​100 Miles of Gravel Road. My First Dirty Kanza

Nick Legan, author of Gravel Cycling, says the Dirty Kanza (Emporia, Kansas) is “home to some of the most beautiful and brutally rugged gravel roads in the United States.”

I’ve been riding gravel since the 1990s. So of course I had to go.

(At least that’s what Erica Mueller told me. She talked up the event last October during the Dutchman Classic and did everything but register me.)

It’s hard to train on gravel living in Peoria, but I did find some 15 and 20-mile sections nearby. I also traveled to Canton for a very helpful 40 miles of consistent gravel. Gravel is a different kind of physical challenge: my pedaling cadence is lower than on the road, almost like I’m doing cyclocross.

This being my first year, I signed up for the DK 100, a century ride, half the distance of the DK 200 and an even smaller fraction of the DK XL, the new, 350-mile version that attracted 34 people to the line. With thousands of people at Kanza, this was the biggest event I’ve done since I raced on a national level.

So many people. So much gravel. Time to get started.

I took the first 25 miles at a conservative pace, maybe too conservative. I got into some crazy loose stuff along the way, but always stayed upright. I got more confident on the descents thanks to the cushy 40mm WTB Nano tires with more flotation than my usual 38s.

Only a couple of intense moments: the start, which took place in a sea of people, and a crazy downhill about 70 miles in, with a truck to my left and branches to my right.

Shimano rep and Bushwhacker alum Chris Wheeler accompanied me throughout the event.

No mechanical issues, though I was surprised how quickly you go through chain lube. I spent 45 minutes hiking through unrideable Kansas mud and several other minutes clearing that mud with a tire lever.

Which reminds me: tent stake. Next time, I need to bring a tent stake to get through the mud in a hurry.

I crossed the line in 7:41:41. Just about what I had expected. (Chris’ wife, the aforementioned Erica Mueller, finished the DK 100 in 6:59:14, first among women and eighth overall.)

I felt the Dirty Kanza tested all my cycling skills, from nutrition and hydration to bike setup, bike handling and, yes, even drafting on gravel. All in all, a unique experience.

Thanks to Mike Howard, Sr. for some really good advice and RJ McHenry for steering me toward the wider tires. Big thank yous also to my wife and Giant Bicycles, especially Eric Pirtle.

Along for the ride:

Frame: Giant Toughroad SX

Wheels: DT Spline 24

Tires: WTB Nano 40, running tubeless with Orange Seal @ 40 psi

Shifters: Shimano 105

Front derailleur: Shimano 105

Rear derailleur: Shimano Ultegra

Cassette: 11-speed 105, 11-34 cogs

Crankset: Praxis Adventure, 48/32 chainrings

Pedals: Shimano XT

Brakes: Mechanical TRP Spyre calipers with Shimano rotors and metal brake pads

Fuel: 70 ounces of water; 1,200 to 1,500 food calories

Tool kit: Patches, two tubes, tire boots, tubeless plug kit, multitool, derailleur hanger, chain tool

Navigation: Giant NeosTrack GPS, printed cue sheets