Arcadia makes its first appearance in the Michigan Gravel Race Series on May 19.
If you needed an excuse to head to Northern Michigan this weekend, the Arcadia Grit & Gravel is a ready-made dish of delight, minus the EZ Bake Oven. The race is a fascinating combination of fast, rolling gravel roads, two decisive climbs, followed by some of the best singletrack you’ll ride in the Mitten. It’s a mix of everything we love about riding, and maybe the perfect race for a 3T Exploro.
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, you can count on Arcadia to be windy, although the course itself is more than enough to keep you on your toes. Riders who simply look at the distance, just 24 miles, will miss why this race is such a challenge. At 26 miles and 1,400 feet of elevation, the numbers don’t really tell the whole story.
After a paved roll out from Arcadia, the race explodes at the two-mile mark. Taking a fast left off asphalt, the sandy two-track of Erdman Road immediately tilts up not once, but twice. The average gradient is deceptively shallow at 3% because of the short descent halfway up the 1.1 mile ascent. The slopes are closer to 5%, with a cruel sting in the tail at the top, hitting 14% for the final 100 meters.
For the next seven miles, the course winds through gravel roads, two-tracks, and some pavement over the rolling hills, gradually heading north to the singletrack. First, however, races hit the fearsome Taylor Road. It’s not the length of the 1.5 mile climb, or the average gradient of 4%, that makes the climb so tough. It’s the ferocious pace, usually over 17 miles per hour, with the knowledge that the all-important turn into singletrack is just past the climb’s peak.
And that turn is really like switching from a gravel race to a mountain bike race. Arcadia is home to some of the best singletrack in all of Michigan, and the mid-May race date means racers are battling each other for mile after mile nearly buried in blooming trilliums. The brilliant white wildflowers line the forest floor, and it’s a photographer’s delight to hike into the woods and shoot the explosion of color with racers as an added bonus.
Traditionally, the race sees a large pack survive the combined 11 miles of singletrack, which is split into two parts. Sandwiched between the first 3-mile section and 8 miles section is an important stretch of gravel that can knock out any racers gapped either on Taylor Road or in the woods.
Heading into Arcadia, our own Danny Soltan is still atop the Michigan Gravel Race Series by 25 points over Jeff Johnson. AGG marks the halfway point of the 100-event series, and things are looking good for the squad, with Sean and Scotty both well-up on the board, too. Danny is hoping to pick up some more points, and he’ll have Cody Sovis, who spent the first 9 miles of the 2017 edition of the race solo off the front, as his trusted lieutenant on race day. As mentioned before, it might be the perfect course for the 3T Exploro, with 650 Discus wheels and Schwalbe Thunder Burts the ideal set-up not only for the flowy singletrack but also for some added floatation in the sandy, loose two tracks and gravel roads.
After the race, make sure you recovery smartly at Stormcloud Brewing in Frankfort. They’re big mountain bikers, great beer makers, and Frankfort is one heckuva town to spend the afternoon.