By Brian Maslach
I Must be in Emporia!
I made the drive to Emporia, Kansas, AKA Gravel City, for Dirty Kanza last week and am still buzzing from the experience. If you like suffering on dirt roads, great hospitality, and oversized food portions, Emporia was the place to be.
The Dirty Kanza is actually made up of a handful of races - from 350 miles to 25 miles (the DKXL, DK200, DK100, DK50, and DK25) - but the DK200 is what most people refer to when they talk about Dirty Kanza. It seems to be the unofficial gravel world championship, and the size and quality of the field this year support this. It's certainly the first dedicated gravel event I learned about.
Getting a Taste of One of the DK200's Smoother Sectors
According to those who raced, this year's DK200 course was the most difficult yet with somewhere around 11,000ft of climbing, much of it on loose, rutted, rock-strewn "roads." Equipment choices varied dramatically. I saw everything from full-suspension fat bikes to relatively lightweight cyclocross set-ups. Lightweight bikes and tires typically didn't fare well. One estimate had 90-percent of the participants suffering at least one flat and it wasn't uncommon to hear of racers who had 3 or more. Featherweight tires were definitely not that way to go. Beefy, high-volume tires to smooth the ride and minimize punctures were the wise choice. For elite riders it was just a question of how heavy they were willing to go (and what their tire sponsor had to offer).
The camaraderie between athletes was apparent and not unexpected considering the grueling nature of the race. With Dirty Kanza, you're competing against the course as much as fellow competitors. It was cool to see and made me envious of everyone who was competing.
A Few Thousand Riders and Bikes About to Ride 200 Miles
The Start to a Long Day on the Bike
Only 50 Miles to Go Before Colin Would Break the Record and Finish in under 10 Hours!
The End of a Long Day!
The scene alone in the days leading up to the race made the trip worthwhile. Emporia transforms to an all-things-gravel, welcoming host for thousands of racers and their support crews. Most storefronts had signs welcoming Dirty Kanza participants, with many having bicycles as well. The DK expo took over several blocks and was a great place to catch-up with friends. All combined, downtown Emporia was a who's who of gravel riders, support crews, and industry people. It felt like a massive celebration.
Where Else Would You Have Your Gravel Bike Serviced?
Are You Ready to Add Your Name?
Spectating the race gave me a greater respect for it and participants than I had gleaned from afar. It's one thing to look at miles and elevation gain, but witnessing what all from some of the United States' top riders to weekend warriors went through had a strange pull. I had not previously considered attempting it, but the seed has now been planted.