Every April, the Belgian Waffle Ride California delights race competitors from around the globe. This unique course is a blend of “Road” and “Unroad” sections and changes every single year. Many make the mistake of believing the unroad terrain is gravel but it’s defined as “extremely technical” and known for its difficulty, making gear selection a challenge. Historically, road bikes were used for this course but gravel specific bikes + gear are making this race more competitive than ever. This blog discusses wheel and tire selection, aerodynamics, and tire pressure to help you have your fastest day.
Blended Course Terrain
The goal for the Belgian Waffle Ride is to choose a wheel/tire combo that will make you the fastest. A 32mm road tire is great for the road sections but may not make it through the unroad sections. In contrast, a burly tire works for the unroad sections but you’ll struggle on the pavement, wasting watts on aerodynamics and rolling resistance.
Bike Handling Skills Make Your Decision
Due to the technical terrain, your bike handling skills are the number one factor when it comes to selecting wheels, tires, and tire pressure. Those who are great bike handlers have more options when it comes to wheels, tires, and pressure options. When you lack those skills, you want to choose larger tires, smaller wheels, and lower pressures. If you have to continually size up your tires and lower your pressure to get through the terrain, we suggest checking out a bike handling course. For more on bike handling for gravel cyclists, check out our blog.
700c vs 650b Wheels for the Belgian Waffle Ride
As stated above, wheel selection is based mostly on your bike handling skills. If you are a confident bike handler and don’t struggle on challenging terrain, go with a 700c wheel like the FLO G700. I use this wheel on the road. It’s technically our second fastest disc brake wheel with a 32mm tire, just behind the FLO DISC. If you aren’t comfortable with technical terrain, a 650b wheel like the FLO G650 is a better choice. While you may lose time on the road sections, you’ll make up for it on the unroad sections with better traction on the trail. All FLO Gravel wheels are designed to be aerodynamic with deep profiles to save you time and watts.
The Right Tires and Tire Pressure Make Great Shocks
Today, one of the best bikes for the Belgian Waffle Ride is a gravel bike because you can select different wheel sizes and tire options. Gravel bikes lack shocks so the unroad sections may be rough. However, there are many to reduce that vibration. One of the best options is picking the right tire and tire pressure. A tire, when inflated properly, acts as a spring. The casing tension held in the tire has a spring coefficient that will absorb rough terrain.
If you’re coming from road cycling, you probably know that wider tires with lower pressures save you time. In challenging terrain, things get a bit more complicated. Here are the key things to consider when selecting tire pressure:
- There must be enough tire pressure so that the tire can support its load. A pressure that is too low will result in a buckled side wall, premature tire damage, and rim strikes. For more on how a tire supports its load check out our post.
- Tire pressure must be low enough so you do not bounce off obstacles, which creates a lack of grip and reduction in the surface area on the terrain.
- The ideal pressure will absorb terrain and keep you in contact with the terrain without causing you to bounce or strike a rim.
If you are wondering how to find this pressure, check out our tire pressure charts on our wheel pages. They are very useful for setting tire pressure.
The Road Sections and Aerodynamics
Ideally, you choose a tire that allows you to ride the unroad sections without unclipping but doesn’t drag you down on the road. Some believe aerodynamics does not matter for gravel wheels and tires, but we’ve proven it does. Aerodynamics is crucial in a race like this—it matters as much in gravel as it does in road and triathlon.
For the road sections, too low of a pressure on the road may impact your rolling resistance. But, having a lower pressure on the road is better than too high of a pressure, especially on a course like this. Set your pressure to the unroad sections considering the overall percentage of each.
Tire Options and Wheel 1 on 1s
A couple of tire options with great rolling resistance are below. Each has unique sizes and tread patterns for your comfort level.
Finally, if you find yourself still wondering what is best for you, feel free to book a Wheel 1:1. I am happy to talk through all of the details and get you on the best wheels, tires, and tire pressure so you can have your best day at the Belgian Waffle Ride.
Co-founder at FLO Cycling. Jon manages the day to day operations and acts as the lead engineer for all FLO products.