Barry Roubaix-World’s Largest Gravel Race: Toughest Weather Ever?

Drive to Barry Roubaix

The weather was daunting on the drive to Barry Roubaix in Hastings, Michigan. I knew it would be muddy on the gravel roads, but I was hopeful that the rain would die down and conditions would improve.

There is a reason why this post doesn’t have any riding photos during the race at Barry Roubaix.  My hands were numb and barely functioning.  My camera was easily accessible, but I couldn’t bare the thought of removing my gloves.  I was chilled to the bone and my shoes were sloshing with each stroke.

I can take cold when I’m riding.  I can take wet.  However, cold and wet combined are almost impossible to protect yourself from and this year’s Barry Roubaix was way colder and wetter than I was prepared for.  Water seeped down my arms and into my gloves.  It wicked from my tights straight into the tips of my socks.

The forecast that I looked it at made it seem like we might get hit with a few light drizzles and temperatures in the low 40s.  My clothes and my mental state were prepared for that.  The actual temperature hovered around 32 and we had at least an hour of complete downpour.  By hour three, in my almost 4-hour journey, I was starting to shiver and I knew that I was teetering on the edge of what my body could handle.

James Knott starts Barry Roubaix

I was in the first wave because I signed up so early. It was awesome taking off with the lead group and following the pace car in a neutral start (21mph). The rain died down before the race and I thought we might get a pass on the weather. I figured I’d warm up once I started pedaling.

Barry Roubaix start line

Wave 1 waits at the starting line.

Team BQT in Kalamazoo

Team Breakaway Quickdirt Trek had 6 team members make the drive. We stayed at my wife’s cousin’s house in Kalamazoo and woke up early to head to Hastings. (BIG THANKS CRAIG AND HEATHER!)

Barry Roubaix is billed as the “World’s Largest Gravel Road Race”.  This year over 3000 cyclists registered.  There are 3 distances of 22, 36 and 62 miles with elevation changes of 1200, 2200 and 3800 feet respectively.  I signed up for the 62-mile version because that’s how I roll.  The course meanders along gravel and paved roads around Barry County, Michigan and despite the fact that I was suffering, I could appreciate the bucolic scenery that surrounded me.

I opted to do the race on my singlespeed mountain bike because I thought this would be a great training ride for Mohican 100 and the TriState 6-hour series.  After looking at the finishing times from last year it was obvious that I wouldn’t be competitive.  My rig, with its 2:1 gearing and big knobby tires doesn’t go as fast on the open flat roads as the sleeker gravel and CX bikes that were all around me.

The typical example was that I would draft off of a group and have no problem keeping up in the hilly gravel.  The gnarlier the conditions, the easier it was for me to keep pace.  On most uphills and downhills, I was faster than the guys around me.  But as soon as we hit a paved road section I would get dropped and have to find a new group.  This pattern repeated at least a half dozen times throughout the ride.

My advice, if you have access to a gravel or CX bike, then use it over a mountain bike.  If I was to do singlespeed again, I would definitely up my game from 32:16 to 32:15.  I didn’t have any trouble making it up any of the hills, although there were definitely a few folks walking the harder ones, and I definitely could have used more oomph on the flat roads.

Warehouse in Hastings, Michigan

We found a warm shelter for before and after the race. You can see the Miami Green singlespeed Trek mountain bike with super-light Lauf fork that I rode for the event in the center of the shot.

The weather took its toll on a lot of riders.  The SAG wagon was working overtime and my friend Joe Worboy had a 2-hour wait when he decided he couldn’t survive the weather in what he was wearing after 20 miles.  (Of course Joe is so tough that he put on warmer clothes and went back out and completed the whole race).  Others were not so tough and were opting for shorter routes than they had signed up for.  Honestly, just having the courage to cross the starting line took a decent amount of courage (or stupidity).

Just to give you a sense of how hard it was I will throw out some numbers.  Overall 3020 racers registered, but only 1863 people finished.  That’s a 38% drop out rate.  At the 62-mile distance, which would require much more suffering, 671 people registered, but only 337 finished – a 50 percent drop out rate.  In the men’s 62-mile singlespeed division, which is what I was in, 49 paid and 33 finished, a 33 percent drop out rate that was lower than the average and proves that singlespeeders are tougher and stupider than other riders.  I finished 17th out of 33 finishers in singlespeed and 148th out of 337 finishers in the overall 62-mile distance.  Not too shabby.

But, despite all the suffering I described, this is an awesome event!  I want to do it again.  If you were blessed enough to have a nicer day, which is hit or miss in Michigan in March, you could have a really pleasant ride.  It’s the kind of event, where elite athletes show up and are intermingled with more casual riders who are just proud to finish.

I was in the first wave because I signed up so early.  And while, I loved being up front and not having to fight traffic, it was hard to appreciate the sea of riders that had lined up on the street around the corner from the start line.  It wasn’t until I saw pictures afterwards that I realized how large the crowd was.  This event is a big deal in Hastings, Michigan and it seems like the town really throws it’s support behind it.

Barry Roubaix party fire

After shivering for 62 miles, this campfire at the afterparty was a godsend.

Founders Red Rye IPA

They had a full selection of delicious beers from Founders. I opted for the Red Rye IPA – which never tasted so good!

Barry Roubaix Podium

Dan Fausey (right), Mikey Worboy (left) and myself (center) snuck up onto the podium to clown around. We felt like champs to have just survived the day.

Afterwards there is a cool party with Founders beer on tap for $4 a beer and awards being given on a big stage.  I imagine that the party was a little smaller this year because of the weather, but I had a blast hanging out with my buddies Dan Fausey and Mikey Worboy by the warm fire while we waited for Joe to finish (although we had no idea what had happened to him or why it was taking so long).

If I sign up again next year, who is in?  This is a road trip you don’t want to miss.  The crowd is massive, the scenery is beautiful and the competition can be fierce.  Some people go to race, some just want to finish, and others are just looking for an excuse to drink a refreshing Founders beer at the finish.  In some years, like 2017, it’s just survival of the fittest.  Are you tough enough for Barry Roubaix?  Why don’t you sign up and find out?

Camel in warehouse

Random industrial camel shot.