In this excerpt from the new book, "Gravel Cycling," Nick Legan has the beta on Dirty Kanza, one of the biggest gravel races in the world.

Emporia, Kansas | June 2, 2018

The fine folks who organize this event in Emporia, Kansas, have created something special. Cycling has changed this small college town in the 11 years since the race’s inception. Racers are welcomed by business marquees all over town, at the oil change spot, the grocery store, hotels, and restaurants. But it isn’t the town amenities that draw the riders; it’s the gravel.

Nestled in the Flint Hills, the area is home to some of the most beautiful and brutally rugged gravel roads in the United States. As the name implies, the rock under your tires is flint, the same material Native Americans used to make arrow- and spearheads. It’s sharp and it’s everywhere. Avoiding punctures is vitally important for all participants. This leads many to mount up heavier-than-usual tires.

The distances offered, 200- and 100- mile races and 50- and 20-mile fun rides, add to the difficulty of the roads. Midwest heat and humidity in late May and early June also play a factor.

Defining features

• Emporia is the site of the first observance of Veterans Day, in 1953. Emporia State University calls the city home and plays a significant role in the area’s economy.
• 200-, 100-, 50-, and 20-mile options on sharp flint gravel
• Midwest heat and humidity possible
• Support crew required; crew can help only at checkpoints
• GPX, cue sheets, and maps offered; limited course marking

Essential gear

• Puncture-resistant tires; tubeless is a good idea
• Gears low enough to tackle the loose gravel climbs

Advice from the pros

Jim Cummins
Dirty Kanza promoter

“Don’t worry about what bike you have. Get out there and enjoy it. Get going. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the experience. Go discover what you’re capable of. Be ready to be surprised. You’re going to find that you’re capable of so much more than you thought you were. Gravel is going to give you the platform for that discovery.”

Yuri Hauswald
2015 Dirty Kanza 200 winner

“I don’t really care if you ride a mountain bike with skinnies or a cyclocross bike with fatties. All I care about is that you’ve spent a fair amount of time on whatever rig you’re riding and that it fits you. I highly recommend getting a professional fit. If you are not comfortable on the bike, you’re in for a very long day.”

“My steed of choice for any gravel or mixed terrain event is the Marin Cortina Pro-A carbon disc brake cyclocross bike outfitted with Atom Composite wheels, a WTB Nano 40mm tire on the front and a Riddler 37mm tubeless tire on the rear, and a WTB Silverado saddle. Two crucial contact points are the tires, and more importantly, your saddle. For the flinty, sharp gravel that you find at Dirty Kanza 200, I run as wide a tubeless tire as possible, with sturdy sidewalls and a relatively low tread profile that, hopefully, has some good side knobs for cornering.”