It’s hard to mention gravel riding without thinking of the Queen of Pain, Rebecca Rusch. She’s a two-time winner of Dirty Kanza, and on top of that, she won the inaugural Dirty Kanza XL race, which runs 350 miles across some of the toughest gravel in Kansas.
Oh, and she also won an Emmy that one time. No big deal.
Despite all that, Rusch’s race, Rebecca’s Private Idaho, is all about discovery. She wants you to come up and discover the charms of her home town, and adventure out into the wilderness to find a little bit of beauty — and a lot of shreddable singletrack. “I want people to have an adventurous experience,” she says. “When I found the course and went exploring, I lived in Idaho fifteen years and I’d never been in these areas. The whole idea is to show people what’s out there to see what’s possible on a bike.”
To tackle the RPI course, Rusch recommends learning a thing or two from mountain bikers. “It’s quite remote,” she says of the course. “My background is in mountain bikes, so I try to throw in as much spice as I can and trend it toward the MTB side. It’s definitely mostly on gravel roads but I do throw in some extra technical stuff, especially if you’re doing the queen stage race. The first stage is singletrack. If you’re doing the 100 mile Baked Potato, I put in a 5-mile section that is quite technical that some people love, some people hate.”
That means you’ll have to choose your gear carefully. You’ll want to go fast, but you’ll also need plenty of grip for the rowdier sections of the course. “I definitely advise people, minimum 38mm tires,” Rusch says. “I tend to go 45 mm or 50mm because the roads are quite chunky. I run a Maxxis Rambler tire and that’s been really good for me. I run about 26, 28psi. There’s this fallacy especially with road racing that less air is slower. That’s just not true. If you have more control, you’re faster. If you’re feeling confident and taking the corners on uneven surfaces…most people I find are running too much pressure in their tires. It’s good to get out and experiment and let a bunch of air out and try the same corner over and over and see how you feel.”
Rusch also runs a SRAM eTap AXS drivetrain, though it’s a mixed bag between road and mountain bike components. SRAM affectionately calls such a setup the Mullet, and Rusch recommends it. “It trends toward mountain biking with the Eagle cassette on the back that goes up to 50 tooth. There is one really big climb at the beginning of the event. You go to altitude, it has snowed before in the beginning of the race. There’s cattle that you have to stop for, that’s rush hour in Idaho. I have a 46-tooth ring on the front right now, but will probably run a 44 or 42 for my race.”
Perhaps most importantly, Rusch recommends preparing yourself for the unexpected. While there is some support, you’re likely to be on your own for long stretches. “We have rest stops every 15 miles, so you can really do it with two to three water bottles and a few GUs in your pocket and hop aid station to aid station. You should not leave the starting line without flat changing stuff. Being able to change a flat and take care of minor mechanicals is super important. And I never ride in Idaho no matter what time of year without a light rain jacket. The temperatures can fluctuate from 40 degrees up to 75. That’s the range we’ve had that time of year. I really encourage people to be prepared.”