Here we are in the days leading up to the year’s first major gravel race – the Unbound Gravel 200 in Emporia, Kansas. Thanks to the lingering societal effects of the COVID pandemic (which resulted in last year’s event being postponed, there were many questions remaining about what would happen this year. But all signs are good with the weather looking like it will cooperate.
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Unlike previous years when RBA was able to jump into the event with full-effect, it was not to be this year. As a result only David Kennedy and our all-around helper John Perry will alone be staging early in the morning chill on Main Street this Saturday. Look for live coverage with FloSports.
To celebrate the re-arrival of the race which can be likened to the Daytona 500 of gravel races, we thought to scroll back through the ages to have a look at some of the bikes that we’ve put to good use on the rugged and sharp flint rock roads that crisscross Kansas. Beyond the bikes, RBA owes a big debt of gratitude to all the riders who’ve helped us fly the banner over the years, starting with former editor Neil Shirley who is responsible for kicking-off our gravel endeavor in 2014.
STARTING IN 2014
Three years prior to Gerard Vroomen rolling out his aero-inspired 3T Exploro gravel bike last year, former RBA editor Neil Shirley got our Kanza ball rolling by jumping into the Specialized wind tunnel to maximize the aero performance of everything from his Crux race bike to his clothing and accessories. In his first year out in Kansas, Neil got rammed from behind and suffered a broken derailleur. After turning his bike into a single-speed, Neil eventually limped in just over 15 hours after he started.
Four-time winner Dan Hughes cautioned, “durability is a must when riding in the Flint Hills, and shouldn’t be a place you look to save weight”. Since there isn’t any follow car support like in road racing, and the checkpoints are 50 miles apart, you need to be able to fix any mechanical problems that might arise, making equipment choices all the more important.
THE MUD RUN OF 2015
For his second attempt at the DK 200, Neil worked closely with Ridley in developing their X-Trail gravel bike. Of all the Euro bike brands, Ridley was an early adapter of the gravel scene. Just as occurred in the previous year, Neil’s race came unglued early on with a broken rear derailleur.
After spying Tim Johnson’s prototype race bike mounted with a Lefty fork in the pits at the 2015 cyclocross national championships, Zap figured that the 30mm of front wheel travel would be a boon for his attempt at the 100 mile half-pint race. This was the year of the big rain that created a four mile hike-a-bike section. It was from this bike that Cannondale took certain design cues to create the Slate and later, the revamped (and much improved) Super-X cross bike. Other than a bruised calf from the four miles of pedal slap while crying and pushing the bike, Zap was able to finish in 24th place on the Cannondale.
Furthering our effort to bring something new to Dirty Kanza each year, Neil hitched an exclusive ride aboard the much talked about Open UP gravel bike in 2016. Up front we mounted the Lauf gravel-specific suspension fork that had 30mm of travel. Neil took full advantage of the Open’s asymmetrical chainstays to run 38mm Teravail tires mounted on Enve wheels, plus three bottle mounts the top tube storage box.
Although Zap had his special Di2 1x Shimano drivetrain(Ultegra shifters mated to an XT rear derailleur and 11-42 cogset) figured out in advance, it wasn’t until the Sea Otter Classic in mid-April that the frame came together thanks to Alchemy who supplied a carbon Hyas for the effort. Reynolds wheels, Specialized Trigger Pro tires, Pro aluminum stem & handlebars, a Thomson aluminum seatpost and ProLogo saddle, 140mm rotors, Lizard Skins bar tape, and Crank Bros. Candy pedals rounded out the accessory package. Of course if it wasn’t for his Wahoo Element GPS computer he would probably still be out their looking for the route to the finish.
This is what most bikes looked like in their post-Kanza profile. Each year it’s the combination of mud, head winds, heat or cold (depending), and notorious flint rock roads that provide the most grueling challenge to finishing.
THE 2017 REVIEW
For the fourth year running Road Bike Action is readying a team to compete in what is arguably the toughest & biggest gravel race on the calendar – the Dirty Kanza 200. In the coming days RBA editors Troy Templin, Jon Hornbeck and RBA contributor Janel Holcolmb will be heading to Emporia, Kansas to tackle the longest bike race any of them have ever attempted. Or, as Jon put it so succinctly when he realized that his day in the saddle would likely be in the 12-15 hour range, “Oh my God…that is so gnarly!”
For every year that we have participated in the DK, we have built up specific project bikes in the attempt to test the latest gravel product as it has evolved. Following each participation, we have come away with more experience of what a proper gravel bike could/should be. Without a doubt it’s been this first person knowledge base that has enabled RBA to lead the way in gravel bike tech knowledge and expertise.
- Bike: Niner RLT 9 RDO
- Fork: Fox 32 Step-Cast AX 40mm
- Wheels: WTB Ci24 carbon rim laced onto White Industries CLD hubs
- Tires: Terrene Elwood light 700X40c and sealed with Slime Tubeless sealant
- Stem: Easton EC70
- Handlebar: Easton EC70 AX
- Crank: Easton EC90SL with 42t ring and Cinch power meter
- Drivetrain: Shimano ST-RS685 shifters and brakes, XTR RD-M9000 rear derailleur, XT CS-M8000 11 speed cassette 11-46 and a Jtek Shiftmate 8A shifting adaptor.
- Saddle: SQLab 612 Ergowave active carbon
- Seatpost: Easton EC90 Zero
- Computer: Stages Dash
- Bartape: Lizard Skins DSP 2.5mm
- Pedals: Speedplay Syzr
- Additional: Bottle cages from Elite and Topeak with the Topeak also housing our multi-tool and tire levers. We are also installing the Wolf Tooth Components B-RAD Mounting Base for an additional cage mount.
Gaerne also supplied a set of their Carbon G.SINCRO MTB shoes for the epic day.
- For chain lube, we applied Smoove
- The whole bike was then built from the frame up for us by H&S Bicycles, thanks Rob and Steve.
JON’S ORBEA TERRA
- Bike: Orbea Terra
- Wheels: ENVE Carbon Cross Wheelset
- Tires: WTB Nano 700 x 40c
- Stem: Giant SLR OD2 100mm stem
- Handlebar: 3T Ergoterra 42mm
- Crank: FSA SLK Light 172.5
- Drivetrain: Shimano Ultegra Di2
- Saddle: Fizik Antares Custom Carbon Saddle
- Seatpost: Zipp Aluminum
- Cogset: Shimano 32 T
- Computer: Wahoo ELEMNT
- Bartape: Zevlin Custom Road Bike Action Tape
- Pedals: Shimano M540 Pedal
- Hydration: Osmo Nutrition
JANEL’S FOCUS MARES
- Bike: Focus Mares with custom headset to get that stem slammed
- Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium Pro Disc Allroad UST Wheels
- Power: SRM Power Meter
- Drivetrain: SRAM Force 1x (42 chainring, 10-42 cassette)
- GPS: Wahoo ELEMNT computer for navigation
- Tire: Maxxis Rambler 38c tires
- Pedals: Shimano XTR pedals
- Additional: Lezyne Flow Cage SL bottle cages w/ Lezyne Pressure Drive pump. Lezyne CO2 mounted on downtube, Jet Roll Wild Weasel JOKER 2.0 saddle bag.
THE 2018 REVIEW
THE 2019 REVIEW
TROY’S GT GRADE
- Fork: Lauf Grit 30mm
- Bars: Lauf Smoothie
- Bar tape: Lizard Skins 2.5 and Redmonkey grips
- Saddle: Fizik Antares 00
- Stem: 110 Gt Alloy
- Pedals: Crank Brothers Candy 11
- Wheels: Stans Grail CB7
- Tires: Kenda Flintridge Pro 40mm
- Sealant: Slime Premium
- Computer: Wahoo Roam
- Computer mount: K-Edge Pro
- Lights: Serfas 200 and Specialized Stix
JIMMY DEATON’S BLACK MOUNTAIN CYCLES
- Bars: Salsa Cowbell 2, 46cm
- Bar tape: Lizard Skins tape 3.2 with Fizik bar gel
- Aero bars: Profile carbon stryke
- Saddle: Fizik Arione R3
- Stem: 110 Easton EA 70
- Chainrings: Absoluteblack
- Pedals: Crank Brothers Candy 3
- Wheels: Stan’s NoTubes Valor
- Tires: panaracer gravelking SK
- Sealant: Stan’s Notubes
- Computer: Lezyne Mega XL
- Computer mount: Lezyne out front
- Lights: Planet bike rear light, Knog front light
JOHN PERRY’S BASSO PALTA
- Bars: Microtech XL compact
- Bar tape: Stock Basso Foam
- Saddle: Astute SUN
- Stem: 110 Basso Alloy
- Pedals: Shimano M530
- Wheels: Microtech MA38 disc
- Tires: Maxxis Rambler 40mm
- Sealant: Orange Seal
- Computer: Garmin 1030 + Garmin Charge power pack
- Computer mount: Garmin out front
- Lights: BX3, 1000 lumen
ZAP’S PIVOT VAULT
- Bars: FSA
- Bar tape: Lizardskins 2.5
- Saddle: Selle Italia SLR TM Flow
- Stem: 110 Bontrager XXX
- Pedals: Crank Brothers Candy
- Wheels: Boyd Pinnacle
- Tires: IRC Boken 40mm Team racing edition
- Sealant: Bontrager
- Computer: Wahoo Elemnt
- Computer mount: K-Edge pro
- Lights: Bontrager
JOHN PERRY’S GIANT
- Bike: 2021 Giant Revolt Advanced
- Drivetrain: Shimano GRX 810, 48/31,11/34 rear
- Computer: Garmin 1030
- Pedals: Garmin Vector3 pedals
- Tires: Maxxis Rambler 40mm tires w/ Cush Core inserts
- Nutrition: Mind FX and Hammer with USWE hydration packs
- Cages: Arundel