Riding the Dirty Kanza 200

Our good friend Brett recently took part in the Dirty Kanza 200, a truly epic 200 mile gravelfest in the USA. Not only is Brett an experienced gravel rider, his partner is Ironman champion Rachel Joyce, talk about a competitive advantage!

Brett used to live in London before moving to Colorado. And when here I used to ride with him every weekend and we would do events together... its probably fittest I have ever been as he was a strong boy and loved to beast me around lanes of Kent!

Brett was riding a Mosaic Gt-1 titanium supplied and built by us here at Bespoke, and he's been kind enough to write this fantastic summary of a huge day in the saddle. Chapeau, Brett!

Barry, Bespoke Founder

We are not responsible for you, no one is coming to get you...

That's the bolded out line in the Kanza riders bible. With only two aid stations and 1 water stop in 201 miles I'd say this certainly felt true.

Wow, what an amazing, challenging experience, Dirty Kanza is billed as, "World's Premier Gravel Event" and I believe that. One of the funnest days on a bike I've ever had, challenging on body, mind and bike. What a superb feeling to finish in downtown Emporia with hundreds of folks cheering you home, a real carnival atmosphere. 201 miles of Kansas flint hills done!

Let's wind back...

Gravel riding is exploding in the US, I live in Boulder, Colorado and we have lots of dirt and gravel roads available. The number of folks riding the dirt roads is up exponentially, so great getting away from traffic and having roads almost to yourself. I first became aware of Dirty Kanza a few years back but didn't realize I wanted to ride it until a good friend returned from completing it last year. I was fascinated by the prep work for bike, mind and body that went into completing it. A true and complete test of all three factors. as well as thinking that finishing 200+ miles of gravel in the world's biggest gravel event sounded like a great day out.

Entry to the "World's Premier Gravel Grinder" is by lottery, so I entered in December thinking I may well not get in. After all I had bought the bike with Kanza in mind so seemed I had to at least try the lottery...

I got in.

On The Day

Start time is 6am and Emporia is a pretty small town, We stayed at a road motel on the outskirts of town and rode to the start in under 15 minutes. This gentle warm up was welcome, as I was concerned on my shifting after the Di-2 went into crash mode the day before (I didn't crash, but bike must have been knocked outside the coffee shop). That caused a deal of pre-race stress but it was resolved fairly easily.

Met buddies on the start line, the atmosphere was amazing, super friendly, chatty, jokey, very unlike an Ironman race morning... a total contrast. Really fun. This year some EF (Education First Pro Cycling) pros were racing and were introduced along with any other heavy hitters or past winners occupying the front line at the start. I actually like this idea, its similar to Ironman, especially Kona where you are on the same course at the same time as the pros.

The "race" starts at 6am under neutral start and you roll out of town to the first gravel section. Everyone was in great spirits, happy to get the day underway. One guy next to me said, "everyone is riding so slow, it's like they all know they are going to die!". That made me laugh, very apt considering the day ahead.

The first section is sandy, dusty gravel which lulls you into a false sense of security. The first 90 minutes went by quickly, big groups forming, riding about 18-20mph. It was beautiful, buzzing along smooth gravel with the sun coming up, everyone happy but focussed. Now while this was the easiest sector, you have to pay attention the whole time to the conditions, I actually tried to take a picture at one point, thinking it'd be easy on smooth gravel, and nearly crashed as smooth turned rocky very quickly. I just held the bike upright and swore to myself - no more pictures - too much had gone into the preparation to crash out. We were moving so quickly, and it felt so easily that I almost sent a text to Rachel that we would be at Aid Post 1 early.

One of the things that makes this such a big challenge is the lack of support opportunities. There were only two aid stations and one neutral water stop in the entire 201 miles. So you have to prepare to go 5 hours or so with only the water and food you can carry. Combine the distance, the heat (over 30°C) and lack of support you start to get a feel for the epic nature of the challenge...

Aid 1 was at 64 miles, I was super happy to pull in and find Rachel ready with refreshed supplies. The support is critical. This had been relayed to me before but I hadn't fully realized the importance of this advice. Having family and or friends there as support crew makes this so much better, more fun, easier. Rachel had noted how hot it was getting and advised me to start pouring water over myself, to look after myself. I was eating and drinking on schedule but it was 60 miles to the next stop. Do I have enough water to be pouring it on me? Just one of the hundred things you have to consider.

The next sector was by far the hardest sector for me. The groups had split up and it was mostly solo riding now; the rollers had become hills, real hills and lots of them. The gravel became rocks, the ground got gnarly, now we also encountered water crossings but thankfully little mud. 100% focus was required to pick a line that would not have you mending punctures or be crashed on the floor.

The smoothest line is often where vehicular traffic had passed. To overtake you often switch from one track to the other, a skill learned throughout the day. The relentless hills and hard riding saw many many riders unravel, myself included to a degree. I wasn't sure I would make it to the water stop at 120 miles, it was 95 gone and I had drunk most of the water I had. It was getting hotter, the hills went as far as the eye could see, 7 of them, 8 between me and the horizon, big rocks as the surface. In this section I saw grown men standing at the top of a hill, head on handlebars broken by what they saw, hills and more hills. There were people already sitting in the shade of the trees, stopped, snoozing, wondering, could they go on?

At 100 miles a literal oasis presented itself, Education First that had brought pro tour riders to the event and provided neutral water at 101 miles. Wow, a big relief, I rolled in there feeling dazed but happy I could refuel. I was confused for a while, should I start the next round of nutrition now or stay on schedule to refuel at 120 as planned. It was too hard a decision to make at that point. I drank 2 water bottles, to gain time to think. Eventually I tipped water over me as Rachel had advised, it felt icy but great, I did it again and felt myself start to revive. She was right, this is the key - look after yourself, keep core temperatures down as much as you can. Grateful for these words, I refilled all my water bottles and Camelbak and rolled out.

The water stop at 120 miles was a non-event after the 100 mile EF oasis, and I restocked, tipping water over me again, grateful that these stops were close and that the opportunity for this water tipping existed. I'll say now, I saw very few people taking this approach. Rachel understood it from Ironman racing, me too, to a lesser degree, but I firmly believe this was a major part of me having a great overall experience while many unravelled and DNF'ed. The attrition rate is pretty high, about 30% of entrants don't finish.

Leaving 120, knowing there is still a ways to go to Aid 2 at 150 miles, it was a case of remember to look up, enjoy the ride, take in the scenery (the green hills and plains of Kansas are beautiful) talk to people, acknowledge the effort but keep moving and look after yourself...

This sector was still hilly, through wooded land. Riding into deep shadow was shaky at times. I joined some groups, left some groups, tried to get some encouraging words out when folks looked like they needed them. Really started thinking here that I could finish this event, but not to get complacent.

Rolling into Aid 2 at 150 miles I was delighted we were mostly done. Rachel was totally ready with everything I needed - refreshed supplies, suncream, more icy water over the head. Even insisted I take an extra bottle with calories as well as a bottle just to tip over myself. This was the best advice all day, and a decision taken by support crew when the rider himself was not thinking so great. I left really happy, refreshed from seeing the family, and also with supplies and only 50 miles to go.

The last 50 miles were hard, the relentless nature of the course continues. Less rocky now, the really bad surfaces were behind us. This was still real gravel, don't get me wrong, but the big rocks were behind us. BUT it was HOT. At this point 10+ hours had passed since the start, already my longest day on the bike, with 3-ish hours to go. I actually felt I rode this sector well, my power numbers don't match my recollection, but I was actually feeling pretty good.

It was hard, no doubt, I could feel where cramps may make themselves known but never actually got the vice grip of a cramp. I was counting down the miles now. I knew the finish was south of where we were, and we had something like a tailwind. However, a few times when the route did not turn south I cursed out loud, thinking just take me home.

After grinding through the last miles on (thankfully) improving surfaces I was back in Emporia, and following signs to the finish chute. The whole town were out and a real party atmosphere was going on... slowing in the finish chute I realized I had completed what had been a 5 month journey of planning, building, training. Grateful I was able to execute and accomplish my three goals:

  1. Finish
  2. Finish and Have Fun
  3. Finish before sun down

With a finish time of 13:38 (coming 122nd out of 2200) I was more than hour inside the sunset, I had had fun, and was filled with an enormous feeling of accomplishment. It was emotional, family at the line and a team job well done.

The Ride

Distance: 324.4 km / Time: 12:49:58 / Elevation: 3,415 m / Calories: 10800


An amazing Mosaic Cycles Gt-1 with 42mm tyre clearance. After a consult with Bespoke, Barry and I swapped many many emails geeking out on clearance.

Enve contact points, including their gravel bar (very highly recommended), new gravel forks, stem and seatpost.

Dura Ace Di-2 with 50/34 chainset and a 11-28 cassette - this was just about perfect for me, although I saw many riding 1x.

Camelbak Chase vest - essential to have pockets up front for food.

The Tyres

This is almost a whole section of its own. I rode Donnelly MSO Xplor 40's with NO PUNCTURES, no tear marks, nothing. I have since heard of a few others having the same result. They are quite heavy, quite general purpose, but having zero punctures would make it hard to choose something else in the future.


Rode 8:45 max - 155 miles mostly road.

The Kanza course is hilly - they say rolling, I'm saying hilly... Training should try and replicate that course, the hills push the effort up and there are loads of them, so training zone 2 only would be a mistake. You have to be able to ride continuous hills - maintain the sweet spot for ages in training then intervals.