While mud coated the riders' bikes and bodies, snow blanketed the peak of Mount Shasta. That was the scene at the Shasta Gravel Hugger race in northern California earlier this month when Jacob Rathe pedaled his Sage Storm King gravel bike to a fourth-place finish.
Rathe is a former professional road racer, who spent time on Garmin-Sharp and then Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis before retiring from road racing in 2018. Now, he's a gravel racer, bike fitter and coach with Rathe Athlete Development (opens in new tab).
Rathe's road career saw him placing third at U23 Paris-Roubaix in 2011, first in the Tour of Utah king of the mountains classification in 2017, and third in the US national championship road race in 2018 - so it's no surprise that he has the legs to stay at the front of top gravel races.
At Shasta, Rathe raced on a gravel bike made by Oregon company Sage Titanium Bicycles, who manufacture titanium gravel, mountain bike, and road frames in the US. The idea for the Storm King came to Rathe as he noticed how tough gravel race courses were getting.
“The terrain got a lot nastier—bigger rocks, rougher courses, more jeep tracks, ruts, and so tire size keeps getting bigger," Rathe told Bike Perfect. I was talking to the owner, I was like ‘you know, I think people are running like 45s and 50s in some of these races, and that’s kind of needed.’”
The result was the Storm King, which has clearance for 700x50mm or 650×2.4" gravel bike tires. At the Shasta gravel race, Rathe ran 40mm IRC Boken tires that were wrapped around Astral Wanderlust Carbon wheels.
The bike, which was still caked in mud from the race, features a Shimano Ultegra RX 11-speed groupset. Rathe is not running a 1x setup, opting instead for a more traditional 2x arrangement. That's matched with Shimano Ultegra BR-8070 brakes.
Rathe's bike also features Shimano XTR mountain bike pedals, an Ergon SR Carbon saddle, an Enve Road stem, and a Stages power meter.
The bag at the front of the frame is a prototype product called the OTTOLOCK Essentials Frame bag made by Otto Design Works. The company also makes a compact bike lock called the OTTOLOCK, which Rathe is a co-creator of.
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In 2019, Rathe won the High Cascades 100 mountain bike race and took third at the SBT GRVL race in Colorado. This year, he plans to go back to Colorado to compete at SBT GRVL as well as the Unbound gravel race in Kansas.
“They’re such hard events, these six, seven, eight, 10-hour races, Rathe says. I think people sign up for a lot, and it’s kind of more of like an Iron Man type thing where you do three a year, and you try and do them well.”
Overall, Rathe says that the booming American gravel scene reminds him of when he first started racing. The events have more of a social component, similar to other endurance sports like XC skiing or running. There are top pros but also all levels of amateurs.
“If you’re last place no one really cares," he said.
Tech specs: Jacob Rathe's Sage Titanium Storm King gravel bike
- Frame: Sage Storm King
- Groupset: Shimano Ulegra RX
- Brakes: Shimano Ultegra BR-8070
- Wheelset: Astral Wanderlust Carbon, 700c
- Stem: Enve Road
- Power meter: Stages
- Pedals: Shimano XTR
- Saddle: Ergon SR Carbon
- Tires: IRC Boken, 40mm
- Bottle cages: Arundel Carbon and Looney Bin