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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Bigger Than Big Events

In 2014, I attended the National Camp, where I was astonished to learn that almost none of the long time, dedicated cyclists had heard of gravel grinders. So, I wrote "Gravel 101," an introduction to gravel grinders that was published by and later posted on the Black Hills BackBone blog. Gravel Grinder 101.

Gravel roads beckon from Wind Cave National Park.

Now in 2020, gravel riding, training, and racing is front and center on the American cycling scene. The big bike corporations market "gravel" bikes, tires, components, equipment, gear, clothing, and even shoes. The big cycling media publicize favored events, professional and celebrity cyclists, coaching programs and training camps, and, of course, all those products to be purchased. The big governing bodies desperately maneuver to grab control over, and money from, this scene.

As a result, many more cyclists are now learning about gravel grinding. And all that corporate hype could easily lead one to conclude that gravel is all about the fastest racers, the lightest race bike and the most prestigious races. That is, gravel grinding could appear to the newcomer as yesterday's road racing scene simply transplanted to gravel roads.

Some races are. In fact, many of the new, sanctioned events, and even some of the older, well-known gravel events, are merely conventional road races that happen to travel some gravel, with professional racers, team tactics, expanding levels of support, little to no self-navigation, substantial entry fees, national media coverage, limited and selected entries, points-based categories to segregate cyclists, and more enforcement of more rules due to racers cheating. If you enjoy the experience of a USCA sanctioned bicycle race, you certainly can find that on gravel today.

Lucas Haan offers encouragement to riders at the 2018 Black Hills Gravel Series - Hill City.
This is grass roots gravel, with short, medium and long routes that are unmarked and unsupported.
Something for everyone. Oh, and a post-race gathering spot for everyone.

But big corporate events are just the loudest development on the gravel scene. There is much more. There has always been much more. The energy creating and driving the gravel scene emanates from throngs of regular folks gathering to ride together at local, grass roots rides. Such rides create and nurture an inclusive, social atmosphere that attracts folks from so many different levels of experience, ability and ambition. That will be difficult for sanctioned corporate racing to emulate.

For information on local events and informal rides in your area, look on social media or ask at your local bike shop. There's almost certainly something happening in your neighborhood. If not, it's very easy to start something. For regional, national and international gravel events of all kinds, take a look at the events page at

Here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, individuals and bike shops post on a FaceBook group called "Black Hills Drop Bar Dirt, Gravel and Cyclocross Riders" and another called "Black Hills Bike Events." There's even a FaceBook group "Black Hills Gravel" with a summer-long series of free group rides each offering 10, 25 and 50 mile routes. Black Hills Gravel.

Venturing into the gravel event community added an unexpected bonus. I discovered that I could ride an almost unlimited number and variety of lightly traveled, remote, rough roads year around, even out here in the wilds of western South Dakota. From then on, everything about my riding changed. A Journey To Gravel Races - A Revelation.

I'll be out there somewhere. Hope to see you out there, too.

"Maverick, you'll get your RIO when you get to the ship. If you don't, give me a call. I'll fly with you."  Viper, Top Gun (1986).

Let's go!

For my take of the gravel scene in 2014, go to Gravel Grinder 101.

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