02 June 2021
Amanda "Panda" Nauman breaks down the gear she'll use and how she'll carry everything at UNBOUND XL
Fireflies. When thinking of UNBOUND Gravel, most of us envision the rolling gravel hills and wide-open prairie lands surrounding Emporia, Kansas. For two-time UNBOUND 200 champ Amanda "Panda" Nauman, she imagines fireflies. That's because Nauman will set out on a new adventure this year, testing her endurance, strength, and nighttime riding skills in the epic 357-mile UNBOUND XL race.
Starting Friday afternoon, UNBOUND XL racers will head out in the heat of the day and continue through the evening and into the night. Experiencing the Flint Hills at night and watching the sunrise on Saturday morning is one of the highlights of XL. Most racers will have a full day of riding ahead of them on Saturday, and many will see the prairie night once again as they finish up the final miles late on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Not only will UNBOUND XL deliver a new set of endurance challenges for Nauman, but the unsupported nature of the race offers a whole new experience and requires a fresh take on planning and preparation for the race. "I’ve enjoyed piecing together this puzzle that is XL,” Nauman explains. “It’s been so different from the support-crew-oriented 200-mile race. I can’t just throw the kitchen sink into a duffle bag for each checkpoint and go to bed with peace of mind that I can mitigate almost every risk.”
The self-sufficiency required for UNBOUND XL adds an extra layer of complexity that Nauman admits scared here in the beginning. But she has come to embrace the unknown. “Instead of covering my bases for every potential risk, I’m hoping I have enough to mitigate most of the risks (enough to finish) and see some fireflies.”
With that mindset, Nauman’s been hard at work these past few months, testing gear and planning how to carry everything she might need during her foray on the XL. "The PRO Discover Team Top Tube Bag and the PRO Discover Small Frame Bag will be the main staples on my bike," she explains. "Both of these bags have waterproof construction and will therefore house any electronics that need to stay dry like an extra battery bank.” And if the forecast calls for wet weather, Nauman will also use the PRO Discover Team Seatpost Bag for stashing rain gear and extra equipment. “The seatpost bag has ample room for extra clothes, and the fact that it's fully waterproof will allow me to throw anything in there that needs to stay dry."
Deciding on what and how to carry everything needed for a 20+ hour solo adventure in the Flint Hills came down to a lot of trial and error. Nauman spent time on the gravel roads around Mammoth Lake – a favorite training ground for the Panda – testing bags and working through her different systems. “The straps worked great and surprisingly feel more reliable than a bolt-on bag that could potentially rattle loose,” she said. “One thing I did discover is that one of my lights powered on while in my bag from the bouncing around. That was a learning lesson to keep the buttons clear when packing or turn on the locking feature.”
Back at home in Orange County, Nauman took testing a step further, sending the bike and bags down a rowdy singletrack downhill to see how it all would withstand the jostling. “Everything has passed my bumpy tests so far!”
With some essential decisions about how and what to carry in her bike bags finalized, Nauman moved on to other important gear choices, including hydration, lights, gearing, tires, and the ever-popular question about aerobars. As a pint-sized rider, Nauman's bike frame is very small, and it's tough to get two bottles in and out of the cages while using her bag setup. Instead of wresting with bottles on bumpy terrain, she'll use the Endurance Pack 3.0 from Orange Mud for the majority of her hydration and carry one water bottle on the frame. The other cage will hold the PRO Storage Bottle to hold tools and a flat repair kit, which she hopefully won't need to access regularly throughout the race.
Knowing she’d be riding a significant portion of UNBOUND XL at night, Nauman selected the Exposure Lights Race MK15 for her handlebar light and the Exposure Lights Axis MK7 for her helmet-mounted light. “Preparing for bikepacking rides in the Eastern Sierras led me to this setup,” she explains. “After a couple rides with solely a handlebar light guiding me, I learned how necessary it can be to light up where your eyes are pointed as well.”
While UNBOUND XL offers more miles, more elevation gain, and more long hours on the bike, Nauman is sticking to her trusted Shimano GRX gravel drivetrain setup and gear selection. She'll be running the 46/36t chainring combination paired with an 11-34t cassette.
The 2021 UNBOUND XL race takes riders on a new course that has been billed as more rugged and more technical than any other UNBOUND course from previous years. While there’s no way to totally avoid the bumps and jarring effects of the terrain, Nauman is focusing on comfort where she can. Tires are a great place to start, and she’ll bring two sets of René Herse tires with Endurance Plus casings and make a game-day decision on which set to use. If it looks dry with very little chance of rain, she'll run the 48mm Oracle Ridge tires, but if there’s even the slightest chance of rain, she’ll drop down to the 42mm Hurricane Ridge tires for extra mud clearance.
Finally, the question every UNBOUND pro racer gets asked, what about those aerobars?
“I am using aerobars for the first time [in gravel racing]!" Nauman shares. "I decided to use them because of the distance and length of time on the bike. I can get away with 200 miles with standard hand positioning, but in the past couple races, my wrists would be in a lot of pain by the end." Nauman comes from a collegiate swimming and triathlon background, so she admits the aero position feels like coming home. "My gigantic swimmer shoulders will need all the help they can get to escape the wind anyway, so it's been a fun, fast experiment.” She’ll be riding with the PRO Missile Ski-Bend Clip-on bars. “We wrapped the aero bars in camo tape to hide them," she joked. "Kidding!”
Jokes aside, Nauman has zeroed in on UNBOUND XL and is ready to tackle the new challenges that this self-supported race offers. She’ll set out with the other 150 XL racers on Friday afternoon, cheered on by the buzzing gravel community in Emporia to test her mettle out in the remote corners of the Flint Hills. She'll have ups and downs just as the terrain seems to endlessly undulate, but with all the prep work and training that's gone into this race, she's ready to see what she can do, and maybe, if she’s lucky, spot a few fireflies along the way.
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