Written by Grant Taggart
Grasshoppers are notoriously more difficult in reality than the numbers suggest. So, hoping to get a better sense of what to expect from the Low Gap Hopper, which is new to the G.A.S. calendar this year, I headed up to Ukiah last weekend to check out the course!
Low Gap replaces the fan favorite, Old Caz, this year and while the numbers are fairly similar, the experiences are nothing alike. While Old Caz is about 4,500 ft in 50 miles, Low Gap is about 5,600 ft in 43 miles, and the bigger elevation gain in fewer miles results in a ride, where your bike is generally either pointed up or down. So, while there will be very few opportunities for pacelining, this is a ride that will pay dividends to good climbers and descenders that are comfortable riding in muddy terrain and sketchy rural pavement alike!
The ride starts at Low Gap park before it rolls through a neighborhood that eventually spits you out on Ukiah’s main drag. I would guess that it will probably be a neutral rollout through town to Orr Springs road, where the first climb starts and the ride really begins.
I’d plan to dress warmly for the rollout and shed what you can at the startline. I started the ride wearing the Geysers Jersey, Coleman Valley Bib, Power Wool base layer, Wind Vest, Performance Arm and Knee warmers, Block K socks and HiLine Midweight gloves. When I hit the first climb, I quickly warmed up and had to pack the warmers and the vest into my jersey’s ample rear pockets. That’s the biggest climb of the day and most riders should expect to be settling in for about an hour long grind with less of a canopy than the rest of the ride.
Next is a long, technical road descent that has 4 tight switchbacks in a row before spitting you out into a dark, wet ravine where the temperature drops quickly! I had to put the warmers and my vest back on at that point until I hit the dirt, where just the warmers came off and the vest remained for the rest of the day.
The dirt section is so damn fun and it seems to last an eternity! There were lots of peanut-buttery sections where my GravelKing 38 Slicks drifted through corners, but the slop only added to the fun! As far as tires go, I wouldn't have minded some side knobs, but the good thing about being on slicks was that there was no tread to get packed with mud. Assuming the forecast holds, I’d expect that the course might be even muddier on race day, so something that sheds mud well will be key. I could see the course being fun on a hardtail, but I would still opt for “gravel bike” given the choice.
The ride ends with what was undoubtedly the most fun half an hour “gravel” descent that I have ever done, and it takes you all the way back to the start line! Awesome--nothing like ending a ride on a high note!
Things only got better once I got cozy in my Hakell Pants and Alpha Jacket and got to cracking a beer at the finish! Low Gap is a 10 out of 10 with zero junk miles. Anyone who is disappointed about Old Caz being canceled this year is going to be changing their tune after this one. Get ready!