Unbound Gravel

Our go-fast heritage is at the heart of all our bikes, and as we enter the final stages of research and development on our next gravel machine we could think of no better place than Unbound, the unofficial World Cup of gravel racing, to put our prototype through its paces. This brutal 200 mile race brings out some of the world’s best cyclists, eager to throw down on the back country roads of Emporia, Kansas.

When it came time to design our next gravel bike we didn’t want to follow the general trend and create another copy of the OPEN U.P.P.E.R. (however good that bike is). We wanted an elegant solution to the problem what makes a great gravel bike while still allowing us to hand tailor each frame to the individual, which is at the core of what makes Argonaut special. Eighteen months and hundreds of revisions later, we are closing in on a game changing gravel bike. Our team rider, Sarah Max, has been an integral piece of this bikes evolution, and as one of the fastest people in the world when it comes to racing gravel, we greatly value her feedback and direction on what makes a gravel bike perform at the highest level.

In the days leading up to the race, we pre-rode some tough sections dialing in tire pressure and selection, landing on 40mm IRC Bokens at 29PSI (F) and 30PSI (R). This is a little more pressure than Sarah generally likes to run, but we were really focused on not flatting and therefore willing to compromise for the race. Heavy rains in the days before left a mixture of deep stream crossings, thick mud sections and even some hero dirt. In other words, Sarah needed to be prepared for a bit of everything, and that is exactly what she got.

Sarah’s test riding (racing) at Unbound was truly inspirational. The day began at 4am with pep-talks, strategy, pancakes, and coffee. As the sun came up the wind was calm with the temperature hovered in the mid 60’s. Clouds could be seen at a distance, but overhead was clear. After a five minute train delay, the gun went off and 1,236  riders set off on their personal journeys. Sarah’s start was on point and resulted in her coming into the first checkpoint in 6th place. All systems go. A quick pit stop and she was on her way.

At the second checkpoint, Sarah had moved herself up into 3rd place. Between checkpoint one and two the clear skies of the morning were replaced with a full-on torrential downpour. Racers were coming through completely coated in various shades of clay, depending on where they were during the deluge. Sarah, despite being covered in Kansas mud, was feeling good and ready to attack the last section of course. The bike was meeting the conditions head on without issue. The skies were clearing, temperature rising and Sarah charged head on into the final portion of the race. At 30 miles to go, Sarah went down in a deep stream crossing. Bouncing right back up, the body was good, but her derailleur was not functioning. The most unique element of gravel racing (even international events like Unbound) is the sense of community and the willingness of fellow riders to help one another.  A fellow racer helped Sarah re-pair her shifters to her derailleur, and she was back in it. Unfortunately for Sarah, the 25 minute loss was enough for 6 women to get past her. She fought back and finished 9th with a 18.2 mph average speed for over 10hrs.

Reflecting back on her ride, Sarah believes the prototype made a difference in her confidence to descend faster than ever, yet remain comfortable over hard, long distances. Our test pilot is off to her next stop, the Belgian Waffle Ride in North Carolina. Best of luck!