Unbound: The Grassroots of Gravel
Factor athletes facing the toughest that Kansas can offer
It’s early June so that must mean it’s time for Garmin UNBOUND Gravel. Factor Bikes will be heading there with two extremely talented and motivated athletes to race the 200+ Unbound starting and finishing in Emporia, Kansas. With Adam Roberge and Dylan Johnson racing on their Factor LS gravel bikes, we’ll be on the edge of our seats rooting for them to do their best and have a blast in one of the most grueling races in the world.
An essential gravel event
For anyone who is new to cycling, or who perhaps got into the sport because of the adventures that gravel riding offers, it can be hard to think back to a time before Unbound existed. Though it went by a different name initially, its roots burrow deep back into the mid-2000s when the first event had only 34 participants. Now with 4000 riders on the start line and many more disappointed not to win a lottery place in the event, it can be considered among the most important grassroots, non-UCI controlled cycling events in the world.
Just looking at a few images from past races can help you understand why. The quiet solitude of a handful of riders trekking over empty farm roads through open fields speaks to the cyclist in all of us. But the draw is so much more profound for all athletes looking to challenge themselves not only physically but mentally. With even the best facing potentially 10+ hours on the bike and 200 miles over rough, open country basically unsupported, there’s a lot of time to visit some very deep and even dark places in your mind during Unbound.
The route itself is a loop, starting and ending in Emporia, that heads west for about 14 miles before shooting south past Eureka. Around mile 86 the riders will turn east briefly to then head north about 90 miles into the event. With over 9700 feet (3000 meters) of climbing, anyone who comes to Kansas thinking it’s totally flat will be in for a rude surprise.
It’s a brutal race over isolated country. And if it’s raining, it will be even more demanding. It’s the type of event we had in mind when developing the Factor LS gravel bike. Some of the gravel and dirt roads see little to no maintenance over the year, which makes the Unbound especially difficult to predict what to expect in terms of road surfaces. Some of it can be fast hardpack gravel and some can be totally rutted and washed-out sand pits.
The LS can handle it all, thanks to its race-oriented geometry that marries well with the wide tire capability of the frame. The forgiving carbon layup ensures a multi-hour level of comfort that belies just how rigid it is once one of our riders tries a race-winning acceleration.
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Garmin UNBOUND Gravel