On Sunday, Cyclocross Magazine took a high-level look at the winning bikes from Saturday’s big gravel day with the Dirty Kanza and Lost and Found gravel races.
Today we’re taking a closer look at Carl Decker’s winning bike for the 2017 Lost and Found gravel race. Spoiler alert, some might call it a mountain bike, but unlike some gravel bikes, doesn’t have a suspension fork. Decker tells us the reasons behind choosing a hardtail mountain bike over the drop bar cyclocross bike he used to win last year.
Carl Decker loves vehicles. When not racing bikes, he’s driving a rally car and spending time on his dirt bike, and when the fun or training is over, he’s either obsessing over finding the right tool for the job, tinkering to create one or inventing mods to make it to the finish line.
Finding the right tool sometimes means going against the grain to have an advantageous bike for the course. In Utah, Decker famously opted for his full suspension mountain bike to win the summer cyclocross race in Deer Valley, much to Jonathan Page’s chagrin, but still riding within the rules. In Austin, Texas for Cyclocross Nationals, Decker, expecting a sloppy running race, went shopping for soccer cleats and contemplated using platform pedals, all in an attempt for an equipment edge.
After winning the Lost and Found 100-mile gravel race in his first attempt last year, Carl Decker said he had to consciously ride to “make [his] equipment last all day.” He opted for Schwalbe G-One tires on his Giant TCX, which he said is on the “lighter end” of the gravel tire spectrum, and said he was riding “as if my tires were made of wax.” He fought his instincts to show off his Downieville-winning descending skills, and instead preserved his tires while his peers bombed the downhills and then were left looking for replacement tires in the aid stations.
Technically, the Lost and Found ride might be called a gravel race, but the dirt roads, which often turn to doubletrack from offroad vehicle traffic, isn’t all that different in terrain from an old-school mountain bike race, when races were really in the mountains and courses were one giant loop, like the 1980s Sierra 7500. Sure, singletrack is missing, and racers aren’t forced to do observed trials and a downhill (or honor Cindy Whitehead’s legendary ride by racing without a seat), but the rough, rugged terrain is far from a manicured modern day cross country mountain bike course, complete with man-made obstacles.
The hard-to-categorize race encourages creative bike choices. Barry Wicks built an MRP-suspended Kona Private Jake for last year’s attempt, Mark King adapted his rigid fat bike for the rugged race, while Grant Lacey jumped into his DeLorean to grab a 1985 Peugeot City Express.
Decker looked prepared to reenact his 2016 conservative ride and impressive result this year:
Last year I won the #lostsierratriplecrown largely due to a long and painful solo break that delivered me to victory at the #lostandfoundbikeride. This year there's a new, rougher course and a deeper pool of talent vying for the win at Lake Davis. But with this guy in my corner, I still like my odds. #tcxadvanced #ridelife
However, after inspecting the new 2017 Lost and Found gravel course on his motocross bike and seeing all the erosion damage from the heavy winter rains, Decker opted for his mountain bike. Winning is great, but finishing is paramount and winning while enjoying the downhills is even better, right? Decker explained:
“In light of the course change and rumors of rockier conditions at Lost and Found, I decided I’d bring a hardtail mountain bike as a backup in case the course warranted it. After riding the first and last thirds of the course, I decided that it might not be the quickest, but the mountain bike would be a safe bet given the hairy surface conditions at play.”
Decker took his XTC Advance 29er—the same bike he rode to win the 2016 MTB Singlespeed National Championships in Mammoth, CA, with a few modifications. He added a SRAM Eagle 10-50 cassette, and squeezed in a 36t X-Sync ring to get the biggest gear possible for the road sections.
Mechanics might cringe when looking at the clearance, but Decker assures us that the ring doesn’t touch the frame.
“You can see that the clearance is so tight that the dirt and oil on the sprocket do [touch]!”
Decker opted for his mountain bike not for suspension (it was rigid front and back) but for the fatter, sturdier rubber than his Schwalbe G-One tires from last year. Of course, the tinkerer had some hesitations after throwing his tire options on the scale. They’re listed at 575g but apparently tipped his scales a bit more than that:
“I had lighter and skinnier tire options with me at Lost and Found, but I decided to run proper XC tires: Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.25″ Snakeskin protected rubber. They were exactly twice as heavy as the tires I used the year prior. They were better for descending, as expected, but surprisingly, they were better on the loose and rough climbs as well. Others in the lead group were bouncing and losing traction while I was just sitting and cranking. So “light” doesn’t always make right, I guess.”
Bike geeks might be ready to hop over to Giant’s website to look for the rigid fork model of the Giant XTC Advanced that Decker rode, but we’ll save you the effort. Decker did some tinkering by mixing in an off-the-shelf Whisky rigid fork, painted it to match, and took a file to the dropouts to squeeze his Boost front hub into the non-Boost fork. YMMV, but Decker got 100-winning miles out of this DIY garage hack.
Decker prefers to ride Giant of course, and hedged against his non-sponsor correct choice:
“I’m working on convincing Giant’s PM to make a rigid carbon fork. It could be lighter and Boostier and ride better.”
Decker is open to using platform pedals in cyclocross, and road shoes and pedals in the dirt.
Last year, Decker eschewed his sponsor HT’s M1 mountain bike pedals (see our spotlight here) in favor for its HT road pedals, and paired them with his Giant road shoes for up a stiff, lightweight combination to keep away from his chasers. This year, despite going with the mountain bike, he doubled down on road.
“Last year I used the HT PK01 road pedals and Giant Surge road shoes and relished the lightweight and efficient power transfer, so despite there being a brief hike through a stream where the road was washed out, I chose them again this year. I have to commit to keeping my foot in more on fast, loose, off-camber sections, but the small bump in efficiency adds up over five hours.”
See the full specs of Decker’s winning ride below. Geek out on more pro bike profiles here.
Carl Decker’s Giant XTC Advanced 29 Spec Highlights:
Frame: Advanced-grade composite w/ horizontal dropouts
Fork: Whisky rigid carbon, repainted, filed to accept Boost front wheel
Handlebar: Giant Contact SLR XC Flat, Composite, 31.8mm
Grips: ODI Foam
Stem: Giant Contact SLR, Composite
Seatpost: Giant Contact SLR, Composite, 27.2mm
Saddle: Giant Contact SLR Forward, Composite rails
Shifters: SRAM XX1 Eagle
Front Derailleur: N/A
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle, Type 2
Brakes: SRAM Level Ultimate, hydraulic disc, [F] 180mm [R] 160mm
Brake Levers: SRAM Level Ultimate
Cassette: SRAM XX1 Eagle 10×50, 12-speed
Chain: SRAM XX1 Eagle
Crankset: SRAM XX1 Eagle Composite, 36T
Pedals: HT PK01
Bottom Bracket: SRAM GXP, Press Fit
Rims: Giant XCR 1 Composite DBL WheelSystem; 21mm wide, Tubeless compatible
Hubs: Giant XCR 1 Composite DBL WheelSystem; 28h, [F] Boost 110x15mm, [R] Boost 148x12mm
Spokes: Giant XCR 1 Composite DBL WheelSystem; DT Swiss Aerolite Bladed Stainless
Tires: Schwalbe Thunder Burt, 29×2.25 Snakeskin
Extras: Tubeless rim tape and valve stems
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Warranty: 1 year limited warranty for original owner