During a recent podcast with colleague Bill Schieken of CXHairs, he pointed out that part of the appeal of the Dirty Kanza is the many distances available always leave riders with a reason to come back.
Finish the 50? Do the 100. Conquer the 100? Take on the DK200. PR the DK200, apply for the DKXL ... Okay, maybe that last one is a bit much for most of us.
Erica Mueller of Madison, Wisconsin is the embodiment of that spirit. A former road racer who has also dabbled in some cyclocross, Mueller has found a second home on the gravel roads of the Midwest and beyond.
Last year, Mueller finished the DK100 and vowed she would come back and take on the DK200 in 2019. Mueller accomplished her mission, finishing the 202-mile race in a little over 16 hours.
Mueller made the jump to the 200 this year with plenty of gravel miles under her wheels as a part of the Shimano Gravel Alliance. The group of 16 brand ambassadors travels to events across the country and helps provide input on Shimano's gravel-oriented components.
That input included advising on the new GRX family of gravel components Shimano released last month.
"We've built a lot of relationships and put our heads together on what the GRX components should be," Mueller said about the Gravel Alliance. "We've got people from different parts of the country, and I think it impacts what they want on their bikes and what the best fit is for that person."
Mueller had new GRX components on her Orbea Terra gravel bike for the Dirty Kanza. I took a look at her bike at the All Things Gravel on DK Eve for this bike profile.
Erica Mueller's Shimano GRX-Equipped Orbea Terra
Orbea redesigned the Terra in 2017, giving the bike a gravel-oriented geometry and modern features such as flat mount disc brakes and 12mm thru-axles. At Dirty Kanza, Mueller was riding a 2018 model year carbon frame that has a slack front and clearance for tires up to 40mm wide.
"I've had the bike for what most people would consider too long. They're usually ready to recycle or get a new one in the disposable world we live in," she said. "It's been a really good bike with a carbon frame. I've had for two years now, and I've done almost exclusively gravel on it with a little bit of commuting."
Unlike Katerina Nash's Clif Pro Team colored bike, Mueller's frame is all black with her Shimano Gravel Alliance allegiance well represented.
As a Shimano ambassador, Mueller had the new gravel-specific GRX groupset on her bike for the Dirty Kanza. The new GRX components have 1x and 2x options available. We certainly saw a number of 1x drivetrains at DK and Lost and Found, but Mueller opted to go the 2x route.
She pointed out that from being a member of the Shimano Gravel Alliance and traveling across the country for events, she has learned gravel riding means something different everywhere you go. Mueller does most of her riding in the Midwest near her Wisconsin home, and perhaps surprisingly, that means a lot of steep climbing.
"I like that Shimano offers the 1x option, but for the type of riding I do, I like the 2x," she said. "With the hills in the Midwest—some people don't think we have hills—I like that there's that option to get in an easy gear when I need to."
Mueller went with the Ultegra-level RX800 Di2 line of components. She ran the 4-arm RX810-2 crankset with the wide-range 48/31t chain rings and the RX815 derailleur up front.
In the back, she went with the RX817 Di2 rear derailleur designed with a clutch and an 11-32t cassette. The combo gives her a 31-32 ratio for those steep hills back home in the Driftless Area that covers Wisconsin and Illinois and on some of those climbs that added up in the middle part of the Dirty Kanza 200 route.
"I like the low gears I'll be able to use," Mueller said the day before the Dirty Kanza 200. "Looking back to Almanzo and the Barry-Roubaix and some of the local races in Wisconsin, that lower gear range would have been ideal. I think it's good for us riders who aren't pros who want to go out and get in some competitive riding and be able to have that wide range of gearing."
Another feature of the new GRX family that quickly caught Mueller's attention was the new shifters. The new shift/brake levers have a higher pivot point and redesigned ergonomics for better grip and easier braking on rough roads.
"I'm loving the new levers. When I'm in the drops I can reach the levers easily. I tend to ride in the drops a lot, especially when I'm descending," she explained.
We have seen droppers start to percolate their way into the ’cross and gravel scenes in recent years. Mueller ran a Pro Koryak alloy post with an external connection to a lever on her handlebar. The new GRX series also offers the RX810-LA left shifter for integrated dropper control with 1x systems.
"I have a dropper post which is great because I'm 6 feet tall. Most people probably think you're not getting gnarly enough on a gravel ride, but there are times it helps," Mueller explained. "I was out in California doing Rock Cobbler, and in the singletrack, I wanted my center of gravity as low as possible."
One way you can spot Mueller out on a gravel ride is her frame bag from Outer Shell. Her Half Framebag features the stock leopard print with a rose she added for some customization. "I'll be on rides and people start to recognize my frame bag now," she said with a laugh.
Mueller had a top tube and saddle bag from Pro as well.
While Mueller has a component sponsor, she does not have a tire sponsor, and so she had to do what many of us do—find one set of tires to run for the entire gravel season. She settled on 700c x 38mm Teravail Cannonballs that have a low-profile center and side knobs.
"I knew when I bought these I was going to use them for DK, and that's why I picked them," she detailed. "I did some research and some stalking of what people rode at DK last year."
Although Shimano released the RX570 carbon tubeless clincher with the GRX components, Mueller was on the RS770 carbon tubeless clinchers that were one of the company's initial gravel/cyclocross tubeless offerings. At 23mm internal, the Mueller's 38mm tires fit nicely with the rims.
Pro and Shimano parts helped fill out Mueller's contact points. A Pro Vibe alloy stem connected to a Pro Discover Medium Flare handlebar with 12 degrees of flare. The bar was wrapped in an easy-to-spot Pro wrap.
A Pro Turnix saddle with a Pro saddle bag attached to her dropper post, and her pedals were Shimano Deore XT M8000 SPDs.
For more on Mueller's bike, see the photo gallery and specs below.
For more from Emporia, see all of our coverage of the 2019 Dirty Kanza 200.