Dirty Kanza 200 is a solo, self-supported, non-stop, 200-mile-long bicycling endurance challenge on the gravel and dirt roads of the Flint Hills region in east-central Kansas. Team Belgianwerkx member Kevin Tubbs committed to the 2017 event and in preparation, attended the training camp March 30th – April 2nd, 2017.
I have been an avid cyclist for most of my life, and 2016 was a huge cycling year for me. I finished my first gravel race, Barry Roubaix, and also finished the longest single-day ride I have ever done: the 2nd annual 180mi Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW) put on by the Wisconsin Bike Federation. After helping my wife through her first century in Door County, I began to think about an epic ride in 2017.
One big factor was timing: the RAW ride happens in late August, and I wanted something earlier in the summer that will allow me to transition to training for cyclocross in late summer. Gravel grinding is increasingly popular, and Dirty Kanza bills itself as the “World’s Premier Gravel Grinder” so I figured that was something to look into.
The more I looked the more I liked what I saw! I learned that the core event of Dirty Kanza is a 200mi ride over gravel roads through the Flint Hills around Emporia, Kansas. They also have 100mi and shorter courses, but I figure “go big or go home” on these sorts of things. One stunning finding was the 2016 200mi ride finish rate of only 60%. Holy cow – there’s a chance that I could toe the line for this this and not actually finish!! Talk about scary!
To help insulate against that possibility, I decided to hire a coach to help me prepare for an event of this magnitude. I attempted to engage a couple local coaches without success, so I reached out to the Dirty Kanza promotions group that offers coaching. I called and ended up hiring LeLan Dains, who is also the Operations Director for Dirty Kanza Promotions, and I started working with him on January 1. I also decided that having some pre-event “hands-on” riding on site would help a great deal, and I signed up for and participated in the Dirty Kanza training camp offered 3/30-4/2/16.
I am SO glad I decided to do that! It’s hard to narrow my favorite or most memorable parts of training camp… It was very helpful to hear from racers and mechanics that have been involved with the event and learn MANY things that could help me to finish. Some key take-aways: run tubeless rims/tires (re
peated numerous times), eat and drink regularly, get through support checkpoints as fast as possible, and “prepare” rather than “plan” because plans go out the window quickly in Kanza. It was a ton of fun meeting 36 campers who are at least as crazy as I am. The most challenging thing was riding 100mi on some of the roughest and most horrible roads I have EVER ridden on, fighting through fatigue, hills, wind, and all of the voices in my head screaming at me to climb off to finally make it to the finish.
I plan to use a Surly Cross Check that I bought a couple years ago which seemed to work fine for training camp. It’s a bit heavy to portage in stream crossings (there were 2 in camp and will be at least 3 in the race) but a carbon fiber gravel bike is not in the budget. I used Clement X’PLOR MSO 700x40c 120tpi tires, setup with inner tubes and pumped to upper-40’s PSI. I found the ride over the extremely rough roads provided a relativel
y good balance between comfort and rolling resistance. I will definitely heed the direction provided at camp and move to tubeless rims/tires after a fellow rider nicked his tubeless tire sidewall but allowed that to seal up and keep riding after topping off his pressure.