Unbound Gravel’s 206-mile course covers unrelenting gravel farm roads around Emporia, Kansas. Sharp flint rocks treacherous winds and unpredictable thunderstorms make the unsupported event notorious. In 2019 nearly a third of the competitors pulled out of the race due to the conditions. Flat tires and gear malfunctions are common occurrences on course which makes choosing the proper build a key factor in reaching the finish line in downtown Emporia. Litespeed’s Watia gravel is the legacy titanium builder’s ideal blend of endurance, adventure and aggressive characteristics make it ready to handle the 14th running of Unbound Gravel. We selected the latest gravel drivetrain on the market, Campagnolo’s Ekar 13-speed, to put to the test through some of the roughest situations most riders will encounter.
Campy subtly brands the carbon cranks twice with the Ekar logo. The cranks feature replaceable end covers which is a thoughtful touch. The 38t chainring is in the middle of Campy’s offerings between the 36t and 44t.
Shifters, Levers and Hoods
Campagnolo’s double curve carbon brake levers are equipped with a single paddle behind the right shifter for downshifts and an extended thumb button for up shifts. This keeps the shift logic familiar to Campy’s road groupsets. The extended thumb shifter makes reaching the buttons easier when riding in the drops.
There’s only one rear derailleur that does it all in the Ekar line. An aluminum, carbon-reinforced polyamide hybrid construction and stainless steel small bits keep it durable.
This is where Campagnolo can tout its innovative past. The massive 13-speed cassette is the mainstay of the Ekar drivetrain. It’s the first 13-speed offering from any of the big-three drivetrain makers. The 10-46 cassette is considered the ‘Gravel Adventure’ spec rather than the ‘Endurance’ or ‘Gravel Race’ spec which both feature a 9-tooth gear. Gears included are 10-11-12-13-14-15-17-19-22-26-32-39-44
Spinergy’s GXX wheelset is made for gravel. Stats include a 24mm internal rim width, 24 straight-pull PBO fiber spokes, 108 points of engagement and a tubeless-ready carbon rim.
Zipp is best known for its cutting-edge aerodynamic wheel systems, but the carbon masterminds have ventured into fat tires and are well-equipped to tackle the Unbound course. The Tangente Course G40 is a 40mm tubeless-ready tire fitted with a puncture protection strip that runs from bead-to-bead rather than just across the contact patch. This increases sidewall durability which is important to prevent tears from the sharp flint gravel. The central tread is low-profile and fast-rolling which makes it a solid choice for the forecasted dry and dusty conditions. Last but not least, we’ll run 35psi in the front and 36psi in the rear which we calculated using SRAM’s tire pressure calculator.
Our trusty X-Pedo CXR gravel pedals were our go-to choice due to the durable Cromoly spindle and aluminum pedal body. The large front claw makes clipping in easier especially in the muddy conditions after a creek crossing.
Bontrager’s Aeolus Elite saddle is a bargain add to the build at just $90. The split construction allows for much-needed compliance over the bumps as the dense padding lets the chamois choice control sit bone comfort.