RBA’s Dirty Kanza 200 Preview

As this post goes live, we have just a few days to go before Team RBA attacks the Dirty Kanza gravel race on May 30. This year’s race will mark a return performance for Neil Shirley who put MUCH into his first-time effort last year, only be undone by a broken derailleur hanger just 25 miles into the race. Eventually, after turning his bike into a singlespeed, Neil limped in after more than 15 hours. Ouch. Here’s Neil’s report on the 2014 Dirty Kanza.


Still in raw form, Neil’s bike is a 2016 model and will be a first-of-its-kind offering from the company.

For 2015, Neil has been logging miles in preparation for another long day in the saddle. And he is excited about riding a prototype bike that was fast-tracked through production and shipped to the States specifically for him to race this month. In fact, other than the snippet of the bike (above) we can neither say or show more about it because the bike has yet to be shown to the dealers.


Zap got a loaner from Tim Johnson, complete with a Lefty suspension fork.

For those of us with no chance (or desire) to ride 200 miles, this year marks the first time that a 100-mile loop will also be used. That’s where Zap will discover his own Kansas adventure. Like Neil, he will also be aboard a special bike. Tim Johnson was kind enough to turn over his SuperX ‘cross bike that has been retrofitted with a Lefty suspension fork to see how adding a little extra cushion to the Flint Hills might help performance.


This is just the start…

What to pack for such a big day out on the bike is something that can’t be taken lightly. As Neil found out last year, just about anything can happen out there once the terrain and distance takes its toll on you and your equipment. Here’s what we’ll have stuffed in our pockets and seat pack.

  • Mini-pump
  • 2 x Co2 cartridges and inflator head
  • Multi-tool
  • Chain tool
  • Patch kit
  • Tire boot kit
  • Quick links
  • Derailleur hanger
  • 2 x Tubes
  • 2 x Tire levers

Jim Cummings is the man behind Dirty Kanza and we spoke to him at the annual Frost Bike showcase at Quality Bicycle Parts in Minnesota where has was overseeing the new Salsa Warbird gravel bike.

“The thing about riding gravel events in Kansas is that most of us have been riding gravel roads for years since we have miles and miles of them in every direction.  I started the event in 2006 with 34 riders and no registration. Back then the thought of ever attracting even 100 riders seemed crazy and this year we’ll have 1,500.

“I think the pinnacle of gravel racing is still far-off in the distance and I can see a formal version of the National Championships happening sometime in the next decade. My only hope is that no matter how big it grows that it can always keep its grass roots atmosphere.

“I think the two things that make the Dirty Kanza unique are the Flint Hills and shale that are ridden over. The start town of Emporia, Kansas and how the community has embraced the event is also not only unique, but it’s special. We also encourage support crews to be active in the event, because as much as the riders leave with a really memorable experience, I think the support crews should too. That’s why we changed the rules to now include assistance [only at the two checkpoints] – previously it wasn’t allowed.”

With continued rain and thunderstorms forecasted through the week, it looks like this years Dirty Kanza may in fact be more like the Muddy Kanza.

To celebrate Zap somehow taking delivery of a very rare, hard-to-get pair of Specialized Trigger Pro tires that were actually intended for four-time race winner Dan Hughes to use (sorry Dan), we’re going to hand over a Specialized back pack filled to the brim with Specialized schwag: a complete riding kit and water bottle – easily a $300+ value.

The schwag bag will go to whoever makes the best guess on the difference in finish times between Neil and Zap….that’s talent and dedication for 200 miles vs. a will to be warm and dry over 100 miles.


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