Thought I’d type up some notes on my setup for the 2015 Dirty Kanza, what worked and what didn’t, and what I plan to change.
A caveat: I wasn’t fast this year. I was almost exactly in the middle of the pack. I was riding to finish. Although I hope to be faster in 2016, I still harbor no illusions about being anywhere near the podium or even a top 50. So if you’re looking for tips on how to be fast, you’re in decidedly the wrong place.
I’m not going to go too into depth on components, frame, wheels, etc. That a matter of intense personal preference and the bike that works for me might be something you hate. I’m going to focus on the accessories mostly.
My setup in 2015
Specialized HD handlebar tape.
Sigma BC1609 computer
Niterider Lumina 550 headlight. Mininewt 350 mounted on helmet. Serfas USL-TL60 tail light.
Specialized Trigger Pro 700×38 tires. Used as clinchers (but they can run tubeless.)
Jandd frame bag.
4 bottle cages – the two standard cages and I mounted two Cateye BC-100 cages on the forks with hose clamps. Also used two small bungee cords to keep the bottles from vibrating out. Kind of a kludge — OK, 100% a kludge — but it worked.
Shifting – SRAM 11-36 10 speed cassette and a Shimano Deore M591 rear derailleur. I realize I said I would not go in-depth on components but this will be changed for 2016 and it bears mentioning. Shimano CX70 front derailleur and a 46/36 compact crank.
Pump – Topeka Road Morph G.
Saddle – Selle Italia Flite
What did & didn’t work
The Specialized HD tape is awesome. I’ve tried the Lizard Skins DSP tape on a different bike this summer and it started to unravel and fall apart immediately. I may end up double-wrapping with some run-of-the-mill cork tape because after 200 miles my hands are numb, but I’m not actually sure anything will fix that. We’ll see.
Bike computer – My spoke magnet got knocked off in the mud from hell at the 2015 DK so the fact that it didn’t work for 284 miles is not Sigma’s fault. However, that thing has been finicky the entire time I’ve had. It would just randomly stop syncing with the speed & cadence sensors and there was nothing you could do about it. I gave it one more shot the other day — put new batteries in everything — and it stopped working within minutes of my first ride. So it went in the trash.
I ordered a Cateye Strada Smart – speed, cadence & heart rate. It was on sale on black Friday or something for like $83. You can’t hardly buy the heart monitor alone for that price.
“But why aren’t you using a Garmin?” I hear you ask. I’ll tell you. Because I can’t afford one.
OK I probably could – I know Garmin employees. But it’s actually because of battery life. I don’t know of a Garmin bike computer that will last much more than 12 hours. A non-GPS bike computer will last months. I don’t need a digital map – I know the area pretty well and also I know how to read a paper map.
Headlights worked fine. Probably won’t bother with a second light this year. Also – you don’t need to put your taillight on blinky mode. There’s no traffic out there and everyone knows the DK is happening, so it’s not like my commute home in the evening when I need to be lit up like a Christmas tree. Blinky mode blinds your fellow riders.
Tires: I love the Triggers and will keep using them. The only flat I had was a pinch flat, which was my own fault because I was bombing down a hill way too fast and I knew better. If I converted to a tubeless setup that probably wouldn’t be an issue but I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.
That being said – I think people make entirely too big a deal out of tire setup for the DK. Yes, the Flint Hills are pretty rugged and require a tough tire. But some people would have you believe you’re out there riding on fields of razor blades. One of the hosts of the Just Riding Along podcast, Andrea Wilson, made a good point a couple years ago – you’ve got nearly 1000 people riding for 200 miles – there are going to be a lot of flats. I think the sheer numbers of riders give a skewed perception of the amount of flats. Find a tire you like and stop thinking about it.
Regardless of tire selection, I’m still going to carry 3 tubes and a boot kit on me, and have plenty of spares with my support crew. I’ll also have spare tires. You never know.
Bags – this is probably my biggest change. The Jandd frame bag itself works great – but it makes it really hard to shoulder the bike, which was relevant this year because of the 3 miles of hiking. Also, I had a hard time keeping it organized and found it to be a little awkward trying to access it while riding and digging around in it for my food, because all my tools and spare tubes and everything got all mixed together. Also, it’s hard to keep from over-stuffing it so then it bulges out and hits your knees the whole time.
So my plan this year – I have a large Blackburn seat bag that will hold my tubes/levers/tool etc. I have a Banjo Brothers handlebar bag that will hold all my food. I like it because it sits level with the handlebars so it doesn’t block my headlight, and I like the integrated cue sheet holder. Unfortunately it broke the first time I used it, back on Father’s Day. On a 120-mile ride. To their credit, Banjo Brothers warrantied it without any hassle, but I haven’t had a chance to use it on a long ride since then. I’m going to test it out on some long rides here in the near future, but I’m hoping that will work.
Bottle cages – I’ll probably go with the extra cages mounted on the forks again. I’d really like to get a fork that already has bottle cage braze ons but this will work for now. I’m intrigued by the Revelate Mountain Feed bag, but I don’t know that I’m going to be able to purchase two of those any time soon and I also worry about hitting them with my knees when I stand up. I’ll probably go with what works. Also, since I shouldn’t have anything in my jersey pockets I’ll be able to stash a couple extra bottles there if it ends up being really hot. I’ll also have my 3-liter Camelbak stashed with my support crew in case of emergency, but I kind of hate having stuff on my back.
Cassette/derailleur – I went with the 11-36 because I wanted the extra low climbing gears. I used the Deore RD because you can use 9-speed Shimano mountain derailleurs with 10-speed Shimano road shifters. Sort of. It never worked that great. I’m not sure if it was the components or something else in my setup because I’ve had a hell of a time tuning the RD on this bike. But at any rate, I had another mishap a few weeks ago and exploded my RD again, so I went ahead and got a Shimano 105 RD (which is what the bike came with originally) and put an 11-32 on there. Although having the 11-36 was nice for a couple of the really brutal climbs, honestly I rarely ever used the the 36-tooth cog and I think I can live without it. So far my new setup is shifting a lot more reliably.
Front derailleur – I installed a Shimano CX70 after the original 105 derailleur got bent out of shape during a particularly nasty ride through ice and mud. I went with the CX70 because you can get it as a top-pull and therefore I didn’t have to deal with the stupid pulley that was always getting clogged up with mud. I am very satisfied with it. Shimano says it can’t be used with anything bigger than a 46t chainring but I’ve been using it for several weeks with a 50t chainring with no problems.
Chainrings – I was running a 46/36 last year. I had to replace the big ring recently so I upgraded to a 50t. I thought maybe I might get a slight speed increase. I didn’t. Any increase I get on the top end is really negated by how much harder it is on my knees and how much cross chaining I have to do to get into a comfortable gear. When I replaced the chainring again, probably at the end of the winter, I’ll go with a 48t.
Pump – I love the Road Morph G. It folds out like a mini floor pump, you can fill up in a hurry, and it has a gauge so you can actually tell what pressure you’re inflating. The only drawback is that it’s kind of big and hard to mount – you can’t mount it beside your bottle cages like you can with other mini-pumps. I don’t want it on my top tube because I want to be able to carry my bike. Last year I had it mounted on the underside of my downtube, but it got all clogged up with mud. I actually ended up having to replace it. So now it’s mounted on my non-drive side seat stay. I have to be careful that it’s positioned exactly right so that I don’t hit it with my heel, but that it doesn’t rub the tire, but I’ve put quite a few miles on it like that and I think it will work.
Saddle – I had a Brooks B-17. I didn’t have any issues breaking it in and I found it to be pretty comfortable. Then, with a month to go before the Dirty Kanza, I rode it in the rain at the beginning of a 100-mile gravel race. At the end of the race it had turned into an ass hatchet, and no amount of tightening or lacing it has proven to be effective. I had been applying the Brooks Proofide precisely according to the directions. I will not spend money on a Brooks product ever again.
With less than a month to go before the race I didn’t exactly have time to test out a bunch of saddles. I tried a couple demo saddles from my LBS but they really didn’t work. I noticed a lot of the guys I ride with on our Sunday morning hammerfest rides have Selle Italia Flites on their bikes, so I rolled the dice and ordered one. I got pretty lucky – it has been fantastic. I’d like to get one for all my bikes, actually. It was great during the DK and has been since.
Engine – I was really disappointed in the power output of my engine last year. I blame shoddy American workmanship and inadequate fuel sources. I really hope to be able to improve that this year.