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Our Essential Gear for Unbound Gravel 2023

You need grit, determination, and fitness to finish Unbound Gravel. But you also need the right gear. We've learned a lot from past attempts. These are the essential pieces of riding gear that we're taking to race at Unbound this year.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Gravel

Lessons learned from our previous Unbound finishes have informed our gear choices for 2023.

This year, two TPC employees will be taking on the 200-mile behemoth that is Unbound Gravel. I’m doing it for the second time (and I’ve done the 100-mile version once before too) and our Merchandising Associate, Sheldon Thompson, is doing it for the fifth time (he hopes to join the 1,000-mile club).  

With tough competition, rolling hills, dangerous water crossings, some sticky mud, and plenty of sharp flint gravel, it’s the ultimate torture test for bike and rider. Good gear is key to making it to the finish line. Between us, we have a lot of experience with what gear works. Here is the essential gear list for Unbound Gravel. 

See also: The Bikes We're Riding at Unbound

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Our Tire Picks for Unbound Gravel

  • Sheldon: Panaracer GravelKing SK+ (700c x 43mm)
  • Bruce: Challenge Getaway (700c x 45mm)

In gravel racing, tire selection is king. For Unbound, a puncture-resistant tire that can withstand the sharp flint gravel is ideal. But you also don’t want a super slow rolling tire that will waste precious watts. For most, a tire between 40-45mm wide with a fast tread will be ideal. 

[product-block handle="panaracer-gravelking-sk-plus-tire-700c-tubeless-black-protite"/]

Sheldon will be riding the classic 700c x 43mm Panaracer GravelKing SK+. The Plus version adds a ProTite Shield Plus puncture protection layer. 

“They’re my go-to tires for Unbound,” Sheldon said. “They’re tough and comfy!”

[product-block handle="challenge-getaway-pro-handmade-700c-260-tpi-tubeless-black-tan"/]

I’ve been obsessively testing out a bunch of different tire combinations over the last month, but after stressing out way too much about tires, I’m going to chill and just use the same tires I used last year: the Challenge Getaway. 

I’m very familiar with the Getaway and I already know it works well at Unbound. It’s handmade, crazy supple, extremely comfortable, super fast, and has great puncture protection. I’m also going to be on a new and improved version that I can’t quite talk about it yet! 

Should You Use Tire inserts at Unbound?Unbound gravel cushcore tire inserts

  • Sheldon: None
  • Bruce: Cushcore Gravel.CX

Sheldon prefers riding with no inserts. To each their own.

For me, inserts are 100% essential. I use CushCore on my mountain bike, and I trust CushCore on my gravel bike too. Unbound has a lot of surprise potholes and sniper rocks hiding in the water crossings that will bottom out your tire against the rim. In the groups I was riding in last year, these features were the most common causes of flats. 

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CushCore might be the heaviest insert option (~110g per tire), but it offers the most protection too. I had some wild impacts last year that likely would have caused a puncture if I didn’t have it installed. There are some potential disadvantages though (see the next section).  

Good Flat Repair Kits Are a Must for UnboundUnbound gravel flat repair kit

  • Sheldon: 
    • Dynaplug Racer Tire Plugs
    • Silca Tactico hand pump
    • CO2 + Inflator
    • Wolftooth 8-bit pliers 
    • 2 basic tubes
    • Basic patch kit
    • Extra bolts
  • Bruce:
    • Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tire Repair Kit
    • 3 CO2s + Inflator
    • SILCA Italian Army Knife Nove multi-tool

Even with perfect preparation, flats and other mechanicals still happen. With 80 miles between the checkpoints, it’s a good idea to be ready to fix your bike out in the field. 

[product-block handle="radavist-dynaplug®-racer-pro-radavist-edition"/]

For tubeless tire punctures, Sheldon trusts the Dynaplug Racer, the Cadillac of tire plug tools. Dynaplug’s compact tool and brass-tipped plugs are super refined, super fast, and super effective at sealing punctures.

“I attach it to the bike in an easy-to-grab location,” Sheldon says. “You will be flat by the time you get it out of a saddle bag.”

[product-block handle="genuine-innovations-tubeless-tire-repair-kit"/]

I’m a cheapskate and use Genuine Innovations' much simpler plug kit. I tape it to the back of my race plate with a pre-threaded plug for quick and easy access.  

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CO2s are great for quick inflation, but it’s always a good idea to carry some extra cartridges. Or if you want to be extra safe like Sheldon, attach a mini hand pump to your bike that will never run out of air.

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A good multi-tool should handle any other mid-race mishaps.

“I think Wolftooth is one of the coolest companies in the industry right now,” Sheldon said. “The plier tool is rad and has everything I need to work on my bike in the field. The small size is also a plus. I make sure that I have something that fits every crucial bolt on the bike. I also carry extra bolts and other random things that might rattle loose or off the bike.”

What about inner tubes? Sheldon is carrying a couple of standard butyl tubes plus a patch kit. 

“Nothing fancy for Unbound,” Sheldon said. “Tubolitos are cool, but basic rubber tubes are the easiest to patch if needed.” 

I’m not carrying tubes. I trust my tire plugs to fix anything, and if they can’t, I’m not wrestling with the CushCores in my tires. I’ll be limping to the checkpoint/finish on the insert. Dumb? Maybe… 

Head Units That Will Go the DistanceUnbound gravel Garmin solar head units

  • Sheldon: Garmin Edge 840 Solar
  • Bruce: Garmin Edge 540 Solar

The Unbound course is mostly unmarked and riders rely on GPS navigation to reach the finish. Many racers will be out on course all day, so it’s important to use a head unit that can go the distance. If you’re concerned about battery life, many riders carry a small portable power bank on their bike. 

We’re both using Garmin’s new Edge Solar head units, which have an impressive 26 hours of battery life, plus solar recharging. They’re tailor-made for this type of event, and knowing your head unit will last until the end can relieve a lot of anxiety.

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“I switched from Wahoo to the Edge 840 Solar. It’s super fancy, but the most important feature it has is super long battery life,” Sheldon explained. 

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I went with the slightly more affordable Garmin Edge 540 Solar. It is essentially the same head unit as the 840 Solar, but it doesn’t have a touchscreen. 

The Key to Unbound Success: Nutrition & Hydration Nutrition and hydration for unbound gravel

Photo: LifeTime

  • Sheldon: 
    • Exile Designs half-frame bag w/ 2L bladder
    • Skratch Labs Super Fuel (Lemon Lime)
    • Maurten Drink Mix 160
    • Maurten Gel 100 
    • Lots of real food!
  • Bruce:
    • Camelback Chase hydration pack
    • USWE Outlander Pro hydration pack
    • Skratch Labs Super Fuel (Lemon Lime)
    • Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews (Matcha Green Tea & Lemon) 
    • Skratch Labs Sport Crispy Rice (Cake Chocolate & Mallow)
    • GU Energy Gels
    • Cool Ranch Doritos
    • A few 12 oz. Red Bulls 

Endurance races like Unbound are pretty much eating and drinking contests. It requires a lot of fuel, and staying on top of your nutrition and hydration is the key to success. 

“My hydration setup is simple,” Sheldon explained. “I have an Exile Designs half-frame bag that I will run a 2L bladder in, plus two bottles filled with nutrition/hydration mix. Once I see the course and checkpoint set up I might add an extra bottle on my top tube. I’ve run out of water on course and it is now my biggest fear.”

[product-block handle="skratch-labs-sport-superfuel-drink-mix-lemons-and-limes-8-serving-resealable-pouch"/]

Sheldon and I will both use Skratch Super Fuel drink mix in our bottles. It’s an easy way to stay topped up with carbs when you’re working hard. I plan to use liquid calories for the first 1-2 hours when I’m fighting to stay attached to fast groups and can’t relax enough to eat solid foods. 

[product-block handle="camelbak-chase-bike-hydration-vest-50oz"/]

I will also bring two hydration packs so I can do a quick change at the first checkpoint, rather than wait for my crew to open up my pack and fill it. I'll ditch it and ride packless after the second checkpoint. 

Having some form of hydration pack or frame-mounted bladder is pretty essential for Unbound. With only two checkpoints, there are few opportunities to fill bottles. 

Comfortable Riding Gear Will Get Us to the FinishCargo bib shorts for unbound gravel

  • Sheldon:
    • Smith Trace MIPS helmet
    • Smith Wildcat sunglasses 
    • Ornot Cargo bibs
    • Rapha Explore Powerweave shoes
  • Bruce:
    • Giro Eclipse helmet
    • Oakley Oakley Sutro Lite sunglasses
    • POC Rove Cargo VPDS bibs
    • Silca Aero Race socks
    • Lake MX238 Gravel Wide shoes (the best shoes for wide feet!)

When you’re spending 10-20 hours in the saddle, comfortable riding gear is a must. 

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Both Sheldon and I will be using high-quality cargo bib shorts. A good chamois will keep your backside happy and the extra cargo pockets on the thighs give you more places to stash food. 

[product-block handle="giro-eclipse-spherical-helmet"/]

I’m also going to use an aero helmet. Unbound can get super hot, but the new Giro Eclipse is incredibly well-ventilated. Plus it’s the fastest road helmet Giro has ever made so it could shave a few seconds, maybe even minutes, off my finish time. 

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By far the nerdiest piece of riding gear I’m bringing is Silca’s Aero Race sock. They’re the cheapest way to buy speed, so why not? 

Bike Components for Extra Comfort Lauf grit leaf spring fork for unbound gravel

  • Sheldon: Redshift ShockStop stem
  • Bruce: Lauf Grit fork

Due to the rough gravel, your hands will take a serious beating at Unbound. But there are plenty of products that can help take the edge off. 

[product-block handle="cane-creek-eesilk-aluminum-stem-31-8mm-clamp-6-degree-black"/]

Sheldon is running a Redshift ShockStop suspension stem on his bike which will add extra compliance to his cockpit. He said he would have preferred Cane Creek’s eeSilk stem, which has a dial to instantly adjust the firmness for rough and smooth terrain but he couldn’t get his desired length. 

I’m using Lauf’s latest Grit suspension fork. It has 30mm of travel but weighs much less than an air fork because it uses carbon leaf springs. It came on my Lauf Seigla, and it’s the main reason I bought it. 

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