The two days leading up to the world's premier gravel race, Unbound Gravel, are filled with shakedown rides, a trade show and community events. It's a good opportunity for riders to test their gear setup and brands to showcase the latest and greatest.
When it comes to the bikes and gear setups, Unbound is an interesting event because riders might ride as little as 25 miles all the way up to 350 miles. All race distances require the riders to be completely self-sufficient and riders might be out on course for as long as 35 hours in one go.
It's true test of endurance, self-reliance and equipment. In addition to needing to fuel oneself for the many hours of riding, the sharp flint rocks are notorious for slicing tires and dashing podium aspirations. Along the way, riders also need to content with the undulating terrain, exposed roads, headwinds and, if at all wet, tire-sucking mud.
Weather has been a big concern in the lead-up to this year's Unbound with a fair bit of rain in the days prior to the race start and more rain as well as thunderstorms predicted on race day. Tire choice, tire clearance and tire pressure seemed to be all people were talking about. On a wet course, the mud will destroy groupsets and grind you to a halt. It became such a buzz that paint sticks were being handed out to help clear the mud off the bikes should it come to that.
With some 4,000 professional and amateur riders descending upon the small town of Emporia, Kansas, we saw the following trends:
Common tire choices:
- Specialized Pathfinder Pro
- Kenda FlintRidge
- Schwalbe's all new G-ONE RS
- Maxxis Rambler
- WTB SG2
- Most tires were run in size 38mm to 44mm at PSIs ranging between 28 to 40
- Bento boxes on the top tube
- Small seatpacks
- Skinny frame bags that leave space for two tall bottles
- Hydration vests
- Integrated tubeless plug tools, either in the bar ends, attached on the water bottle cage or even in the crankset or stem cap
- The addition of chain catchers in case of mud
- Bottles, stickers or ribbons as a tribute to Mo Wilson
Here's a tiny sample of the bikes that will be making their way to the finish line this weekend; some might even end up on the podium.
Pete Stetina's Canyon Grizl
Former WorldTour roadie turned gravel privateer, Peter Stetina, shows off his Canyon Grizl with a Shimano GRX drivetrain and carbon GRX wheels.
Ian Boswell's Specialized Diverge
Defending Unbound 2022 winner Ian Boswell's Specialized Diverge with SRAM AXS. Many of the Specialized supported athletes are on a limited edition pink colorway Diverge, inspired by the 1984 Specialized Team Stumpjumper
Brooke Goudy's Lauf True Grit
Mountain biker and advocate Brooke Goudy's Lauf True Grit will let her ride to the 100-mile finish in comfort with 30mm front suspension, some cushioning tires and even a beer opener for that post-race beer.
Sarah Sturm's Specialized Crux
Sarah Sturm, two-time national cx champion and Life Time Grand Prix racer prefer the Specialized Crux over the Diverge.
Matt Hornland's Allied Able
Matt Hornland of the Easton Overland team was showing off his team edition Allied Able with Easton wheels, cranks, seatpost, cockpit and even, a dropper post.
Ashton Lambie's Lauf Steigla
Spotted from afar: World track champion Ashton Lambie's Lauf Steigla complete with the third-generation Lauf Grit SL fork, clearance for tires up to a beefy 2.25 inches, and a rainbow colorway.
The 31-year-old, famously mustachioed American became the first person to break the four-minute barrier in the four-kilometer Individual pursuit in August of last year, after having previously broken the IP record twice before. When not riding the smooth wooden boards of the velodrome, Lambie is an accomplished gravel racer as well having won the 100-mile Unbound race in 2019 and previously held the Trans-Kansas world record when he completed the 400-mile ride in just 23 hours and 53 minutes in 2015.
Insatfund's Heidi Franz had a hell of a time getting her bike ready for the race. When her bike arrived with broken parts, friends scrambled to make her Van Dessel CX bike race-able. In the end, she ended up with a loaner 11-speed SRAM Red eTap drivetrain and 38mm tires — the biggest the frame will hold.
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