Dirty Kanza XL Dream Bike Build

WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO? 

This is the question I’ve been asking myself the last five months after hesitantly accepting Dirty Kanza’s dare, errr, invitation to race the inaugural DKXL – a 350-mile, unsupported version of the notoriously challenging DK200. As if 200 miles of rocky, hilly gravel roads, extreme temperatures, and howling winds weren’t enough… Somehow, 35 of us were lucky enough to get invited and dumb enough to accept this challenge. 

All joking and nerves aside, I’m extremely honored to have been invited to this special event along with some fabulous racers who’ve helped shape the world of gravel into what it is today. 

After getting over the initial excitement of the event and shock of the distance… well, still working on getting past that one… the big, important questions started to materialize. Possibly most important, other than asking myself what the heck I've gotten myself into, was what bike to use for this crazy event!?! I wanted something light and nimble for the rolling hills (which will add up to over 16,000 feet of elevation by the end of the day) but also something super comfortable since we’ll be crushing some of the gnarliest gravel around for 30+ hours. 

The answer? Check out this Bitchn new custom Firefly Gravel Racer and CX Machine….. ooohh yeaahh 

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Bitchn Grit Racing is stoked to partner with Firefly Bicycles out of Boston, MA this year. Firefly builds some of the most beautiful custom titanium frames I’ve ever seen and it was an incredible experience getting to plan and design this frame from the ground up (more on this process coming soon). After talking through geometry, tire clearance, 1x or 2x, number of bottle mounts, and on and on… Firefly worked their magic and we came up with a versatile design that is perfect for extreme gravel events like DKXL while allowing the bike to moonlight as a cyclocross racer come this fall. 

But let’s not daydream about 45-minute races and beer hand-ups just yet. We have some mileage to cover first…  Here is the dream machine build that will carry me across 350 miles of Flint Hills gravel. 

 Top to bottom, this bike is dialed. Big, beefy tires for Kanza's sharp rocky roads, Shimano Ultegra/Dura-Ace componenets (daaammmmnnn), and a Lauf fork for a little suspension up front. This maybe isn't the most conventional looking bike build out there, but hey, DKXL isn't the most conventional bike race around either.

Top to bottom, this bike is dialed. Big, beefy tires for Kanza's sharp rocky roads, Shimano Ultegra/Dura-Ace componenets (daaammmmnnn), and a Lauf fork for a little suspension up front. This maybe isn't the most conventional looking bike build out there, but hey, DKXL isn't the most conventional bike race around either.

 Lauf's Grit SL fork provides 30mm of travel through its leaf spring design. The super lightweight carbon fork will help keep my hands and upper body happier longer by smoothing out the ride just enough without feeling bouncy or mushy. I'm also using Donnelly MSO tires for the DKXL. The MSO's have been my go-to choice over the years and they've worked great in all kinds of conditions. I'm running a 40mm up front and 36mm in the rear. 

Lauf's Grit SL fork provides 30mm of travel through its leaf spring design. The super lightweight carbon fork will help keep my hands and upper body happier longer by smoothing out the ride just enough without feeling bouncy or mushy. I'm also using Donnelly MSO tires for the DKXL. The MSO's have been my go-to choice over the years and they've worked great in all kinds of conditions. I'm running a 40mm up front and 36mm in the rear. 

 This Bitchn bike gets a Shimano upgrade with the new Dura-Ace Power Meter crank because, well, I'm a data dork. Coaching gravel and endurance athletes through my coaching company,  Rambleur Rising , I love to study these extreme events and experiment on myself with different training ideas. A power meter provides more data to help build knowledge and understanding of how our bodies work and how we can maximize performance.   As for the chainrings, I went with the 50/34T setup so that I'd have a wide range of gears for both fast and slow segments. I've raced DK with a 1x setup before and that worked pretty well but I like smaller gear steps and appreciate having options. 2x lets me ride the way my body wants to ride rather than forcing bigger jumps and potentionally forcing my legs into an uncomfortable or uneconomical cadence. 

This Bitchn bike gets a Shimano upgrade with the new Dura-Ace Power Meter crank because, well, I'm a data dork. Coaching gravel and endurance athletes through my coaching company, Rambleur Rising, I love to study these extreme events and experiment on myself with different training ideas. A power meter provides more data to help build knowledge and understanding of how our bodies work and how we can maximize performance. 

As for the chainrings, I went with the 50/34T setup so that I'd have a wide range of gears for both fast and slow segments. I've raced DK with a 1x setup before and that worked pretty well but I like smaller gear steps and appreciate having options. 2x lets me ride the way my body wants to ride rather than forcing bigger jumps and potentionally forcing my legs into an uncomfortable or uneconomical cadence. 

 Shimano's new Ultegra RX rear derailleur features chain stabilizing technology that keeps the chain held taught over the bumpy Kanza roads. I can turn the clutch on and off with a little switch on the derailleur but I'll be running it on all day at DKXL to keep my chain from bouncing around.  

Shimano's new Ultegra RX rear derailleur features chain stabilizing technology that keeps the chain held taught over the bumpy Kanza roads. I can turn the clutch on and off with a little switch on the derailleur but I'll be running it on all day at DKXL to keep my chain from bouncing around.  

 An 11-34 tooth cassette? Yes, please. Those rolling hills are going to add up over the day (or two) of riding. Having a 1:1 ration with the front chainrings will let me spin up these hills as my legs start to fall apart...

An 11-34 tooth cassette? Yes, please. Those rolling hills are going to add up over the day (or two) of riding. Having a 1:1 ration with the front chainrings will let me spin up these hills as my legs start to fall apart...

 Some weld porn for you there - and some beautiful details thanks to Firefly

Some weld porn for you there - and some beautiful details thanks to Firefly

 This is my first time riding through the night in an event, so some serous lights are needed. I'm using a Coast Portland A25R flashlight strapped to my bars. It's a bit chunky but I'll get 725 lumens out of this puppy with easy to swap batteries. Being a first-time night rider, I figured a little extra weight was worth the comfort of being able to see the gravel in the dark. 

This is my first time riding through the night in an event, so some serous lights are needed. I'm using a Coast Portland A25R flashlight strapped to my bars. It's a bit chunky but I'll get 725 lumens out of this puppy with easy to swap batteries. Being a first-time night rider, I figured a little extra weight was worth the comfort of being able to see the gravel in the dark. 

 Yes, I use aero bars in gravel racing. I call this setup the Spencer Powlison Special since he's been such a source of encouragement for using aero bars in gravel over the years...  :) In all seriousness, I hate mounting these things up because they're not cool. I know that. But they are functional and they do help me get off of my hands and find different positions to stay comfortable throughout the ride. It's less about aero, although when you're facing 30mph headwinds they work pretty well for that too, but more about comfort and keeping my hands happy. I start to have numbness issues in my hands on long events and aero bars really do help me keep things working well for longer. Do I ride in the aero bars while in a group? NO. But we only have 35 people starting our race and the likelihood I'll be riding on my own for a large chunk of time is very high. So, YAY aero bars. 

Yes, I use aero bars in gravel racing. I call this setup the Spencer Powlison Special since he's been such a source of encouragement for using aero bars in gravel over the years...  :) In all seriousness, I hate mounting these things up because they're not cool. I know that. But they are functional and they do help me get off of my hands and find different positions to stay comfortable throughout the ride. It's less about aero, although when you're facing 30mph headwinds they work pretty well for that too, but more about comfort and keeping my hands happy. I start to have numbness issues in my hands on long events and aero bars really do help me keep things working well for longer. Do I ride in the aero bars while in a group? NO. But we only have 35 people starting our race and the likelihood I'll be riding on my own for a large chunk of time is very high. So, YAY aero bars. 

 Firefly built a smaller diameter seat post for this gravel machine so I'd have a little extra compliance in the back of the bike. The smaller diameter Ti post flexes a bit more than your standard seat post so the shocks from the road will be reduced before reaching my my body - a small detail but something I think will make a big difference down the long and bumpy road. 

Firefly built a smaller diameter seat post for this gravel machine so I'd have a little extra compliance in the back of the bike. The smaller diameter Ti post flexes a bit more than your standard seat post so the shocks from the road will be reduced before reaching my my body - a small detail but something I think will make a big difference down the long and bumpy road.