All-female singlespeed crew to take on the grueling Dirty Kanza 200

by Jen Agen


The Dirty Kanza 200 is not for the faint of heart.  The premier gravel race in America, The Dirty Kanza takes 2,000 adventure seekers on 200 grueling miles (322 kilometres) of gravel and dirt roads through the Flint Hills regions of Kansas.

It’s remote. It’s rugged. It’s self-supported. It’s non-stop. And it’s really tough.

Founded in 2006 by local gravel grinders, the DK200 isn’t just a race, it’s a test of mind, body, and equipment. Participants will tackle 10,000 feet (over 3,000m) of climbing across roadbed that varies from fist-size gravel to dirt trails. Bike and tire selection is critical, flats are inevitable, and 12 hours of saddle time is to be expected.

Yet for some, the challenge still wasn’t big enough and so they decided to go at it with just one gear.

When the 2017 Dirty Kanza 200 kicks off at 6 a.m. sharp on Saturday morning, among the competitors will be a seven-person all-women singlespeed crew from Chicago.

For the past few months Mary Randall, Elizabeth McKinley, Sam Scipio, Kelsey Phillips, Lauren Conroy, Kayci Sterzer and Allison Zmuda have trained together, supported one another and pulled their resources together to take on the infamous DK200.

Drawn to the adventure that awaits in the rugged remoteness, these seven women are setting out to show just what women are made of.

“I felt pulled to be part of this amazing group of women showing that women can do anything,” said rider Kayci Sterzer.

“I’m always down to do anything to prove that women deserve equal categories – last year they did not have a separate single speed category at DK200,” added Lauren Conroy. “And, the more I research self-supported endurance races like Landrun and DK, the more sense it make to race single speed. If you look at the finishing rates, they are much higher for SS categories and I’m guessing a lot of that is because you can’t rip off your derailleur. I witnessed a lot of bike carnage at Landrun.”

Meet the Singe Speed Gravel Crew from Chicago, and check back for our post-race coverage to see how they fared. 

Lauren Conroy

Race day bike: Nature Boy 853     

Race day gear ratio: TBD – I had a 39-19 and a 39-18 in previous events. It all depends on the weather and such.

Why singlespeed: I’m always down to do anything to prove that women deserve equal categories – last year they did not have a separate single speed category at DK.200 The more I research self-supported endurance races like Landrun and DK, the more sense it make to race SS. If you look at the finishing rates they are much higher for single speed categories and I’m guessing a lot of that is because you can’t rip off your derailleur. I witnessed a lot of bike carnage at Landrun.

Goal for DK200: To survive. To pace myself properly. To remember to eat. To be kind to everyone helping me at checkpoints. To push myself.

What does it mean to have the community and opportunity to be surrounded by strong, like-minded women, racing gravel together: It if weren’t for this group of women I think self-doubt might have swallowed me up by now. So many people say I’m crazy for trying to do this, but these women keep me feeling sane.

First thing you’ll do upon finishing: Probably collapse

Elizabeth McKinley

Race day bike: All City Nature Boy Disc

Race day gear ratio: 38×18

Why singlespeed: I appreciate simplicity and a challenge, and SS offers both.

Goal for DK200: To finish, with both body and bike intact.

What does it mean to have the community and opportunity to be surrounded by strong, like-minded women, racing gravel together: It is difficult to put into words how much I appreciate and value the six other women with whom I’ve been training. It’s so easy to doubt oneself and think “I can’t do this” or “I’m not strong enough” but these women have taught me confidence. They’re supportive, encouraging, and ready for a challenge. They’re hilarious and don’t take themselves to serious; I’ve laughed more in the past few months then I have in a long time. But it doesn’t end with these women – the support of the Chicago cycling scene has been absolutely tremendous, and I’ve met wonderful people because of it.

First thing you will do upon finishing: You know that feeling when you’re both laughing and crying while trying to eat, but it’s difficult to chew because your breathing is off from the crying and the laughing and your face is just a mixture of drool and tears? I suspect that will be me upon finishing the race, with a burger or pizza or both.

Kelsey Phillips

Race day bike: All City Nature Boy

Race day gear ratio: 42×19 (maybe 18 if I’m feelin saucy)

Why singlespeed: SS is unique in that it takes away your options, and therefore your decision making during races becomes – you don’t think, you just do. Massive hill? Mash and grind up it. Can’t make it? Get off and run it. There really aren’t options, but it almost makes it better and more fluid.

Goal for DK200: I’m going into it with the goal of winning my category, but am excited to just give it my best and work towards the finish. I just want to pull all of my hard work to the test.

What does it mean to have the community and opportunity to be surrounded by strong, like-minded women, racing gravel together: Being in a community where someone can say “hey does anyone want to do a 200 mile gravel race?” and to have this many women say “yes that sounds rad” is the thing that keeps me going when I want to stop.

First thing you will do upon finishing: Sob. Then mumble “beer” until it appears before me.

Mary Randall

Race day bike: Humble Frameworks CX SS conversion

Race day gear ratio: 40×19 felt perfect for Landrun 100, so I’ll prob stick with that.

Why singlespeed: One speed is all you need

Goal for DK200: Beat the sun

What does it mean – to have the community and opportunity to be surrounded by strong, like-minded women, racing gravel together: It is everything.

First thing you will do upon finishing: Hug my friends and find ice cream

 

Sam Scipio

Race day bike: SS Surly Crosscheck with swift paloma TTbag

Race day gear ratio: 36×17

Why singlespeed: SS for a single mindset. It helps me to feel and know what my body alone is capable of. Plus, it’s less likely to break down and easier to fix.

Goal for DK200: Finish

What does it mean to have the community and opportunity to be surrounded by strong, like-minded women, racing gravel together: This group of SS ladies has changed the way I see myself, They have crated a boundless environment in which we can do anything and go anywhere – using our own bodies. Their support and friendship means the world to me.

First thing you’ll do upon finishing: Find a cheeseburger and eat it.

Kayci Sterzer

Race day bike: Nature Boy

Race day gear ratio: 36×16

Why Singlespeed: I felt pulled to be part of this amazing group of women showing that women can do anything. I love the rhythm of riding a spinglespeed. You have to sustain your momentum going up a hill and you can only go as fast as your gear ratio allows on a flat or downhill. There’s meditative present-focused quality to riding like that.

Goal for DK200: Pace myself well, don’t spend too long at the support stops, and finish in less than 18 hours.

What does it mean – to have the community and opportunity to be surrounded by strong, like-minded women, racing gravel together: I don’t know if I could or would be doing this without this community of women. Planning a training together are invaluable. I also remind myself that they’re out there suffering too when I’m deepest in my pain cave during a race and that gives me the courage and strength to keep pushing forward.

First thing you will do upon finishing: Probably cry and hug someone.

Allison Zmuda

Race day bike: All city nature boy

Race day gear ratio: 40×18

Why singlespeed: I’m not to sure! I’ve always been one to say “ I love my gears,” but I’ve know a quite a few very strong riders who ride primarily SS, all of whom have told me riding SS make you a stronger rider. You learn to ride hills better you learn to conserve energy. You push yourself when you have to, rest when it’s just impossible to spin down hills. It makes the bike simpler. You’ll encounter far fewer problems on SS. No derailleurs to rip off, no shifting to get messed up.

Goal for DK200: I just want to finish the race

What does it mean to have the community and opportunity to be surrounded by strong, like-minded women, racing gravel together: This has been an experience that I never knew I’d enjoy. Prior to this, I did most of my riding alone. Having this group of rad women has been so uplifting and empowering. This makes me want to share the gravel experience with more ladies.

First thing you’ll do upon finishing: I’ll probably find a nice spot on the ground to sit down and take my shoes off.

In the geared category, there are some standout competitors like multi-sport world champion Rebecca Rusch and pro cyclist Alison Tetrick (Cylance Pro Cycling). Tetrick will be taking over our Ella CyclingTips instagram account for the duration of the event. Our post-event coverage will include a photo gallery and words from Tertick and the Chicago single speed crew.

 

About the author: Jen Agan is a Chicago native and a long-time member of the cycling industry, most recently as an events coordinator. Her true passion is story telling, and she’s always in search of roads to ride, communities to be discovered and people to meet.

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