How many waffles do you need to eat to break even for the number of calories burned from riding 136 miles? According to my Strava upload, riding that distance across gravel, sand, and dirt burned 7,463 calories. There are approximately 304 calories in your typical Belgian Waffle. So basically, I signed up for the Belgian Waffle Ride to have an excuse to eat 24.5 waffles.
Psssst! Registration for the 2020 Belgian Waffle Ride is now open! Head here to register!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’ve never heard of it, BWR is one of the most sought after gravel/mixed terrain bike events in the country. What started out as a small grassroots race/ride quickly grew in size and popularity for its good vibes and characteristically difficult courses, which many people choose to do on road bikes with skinny tires.
There are two BWR courses to choose from. If you’re like me and mo’ miles means mo’ betta, the Waffle the longer course with 136 miles and 12K of climbing is for you. If you want more time to eat waffles off the bike, check out the Wafer for 68 miles and 6.5K feet of climbing. I opted for the Waffle because 24.5 waffles is better than 12.3 waffles (don’t worry, I did the math). Here’s my recap of the event and how the day went.
The 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride “Waffle” Course
Distance: 136 miles
Dirt miles: 46 miles
Climbing 12,000 ft
“Long, sandy, wet, rocky, hilly, and ugly,” are the six ways that BWR accurately characterizes the types of off-road terrain you can expect to find. Of the 136 miles, 46 are dirt.
The start is “neutral.” But really, starting position matters a lot if you want to place well. I learned this quickly and lost the front group basically from the gun when a large number of people shot off right from the start. No biggie to me because I was just there for an awesome day of riding, but I can see it affecting others if they were planning on a more mellow neutral start.
Unlike the event in my most recent recap, Dirty Kanza, BWR has no shortage of aid stations. With 10 fully stocked, designated feed zones every 20 miles or so, you really don’t need to carry much. And, you’ll know exactly when to expect the next aid station because the BWR organizers had the brilliant idea of giving riders a top tube sticker with each section of the course listed.
The top tube sticker removed some guesswork from the ride, but not all. To keep things exciting, each dirt section was given a cryptic name like Sandy Bandy, Modest Mule, and Zwartenberg. The majority of the course was totally new to me so it was fun to see the names on the sticker and try to guess what lay ahead.
As I said, the aid stations are fully stocked. This means that you will have food and water available to you for your entire ride. Snag some extra bars and fill up your bottles at the food stations and you’ll be good to go until the next one. I didn’t even eat a single one of the back-up snacks in my pocket.
What to expect:
The course is 34% off road (46 of the 136 miles). The terrain is very mixed and includes creek crossings, single track, double track, fire roads, sand, and of course dirt. The paved parts of the course are quite nice, with plenty of cars honking to give you some friendly encouragement.
Almost every section is rideable, with some exceptions depending on your skill level. I did have to get off the bike for a rock garden towards the end of the ride. I did see one guy clean that rocky section, so it can be done. Just be self-aware because there were hikers on that part of the course and a young family was trekking down the rock garden as I would have ridden up it.
I also got stuck behind a guy on one of the sandy parts, but that wasn’t an issue. I just unclipped to catch myself and carried on.
There is a lot of climbing. However, the only steep one was Double Peak, which is road and towards the end. The big dirt climbs are gradual and dare I say it, pleasant. Lots of descending with different types of terrain, so ride within your limit.
Memorable conditions to point out:
- 12 miles in, you’ll hit the first dirt section, Lemon Twistenberg. As you veer off the road towards the trail, you’ll be faced with some sizable rocks. My guess is that their purpose is to slow you down, and you definitely should (especially if you’re not on off-road tubeless tires). You’ll then pop up onto the trail and the fun begins.
- The first dirt section is pretty chaotic. Just be really mindful and self-aware to keep it safe for you and others.
- In the second dirt section there’s a pretty solid creek crossing. I had done this section the day before and didn’t clean the creek crossing until race day because I chose the wrong line the first time I did it. Pro tip: You will hit this creek twice on the BWR course. The best line is the same each way: if you’re crossing at the creek for the first time of the day, stay to the far, far right (by the trees). The second time, take the same line (on the far left, since you’ll be coming from the opposite direction).
- After the second aid station, you’ll hit a substantial climb (Zwartenberg). The 6.8 mile climb is phenomenal, just watch the speed of your descent. I passed one guy who had wrecked pretty good because he got stuck in a rut (thankfully he had plenty of people already there to help by the time I reached him).
- Don’t stop on Double Peak! It’s a great climb. Even if you’re going super slow, keep on truckin’.
My setup and equipment
My bike choice
There’s no one type of bike to ride for this event. Some people ride road bikes with slick tires. Some people ride mountain bikes. I rode my ‘cross bike (a Focus Mares) because I don’t have a true gravel bike (yet). I swapped out my knobby tires with slick ones. They were great throughout the entire event.
Note that this year had a lot deeper sand than in years past. Of my friends who rode road bikes, several shared that the sandy descents felt a little sketchy on their their skinny tires, but they still did it.
Whatever tires you have, set ’em up tubeless. Saw and heard of plenty of flats, but thankfully had none. If you need tire inspo, check out IRC. Their stuff is pretty awesome and they even have some event-specific tires (for Kanza and BWR as two examples). But they sell out quick—they were totally out of their BWR tires when I tried to get them.
Another note on bike equipment: I would not recommend using speed play pedals. There will likely be points when you step into dirt or sand. If that happens, it is exceptionally hard to clip back and then out. I know at least two people who had to take off their entire shoe just to get off their bicycle because of speed play. I used my SPD pedals.
Apart from that, nothing else fancy on my bike.
As I mentioned before, the on-course aid stations are spaced all throughout the course and are stocked with all sorts of goodies like fig bars, bananas, coffee, water with hydration mix, and SIS products. I brought some food in my jersey (because I eat a lot on bicycle rides) but I really did not need it.
Wanted to point out that if you have any mechanical issues, VeloFix can hook you up. They helped me readjust my cleats mid-ride as the positioning was making my feet oscillate from cramping to numb. Five minutes of adjustment made a world of difference. Thanks guys!
Of course, bring the ride essentials like a patch kit and spare tube(s).
And a special shoutout for forward progress…
I will start with saying that I am very impressed by the effort that BWR made to involve more women this year. Now I’ll say that I won’t sugarcoat that I was very unimpressed by the event in previous years. There was one aid station, the Oasis, that featured women in bikinis (apparently men, too, but those guys didn’t get featured). I recognize that this was a sponsored aid station, but it still made it onto BWR’s marketing as well as in external promotion, which becomes a brand issue. In a world where things like equal payout and racing opportunities are still not the universally accepted norm in all levels of the sport, I was disappointed by the unnecessary inclusion of scantily clad women in a context where it made no sense apart from objectifying women to sell more tickets to men.
BUT, I contacted BWR explaining my concerns and they were incredibly willing to listen and hear me out. The organizing committee met and totally exceeded my expectations after my conversation with them. Here’s what changed: Women got equal prize money (plus some extra, due to a sponsor), they had a matching promotion where each woman who registered could get a free signup for a female friend, and their 2019 marketing featured strong, badass female racers alongside their male counterparts.
I am highlighting this because the reality is that there remains work to be done before we achieve sports equality. Have productive conversations. Recognize a good effort and response when you see one. Personally, I was so happy to see so much effort to include women in the sport. And sure enough—thanks to the marketing shift and sign-up promotion—the number of women participants in this year’s BWR was off the charts compared to years previous. THANK YOU Belgian Waffle Ride for supporting women’s cycling!
Why You Should Ride BWR in 2020
If waffles and bikes haven’t won you over yet, how about awesome dirt roads in the most rural parts around San Diego? This extremely well organized event should appeal to anyone looking to up their gravel game in a beautiful place. I know I’m going back; I didn’t even get close to eating my 24.5 waffles.
Event registration is now open, head here to sign-up! You seriously don’t want to miss this event in 2020.
Thanks to Wil Matthews for the awesome photos. I was too busy riding my bike and dreaming of waffles to take any.