Loaded for Bear: Austin Sulli's Unbound XL Loadout
You’re fit and ready to take on the 350 miles of Unbound XL… but what do you need for a successful big BIG overnight gravel race? OBED elite ambassador Austin Sullivan takes us on a first-person walkthrough of his tried-and-true buildout for the upcoming Unbound XL, aboard his OBED GVR.
How does one prepare for an overnight rip on the ol’ gravel bike? A lot of people have asked me, especially as I lean into the last few weeks before my third consecutive Unbound XL. Let’s run through a couple of the main points when it comes to planning for something like Unbound XL.
The XL is usually around 350 miles, starts mid-afternoon, and has a time cut-off of 36 hours. There won’t be a ‘sleep kit’ on my bike—or really anyone else’s—except for an emergency blanket. There isn’t really a need or time for sleep, though I know people have stopped for a nap to help them recover from riding through the night.
I’ll break this down into three main groups: Bike setup, riding kit, and… "stuff". Bike and riding kit are pretty self-explanatory, but the stuff category covers all the extra things brought along that are more specific to such an endeavor.
Whether I’m riding a 100-mile gravel race in the mountains, or the 350 miles of Flint Hills at Unbound XL, not a whole lot changes on my GVR. I ride a size large model, running a Di2 2x set up in traditional gearing (48/31 x 11/34), with a Full Speed Ahead K-wing AGX bar. I’ve grown to love the carbon version due to its vibration damping and the ergonomically-shaped areas on the top and in the drops. My hands and this bar work really well together, which is important when I’m likely to be spending over 24 hours holding onto it.
Along the same vein of vibration-damping, I have a carbon eeSilk seat post holding a Pro Stealth saddle. Tires for Unbound will likely be 42c Teravail Washburns. I prefer more volume than less, and the Washburns treated me well in the 47c variety for my HuRaCaN race in February.
It’s still a toss-up for me on aerobars, and all the drama about them being against “The Spirit of Gravel” has very little to do with my waffling. Instead, I reflected on my last three races and realized there was only one race where I utilized them. Whether or not I use them will end up being a game-time decision for me. Also in the “TBD” column is some sort of fender (Ass Saver or Ass Savers Win Wing). If things look particularly soggy, there will be some sort of fender to help keep the chamois integrity at its highest level.
Moving on to my riding kit, what exactly do I wear during such a long event? From the ground up, I start with Shimano shoes. Currently, it’s a toss-up between the RX800s or XC902s. My feet swell in longer events, and the XC902s handle that better than the RX800s in the same size. Socks are between some classic Smartwool socks or some aero socks (thanks Dylan Johnson!). Bibs will remain the same as last year: Eliel cargo bib shorts. The chamois works so well for me, and I love thigh pockets (often where I hold my Dynaplug). There are two extra pockets on the lower back that I mostly used to shove extra snacks.
As always, on race day I’ll be rocking my OBED jersey. Atop that will be an Osprey Duro 1.5 hydration pack. Keeping on top of hydration is so key in any event but especially big when riding in Kansas where there is next to no shade and nearly constant wind. I’m flirting with adding some high-carb mix into the 1.5 liter bladder, as the first few hours are usually pretty fast, not allowing for easy eating while staying in the draft. Finishing up the riding kit will be some HandUp gloves; they always add some style and keep my hands happy!
What else do I bring? Let’s start with the tool kit. I’ll carry:
- Two to three Tubolito tubes.
- Two to three Co2 cartridges
- Mini pump with a one-foot strip of duct tape wrapped around it.
- Multitool w/chainbreaker.
- Dynaplug and spare tire plugs.
- Extra chain links and master link.
- Spare SPD cleat and bolts.
- A couple of zip ties.
- TBD: Extra sealant
Most of the tool kit items will be stowed away in a saddle roll, but the rest of my “stuff” will be found in my half-frame bag. Also found in the frame bag will be a rain jacket (Shakedry is a gift from the gods), sun sleeves, a battery pack to recharge my Wahoo and phone, some chamois crème, and a litany of snacks.
Ah, yes, snacks.
I try to eat as much ‘real’ food as possible, as 24 hours of gels is just not in the cards. I mix in some gels (Gu and eGel) and gummies like Honey Stinger and Skratch. Lately, I’ve been making some feed zone rice cakes, and will definitely bring some along for the first few hours.
This type of distance and its ‘self-supported’ nature means racers will be depending on gas stations for calories later in the race. While @GasStationFoodCyclist isn’t an entirely new idea, I train and practice it regularly. “Wait….eating a zebra cake & drinking Mexican coke while sweating through your kit is training for Unbound?” My answer is YES. I wholeheartedly recommend training with the same conditions you’ll be racing in. So, in addition to heat acclimatization, I also put an emphasis on eating gas station food. Combos and Swedish Fish have been a go-to favorite of mine!
I hope this little run-down gives you a little insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ of a long-distance gravel race. It is certainly not all-encompassing (nothing ever is when you’re racing an event through the night), but these are the heavy-hitting things that I’ve learned for myself in these types of events. Remember to do what’s comfortable on race day, whether that’s what kit to wear, aerobars or
Remember to do what’s comfortable on race day, whether that’s what kit to wear, aerobars or no aerobars, or what kind of comedic comment you toss towards the Vegan Cyclist (Tyler Pearce) while he has a GoPro hanging out his mouth.See you in Emporia!