By: Matt Freeman of
Held annually in March, Redlands Strada Rossa (RSR) is a mixed surface event (a.k.a. Gravel) and the brainchild of the tight-knit cycling community of Redlands, California. In the bicycle world, Redlands is best known for its long-running Redlands Bicycle Classic Stage Race, but when RSR happens, you’d be hard-pressed to find any bike participating with tires skinnier than 36c. The first couple years the event took place a few dudes showed up with 28c tires on their “gravel bikes” and proceeded to go off the back in the first dirt sector. In fact, I’m pretty sure they quit. RSR is traditionally a very tough event.
The third year people got wise and showed up with the right bike and tire setup, but the course was so gnarly and the day was so hot that only about a dozen people even finished the 100-mile route. In 2017 and 2018 the fastest men on the 90-mile long course were either on mountain bikes or gravel bikes clad with 38-40c tires, and gearing to conquer close to nine thousand feet of elevation gain, and the descents that accompanied it. Like I said, Strada Rossa is tough.
RSR 6 was no different, except for the massive amount of rainfall that has plagued southern California recently. That made things even tougher for this year’s event which was set to gain 9,541 feet over 91 miles. The highlight of RSR 2019 was the inclusion of an ascent up the face of the Seven Oaks Dam; a 550-foot high earth and rock-filled embankment (according to Ask.com) that crosses the Santa Ana River. The only problem was, you had to get there first. The dam and the mile long 11-percent KOM challenge up the face didn’t even start until mile 64. What preceded the Dam Climb was more than seven thousand feet of elevation gain, more than half of it on the muddy singletrack and dirt roads around Redlands. What pavement was on this year’s route was mostly headed to the heavens so there were few places to rest except at the handful of well-stocked SAG stops set up on course.
In case you’re wondering who won the Dam KOM, it wasn’t me. But, my SDG-Muscle Monster teammate Jason Siegle rode his Niner BSB to the top spot of the Men’s challenge, while a local girl, McKenzie Melcher, climbed to the top spot in the Women’s division, also on a BSB. Since technically, Strada Rossa isn’t a race, those were the only two awards given out on the long and wet day, although the 400 or so that were registered for the full-length 91-mile and the shorter 62- and 36-mile options were all rewarded at the finish and post-event party. For all six years of its existence, Strada Rossa finished in some dude’s backyard. Great food was served, lots of beer was consumed, and there was even a pretty good bike wash to hose off all the mud.
Most of the SDG-Muscle Monster Team was in attendance due to the Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) Strada Rossa Training Camp that saw team members and coaches David Sheek, Kirk Nordgren, and myself showing eight athletes from all over North America the ropes of West Coast gravel riding. Meanwhile, Amanda Nauman made a last minute decision to join us in order to gain some fitness for some of her longer gravel events this spring and summer.
Over the last six years, I’ve seen Strada Rossa grow from a back alley ride (literally, the previous five years started in an alley behind a coffee shop), to a more traditional grassroots event that benefits local bicycle advocacy groups. It only costs 60 bucks to enter and if you’re not up the long route, there’s always shorter options. Plus, how often do you get to finish a ride with 400 participants with a party in some dude’s back yard?