At first when I saw the email from the good people at Dirty Kanza I thought it was another of the reminders they regularly send out. Having been to the race five times previously, I confess I don't always read them all. I have already secured lodging and I have read the rule book, several times, so occasionally I just delete them. (I’m not recommending this cavalier and disrespectful behavior and you should definitely read everything you can find about the race. Especially if it is your first time!) This email I had received was different, however, this one was only addressed to me and it was from race director Jim Cummins asking me to participate in a special opportunity.
I'm still not sure exactly why I was chosen, the closest I have ever been to the podium was in 2013 with my 47th place finish achieved only by holding tight to the wheel of my teammate Jamie Wynne who drug me through the windiest DK ever. Of my five trips to the Flint Hills for the 200 mile test I have only crossed the finish line on three of them. Two times it has ended around mile 130 after puking on myself in a ditch, bonking hard is kind of my thing. Make no mistake, Dirty Kanza is difficult, even if you know what to expect and complete the proper training, it is going to hurt and you should be ready to face that.
The special invitation in the email was the chance to be one the Dozen Dirty Riders training and racing on a new product from Lauf Forks, the official suspension provider of this year’s Dirty Kanza. I didn't know much about Lauf at the time. I had seen one of their forks at Gravel Worlds last year and had been intrigued by the design. Honestly, I didn't personally feel I had a need for suspension and would often think the people who did need it could just use more physical conditioning. That's my general philosophy with many things in life, don't buy a new product to help with weaknesses, train more so that you don't have the weakness in the first place. But, the opportunity to try a high-end product from Lauf was a chance I didn't want to pass up and I quickly sent my response to DK accepting the offer to be on the team. I figured if I hated the fork I could probably sell it to someone after DIrty Kanza was over.
I wasn't sure how reviewing a product like the Lauf Grit would be for me, if you are one of my closer friends you will know one of my trademarks is that I'm a ridiculous cheapskate. I will ride bike parts long past their service life and then I'm not afraid to use duct tape and twine to extend the life of something for a few years more use. My entire bike is worth less than the wheels some of my friends ride. I see it like a punk rock guitar - stickers, leopard print bar tape, and chrome skulls on my Gevenalle shift levers. In all fairness, while I do rib my riding buddies for their more expensive toys, it's not that I don't lust after their deep dish Enve wheels and carbon cranks, and not that I wouldn't ride it into the ground if I somehow finagled myself some custom gear. I do like and appreciate nice things, I would just never personally spend the money on luxury items like that. I have too much buyer's remorse to enjoy any benefits expensive things bring so this chance to roll on a premium product was exciting to me.
I had accepted the offer to be on the team and receive my fork for review before I realized that I couldn't take it straight out of the box and use it. I didn't own a through axle wheel and none of my bikes are disc brake equipped, two prerequisites for using a Lauf. I was going to have to buy a wheel and a brake. I turned to Facebook friends to find a wheel and one materialized for $50, thanks again, Aaron Wiseman! I found an appropriate brake set up online for another $50 and it looked like I would be in business for just over $100. Shortly after obtaining the needed parts a box with the new Lauf arrived at my house and I took it all up to Queen City Cycles to have them mount everything, and also to show me how to set up a disc brake properly since I'd never used one. They are amazing by the way. So nice to use a finger's pressure in wet conditions when I'm used to grabbing a fistful and praying while the bike hardly slowed with my old caliper brakes.
Now we set out to ride this fancy Lauf Grit into the ground! While Dirty Kanza is the ultimate goal of this particular campaign, I have a few other challenges I plan to test the Grit with before we even get to Emporia. First up we’ll be heading to Oklahoma for the Land Run 100 which is always a muddy party. Next, we head north for the 340 mile Trans Iowa v. 13. To be honest, with the final 50 teeth rattling hilly miles of last year's Trans Iowa still fresh in my nightmares, I'm looking forward to some wrist and neck saving suspension there more than anywhere else.
There was a small part of me that sort of wanted to hate this fork. A dissenting opinion is always good to have in the mix for entertainment value, just to keep things balanced. Unfortunately, after putting a few hundred miles on the Grit, wherein I've been bunny hopping every dead animal I see and charging into pot holes at speed trying to break the fork, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to find anything to complain about and I definitely won't be selling it.