Close your eyes and imagine standing at the starting line, the air charged with energy and determination. Your heart pounds as you grip the handlebars of your gravel bike, ready to embark on an extraordinary journey. Welcome to Unbound XL, where ordinary riders become heroes, pushing their limits and conquering the unknown.

In this video, Tyler breakdowns the 2023 Unbound XL gravel race. It’s a 350 mile, fully self supported race through the flint hills of Kansas. He walks you through his bike set up, the course, the racing, and obviously the controversy around the mud.

This is his fourth time at Unbound, two attempts at the 200, and the second attempt at the XL. Last year he got 15th in the XL, but this year the goal was top three.

I gave it my everything to podium

"I literally left it all out there"


Unbound XL: Embracing Grit and Glory - Tyler "The Vegan Cyclist" Pearce's Journey

The Bike: A Perfect Choice

Choosing the right bike is crucial for any race, and for Unbound XL, my weapon of choice was the Canyon Grizzle with a suspension fork. Equipped with a 46 oval front chainring, 11-52 rear cassette, and SLF motion pulleys, my drivetrain was optimized for performance. The KDX 35 ARS wheels with double cross 38s from IRC provided excellent traction, and the 30mm suspension fork ensured a smoother ride. Although the race course was filled with surprises, my bike's suspension fork proved to be a game-changer.

Conquering the Course

Unbound XL covers a challenging 350-mile course that demands self-sufficiency from participants. With fuel stations only available every 75 miles, strategizing and planning for fuel and supplies becomes critical. The racecourse presents varying terrain and conditions, including muddy sections that became a hot topic of discussion. The muddy trails posed a unique challenge, testing bike setups, tire choices, and riders' skills. As the race progressed, it became evident that the amount of mud far exceeded expectations, leading to unforeseen difficulties.

A Goal Set and Risks Taken

Before the race, I set my sights on a top-three finish, firmly believing in my training and preparation. I had meticulously planned my training program, pushing my limits to achieve peak performance. Hydration, nutrition, and bike setup were meticulously tested and fine-tuned. I trained extensively, ensuring I could go for long hours without stopping at rest stops. While finishing the race was a significant accomplishment, my goal was to reach the podium, which required taking calculated risks.

Battling with the Heavy Hitters

Unbound XL attracted some of the most talented gravel racers in the world. Former World Tour professionals and renowned cyclists joined the race, making it highly competitive. The race was stacked with strong contenders, including past winners and renowned athletes. To secure a top-three position, I had to push myself to the limits, matching the blistering pace set by the frontrunners. Riding alongside these exceptional athletes was a surreal experience, further fueling my determination to succeed.

The Nighttime Challenge

Nighttime added a whole new dimension to the race. With limited visibility, relying on bike lights became crucial. Unfortunately, my lights failed, leaving me in complete darkness. Navigating at high speeds in pitch-black conditions heightened the adrenaline rush. Despite the challenges, I managed to find a fellow racer with functioning lights, allowing me to press on. The night section added an element of thrill and adventure, testing both mental and physical fortitude.

The Unforeseen Mud Boss

One of the most talked-about aspects of Unbound XL was the extensive mud sections. The race had witnessed significant rainfall, resulting in treacherous and muddy trails. For some, the mud proved to be insurmountable, causing delays and mechanical issues. However, having chosen a bike with ample clearance, I was able to navigate through the muddy terrain with relative ease. The mud sections became a battleground, where riders' skills and bike setups were put to the ultimate test.

Mechanical Woes and a DNF Decision

Unfortunately, the challenges didn't end with the mud. Mechanical issues plagued my race, pushing my resilience to the brink. A broken derailleur hanger threatened to end my race prematurely. Determined to continue, I improvised a temporary fix, although far from perfect. However, as the miles accumulated and exhaustion set in, it became apparent that my goals were slipping out of reach. The risk of pushing further and risking long-term damage to my body weighed heavily on my mind. With a heavy heart, I made the difficult decision to withdraw from the race, marking a "Did Not Finish" (DNF) beside my name.

Conclusion: Lessons Learned

Participating in Unbound XL was an unforgettable experience, filled with triumphs and disappointments. While I may not have achieved my desired podium finish, the race taught me invaluable lessons. I learned the importance of adaptability, the need to expect the unexpected, and the significance of listening to my body. Unbound XL pushed me beyond my limits, revealing both strengths and weaknesses. It highlighted the camaraderie among racers and the resilience needed to take on such monumental challenges. As I reflect on the race, I'm reminded that sometimes, the most significant victories come not from reaching the podium, but from the journey itself.

As Tyler tells it, he’s an “average Joe” bike racer and a coincidental vegan who just happens to love making videos. This humble narrative belies his phenomenal success as a content creator and engaging storyteller. As “The Vegan Cyclist,”Tyler has developed one of the top cycling-based social media channels with 120,000 Subscribers on YouTube and 63,000 Followers on Instagram. He chronicles daily life, shares vegan recipes and cooking tips, brings viewers along for his boundless cycling adventures, and inspires others to ride.