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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Gravel Freedom

Riding a bicycle on remote gravel roads is freedom. Freedom from fast, heavy, annoyed traffic. Freedom from distracted drivers. Freedom from convention. Freedom from "The Rules." Freedom to challenge, not merely compete. Freedom to just ride. Just Enjoy the Show.

Riding a bicycle in a gravel race also is freedom. Foremost for me is the freedom to choose amongst a veritable smorgasbord of experiences. That also means freedom to choose not to support events, as well.

Freedom to just ride.

The wonderful variety of gravel events results from race directors themselves having freedom to put together races their way, with relatively few barriers to entry and without a template mandated by others. More specifically, gravel race directors have not been confined by the dictates of a centralized governing body or by the "Shalt Haves" and "Shalt Nots" of elitists posing as self-annointed arbiters of all things gravel. Even with today's groupthink push to conform and accommodate, race directors still can create an event of their own design, implement and adapt their own rules to guide the event toward that vision, and live with the consequences of their decisions. Riders then choose to ride, or not. That's freedom.

Having options between many, very different types of experiences is a great thing. Out here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a local rider named Lucas Haan dreamt up a crazy cool series of gravel races, each with a unique course and an unexpected twist. How about a rock infested, quad busting mile and a half spur up to an abandoned look out tower near the end of a fifty mile, 5,000 foot elevation gain gravel/dirt road race? Who does that? A Six Course Feast. Such gems are possible when race directors are free to create their own events.

With so many choices, preferences develop. Like everyone else, I certainly have my preferences and naturally are drawn to them. Almost three years ago, I even described aspects of gravel events that I liked best. Components of a Special Gravel Race. Whatever your preferences, however, it's one thing to turn toward your "likes" and away from your "dislikes." It's quite another thing to work to impose your preferences on another, or worse, on everyone. That's the essence of elitism. Try this instead. If an event doesn't suit you, leave that event to those who enjoy it and move to something else.

Here's a confession I'm reluctant to express as it may be misconstrued. Dirty Kanza is not for me, even though it's a highly publicized, influential and popular part of the gravel scene. Stay with me, here. Dirty Kanza is great for gravel cycling. I love that Dirty Kanza exists, that many swarm to it and that I rode it once. My experience was memorable, but overall the event is just not for me. That's OK. I don't knock Dirty Kanza or try to change it. They run their event as they see fit. They've earned that right and respect. I applaud those who work to make the experience available, cheer on those who ride it and simply commit my time and energy elsewhere.

In the words of William Wallace, " F R E E D O M ! ! "

The road beckons. Ride.

Addendum. To some readers, this post may sound familiar. Well, I first posted it in July 2018. Now 2020, with all the hoopla surrounding the explosive growth of gravel cycling, I decided to highlight the freedom that cyclists have to experience a tremendous variety of gravel rides, events and races. That is, gravel now offers big production events, but is much bigger than that. It's always been much bigger than that. As I started to write, I remembered this post, which I think remains relevant today. It says what was on my mind. So, I re-posted it.

"That's how we're going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love."
Rose Tio, Star Wars - The Last Jedi (2017).


  1. I'm going to run my first gravel ride in Sept. I've done races and rides for yeas and saw a need for an organized ride close to my home and the gravel genre was a no brainer. The community leaders have been supportive and I'm excited to try something new. I completely agree with your point; it's really exciting to create an event that I think will be good for me, my community, and my geography. We don't all need to be the next Dirty Kanza to provide a cool ride; we can just do us...

  2. Best wishes on your new event, Chris! I'll look for race reports this fall. Have fun!

  3. The road in that last picture speaks to me, one of these days I'll bring a giant bag of peanut M&Ms and you'll have to show me around your stomping grounds.

  4. I took that last picture while scouting for the DoubleBackBone route. Bring your toothbrush. There's a lot out here.