The most badass bike races to plan your year around

Cycling has exploded in popularity recently, which is great for everyone, whether you are looking for your first two-wheeler or have a basement bike shop set up. More people cycling means more technological advancements, better bikes at lower prices and bicycle companies scrambling to innovate and come out with the latest greatest thing while remaining competitively priced in the market. The skyrocketing popularity of cycling has also led to more and more cyclists who are looking to push the envelope on hardcore endurance cycling events, with bikes that are custom tailored to that discipline. For each of these races, we'll take a look at how much of your ass it is going to kick, how many directions it is going to kick it in, and some of the training, disciplines and equipment you can invest in to take some of the sting out and hopefully drag your thoroughly kicked, but happy, ass across the finish line.

Leadville 100
The famous, or infamous for many, "Race Across the Sky" is the grand daddy of single day mountain bike races in the U.S. It has grown so popular that they now employ multiple sign-up systems, including a lottery and a qualifying series, to give as many racers a chance to get in as possible. This is not just a day of technical single track, nor is it an all out cross country sprint. It's both. A friend of mine got in years ago, and in his words "...think I would have finished if I hadn't dislocated my shoulder." FYI, he didn't crash. He dislocated his shoulder while still on the bike due to the rocky terrain and a mistimed ride over a large rock/small boulder. With this in mind, you're going to want to look at a plush ride. If a race like this is on your radar, it may be time to step up to the big leagues, and big bucks, with a full suspension mid-fat, like the 27.5+ Santa Cruz Tallboy, or even full-fat and full suspension like the Salsa Buck Saw. Both give you the suspension you will need to keep your taint and your shoulders intact, and the wide and super wide tires add bump compliance and the grip of a mountain goat. Now you'll just need to train your ass off for the lungs of a mountain goat, and you should be fine. Never mind, you won't be fine, but at least you'll have a chance to finish in one piece.

24 Hours of Cumming
Go ahead and get your giggles out of the way, ya damn twelve year old. Now let's get down to business. The 24 Hours of Cumming is one of, if not the hardest, gravel endurance rides on the planet. There are a bunch of different distances and options for riding in pairs, teams, etc. However, the truly baddest ass riders will elect to ride the entire 248 mile route solo. That's right, 24 hours to ride 248 miles, including over 15,000 feet of elevation gain. That is some serious shit, no matter how cool you think you, your gear, or your competitive spirit are. To put it in perspective, that's basically the same as riding your bike across the entire state of Missouri, from Kansas City to St. Louis, on gravel roads, while climbing as much as if you were riding up Pike's Peak. To make a ride like this, you're going to have to train a lot, but also focus on your gear. It doesn't get much better for all day comfort than a Brooks Cambium saddle. It's basically a hammock for your ass, but your undercarriage will be grateful for the suspended, frameless design after bouncing over gravel all damn day. And yes, the name of the race is still funny.

Dirty Kanza 200
While a twenty four hour race is about pacing, consistency and comfort, the DK is about speed. Racers try to knock out 200 miles in as little time as possible, and the big dogs are absolutely flying. Three years ago I did the 100 mile version of the race (they call it the Half Pint, as if 100 miles is easy or something) in a little over 10 hours and the winners of the full DK200 finished less than an hour after me. Granted, I'm not fast. I can spell "fast" but that's about as close as it comes to making it into my cycling game. The DK200 is a 200 mile sprint through the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas and the winners are typically riding as light and streamlined as possible while averaging over twenty miles an hour. Speaking of light, it will be dark when you hit the starting line in downtown Emporia to get started, and unless you are a beast, you're going to need a beastly headlight like the Cycle Beam 700 to light your way for a hopefully short amount of your finish in the dark. The DK200 also has a prestigious group of riders who are "racing the sun." Anyone who is able to complete the entire 200 mile course before sunset is officially recognized on the Race the Sun list. There may only be one winner, but anyone can race the sun and gain major street cred on the gravel roads of the Flint Hills.

The Tour Divide Race
The Tour Divide is the king of U.S.(2745 miles) endurance racing. It technically starts in Canada, but we're not keeping that close of an eye on those kind of things. First of all, despite the distance, you are not going to be riding a light, lean, streamlined gravel or touring bike. Rather, you are going to need a burly, full suspension (unless you are extra crazy), and reliable rig as well as an almost completely self sustained gear setup. You're also going to need to pack smart, pack a lot and pack using bags that can take all the abuse that happens through thousands of miles, snow and rain, heat and sun and damn near anything you can imagine happening to a bike and its bags. That is why it is 100% worth the cost of some custom frame bags from Andrew The Maker Handmade Goods. ATM's bags are custom made down to the types of frame attachment and have been used in some of the harshest environments you can throw at a bag. The Tour Divide is going to throw everything that Mother Nature has to offer at you, so at least protect your shit.

Drew has competed in races on dirt, gravel, single track and just about any other type of terrain you can think of and he is constantly looking for new and exciting challenges on the bike and the gear to help him get through them. Whether it is endurance mtb racing, gravel centuries, or some weird kind of hybrid that hasn't even been thought up yet, he will gladly throw a leg over the saddle and add it to the list.