For three years, I've wanted to do Lunar Kanza. Basically, since I got a gravel bike. Couldn't make the schedule work. But third time's the charm.
Lunar Kanza isn't a hardcore gravel ride. It's not DK200. It's not the Native Lands Classic. It's not Land Run. Which is to say, it's not trying to crush your soul. It's a ride on the plush Kansas gravel under the light of the full moon. There's a scavenger hunt during the ride, and there's a party after. Beer, music, food trucks. Bourbon. Extraordinary adventures, remember?
Still, 50 miles on gravel is 50 miles on gravel. Gravel is not kind. You think Oklahoma paved roads are crappy? Gravel roads don't even pretend to be smooth. That's why it's called gravel.
We compensate in different ways. A lot of us ride steel bikes, which are heavier, but make for a more comfortable experience. Most the time, I ride a Surly Straggler. But back in April when we became a Lauf dealer, I hatched a scheme to ride one of the demo bikes for Lunar. A 17-pound carbon gravel bike with carbon leaf-spring suspension forks? Yes, please.
It should be said it's not a super great idea to take a bike you've never ridden before out for a 50-mile rural jaunt, especially without a seat you're used to. I mean, I did it, but that doesn't make it smart. Bad decisions seem to always start with a lack of forethought.
Doesn't mean there wasn't any forethought. I took the Lauf home from the shop last Thursday and proceeded to put all manner of mismatched stuff on it. Orange pedals. One orange bottle cage, one black. A cage for my green flask.
Got the seat more or less in the position I needed it. I tried to mount the flask to the top tube, but it obstructed standing over the bike and it wasn't really easy to get the flask in and out. More's the pity.
Good to go, right?
The ride was scheduled to roll out at 6pm, the thought being you ride out to the halfway point and it'd be about dark so your ride back in would be with lights. Between the shop regulars and the Pandes, we had 16ish City Cycles people grouped up, which is half the thing, really. We were ready.
Rollout started. People cheered.
We watched them leave because Chris forgot his gloves.
And then go!
We had a police escort all the way to the start of the gravel at the edge of town. Faces to the setting sun, we rolled basically a flat 12 miles to the first rest stop.
There are some gravel aficionados who believe all gravel rides should be self-supported, that adding water stops goes against the dirt credo. Sure, there's a place for that. But I don't think there's a place in cycling to exclude, ever. People who want to ride should be encouraged, no matter how or why they're doing it. So what they're not doing it like you.
During the first half of the ride, the Lauf kept wanting to go fast. I ended up pulling or outright riding off with faster riders knowing full well I wasn't in shape to sustain it for 50 miles (the butcher's bill came about mile 44ish). It was snappy. If I wanted to stand up and sprint to get around someone, it took off. Honestly, it felt a lot like my Scott road bike.
Riding beside Adam, I looked over at his handlebars. They bounced up and down like a jackhammer. The Lauf's bars, barely a tremor. Visual proof of the smoothing effect of the carbon leaf springs. I should've videoed it.
The hills started somewhere after mile 15, little rollers mostly, all the way until you got to the halfway point at the lake. No, I dunno what the lake was. I ate a bunch of mini Paydays and refilled my bottles. I took pictures of people taking pictures of the sunset. I contemplated the giant hill you get to climb right after the stop. Who puts a giant hill right after a rest stop?
We all goofed off, more or less. Whiskey was sipped. Jesse showed off the scavenger hunt item he found, then turned on his wheel lights … He had this LED rig he could program with an app on his phone. An orange cat taunted us from his front wheel the whole second half of the ride. The girls took turns avoiding the public … bathrooms.
The second half hills were challenging rollers, and while climbing, the sun slipped beyond the horizon. The temp dropped. We turned the lights on and pedaled. No dogs, no traffic. Just smooth gravel and that big red full moon rising. It reminded me of summer nights as a kid, riding my BMX bike under the streetlights and hoping my dad wouldn't whistle for me to come home anytime soon.
That's why gravel is awesome, in my opinion. It's less about doing your workout or average speed, and more about the experience. It's about remembering you're not your job or the things you own. It's about breathing deep and inhaling life and adventure.
By the time we rolled back into Emporia, I was shot. Everything hurt. I'm clearly not in shape for 50-mile gravel rides. The Lauf let me punch above my fitness weight. If not for it, I wouldn't have finished. Loved that bike. I spent a great deal of the ride trying to figure out how to pay for it and a second wheelset for road riding. One bike to rule them all.
As for Lunar Kanza … the after party was excellent. Had a giant carne asada burrito from a food truck and a couple of beers (included with your race fee). Listened to some dude with a guitar cover everything from Dolly Parton's Jolene to Toto's Africa. I would've given cash to hear him do a Metallica song. The girls admired the dust on their legs.
I got the shaft on the scavenger hunt. Kari saw one hanging from a fence post and I waded through armpit-deep weeds and grass to get it. The prize was a nylon skinny wallet with the Dirty Kanza logo screen-printed on it. C'mon, man.
After the party, we retreated to the giant old house we'd rented just three blocks away. Everyone stayed up drinking, laughing and reliving the ride. Except for Lance, who took his root beer and went to bed.
The route, the scenery, the people and, man, that bike. Fantastic. Won't soon forget it, and it's a must-do again for next year.
Get into the shop and take one of the Laufs for a test ride, preferably somewhere bumpy. You don't get the full experience until you're on a road that's trying to rattle the teeth from your head. The biggest advantage to the Lauf fork is the control you maintain. On a stiff fork flying down a bumpy gravel hill, it usually feels like the bike is in control and you're just along for the ride. The Lauf fork makes it feel like a paved hill. The difference is shocking and amazing.
And did I mention the bike only weighs 17 pounds before you start bolting stuff to it? The fork and frame together weigh less than five pounds, with the fork making just less than half of that (you can add the fork to your existing gravel bike, after all).
Thanks for reading. Hope you got a good Lauf out of it.