Every summer since 2006, thousands of cyclists have descended on the small town of Emporia, Kansas for Dirty Kanza, the world’s premier gravel event. The marquee event is 200 miles long, sending riders deep into the Flint Hills of Kansas, which are named for the abundant flint gravel that litters the ground. Flint is what Native American arrowheads were made from and as you'd expect, it mercilessly shreds tires and batters bodies. It is what makes Dirty Kanza the stuff of legend.
Dirty Kanza has grown so much that the organizers now use a lottery system to grant entries. While it is too late to register for this year's event on June 1 (or to log those long training miles), it is never too early to start planning if you want to try Dirty Kanza or another gravel adventure in the future. No matter which distance you choose to ride — 100, 200, or even 350 miles — finishing Dirty Kanza takes grit, determination, and the right bike.
We’ve picked six different gravel bikes that can help you conquer Kanza.
Cannondale SuperX / Slate
Cannondale has a good record at Dirty Kanza. Both Ted King and Kaitie Antonneau won the 2018 race aboard the SuperX, Cannondale’s carbon cyclocross bike. The year before, Alison Tetrick won the women’s race on the Slate, Cannondale’s 650b aluminum gravel bike. And in 2016, Ted King also won aboard a Slate.
Though it is a cyclocross bike, the SuperX is an excellent choice for gravel racing as it is lightweight and agile, but it also has a relatively low bottom bracket to make it stable at speed. King praised the bike's versatility, saying it performed like a road bike on pavement, but it was still able to tear it up once he reached dirt. The current SuperX has clearance for 40mm tires to further enhance its gravel grinding versatility compared to most 'cross bikes.
The Slate is an unusual bike, with its most recognizable and opinion-dividing feature being the Lefty Oliver suspension fork. The Lefty Oliver provides 30mm of travel and can help reduce fatigue over a long and bumpy race. For the budget-minded or those less enthusiastic about the Oliver, Cannondale also offers an entry-level Slate with a rigid Lefty fork that reduces cost, weight, and maintenance. The 650b wheels and tires allow for high-volume tires that offer comfort and traction while having the same diameter as a 700c road wheel and tire combo. This gives the Slate fast acceleration and a more responsive ride despite using larger tires.
Like the SuperX and the Slate, the 3T Exploro is also a past winner, taking the men’s race under Mat Stephens in 2017. The Exploro has the distinction of being the world’s first aero gravel bike. 3T shaped the Exploro’s wide Sqaero tubes like truncated airfoils to help cheat the wind, which can give riders a serious advantage in fast, windy gravel events like Dirty Kanza. The Exploro is also capable of running both 700c and 650b tires, depending on your preference. It is stiff, aerodynamic, and fast on any surface, ranking as one of the top gravel bikes available. Its aerodynamic advantages make it a good choice for breakaway artists and any rider looking to gain a competitive edge for Dirty Kanza’s rolling hills.
Specialized Sequoia Expert
Dirty Kanza is called a race, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be on a carbon speed machine. The Specialized Sequoia is a steel touring and adventure bike designed to maximize the rider’s comfort for long-distance dirt and gravel epics. This makes it perfect for the rider looking to enjoy the experience of riding through the Flint Hills of Dirty Kanza as much as possible. The Sequoia isn’t the lightest bike out there, but it is rugged, dependable, and, most importantly, comfortable. For many riders, the supple ride quality of steel is unmatched, and the Sequoia utilizes premium cro-moly tubing with ultra-thin seat stays to maximize compliance. Additional clearance for massive 45mm tires also greatly enhances your comfort and traction. It has stable, relaxed geometry for long stints in the saddle and the frame has plenty of mounts for bags so you can carry all or your food, supplies, and gear. The Sequoia is the perfect tool for the rider who wants to spend more time on the bike, enjoying the ride.
All-City Nature Boy
Some people just don’t need all the bells and whistles to do an event like Dirty Kanza. For the masochistic minimalist, a singlespeed is the ultimate steed for suffering. The All-City Nature Boy is a simple steel singlespeed cyclocross bike that has everything you need and nothing more. It’s durable, has race inspired-geometry, and the newest version comes equipped with disc brakes. The rear dropouts are designed to move the brake caliper mount with the axle when tensioning the chain so the rotor and caliper are always perfectly aligned. The Nature Boy has room for 38mm tires and mounts for fenders if you want to use it for commuting around town. If you’re looking to complete the audacious challenge of singlespeeding Dirty Kanza, the Nature Boy will have no trouble taking you to the finish.
Salsa Beargrease Carbon
People ride all kinds of bikes at Dirty Kanza, from cyclocross to gravel to tandems to mountain bikes. Still, you might be surprised to see a fat bike out on course. But fat bikes have their own special fanbase and plenty of adventurous riders will hit the Flint Hills with monster-sized tires. They may not win the race, but they will surely enjoy the scenery in unmatched comfort.
The Salsa Beargrease Carbon is a special fat bike. It uses new 27.5 x 3.8-inch wheels and tires. The reduction in sidewall height compared to a 26 x 4.6-inch tire (which has the same diameter) potentially improves traction in hardpack conditions and reduces the bounce you might experience in a higher volume tire. These are both good things for a long gravel race. The Beargrease Carbon also has the advantage of being relatively light for a fat bike, with many builds coming in under 30lbs, and the highest end builds coming in under 25lbs. The Beargrease Carbon is the racer’s fat bike.
See more in our Cross/Gravel Collection.