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Sunday, January 14, 2024

What's The Difference - BackBone, DoubleBackBone & Grande

Folks regularly ask about the differences between my Black Hills BackBone, DoubleBackBone, and BackBone Grande routes. Here's an overview that describes the genesis, formation, and development of these three routes and how they differ.

My introduction of the Black Hills BackBone Grande route last year prompted many questions about the differences from my older Black Hills BackBone and DoubleBackBone routes. Fair enough. 

BackBone & DoubleBackBone = designed for long gravel rides, but can bikepack it. 
The BackBone Grande = designed for multi-day bikepacking, but can continuous ride it.

Of course, there's much more to that story. The BackBone Grande draws from a deep data base built on 10 additional years of back roads exploration in the Black Hills and the unforgettable experiences of multi-day and multi-week bikepacking rides across the Mountain West. It takes cyclists to more memorable places, both well-known and obscure, on a wide variety of challenging roads. It's a different beast.

If you're looking for USFS Low Standard Roads, the Black Hills are full of them.
The Black Hills are beautiful. Most any combination of roads winding through the Black Hills will be a beautiful ride. But there is a difference between better and best. The BackBone Grande covers what I consider to be the very best of our Black Hills and surrounding prairie in a cross-state bikepacking ride.

USFS Secondary Road 189 southbound down Flag Mountain.
The signature image of the Black Hills BackBone.
Back in 2014, I created the BackBone as a solo, self-supported, light and fast gravel ride. At 310 miles and 19,700 feet of elevation gain, it certainly pushes the limits of a long, continuous ride for most cyclists. But with straight forward navigation, 200 miles of Primary Roads, and 35 miles of pavement, the BackBone rides relatively fast. Low Standard Roads, the rough ones that really take it out of you and take you further out there, account for just 7 miles, or about 2%, of the BackBone.

In 2017, I then created the DoubleBackBone as an opportunity to ride the BackBone southbound and then return to North Dakota on mostly different roads. The DoubleBackBone runs generally to the West of the BackBone, so it's even more remote, with less re-supply opportunities and less cell coverage.

The overall road makeup of the DoubleBackBone is much the same as the BackBone. At 330 miles and 17,900 feet of elevation gain, it similarly rides relatively fast, with straight forward navigation, 238 miles of Primary Roads, and 38 miles of pavement. Low Standard Roads are less than 16 miles, or about 6%, of the DoubleBackBone.

Mostly on well developed gravel roads, the BackBone and DoubleBackBone are certainly suitable for loaded touring, if that's your jam. That's just not why they were created. 

USFS Low Standard Road 383 northbound to Gillette Canyon.
The signature image of the Black Hills DoubleBackBone.
After bikepacking throughout the Black Hills and across the Mountain West the past several years, I decided to design a new route specifically for a Great Divide type of bikepacking experience. For me, that means 50-100 mile days on a loaded mountain bike over back roads with significant climbing, more navigational challenges, rougher roads and more miles of rougher roads, a mix of re-supply and sleeping options, more natural and human-made sightseeing, both well known and obscure, and a few fun Zero Day opportunities. A much different experience.

The BackBone Grande is my take on that type of bikepacking route, featuring many miles of rougher roads with popular sights and little known gems along the way. This route will take you to many places the BackBone and DoubleBackBone do not. Those that have ridden my Black Hills Bounty routes will catch a similar vibe on the BackBone Grande.

Like the Great Divide, it's not all back country. For a short break during this relatively remote bikepacking ride, I added some pavement across the college town of Spearfish to pass both bike shops, an assortment of restaurant and re-supply options, and lodging, including the popular city campground. Likewise, I skirted Custer to provide easy access to a popular tourist town with similar amenities. From Custer and from Hill City, I also added optional, off-route, mostly paved loops to Mount Rushmore, Sylvan Lake, Needles Highway, and Iron Mountain Road. No sense rushing a vacation.

Lame Johnny Road westbound into the Black Hills.
The signature image of the Black Hills BackBone Grande.
(image by Kevin Fox)
At a touring pace of 55-65 miles per day, a bikepacker will ride 6-7 days to complete the 400 mile BackBone Grande, plus another day for an optional Mount Rushmore loop. Some will certainly ride it faster. Others may even attempt to through-ride it, although I don't recommend it. This is one to soak in. Besides, who wants to T-bone a large mammal at night while settled in aerobars and staring bleary-eyed at a power meter.

The BackBone Grande is a remote, rough road route for self-sufficient, experienced bikepackers capable of successfully riding through sparsely populated backcountry with spotty, if any, cell coverage. You're on your own out there. Enjoy it.

USFS Low Standard Road 530.1A.
A piece of the 58 miles of Low Standard Roads on the BackBone Grande.
Here is an approximate breakdown of the roads on the BackBone, DoubleBackBone, and BackBone Grande. Perhaps the most simple comparison of these routes is the total miles of Low Standard roads. BackBone = 7 miles. DoubleBackBone = 16 miles. BackBone Grande = 58 miles. Another comparison adds the Low Standard and Secondary roads. Backbone = 75 miles. DoubleBackBone = 44 miles. BackBone Grande = 138 miles. The Grande is a different beast.

For a description of Primary, Secondary, and Low Standard roads in the Black Hills, go to my post. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

BackBone - 310 mile/19,700 feet gain (BackBone Map)
65% - Primary (200 miles)
22% - Secondary (68 miles)
11% - Paved (35 miles)
2% - Low Standard (7 miles)
0% - Single Track (0 miles)

DoubleBackBone - 330 mile/17,900 feet gain (DoubleBackBone Map)
72% - Primary (238 miles)
11% - Secondary (38 miles)
11% - Paved (38 miles)
6% - Low Standard (16 miles)
0% - Single Track (0 miles)

BackBone Grande - 400 mile/23,800 feet gain (BackBone Grande Map)
53% - Primary (210.5 miles)
20% - Secondary (80 miles) 
15% - Low Standard (58 miles)
12% - Paved (48 miles)
< 1% - Single Track (1 mile)

For more information on each route and links to posts with images, ride reports, and stories, go to the Black Hills BackBone & DoubleBackBone Page and the BackBone Grande Page. Happy trails.

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