By Neil Shirley
The First Annual Rock Cobbler was held Sunday February 9th in Bakersfield, California and organized by Sam Barn who has promoted a range of cycling events (cyclocross, road, and mountain bike). ‘The Rock Cobbler came about while on a ride roughly two years ago when a cycling friend and I were throwing out ideas for big, epic road rides. I took it in the direction of a form of gravel grinder meets cyclocross, meets adventure race and we literally hatched the route and details over beers one day and it just went from there’, said promoter Sam Ames.
For the inaugural year, The Rock Cobbler was kept small, limited to 100 riders in order to make sure the kinks were worked out before opening it up to the hundreds of would-be racers. ‘We have 14 pages of notes with ideas, routes and more madness we would like to unleash. The crew of volunteers I get to assemble is unbelievable. Any promoter knows that without his crew the ideas and the execution are not possible. The response we got for the first Rock Cobbler was overwhelmingly positive. The vibe was so good and that’s truly what we love’, said Ames.
NEIL SHIRLEY AND THE ROCK C0BBLER
After breakfast and race instructions at Lengthwise Brewery, it was go time. Fortunately for me, my good luck charm was there to see us off. About 80-percent of the group went with a cyclocross bike, with the remainder on mountain bikes. No one was brave enough to give the course a try on a road bike.
Once the 12-mile neutral section ended, we hit the dirt roads around Oildale. The short, steep climbs took their toll on the group almost immediately. (Photo: Peter Wollesen)
Bakersfield local and Spy Masters team member Jim Pappe was using The Rock Cobbler as prep for the 130-mile Spy Belgian Waffle Ride that will be held in April. (Photo: Peter Wollesen)
Even race fans with a motor found the hills to be tough going. (Photo: Peter Wollesen)
Cyclocross standout Brent Prenzlow (left) and I had gapped the rest of the field by the mid-way point, but if I had known how hard the second half of the course would be I might have had a different pacing strategy. Note the different sizes of tires we’re using – cyclocross vs. gravel. (Photo: Peter Wollesen)
The three-mile climb up Breckenridge Road looked to be the hardest part of the course on paper, but in reality the smooth pavement made it one of the few places you could actually relax. (Photo: Peter Wollesen)
Drop and give me ten…or twenty. To prove you rode the entire course, cards were handed out at four checkpoints. In order to receive the cards at two of those checkpoints we were made to do 10 pushups. Those checkpoints were on top of climbs, and doing pushups when already anaerobic is harder than one might think. (Photo: Peter Wollesen)
What I had been dreading the entire race: the mother of all hike-a-bikes. With 550-feet of elevation change from bottom to top, this was the backbreaker for many. Once over the top we were treated to some twisty single track descending in Hart Park. (Photo: Peter Wollesen)
For all the pain and suffering we were awarded with a rock. Well, at least it’s a cool rock. As challenging as the The Rock Cobbler was, it wasn’t so over-the-top hard that only a few could finish. Of all the starters, only three riders were forced to pull out. For a look at the route, check out the Strava file here.
THE ROCK COBBLER BIKE SETUP
Bike setup can be as important as fitness when it comes to successfully making it through a gravel race. I opted to use Pivot’s new Vault ‘cross/gravel bike since it features more gravel friendly geometry than a pure cyclocross bike. After modifications to the gearing, tires, cockpit, and saddle/seatpost, I hoped it was ready for The Rock Cobbler. As it turned out, I had ample gearing, plenty of traction, no flat tires, and a relatively comfortable ride; all combing for the fastest time of the day.
Traditional cyclocross chainrings are 46/36, which don’t lend themselves to the best gravel gearing. I swapped out the stock rings for Praxis Works 50/34, giving me a higher top end for fast road sections, and a lower climbing gear. While some gravel races might be fine for road pedals, The Rock Cobbler required mountain bike pedals and shoes to tackle the brutally long and steep hike-a-bike.
Shimano’s newly released Ultegra GS derailleur with 11-32 cassette has been a long time coming. Having a 32 tooth cog is something that was very much appreciated at The Rock Cobbler, and is a great cassette option for anyone wanting more than a 28 tooth cog for their 11-speed Shimano setup. The Ultegra GS rear derailleur will also be available in a Di2 version.
Without knowing exactly what I was getting into in terms of terrain, I opted for a conservative tire choice. Clement X’Plor MSOs in 40c were wider than what was probably necessary, but I was never in need of more traction. Stan’s No Tubes Iron Cross wheels and Orange Seal sealant provided the confidence from flats that only tubeless can provide.
Like any ‘cross or gravel bike worth its salt these days, the Pivot Vault was disc brake equipped. TRP Hy/Rd calipers provided more than enough power to safely navigate the more technical descents on the course.
Feeling a little cramped by the stock FSA cockpit, I went with a longer PRO Vibe 7S stem and wider handlebars of the same model. Lizard Skins 2.5mm thick bar tape gave enough padding to help reduce the impacts.