Yeah, Kristen Legan is a pal of ours who also happens to work for the PR company that fronts for Shimano. And she’s also married to accomplished ultra-distance gravel freak & Shimano brand manager Nick Legan who authored what’s to date the most authoritative book on the new age of gravel riding (aptly titled Gravel Cycling).
With all of the gravel races we’ve planned for still up in the air, we chased Kristen down to find out more about what she’s learned from the 1000’s of miles she’s ridden in the numerous gravel races she’s competed it. Kristen’s tips are helpful for anyone looking to dabble in the dual-sport world.
What was your cycling experience prior to becoming a gravel honch?
I raced triathlon professionally for about 5 years before realizing I was a terrible runner and enjoyed racing bikes way more. I actually did my first DK200 in 2013 while still racing triathlon and ended up 4th overall so it wasn’t a big change going to just racing bikes. I dabbled in road racing a few years and did the US Pro Challenge that one time they had a full women’s race. It was a great experience, but that particular race helped me realize that I really like the adventurous side of gravel racing.
What kind of specific training do you embark on when you’re about 4 weeks out from a big race?
At about 6-8 weeks out of a big race, I change up my training from more of a base focus to race preparation. This means my rides are designed to mimic the upcoming race and I start adding in a little more high-intensity work into the mix. At about 4 weeks out, I try and do a “race simulation ride” that includes some harder or sustained race-like efforts. This is like a dress-rehearsal and a good way to test that all of my equipment is working well together and that my clothing choices are right for race day. The simulation ride is my last big push before the event so I’ll start winding things down in the following weeks. I do well with lots of rest before a race so I taper down pretty significantly in the last two weeks with just some opener efforts and mostly easy riding. And I take plenty of days off the bike leading into a big race.
What kind of dietary routine do you follow – does it change specifically heading into an event?
I’m lucky to be a pretty flexible eater and don’t have any dietary restrictions so there aren’t many things I change from my day-to-day diet when heading into a race. I don’t eat meat for the most part in regular life so I make sure I have good options while on the road and in the days leading up to the event so I’m not stuck with just a bunch of salads. I’m also a nervous eater and have to be a little bit careful in the days leading into an event not to eat a bunch of junk food.
What are some of the most basic tips you would give to someone wanting to start riding gravel?
1. Get out and ride! It doesn’t matter what bike you have, what kit you’re wearing, or where you live. Gravel can mean anything to anyone. So just go ride and you’ll figure out what kinds of roads – dirt, gravel, trails, paved – you like the best.
2. Drop your tire pressure. So many of us ride with tire pressure that is way too high (I’m totally guilty of this). Dropping the pressure will give you better traction, probably improve your rolling resistance, and it’ll help your ride feel smoother and more comfortable.
3. Ride with friends (when we’re finally allowed to again). The best way to find new routes and roads is to ride with other people. You’ll be amazed at how many different options are out there if you venture off your regular routes.
4. Get to know your bike and equipment. Gravel riding can take us to cool remote places. Being able to work on your bike and perform basic fixes is important so you don’t get stranded somewhere with a flat tire, bent derailleur hanger, broken chain, or other common gravel mechanicals.
5. Bring lots of snacks. The more snacks you bring, the farther you can keep going and exploring. Plus, snacks make every bike ride better.
6. Scare yourself a little. Try that singletrack trail or let go of the brakes a little on your next descent. Gravel is about having fun and there’s nothing like the rush of going beyond your comfort zone and realizing you made it through.
What would be the most important equipment choices to make?
Tires and air pressure. Tires are super important because they are both your connection with the ground and most of your suspension over the bumpy gravel roads. Finding the right tires that will be durable enough for the race but also fast rolling is a delicate balance. Tire pressure plays into both rolling resistance and comfort, which is super important over these long events. Ideal tire pressure depends on so many different things – tire width, TPI, materials, rim width, tread, road conditions, etc. So, it takes time to figure out what the best pressure is for each event and each tire. I’m testing out some different tire options this season, but in the past, I’ve typically used Donnelly MSO 40mm tires. They’re a bit beefy but out of all the gravel races I’ve done, I’ve only flatted these once. For sealant, I use Orange Seal and Stan’s and usually in the 32-34 psi range.
Has there been any seismic shift in how you approach gravel from say four years ago?
Well, it’s nice that people know what gravel is these days and are getting to experience the fun of it all. Four years ago, gravel was this weird thing comprised of super long races and not a lot of people really understood how much fun and how special these events could be. Over the years, I keep moving more toward the extreme side of things. For instance I’m planning to race the (350 mile) DKXL again this year and doing the LeadBoat double. Give me a longer, more ridiculous opportunity and I’ll probably be convinced to do it.
What’s a list of your gravel race day equipment look like?
* Firefly Bicycles
– Custom titanium gravel adventure bike. I absolutely love this bike. We designed it as gravel bike that is still zippy enough for cyclocross racing. Firefly used a cool 3D printed chainstay yoke to keep the stays short and snappy but it has big tire clearance for gravel racing. The Ti frame is super comfortable for long gravel races and it just looks slick.
* Shimano GRX Di2
– I run a 2×11 setup with 48-31 crank and 11-34 cassette because I like having small gear steps and I think this combination offers solid drivetrain efficiency, especially in the bigger gears. Sometimes I think the 11-34 cassette is overkill but at DKXL last year, after about 300 miles of riding and 50 left to go, I’ve never loved that granny gear so much with countless kickers still to go.
* PRO Discover cockpit and seatpost
– I use the medium flare PRO Discover bar because it’s wide enough that you get some extra leverage and it’s super comfortable but it still feels racey. The new Discover seapost is pretty sweet as well with Dyneema fibers that flex a little bit and provide compliance over the rough terrain.
* PRO Discover bags
– I’ve been training with the Discover small frame bag all winter and it’s been a huge asset. I can stash extra gloves and gear when it’s really cold and don’t have to shove it all in my pockets and look like a camel out there.
* Lazer G1 Helmet
This thing is so light and super ventilated. I haven’t been using it a ton in training lately with our cold Colorado weather. But as soon as these summer races start up (if they start up), the G1 will be a huge asset out there.
* Tenspeed Hero kit
– finding the right cycling kit is super important since you’ll be in in for many many hours. I’ve worked with Tenspeed Hero the last few seasons and have had lots of success at staying comfortable 10, 15, 20, 26 hours into a race (as comfortable as you can be at that point…). Watch for some new gravel and endurance gear that I’ve been helping with coming from Tenspeed Hero this year!
* Bitchstix Skincare
– Shoutout to Bitchstix lip balm and skincare. Not only is this company rad because proceeds go toward supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault but they make some seriously awesome balms as well. I carry a Green Tea and Aloe SPF30 lip balm with me on long rides as well as the Face SPF 30 stick. Seems excessive but man does it feel good to reapply after hours in the drying sun.