To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Nebraska’s Gravel Worlds went back even further into the past with its first-ever Vintage race. Defined as any pre-1988 bike with corresponding vintage parts, the Vintage category brought out steel bikes dating back to the 1970s.
One of the riders whose ears perked up when the call went out for vintage gravel enthusiasts was Greg Vaught of Kansas City. Vaught, originally from Michigan’s U.P., had an old Sekai Magnum S7 from the early 1980s just waiting to be ridden.
“I got it around 1984 when a friend gave it to me. She broke up with her boyfriend and kept his stuff, including his bike,” Vaught said. “I rode it maybe a couple hundred miles in 35 years.”
When it came time for Gravel Worlds, Vaught had a pretty straightforward ethos—”I’m not sure what the bike was originally intended for, but seemed like a perfect fit for gravel. In the spirit of the category, I wanted it as original as possible and still make 150 miles without anything breaking, on both me and the bike.”
He was able to squeeze some 38mm-wide Panaracer tires on the frameset to help cushion the ride, and as it turns out, the steel was really comfortable as well. “I was actually a little shocked at how compliant the steel frame was since I hadn’t been on one in a long time,” Vaught said.
On race day in and around Lincoln, Vaught had a great day. Although he was a bit skittish of hammering at the front with the pre-dawn start, Vaught had a strong ride, finishing in the Top 75 for the Men with a finishing time of 9:13 for the 150-mile course.
Vaught said he will be back in 2020 if enough old-school friends decide to join him. His advice for the steel gravel curious? “There are plenty of old bikes worthy of racing Gravel Worlds and lots of old parts looking for something to do. Just make sure it’s comfortable and the bolts are tight. That’s a long, hilly race!”
We chatted with Vaught about his Vintage Gravel Worlds win, including a look at how he set up his early 1980s Sekai Magnum S7.
Cyclocross Magazine: Where are you from and how long have you been cycling and specifically racing gravel?
Greg Vaught: I’m originally from Kingsford, MI, the U.P. … God’s Country! Then Colorado, and Kansas City since 1979. I started riding bikes around 1966, I’m guessing, age 4. Of course back then it was “Let’s see how far we can jump our bikes,” now we just go ridiculously fast on steep and sketchy gravel roads.
I started driving at 14 so I really didn’t ride again for 10-12 years until I got the Sekai. I started doing a group ride with the guys at Tri Tech Sports, one of whom was the late Joel Dyke who helped start the Dirty Kanza. While our rides were primarily road, we did venture onto gravel, cobbles and singletrack with our massive 23mm tires.
In the early 1990s we decided to do the Flint Hills Death Ride, so 8 of us, including Joel, loaded our bikes into the back of a passenger van and headed to Mattfield Green, Kansas for my first real gravel race, 80-90 miles on mountain bikes … ouch! It wasn’t until four years ago that I did my 2nd race, Cool Hand Luke, 100 miles, crazy hills, broken spoke and no rear brak. I was hooked.
CXM: Why did you decide to enter the Vintage category at Gravel Worlds?
GV: I saw a post from Corey [Godfrey] on Facebook asking if there was any interest in a Vintage category, and I, along with quite a few others, responded. The whole idea seemed a little crazy, as this race has a lot of elevation and usually deep pea gravel as well as the chunky stuff. But I had a bike I thought I could win on, so why not.
CXM: Have you ridden gravel on your throwback bike before?
GV: I rode about 200 miles on the bike, maybe 40 of it gravel, to make sure it was worthy.
CXM: What bike did you ride? What is the story behind it?
GV: The bike is a Sekai Magnum S7 from somewhere in the 1981 to 1983 range. I got it around 1984 when a friend gave it to me. She broke up with her boyfriend and kept his stuff, including his bike. I rode it maybe a couple hundred miles in 35 years. Several years ago I disassembled it, found a NOS True Temper Alpha Q CX fork and intended on cutting all the tabs off to make it a clean 1x. Most of the original parts were still in bags and boxed.
CXM: How did you set the bike up for gravel? Tires, gearing, saddle, gear, et cetera?
GV: I’m not sure what the bike was originally intended for, but seemed like a perfect fit for gravel. In the spirit of the category, I wanted it as original as possible and still make 150 miles without anything breaking, on both me and the bike.
The drivetrain is a Sugino crankset with 48/38/30t rings, Suntour Symmetric shifters and Cyclone m-II derailleurs, all original including the chain.
The cassette is a new 7-speed Shimano 11-28t for a little better gear range and shifting. I have the original Suzue/Araya rims but opted for a lighter set of old Dura-Ace/Mavic wheels and was able to squeeze some Panaracer 38mm slicks on.
The brakes are DiaCompe, with original 35-year-old pads. I replaced the Nitto stem for a longer ITM but retained the Strong seatpost. Bars are 44mm SOMA Highway One.
I wanted a leather saddle to finish the vintage look, so I went with a Selle Anatomica, which was best decision ever! I borrowed some Shimano 105 clip pedals, bought Vittoria 1976 shoes and got a new set of cleats from a friend. I found my old Zefal pump, installed a couple wire cages, my 830 Garmin and Outvi Possm and it was good to go.
CXM: Anything you would change next time?
GV: Overall the bike performed well, with the shifter loosening the only real issue. I kept a 5mm key in my pocket figuring I’d probably need it. I can think of one change for next year, I’ll leave it at that.
CXM: You had a great finishing time. Did you go into the race expecting to hammer? What were your expectations?
GV: My finish time was a little better than I expected, 45 seconds slower than last year. I anticipated having at least a few issues, but thankfully it all went pretty smoothly. I always start at or towards the front with my Move Up Off road teammates and expect to hammer pretty hard for at least a couple hours. It was a little too sketchy with the shifting, brakes and pedals to be in the mix in a before the sunrise start, so I backed off when we hit the gravel and just did my own thing. I did a little checking on my competition and knew I’d need to go at a decent pace, but I was also confident I could win it with the bike setup.
CXM: How did the bike ride? How did it handle the Nebraska gravel?
GV: Steel is Real! And really comfortable. I was actually a little shocked at how compliant the steel frame was since I hadn’t been on one in a long time. This year the course was a bit smoother with way less washboard than in the past, so that definitely helped. Nebraska gravel isn’t as chunky as Kansas gravel, and the hills are similar, so I knew my setup would be good, and it was.
CXM: What was the most challenging part of riding your steel bike at Gravel Worlds?
GV: The most challenging part of the race, and one I didn’t really anticipate, was shifting a friction downtube 3×7 on slippery and noisy gravel. Finding gears and getting it trimmed took a lot of effort and killed my momentum. After the second checkpoint, my left arm was pretty much useless for controlling the bike so I started shifting with my left hand, which was harder than it sounds.
CXM: After finishing, plans on doing it again next year?
GV: I’ll definitely do it next year if there’s enough people registered.
CXM: Advice for someone interested in either doing the Vintage category or using an old bike as a gravel bike?
GV: There are plenty of old bikes worthy of racing Gravel Worlds and lots of old parts looking for something to do. Just make sure it’s comfortable and the bolts are tight. That’s a long, hilly race!
I think some rules need to be defined as to what extent “vintage” means, but I’m confident the Gravel Worlds team will come up with something.
CXM: Anything else we should know?
GV: Gravel Worlds is just a great event, and I’m so happy to win the first wool champion’s jersey and also see my son, Nigel, on the podium for the 75-mile Privateer race. It was such an awesome day.