Setup: the Seven Airheart at DK200

Setup: the Seven Airheart at DK200

At the risk of sounding like a sample played repeatedly by a DJ, I love to take a bike with me when I travel. Whether the trip is for a cycling event or to visit family, I try to make sure I’m not without a bike. And I don’t like (can’t afford) to drop $300 just to take a bike with me. So, for nearly 10 years, I’ve been doing my travel with an S&S-coupled frame. First it was a Seven Cycles Axiom that I had retrofitted by Bilenky and later I worked with Seven to design the Airheart.

Aside from the fact that it’s a good deal cheaper to fly with an S&S-sized case (i.e. not oversize) than with a full-size bike case, there are some added benefits that come with traveling with a bike in the smaller case. First among them is that it’s a good deal easier to get to the airport, through the airport and to a rental car with the smaller case. I’ve had cabbies take one look at my full-size Bike Pro case, shake their heads and drive away. Fitting that case inside an economy car isn’t hard, provided you don’t have much other luggage, so I don’t have to worry about getting the biggest possible rental just to be able to safely transport my bike.

For Dirty Kanza, I had to change a few things from what my normal setup is, though not much.

First among the concessions was that I wanted to run a handlebar bag. I chose Ortlieb’s because I know their products and had already been using it. I knew I’d eat more if the food was easily at hand and I knew the extra weight on the front end wouldn’t be bad as I wasn’t going to encounter any super-technical descents; all that extra weight (and we’re talking probably three pounds once the bag is full of food and other items) will slow down the bike’s handling (momentum, yo!).

In addition to the mount for the handlebar bag, I needed to find space for the SRAM Red eTap shifter blips, those cute little buttons that serve as auxiliary shifters on the bar top (or in the drops). I also needed space for my Wahoo Elemnt mount, and the Knog light mount. It was a big ask for not much real estate.

To fit everything in, I cut holes in the handlebar tape and then wrapped over the blips; the holes lined up with the blips so that I wouldn’t have to squeeze like the Hollywood Strangler to execute a shift. I then mounted the Wahoo right on the bar, rather than use the out-front mount that is more common because there wasn’t room with the handlebar bag. The Knog light mounted to the left of the stem.

Here’s where things got a little weird: the angle I wanted to mount the handelbar bag didn’t allow for the Knog light to shine over, so once I got into Checkpoint 3 I had to loosen the mount for the Ortlieb bag and point it down. Once I mounted the light, it was able to shine over the bag. The second light, from Lezyne, I mounted way down on the drop of my handlebar. It moved around a bit, but it did give me a second light for those times when my speed was picking up and I began to outrun my beams.

The Redshift Shockstop stem is an old idea from mountain biking’s infancy in favor of actual suspension. However, it’s a terrific idea for gravel bikes. It dampens vibration enough to make a real difference in comfort without decreasing control.

In the handlebar bag, I carried roughly a dozen Feedzone Portables, my Silca pump, and after Checkpoint three, a couple of spare batteries, plus a USB cable to charge any device I had. The reason I mounted the Elemnt on my bar and not on the stem was so that I could get to the charging port to plug the USB cable in to charge it while riding.

Even though there was no rain in or around Emporia that day, I chose to run a fender. Why? Simple. I knew there would be some wet spots on the course. I didn’t know what they’d look like, but I knew that if I rooster-tailed through them and soaked my chamois, I’d be uncomfortable for a very long time. I have zero regrets for bringing it along.

I ran FSA’s SL-K subcompact crank with 46/30 rings. I honestly didn’t think I’d be using the 30t ring much, but the hills were steep enough that to keep my heart rate in a reasonable range, I did use it plenty. But that’s not why I ran that crank; the 46t big ring meant that unless I was going up a reasonably steep hill, I could stay in the one ring.

The chain lube I used was Muc-Off’s Hydrodynamic lube with the UV dye. While the chain and chainrings are coated in dust, the chain was silent in operation all the way to Checkpoint 3, at 151 miles; even then it wasn’t noisy. I applied whatever lube was available at the stop (I honestly can’t remember what it was) just to make sure I could get to the finish without noise.

I failed to take a good picture of the Donnelly (formerly Clement) X’plor MSO tires I ran. I considered a number of different tires, but the MSO is the biggest tire I have and I wanted as much cushion as possible. I also wanted a tire with a fair amount of tread given how loose the surface can be.

Camelbak’s Podium Ice bottles do a better job of keeping fluids cold than any other bottle I’ve used and as hot as it got out there, anything that helped keep fluids colder than a tepid bath was worth its weight in tubeless sealant.

The handlebar bag made an enormous difference in my ability to eat. There were any number of times when I flipped the top open and pulled food out only to encounter a rough section of road, a hill (up or down) or something else that required me to focus on the riding and not my food and I was able to toss whatever I was munching on back in the bag and flip the top closed. And while the explosion of two Feedzone Portables made for a frustrating mess, those things take up some space no matter what; I’d never have been able to carry enough of them without that bag.

And now for the Corvus snack. I’ve talked previously about my hesitation to travel with wheels set up tubeless. One burped tire can cause a mess that would be harder to clean up than a child covered in tar. But with this event, I knew I didn’t want to deal with tubes, except as a fix. So, I deflated the tires to about 5 psi and stuffed the wheels with tires into the case and … it worked. No spooge in the case. This changes everything for future travel.

I’m still vaguely amazed that doing Dirty Kanza required not just more planning and preparation, but an increase of both by order of magnitude. Get out your slide rule boys and girls. It’s also an opportunity to see in minute detail just how the best-laid plans, well you know how that goes.

And yet, for all this planning and preparation the biggest lesson for me with Dirty Kanza was to remain humble, something I normally do reasonably well. My advice to anyone contemplating it: Check your ego at the door.

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  1. Mike

    I run a handlebar bag for exactly the same reasons – easy access to food and to carry a few extra essentials. It is invaluable for long rides but comes in really handy for commuting and family rides. This past weekend, we all took a ride up the bike path to an ice cream shop. I could keep my keys, wallet, snacks for the kids, sunglasses, phone and a pair of capris for my wife in there, all while wearing normal clothes/not having to stuff things in my pockets.

    As an FYI, Planet Bike makes a fork-mounted headlight mount for about $10. It works best with Planet Bike lights but can also work with many other manufacturers lights. I use it with a Cygolite on my commuter. This helps keep my handlebars a little cleaner while still having the headlight mounted in a useful location.

  2. david


    You seem to favor the 46/30 setup for general use as well as for events like DK.. I’m in a fairly hilly area (Seattle and the surrounding area) as well.. any downside? Such as spinning out at higher speeds etc at this point or are you happy with the sub-compact setup. I’ve been contemplating going in this direction for a while now..

    1. Lyford

      (not Patrick)
      If you make a gear chart, a 46-11 top gear is almost identical to a 50-12. If you’re currently using a 50/34 crankset, just ask yourself how often you use the 50-11 top gear, and how much you’d miss it.

      I recently went to a 46/30 and like it a lot. For rolling road rides I spend more time in the big ring, and the small ring is nice when I get off the pavement. Spinning out has not been a problem.

    2. Dan from Emporia

      I think the 46/30 front and 11-32 rear is perfect for gravel. My low gear takes me up climbs at 6 mph seated, that’s as steep as anything I encounter. The 46/28 is an 11-12 mph gear so unless it is significantly uphill or into a strong wind I an in the big chainring. You can then mix and match a 11-34 cassette or 48/32 or 50/34 chainrings to suit your strength.

    3. Author

      I really do love the 46/30 for gravel riding. My speeds on dirt are nothing like my speeds on the road, so the lower gears make a lot of sense. In fact, I’m not sure I need a gear any higher than 46×13. With the descents I do around here, once I’m above about 25 mph, I’m not pedaling; I’m completely focused on control. Such is the nature of the terrain I ride. Lyford makes an excellent point about just how high a gear a 46×11 is. I simply don’t ever use it. As you consider the purchase, I’d suggest you look at your average speed for a road ride vs. the average speed for one of your gravel rides. If your average drops by as much as 3 mph, and it could easily be more, the purchase probably makes sense. You’ll end up with way more usable gears on your cassette with the smaller chainrings.

    4. Dan Murphy

      This 46/30 crank has me thinking.
      As an old guy not getting any younger (65), I’m thinking about my next gearing change on a Seven Evergreen that I ride on both gravel and road. I’m currently on a Shimano drivetrain with a compact 50/34 and a 36-tooth cassette. Sometimes, an even lower gear than the 34->36 would be a good thing and that 46/30 crank might be the thing. We’re in Franconia NH for a month and there’s nothing but climbing here, sometimes (often?) 20+%. Great place to ride. Like I said, not getting any younger. I’m not sure how much I’d lose on the road with the 46.

    5. Jeff vdD

      @Dan Murphy, your bike sounds a lot like mine … I’ve got a Seven Mudhoney, but that’s just how I had them label it–it’s really more of an Evergreen geometry-wise. Yes, I occassionally spin out at 46-11, but only if I’m purposefully trying to haul ass. My general creedo is that if I’m going fast enough to spin out at 46-11, I’m going fast enough. Oh, and I’ve got 2 wheel sets: primary with 40mm MSOs for dirt, secondary with 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones (measuring 30) for pavement. Both are set up tubeless. I really can’t find fault with that setup.

  3. David

    Thanks for the responses guys.. Just FYI, I’m thinking of the 46/30 for all of my riding, which as of now is about 80% road.
    My hope is that the 46 will keep me in the big ring more of the time and the 30 will be handy for those longer steeper climbs… I think I’ve made my decision… BTW, I’ve really been enjoying listening to you and Selene, Patrick.. great stuff to ponder when thinking about my favorite pastime… especially liked the recent reminders about riding for flow, mental health etc.. I spent many years rock climbing at a high level and attaining that feeling of “oneness” with the activity is very high on my reasons for riding..

    1. Dan Murphy

      Thanks for the input, Jeff. Guess I’m looking for validation.
      Two wheelsets also:
      – 28mm Vittoria Rubino Pro (tubes) and a 32-tooth cassette usually
      – 40mm MSO (tubes) with the 36-tooth
      I honestly don’t think I’d miss the 50-tooth ring. I’m not as aggressive on the downhills now and take the free ride.

    2. Jeff vdD

      Dan, keep in mind that on 40s, a 46-11 combination actually rides a bit taller because of the larger circumfrence the 40 gives you compared to a 28.

    1. Author

      As it happens, I did have a Feedback Sports hanging scale that I’d hook to trees to both gauge how much dust I’d collected as well as to calculate how well I was keeping up with my hydration. 😉

    2. Jeff vdD

      On my gravel bike, I ride 46-30 up front and 11-34 in the back. It’s a bit out of spec for my drivetrain, but works like a charm. And, compared with 11-32, the shift patterns are better … fewer needs for simultaneous front/rear shifts to find the next higher/lower ratio.

    1. Author

      So I had the two bottles you see on the bike, plus a hydration pack with a 2.5L bladder. I refilled one of those bottles at about mile 80, which was a mistake. I should have refilled them both because at mile 85, or thereabouts, I was completely out of water. Doing the Grasshoppers, I will wear a hydration pack about half the time. Running out of water is awful.

  4. joshg

    as I ride on dirt more i’ve been seeking bottle that avoid me eating dirt (and possibly contracting something nasty from many local farms & animals paths I’m traversing). Not seeing many options and I’d rather not go to bladder on back. Ideas?

    1. Author

      Camelbak is offering some bottles with rubbery caps that fit over the nozzle to keep them from getting fouled with … whatever. There are also hip packs (formerly known as fanny packs) that can be more comfortable than having the bladder cover your spine. Also, on short MTB rides, I’ll just put the bottle in my back pocket.

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