Dirty Kanza - Clean Slate
Words: Ted King
All photos © Josh Patterson/BikeRadar.com
It’s a curious thing to have confidence going into something when you have absolutely no idea what you’re getting into. That was my take going into the 2016 Dirty Kanza. Two hundred miles of punishing gravel roads woven across the Flint Hills of Kansas, entirely exposed with a perpetually crushing wind. What about that doesn’t just scream fun?
I thought my racing days were behind me, as I had bid farewell to professional racing in 2015. But with so many non-UCI events that provide so much enjoyment to the broader base of cycling, there I was on my way to Kansas not knowing what lay in store.
As a lead in towards anything that’s known to be difficult, a surefire way to boost confidence is to know that you’ve covered as many bases as possible. Control the controllable. Fitness: check. An experienced support team of insiders composed of the only two multiple-time champs of this race, Rebecca Rusch and Dan Hughes: check. Equipment: check.
What was my equipment you ask? Here, I’ll tackle that great question.
The Cannondale Slate was my steed of choice. At the start line of Kanza, there are lots of cyclocross bikes, a few road bikes, a handful of mountain bikes, and of course the ever-so-vague “gravel” bike. The Slate’s received the confusing billing of jack of all trades, master of none, which is not the most flattering title, but think about it a sec: You’re not going to win a road race up Ventoux, nor will it descend a downhill course like a rocket, but the bike draws on characteristics of road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes. Does that make it perfect for Dirty Kanza? Yes.
My Slate was equipped with a SRAM Force 1 drivetrain, which I found to be ideal for the surprisingly un-flat Kansas countryside. Once you start pedaling the Dirty Kanza course, you’ll quickly discover that it’s about as flat as an electrocardiogram reading. In fact, there was 10,000 feet of climbing. The range provided by the 10-42t cassette was perfect. People often ask about the jump in cadence going from gear to gear on a cassette that large, especially on perpetually varying terrain, but I didn’t find it to be an issue whatsoever. Trust me, there were plenty of times riding up the steep walls from a river crossing where I was using every tooth on that 42 cog and I never ran out of gears. Up front my 44t chainring paired with a Quarq power meter was ideal, because just shy of the halfway point I set out on a 105 mile solo time trial, into a headwind. Ouch. The power meter allowed me to measure my effort to ensure that I didn’t go too hard too early.
In, umm, retirement, I’ve made the leap to equip all my bikes with hydro disc brakes. Why? Because I’d be crazy not to! The superior performance regardless of conditions, paired with the impressive light weight and durability just provides confidence I don’t have with rim brakes.
I opted for a ZIPP SL carbon bar and SL Speed carbon seatpost to provide just the right amount of forgiveness and comfort over the never-ending burly roads. I did double wrap the bar tape just as we would at Paris-Roubaix, and that was comfy and ideal.
With all of these great parts assembled on my bike, the confidence I had in my equipment was second to none. I knew lining up at 5:45am Saturday morning I had the right tool for the job; and just shy of twelve hours later, I crossed the line and took home the title: King of Kanza.