Dan Hughes has won four editions of the 200-mile gravel race now known as Unbound Gravel. The 11-time finisher won the very first edition of the race in 2006, and he did so on this custom Steelman with a hodgepodge of components picked to squeeze wide tires and a double-ring crankset onto the short (425mm) chainstay frame.
Hughes went on to race various versions of the Specialized Crux EVO at later editions of the race, among other bikes, and has provided feedback to the Californian brand about what a Kansas gravel bike should be.
You can listen to Hughes talk about the evolution of gravel bikes in the first 10 minutes of this podcast. “With the Crux, we started with a cyclocross bike that could be a gravel bike. And now we have a gravel bike that could be a cyclocross bike,” he said.
While Hughes’ girlfriend raced BWR Kansas, Hughes was out on course with his camera.
Check out the details of his historic bike below.
Some 34 people started the 2006 DK/Unbound Gravel. Dan Hughes won in 12 hours and 58 minutes on cantilever brakes and 40mm Bruce Gordon tires.
Brent Steelman made this bike in Redwood City, California.
Campagnolo Record shifters and rear derailleur are paired with a Shimano Dura-Ace crank.
“This is a precursor to what we see in modern gravel bikes now,” Hughes said of his Steelman. “Big clearance for tires, a snappy rear end. The geometry has changed a little bit. But the arc of starting off with a cyclocross bike, and saying we need to be able to have bigger clearance, we need to be able to carry stuff, it’s really come full circle.”
With the 130mm BCD limiting options, Hughes put on the smallest inner ring he could get, a 38t, and it barely cleared the chainstays that Steelman had widened for clearance for 42mm tires.
Before dropped chainstays or 1x drivetrains were a thing on gravel bikes, getting the holy trinity of wide tires, short chainstays, and wide-range gearing was a challenge.
Plenty of room! Mostly.
Mavic Ksyriums are a far cry from the ultra-wide tubeless wheels now common in gravel.
Shimano GRX was still more than a decade away when Hughes assembled this bike.
Dan Hughes has raced Unbound Gravel 10 more times since winning the original edition on this Steelman.