words and photos by Michael van den Ham

Two hundred miles, 11 hours, and a lot of suffering—not exactly what you’d expect from CX specialist who usually rides for an hour, right? But here I am, just a couple weeks out from the race, and about as ready as I’ll ever be for the Dirty Kanza. I have no idea how my body will respond to a ride that long. Fortunately I’ve had the chance to build up a bike and pick equipment that I think will give me the best chance of surviving this beastly ride.

One of the coolest things about gravel is that there are a lot of different ways to go when it comes to equipment. You’ll notice that my teammate, Craig Richey, and I have made some very different equipment choices across the board. While Craig has opted for Devinci Hatchet, I’ve decided to go with the brand new Lauf True Grit Race Edition. For those of you unfamiliar with the Lauf name, it is a company that has built its brand around unique looking leaf-spring suspension forks. The True Grit is Lauf’s first complete bike and, as you would guess, built around the 30 mm of travel that the Grit fork offers.

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Suspension aside, the geometry is noticeable longer, slacker, and more stable then the CX rigs that I’m used to racing. When the frame is paired with the fork, it makes for a far more comfortable bike for the long days. I wasn’t really sure what to expect the first time I tried the fork, but I quickly became a convert. Craig and I battled each other at the Ride for Water in Chilliwack a couple of weeks ago. While he eventually ended up cracking me, the fork made a huge difference on washboard gravel and technical descents. It’s like going from a race hardtail to a full-suspension trail bike: you can just coast over things you had to finesse your way over before. At 10 hours into the DK200, that extra vibration dampening could be a difference maker.

The trade off, of course, is that comfort comes with a bit of a weight penalty. Even though it’s the lightest fork with some travel out there, the Grit still adds the better part of a pound to my rig, so I’ve made a couple of other weight-saving moves to keep things light. Most significant, I’m sticking with the simple one-by setup using the Easton EC90SL Cinch cranks and a CX1 groupset. For gearing, I’ll be running a 42-tooth chainring up front with aa 10-42 cassette on the rear, gearing that should give me enough options even in the latest stages of the race without added the weight of a second chainring. (Plus, the one-by setup means I can mount a bottle opener to my front derailleur mounts.)

The rest of the build is relatively similar to the ones you find on my ‘cross bike. Easton bits take care of the seatpost (EC90), bars (EC70 AX in 42 cm), stem (EA70 in 90 mm) and bar tape. I’ll be perched atop an SDG Duster carbon-rail saddle. For wheels, I’m running a pair of the EA90 SL Vault wheels paired with Vittoria 40c Terrano Dry tires and sealed up with Orange Seal. Although, much like Craig, a wheelset upgrade might be in the works.

I’m anticipating that my biggest challenge in the race will be eating and drinking enough. After blowing up at the Ride of Water, I’ve added a few bits to my kit to make eating as easy as possible while I’m out there. One of those items is the Dark Speed Works 483D top-tube bag. My Lauf has top tube bosses, so this bag screws directly into those and, according to the company, should fit 4.5 Clif Bars. On top of simply letting me carry more food, having the bag right in front of my nose all day, I hope, will serve as a constant reminder to keep on eating, eating some more, and then to keep eating.

Much like Craig, I’m also going the hydration-pack route with a couple Evoc 2-l bags. Instead having to stop to fill my pockets and bottles, going with the pack means that I grab everything at once through the feed zones without having to stop. Plus, I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden in a pack, on gravel, with a bunch of folks in aero bars, but I have. In short, it’s terrifying so the more time I can spend with two hands on the bars (and not reaching for bottles) the better.

On that note, you’ll notice that clip-on bars are noticeably absent from my bike. Why? I could pretend it’s just about safety, and that is part of the reason. The other part of it is that I just can’t get over how dorky they are. I have this beautiful bike and I’m not about to sully it with a couple garish strap-ons.

That about rounds out my build and equipment for the Dirty Kanza. I’ll be posting regularly on my Instagram (@mvdhcx) leading up to the event about the race, my preparation and my equipment. Check out that link if you are looking to know more and feel free to ask me any questions.

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