deniz merdano diverge cooper 2
Prepping for the BCBR Gravel Explorer

Cooper Goes (back to) Racing

Words Cooper Quinn
Photos Deniz Merdano & Cooper Quinn
Date Sep 5, 2022
Reading time

I grew up racing. A little bit of bike racing, nothing really of note. I was a mediocre downhiller, getting smoked by guys with last names like Strait and Zink were dominating the Jr. X class at NORBA Nationals races. Greg Minnaar was racing World Cups, on his way to winning his first World title. This makes us both old, but it only makes one of us the GOAT.

Mostly though, I was an alpine ski racer. And I wasn’t half bad at it - my first trip to Whistler was for a big international race representing the USA - the Whistler Cup. A few years later, when selecting a post-secondary institution, I swung through the SFU and UBC campuses on the way home from a trip to Graceland (the Whistler Bike Park). I’ve been here basically ever since, with my school carefully chosen on that trip using a grueling selection matrix of “what’s closest to the best skiing and biking”.

cooper goggle tan

My first trip to Whistler, back when I had a goggle tan dark enough to get asked if I "did a lot of welding" in the airport.

Ski racing, or more accurately dry land training, provided what would really be my first ‘gravel biking.’ A few times each summer, the team would ride (or sometimes run) horrible time trials out on the National Elk Refuge roads outside Jackson, Wyoming. It was terrible, pure suffering, just for the sake of suffering (I mean yes, it was also in the name of getting ski fit but sometimes I think the coaches just liked to watch us struggle out there as they puttered along in the team van with a stopwatch). All of us were on XC-ish bikes of the day, and these 15-ish mile time trials in the Elk Refuge winds were probably the last time a timesheet, myself, a bike, and gravel roads were combined.

Fast forward precisely two decades, and we’re going to put the band back together – in the form of five-day stage race. You got it, BCBR. But not the fun one Pete did, with all the “ultimate single track” and “mountain bikes.” I’ve been signed up for the BCBR Gravel Explorer, five days of gravel hammering around Penticton, BC, up long ass hills, probably in the sun. I’ve heard rumors through the grapevine that feedback from the inaugural event was that it was too much technical singletrack, and the days weren’t long enough. If that's true, it means I can’t hide behind my (mediocre) technical skills to pass some Cat 2 roadies with limited bike handling when the going gets rough. F*ck. Pure suffering, fitness wins.

deniz merdano diverge cooper 10

"Race Preparation" for me looks a lot like this - riding to and from work, trying to find the route with the least cars and pavement. Usually with some oatmeal stuck on my kit somewhere, and running late after doing daycare dropoff on the electric cargo bike. Photo: Deniz Merdano

Fortunately, I’ve got years of experience in training, race preparation, and know how to fully prepare myself for something like this (even though I’ve never done anything like this, specifically). Unfortunately, the constraints of a new job, having an almost two-year-old, and still wanting to enjoy life means I’ve done almost none of it. I commute ~25 kilometers with ~350 meters of climbing a couple times a week on my gravel bike, I occasionally participate in a Thursday night group ride with the local Landyachtz crew, drink too much beer, and ride a mountain bike* in my meagre ride windows. I joked to Pete we should do something akin to SRAM’s Steps to the Top video series which follows their top athlete’s preparation and race days, usually ending in said athlete standing atop the podium. Mine would follow me as I sit at a desk, hunch over helping a toddler on his run bike, squeeze a shuttle lap in after his bedtime, and if I’m lucky maybe finish somewhere in the mid-pack. The end credits would read something like, “hey, at least he was out there trying?” Of course, I don’t actually have time to film this.

*I do still ride and review those things, stay tuned for a neat one coming up!

CQ_Diverge_FL-02

The 2022 Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon in resplendent brown and gold, just like my home state's University (of Wyoming) that I didn't go to, because the skiing and biking aren't very good in Laramie.

Shortening my List of Excuses even further is this – the Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon that I’ll be racing on. It’s a carbon fiber-framed, carbon fiber-wheeled rocket ship practically designed for the BCBR Gravel Explorer (I’m just going to call it BCBRG from here) with pretty racy geometry, suspension integrated into the steerer tube, SWAT box, and SRAM AXS drivetrain with Rival brifters, brakes, and crankset matched with a GX AXS Eagle derailleur on a 12-speed 11-50 cassette. And we need talk about that cassette. It's NX. It's a boat anchor. But that’s not the real problem. Being a product manager is hard; something had to give way to meet a price point and a cassette is a pretty easy place to bury a low spec item, and one that’s fairly easy to upgrade. Except when it isn’t. SRAM’s NX Eagle cassette runs on HG standard freehubs, not XD or XDR, making what should be a simple upgrade to something lighter (GX shaves a significant 178 grams, while the significantly more expensive XO1 Shaves a whopping 250 grams) and the wider range requires a freehub swap as well. This is a big negative to me. I’d much prefer to see a few bucks saved elsewhere (the carbon seatpost and saddle seem easy, and are very often swapped out with the first bike fit on a drop bar bike) and a GX cassette here as it’d save a new freehub down the road, offer the full Eagle gear range, and be lighter. Or charge a bit more.

That niggle aside, the Diverge is well spec’d with money where I’d spend it and some savings that make sense – AXS 1x, a wheelset that won’t need upgrades, bar and stem that probably will get replaced, and it all rolls on Pathfinder Pro in 45c which happen to be up there on my list of favorite tires.

Geometry and Builds

The Diverge geometry draws heavily from road bikes, and while it's slightly more relaxed and adventurous than the Aethos-based Crux, the Diverge has a front center, rear center, and head tube angle which are all significantly different than anything else here on NSMB, even the recently review Canyon Grizl. After all, when was the last time you saw a 100mm stem offroad? There’s a SWAT box of course, and lots of provisions to bolt things to your bike and fork to go for adventures if that’s your jam. So far, it feels like a good choice to go “racing” on, and the frame weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000g. Yowza.

It comes in 7 sizes, and you can spend less than two grand on one in alloy, or about sixteen thousand bucks Canadian if you go full S-Works. The Expert Carbon here runs 7,599 CAD, and offers a great build kit at a competitive price point. I'd argue it's the best bang for buck in the higher end lineup. There's a flat bar "Evo" variant available as well that has more mountain bike like geo, and flat bars for the no-drop folks. Full geometry and builds are here.

deniz merdano diverge cooper 12

Reason #68 to commute on a gravel bike instead of a road bike - you can take all the cheeky shortcuts. Just mind the spikey vines. Photo: Deniz Merdano

Riding the Diverge

The Diverge will feel more familiar to folks coming from a road background than those from the mountain world, with the main culprits being a short front center, long stem, and steep head tube angle. Personally in the name of a bit more stability I’d stretch the front and rear centers out a touch drop the bb a hair to increase stack, but I won’t argue that the Diverge is fast in a gravel world that isn’t winch and plummet. You’re able to put power down and the positioning is aero enough to be fast but not uncomfortable. I haven’t yet pushed it too hard into technical terrain – I’ll report back on that when I’ve got more experience.

deniz merdano diverge cooper 6

Smooth tarmac to connect the sketchy fun bits. Photo: Deniz Merdano

WhatsApp Image 2022-08-31 at 6.24.17 PM

Sure beats driving, even if it isn't training.

So as they say “like and subscribe,” I’ll keep some content coming here as I get ready for the big day(s), and elaborate on some specific kit and accessory choices. I’m a bit worried, to be honest. I’m confident I have the fitness to finish… but no one wants to just finish. I’m going in with the bold goal of not embarrassing myself – what exactly that entails I think I’ll only know once its all over. I know I’m not strong enough to contend for anything at the pointy end of the pack, but I’d like to finish and go “Hey! Alright!” instead of anyone asking "I looked at the results, what happened?" With that in mind, I’m going to crack another training beer to congratulate myself on finishing this article, and once it's posted I’ll answer your questions below as best I can.

Oh, and about that “Future Shock 2.0.” We'll cover that soon.

CQ_Diverge_FL-01

I feel about as ready for the race as this fly.

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn

Size medium millennial.

Reformed downhiller, now rides all the bikes.

Related Stories

Trending on NSMB

Comments

Lynx
Lynx .
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+3 Merwinn Cooper Quinn goose8 Tjaard Breeuwer Kelownakona

Dude, don't get the whole "gravel race" thing, unless it's through endless, absolutely drop dead beautiful countryside and even then don't think I do. As to that bike and the "suspension" in the headtube/set, all it feels like to me is a loose headset, it's annoying AF trying a friends road bike with the same thing.

As to that boat anchor NX cassette, here let me help you out with that, buy yourself the DT Swiss MicroSpline freehub (about $90-100) then buy yourself an XT cassette (about $150) and you're all good and sorted for just a bit more than what a GX cassette costs at around the same weight, few grams heavier.

Good luck with the training, think of it as your punishment for any "sins" you've committed or some such :-D

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+6 Lynx . Cr4w Vik Banerjee Cooper Quinn goose8 Spencer Nelson

I was going to say that an 11-30t Dura Ace R9100 11spd cassette weighs somewhere around 215-grams (!?) and is compatible with that drivetrain and the HG driver. 

Cooper would have to harden up a bit… but I almost believe that maybe he possibly could.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+1 khai

I'm shocked you're not advocating for me to ditch the cassette entirely for a cog.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+3 Cooper Quinn goose8 Spencer Nelson

I know you. I was trying to be helpful with a realistic solution.

Reply

taprider
taprider
4 weeks ago
+3 Cooper Quinn Karl Fitzpatrick Tjaard Breeuwer

somehow Andrew's reply still seems sarcastic ;-)

Reply

Kelownakona
Kelownakona
4 weeks ago
0

If you still plan on using a chain it's still a sprocket ;)

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+1 Pete Roggeman AlanB Kelownakona

I'll hold back judgement on gravel racing until I've tried it, I suppose? 

Disagree about the suspension, though. I don't think it feels anything like a loose headset. I've got a separate piece on it coming, but while it was slightly odd to adapt to initially, after the first ride I've gotten used to how it works, and like it. 

The fundamental issue with the NX cassette is it was built for backwards compatibility with the HG driver (I assume largely as an upgrade piece). Your solution doesn't really solve that, but its another option.

Reply

Cydwhit
Cydwhit
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+3 Cooper Quinn Pete Roggeman Tjaard Breeuwer

According to Strava the ski kids are still doing terrible dry land trainings in the Elk Refuge so I'm glad things haven't changed too much!

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+1 Cydwhit

The poor bastards. 

(I kid. I learned a lot about life in that program.)

Reply

Eurosquirrel
Eurosquirrel
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+1 Lu Kz

Have fun at the race.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+1 Merwinn

😬

Reply

Jotegir
Lu Kz
4 weeks, 1 day ago
+1 Matt L.

Good for BCBR for capitalizing on the self loathing that has prompted the rise in gravel riding popularity over the last couple years.

Reply

craw
Cr4w
4 weeks ago
+1 Lynx .

Gravel bike riding is a symptom of self loathing. TIL.

Reply

Jotegir
Lu Kz
4 weeks ago
+3 Cooper Quinn Pete Roggeman Kelownakona

I'll admit I'm mostly just messing around about gravel bikes, it's a fun joke to rib them a bit - full disclosure, I've owned two gravelly bikes in my life and did a three month bike tour at one point. Although they certainly weren't "gravel" bikes from the modern perspective. 

Any time spent on two wheels is good time (especially if you hate yourself a bit).

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks ago
+4 Lu Kz Pete Roggeman Kelownakona goose8

100%. 

They're very easy to make fun of! And often rightfully so.

Spending time on gravel/drop bars also makes mountain biking better. There's no replacement for base fitness. Being less tired mountain biking is great.

Reply

Lynx
Lynx .
4 weeks ago
+1 Lu Kz

LMAO, at least someone else agrees with me :-) Truthfully though, if all I could do was either road or gravel, for sure I'd pick gravel any day of the week, so much more options and opportunities open to you on such a bike.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks ago
+3 Cr4w Lu Kz Hbar

100%. Rides just fine on the road, but also rides a million more places. 

Road bikes are terrifying, but at least they're uncomfortable!

Reply

craw
Cr4w
4 weeks ago
+1 Cooper Quinn

Not just uncomfortably but proudly unversatile. Curbs? NO. Gravel? NO. Dignified clothing in public? Also NO.

Gravel bike: go fast on whatever wherever wearing what you want.

Reply

Couch_Surfer
Couch_Surfer
4 weeks ago
0

LOL “dignified clothing”.  Very true, TLD pajama kit would not be aero enough.

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
4 weeks ago
0

Once upon a time I rode road bikes a lot - like 10-14 hours a week, 44 weeks a year, for four years - and I had a proper bike fit. That bike was very comfortable and after a year or so it was also less terrifying. But a road bike that didn't fit right would be awful. Also, back then smart phones weren't a thing. People still texted while driving but it was nothing like today. Road riding in a world full of drivers with smartphones is hands down more dangerous than racing DH.

Reply

craw
Cr4w
4 weeks, 1 day ago
0

What year was that photo in Whistler taken?

Reply

Captain-Snappy
Merwinn
4 weeks, 1 day ago
0

$5 says late 90's

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks, 1 day ago
0

Earliest aughts.

Reply

khai
khai
4 weeks, 1 day ago
0

_>> I’ve heard rumors through the grapevine that feedback from the inaugural event was that it was too much technical singletrack, and the days weren’t long enough. _

As someone who (mis?)spent a good portion of my youth trying to be a road racer/triathlete and who still enjoys road touring, this sounds like absolute HELL.  The worst part of the Test of Metal was all the super fit roadie/triathlete/mountain runners hammering up the fire roads and then clogging the singletrack, actively blocking passes.  I guess they've made an accommodation here by getting rid of the fun bits?  

I'll read your "training" and race reports, happy in the knowledge that it's not me.  :)

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks, 1 day ago
0

HA, yeah we'll see. There's a lot more room on these courses to get spread out than TOM - and every day after day one the start is in a few waves based on the GC.

But, yes. Nonzero chance of getting stuck behind people struggling to walk up/down/over/around things that I'd rather be riding...

Hopefully that whole "spirit of gravel" thing or whatever people keep talking about means they'll get outta the way (lol, yeah right. its a "race"...) 

Got out for a "training" ride yesterday, and I gotta say.. the thought of doing this four more days in a row seems... hard.

Reply

Lynx
Lynx .
4 weeks ago
0

Hum, looks like you maybe got in some nice dirt trails and lots of road, but not seeing any gravel. Think maybe you need to hook up with some other "like minded" individuals to try and help make it more enjoyable/less sucky :LMAO:

> Got out for a "training" ride yesterday, and I gotta say.. the thought of doing this four more days in a row seems... hard.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks ago
0

I'd disagree? There's a bunch of segments on that ride that are very much... nice gravel paths. And the Mosquito Creek climb is probably the best gravel climb around here?

Yes, there's lots of tarmac and trail connectors, but that's about the only way to make it work here.

Reply

Lynx
Lynx .
4 weeks ago
0

Was just going by what I could see on the Strava map and it looked like either pavement or what I assumed would be dirt connectors/trails in the wooded areas.

FYI, the damn quote thing DOES NOT work properly.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks ago
0

Yeah there's some pretty nice gravel in there! 

But also yes, there's a couple terrible sections, that when people ask "oh does that go?" the answer is.... "ehhhhhhhh........"

cheapondirt
cheapondirt
4 weeks ago
0

Any particular reason you don't have a Garbaruk cassette in mind this time around? That seems like a good solution to me but I don't know how the price compares over time, or whether the shifting is even in the same league.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks ago
+1 cheapondirt

Well 1) timing. I need something quickly as the race is coming up shortly. 

but also 2) somehow.... I didn't think of that or consider it, because i have the brain capacity of a goldfish. It would be a good solution, they make a 12 speed HG compatible cassette that is obviously very light.

Reply

cheapondirt
cheapondirt
4 weeks ago
0

Haha, well because it's the internet, there's always going to be a random commenter with an elephantine memory for things that don't really matter. And deadlines certainly do matter.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 weeks ago
+1 cheapondirt

I absolutely would/should have mentioned that as an option but I completely forgot. 

it me: 

Reply

BC_Nuggets
BC_Nuggets
3 weeks, 6 days ago
0

Still pissed I didn't get invited to Jeff and Dan's wedding.  Thanks for rubbing it in.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
3 weeks, 6 days ago
0

Maybe next time.

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.