Ward Griffiths & The DK200

Ward Griffiths & The DK200

Ward Griffiths, head of our Fit Studio, is off to compete in the 2017 Dirty Kanza 200, billed as the “World’s premier gravel grinder”. The DK200 website describes the event as “a solo, self-supported, non-stop, 200-mile-long bicycling endurance challenge on the gravel and dirt roads of the Flint Hills region in east-central Kansas.” The event is known for rugged course, remote areas with up to 80 miles between checkpoints, and wild mood swings of an already temperamental Midwest weather. For all the record-setting Portland winter days she ventured out to train Ward just may find that whatever The DK200 throws at her on Saturday June 3rd is just another day in the saddle. Matt Karre, in his final interview for this series, reveals the uncommon character of the humble, reserved personality with a power to the pedals only overshadowed by an appetite for Pop-Tarts.

If there were going to be an anniversary party for your time at RCB, how many years would we be celebrating?

17 years! This whole century! That’s crazy…

What was the last year where you weren’t working in the bike biz? What were you doing?

1989. I was working in a book store in Northampton, Massachusetts until June of that year, then I embarked on a 5-month bike tour all over the U.S. and Canada and ended up relocating to Seattle. I started working in a bike shop in January 1990 to pay rent while I decided what to do with my life…

You are the head bicycle fitter for RCB and have been for quite some time. What drew you to this aspect of the business? Do you have a personal philosophy for bike fitting?

I spent the ’90’s racing road bikes in addition to working in a bike shop, so I had a lot of opportunity to observe pedal strokes and riding styles in the peloton. Riders who looked comfortable and weren’t struggling with their bikes performed better. The biomechanics of it all was intriguing to me.

As far as fit philosophy goes, I think the client is best served when the fitter approaches each fit with their knowledge base and experience but also with an open mind. What works for one rider doesn’t necessarily work for another. Strong communication and observation skills are important and I enjoy having to think outside the box sometimes. And it’s really gratifying to be able to improve someone’s riding experience.

You are also an accomplished musician, and we’ll grant you that title even though you’re a percussionist. Does your pursuit of and passion for music cross over with the cycling world at all? Does one influence the other, aside from always having a song in your head while riding? Does penchant for percussion and your situation with syncopation affect your riding style? Your cadence?

I’m more a drummer than percussionist, but thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. Actually, playing music and riding a bike have a lot in common– when you’re relaxed and comfortable, your focus improves and you perform better. Plus I appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of well made instruments and bicycles.

Yes, I do usually have a song in my head although it’s often not one that I want. There is a huge catalog of ’70’s Top 40 earworms that plague me constantly. (I think you kids refer to that genre as “Oldies”) Right now I’ve got “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks going round and round. Please make it stop. Please.

I can always conjure up a funky groove to chug along with when I’m riding but it’s only occasionally related to my cadence.

And now for something completely different. Three part question: If you had the choice of riding with any person, living or dead, who would it be (and you don’t have to say it’s me) and where would you go? If there was a bike that your dog Rex could ride, would you let him ride? Would you rather go for a ride with Rex or with the famous person?

Ooooh. That’s a tough one. It would have to be someone who has an adventurous spirit, can keep a good sense of humor when things don’t go “according to plan”, and brings good snacks to share. (There are several folks at RCB who fit the bill.) Where to go? We are really fortunate that there is so much great riding right here in the Pacific Northwest. I did a really cool two-day trip in Northeast Oregon a few years ago that went deep into some abandoned/decommissioned roads and I’d love to explore that region further. My other favorite place is New Hampshire. The unpaved roads that wind through the woods are more dirt than gravel and there are remnants of centuries-old stone walls and little family graveyards along each one. Every ride comes with a history lesson.

I would definitely encourage Rex to ride and I’m sure I’d get him a nicer bike than I’d buy for myself. He’d have fun on a fatbike. He’s already the best hiking companion so I think I’d prefer his company cycling, too. We both really appreciate just being outside and exploring, and we both get super excited when we see cool animals like elk (although I don’t howl quite as loud).You’ve had a huge influence on my riding career over the last decade, our Wednesday rides from years back are some of my fondest riding memories. You’ve also had a big influence on roads and routes Portlanders now ride regularly; your exploration is important. What drove you to finding the routes you did? Seeking out gravel roads WAY before it was en vogue and WAY WAY before there were bikes dedicated to such riding. Talk about that a bit.

I bought a Kona Jake the Snake ‘cross bike back in 1999 right after I finished breast cancer treatment, I was feeling pretty wrecked and had zero energy. I needed a bike with lower gears if I was going to be able to ride at all. I couldn’t do the long hard road rides I used to do with my friends and it was depressing to even look at my road bike. So I started doing short solo rides exploring all the parks in Seattle near my house and found it super fun and challenging with the benefit of no pressure to ride hard or fast. It opened up a whole new world and made me appreciate the experience of cycling in the moment without a set goal as an overall.
When I moved to Portland six months later I discovered Forest Park, then Washington County, and then beyond. It’s always been really fun to find obscure roads and “Secret Squirrel” connectors off of the usual paved routes that we all ride so often.

“Chances are good, that secret gravel route you think you found last year, she did 10 or 12 years ago solo with paper maps, 23mm tires and 9 speed Dura Ace.” -Matt Karre

On that note, you’ve registered for the Dirty Kanza 200. Aside from riding more what additional preparations are you taking? Do you have your bike selected?My current thought is: I can’t believe that the first time I actually want to “train” for an event in this century, we have a winter like this. I spent more time on rollers in one month than I have in the last four years combined. However, it is what it is. Aside from just riding a lot, I am going to focus on increasing my power so I can make it through the infamous and ubiquitous Kansas headwinds. By all accounts, they are brutal. So I’ll need to ride with a bit more focus this spring instead of just noodling along for hours like I’m used to doing. I guess that means incorporating some (gulp) interval training. Figuring out my nutrition and hydration needs for that long an event (200 miles) is going to be a challenge, too, especially since the temperature can hit the mid 90’s or higher on race day. I may drive out east of the Cascades a few times in May to ride in the heat and try to acclimate as much as I can. You’re welcome to join me.

I’ll be riding my good ‘ol 2006 Specialized ‘cross bike in Dirty Kanza. I’ve logged thousands of miles on it and it’s been a good friend. The only question is what tires to run.

GPS device or paper maps?


Which do you have: disc brakes or rim brakes?

Rim brakes.

Which do you want: disc brakes or rim brakes?

Disc brakes (but only if I could have three nice wheel sets to go with ’em).

Solo ride or group ride?

90% solo; 10% small group for the laughs (and to hear someone ask me, “Where the hell are we, anyway?”)

Double bass pedal or emphasized hi hat? 

Hi hat and left foot clavé

4/4 time or 6/8? 6/4.

Hand held dogs or dogs at least half your body weight?

The bigger the better.

Corn dogs or Jojo’s?

Jojo’s (although a corn dog once saved my life on a cold, rainy ride to Multnomah Falls. I’m only admitting this because there were witnesses.)

Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts or Frosted Strawberry?

Brown Sugar Cinnamon. (Is there any other flavor?)

Captain Stubing or Captain Kirk?

Both were positive role models during my childhood. But “The Love Boat” was the weekly TV highlight so I’d have to say Captain Stubing.

Kevlar lined or gumwall sidewalls? Both?

Gumwall sidewalls till they’re ridden in the rain a few times and lose their luster.

Favorite generation of Shimano DuraAce?

You already know the answer to this one. 9-speed 7700. So reliable and oh so pretty.

You always drink water with some kind of mix added to it, never straight up. Why?

True. Water just tastes so …watery.

When asked how he felt about Ward’s race day experience, Matt said, “She’ll easily finish it with profound style, faster than she expects.”We’ll follow up with Part II after her triumphant return from the 2017 Dirty Kanza 200. Hopefully she’ll reveal her tire choice by then…