Although gravel attracts riders from across disciplines, to race gravel all the time requires learning the nuances of equipment, tactics, nutrition and other things. When Mat Stephens (Panaracer / Factor p/b Bicycle X-Change) made the switch from being a road pro to a dedicated gravel rider, he had some good mentors to get him up to speed.
Stephens' teammates include, among others, former Dirty Kanza 200 winner Mike Marchand and team director Bob Cummings, who has lived on gravel roads for years.
"Being on Panaracer, I had the OG guys on my team, so I didn't have to go through the learning curve," Stephens said. "I was able to glean information from them, and they would tell me how things would go down and what to expect when I was going into my first DK."
While talking about Marchand, he related a story about how the 2009 DK200 winner helps give him a good perspective on "modern" gravel racing.
"I saw an old picture of his, and he had the skinny tires, top tube pump, short shorts, you look back and you're like, 'Okay, I have this badass equipment and tubeless tires and everything else and I'm going to go do this course, but these guys did it on rougher equipment, no problem.'"
Stephens' "badass equipment" for the 2019 Dirty Kanza 200 included his new Factor Vista gravel bike the team is riding this season. I checked out Stephens' bike on the Friday afternoon before the Dirty Kanza for this DK200 bike profile.
Mat Stephens' DK200 Factor Vista Gravel Bike
The Panaracer gravel team founded by Cummings is the largest national gravel-focused team in the U.S., so having the team on your bikes can be good for the brand. That is, if you can meet Cummings' high standards. Last year, the team was on the 3T Exploro Flatmount, and this year, it made the switch to the Factor Vista all-road-style bike.
Factor was founded in England in 2007 with a focus on auto racing and then produced its first bike in 2009. After riding Factor's road bike, former Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke decided to partner with Rob Gitelis and purchase the company. Factor's U.S. headquarters are now located in Lincoln, Nebraska, while the company builds its bikes in a factory it owns in Taiwan.
The Factor Vista is the all-road bike in the company's stable of lightweight carbon road bikes. A 54cm frame has a head tube angle of 72.4 degrees, bottom bracket drop of 7.5cm, trail of 6cm and short 41.8cm chainstays. The seatstays are dropped for claimed additional compliance.
We usually cover the cockpit last in these profiles, but in the case of the Vista and Stephens' team, what's up front is a good story, up front.
The Vista uses an integrated stem and handlebar that pairs with an elongated head tube—the head tube design is unique, with a split and pivot that allows the front to rotate with the bar—and the team bikes originally came with the OTIS-AR barstem that features flat tops and slightly flared drops.
Sounds fast, right? There was a problem though. The Panaracer / Factory p/b Bicycle X-Change riders are huge proponents of running aero bars for gravel racing, and the team's clip-ons did not fit. The company went back to the proverbial drawing board.
"Factor made a new bar so we could attach clip-ons. Size, width, one-piece handlebar, it took a little time to get it right, but it really rides great," Stephens said. "We remembered what it's like to not have aero bars at a few races this year, and once you get back on them and go really fast, it's a lot more fun."
Stephens attached 3T Clip On Pro aero bars to the newly designed handlebar.
Factor builds the Vista with its carbon AR seatpost. The company designed the 20mm-setback post with a flat back to provide more compliance than a traditional round one. Stephens attached a Fabric Scoop Team Pro saddle to the post.
The Vista frame features the above-mentioned short chainstays and dropped seatstays, yielding a maximum claimed tire clearance of 700c x 35mm. The total space available is 44mm, so in theory, riders can squeeze a tire that measures 38mm with 3mm of clearance on either side.
Tire choice was a big topic of conversation at the team tent on Friday. With the heavy rains that hit the area the week before the Dirty Kanza, team riders were concerned about having enough clearance if the roads were muddy in spots.
Stephens and the other team riders opted for 700c x 35mm Panaracer GravelKing SKs in the blue colorway with some extra sidewall protection.
"These are the Pluses, so they have a heavier-duty casing.," Stephens explained. "With the flint out here, really sharp rocks, the extra casing should come in handy. We've run other tires out here in the past, and you know, I got a flat out here last year. Same tire, bigger tire but a more supple casing. This year I decided to go with a tougher casing."
Stephens reported suffering three flats in Saturday's race, the first near the rough stretch of E Kaw Reserve Road around Mile 25 that also claimed Taylor Phinney (EF Education First) and Kiel Reijnen (Trek - Segafredo), among many others. Stephens eventually bounced back to finish 15th.
Factor has partnered with Black Inc. to provide wheels for the Vista, and Stephens had the Thirty carbon tubeless clinchers on his bike. The wheels have a 21mm internal width, a spec chosen based on the bike's intended use with 30-35mm wide tires.
Stephens ran an 11-speed SRAM Red eTap drivetrain (we saw Peter Stetina run the new Red eTap AXS grupo). He ran a Red DZero crankset with Quarq power meter with 50/34 X-GlideR chain rings in the front and an 11-32t cassette in the rear with the Red eTap rear derailleur. Speaking of preparation, Stephens was charging the battery when I saw the bike on Friday.
With CeramicSpeed as a team sponsor, Stephens had an oversized OSPW cage and pulley wheels installed.
He also had a fresh coated UFO chain he was saving just for the Dirty Kanza. Leading up to the race, Stephens had been topping up his chain with CeramicSpeed's UFO Drip lubricant.
One last bit of customization Stephens was planning on using in Saturday's race was a bovinely inspired Arundel-branded Ass Savers mudguard.
"Cow poop. Gotta keep the poop out of your pockets," Stephens said. "I love Arundel's products. They're a local company to Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. I want to support them, and there's no disadvantage in running the Ass Saver."
Stephens' ran Shimano XTR M9000 SPD pedals. To complete his rig for the 202-mile race, Stephens carried gear with a Dark Speed Works Speedpack 480 top tube bag, attached two water bottle cages and taped a spare tube under his top tube.
For a closer look at Stephens' Factor Vista, see the photo gallery and specs below.
For more from Emporia, see all of our coverage of the 2019 Dirty Kanza 200.