Every cyclist occupies some kind of niche. Mary and I already part of the small world of endurance tandem riders, and then we further specialize as randonneurs.
I’ve been feeling that reality as we prepare for Unbound Gravel this Saturday in Emporia, Kansas, where we will ride the 200 mile race. It’s been a long time coming, as we were supposed to ride the canceled edition in 2020 and then we deferred last year.
During our recent brevets in the Washington, D.C. region, our fellow riders asked us what we had planned ahead. I presume they meant upcoming randonneur rides, but I mentioned Unbound Gravel. Some kind of knew about it, but more than once we got a “what’s that?”
We do have a 1200K randonnee coming up in August, when we make a return trip to the Coulee Challenge in Minnesota and Wisconsin. But right now, I’m deep in Unbound mental preparation, along with bike packing.
And once we get there, I expect to have a case of first-timer nerves. We’ve ridden a few gravel races over the years but we’re not on the curcuit like some other folks we know and haven’t done anything this big.
We rode the defunct Hilly Billy Roubaix in West Virginia three times and the Monster Cross race in Virginia in 2020, and have ridden with the welcoming local Bluemont Connection group. We’ve spent a lot of time since 2020 getting comfortable on the gravel roads of nearby Loudon County, Va. and we seek out gravel routes when we tour. The GAP Trail in Pennsylvania is a favorite summer ride of ours — but it’s not the Flint Hills.
Yet I’m totally excited to line up with Mary at Unbound. The buzz of taking part of what’s become the highest profile bike race in North America is something I really want to experience. Even Euro road pro Peter Sagan is riding the 100-miler with his teammate Daniel Oss.
It won’t be a brevet and it won’t give us any special randonneur cred, but it’s still (just) 200 miles, and that’s right in our wheelhouse. Being on tandem will add a special element to our ride. I know we have the legs.
Lots to learn
What’s unknown will be the pace we can maintain and handling the tandem on gravel around so many other riders. Our normal rolling average on a hilly gravel course is usually about 14 m.p.h. The moderate elevation gain and pull of the other riders at Unbound might let us ride a little faster.
I hope our bike setup is adequate. We’ll be on the Green Apple, our coupled Co-Motion 650b steel tandem, with a 3×10 SRAM-ish mechanical drivetrain with bar end shifters and cable-operated disc brakes. This is a system that has proved reliable.
Our wheels are custom-built for tandeming: 650b Velocity Cliffhanger alloy rims on White Industries (rear) and Phil Wood (front) hubs, set up tubeless with WTB Venture 47mm tires and standard Orange Seal sealant.
To add some randonneuring vibe I made up a cue sheet from the Ridewithgps file to carry on our handlebars. And, wow, there are a ton of turns. The course meanders left and right like crazy, with a lot of little segments of a mile or two.
Of course we’ll be following the course on our Garmin GPS units: my aging Edge 1030 and the 830 for Mary, and I’ll have a backup recording on my Fenix 6 watch. The watch will be connected to a Garmin Tempe temperature sensor which will be more accurate than our head units, which tend to run high. As yet, there is no solid way for the Edge units to read the Tempe sensor, other than a couple Garmin CIQ data field apps that did not work well for me.
I purchased a new Edge 1030 Plus unit during the recent May promotions, but I haven’t unboxed it yet. I expect Garmin to release the new 1040 as soon as this week, and I want to see whether I’d rather buy that instead. According to a recent leak, it will have longer run time time which might be a good reason.
We arrive Wednesday evening in Kansas City and get to Emporia Thursday to build up the bike and get in some test rides and soak up the vibe. Make sure to say hello if you see us!