little bit of a more narrow tire, compared to a mountain bike, and there’s no suspension. So the biggest thing I took away from all of it was some of the dirt descents. Unless you were on asphalt you aren’t able to really relax. You still have to use your arms and legs as the suspension so you’re not sliding out or hitting the sand. It was very taxing on the body for that, and also the mind, right? The open long road descent helps you relax your brain and take a deep breath but BWR didn’t have many of those so I was constantly challenged. It took place at about 6,000 ft elevation so coming from where I live in San Diego at 30 ft, you definitely feel that. I tried a couple of different hacks, I got there a couple of days early. One thing I got a tip on before I went was taking Ginkgo Biloba about 150 milligrams every day a week leading up to it. I heard that that helps so I gave it a shot, maybe it’s a placebo, maybe it actually works but I felt like I kind of got it handled a little bit. For BWR Utah, the first hour I had a hard time getting my heart rate down. It was around 165-170bpm which I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain so I had to really focus on bringing that down a bit. I wasn’t sure if that was nerves, or excitement, the elevation, or that it was cold. That’s pretty much all the metrics of the ride and what I took into it.
G: Great, all important things. So the BWR in part is such a special ride because of the events that surround the ride, the pre & post parties, the waffles, all this cool stuff that happens, but what was it like going to this event amidst COVID and how did it compare and contrast to your past BWR’s?
J: Last year, because it’s such a big event, there’s vendors and beer flowing, this year was a lot more subdued because of COVID. Masks were required, social distancing was enforced, but there were a handful of sponsors out there and they still had the fun music. People were really excited but the crowd was smaller too, I think some people couldn’t keep it in their calendar, some weren’t looking to train gravel. So the size of it was smaller but overall I think they executed well on being able to still have a fun and exciting atmosphere. Waffles were individually wrapped this year, rather than flipping them right off the griddle but I think they did the best they could and I was thankful there was an event to go to and get excited for.
G: Yeah it’s so awesome. I was stoked, I hope they put on some sort of featured film like they had the year prior. Because this year there are so few events to go to content from these things is king! It’s great to follow along with the YouTubers who are going to these things as well. I think just hearing these details makes people hungry for adventures and events to go to. So going back to the actual ride portion of this experience, what tire did you run?
J: So I ran the specialized pathfinder pro, 38-millimeter gravel tire. I would not have changed it, I liked what I ran. So I heard one time and I’ve kept up with this mantra, tire up to your weakness. So in a mixed event like this, knowing I’m kind of a bigger cyclist I wanted something that was efficient and would roll well when I’m on the asphalt or really any hardpack. I went with a 38mm, they said the smallest they would suggest was 36mm but I like that tire and it rolled really well. So I’m 190 pounds I ran the rear at 40 psi, the front closer to 34, and I knew that tire pressure was crazy but those tires handled really well in the dirt and I wasn’t too worried about the dirt sections having a strong mountain biking background. I ran a Fezzari Shafer gravel bike which I absolutely love so far. I’ll also mention the handlebars which were Zipp service course 42 m with a slight flare in the drops. It was nice because I could get aero on the flats and do 22-23 mph but also feel controlled in the drops on the descents.
G: Very cool! What was the hardest part of the race for you?
J: 100% the last 15-20 miles. It was actually kind of cruel, they had this 2.3-mile long dirt climb that averaged 10%. Parts of it were sandy so and even though the gradient started out at 5%, it ramped up to 13-14% pretty quickly. Then, you had to climb the backside which was really loose which made the corners awful. I had felt like I paced the beginning of it well, my partner yelled at me for going too fast at mile 90 but I felt great, then at mile 105, my hands started cramping so that’s definitely what made it the worst. They started cramping so bad I had to walk up about the last half mile of that climb. So the last 15 miles took me about 2 hours, it completely killed my time. Leading up to that was tough.
G: Yeah I bet! So as we wrap this up, what are some of your biggest post-ride thoughts? Any more gravel races for you on the horizon this year or next?
J: I think it would be really fun to do either Cedar City again or San Diego, and do the wafer (the shorter slightly less brutal route at BWR) see if I can actually push for a competitive time. I think that would become a fun, different animal. I think going into next year I’m going to focus on a different style of riding. I’m going to be focusing more on the track, the velodrome. Still doing some of this stuff for fun just because I love the adventure of the gravel and mountain bike events. And of course, completing something big, I love a good suffer-fest and that’s what these turn out to be. If you’re interested in really testing yourself I highly recommend doing rides like these. It tests you mentally and physically. I really had to dial in my nutrition a week prior, really count in the calories I was taking in before and after my rides. All of that is really fun for me and these events get me to mess with that.
G: That brings up another question, what’s in your bottles, and what are you carrying for food with you on the bike?
J: I dialed this in from Leadville last year. I put about 320 calories into each bottle, I use Martin, in the black baggies, I like that, the taste is tolerable and my gut accepts it. It’s about 80% carbs in the bottle. For BWR this year I did something a bit different, I took a hydration pack with me. Last year I did not but because I knew there was so much dirt I wanted to be able to have nutrition on me at all times. When I started I had 2 packets which were about 700 calories. I bought some sour patch kids, cut the top off, and kept them in my pocket. I had a couple of waffles. But my goal was to do gels and drink during the ride and then at the stations I would always grab another gel, have another bar, and maybe a banana. That worked out, I never felt like I food bonked, my nutrition was there so that worked pretty well. I wish I drank a bit more regular water but I had to get the calories in.
G: Yeah totally sounds like a good nutrition setup. And finally, to officially wrap this up, what sunglasses did you have on for these races?
J: I had on my Oakley Jawbreakers. Those are made with PRIZM for the road but I really like these glasses for all-terrain, they breathe well and they’re not super dark which is helpful because we started before sunrise and with all the dust I had to keep my glasses on to be able to see. Love those, the wife got them for me a few years ago.
Well there you have it, friends, another Happy Hour chat finito!! We hope you enjoyed this week’s chat about the Belgian Waffle Ride and got some good tips from Josh. If you have any questions, be sure to follow us on Instagram and message us with them.
See you next week!