Equipment Choices: In this update, and with the following one, (at the least), I am going to give you, (The Trans Iowa Rookie), my insights as to equipment choices for Trans Iowa V7. Some of this will be from my observations, some of it from personal experiences. (note: This is not limited to the Rookies, but they are the ones I am primarily directing this at.)
Okay- If you have perused that section of the T.I.V7 site, we can get on with the main source of questions regarding this event, and all of gravel grinding really. That being: "What type of bicycle is best to use for Trans Iowa?" This was one of the very first questions we dealt with back in 2004 about this event, and it probably is still one of the top five questions I get about Trans Iowa.
First of all, let me just simply say that any bicycle in good, working order can be used for Trans Iowa. Okay? There is no "one special bike" that is best. There are some that won't work as well as others, but short of recumbents and time trial bikes, I think about every kind of bicycle has been represented at Trans Iowa at some point in the six events that have been run. (Yes- even full on skinny tired road bikes!) This will be about the bicycles I have noted as being the ones that have done well, and a bit about what type of riders have been on those bikes. I will also mention a few bikes I think are on the fringes of being "good choices". That said, I will repeat that just about anything will work for you, as long as you are comfortable on that bicycle for multiple hour rides on rough roads.
<===The "go-fast" bicycle of T.I.V5 winner, Joe Meiser.
The Cyclo-Cross Bike: The first type of bike I'll mention, and the most popular choice amongst the "go-fast" Trans Iowa competitors, is the cyclo-cross bike and its variants. These rigs are the closest approximation we have readily available today to the old road racing bikes of yore. Not the "pavement road bikes", no, no, no! I'm talking about road racing from before 1950, when many roads were poor excuses for paved by-ways, and gravel was high on the diet of any seasoned Euro pro. Tires were bigger, angles were more relaxed, and chassis were longer. Some of these things are reflected in today's cyclo-cross rig. Bigger tires and clearance for mud, slightly relaxed angles from the crit-machines seen on the roads, and drop bars for the most part. These bikes probably are the lightest Trans Iowa rigs as well. They promote higher speeds and generally speaking, the front runners will be on something like the bike pictured here.
The downfall of choosing a cyclo-cross rig is that they are not the most comfortable bikes and they are definitely more physically demanding in that sense than other bicycle choices you might make. Bloody chamois, numb digits, (for weeks after the event), and other physical maladies have been reported by riders that have chosen a cyclo-cross bike for a Trans Iowa. Probably the biggest reason for that is that cyclo-cross bikes are generally built for efficiency over a short period of time. The genre' tends to be defined by stiff, light bikes because of this. Compliance and comfort are not keywords to cyclo-cross design generally speaking. So beware of that. Certainly there are exceptions to the rule in cyclo-cross bikes, but not generally.
Cyclo-cross Variants: Some bicycles are available with cantilever brakes, bigger tire clearances, and more comfort oriented geometry. Randonnuer, touring, and some sport road bikes fall into this camp. I would suggest that as long as you can fit a 35mm tire with clearance for mud, you are good to go with a bicycle of this type for Trans Iowa. Some examples would be Salsa Cycles Vaya, Surly Bikes' Long Haul Trucker, or certain Rivendell models and Raleigh models fit into this category, amongst others makes and models.
Mountain Bikes: While it may seem a "slow" choice in a Trans Iowa bike, a mountain bike, and especially a 29 inch wheeled mountain bike, is a great choice for Trans Iowa. Not many riders choose 29"ers or 26"ers, but I have seen these bikes end up in the top five placing of finishers more than once in this event, so don't discount that type of bike for doing well. It's the motor, not the bike, after all! That said, I wouldn't bring a Turner 5-Spot to Trans Iowa and expect it to be a great ride for Trans Iowa. I would suggest a rigid mountain bike as being great, and even a front suspended model is okay as a choice erring towards the comfort side of things. That said, I have seen a full suspension 26"er finish in the first Trans Iowa, so it isn't like you couldn't do that as well. Still, an XC rig would be most likely the best bet, or something like the Salsa Cycles Fargo, pictured here, would be a good way to go.
Downfalls to a mountain bike choice would obviously be in weight. Also, some mountain bikes might actually be overbuilt for gravel roads and end up becoming uncomfortable, especially if you put skinnier tires on them. Stick with something around a 2.0" tire. That's what makes riding a mountain bike on gravel a good choice, comfortable tires that float over the rougher stuff and that may be an advantage in softer conditions. While going fast on a mountain bike is possible in Trans Iowa, generally speaking it is a slower going gravel vehicle than their skinnier tired brethren. If you want to go fast, and post a good finish or win, the mountain bike may not be the best choice. If comfort and finishing are high on your agenda, a mountain bike, properly set up,can be the best choice of all.
Single Speed and Geared: Finally, I wanted to touch upon this, although your choices have been made by class designation already. The point I wanted to make here is about gearing for singles and for geared bikes.
Single Speeders: While huge gears in the upper 60's of gear inches and higher have been pushed in Trans Iowa, I wouldn't recommend that. Probably something in the upper 50's to low 60's would make sense here. Keep in mind that you'll be mashing for hours on end, so erring to the easy side might be advisable. of course, every single speeder is different, so be sensitive to how you perform best, of course. If pressed for what I would run, I would say that on one of my 29"ers I would run a 38 X 18 or 38 X 17, but that is just me.
Geared Riders: Of course, with a triple you are well covered, but let's say that you want to run a cyclo-cross bike with a double. With something that gets you a ratio of close to 1 to 1, you would be fine. I would think 1 to 1 ratio would be overkill, actually. Running a 12-27 cassette is going to get most folks by on a double that has at least a 39T inner ring. (Assuming you are a "go-fast" guy on a cyclo-cross rig) If you aren't planning on smoking a sub-30 hour Trans Iowa, then maybe err to the lower side and put on a 32T cog out back in your cassette.
Other Points: Finally, and maybe most importantly, the other choices made for your bike are going to be critical to your success in Trans Iowa. Contact points are on top of that list, obviously. Think about your saddle, for instance. Ever been on a ride of over three hours on it? If not, you may want to seriously consider doing that before too much longer. Getting a saddle that works for an hour or two is not a big deal. Getting a saddle that works for four hours or more? Yeah- that's tough to find, and you'll need to experiment with that before you get to Trans Iowa. What you think has always worked may be your undoing at T.I.V7. Trust me. I know this! Same goes for grips, pedals, and shoes. Again, if you haven't been on multi-hour rides on your equipment, you seriously need to start doing it NOW!
This will also help you with regards to clothing, gloves, (or no gloves!), and with nutrition. However; in regards to bicycles, I will only be touching upon your water carrying capacity. If you are limited to two water bottles on your rig, the next big hurdle for you is how you want to add to that capacity. Remembering that we are advising that you carry supplies for a century ride on your bike, (or on YOU!). So, will you be adding water bottle mounts to your rig, or doing a hydration pack? Maybe both? This is something you should be working out now, and it could influence your choice of bicycle for T.I.V7.
More On Equipment Choices: In the next Trans Iowa Update, I'll hit upon other topics like lights, clothing, tires, and more.