The Infamous 200 Mile Gravel Race | The Dirty Kanza

Written by Neil Shirley

Riding 200 miles in a single day, on a bicycle, is a very, very long way. Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, two of the highest-level professional races in the world, are only 185 and 160 miles, respectively. So what would motivate someone to ride 200 miles….actually, even worse, 200 miles on gravel? It’s called Dirty Kanza 200 and it’s THE thing to do these days.

A dozen years ago the first Dirty Kanza rolled out of Emporia, Kansas, and into the Flint Hills with 36 local riders ready to tackle one huge 200-mile loop comprised nearly entirely of gravel roads. Most didn’t finish, as is the case with every subsequent edition of the event, where even on a ‘good year’ there is only about a 50% finish rate.

It’s been five years since I first heard about Dirty Kanza 200, and I vividly remember thinking how awful it sounded. The thought of 200 miles of gravel riding was straight up absurd. Yet somehow the absurd has a way of becoming more enticing the longer it kicks around in my head. And considering the 2,200 spots for the 2017 event sold out in mere seconds of registration opening, I’m hardly alone in finding some bizarre appeal for such an event.

This will be year four for me, and just like every other time I’ve done it I’ll be bringing along a handful of friends out to experience it for their first time. I promise each one of them that they will learn more about themselves in those 200 miles than they would in a year just doing their normal rides. There’s no escaping yourself at mile 156, when all you want to do is be off your bike and drinking a cold beer; but you keep going, thinking about the emotion of riding down the finishing shoot on the main drag in downtown Emporia getting high-fives from the throngs of spectators lining the course. It’s an amazing feeling and one that erases the struggles of the previous 14, 16, or even 20 hours. From that moment on, just about everything you do on a bike seems to pale in comparison. Perspective.

What is it that makes Dirty Kanza so special? That’s something I thought a lot about after my first year participating in the event, and I realized it’s the atmosphere. The sheer challenge and difficulty tends to bring out the best in the riders, they want to see each other succeed and help one another out on course. Even more than that though is the town of Emporia, which is entirely taken over by the event, yet the local businesses and residents provide the greatest vibe of any event I’ve ever been too. From chatting with the older gentleman at the coffee shop who recalled the challenges of riding the gravel roads as a kid, to stopping at a farm house along the course and enjoying a much-needed cold Coke they were handing out, the community embraces the event, and that makes is so special as a participant.

On June 3rd, I’ll experience it all over again.

ENVE is proud to be the wheel partner of the 2017 Dirty Kanza 200 and will be co-hosting a Tech Talk at 2pm (CST) in the Granada Theater on Friday, June 2nd in Emporia, Kansas. We will discuss everything you need to know about rim, tire, and sealant setup for gravel and mixed-surface riding. The Tech Talk will also be live streamed by Gravel Guru at www.gravelguru.com, so be sure to tune in even if you’re not at Dirty Kanza.