Contender Takes On the 2021 ENVE Grodeo Gravel Ride

Written by Alvin Holbrook, on July 13, 2021

Interested in our takes on the bikes at the ENVE Builder Round-Up? See our photos and words HERE.

ENVE takes a lot of pride in their manufacturing prowess, but they work hard to maintain that all of their work comes from their love of riding bikes. While the ENVE Builder’s Showcase celebrated the artistry that comes from cycling, it was the Saturday morning ENVE Grodeo ride that really showed how much they adore cycling. The ride for me was also a reminder of not only how much I enjoy cycling, but also a reminder to not take the riding we have in Utah for granted, even after how destroyed I felt post-ride.

ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin Holbrook

A few days before the ride, I received this in an email from ENVE. The most important bit was the route, which you can find below.ENVE Grodeo routeWe left right at 7am and east into the sunrise. There is always something to setting off in a big group, and 150 riders is the largest group of anything I’ve been in since the pandemic. We were given a police escort up Ogden Canyon, a beautiful two-lane road that lacks a shoulder. I realize this photo has a shoulder, but trust me I wouldn't really want to ride this alone considering how fast people drive through it. ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookWe then made a left turn at the reservoir that brought us more or less to our first bit of dirt, a few mile strip of singletrack that meandered through tall grasses, drawn in tree canopy, and wild flowers. It was smooth, banked, and brought a lot of excitement to everyone I spoke with.ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookI had never ridden singletrack like that in such a large group. Riding in a large group is one thing but seeing all the dirt kicked up was completely unexpected.

After riding through some countryside, we were greeted with the first big climb of the ride, aptly named Gun Smoke Grind. I didn’t read any of the descriptions for the ride, but this is where I wish I had. An average 8% grade of dirt and chunk oft-frequented by ATVs and side-by-sides meant that on top of the steepness of the 2.5 mile climb, you’re fighting for grip. If you’re like me, this is one of the beauties of gravel bikes: you can do this same climb on a road bike and a paved road, but this dirt requires a whole lot of concentration to just hold your line.

Photo courtesy of @analogstrikesback.

The top of this grind is the ride’s first feed zone. I have a habit of not eating enough on long rides like this, leading me to fall apart and bonk far earlier into a ride than I should. That meant I ate here. I ate an Uncrustable, which if you haven’t eaten one recently - I last had one in elementary school - they are incredible. Just pockets of energy in a compact form that stays together better than whatever PB&J you might make. I had two of them on this ride, which didn’t end up being enough. More on that later.ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin Holbrook

A photo of the chunk on the ups and downs courtesy of @analogstrikesback.

Just after this first feed zone is a short, fast descent that led into some doubletrack. Someone I rode with remarked, “what happened to the trail? All I see are rocks.” That sort of summed up this section that ENVE lovingly named Pushing Up Daisies. I wondered why they named it that, as that idiom is usually associated with death. If anything, I found a lot of life here.ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookThere is just something about being in a remote location, with only other Grodeo riders to remind you how beautiful the area can be. Sure, you’re underbiking through rock gardens through about half of the course, but at least you’re accompanied by wildflowers, green grasses, and tightly-knit Aspen trees lining the trail. Frankly, this was my favorite part of the whole ride, and despite the trail feeling on the rugged side, it was worth the climb and the dirt bikes that buzzed past us.

ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookAfter a winding descent down and around Manua Reservoir (pronounced Man-a-way, who would've thought?) we came across our next segment, a climb up and over the mountain and into Cache Valley. I’ve ridden up and over the road on my road bike in the past, and I knew to expect summer heat. But what I didn’t expect was the respite and comfort that road provided. The smooth roads - despite the cars zooming by on the highway - were frankly a relaxing break. Who would've expected a road like that to offer a breather from the ride? As Paul Rudd famously said, “not me.”

The top of this climb brought another feed zone, and here I had a Belgian waffle took a few gels with me to hold me over until the next stop. I later would learn that this wasn’t enough.ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookNow, I had settled into a group with two other people at this point and we linked up with a third on the descent. Riding this strip of pavement felt great. I pulled a whole group of people for about four miles here as a result of misplaced hubris. There were even people who told me how surprised by how good I seemed to be going around this part of the ride. This led to my demise soon thereafter.ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookIt was at this point that there was a second dirt climb lovingly called The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and was it ugly. There was some knee pain going on, but never had I had a three percent grade hurt so bad. Temperatures were high here, and there wasn’t much in the way of tree cover, but perhaps what hurt the most was poor nutrition. This was a masterclass in bonking, and if you were to look up the definition of bonking, you’d see my face depleted and caked in dried sweat.

I stopped about nine miles in under some false shade to rest. I was out of water, out of nutrition, and I was generally hating life. It was truly ugly at this point. I was considering cutting the ride short here until I looked into the distance and saw an ENVE tent about 500 feet away from me. The ENVE tent was a mirage in the desert, except this one was stocked with hot dogs, snacks, and ice-cold Cokes. People really seemed to take their time here to relax, talk, and generally rest up before the final 25 miles.

This feed zone meant that we had to descend the Gun Smoke Grind, and it is at that point when I recognized why it has its name. I didn't hear any gunshots in the morning, but going down the loose and steep descent on weary legs WHILE hearing gunshots made me feel a bit unsettled. Call it extra motivation to finish the descent.ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookOne final steep singletrack climb averaged about 8 percent. Like everything else, this was steep and hot too, but at least it was in the shade. It led us to a beautiful bit of singletrack under a dense tree canopy that brought about what was probably my eighth wind at that point. Few things beat singletrack flow, and this descent was a welcome change from the slog that was exposed dirt roads.ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookAfter snaking along the Ogden River, I made it to the finish line. Here’s the ride by the numbers:

  • 96.6 miles ridden in 7 hours, 51 minutes. Extra mileage due to a five-mile detour.
  • 8,793 feet climbing total.
  • 5 bottles of water, 3 gels, 2 Uncrustables, 1 vegan hot dog, 1 packaged Belgian waffle, 1 coke, and 1 Otter Pop were consumed during the ride.
  • Zero mechanicals.

ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookYou read that right. Zero mechanicals, including flats, or mechanical adjustments needed. I did lubricate my chain halfway through the ride to keep the chain running smooth, but I didn’t *need* to do that to keep going. I can’t say enough how thankful I am to my bike, an OPEN WIDE ENVE Edition with Campagnolo Ekar. Review coming soon, I promise.OPEN WIDE ENVE Edition - ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookThanks to ENVE and all its volunteers for putting the ride together. The ride was a welcome reminder as to how beautiful Utah is and how good we have it around here. Here’s to a bigger and better Grodeo, and one where I am better prepared physically!

ENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin HolbrookENVE Grodeo by Contender Bicycles - photo by Alvin Holbrook

Words and photos by Alvin Holbrook and @analogstrikesback. Shoutout to Nik and the Gravel Ride Podcast.


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