Unbound Gravel Bikes: What Riders Ride For 8+ Hours On Rough Gravel

The two days leading up to the world’s premier gravel race, Unbound Gravel, are filled with shakedown rides, a trade show and community events. It’s a good opportunity for riders to test their gear setup and brands to showcase the latest.

As far as bikes and gear setups go, Unbound is an interesting event because riders can go as little as 25 miles up to 350 miles. All race distances require runners to be completely self-sufficient, and runners can be on the course for up to 35 hours at a stretch.

It’s a real test of endurance, autonomy and equipment. As well as having to refuel during the many hours of riding, sharp flint boulders have been known to slice through tires and hasten podium aspirations. Along the way, riders also have to contend with hilly terrain, exposed roads, headwinds and, if necessary, tire-sucking mud.

The weather was a big concern in the run up to this year’s Unbound with quite a bit of rain in the days leading up to the start of the race and more rain and thunderstorms expected on race day. Tire choice, tire clearance and tire pressure seemed to be all people were talking about. On a wet course, the mud will destroy groups and immobilize you. It became such a buzz that paint sticks were given out to help clean the mud off the bikes should it happen.

With some 4,000 professional and amateur riders descending on the small town of Emporia, Kansas, we have seen the following trends:

Common tire choices:

Common bikes:

Gear Trends:

  • Bento boxes on the top tube
  • Small seats
  • Slim frame bags that leave room for two large bottles
  • Hydration vests
  • Integrated tubeless grip tools, either in the handlebar ends, attached to the bottle cage or even in the bottom bracket or stem cap
  • Adding chain catchers in case of mud
  • Mo Wilson Tribute Bottles, Stickers or Ribbons

Here is a small sample of the bikes that will reach the finish line this weekend; some might even end up on the podium.

Canyon Grizl by Pete Stetina

Former WorldTour roadie turned gravel privateer Peter Stetina shows off his Canyon Grizl with a Shimano GRX drivetrain and GRX carbon wheels.

Ian Boswell’s Specialized Diverge

Defending Unbound 2022 winner Ian Boswell’s Specialized Diverge with SRAM AXS. Many Specialized-supported athletes are on a limited-edition Diverge pink colorway, inspired by the 1984 Specialized Team Stumpjumper

Lauf True Grit by Brooke Goudy

Mountain biker and advocate Lauf True Grit of Brooke Goudy will let her ride comfortably to the 100-mile finish with 30mm front suspension, shock-absorbing tires and even a beer opener for that post-race beer.

Sarah Sturm’s Specialized Crux

Allied Able by Nicke Besse

Team Easton Overland’s Nicke Besse was showing off his Allied Able Team Edition complete with Easton wheels, cranks, seatpost, cockpit and even a dropper post.

Lauf Steigla by Ashton Lambie

Spotted from afar: World Track Champion Ashton Lambie’s Lauf Steigla with the third-generation Lauf Grit SL fork, clearance for up to 2.25-inch tires and a rainbow colorway.

The 31-year-old American, famous for his mustache, became the first person to break the four-minute barrier in the four-kilometre individual pursuit in August last year, having already broken the IP record twice before. When he’s not riding the smooth wooden planks of the velodrome, Lambie is an accomplished gravel racer who also won the Unbound 100-mile race in 2019 and previously held the Trans-Kansas World Record when he completed the 400 mile trip in just 23 hours. and 53 minutes in 2015.

Insatfund’s Heidi Franz struggled to get her bike ready for the race. When his bike arrived with broken parts, friends rushed to make his Van Dessel CX bike fit to race. In the end, she ended up with a SRAM Red eTap 11-speed drivetrain ready and 38mm tires—the biggest the frame will hold.

Wiley C. Thompson