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Groad Trip: Planning for the FKT

My summer objectives that will take equal priority alongside the races that will hopefully get the green light.

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Rewind to the third week of March, 2020. The Mid South had just finished and the USA was in the burgeoning stages of COVID-19 panic. The Belgian Waffle Ride had been postponed along with a slew of other springtime races. Dirty Kanza was still holding out hope as it was over nine weeks away, and if it did happen, it would be the first race back. Nine weeks is effectively another offseason, and if I wanted to be ready for DK I needed an interim carrot to keep me motivated. How can we compete against each other yet stay apart? My answer: The FKT.

FKT, for those of you not familiar, stands for Fastest Known Time, and it’s quite popular in the running world. For whatever reason, it hasn’t caught fire quite the same in the cycling world—yet. There are a handful of famous ones, most notably the White Rim, in Moab. I immediately hatched a plan with a few sponsors and a film crew to rent an RV (thus being responsibly self-contained), drive to Canyonlands National Park, and make a run for the record. However, within a few days, stay-at-home orders were implemented throughout the nation, and even the National Parks were closed. The plan had to be put on simmer.

Pete Stetina's FKT adventure
On location for a FKT attempt. Photo: Peter Stetina

Over the next few weeks, I scoured the West for other routes that ticked the boxes of a worthy FKT attempt. My idea became to standardize more routes. There are a few requirements:

  • The route should have bucket-list status and spark inspiration
  • Agree on a set start point/end point
  • Set the rules (self-supported, or outside aid allowed)
  • Set the time to beat

Payson McElveen had standardized the White Rim last year, and since then Keegan Swenson has broken it. Other notable established FKTs I looked into were the Colorado Trail and Kokopelli Trail to name a few. Lachy has already beaten me to the latter, raising the bar and showing this idea has real potential.

A Canyon Grail loaded and ready for a FKT. Photo: Peter Stetina

Another aspect of the FKT that I enjoy is the logistical and tech planning. Like gravel, there can be endless debate on the right equipment to run. Bike, tire, gear choice are all crucial. Without being held to a certain date, the planning efforts are expanded: You can watch the temperature, precipitation, wind, your form, and try and time it all perfectly. It’s like off-roading’s version of the hour record.

COVID-19 restrictions waxed and waned, and my FKT plans followed suit as race organizers scrambled to make alternative plans. However, I am now at a point where I can announce my big project and objectives that will take equal importance to standard racing. At least with these goals, I KNOW I can focus on them and they won’t be canceled.

The Fastest
I have a short list of routes I will treat like races. My major goal this fall — when Moab’s conditions are prime — will be an attempt on the White Rim. Keegan’s record is a gold standard time and I’ll need to treat it with the utmost focus to even have a chance. I went so far as recon’ing it on my Grail to see if it would be faster on a gravel bike. Others on my list are the infamous Rose to Toads in Lake Tahoe (mountain bike), the Kokopelli Trail (mountain bike), California’s Death Ride loop (road bike), and Colorado’s Tour de Summit (road bike). There are a few others that I’m working on and will announce shortly.

Funnest Known Time
FKT: Funnest Known Times. Illustration: Let’s Privateer

The Funnest
What else does FKT stand for? The FUNNEST Known Time, and fastest isn’t always the funnest. Together with Canyon and Sportful, we’ve stayed true to Gravel’s inclusivity and created a challenge for everyone with a privateer’s ethos: In search of all the funs. What is your idea of a fun ride? Are you Type 1 fun? Stopping at swimming holes and packing potato chips. Maybe you’re into Type 3 fun? Going so hard you’re snotting on yourself and mitigating lactic burn, but you relish basking in the glow of athletic accomplishment. We are establishing 3 FKT routes near populated areas, where I will set the route, and if you sign up and follow the rules to submit your version of the Funnest Known Time, you could win big. First up will be near San Francisco (my ride will be done by the time you read this) in early July. San Diego will happen in late July, and the Boulder/Denver route will come in early August. The fourth will be a challenge for everyone regardless of location, a nation-wide route/photo submission! Stay tuned.

If you have an inspiring FKT loop in your neck of the woods, please reach out to me through Twitter or Instagram. I’d love to take a stab should I pass through this year, and help highlight your local epic. Let’s make FKT a thing together.