At first glance, the Jeroboam 300, a new gravel race in the north of Italy, looked like the ideal weekend adventure — boasting copious amounts of wine, sun, good views and a largely off-road 300km loop that circumnavigates Lago d’Iseo near Erbusco. You can imagine why my interest was piqued when the invite landed in my inbox.
However, on closer inspection the event began to reveal its true nature — tackling a dizzying 7,000m of ascent on terrain that was said to be “unrideable” in places, the organisers of the Jeroboam quite openly admitted that they expected to have “few finishers”.
Better still, it wasn’t until after Reuben and I — BikeRadar’s resident gravel divas — had fully committed to the event that we realised it started at 4pm, with riders expected to ride through the night.
To say that the ensuing adventure was eventful is an understatement.
While you’ll have to check out the above video for the full report on the trip, we’ve rounded up five of the most important things we learnt while riding the debut edition of this incredibly memorable event below.
1: Gravel bikes laden with bikepacking gear are heavy
Having both completed a number of long distance gravel events including the Dirty Kanza and the Dirty Reiver, both Reuben and I understand that gravel bikes — while highly versatile — are not as spritely as their asphalt focussed cousins on the climbs.
What we hadn’t anticipated was how much of a difference loading our bikes up with a mass of bikepacking gear would make to how they ride, particularly when riding most of the way over the Alps.
There is still little excuse for this as neither of us are particular strangers to the concept of gravity, but some slightly easier gearing wouldn’t have gone amiss on the bigger climbs.
So for those considering riding the challenge next year, either harden up or get a bigger cassette. I suggest you go with the latter.
2: Little goes to plan in Italy
As the Jeroboam 300 is in its first year, we will give 3T a little leeway regarding some of the amusing chaos we experienced during the ride.
The most memorable mishap, and truthfully the only truly stressful moment of the trip, was when Reuben and I were faced with a road block and a rather belligerent Italian man near the base of the Passo di Crocedomimi — by far the biggest climb of the route and one that neither of us had ever ridden before.
After several minutes of stressful confusion, it became clear that a section of the route had been booked for another event (though what this event actually was was completely unknown to us at this stage).
Eventually, one of the organisers of this mysterious affair said, much to our horror, we could ride up the mountain but had only “fifteen minutes” to do so.
Unaware of how long we actually had to ride, we proceeded with our 15 minute enforced time trial up the mountain and along a course littered with crash barriers and marshals, unsure whether something was about to speed up/down the course at any minute.
After several kilometers, we eventually topped out at a small village where it quickly became clear that this stretch of road had been double-booked with a downhill soap-box/go-kart race.
Passing through a sea of baffled and leathered-up competitors, we continued our way up the mountain.
As an aside, the route was also advertised as having approximately 5,000m of climbing, but in the end even our curtailed 275km route topped out with a rather heady 6,300m of ascent.
Given we missed out a section of the route, I hate to imagine how finishing the last few big climbs would have felt in our already weary legs!
Fingers crossed there will be no similar mistakes next year.
3: The toe strap is the ultimate bodging device
Less than 500m into a section of very gravel-bike-unfriendly off-camber singletrack that I aptly described at the time as “low risk, high consequence”, Reuben took a rather un-epic tumble on some rocks that managed to dislodge the rails of his saddle.
After 20 minutes of two grown men shouting at an inanimate object in an oppressively humid forest, we were unable to relocate the rails into the saddle. Unsurprisingly, this signalled the end of our attempt at completing the full route.
However, we still had roughly 80km to get back to base, so securing Reuben’s saddle was our next priority.
In a stroke of — if I do say so myself — genius, I realised I could appropriate the toe straps I had used to lash my Topo Designs bar bag to my bike to hold the saddle in place.
This is not the first time that toe straps have got me out of a sticky situation and I will continue to stash them in my tool roll for the rest of forever.
4: Tubeless is everything
While neither of us suffered from a single puncture during the Jeroboam — a serious stroke of luck! — I finished the event even more convinced about how vital a tubeless setup is for gravel riding.
While I really enjoyed riding my 3T Exploro Ltd loaner bike, my experience would have been even better if the wheels had been set up tubeless because it would have allowed me to run far lower pressures without the fear of pinch flatting, improving comfort and traction on rough terrain.
In particular, I felt held back by the tubed setup on rough gravel descents where despite being comparably skilled and using equally wide tyres, Reuben and his low-pressure tubeless setup managed to drop me with little effort.
5: Our friendship is stronger than our legs
Despite the stress of getting two people and a bike to Italy, organising accommodation and kit for an overnight race, putting up with my considerably slower pace and dealing with a fair bit of grumping on both of our parts, Reuben and I finished the ride in good spirits with a lot of amazing memories that we won’t forget anytime soon.
And despite my teasing about Reuben’s ill-informed choice to enter a pairs race with me, we went on to take third in our age category and tenth overall at the Glentress Seven the following weekend, so I can’t be that much of a chopper.
What’s next for this dynamic duo?
We’re also hoping to capitalise on our rediscovered love for extra-fat tyres and are planning to enter at least one round of the Scott MTB Marathon series this summer
Keep your eyes peeled here and on our YouTube channel for more disastrous antics from this pair of gravel-choppers.