Being Frank: To Hellbender With Bottom Brackets

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

We like to say that we do the products that we want to do, the way that we want to do them. But that is not the full story because we also strive to ensure that each of our products has a reason to be – that it provides real benefits that riders appreciate. Our eeWings are the toughest cranks in the world while being one of the stiffest and lightest as well. The eeBrakes offer a massive weight reduction over the competition as well as offering unmatched modulation adjustment and a patented quick-change pad design. In creating the lowest stack headset possible, we had to remove cup and cover seals and create a much more corrosion repelling bearing to make the SlamSet happen. These are some examples of products that merit being in production as a Cane Creek product.

For years there have been requests for us to make bottom brackets. These requests have been both internal and external. When we asked why, we got responses like “Chris King has bottom brackets” and “because some riders like to have matching headsets and bottom brackets”. While there was little doubt that we could sell some bottom brackets, those responses fell well short of meriting our entry into the bottom bracket business.

There is no doubt about riders’ anxiety about bottom bracket “standards”. If one is building up a frame, it can be hard to determine the compatibility and proper spacing set-up. This was more evident to us when we entered the crank market with the eeWings. While there are literally millions of bikes that will accept a 30mm bottom bracket spindle, we saw that fitment anxiety was possibly limiting our eeWings sales. But was that enough for us to offer bottom brackets? We thought not.

A couple of years ago, mega bearing and seal conglomerate SKF, announced MTRX “solid lube” technology for bicycle bearings. It turns out that an SKF employee was also a hardcore marathon MTB racer frustrated over short-term bearing life in his bike. This motivated him to explore SKF’s various bearing technologies. He found that technology created for the food processing industry was great in bicycles. This MTRX technology was developed to withstand the rigors of being pressure washed repeatedly to ensure that equipment was free of contamination that could infect food. The MTRX solid lube could not be flushed out, left almost no room for contamination to reside, did a much better job at keeping the ball bearings lubricated, and lasted much longer than grease. Those benefits are great for bicycles too!

So when eeWings began selling and fitment anxiety became a concern for us, we eventually recalled SKF’s MTRX announcement. It took a lot longer than expected to make contact, navigate bureaucracy, and validate with testing. But when we did, we found the missing piece to offering a bottom bracket that had a reason to be –  a bottom bracket offering much longer bearing longevity. When we added precision and detail in the form of minimal mass, aluminum dust covers, dual anodization, and tight tolerances, we had our Hellbender Neo bottom bracket.

Here’s a bit of Cane Creek trivia: The “Neo” part of the name is a nod to the main character in the Matrix movies. You see, MTRX is pronounced as matrix.

Announcing DBcoil IL All-Black

HOmepage image for DBcoil IL

To mark our expansion into progressive springs, we are proud to announce the addition of our popular DBcoil IL rear shock in an all-black finish.

The all-black DBcoil IL is available in limited quantities and select sizes and features a gloss black damper tube in place of the gold damper tube. The shock is otherwise identical to the critically-acclaimed, twin-tube inline coil – packing all of the function of a piggyback shock into a lighter and slimmer package.

Buy the DBcoil IL in all-black today!

Coil Shock Or Air Shock

Coil Shock or Air Shock Which One is Better?

Coil shocks have made a resurgence on modern trail bikes within the last few years, and with that comes a question we often hear: should I get a coil shock or an air shock for my full suspension mountain bike? There will always be exceptions or outliers to these general concepts discussed below- your own personal riding style or preference will also affect the answer to this question.  It’s not the easiest question to answer, but we’ve broken it down into simple, general steps that will hopefully better inform you to make a more educated decision.

First, let’s understand the difference between coil shocks and air shocks.  A coil shock is linear by nature – it has one constant spring rate – the amount of force required to compress the spring will stay the same as the spring compresses through its stroke. For example, with a 450 lb spring, the force applied is 450 lbs/inch through the entire stroke of the spring – there is no change in spring rate.  Coil shocks are generally more sensitive (easier for it to compress and rebound) than their respective air shocks because there are fewer seals in the system, therefore there is less force required to get the shock moving. Because of this, coil shocks tend to provide more traction and a unique feel.

An air shock is progressive by nature- the amount of force required to compress the spring continues to increase as the shock compresses.  As an air shock moves through it’s stroke, the volume in the air spring will decrease, subsequently increasing the shock’s spring rate. Air shocks also have the ability to reduce air volume inside the shock by installing volume reducers. This is separate from simply adding air to the shock, a volume reducer only affects the mid-end of the stroke, and will not affect the spring rate at sag. Because of this, air shocks ramp-up more and provide more tuning options than coil shocks. 

Knowing the differences between the two shocks is most of the battle. But the bicycle’s linkage design also plays a big role. Essentially there are 3 different types of frame designs / leverage ratios that you should be aware of. 

A leverage ratio is the relationship between the movement of the frame’s rear suspension and the required force at any given point throughout the bike’s travel.  You can evaluate the bike’s leverage ratio curve by plotting those points on a graph. (In most cases, you can find your bike’s specific leverage ratio curve online). Generally there are three different leverage ratio curves found on modern mountain bikes: Linear, Progressive, and Regressive. A bike with that has an average leverage ratio of 3:1 means that every inch of shock movement equates to three inches of rear wheel movement.  As well, this ratio indicates the magnitude of force needed to compress the rear shock. A 150lb rider would need a 450lb spring to achieve proper sag on a bike that has a 3:1 leverage ratio.  However, leverage ratios commonly change through the travel of the bike, meaning that our clean 3:1 example will most likely not be 3:1 everywhere in travel, it is only an average based on the overall leverage ratio curve.  

Progressive Leverage Ratio Curve

progressive spring curve graph

  When the leverage ratio curve trends down on a graph, it means that the amount of force required to move the rear wheel is increasing. Terms like “ramp-up”, “bottom out resistance”, and “progression” are used to describe bikes that have a progressive leverage ratio curve. Let’s go back to our example of a 150lb rider using a 450lb spring. If the leverage ratio curve decreases from 3:1 to 2:1, the 450lb spring will continue to feel stiffer throughout the rear wheel travel.  By building a progressive leverage ratio curve into the frame itself, it can be better paired with a shock that has linear qualities because the frame is progressing through travel.

Linear Leverage Ratio Curve

Linear leverage ratio curve graph

The “Linear” example above shows a leverage ratio curve that stays the same throughout the entire rear wheel travel.  For a bike like this, the frame doesn’t have any progression built in, so if you pair this type of frame with a linear coil shock, the frame’s suspension will not have any progression.  In a scenario like this, you could risk a lack of support and harsh bottom outs. This is why you often find progressive air shocks paired with linear frame designs.

Regressive Leverage Ratio Curve

regressive leverage ratio curve graph

When the leverage ratio curve trends up on the graph, it means that the amount of force required to move the rear wheel decreases. For this example, the frame’s leverage ratio is 2:1 at the start of travel but increases to 3:1 at the end of travel. These types of frames are commonly paired with progressive air shocks because the rear suspension design requires the shock to provide ALL of the progressiveness in order to resist bottoming out. Bikes with regressive leverage ratio curves from beginning to end of stroke are uncommon.  It is important to note that most bike’s leverage ratio curves will change throughout rear wheel travel- we have provided these simple graphs to help illustrate these concepts.

Bikes are generally intended to have bottom out support, or ramp-up (progressiveness) integrated into the bike’s suspension kinematics so the travel of your bike feels more dynamic and “bottomless.” So bikes that have progressive leverage ratio curves perform well with coil shocks – because the frame has progression built in.  Bikes that have very linear leverage ratio curves perform well with air shocks – because the shock has progressive qualities. Bikes that have very linear leverage ratios paired with coil shocks is not always ideal because neither the frame nor the shock have progressive qualities. Bikes with progressive leverage ratio curves paired with air shocks can sometimes be too progressive, or provide too much ramp-up which could limit the use of travel.

Progressive Frame + Coil Shock = Bike with ramp-up

Linear Frame + Air Shock = Bike with ramp-up

Regressive Frame + Air Shock with Volume Reducers = Bike with ramp-up

These are simple examples of why certain bikes are built with certain types of shocks. But this is where our individual riding styles take over. If you are a rider that really likes to stay on the ground but easily glide over rough terrain, then bottom out resistance may not be important to you. But if you are constantly looking for opportunities to hit the biggest gap or highest drop, bottom out resistance is important. In these cases, using an air shock on the three types of frames is going to be more ideal. BUT WAIT. What if you could get the same progressive benefits that air shocks have while still maintaining the sensitive off the top feel of coil shocks?

     Our new Progressive-Rate VALT spring can offer riders an option to use a coil shock on a bike that might not have been ideal for coil shocks in the past.  Because of the lack of ramp up a traditional coil spring has, certain frames bottom out easily. We have worked to bridge this gap with our new Progressive-Rate VALT springs which are designed and tuned by our engineering team to provide riders with a true rise-in-rate spring curve.  Our Progressive-Rate VALT springs maintain the off-the-top sensitivity of a traditional coil set up, and add the progressiveness and ramp-up usually found in an air spring.  Below is a graph comparison between a Linear VALT spring and a Progressive-Rate VALT spring.

 

     There’s no excuse now, coil shocks for the masses!  To celebrate this liberation from the status quo, Cane Creek is now manufacturing the DB Coil IL in black for a limited time.

 

Black Coil IL with White Progressive Spring

     

The Cane Creek Cup Is Back!

Cane Creek Cup Mountain Bike Race Series

Cane Creek Cycling Components is proud to announce the return of the Cane Creek Cup Mountain Bike Race Series!

For 2020, Cane Creek will return as title sponsor for the legendary cross country series. The series will consist of 12 races across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia between March and August 2020. Cash prizes will be awarded to individual series winners in expert and sport classes with a $1000 cash prize for the winning team.

The series is sanctioned by USA cycling and will also include the Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina cross country state championship races. Racers will also accumulate points toward national standings.

The original Cane Creek Cup was a staple of southeast racing from the mid-1990’s until 2006. It has lived on in recent years as the Southern Classic Mountain Bike series promoted by David Harlowe and Racing in the Woods productions. Harlowe will continue as the series promotor for 2020.

We are excited to return to this legendary series and help support local racing right here in our own back yard.

2020 Cane Creek Cup Race Schedule

March 22 – The Knot – Wedgefield SC

April 19 – Race to the River – Harbinson State Forest, Columbia SC

May 2 – Dark Grind – Dark Mountain Park, Wilkesboro NC

May 24 – Bootlegger’s Blitz – IC DeHart Memorial Park, Woolwine VA

May 31 – Return to the Ridge – Angler’s Park, Danville Va

June 6 – Battle of the Bikes – Farris Memorial Park, Mayodan NC

June 21 – NC State Games – Mazeppa Park, Mooresville NC

June 28 – Stump Jump – Croft State Park, Spartanburg SC

July 12 – Bouldergeist – San-Lee Park, Sanford NC

July 18 – Sledgehammer – Ridgeway VA

August 9 – The Sizzler – Bur-Mil Park, Greensboro NC

August 23 – The Cane Creek Classic – Reeb Ranch, Brevard NC

 

More information, along with links to register for the individual races, can be found at www.canecreekcup.com

 

Being Frank – My Favorites

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

There have been a lot of great bicycle parts over the last 30-40 years, and I have had the good fortune to ride many of them. Even among the great parts, some stood out even more for me. Sometimes it was the design, other times it was the function or performance, and some just made me smile on or off the bike. Following is a list of some of my favorite parts – excluding any Cane Creek parts as they are all my favorite!

Without a doubt, the first one that comes to mind is Bullseye hubs. When I was racing BMX these were the cat’s meow. The design was unique, the construction was tough and simple, and they oozed coolness. I was lucky to get a set laced to Araya 7x rims for my 14th birthday, and I still have them. Along the way I laced them up into mountain bike wheels, but they found their way back to their BMX roots. The red bearing seals in my blue anodized hubs with the classic chrome Bullseye logo is timeless in my eyes.
Unlike now, fifteen years ago carbon fiber was rarely found on mountain bikes. While it had proven its worth on road bikes due to its awesome stiffness and light weight, impact resistance and failure mode were concerns in the dirt back then. One of the last areas to take unnecessary risks is handlebars. But armed with hockey stick and archery experience, Easton brought to market the Monkey Lite Bar that for many was the only carbon bar to trust. For several years I rode nothing but these on my XC race and trail bikes.

The Continental Gran Prix series of road tires have exemplified quality and performance for decades. The German-made tires have always been a step beyond in quality and over the years they closed the gap, and in my eyes now, surpassed the performance leaders. During my time at Specialized I rode a lot of very good tires (development led by an ex-Conti manager), but now I buy Continental tires. They combine suppleness, feedback, grip, and wear into one tire that gives me confidence to rail corners at 40 mph.
There are very few products that were as accepted in a multitude of cycling disciplines as Selle Italia’s original Flite Saddle. When it launched around 1990, its design and 200g weight were remarkable. But what made it legendary was that the saddle found a home on BMX bikes, DH rings, XC racers, and obviously road race bikes. While its shape didn’t fit my shape as well as some others, the Flite has always been one of my favorite bicycle parts.

My next favorite is actually a complete group: the original Shimano XTR group. When I first saw this group at a 1991 company sales meeting and internal product launch I was literally weak in the knees. As my pal Robert Egger likes to say, I was thinking about what I could “beg, borrow, or steal” to get a group. The aura of XTR seems to persist to this day, but that original XTR group truly set an all-new benchmark for design and performance. Many years later when the SRAM guys asked me what made a good front derailleur, I pointed to the XTR M900.
One of the most iconic designs for me is the Campagnolo Super Record Strada crank from the late 70’s. While no parts really worked that well back then, this crank was the epitome of gorgeous. While I think of myself as a Campy fan, I find their recent designs increasingly unappealing from a visual standpoint – sorry Dino and Mario!

Unlike most of the products on this list, Thomson’s Elite post is basically the same as it was twenty years ago, and it is still the go-to zero-offset post for many. The attention-to-detail exudes quality which is then demonstrated through years of unfaltering service. I have many of these, and several are on bikes I still ride. My fondness is likely somewhat attributed to the beautiful handmade wood box I received from Thomson when I was a product manager at Diamondback. Inside was a super smooth dovetailed box was a sample post, and outside the Thomson logo was burned into the wood.

I have more favorites, but these came to the surface with little thought. Parts like these have added a bit more sunshine to my cycling, and my desire has always been to develop products that do the same for others.

Being Frank – Where is it Made?

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

The question of where a product is made is more important to some than others and seems to be less important to many than it was in the past. Certainly the world feels smaller these days with the ability to see, hear, and learn about anything with a digital device. Case in point, in the mid-nineties I was traveling with a co-worker to visit potential suppliers in mainland China. While born and raised in Southern California, his Swedish ancestry was evident in his height (6’ 3” or so), fair skin, and blonde hair. Within minutes of entering this one factory nearly all the machines came to a halt and the rumble of mass production was replaced with a deafening silence. We saw dozens of workers scurrying to our perimeter where they were giggling and pointing at – no, not at us, but my co-worker. Our guide explained that the workers had never seen blonde hair! It seems hard to imagine such a scene these days. Foreign things are not as foreign as they once were.

It is increasingly rare for any product to be fully made in one place or by one entity. First, there is the question of what “made” means in this context. Does “made” include where the raw material was produced, where the processing of the raw material was done, the place where the subassemblies were completed, and where final assembly was finished? Because short of a belt and buckle made from locally sourced goatskin and brass, the belt tailored in a shop in Asheville, NC is not completely made in Asheville, NC. Second, does “made” include where the design and engineering originated? Is a car designed and engineered in Japan but assembled in the United States, not a Japanese car? If yes, how does one reconcile that with the concept of Intellectual Property? Finally, the concept of geographical Competitive Advantage continues to become less and less relevant. Is France the only place for great red wine (Napa Valley would disagree), Italy the only source for fine sports cars (Germany would have something to say about that), or Switzerland the only home of precision watches (Japan would dissent)? I can only raise enough doubt to conclude that there is no simple answer to where a product is made.

I admit that the romantic notion of authenticity or uniqueness related to the perceived country of origin resonates with me. I like my Swiss watch, German car, and American jeans. But I recognize this is a more subjective than objective response. That is fine, and everyone has a right to value products however they want. One cannot disconnect the economic realities either, as Honda employs 15,000 workers in Marysville, Ohio, and Apple pays top wages in Silicon Valley as a result of revenues derived from millions of phones made in China. Another reality is that the strength and history of a brand can transcend borders. And lastly, there are nationalistic and political factors as misguided as they often times are.

When we have to make decisions on what we do here at Cane Creek, we distill it down to: “Where do we add real value?” Almost always it is in product development. A product is a Cane Creek product because we conceived, designed, engineered, and tested it to surpass our standards – the most important of which is that we want to ride the hell out of it. We machine many aluminum prototypes in house because it can lead us to a better final design. Forks and shocks are assembled and 100% tested in our building because we believe the feel of how good suspension performs requires empathy during assembly as well as dyno graphs. If a vendor can do a better job assembling than we can or if they have capabilities that we do not possess, then we don’t limit the product’s potential just to say it was made here. After all, what does made-in really mean?

 

The Big Show – Thoughts From Eurobike 2019

Sarah Montplaisir - Cane Creek Director of Engineering
Sarah Montplaisir – Director of Engineering

I’ve been an engineer for 18 years, I’ve been riding mountain bikes for 13 years, but I’ve only been an engineer in the bike industry for 8 months.  Over that time I’ve been to more than a few trade shows in my career – mostly of the machine tool and material processing variety.  Boring. Before last week my only bike show experience was as an attendee at Sea Otter when I lived in nearby Santa Cruz.

So what was it like to be a vendor at the biggest bike show in the world?  In one word – energizing. Four days at a trade show is usually a hellish undertaking and by day two your feet and back are screaming for mercy, but not here.  The pure energy of being surrounded by the latest in bikes and bike tech and people excited about bikes made every minute of every day exciting.  As each day passed I was consistently left with the feeling that there wasn’t enough time and had a never-ending list of things to see the next day.  There were so many amazing people that I met from other companies who were just as excited to show off their new products.  Then there were the fans of our products that came up to our booth to talk about how much they loved their cane creek “insert product here”.  Couple that with the excitement around our new bottom bracket product release and the media coverage it got and it felt like I was in the middle of the bike universe. 

The cane Creek booth at this year’s show

One thing that was like all of the other shows I’ve been to in the past – you have to have to be really looking to find the cool stuff, often times the neatest ideas are the easiest to walk past so one must be on their toes and on the lookout at all times.  And there was PLENTY of cool stuff to see, almost overwhelmingly so.

Cane Creek Hellbender bottom bracket
The Hellbender Bottom Bracket stole the show

Now that I’m back, I’m going through my notes, compiling ideas from all of the things that I saw and with the sheer magnitude of the show this is going to take a while.  One thing I can say is that at the end of the week I didn’t want to leave and see this all go away, it’s actually sad to think of all those halls empty and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Being Frank – Developing Product

Brent Graves
Brent Graves, President and CEO

I am not aware of set product development process for the bicycle industry, though the companies I’ve worked for and with do follow the same basic concept. Some companies have a more regimented and formalized process, while others seem to operate on tribal knowledge and routine. Over the last twenty years there has been a clear trend towards more methodical decision making with greater emphasis on schedules and commercial realities. The maverick and visionary product managers of the 80s and 90s are gone as a result of a challenging market that no longer absorbs gambles and statement-making. Here I will outline the basic product development process we follow at Cane Creek and likely by the brand of your bike.

From conceptualizing a new product to putting it into customers’ hands can take one to three years or more. Rare, groundbreaking products can be in “advanced R&D” for years before (if ever) getting on the runway for takeoff. Conversely, product enhancements and product line extensions can fast-track in six months. Lastly, while some things must occur before others, the phases are neither fully sequential nor linear.

Product Management has five basic phases: Research, Analysis, Development, Production, and Go-To-Market. While it seems obvious that the “development” work is done in the Development phase, the gestalt perspective does not have the product completed until it is delivered. The baton changes hands numerous times as the product makes its way through the phases. The product manager is always on stage, but industrial designers, engineers, marketing hacks, quality techs, supply chain experts, operations managers, and others all play crucial parts in various phases.

The Research phase has been the least formalized, but that is changing as bikes have become better and better, competition fiercer, and forums and tweets deadlier. Research includes tracking developments and trends in related, crossover, or influencer industries. For example, typically motocross has been an influence on mountain bikes, and snowboard apparel has informed colors and graphics. But even watches, sunglasses, and running shoes are researched. Consumer and dealer focus groups and rider intercepts help hone in on nuances to exploit. Storyboards are created to visually map the landscape and point the direction forward.

The Analysis phase is aimed at making sense of all the collected data. Reviewing industry stats from groups like NPD (retail) and BPSA (wholesale), as well as customs import data, can help identify trends. Creating a Competitive Spec Matrix enables a product manager to get a view of how her products compare to the competition on key specs and features. At times an objective view on one’s own brand leads to a S.W.O.T. analysis. The goal is to make informed decisions instead of just “wouldn’t it be cool to sell one of these.”

The start of the Development phase is the product brief which includes all critical targets, features, specs, performance requirements, cost/margin targets, etc. Ideally it is a one-page compass that keeps the team on track. Timelines and milestones are then established to enable management of the project. Brainstorming sessions can be used when dead ends are encountered, and there is the eternal tension between engineering and design. Concepts turn into designs that result in prototypes to (hopefully) prove out the concept. Prototyping is the longest piece of the Development phase, though computer modeling gets one closer before physical iterations. Once the fundamental design is established, the focus moves to passing ISO standards, selecting vendors, creating tooling, and detailed cost negotiation. There can be multiple simultaneous phases like frame engineering and colors/graphics.

The development process does not end with placing a production purchase order. The Production phase includes planning how many to produce and when. And when one relies on various other suppliers that have their own new products, getting your product produced when you want it and in the quantity you want it can be a major headache. Don’t think for a minute that in-house manufacturing is easier – in my experience it’s harder. While there are defined quality standards, there are also standards that must be determined for paint color, acceptable non-critical dimensions, assembly, and packing.

Go-to-market can easily be tossed aside as marketing instead of development. But a pro product manager knows that her product will not likely succeed if it is not presented literally and figuratively in the right manner. From photography to videos, copy, press camps, internal sales training, customer service support, and shows, you want to make sure everyone and everything is aligned on the story and what it means to the rider. Some brands do this much better than others, and while one might infer that those brands that don’t tell their story well are more “real”, sometimes it just means that they’re off-the-back marketing-wise.

There is a tremendous amount of time, energy, and emotion that can go into bringing a product to life. While this only scratches the surface, it should provide a better understanding of how your bike came to be.

 

 

Being Frank – Utopia is Lazy

Being Frank - Utopia is Lazy

 

Brent Graves Cane Creek
Brent Graves, President and CEO

I find it fascinating that the human race seems to equate utopia with sitting on our ass. The deeply rooted belief is that the less we have to do physically, the better off we are. Thus in utopia we would have to do nothing. Forget the interdependence of physical and mental health, it seems the human race wants to experience the world virtually where there is no physical strain, stress, or sweat. This is really amazing since our bodies are built for movement. I do wonder where this concept originated and why progress towards an advanced civilization is a function of inventing things that relieve of us of doing stuff ourselves.

Maybe it’s like scattered intelligence where not one of the population sees the whole picture – A certain substitute for doing something oneself looks appealing, and before we know it the world is awash in convenience products independent of a master plan. I will admit to succumbing to the Dark Side in some areas. It find it great to get in my car at the end of the workday and lower all four windows with a button. While a hand crank on the driver’s window is not that big a deal, leaning across to the passenger door to crank a window is a bit more of a task. It really becomes a task when driving and a cloud burst has sideways rain pouring in the passenger window while I desperately try to crank it up without crashing. And then there is no way around having to get out and crank rear windows. And yes, I have a garage door opener too. Go figure, another car-related convenience. One would not be far off in theorizing I have certain obsessive issues when it comes to cars.

I am old enough to know firsthand what it meant to “dial” a phone, “change” the TV channel, push a lawnmower (which I still do), kick start a motorcycle, and “write” a letter. The common justification seems to be that convenience products will give us more time to do the things that we really want to do – like play virtual reality games I guess. But it seems like the convenience may be becoming the end instead of a means to an end.

My wife is an expert on how the human body is supposed to move, and she deals every day with the consequences people increasingly face by using their bodies less and incorrectly (as is the case when tilting your head down to read your smart phone). But there is also a mental consequence as we rely on things to do more work for us. When I started road racing, I’d have to get a road map, chart my course to a race, and write down directions. And to follow those written directions I had to be attentive to distance traveled, road signs, direction, etc. Now we just input the address into Google maps and a friendly accented voice of our choice tells us exactly what to do, and we don’t even have to think. And thinking is brain exercise, and like physical exercise, when we stop doing it the ability fades away.

However we mountain bikers, roadies, cyclists, etc. are not like the masses. We revel in self-locomotion. We love to see what our bodies can do. Many of us like to get somewhere and make a smaller impact on the environment. We appreciate learning and applying the mental side of cycling like choosing the appropriate gear ratio for a climb, carefully applying just the optimal amount of braking for an off-camber corner, loading our bags for self-sufficiency, pumping up our tires for optimal performance, calculating how much energy to exert in the headwind and still have enough to get home, and judging how fast to hit a jump to avoid coming up short.

Certainly nothing is black and white. Each of us has different priorities, abilities, desires, and resources that affect, or even dictate when and where we seek assistance or convenience. And to me, anyone riding any type of bike in any way is a good thing. I just hope we don’t let the fundamental benefits of riding a bicycle slip away in the name of Progress.

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

Living up to its name and not disappointing, Dirty Kanza was one of the hardest, single day events I’ve ever done.


Part I: Preparing the bike

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200At 4:00am Saturday morning, things began to get real as I was woke from a peaceful slumber by the sound of my alarm.  Only two short hours remained before go time! It’s amazing how quickly time seems to speed up as race time approaches, and what you thought was ample time quickly deteriorates to minutes…….seconds!

But let me roll the clock back a couple days. We arrived to the expo area at the Dirty Kanza in Emporia, Kansas late Thursday afternoon, and I was greeted with the task of building up one heck of a bullet proof bike: my “hot off the press” 2020 Jamis Renegade C1! This was going to be one of the toughest, longest, most grueling gravel events I’ve ever done.  So as I happily set about building up this new pup, I knew I needed to check and recheck everything because there wasn’t going to be any fix’n or making adjustments on course. So, headset installed, cables routed, brakes bled, bottom bracket pressed, derailleurs installed, wheels mounted, brakes adjusted, bar/stem/saddle/post all set and bars wrapped!  This thing was beginning to resemble a race rig!   And with that,
Thursday seemed to zip by!
On Friday, the plan was to get out early for a quick ride and make sure there wasn’t going to be any surprises to pop up.  She worked FLAWLESSLY! What a relief! I was a little concerned since I had to pull parts from bikes back home and that the fit might be a little off, but I felt right at home, so things were looking good!  Time to register, get files imported into my Wahoo, some new tires mounted and my work at the expo would be done and then I could start packing nutrition, filling bottles and organizing supplies.  Over dinner we formulated our game plan on how we envisioned the feed-zones would go and what I’d need at different  points. The thing with racing is you can try and plan for so many different scenarios, but once you’re out there racing you have to be able to adapt… kinda like when you pre-fill hydration packs with one drink mix, and decide 150 miles in you’re burned out on it, and you’d rather drink plain creek water than subject yourself to anymore of it.
And before you know it, it’s bed time because Saturday morning is inevitably going to roll around waaaaaay to soon!

Part II: Race day

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

Saturday morning at 4:15am, we’re loaded up and rolling down the road towards Emporia, KS forty-five minutes away. I manage to choke down a couple PB&J sandwiches… because they’re delicious and nutritious… but mostly they’re simple and require no cooking; time is of the essence! After a quick gas stop, we’re unloading and it’s time to kit up.  Check, check and recheck I have everything I need and that my packs are loaded up for exchanges. I roll over to the start line around 5:45am for a 6:00am start time and try and find a pretty good spot.  BINGO! I am in place and ready to rock and roll with friends Kaysee Armstrong and Cory Wallace around me.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!  The clock strikes 6:00am and we’re off!  This year the Dirty Kanza had over 2,700 registered riders, so it was a sea of cyclists leaving town behind the police escort. The first few miles through town were a neutral start, but no one wanted to drift too far back so the tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Once the Emporia police pulled off at the first turn for gravel, it was GO TIME!  My primary concern at this point was to maintain my position and not drift too far back or get tangled up in some silly crash, which there were plenty of! I immediately started having flash backs to Croatan Buck Fifty and how you were at the mercy of the rider in front of you not to lead you astray into a pot hole or rock, which is daunting considering you’re cruising down the gravel at pretty fast clip and in a cloud of dust.
The one nice thing about being at the front is most folks here have been riding a while and have pretty decent handling skills… other than the roadies… just kidding, I meant triathletes… so many aero bars! The miles seemed to zip by fairly quickly, and we quickly eclipsed my previous day’s pre-ride distance.  This year’s course was said to be rougher and chunkier than last year’s, and it seemed pretty chunky to me (the course changes every 3 years).

Part III: Disaster strikes

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

This leads me to my next bit: being prepared and not quitting! Unfortunately with pack riding it’s hard to see what’s coming and avoiding something can be virtually impossible. The rocks here are
 flint… hence the nick name, “Flint Hills,” and they’re sharp as razors! When we got to the first really rough section it was a yard sale! Crashes everywhere with people getting caught in ruts and washing out, going over the bars, and flatting! Total mayhem! In preparation the day before, I mounted up a new set of Maxxis Ramblers with Silk Shield to try and thwart the “razors”. If this was a paper-rock-scissors match… well, “rock” beats “rubber” every time! And unfortunately I fell victim to them, as so many other folks did, at mile 30. It wasn’t even a matter of taking a bad line or hitting something I should have avoided. Everything looked the same; unsuspecting gravel. But man, catch one of those rascals at a bad angle and it’s game over! When I flatted I thought, “Crap! Too soon for this nonsense, we’re barely into this race and it was too early to lose the lead group now!” But I knew it was a good one (aka really bad one) because the tire went flat immediately, and it was everything I could do to keep from going down on the descent and getting run over. When I stopped to fix it I thought, “Oh, that’s a doozy, I hope my boots/patches are going to be up to the task!” The gash in my sidewall reached from the center of my tread to a nick in the rim! I was about to put this tire up to the ultimate test… for a 170 miles!
I put two 5″ boots inside the tire, the tube partially inflated to hold them in place and then hit it with the CO2. I was golden and back rolling, but the number of folks who passed me seemed to go on FOREVER! I “reassured” myself I still had 170 miles to make up time… but that didn’t make me feel all that much better to be honest. 170 miles sounded pretty rough considering I had only been 30! So I got back into a rhythm and paced myself; this race wasn’t going to be decided anytime soon for me… or anyone!
I soldiered on with 35 miles to go to the 1st aid station. When I got there, I was met with my support team and swapped out bottles and took my hydration pack with fresh supplies. This next leg I knew was going to be a long one because it was now 9:30am, the sun was up and getting hotter, and the next aid I would see my support crew at would be at mile 150. There was a neutral support at mile 120 where only water would be available so I packed drink mix to add to it.
After the feed-zone at mile 65, it felt like the heat had been dialed up to “high,” and I was getting baked! There’s absolutely NO shade whatsoever to hide in, and the sun’s rays were brutal!  Whatever sunscreen I had put on was long gone from the sweat and water I’d been pouring over myself, and the miles seemed to barely roll over. I was beginning to think this race had been a terrible idea: “I am 87 miles into this thing and still not halfway!” I was starting to go through fluids pretty quickly too, even though I had stayed on top of them really well earlier. How was I going to stretch my fluids another 30 miles?! And then around mile 90, the gods smiled down on me and an unplanned, unexpected aid station appeared before me! Was my Wahoo lying to me about mileage? Had they changed mile points and moved the neutral feed? NOPE! The EF (Team Education First) guys had set up a water tank for the racers, wahoooooooooo!!! Man was that AMAZING! I was given a cold towel while I filled my bottles, drank as much as I could, topped off my pack and poured some cold water over myself. As I left the aid I felt like a new man. This stop was an absolute life saver.

Part IV: Just when you think you’re safe

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

I wouldn’t say the next 30 miles zoomed by, but they certainly went by a lot quicker and a lot less painful than had the aid station not been there. So after 30 miles of motoring along, I reached the “official” neutral aid I had planned on. I refilled my bottles and pack again, added my drink mix and cooled myself with water. One of the volunteers offered to put ice down the back of my jersey, and I happily took them up on it! While there, I took the time to inspect my front tire; I couldn’t believe the cut hadn’t spread any further, and somehow the casing was still holding its shape! I’ve cut tires similar to this in the past, and usually when they’re this severe, the cords fail and the tire loses its structural integrity and tears apart or flexes into a weird “s” curve. Not this joker! Like a dang ROCK! Other than a huge cut in the side, it looked good, Silk Shield was holding her together! The one thing I did notice was the boots had migrated up and exposed a portion of the tube. I knew there was no way that was going to last, so I decided to deflate the tube, unmount the tire, and reposition the boots. Disaster averted! With all that done, I was ready to get rolling again! Roughly 35 miles until I’d see my support crew!
… And then disaster struck again! TUBES! Can’t live with em, can’t live without em! On another “mystery flint” (because ya never see ’em), I flatted
again! I pulled over and went about my way fixing it. However, when I dug through my pack I couldn’t find my extra tube and CO2s that I had gotten at the aid station with my support crew. Then I remembered I still had one mounted to my bike but that meant once I pulled it, I’d be running without supplies for the next 20 miles. This was a scary thought considering every a couple miles I would pass someone fixing a flat, and that could easily be me! And at this time the only thing worse than riding the Dirty Kanza would be walking it! I took the time to eat some food and then begged my legs to cooperate and loosen up again. We could stand around all day! Needless to say, I tried to tread extra lightly as I navigated the remaining miles to the aid station. A few miles down the road I saw Tony, one of my support crew members, snapping pictures of the racers, and I yelled to him to tell TC to get my tubes and C02s ready… and maybe wrangle up a Coke!

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

The highlight of the day wasn’t any of the gravel roads. Rather it was a quarter mile section of multi-use trail into aid station three that was shaded! I wanted to go sooooo slowly through that section just so I could revel in the shade; anything to make it last longer, but seeing as how this was still a “race” I thought it was best not to. There my savior, TC, was standing, waving for me. We went over to the truck, and I restocked tubes, CO2s, food, swapped bottles and added water to my pack. I had originally planned to swap hydration packs here but the thought of more drink mix didn’t sound too appealing, so I stuck to water and kept my current pack. There’s nothing quite as good as pouring cold water over yourself, except maybe having ice packed under your jersey on your back… which I did again! Talk about feeling like new! Oh and TC did have that Coke ready, thank god! So after pounding back a cold Coke and feeling like a million buckaroos, I was ready to put the hammer down! As I set out on my final stretch of the race I had an optimistic feeling! In my mind I was trying to divide up the remaining miles into little blocks. I pre-rode roughly 6 miles of the end of the Dirty Kanza, so I knew what those would be like. I had just traveled five miles. That left me with only 39 unknown miles! And that’s close to 30 miles, and that’s a cake walk!
Oddly enough, between mile 150 and 200, I actually felt really good. I had plenty of supplies with me so I could fix anything, plenty of food and water so I could kill the pack on the first thirty and have 10 miles per bottle… things were looking good. Or maybe I felt so good because I had the tough part behind me and the end was in sight! Either way I felt great, and I was catching people! I think some folks that went out hard were beginning to crack, and I was starting to reel them in. Up to this point, I had been caught in “no mans land,” and soloed from mile 30 to around mile 185.  But now I was catching people riding at similar speeds which was nice. We had a small group of 4 that stuck together all the way to the finish. As we motored along and knocked out the miles, I couldn’t help but think, “This sure would have been nice 120 miles ago!” One of the riders in our group had paint sticks in his pack, and I asked what those were for.  He said they were for scooping mud off tires when they would become caked with it (previous years issues). Fortunately we didn’t have to contend with mud, just a couple tiny sections around creeks and sections of dried car tracks in old mud.  The dried car tracks in old mud actually posed a real threat because it was easy to get caught in one and high-siding became a real issue.

Part V: So close I can smell the BBQ

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

As we hit mile 194, I knew where we were! I was starting to recognize things, and this signaled the end was in sight! We turned onto the pavement with a couple miles to go and the pace quickened ever so slightly. However, by the time we hit main street it was back into a RACE! I wasn’t sure how these guys were feeling but I wasn’t really sure what I had left in the tank either. I went early, hoping I might be able to dissuade a sprint or a counter attack, but I guess they were feeling froggy too. It was a sprint! To us it felt fast and we were FLYING, but maybe to the spectators it was in slow motion. After all, we did have 200 miles in our legs! But no matter what, when I crossed the line I knew I had given it everything; right up to the end. That’s racing and that’s what makes it fun… “fun” being the operative word.
I wouldn’t describe DK as fun, but maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment or the satisfaction of seeing it to the end that’s “fun”. DK200 was an absolutely incredible experience, one with so many high and low points. It’s a race where anything can happen for 200 miles, and often a lot does happen. You can plan and plan and plan, but it comes down to experience and one’s ability to adapt and overcome. DK teaches you a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of. The thought of racing 200 miles on gravel didn’t sound that appealing to be honest, but it was something worth trying. For so many of the almost 3,000 people who do DK, I believe that’s what they are there for: not to podium, but to survive and have a great experience. My only two suggestions to make DK better: fewer sharp rocks and more shade!
And yes! That crazy Rambler tire managed to ramble on for 170 miles with that huge cut in the sidewall! I wasn’t sure if it was up to the task, but the Silk Shield did it’s job and held that tire together. INCREDIBLE!!
Now, time for some BBQ!

Words and photos by Thomas Turner